Saturday, May 25, 2019

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun -- A Research Problem and Lessons Learned

It's Saturday Night - 

time for more Genealogy Fun! 

Your mission, should you decide to accept it (cue the Mission Impossible! music) is to:

1)  Think back to when you first started doing genealogy and family history research.  What was one of your first real research problems?  How did you attack the problem?  Did you solve the problem?  If so, how?  What lessons did you learn from this experience?

2)  Tell us about it in a blog post of your own, in a comment to this blog post, or in a comment on Facebook.

Here's mine:

When I started my genealogy research in 1988, I had a lot of help.  My father's brother and four sisters were very happy, and provided family stories and some papers to help me.  One of their stories was that "Our mother, Alma Bessie (Richmond) Seaver (1882-1962) was descended from Peregrine White, the baby born aboard the Mayflower in 1620."

Right!!  I'd been warned already about family legends.  What should I do first?  Find descendants of Peregrine White, or find ancestors of Alma Bessie Richmond, my grandmother?  The family papers said that Alma's mother was Juliette White (1848-1913), born in Killingly, Conn., so that gave me a lead.

I started my research at the San Diego Family History Center looking for entries in the IGI and the Ancestral File for Juliette White, and found nothing.  I did find an entry for Julia White (age 3) in the 1850 U.S. census in Killingly, Conn, daughter of Henry and Amy White.  Was that the right Julia/Juliet?  

My Aunt Marion sent me an obituary of Juliet, which said her mother's maiden name was Oatley.  An Oatley surname book said that Amy Oatley married Henry White and had Julia, who married Thomas Richmond and listed Bessie Alma as a daughter...progress!  

I worked for several more years at the FHC trying to nail down the White line back from  Henry White (1824-1885) to Jonathan White (1804-1850) to Humphrey White (1758-1814) to Jonathan White (1732-1804).  I found lots of data, but no positive link, until I found this article:

Ruth Wilder Sherman, "Some Descendants of Jonathan White of Dartmouth MA and of Humphrey White of Glocester RI," The American Genealogist, Volume 56, Pages 113-118.

This article took my White line back (confirming my links from Henry) to Jonathan White (1732-1804) of Dartmouth, Mass., son of William White (1708-1780), which linked him to a White line from Peregrine White in the book:

Lucy Mary Kellogg (editor), Mayflower Families Through Five Generations: Volume 1: Family of Francis Eaton, Family of Samuel Fuller, Family of William White (Boston, Mass.: General Society of Mayflower Descendants, 1975).

The line back to the Mayflower in the book is from William White (1708-1780) to William White (1683-1780) to Sylvanus White (1667-1688) to Peregrine White (1620-1704) to William White (ca 1590-1621).  

I was happy to report to the family at a 50th anniversary party for my Uncle Edward Seaver in September 1990 that the legend was true.  

All of this work was done in published books and periodical articles with source citations, so it wasn't original research on my part by any stretch of the imagination.  But when you are just starting out, finding resources like these are a godsend, and they lead you to original source material.  Subsequently, the General Society of Mayflower Descendants has published a book for descendants of William White:

Robert S. Wakefield (editor), Mayflower Families Through Five Generations: Volume 13: Family of William White (Boston, Mass.: General Society of Mayflower Descendants, 1997).

Since 1990 (over the past 29+ years), I have gathered quite a bit of supportive evidence for each White family - especially probate records, land records and vital records, that satisfies me that this line is correct.  

I kept a fairly detailed, handwritten, research log on this family from 1988 to was really useful to me today as I tried to piece this story together.  This White family is one of the families that I have created an organized surname book for to date - I easily found all of the resource material and my research log!  I need to do more of the organized surname books, I see!

The lessons learned:

*  Work backwards in time from known persons and data to unknown persons and data, one generation at a time.

*  Find and use published works (if available) to help you find clues to earlier generations.  Review the source citations (if available) to confirm the published material.  

*  Find and add as many original source records as possible (offline or online) and include them in your family tree database to help corroborate your conclusions.

*  Keeping a research log for each family or family line is really helpful 30 years can see what resources were found, the conclusions drawn, and the results obtained.

This research would be performed a lot differently today.  There are millions of personal family trees, and a number of shared family trees, online that can take this line quickly back to William White, the Mayflower passenger.  But how would I know if the line, and the information about each family, was correct?  The answer is, of course:  By looking at the source citations and the records documenting each family and judging if the conclusions are correct.  In this case of a Mayflower ancestry, I would also rely on the Mayflower Families book, but would also check the peer-reviewed research from the last 30 years in NEHGR, TAG, Mayflower Descendant, and other published books and periodicals. 


Copyright (c) 2019, Randall J. Seaver

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Lisa S. Gorrell said...

When I learned there was more to research than using census records. Deeds and probates answered a relationship question.

Linda Stufflebean said...

I learned early on to teach myself as much as possible and do my own research!

Seeds to Tree said...

My first research problem was finding my husband's paternal grandmother's maiden name. She had 8 children, and in 1979, none of them knew her maiden name. In August I wrote the church where she (Anna) married Gustave Schattner. Since their first child was born Feb 1899, I asked for a marriage that took place a year or two before that date. This was pre-internet, so I had to wait, wait and wait. In Jan 1980, the minister wrote back that indeed he found the marriage entry for Oct 1898 and her maiden name was Ambellan. This is before I realized that lots of first babies do not take 9 month to be born...I thought she was the only Ambellan in the US then-- but now am writing a book on the Ambellans that's just over 100 pages. Twenty one brothers, sisters and cousins came to Buffalo from a small German hamlet, population 600.