Reflections on connections

[Editor’s note: Henry B. Hoff, C.G., F.A.S.G., is editor of The New England Historical and Genealogical Register. Excerpts from some of his Vita Brevis posts can be read below.]

Writers-Guide-front-cover--webFrom Just how reliable is that source?: Many of us have been betrayed, genealogically speaking, by a source that appears to be reliable but is not. Often the source is reliable for the most part. But that fact gives you no comfort when the information in which you are interested turns out to be incorrect…

Often the betrayal is of our own making. We rely on a source to be complete and it isn’t. For example, the Barbour Collection of Connecticut Vital Records does not cover all the towns in Connecticut or even all the records of the towns it includes – yet it is easy to forget these caveats and assume no record exists of a particular birth, marriage, or death. (See, for example, Chris Child’s blog post on identifying Sally Latimer Goold.) Or we cite an index as a source, and later find out we were not quite right. An important example of this is Torrey’s New England Marriages Prior to 1700. Torrey intended this only as a finding aid for researchers to consult the sources he cited and draw their own conclusions.

The moral of the story is to look for original records whenever possible – and be aware of the limitations of the sources you consult…

From Learning from our mistakes: A decade ago I had a luncheon talk entitled “My Ten Worst Mistakes in Genealogy.” When the title appeared, Robert Charles Anderson commented, “and he updates it frequently!” In fact, I do update it, but now I separate the mistakes that did not appear in print or in a lecture from those that did. And I’m glad to say the former far outweigh the latter.

To avoid mistakes in the Register, I have a long checklist for each issue, which I update when I see mistakes elsewhere that I easily could have made myself. One of the mistakes I’m always trying to avoid is inconsistency, especially when one little part of an article is changed, and I don’t see all the related pieces to change in the text and footnotes. The main problem is with the English language: singular vs. plural, tense, collective nouns, etc…

If relationships must be qualified by probably, perhaps, or possibly, it is important to present that doubt consistently, both in the text (including the lineage line back to the immigrant) and footnotes.

When there are multiple marriages among families and the same first names are used, the smallest inconsistency can create unexpected results. The article on Rebecca (Meriam) (Prescott) Parks in the October 2013 Register showed that two of her Prescott daughters married Williamson brothers, and two of her Parks children married Williamson siblings, who were first cousins of the Williamson brothers. These relationships only became apparent during the editing process.

Because genealogy is so heavy with detail, it is easy to make mistakes. I should know! And this is a good reason to submit your work to a journal like the Register that publishes additions and corrections, so that errors do not become a permanent part of the genealogical record.

Jaudon weddingFrom Cousins and their connections: My father and his brother were the principal heirs of their father’s second cousin (and friend) Emily Bennett. As a result, a box of her papers ended up in my parents’ attic. The contents of the box included this undated and unattributed newspaper clipping. Current online research revealed that the clipping was from the Japan Weekly Mail of 30 November 1901, page 573.

I realized that “the late Mr. Peyton Jaudon” must have been related to Emily Bennett, whose mother was Maria Conrey (Jaudon) Bennett. Fortunately, a good Jaudon genealogy shows that the bride, Julia Ayamé Jaudon, and Emily Bennett were second cousins. Julia’s father, Samuel Peyton Jaudon (1831–1897), a resident of Japan, had married Oshidzu Matsura – and Julia was their only child…

One of the interesting aspects of the Meiji period in Japanese history (1868–1912) was the large numbers of Westerners living in Japan – and the substantial number of marriages between Japanese and foreigners, which became legal under Japanese law in 1873…

As you see, there is a value – and an interest – in exploring the connections of one’s connections!

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About Henry Hoff

Henry Hoff is Editor of the New England Historical and Genealogical Register and is a Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists as well as a Fellow of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. He is also a Certified Genealogist. His genealogical interests include New York and the West Indies. Henry is the author of more than 125 genealogical articles in numerous scholarly journals and is the co-author, compiler, or editor of seven books.

7 thoughts on “Reflections on connections

  1. Citing an index as a source is indeed a concern. An example: Vermont Vital Records 1720-1908 [online at Ancestry.com] shows an index card for Betty Drew, daughter of Daniel Drew,16 Oct 1793. But Vermont Births and Christenings, 1765-1908 [online at familysearch.org] correctly shows her birth as 16 Oct.1783. Clearly a transcription error.

    Question: there are many digitized cards for births, marriages, and deaths on line, and they all are copies from old records, sometimes stating that fact, and the copier’s name and date are on the bottom of the card with a much later date. Where are the originals that these cards were copied from? I have viewed many of them from Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

  2. Henry, do you occasionally run across mistakes in the original records themselves – mistakes that might cause an error in a later derivative source? – I wonder if many of the original records are capable of carrying with them their own host of errors from time to time, and indeed it then becomes the “function” of some secondary source(s) to prove out what was once thought to be set in stone? For example, say a woman’s birth record was incorrectly recorded on the original document, for whatever reason, perhaps after a lapse of time or memory. Her marriage is then correctly recorded, and the births of her children follow in published genealogies, Bible records, and in cemetery records placing her buried with her husband and most of her children – yet her original birth record would make her too old to be their mother… Is the original document of her birth then still “taken as gospel” or can it then be held suspect by other records which would reflect that the lady was too old to have been in her child bearing years if the original birth date document is used?

    Ah! It is so difficult not to be betrayed sometimes in research – but it is even more disheartening when the facts that were considered to be the truest are the ones that have betrayed us.

    Someone once told me that in genealogy we must work as hard to prove ourselves wrong as we do right. Or, like the shampoo commercials of old, “wash, rinse, and repeat.”

    Henry, many thanks for all the hard work you do – and for reminding me about “consistency”. It is important in any format – and always one of the most difficult for to achieve.

    1. Or an uncle and nephew. My paper trail does not convince that this happened. So that confusion will be copied again. And likely again and again and again. I know how it happened. Every son was named for a brother for 3 generations.

  3. I’ve never found any set of records or sources to be 100% correct. I’ve found errors on gravestones. So even if it is “set in stone,” it could be incorrect.

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