Saturday, June 24, 2017

You know what happens when you assume . . .

It makes a mess.

You may have thought I was going to say something else.  Well, that, too.  In this post, the names have been changed to protect the innocent, it not being my intention to embarrass someone who took on a tremendous challenge, and did fairly well with it, all things considered.
In my data-gathering activities on St. Augustine, Florida, 1784-1821, I am working in a particular set of documents, using a translation of them.  This was a daunting task for any translator to undertake, and an important one.  The documents in this set are old and brittle, and not available for researchers without some clout.  They are on microfilm and also now digitized.  The ink has faded, the paper has yellowed.  There are smudges and worm holes making parts of them unreadable or at least very difficult to read.  And the most difficult of all is that this entry under consideration is in ecclesiastical Latin.  There are errors in this translation, and some of those errors are based on erroneous assumptions.  Here are some lessons from this finding:

1.      Never assume that, just because a person is mentioned in a record from a particular location, that person actually was in that location.

There is an entry in this set of documents about a baptism, attributing parentage erroneously.  The document attributes the parentage of a person I’ll call B to a couple I’ll call A and D.  This baptism took place in a location in East Florida, more than one day's travel from St. Augustine at that time.  The translator refers us to another set of documents, later and more complete, to another baptism purporting to prove this point.  However, the translator misread the later document, and attributed parentage erroneously, not thinking of the possibility of two people with the same name.  I found that B had a brother named C, but C’s mother was not D.  Not only that, there was another man in these records with the same name as A, whom we will call A-.  A- was the one married to D, and they also had a son with the same name as C (call him C-).  The translator of the earlier set of documents tried to establish that the surname of D was the surname of E and that they were one and the same person, but this is not so because it was A who was married to E, and A- who was married to D.  C- had emigrated to the place where these records were created.  His parents, A- and D, did not emigrate; they stayed in the old country.  Therefore, D could not have been the wife of A and the mother of either B or C.  So even though they are named in a record involving their son C- after he emigrated, A- and D never were in the place to which C- emigrated, where the document that mentions them was created.

2.      Never assume that finding a name in a later record has yielded the person you think it has.

Here, again, we have the phenomenon of two people with the same name.  Both A and A- had sons with the same name; these are C and C-, respectively.  As shown, above, A was married to E and later to F, but never to D.  A- was D's husband.   E died before the year 1780, because in that year, A married F.  At that time and in that place, pretty much the only way A could have had a second marriage was for the first to have been dissolved by death.  Divorce was unthinkable (and not approved by the church), and even a permanent separation prohibited subsequent marriage.  

C- married G in January of 1797.  By August of that same year, they had their first child, a son, baptized.  It is in this document that the name of D is mentioned as the mother of C-.  So the translator of the earlier document looked in a document created 17 years later, found the name and attributed it to the mother of C, when it actually referred to the mother of C-, whose existence the translator had not contemplated.  As for the spouse of D, it cannot have been A.  A married E before 1764, the year that C, their oldest child, was born.  E died, as I said, before 1780, because that is when A married F.  When A died in 1790, he was still married to F, as shown on his death record in the diocesan archives, so he never could have been married to D.  So the man the translator found in the 1797 record was not C, but C-, whose father was A-, not A.  And A- was the one married to D.  You cannot just go shopping in documents for names and settle on one as being the one you are looking for.  This is definitely not a “reasonably exhaustive search,” and one record does not a confirmation make.  More than one record must be found for corroboration or refutation of one’s hypothesis.  There is always the possibility of two individuals with the same name, a phenomenon I have found repeatedly (and frustratingly, many times) among the residents and citizens of St. Augustine.

3.      Never assume that because you found one name in a record, he is associated with the other names you want to associate with him.

In another entry in the same early set of documents in this particular translation, there is mention of a man we will call S.  S is mentioned in a baptism document in this set as the father of the infant baptizand.  The name of the mother is not entered into the record.  This may have been a case of a mother who died in childbirth, but not necessarily, as the record does not mention the man being widowed.  It may have been a liaison that resulted in an illegitimate child and possible embarrassment for the mother and her family.  At any rate, the translator maintains that the mother of the child in this baptism was M, daughter of P.  P was the consort of one of the most prominent men in St. Augustine, who was not married.  The problem with this is that there is more than one man named S, and also that there is no evidence that either M or P was in the particular location covered by these particular documents, a location in East Florida, but outside of St. Augustine by a good distance.  The translator refers to a specific entry in a census done in a much later year in St. Augustine.  All that the particular entry in the census mentions is the children of the consort P and her prominent paramour.  S is not mentioned at all in that census.  M did marry a man of the same name as S (call him S-), but that occurred in 1803.  In the year of the baptism in that earlier time in that place outside of St. Augustine, M, who was 24 in 1803, had not yet been born!  She could not possibly have been the mother of the infant baptizand fathered by S.  Quite possibly S- had not yet been born, either, at the time the translator tries to tell us he fathered the baby in question.  Here again, we have a case of two people with the same name, and again a mistaken assumption and not enough questioning of both the assumptions and the sources.

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