Researching someone with a common name can be challenging. Sometimes you will find too many records, and without more identifying information it can be almost impossible to determine which is the correct record. Or, if you do find a promising record, how do you know if it is for the person being researched or someone else with the same name? To overcome these problems, you need to find enough information to come to a solid conclusion.
I had this problem recently while researching Charles McDermott, who lived in New York City. I found a possible naturalization record for Charles in 1896. The record showed this Charles was about the right age and had immigrated around the right year. However, his occupation was listed as a carpenter and the Charles I was researching sold fish … according to the 1900 census. To determine if the 1896 naturalization was for the Charles McDermott I was researching, I needed more information.
[To] do this I looked at four kinds of records … at four different websites…
Eventually I was able to discover more records that proved I had the right naturalization. But to do this I looked at four kinds of records (census, city directory, birth, and church baptism) at four different websites (Ancestry, New York Public Library Digital Collections, FamilySearch, and FindMyPast). According to the 1896 naturalization, Charles McDermott the carpenter lived at 1119 Home St. I knew I needed to check city directories for more information. Unfortunately, Ancestry does not always have a directory for each year. However, I remembered that the New York Public Library Digital Collections does.
Using both websites I discovered the following information for Charles McDermott:
1891 – carpenter at 408 E 117th St. (Ancestry)
1892 – carpenter at 344 Pleasant Ave. (Ancestry)
1894 – carpenter at 344 Pleasant Ave. (Ancestry)
1895 – fish at 1119 Home St. (New York Public Library Digital Collections)
1896 – grocer at 1119 Home St. (New York Public Library Digital Collections)
1897 – grocer at 1119 Home St. (Ancestry)
1898 – fish at 1108 Home St. (Ancestry)
It looked like Charles McDermott the carpenter changed occupations about 1895 and became a fishmonger. But I wanted more corroborating evidence that connected the earlier addresses, with the carpenter occupation, to the later addresses with the fish grocer occupation.
I knew the names of Charles’ children from the 1900 U.S. census and found records for most of their births on FamilySearch. However, these records are only transcriptions and the images are only available by visiting a Family History Library. This meant I could not easily see the address where the family lived and cross check with the city directories.
Luckily the family was Catholic and FindMyPast has begun to put up New York City Catholic baptism records. Using these baptism records, I found Charles McDermott’s daughter Catherine Helen was born in 1891 at 408 E 117th St. This was the last piece of evidence I needed.
The 1891 baptism address matched the 1891 city directory address. This meant Charles McDermott was a carpenter in 1891. The Charles McDermott (carpenter at 1119 Home) who naturalized in 1896 was also listed as a fish grocer in the 1896 city directory. He continued in the fish grocer occupation until he was enumerated on the 1900 census.
When you are trying to determine if you have found the correct record, always look for more supporting information. Make sure to search broadly in different kinds of record groups. Also, do not limit yourself to just one genealogy website. If you are persistent and thorough you should be able to find enough information to come to confident conclusions.
7 thoughts on “Finding confirming information”
Another handy practice is building out the families, then following those other family members with more unusual given names. Following William George Johnson from Ohio to Minnesota in the 1880s was grueling. It helped that he consistently was listed as William G. Johnson, but still.
But more of a help was that he had a brother Salem Johnson and named one of his sons Salem. I used that name to track their addresses in the city directories, then plugged the addresses into an Ancestry search to come up with other family members in the family home.
This is a great example of “reasonably exhaustive research!” Thank you for citing your sources.
I have run into similar challenges. I am participating in a project to identify and reveal the identities of 144 African-American women who were of voting age in Vermont in 1920 when the 19th amendment passed. One woman, Mary M. Rogers found in the 1920 U.S. Census, enumerated as Mu (mulatto) who lived in Brattleboro, Vermont, and worked as a domestic in the household of a local physician. Luckily, the Town Clerk had archived and indexed all citizens who took the Freeman’s Oath, which allowed residents to vote in the next national election. Miss Mary M. Rogers was among those who did take the oath. Whether she actually voted we cannot determine.
In 1906 a Mrs. Mary A. Rogers of Bennington was convicted and sentenced to hang for the murder of her husband Mark Rogers. I found that several times the local newspaper used a “M” for her middle initial. There was a stay of execution ordered by Gov. Bell, but Mary A. Rogers was eventually executed. The case still simmered in the newspaper, and even in 1913, when Mary M. was living in Brattleboro, the newspapers still discussed this notoriety of a woman to die on the gallows.
Miss Rogers, for the most part, stayed in Brattleboro until her death in 1963, with some short and longer visits to her hometown Kittrell, Vance County, North Carolina. Besides the notable case in Bennington, there were other Mary Rogers who lived in the area as well, and it did take research in the City Directories, newspaper accounts in the Personals section, an obituary, and probate record to seal the deal on the identity of Mary M. Rogers, African-American woman who likely voted in the Presidential election of 1920.
St. John, Jersey, Channel Islands. My great grandfather Phillipe Hamon was born Aug. 1838 in St. John. He became a ship’s captain. About 3 houses away from my Philip another Philip Hamon was born 4 months later. They both became ship’s captains at about the same time. Thank goodness for certificate numbers on those ship’s captains certificates, I could tell one from the other.
Try my 3greats grandfather John Smith. A nightmare!!
Or my 4x great-grandfather Major John L Smith of Nyack NY – serve in the Revolution……unfortunately, so did another Major John Smith, also of Nyack!