Monday, August 16, 2010

Mea Culpa: Genealogy Database Errors

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In my post Surname Saturday - KENYON (England > RI) on Saturday, I listed my Kenyon ancestry, including the assertion that John Kenyon (1655-1732) of Rhode Island was the son of James and Esther (Smith) Kenyon, and was born in Oldham parish, Lancashire, England.

In a comment to that post, Martin Hollick (who is a professional genealogist, published author and writes The Slovak Yankee blog) commented that:

"In a series of articles in TAG in 2003-4 the Kenyons' English origins were disproved. 1521. becomes [blank] Mumford, daughter of Thomas and Sarah (Sherman) Mumford. And 1520 is the end of the line. It's my book which you have."

Martin's excellent book is New Englanders in the 1600's, A Guide to Genealogical Research Published Between 1980 and 2005, Boston, Massachusetts, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2006.

The entry in Martin's book noted:

"KENYON, JOHN, b. ca. 1657, d. Westerly, R.I., 1732. TAG 78:222-27, 79:207-8 (revision of English origins and early generations)."

I have edited my Surname Saturday post to reflect the revisions noted in the two articles from The American Genealogist periodical. I appreciate Martin's help in leading me to more information about this family in scholarly publications.

I've spent all morning in my genealogy database trying to correct the Kenyon family entries. Here is the introduction to my Notes about John Kenyon (ca 1647-1732):

The English background, vital records and family history for this family were published in the book American Kenyons: history of Kenyons and English connections of American Kenyons, genealogies of American Kenyons of Rhode Island, miscellaneous Kenyon material by Captain Howard N. Kenyon, published in Rutland, Vermont, by Tuttle & Company, 1935. Unfortunately, much of what was published in this work about the English ancestry of this John Kenyon are wrong. A John and Anna Kenyon family in Oldham, Lancashire in England was conflated with the John Kenyon family in Rhode Island.

Further information was published in the article "ENIGMAS #17: Revisiting the English Origin of John-1 and James-1 Kenyon of Rhode Island," by Gerald J. Parsons, FASG, in The American Genealogist, Volume 78, Number 3, pages 222-227, July 2003. In this article, the author describes the Oldham, Lancashire family of James Kenyon, which includes a summary of the parish register entries in Oldham (which includes children John, Sarah and James). The Parsons article also addresses the possibility, in some detail, that this John Kenyon married an unnamed daughter of Thomas and Sarah (Sherman) Mumford of Kingstown, Rhode Island.

Subsequently, Michael J. Wood wrote "ENIGMAS #17: Revisiting the English Origins of John-1 and James-1 Kenyon of Rhode Island" in The American Genealogist, Volume 79, Number 3, July 2004, pages 207-208. In this article, Mr. Wood finds more information in the Oldham, Lancashire parish registers that indicate that the John Kenyon family of Oldham left more records there into the 1730s, including a burial record of "Old John Kenyon in Glodwick" on 11 March 1731/2, and the burial of "Anne Kenyon in Glodwick, widow" on 28 August 1732.

These two articles certainly support the third scenario provided in Parson's article, that:

"3. John Kenyon of Glodwick in Oldham parish 1681-87 is not the Rhode Island man. As far as I have been able to discover, no record has been found in Rhode Island pointing to John-1 Kenyon's origins in England. Thus the John Kenyon of Glodwick may very well not be the Rhode Island man, and thus the wife Anna (seen by this name only in English records) does not belong to the immigrant. While the given name of John Kenyon's wife has not been found in Rhode Island records, he certainly married a daughter of Thomas Mumford at some point."

Researchers should read the full text of both articles.

In my database, I detached the children, including John Kenyon of Rhode Island, from James and Anna Kenyon of Lancashire, and changed the birth year of John Kenyon to "about 1647" since he testified in 1717 that he was about 70 years old. I modified my notes to reflect the latest information.

How did this situation happen to me? Here is the list of events as I recall them:

* When I started my genealogy search, I found the American Kenyons... book and believed everything in it. I copied the pages, added the information to my pedigree chart and family notebook, and didn't think much more about it. "It's published, right? Looks good. The guy did a lot of work - look, the names of the two sons match!"

* I entered the vital information and notes into my genealogy database in about 1991, when I was using Personal Ancestral File.

* In the late 1990s, there was a spirited discussion about Hannah Mumford, the wife of John Kenyon who he married in about 1678, and how could she be the daughter of Thomas Mumford of Rhode Island when she was having babies baptized in Oldham in Lancashire in the 1680s. From this, the wife of John Kenyon in Rhode Island became "Anna" to match up with the woman in Lancashire. The argument was "well, John Kenyon made several trips between Rhode Island and Lancashire, had babies there, then brought the family to Rhode Island in 1687."

* The two articles in The American Genealogist appeared in 2003 and 2004, and I read them, copied them and put them in my stack of information to be added to my genealogy database (now in Family Tree Maker).

* On Saturday, I posted my Kenyon ancestry, which elicited the comment from Martin Hollick and my modification to my database for the early Kenyon families in my ancestry.

In other words, I never did any scholarly research in original sources, or in authoritative derivative sources, on my own. I relied on the scholarship of others, and trusted it. Some of the scholarship was wrong, and I wasn't experienced enough, or smart enough, to seek it out myself over the past 22 years. Eventually, somebody else did it for me.

Early colonial American records in New England are prolific - many towns have town council, land records, probate records and other records dating back to the founding of the town, and almost all of them are on microfilm at the LDS Family History Library, and available for loan at a local Family History Center. There are some published books that index this information, but not all towns or ocunties are covered. It's a genealogy wonderland if the records survived intact and if you can read the handwriting. For example, I have been trying to find, copy and abstract or transcribe the land and probate records for my New England ancestral families, and am still in that process. In other words, I'm not done.

The English church parish records are another challenge. While many of them are on FHL microfilms, the entries before 1700 are often in Latin, and in the "secretary" hand which continues to baffle me. Therefore, I have relied on the work of others more skilled in the art of reading the "secretary" hand, and on the entries in the FHL extractions from the church parish registers or Bishop's Transcripts. Other than my Richman/Rich research in Wiltshire, I have done no original work in English church records.

In my defense, I am so blessed with a fine New England ancestry (well over 60% of my families are there ten generations back) that I am overwhelmed with ancestral families and information about them.

What I'm saying here is that I have done a lot of searching for previously published, filmed, indexed and digitized work, but have done virtually no original research on my colonial ancestral families, other than finding land and probate records for some of them. I've been spoiled by the abundance of published surname books, published town vital records, published family genealogy articles, and the like.

That doesn't excuse me from my errors, but it explains my reliance on the published work of others, who had more experience and more resources at hand to write books and articles about my ancestral families.

Most "genealogists" start out as name collectors and fact collectors, and eventually understand that they need to fact check the information they enthusiastically gleaned from published books and periodicals, online genealogy databases and online family trees. Some "name collectors" become "family historians" and gather factual and anecdotal information about the lives of their ancestors. Some genealogists eventually understand that original source material needs to be found to support the assertions of facts for each ancestor. In many cases, the original source material is found only in the handwritten records found in town halls, court houses, attics, basements, historical societies, and the LDS microfilms. This is what many "Internet-only" genealogists don't understand, and what they need to understand.

I'm embarrassed by my lack of scholarship in this specific instance, and I know that there are hundreds of other ancestral families that feature the same lack of scholarship in my database. All I can say is "I'm aware of it, and I'm working on it. It takes time!"

So why publish anything about my ancestors at all? We've discussed this before - as "cousin bait" to find other researchers with the same families, and as an example for others to be helped by or be inspired by. In the process, errors of omission and commission are found by readers and, hopefully, discussed and/or corrected. In the end, I figure that if I publish it and it is wrong, then someone will read it and correct it. At worst, I can always be a bad example!

Do you, the patient reader, have the feeling of "there but for the grace of God go I?" I hope so. And I hope that you take my lesson to heart. I think that almost every one with a genealogy database, published book, published or online article, website or blog has errors in their work, and they are displayed for readers to believe, test or criticize. That's really the scientific process, isn't it?

9 comments:

Lisa Wallen Logsdon said...

Fear of errors is what keeps me from posting my entire gedcom on the Internet. 15 years ago I wasn't as diligent with sources and often added information without checking carefully. I'm paying for that now by having to go back and clean up. A very slow process.

DianaR said...

Thanks for sharing this Randy - it certainly makes me feel less alone in the world.

I read so many very, um, *stringent* remarks on the quality, or lack thereof, of data shared on the internet. Even though I am usually just posting stories and pictures I know that sometime my finger trembles for just a moment before I hit "post."

I agree, we all need to do better, but I hope there is still room in the world for those of us who aren't yet perfect, but still want to be out there...and are still doing our best.

Barbara Poole said...

I'd like to tell Martin that I was looking at his book at NEHGS this past Saturday. I'll buy it, the next time I go in.

NormP said...

"Most "genealogists" start out as name collectors and fact collectors, and eventually understand that they need to fact check the information they enthusiastically gleaned from published books and periodicals, online genealogy databases and online family trees."
Other name collectors and fact collectors begin by gather facts from original sources and only later in life find them self sucked into the false security of on-line offering. More and faster is not always better or even wiser. I have to try hard to not take what is offered on the web as "fact" and see most as only a clue. Just an old dinosaur who still sifts through the court house records, in the court house vault!!

Martin said...

I think the scary part of Michael Wood's article is that he admits it took him over 2 hours to get through the burials only of that parish register. Michael is as much as expert at British parish records as you're going to find. It means it would have taken me 2 days (or 2 weeks) to do it. You can see by his transcription, that the tough part, other than it being in Latin, was all the abbreviations.

Plus now you have a Sherman descent, and are cousins with Churchill, Taft, Hoover, and both Bushes (among others).

Celia Lewis said...

So old we grow so wise, Randy! Published histories/surnames are "interesting but not impressive" as my mother used to say [about almost everything]! I have so much to clean up in terms of quality of my own genealogy sources/data. Normal, unfortunate, oh well, we'll try to be perfect in our next life, eh? Cheers - Celia

Apple said...

I have also relied heavily on a couple of published genealogies, that had what appeared to be good sources. I am now questioning three different lines in my tree. Like you, I am blessed/cursed with early New England ancestors and often get lost in very interesting sidelines so there are undoubtedly many errors in my trees.

Diana has a great point. With some of the comments and posts I've read over the summer I've wondered if little old me shouldn't just pull the plug on my blog, remove all my trees from online and quietly disappear knowing my trees and my source citations will never be perfect.

Anonymous said...

Randy,
You have nothing to beat yourself up over about this. No one has the time to do all the scholarly research in original sources they need to. Simply impossible! We do the best we can and offer no apologies. Your thoroughness is some of the best there is. You're definitely the best Genealogy blogger on the Net - bar none! Keep up the good work!
Tom

The Creativly Frugal Mom said...

I want to start out by saying, I have absolutely NO PROOF about the information I have, but maybe it corroberates something one of you all have about the Rhode Island Kenyons. I started this project with the goal of recording the informaiton in my bible so that it doesn't become lost (which it will in the next generation or so when the bible completely disolves.) My info was kept with a Kenyon family bible circa 1860. Inserted in the pages were three typed pages that traced the lineage to Rhode Island. I'm speculating that these pages were inserted in the late 1870's since they refer to a Ethel Berha Kenyon who passed in 1874. These pages are not signed or certified, nor do the dates recorded on the page occur in the bible. The data indicates that John Kenyon born 1633 Lancashire maried Esther Smith. They had 3 children John born 1655, James born 1657 and Mary born 1660. It then says that John (B 1655) married Abigail _____ and they had 8 children John, James, Enoch, Joseph, Samuel, David, Johnathan and a daughter unnamed.

It sounds like this information could have come from the erroneous published book and been further misconstrued.??? I thought I would throw it out there and see if anyone else has corroberating information. Thanks!