Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A genealogy blunder

Pobody's nerfect, I always say (and few people understand me the first time I say it, I wonder why?). I know I'm not wit:

One of my biggest long-term blunders in pursuing my family history and ancestry concerns the father of Elizabeth Horton (Dill) Smith. My case study of my elusive Elizabeth is here. Briefly, there are two death records for Elizabeth Horton (Dill) Smith, one in Leominster MA (where she died in 1869 at the home of her daughter, Lucretia (Smith) Seaver) and one in Medfield MA (where she lived from 1822 to the 1860's). The Leominster record says her parents were Thomas Dill and Mary Horton. The Medfield record says her parents were Jabez Dill and Mary Horton. Both records say she was born in Eastham MA on Cape Cod. Her age at death computes to 19 May 1794 as a birth date.

The blunder here was pursuing a phantom father for Elizabeth from about 1990 to 2005. When I found the Leominster death record in the Massachusetts VRs on microfilm at the FHC, I did not make a copy of the record. I transcribed it. Without magnification, the father's name looked like HEMAN Dill, so that's what I wrote down. So I looked for a Heman Dill in Eastham records for a long time. There was one, but he was born after Elizabeth was.

It was only when the Massachusetts VRs came online at the NEHGS web site that I found my mistake. I saved the image of the record, and then magnified it about 8 times and, sure enough, it looks like THOMAS Dill. If you write the names HEMAN and THOMAS in cursive, you can see how the error could be made.

At our CVGS Research Group, I passed around an 8x10 copy of the death record image and asked people to read the name. The vote was 10 to 2 for Thomas, but they could understand how I could have made the mistake back in 1990. When I showed them the magnified name, they all saw THOMAS, and they marveled that a researcher with my reputation and skills (ahem!) could have made the mistake.

The first lesson here is that we should try to see the original record, and get a legible copy of it. The original record is in the Leominster MA vital record book, not in the Massachusetts VRs.

The second lesson here is that we should revisit our "problem children" case studies once in awhile, and get fresh eyes and minds to review our case study to offer suggestions.

I still haven't solved my problem, as shown in my case study. There are two derivative records with secondary information of equal value with two different fathers, but both records list the mother as Mary Horton. The only Elizabeth Dill I've identified in the Eastham records that fits the approximate birth date was born on 9 May 1791 in Eastham to Thomas and Hannah (Horton) Dill.

So I have a lot of conflicting indirect evidence that I haven't been able to resolve - the father's name, mother's name and birth year are in conflict with each other. If I had read the death records correctly in 1990, I would have had another 15 years to stew over it!

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