Friday, August 21, 2009

Barking up the Wrong Family Tree

(In this post, the names have been changed to protect the innocent, as they used to say on each episode of "Dragnet.")

I just signed up for, and have spent a goodly amount of time in various researches. For one thing, I am doing some more of that pro bono work for the National Park Service, for Doughton Park up in North Carolina.

For another, I have spent an inordinate amount of time doing some of my own genealogy, for a change! And I ran into something that bears mentioning: how easy it is to go barking up the wrong Family Tree.

I have an ancestor, whom we'll call XYZ. I'm disguising, because I am certainly not out to embarrass anyone, but rather to illustrate a point that all of us need to be aware of. Now, the birthplace of ol' XYZ is in doubt. Some think he was born on one side of a border, and some on the other. I have been searching all over the place, and cannot find squat to give evidence of where he was actually born. I have a suspicion, supported by some rather flimsy circumstantial evidence, at this point. I am putting my suspicion down on my forms for now, but it is only a working hypothesis. When new facts come to light, if they destroy that hypothesis, it will be discarded in favor of one that does fit the facts. If they support it, I will be happy as a clam at high tide for having solved that little mystery.

However, probably based on family legend and lore, which an uncle of mine apparently was not alone in believing, some think that XYZ was born in place A. I do not happen to agree, because I have found no evidence that XYZ was ever in place A. There is someone, though, who does, and who has found a U.S. census to support that. He has our old pal as "Xavier Zed" in a certain place, with a sibling with a name that is not in the family. Now, I know that "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence," but I happen to have a census on XYZ for the same year in a very different location, which I'll call Place B. This census puts him in place B in the household of his known father and mother, with his known siblings (from other censuses, both state and federal). On that census he is listed as "X. Y. Zed."

And that's the trap. Our ancestors did not always use their names, but rather their initials. XYZ's father is on some censuses as "Abelard B. Zed" and on some as "Box Zed" and on some as "A.B. Zed." I am as guilty of this as the next person of searching on names and forgetting to search under initials. So to the list of variant spellings -- something else I'm having a fit with on my husband's side of the family -- we now also have to add various combinations of initials, as well as considering those who sometimes go by their middle names.

My husband goes by his middle name, not his first name. His father did the same thing. I have careful records of their name preferences and their full names, so our descendants will be saved the stress I'm going through right now!

Now, if I could only find out where XYZ was really born . . .

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