Monday, March 7, 2016

Nobody's Perfect! Correcting My Own Tree Error

We all complain about unsourced and erroneous online family trees, and I must confess that my Ancestry Member Tree is not perfect.  I found another mistaken spouse of one of my Ancestry Member Tree persons yesterday, and tried to fix it in my RootsMagic tree.  It's useful to review why and how things like this happen, and I want to correct the information in my online tree so that other researchers with this person don't make the same mistake.

I received a Hint for Susan Amelia Newton (1815-????) in my Ancestry Member Tree.

This Hint provided a death record in 1889 for Susan A. Newton Knowlton, born in 1815 to David and Beulah (Johnson) Knowlton.  This must be the right Susan, since I knew her parents, David and Beulah (Johnson) Newton from her birth record in 1815 in Worcester, Massachusetts.  I also had a Marriage record with Levi Lincoln in 1842 in Leominster, Worcester County, Massachusetts.  But her last name is Knowlton in the death record.  did she marry again?  I searched and easily found a marriage record in 1860, listing her age, birthplace and parents names, with James Munroe Knowlton (1819-1883).  I also found birth and death information for James Knowlton.  Okay, I've really added to my profile for Susan!  I was feeling great.

Here is my profile for Susan Amelia Newton in my Ancestry Member Tree before I added the Knowlton marriage:

Her marriage and death were in Northborough, Massachusetts, which is not far from Worcester.

What about Levi Lincoln?  I thought that this Levi Lincoln (1810-1845) was the son of Levi Lincoln (1782-1868) and Penelope Winslow Sever (1786-1872), also born in Worcester, Massachusetts.

At some time in my distant genealogy past, I concluded that the Levi Lincoln born in 1810 was the Levi Lincoln who married Susan Amelia Newton.  I knew that Levi Lincoln born in 1810 had died in 1845 and was buried in Worcester, Massachusetts.  That was unfortunate for poor Susan, just married in 1842 and her husband died in 1845.  Here is the Ancestry Member Tree profile for Levi Lincoln (1810-1845):

Back on the first screen of the Ancestry Hint, there is a Suggested Record for Susan Amelia  Knowlton for a Find A Grave entry.  Here is the Find A Grave entry for Susan's gravestone in Howard Street Cemetery in Northborough, Massachusetts:

All of the information matches except for the birthplace.  And it lists her husband as Levi Lincoln (1814-1849).  Here is his Find A Grave entry:

Hmmm.  Look at that.  It says he was born in 1814 in Woolwich, Sagadohoc County, Maine in 1814, and died in 1849 in Berlin, Massachusetts.  And he is buried in the Howard Street Cemetery in Northborough, just like Susan.  Their gravestones have the same profile and type face, and may be back-to-back (I can't tell).

I found a death record in the Massachusetts Vital Records, 1841-1915 that gives his age at death, death date, birthplace, parents names, etc. as shown on the Northborough gravestone.

It is pretty evident to me that I have the wrong Levi Lincoln married to Susan Amelia (Newton) (Lincoln) Knowlton in 1842 in Leominster, Massachusetts in my Ancestry Member Tree.

In my RootsMagic database, I fixed this by disconnecting Susan from the wrong Levi, added the right Levi, with the information from the death record and Find A Grave, added Susan's death record and Find A Grave entry, added Susan's second marriage and her second husband's information, etc.

 This is a clear case of same name, right time, and almost the same place.  The connection was logical, but it was wrong.  This can happen to anyone, and I'm sure it has happened to almost everyone reading this.  If it hasn't yet, it will.  This is not my first time having to fix a wrong relationship in my family tree.

The right thing to do is to acknowledge the error, fix it, and be more careful in the future.  Forgive me, Saint Elizabeth, for I have erred.  I will say ten Hail Myrtles and do what I have to do.

In genealogy research, nobody is perfect.  It's almost impossible to be perfect.  My estimate is that at least 1% of my relationships are incorrect due to my negligence, assumptions, conclusions, mistyping, misunderstanding records, etc.  Let s/he who IS perfect cast stones.  Let those who have erred accept their imperfection and try to do their best as time goes on.

My task tonight is to fix my Ancestry Member Tree entries for Susan Amelia (Newton) (Lincoln) Knowlton and her first husband, Levi Lincoln (1810-1845) and to add her actual first husband, Levi Lincoln (1814-1849) to my online tree.


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Shasta Matova said...

Everyone makes mistakes and it is good that you fixed yours once you found out.

postcardlil said...

"My task tonight is to fix my Ancestry Member Tree entries for Susan Amelia (Newton) (Lincoln) Knowlton and her first husband, Levi Lincoln (1810-1845) and to add her actual first husband, Levi Lincoln (1814-1845) to my online tree."

I thought the correct Levi Lincoln died in 1849.

Shows I was reading this very carefully.

Take care.


upnover said...

Just curious about your process, do you put notes into the correct Levi Lincoln & Susan Amelia (Newton)(Lincoln)Knowlton about the mistake & your reasoning in case you or someone in the future has questions or the same issue? Or do you keep that in your own offline records? I know that I have corrected my own mistake in my tree & didn't make notes about it and later tried to explain my reasoning to my mother & couldn't. I realized I should keep better track of that kind of thing but I'm curious how people with more experience than me find it's best to do that.

Thanks! It's nice to see that it's not just us relative newbies that make mistakes.


Geolover said...

upnover, when confronted with persons who could be mistaken for each other, I will often enter in a tree (say in "description" area of a marriage record) that one of the parties should not be confused with XX who was born about mmyyyy in Location, died ddmmyyyy and married YY in yyyy. That is, I give enough information that a viewer can fairly readily follow two different life-paths. This is particularly useful where many of the tree persons share first names and lived in the same neighborhood.

Geolover said...

Randy, an interesting discovery. Kudos for recognizing need for changes.

But are you taking care to distinguish what exactly is on the gravestone from what the memorial-maker may have added from an unstated source or sources? Findagrave entries as you know should not be relied upon for accuracy.

Randy Seaver said...


Ah, you found my unintentional mistake. Great eagle eyes! I fixed it. Thanks!

Randy Seaver said...


No, I usually don't do that. It's a good idea. In this case, these are not my ancestral families, my sources contain the information and so I haven't done it. For ancestors, I use General Notes and Fact Notes to explain my reasoning. Ancestry doesn't show Notes to non-owners/editors.

Randy Seaver said...


In this case, the inscriptions of names/dates on Find A Grave matched the information on the Massachusetts Vital Records collection.

Geolover said...

Heheheh, but parents' names, etc. are not *on the gravestone*.

You say, "I found a death record in the Massachusetts Vital Records, 1841-1915 that gives his age at death, death date, birthplace, parents names, etc. as shown on the Northborough gravestone."

Of the many thousands of gravestones and inscriptions I have viewed, only 3 or 4 give place of birth, another generous handful state parentage (in addition to instances of children dying young). Not one I can recall incorporates all of these factors. We're not talking church burial records, obituaries or death records, but the gravestone, regardless what material the Findagrave memorialist elects to put into the Memorial page.

Randy Seaver said...


I meant the names and death dates of the parties, Susan and Levi, matched the information found in the death records. The death records had birth information and parents, which corresponded to the information on the Find A Grave memorial, and in Susan's case, to the birth record in the town vital record book.

Geolover said...

Randy, I am very personally familiar with fingers' not producing quite what the brain had in mind. I usually have time to edit and refine, without multiple viewers putting in their two cents.

Most readers of your blog do not have onlookers/critics. It does take patience to respond where necessary.

Congratulations on making it so close to GenealogyInTime Magazine's Top 100 list, and for special recognition in the article. Well deserved.

Enno Borgsteede said...

Hi Randy,

I noticed that FamilySearch has the wrong Levi too, see:

Would it be possible to correct this via RootsMagic? The proper Levi is here:



Enno Borgsteede said...

On seeing suggested census records for the Levi I mentioned above, I doubt whether it's him, because in there he has a younger wife Sarah, and a much younger wife Delia in later censuses.



Debbie Pelletier said...

Hi Randy,

I know this is off the topic of your post, but it is a question about Find-a-Grave.

I’ve entered the grave stone pictures I’ve taken into my software (and on-line trees) with the cemetery as the source, following the EE format. But should I also enter the memorials I’ve created on Find-a-Grave into my tree, or just keep a separate list? Somewhere in the back of my head I think at least the Find-a-Grave memorial number should be somewhere in my tree, even if I’m the creator.

How do you handle the memorials/pictures you have added?


Randy Seaver said...


It's a good question. Evidence Explained says to source the record that you see. If you went to the cemetery and took photos of a gravestone, then cite the cemetery and credit yourself with the photo. If you use Find A Grave, then cite the Find A Grave website as the source. I include the cemetery name, the town/city name and state, the name of the deceased, and the memorial number. Other researchers add the creator of the memorial and the photographer for the images on the memorial. I don't do the latter. My choice - the goal is to enable other researchers to be able to find the source again.

Cheers -- Randy