Finding (or not) a Revolutionary War Patriot ancestor. Part 1: Oral traditions and the case of Jacob Postens.

clipart-of-revolutionary-war-soldiers.med

Revolutionary War Soldier. From CLKR Free clipart

JULY 2018. 

“You’re descended from a Revolutionary War soldier.” Many can prove a direct line back to such a person. For others, like myself, the story stalls out. This story is about Jacob Postens- Revolutionary War Patriot and reported ancestor of my dad, Daniel Richard Posten. In previous posts, I mention Jacob, our family story, my brick wall, and subsequent identification of Thomas Ostrander as my ancestor.  I promised to post details “later”.  “Later” is now here.  I give you the story in two parts:  Part 1 discusses the family story and Jacob Postens. Part 2 relates my discovery of Thomas Ostrander.  This two-part series recalls  information seen in previous posts.

DISCLAIMER:  This post is one of multiple personal efforts to correct misinformation that I distributed during my early years as a genealogist.  I can only claim inexperience and ignorance as a researcher for the error.  

A genealogist reports on an error in her family tree:  An error on an ancestry family tree

Oral Family Traditions

To begin, I received a typewritten genealogy from a cousin in the early 1990s. Ruby Posten Gardiner, my grandfather’s niece,  gave the information to a cousin who forwarded it to me.  [1]

typed Posten lineage

Copy of typewritten genealogy from cousin Ruby.

John R.  Posten is Dad’s father.  Tracing our ancestry  to James D. Posten proved easy enough with death certificates from the state of Pennsylvania  for John[2] (born 1887; died 1948) and his father, Daniel S. Posten (born 1859; died 1918)[3]  I sent for and received a copy of John’s death certificate in 2010. I  found Daniel’s death certificate among records sent to me by the husband of one of John’s nieces. [4] Census records support the information regarding parentage:

1900: [5]  Danial S. Poster, head, 33, b 1867, married 15 years. Lizzie, wife, 40, b 1860, mother of 6 children, 6 still living. William C, son, 14, b1885. John M, son, 12, b 1888. Ethel R, daugh, 10, b1890. Bertha R, daugh, 6, b1894. Martha J, daugh,2,b 1898.

1880: [6] Bostons [Postens], James, 50. Ameriam, 45, wife. Olive, 22, daughter. Daniel, 20, son. Charles E., 17, son. John W., 15, son. George B, 12, son. Ida A, 6, daughter.

1870 : Family moved from Monroe county to Luzerne county ‘about 1870’. Still looking for this record.

1860: [7] (page 75) Jams [James] Posten, 30, day labor; Maryan Posten, 26, domestic; Oliver [Olive], 3, M [F]. (page 76): Danil [Daniel]  Posten, age 1.

So far, so good.  Now came the first stumbling block – how can I prove the names of James’ parents?  I found an 1850 census record for Thomas Postens in Monroe County, Pennsylvania, [8] a place consistent with other records.  James’  recorded age of 19, estimated birth year 1831, is close to estimated birth year  1830 as suggested by 1860, 1880, and 1910[9] census records.  James’ gravestone  [10]  shows his birth year as 1829.  Based on these records, how confident was I that I had found James’ father?  I categorized it as “likely” which, according to Elizabeth Shown Mills, [11] means  “The author feels some evidence supports the assertion, but the assertion is far from proved.”

Remember that the 1850 census does not record the relationship of household members to each other.  Since the surname is the same and ages are logical, James is presumed to be the son of Thomas.   The answer eluded me for months.  While reviewing information for the umpteenth time, I realized that James’ death in 1914 probably meant that he had a state-issued death certificate!

In 2010, I ordered and received a copy of the death certificate for James D. Posten.[12]  Here is a partial transcription:

James D Posten DC transcription

The names of parents on a death certificate are secondary information because the informant was not present at the time of the deceased’s birth.  However, I now believe that 68 year-old Thomas on the 1850 census is probably (more likely than not) the father of James D. Posten.  A picture of Thomas Postens’ grave online[13] shows his birth as 1782 and death as 1854. The Monroe County Historical Society found obituaries for Thomas and his wife, Esther.[14]  Unfortunately, the obituaries contain scant details beyond information about their deaths.  My husband and I visited and photographed the graves of Thomas and Esther  in August 2017. They are buried in a Quaker cemetery. My access to Quaker records is limited to online searches with no results yet found. Local historical societies yielded minimal or no new information about Thomas and Esther.  A 1908 newspaper report about a Posten family reunion recorded Thomas’  birth as “near Englishtown, Monmouth county, N.J. on July 14, 1782” but no information about his parents.[15]

Now, the story deviates from a straight line of evidence.  With no readily available information about Thomas’ parents, I began researching Jacob Postens and his descendants. Perhaps I could find a clue from that angle!

JACOB POSTENS (1755-1831)

disappointed face emjoi

For this post, I describe sources and evidence primarily in the order found.  In 2008, an online family tree listed 7 children of Jacob Posten, including Thomas.[16]  Source of information?  “A message board posting by S. Ellerbee”.  Yes, that was me, repeating information from cousin Ruby, BEFORE I had done the research! My only defense:  “I didn’t know any better”.

In 2010, I decided to apply for membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution. I thought it would be easy! After all, I had the lineage from great-aunt Ruby!  Serious research began by finding and documenting sources and evidence.

I began with census records and located Jacob Poste [Postens] in the 1790 census for Northampton County, Pennsylvania: [17]

Poste, Jacob. 2-3-3-0-0  (Free white males 16 years and upward-Free white males under 16 years-Free white females- other free persons-slaves.

This looked promising! Three free white males under 16 years could include Thomas who was born in 1782.  The 1800 census record for Jacob Postens in Lower Smithfield, Northampton county, Pennsylvania [18] shows 1 free white male, age 16 thru 25. Thomas would be 18 years in 1800. On the same page, a listing for Richard Postens also shows one free white male, 16 thru 25. Because I am researching Jacob, the listing for Richard did not concern me.

Previous experience with a county history book led me to a similar book about Monroe County,  published in 1900, [19]    with an entry for  “Posten family” . Two pages and 6 paragraphs!  “This family is one of the oldest in this section, and its members have been noted in every generation for their thrift, enterprise and public spirit. . . . They are of the fourth generation in descent from Captain Jacob Posten of Revolutionary fame. . . . “  [20]   Brief biographies of Jacob Posten, his six children, selected grandchildren and great-grandchildren followed.  No children named Thomas were listed but this did not deter me!   One of Jacob and Anne’s granddaughters, Mary E. Posten, daughter of James Posten and Mary Dean,  is mentioned with her husband, Charles W. Angle on another page:    “On the paternal side, she is of good old Bucks county stock. . . . “  [21] 

That section names her parents, James Posten and Mary Dean, as well as Mary’s siblings and their spouses.    I again eagerly looked for Thomas with no success.

Jacob is recognized as a Patriot by the D.A.R!  Look for a Revolutionary War Pension claim filed by him or his wife. A digital copy of Jacob Postens claim file (W3296) resides on several websites. [22]  I found the claim, filed by his widow, Ann Burson Postens in 1847.

Educational moment:  Held in the National Archives & Records Administration in Washington, D.C., many of these files are digitized and available on various websites.  Veterans, their widows and other heirs applied to receive a pension and/or a warrant to obtain land.  According to NARA:

“Pension application files usually provide the most genealogical information. These files often contain supporting documents such as: narratives of events during service, marriage certificates, birth records, death certificates, pages from family Bibles, family letters, depositions of witnesses, affidavits, discharge papers and other supporting papers. . . . Bounty land records often contain documents similar to those in pension files, with lots of genealogical information. Many of the bounty land application files relating to Revolutionary War and War of 1812 service have been combined with the pension files.” [23]

Jacob’s file contains affidavits from his widow and his son, James, among others. In her deposition, Anne provided the names and birth dates for their six children:

  1. Sarah or Sally     born August 24, 1783
  2. James                   born August 4, 1784
  3. Charles                 born October 11, 1786
  4. Edward                 born January 10, 1788
  5. William                 born November 15, 1791
  6. Jane                       born February 4, 1798

Six now appears to be the magic number! Go back to the typewritten family genealogy. The document lists Thomas before James, son of Jacob and Anne, suggesting that James Postens and Mary Dean were Thomas’ parents.  I quickly realized that the dates didn’t match.  James, born in 1784, could not possibly be Thomas’ father!  The 1790 and 1800 census records similarly show 6 young persons who were probably Jacob’s children.  Could Thomas still be a son of Jacob or Anne?  Thomas’ date of birth in 1782 places him in the same generation as those listed above.  That possibility cannot be ruled out.

Another county history, published in 1886,[24] provided similar information about Jacob, Ann, and their six children: James, Sally (Mrs. Arthur) Henry, Charles, Edward, William and Jane (Mrs. John Brown).  Some  spouses were also listed in the one paragraph. Briefly mentioned on page 1163 is Edward Postens as manager of the Washington Hotel and his son, Joseph J. Postens.  Although published earlier, I found this book after finding the one published in 1900.

What I learned about these early histories:   You will find similar books published in the late 1800s and early 1900s for other counties.  Look for one about the county where your ancestors resided.   In general, these histories include a history of the county/ counties and its towns as well as biographies of some persons and families. People in the community provided information which may not have been verified.  Use the material as a springboard for your research.

“What are County histories and how they can help with your genealogy”, Blog Post by Will Moneymaker

Several of Jacob and Anne’s known descendants graciously shared their own research with me. To organize the mounds of accumulated paper , I finally entered data into a genealogy software program.  Yes, I should have done that months earlier!  The result is a list of approximately 350 descendants of Jacob Postens and Anne Burson.  For this post, I shortened the list to include only the first four generations  (i.e. children, grandchildren and great-children of Jacob and Anne).

Descendants of Jacob Postens (4 generations) (PDF)

Next, I considered the question:   Did the elderly aunt have the sequence of names mixed up? I   compared information for men named James and Jacob Posten in various generations.  Multiple census records and D.A.R. applications yielded additional persons.  Note:  I do not cite all records here. I am still finding and compiling information about Jacob’s descendants.

My verified ancestor:    James D. Posten , born 1829, Monroe county, PA, married Meriam Mills.

Jacob Postens’ descendants:

James M. Posten, son             born 1784, Pennsylvania               married Mary Dean

James S. Posten, grandson    born 1825, Pennsylvania               married Elizabeth Kintner

James M. Posten, grandson   born 1845, Pennsylvania               married Anna Huntsman

Jacob Posten, grandson          born 1829, New Jersey

The descendant list reveals only one male descendant named Thomas – Thomas Posten Arndt, born 1849, son of Mary Ann Posten and Benjamin Arndt, grandson of William and Phoebe Posten, great-grandson of Jacob Postens and Anne Burson.

Finally, an obituary for Jacob Postens summarized his life but did not list his children. [25]  Publication information reads “The Eaton Centennial, August 19, 1831”.

obit pieced together

William Henry Egle, editor, Notes and Queries: Historical, Biographical and Genealogical: relating chiefly to interior Pennsylvania. [ Fourth Series], 2 vols. (1893; Reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1970), 1: pages 183-184, entry for “Northampton county in the Revolution. Newspaper Notes and Sketches. V. [Obituary, Jacob Postens]”.

 

Summary:  

Thomas Postens birth year of 1782 (1850 census; gravestone)  places him in the same generation as the children of Jacob Postens and Anne Burson. Jacob and Anne had six children, none of whom were named Thomas. My conclusion is based on first hand knowledge and direct evidence (Revolutionary War Pension application) as well as narrative reports and indirect evidence (two county histories, published in 1886 and 1900; census records for 1790 and 1800). None of Jacob and Anne’s sons had children named Thomas.  Similarly, my ancestor, James D. Posten, is certainly not descended from one of Jacob and Anne’s sons (James’ death certificate; newspaper reports).   I consulted multiple types of sources.  Content about the individual families is primary and secondary; content connecting the two families is of unknown origin.  The evidence that I hoped to find is negative or not present.

Are the two families related?  The odds favor the assertion.  Evidence? Both families lived in Monroe County, Pennsylvania during the early 1800s. Both surnames are spelled with an ‘e’ – Posten or Postens.  Both men reported as born in New Jersey. This possibility continues to haunt me.

Next:   My proven Revolutionary War Patriot:  Thomas Ostrander

reflection-swirl-green-color-hi

REFLECTION 

disco-ball-150x150The family of Jacob Postens is definitely one of my BSOs – those bright shiny objects that distract from other genealogical research projects.  Even though I can prove that Jacob is NOT our direct line ancestor, I keep coming back to him. Why?  I believe that I will eventually find something that links our two families beyond the current circumstantial evidence. Perhaps completion and publication of  a ‘reasonably exhaustive’ research report will suffice?  Or, maybe one of Jacob’s known descendants will take on that task?!?  I will gladly collaborate with someone!

As I reviewed documents again, I found several online message board postings with information copied directly from a source but without any citations. Similar entries also appear in online family trees.  This is plagiarism. I sometimes ask people for their sources and occasionally get a response.  Since I began my own research, I have gotten more obsessive about citing sources.

What I learned:  writing about genealogical research process is slightly different from writing about your results.  A results-oriented article may or may not cite information in the order in which it was found.  Remember to record date when I find information, as well as location of source and complete citation information. Apply the genealogical proof standard in all cases.  For this post, I did not cite all available sources. An article about the descendants of Jacob Postens and Anne Burson will include all of those sources.

What helped:  previous research done on Jacob and Thomas.

What didn’t help:  Papers in Jacob Postens file are not in any particular order. I haven’t done a recent update of the family group sheets.  No research logs for this family because this is not one of my priority projects. I didn’t always record the date when I found information.

To-do:  Buy Genealogy Proof book.  Seek collaboration with another person for an article about Jacob Postens descendants. Submit article  to either Monroe County or Pennsylvania Genealogical Society.  Include only brief mention about Thomas not being a descendant.  Continue to refine skills regarding citation of sources.  By the end of July, develop research logs for Jacob and Anne.  Continue to develop research logs for each of their children with goal of 6 research logs created by the end of the year.  Review chapter about Thomas Postens written for revised Posten family history.

SOURCES: 

[1] Typewritten genealogy, Posten family tradition regarding lineage of John Posten to Jacob Posten (b 1755) as reported by Ruby Gardiner, granddaughter of Daniel Posten & Phoebe Fulkerson to Vera Posten Brooks, ca. 1989; privately held by Ellerbee, [address for private use,] Yukon, Oklahoma. Copy sent by Ms. Brooks to Ms. Ellerbee about 1990.

[2] Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Health, death certificate 63554 (1948), John R. Posten; Bureau of Vital Statistics, New Castle.

[3] Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Health, death certificate  103965 (1918), Daniel S. Posten, Bureau of Vital Statistics, New Castle.

[4] Multiple birth, marriage and death records from Personal Collection of Jerry Connors sent to Susan Posten Ellerbee, 2010-2012; privately held by Ms. Ellerbee, [address for private use,] Yukon, Oklahoma. Mr. Connors was husband of daughter of Martha Jane Posten McDonnell, sister of Ms. Posten’s grandfather, John R. Posten.

[5] 1900 U.S. Federal Census, Lackawanna county, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Ransom Twp., enumeration district (ED) 40, p. 3B (penned), dwelling 42, family 43, Danial S. Poster [Daniel S. Posten; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed, printed, downloaded 11 July 2017); citing National Archives & Records Administration_Washington, D.C. microfilm publication T623, roll 1419..

[6]  1880 U.S. Federal Census, Luzerne county, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Pittston, enumeration district (ED) 136, p. 18B (penned), dwelling 163, family 177, James Bostons [Posten}; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed, printed, downloaded July 2012); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. Microfilm publication T9, Roll 1150..

[7]  1860 U.S. Federal Census, Monroe county, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Price Township, p. 72 (penned), p. 691 (stamped), dwelling 514, family 641, Jams [James] Posten; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed, printed, downloaded 13 March 2010); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. Microfilm publication M653.

[8] 1850 U.S. census, Monroe County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Hamilton Township, p. 17B (stamped), dwelling 220, family 220, Thomas Portons [Postens]; digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com   :  Accessed 17 Oct 2011 and 3 May 2017); citing National Archive sand Records Administration microfilm M432, roll 798.

[9] 1910 U.S. Federal Census, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Pittston city, p. 6B (penned), dwelling 107, family 115,  James D. Posten, 80, father-in-law, in household of C.B. & Olive Fulkersin.

[10] Pittston Cemetery (Pittston, Luzerne county, Pennsylvania), Posten, James D. & wife, Miriam Mills, top of hill; Photographed by Jerry L. Ellerbee & Susan Posten Ellerbee,  14 August 2017.

[11] Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources form Artifacts to Cyberspace, 3rd ed. (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company), 19.

[12] Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Health, death certificate no. 118955 , James D. Posten (1914); Division of Vital Records, New Castle. Received April 2010.

[13] Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed March 2012), memorial page for  Thomas Postens (14 Jul 1782 – 16 Feb 1854),  Find A Grave memorial no. 16812461, citing Friends Burial Ground, Stroudsburg, Monroe County, Pennsylvania; photograph by Frederich Otto. We visited this cemetery in August 2017 and took pictures of Thomas and Esther’s gravestones.

[14] Amy Leiser, Monroe County Historical Society, Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, to Phoebe Landfried, letter, 26 April 2012, regarding obituaries for Thomas and Esther Posten; Personal correspondence, 2012; Posten Family, Susan Posten Ellerbee Research File for Thomas Postens, privately held by Ms. Ellerbee, [address for private use,] Yukon, Oklahoma. Copy of letter with documents sent to Ms. Ellerbee by Ms. Landfried, descendant of Olive Jane Posten and C.B. Fulkersin. Olive Jane was daughter of James D. Posten and Meriam Mills and sister of Ms. Ellerbee’s great-grandfather, Daniel S. Posten.

[15] “Posten Family Reunion,” The Wilkes-Barre Record, 11 September 1908; online images, Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed & printed 18 August 2017), page 5.

[16] Unknown contact, “Jacob Posten”, Ancestry One World Tree Project (http://awtc.ancestry.com/  : accessed  2 Jan 2008).   NOTE:The user submitted family tree databases called OneWorldTree were discontinued by Ancestry in late 2013. The discontinued One World Tree has been replaced by Ancestry.com’s Family Trees”. (http://www.searchforancestors.com/archives/oneworldtree.html  : accessed 26 June 2018)

[17] Bureau of the Census, Heads of families at the first census of the United States taken in the year 1790. Pennsylvania. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1908), p. 175, column 1, Jacob Poste.

[18] 1800 U.S. Census, Northampton county, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Lower Smithfield, p. 618 (penned), Jacob Postens; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed, printed, downloaded 8 November 2011); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C., microfilm publication M32, roll 37.

[19] Commemorative biographical record of Northeastern Pennsylvania including the counties of Susquehanna, Wayne, Pike and Monroe, containing biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens and many of the early settled families (Chicago: J.H. Beers & Co, 1900), entry for POSTEN FAMILY, pp. 1438-1439; download from Wayback Machine (https://archive.org:     12 July 2017).  Originally accessed from Distant Cousin (http://www. distantcousin.com/images/NEPABio/1438.jpg   :  accessed 20 March 2010; this website may no longer be available).

[20] Ibid,p. 1438; 1900 county history.

[21]  Ibid, p. 802; 1900 county history.

[22] Jacob Postens Rev War Pension Claim . Deposition of claimant, Ann Burson Postens, widow’s pension application no. W3296; service of Jacob Postens, state of Pennsylvania; “Revolutionary War Pension and bounty-land warrant application files, 1800-1900”, images, Fold3 (https://www.fold3.com :  accessed 1 April 2010 and 12 July 2017),  Jacob Postens, citing Case Files of Pension and Bounty-land Warrant Applications Based on Revolutionary War Service, compiled ca. 1800-ca 1912, documenting the period ca 1775-1900, M804 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration [n.d.], Roll 1957.

[23] Genealogy Research in Military Records. National Archives & Records Administration. (https://www.archives.gov/research/military/genealogy.html    : accessed 24 June 2018).

[24] Alfred Matthews, History of Wayne, Pike and Monroe Counties, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: R.T. Peck & Co, 1886), p. 1127; download from Wayback Machine (https://archive.org/details/historyofwaynepi00math   : accessed  March 2010 and 12 July 2017).

[25] William Henry Egle, editor, Notes and Queries: Historical, Biographical and Genealogical: relating chiefly to interior Pennsylvania. [ Fourth Series], 2 vols. (1893; Reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1970), 1: pages 183-184, entry for “Northampton county in the Revolution. Newspaper Notes and Sketches. V. [Obituary, Jacob Postens]”.

© Susan Posten Ellerbee and “Posting Family Roots” blog, 2017-2018.  Excerpts and links may be used when full and clear credit, including appropriate and specific direction to the original content, is given to Susan Posten Ellerbee and Posting Family Roots. Unauthorized use or duplication of material without the written permission of the owner is prohibited.

Share your work during this New Year

Earlier this month, I watched another  television show (of three seen recently) about the Lost Colony of Roanoke, Virginia.[1]  Hosts for each show have expertise in varying fields such as archaeology[2] and geology[3].  Each approaches the mystery from a different perspective.  If I remember correctly, all hosts interviewed some of the same persons, visited some of the same locations and viewed/ analyzed some of the same items.  Each found something unique with similar but different conclusions.  My suggestion:  Bring all of the hosts together in Roanoke where they share their methods and visit locations again, as a group.  They compare findings and debate differences.  As a group, they come to joint conclusions, noting similarities and differences.  What a wonderful show that would be!

This brings me to the topic of this blog– sharing your genealogical research as a New Year’s resolution.  I tend to work independently.  However, I realize the value of seeking others with similar genealogy interests. Their perspective has often shown me things that I had missed. Or, they delved deeper into a relationship than I had done. Why not build on the work of others?

Reader, beware!  This is especially true in genealogical research.  With the advent of the internet, there are many more ways to share work and misinformation. Build on the work of others but take time to confirm their work.  Confession time– how many of you ever posted questionable or unverified information? Raised-hands I did and it has been haunting me ever since! How many of you copied information because ‘it looks OK’?  Again, guilty as charged!  Although, I am much more careful now than in the past!

I received a typewritten family genealogy from a cousin who had gotten the information from an elderly great-aunt. [4] typed Posten lineageLooks reasonable!   From my dad, I knew names of his dad and his grandfather.  My beginning research efforts gave me the name of James D. Posten, next in line.  So far, so good.  Using this information as a base, I began to prepare my application to join the Daughters of the American Revolution.  Since James died in 1914, I eventually wrote for, and received, a copy of his death certificate.  Next person in line – Thomas Posten- confirmed!  I also searched from the other direction – from Jacob Postens to Thomas.  I found Jacob’s Revolutionary War Pension file online [5].   Additional information about Jacob’s children and grandchildren was located in two county histories published in 1886[6] and 1900[7].  No Thomas!

More bad news!  Before I verified the information on the typewritten document, I shared it as fact on multiple message boards and my online family tree.  Dispelling this myth has been on ongoing process for the last 7 years.  Even though I readily share the accumulated information about Jacob Postens and his descendants[8], relatives still argue the direct relationship.  No one has produced evidence to prove that we are direct descendants of Jacob Postens and his wife, Ann Burson.

Sharing genealogical findings can be controversial.  Everyone wants credit for his or her work.  So, give credit to that other researcher! “This information based on Sally Ramsey’s online tree, entry for Jacob Holland.” If you disagree with the other person, be respectful:  “Two online tree shows death date for Jacob Holland as 1908; sources are gravestone and church records. Death certificate and family Bible records show death year as 1909.” Contact the owners of the other trees and offer to share copies of all documents.

No one works in a vacuum.  We rely on the work of others to discover our own family roots. Census takers asked questions and wrote answers on blank pages, transcriptionists typed the handwritten pages, someone created the paper and digital indexes, publishers put together the books, and librarians catalogued and shelved the books.  Family members kept great-grandfather’s Bible and your cousin now has it. A relative wrote a biography about your great-great grandmother’s brother.  Newspapers recorded family comings and goings. Local historians published essays and family stories in the county historical society journal.  There is room for error at each step of the process.

In the 1980s, my father-in-law attended an Ellerbee family reunion. He met a man who had written and published an extensive history of the Ellerbe/ Ellerbee/Ellerby family. My father-in-law shared the book [9]with me. The information in this book saved me many hours of research. Connecting the names and information with specific sources (listed at the end of the book) became my task. I found only one piece of incorrect information:  the wives of John Ellerbee (born 1808- died 1885).  In the book (page 14-41), John’s wives are listed as 1st, Martha and 2nd, Elizabeth. Birth dates of children, a marriage record, and census records indicate the reverse.  Comment on my posted family tree[10] begins with his data, cites records and ends with:

Conclusion:  Ellerbe book has the names reversed. Martha was John’s 2nd wife. I am keeping Elizabeth as name of John’s 1st wife without any other proof of her name at this time (August 2011). Any reliable info to keep or change this information is welcome.

This entry acknowledges Mr. Ellerbe’s work and gives the rationale for my conclusion. I am open for comments.

Online family trees are repositories of both correct and incorrect information.  Inconsistent data are not always recognized.  A desire for quantity may override a concern about quality.  A BSO (bright shiny object) lures even an experienced genealogist to stray from their stated objective.

Private or public online family tree?  This remains controversial with pros and cons to each.  Public trees:  Pro (& con) – anyone with access to the website can view your tree.  Anyone can copy your work to his or her tree. You may or may not get credit for finding that elusive document!  Private trees:  people must contact you for information and/or access.  Someone else cannot easily copy your work. This limit may deter anyone from contacting you.

Are my trees public or private? The answer is “Yes”. Some of my trees are public and some are posted on more than one website. My primary reason is for potential contact by other relatives, which has occurred.  My public trees are not as extensive as the trees housed on my computer within genealogical software programs.  I do not post all information on the public trees.  For example, I do not post copies of documents such as birth, marriage, death certificates that I paid for! I do include a note: “Tree owner has copy of birth certificate.” I also do not post information that others may not readily know.  Other trees reside only on my computer or on paper.  Most common reason is tentative nature of the information.  I do not have any online trees that are labelled as ‘private’.  No specific reason. You decide what to do about your own family trees.

Suggestions about sharing:

  1. Share your findings based on personal preferences. “Willing to share summary of information from multiple sources.” “Richard married Rita in 1932 per marriage certificate.  Daughter, Sarah, born 1929 per 1940 census.  I have copy of Sarah’s death certificate which lists Sarah’s mother as Donna King.”
  2. When in doubt, say so. “Two families with similar names found in this county; this may not be correct family.” “1910 & 1920 census suggest birth year of 1889; death certificate lists birth year of 1891.”   “Maiden name Smith per Jones family history; need to confirm with other sources.”  “Jacob Postens as direct ancestor from typewritten pedigree from elderly aunt; relationship not supported by multiple sources; contact tree owner for more info”.   “Handwritten name looks like Sa____son.”
  3. Be kind. Please check dates.  Betty would have been 8 (or 65) years old when 1st child born.”  “I visited John & Jennie’s grave last week. They are buried in Roberts Cemetery, not Robinson Cemetery.  May have been a transcription error.”  “I respectfully disagree with you on this point. My reasons are . . . .”  “I see your point and have made a note on my tree.”
  4. Check your own work carefully. “Middle name reported as Amelia and Ash by relatives; no documents found to support either one; changed here to initial ‘A’ .”
  5. Compliment good work. “I really like how you report discrepancies and questions.” “Thanks for sharing the pages from the old Bible.” “Thanks for full reference to newspaper obituary.”  “Your post about James’ parents is consistent with my own research.  I think that you are on the right track.”
  6. Admit your mistakes. “I shared the typewritten pedigree from elderly aunt and did not verify information.”  “Surname transcribed as Roberts by me when looking at handwritten census; marriage record & death certificate indicate name was Robertson.”  Your admission may save others from making the same mistake later.

So, during this New Year, resolve to share your work within limits set by you. Use the work of others and acknowledge their contributions.  Respect the opinions of others even when different than yours. Record your mistakes and make the necessary changes.  “Please” and “thank you” are still politically correct!

FYI — Yes, I became a Daughter of the American Revolution, using dad’s mother’s ancestor, Thomas Ostrander of New York.  Initially, I spent 3-4 months on the Jacob Postens’ line and got very discouraged.  A D.A.R. member suggested that I look at the women and this produced my connection to Thomas.  Lineage from me is:  Daniel Richard Posten (dad), Jennie A. Richards (dad’s mother), Ostrander Richards (Jennie’s father), Sarah Ostrander (Ostrander’s mother, 2nd wife of Nathaniel Richards; she died shortly after her son’s birth), Thomas Ostrander.

reflection-swirl-green-color-hiREFLECTION  This entire post is a reflection of my experience about sharing and the negative effect of misinformation.  What helped:  acknowledging that not everything you get from older relatives is necessarily true.  Access to internet and multiple other sources.  Kept lots of notes!   What didn’t help:  Initial reluctance to acknowledge that older relative could be wrong. Being totally stumped by brick wall.  Next steps:  Question everything! When you hit a brick wall, put the work aside and review later.  Keep extensive notes in journals, genealogical software, and research logs.

Another way to share:  Share your work with a genealogy buddy – It’s time to get a genealogy buddy

[1] Bill & Jim Vieira, Return to Roanoke: Search for the Seven; (video documentary, aired 4 January 2018; distributed by History Channel), television.

[2] Josh Gates, The Lost Colony of Roanoke, Expedition Unknown series; (video documentary; Season 3, Episode 4, distributed by Travel Channel), television. The Travel Channel.com (http://www.travelchannel.com/shows/expedition-unknown/episodes/the-lost-colony-of-roanoke  : accessed 10 January 2018.

[3] Scott Wolter, Mystery of Roanoke, American Unearthed series (video documentary, Season 1, Episode 7; aired 1 February 2013; distributed by History Channel, television. History Channel (http://www.history.com/shows/american-unearthed/season-1/episode 7   : accessed 10 January 2018

[4] Posten family traditions regarding ancestors of John Posten (born 1887), Ruby Grace Gardner, compiler (Pedigree and notes privately held by Susan Posten Ellerbee, [address for private use,] Yukon, Oklahoma) as reported by Vera Posten Brooks, ca. 1989.  A handwritten note on the document states, “I don’t know how accurate it is.”

[5] Deposition of claimant, Ann Burson Postens, widow’s pension application no. W3296; service of Jacob Postens, state of Pennsylvania; “Revolutionary War Pension and bounty-land warrant application files, 1800-1900”, images, Fold3 (https://www.fold3.com :  accessed 12 July 2017),  Jacob Postens, citing Case Files of Pension and Bounty-land Warrant Applications Based on Revolutionary War Service, compiled ca. 1800-ca 1912, documenting the period ca 1775-1900, M804 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration [n.d.], Roll 1957.

[6] Alfred Matthews, History of Wayne, Pike and Monroe Counties, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: R.T. Peck & Co, 1886), p. 1127; download from Wayback Machine (https://archive.org/details/historyofwaynepi00math   : accessed 12 July 2017).

[7] Commemorative biographical record of Northeastern Pennsylvania including the counties of Susquehanna, Wayne, Pike and Monroe, containing biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens and many of the early settled families (Chicago: J.H. Beers & Co, 1900), pp. 1438-1439; download from Wayback Machine (https://archive.org :  accessed 12 July 2017).

[8] Susan Posten Ellerbee, “Jacob Postens: Our Ancestor?”; (MSS, July 2017; privately published by Ellerbee, [address for private use,], Yukon, Oklahoma.  

[9] Ronald William Ellerbe, The Ellerbe Family History (Baltimore, Maryland: Gateway Press, Inc, 1986).

[10] Susan Ellerbee, “Jerry Donald Ellerbee Tree,”, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/60654669/person/48059652815/facts  : accessed 15 January 2017), “John E. Ellerbee”, John’s wives (comment).

“It all started with DNA results” –Using relationship charts.

Last month, a cousin asked for help  to answer some questions.   I temporarily set aside the tasks that I had planned as part of the Genealogy Do-Over.   Was I following a BSO (bright shining object)?  It seemed so although I did use  some of my improved research skills.  Each BSO has led me to a different branch of dad’s family—branches that I would probably not have explored, such as the great-granddaughter of one of my great-aunts.  I realized that I was also building my research toolbox, a topic for Month 5 of the Genealogy Do-Over .

It all started with DNA.  I submitted my DNA sample last year and finally convinced my brother to submit his earlier this year.  We used different companies so we are both submitting samples again.  I looked quickly at the DNA relatives and only contacted those whose name I recognized.  Fortunately, a second cousin contacted me as a result of DNA matches and finding my online family tree with a common surname.  We share the same great –grandparents.  She knew very little about our common line, her grandmother’s family, which is also my grandfather’s  family.   I knew little about her grandmother and she answered  questions for me.  Her son also has the genealogy bug.

Both my second cousin and her son have sent in their DNA.  He is very curious about all of those DNA relatives – exactly how are we related to this person?  Figuring out your ‘cousinship’  is easy  when you already  know your common ancestors – use a relationship chart.  Here is one that is commonly used: relationship_chart_1

My DNA-match 2nd cousin knew the names of her grandparents.  Her grandmother was my grandfather’s sister. So, establishing the common ancestor was relatively (pardon the pun!) easy.

Other examples of relationship charts:   

Relationship chart – another format

Relationship chart format #3

What is more difficult is identifying  your possible common ancestor for that third cousin identified as a DNA match to you when you aren’t sure about the names of the other person’s ancestors.   There are at least 16 possibilities (from both your mother and father)!   In essence, you have to look at the relationship chart in a different way.   If this person and I are 3rd cousins, then who might be our common ancestor?

My 2nd cousin and I have an already established a relationship through our great-grandparents.   So, the list narrowed as we only looked at DNA matches who are related to both of us.  Now,  there are only four possibilities as a common ancestor – our common great-great grandparents, James, Meriam, Samuel or Charlotte.

Her son’s curiousity about those DNA matches led to the BSOs that took up much of my time during one two week period.   Another person, who inherited work done by cousin on a related family line, has been extremely helpful.  She used an extensive research toolbox to determine how we are related to one person, identified as a third or fourth cousin DNA match.    Her search strategy included social media as well as the usual census records, obituaries, and gravesites.  I admire her tenacity and thoroughness!

End of story:   Two more cousins have been positively identified through DNA matches.  Our common ancestors have been identified.   All of the information is clipped together and has been entered to genealogy software and research logs.

reflection-swirl-green-color-hi

Reflection:   I experienced a mix of emotions during those two weeks.   Initial response was frustration because I did not meet my specific objectives.  Instead, I helped a cousin discover how we are related to two DNA matches.  At first, I considered these projects as BSOs since the work was not planned.   However, I chose to tackle those projects instead of keeping with my original plan.   I met another person with marvelous detective skills.  I can learn from her.    Using research logs and making sure that I have complete source citations was helpful.   I worked slower on these projects than I have in the past, due to improved research practices.

What helped:   Research logs that had been done earlier. Starting new research logs.  Checking and re-checking source citations.  Label and file digital media as I found it online.

What didn’t help:   Not being sure that this was a good use of my time.  I had to acknowledge that I chose to work on these projects at this time.  I could have deferred and waited for reports from others.

What I learned:   Collaboration with others is key to discovering the relationships and avoiding duplication of work.   Say ‘no’ to some projects, no matter how interesting  they seem.  However,  these projects can still become learning tools.  I learned a different way of using a relationship chart to determine a possible common ancestor.  This leads me to the concept of a ‘flipped’ relationship chart.   Here is first draft of my idea, for your consideration:  flipped chart draft1Happy searching!

 

Grandmother’s dish towels

Do you remember your grandmother’s dish towels?  The ones with the ‘to-do list’ for the housewife?

Wash on Monday IMG_9024

Iron on Tuesday

Mend on Wednesday

Clean on Thursday

Shop on Friday  IMG_9026

Bake on Saturday

Rest on Sunday

One Monday,  I printed our paternal grandparents’ family group sheet for my brother.  He has limited internet access and wanted print copies of group sheets for grandparents and each of their children.   I printed family group sheets for two of my dad’s five siblings, and group sheets for their children.  I was about one-third of the way done with the project.   The project includes multiple tasks associated with the Genealogy Do-Over ,  specifically tracking and conducting research (Month 4) , citing sources (month 5), and evaluating evidence (Month 6).   Minimal tracking, inconsistent citation of sources, token notes  to locate source records and nominal documentation of my thought processes are among the things that I am trying to improve.

I went to bed about midnight.  As I dozed off to sleep,  I thought about those dish towels.  How does this apply to my work week as a genealogist?  Well, here is a version to ponder.

Monday:  Wash.  Pick one  item (or a basketful) from your family tree.  Look at the facts and sources.  Fill in research log.

Tuesday:   Iron.  Iron out the wrinkles.  What information is inconsistent?  What information is consistent?  Identify the holes and gaps.  Complete research log, including appropriate citations.   Create to-do list.

Wednesday:  Mend.  Search for information to fill in gaps and close holes.  Check analysis again and revise as needed.  Trace the threads of indirect evidence.

Thursday:  Clean.  Clean digital and paper files.  Discard extra copies of documents.  Review documents and analysis again.  What did you miss?  What still needs to be done?

Friday:  Shop.   Shop for items/  information.  Use a new  source.

Saturday:  Bake.  Put item in your mental oven and bake slowly for 24 hours.  Test for doneness at regular intervals.  Remove and set out to cool.

Sunday:  Rest.   Allow item to rest for an indefinite period of time.  Pick up another item and set plan for next week.   Question:  Do genealogists ever really rest???

Did I follow that plan?  Well, sort of. . .

Monday:   Citations in genealogy software program need washing.  Washed and dried 2 loads – for Grandpa (John Ray Posten) & Grandma  (Jennie Amelia Richards) Posten.  Sorted citations for  their 6 children, one of whom is my dad.   Used  templates in program and Evidence Explained book.

Tuesday:  Continuation of Monday.  Added information from LaCoe family history [1] (privately published 2010) about Grandpa & Grandma Posten’s grandchildren.    Individual worksheets  completed  for each of dad’s siblings but not for each of their spouses – filling these in as I go.  Started research logs for each of dad’s 5 siblings.

Wednesday:  Answered emails from DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) prospective members – 1st draft of one application sent to prospective member.   Continuation of Monday and Tuesday for Posten family group sheet project.   Found digital copies of death certificates for dad’s brothers;  digital and paper copies placed in appropriate files;  citations added to  genealogy software program.

Thursday:  Continuation of Monday and Tuesday for Posten family group sheet project.   Followed one BSO – George G. Posten, son of James D. Posten and Meriam Mills and great-grandparents of Grandpa [John Ray] Posten).   Volunteer work at local library.   Checked cloud storage—discovered that files must be saved to the cloud program first, then can be synced to personal computer.  I was hoping  to leave files on personal computer and only use cloud storage as backup.  To-do:  Continue to explore how to use cloud storage programs effectively.

Friday:  Continuation of Monday and Tuesday for Posten family group sheet project.    Where did I put obituary of Joe Carpenter (grandson of  Grandpa  Posten’s sister and  an avid genealogist)?  OK,  his obituary isn’t really relevant for the current project but will be for the next one.    Scanned, filed, and created citations for 4 documents received from another cousin.  Original copies of documents placed in newly created ‘Posten BMD Certificates & Pictures’ notebook.   Office supply store for ink.

Saturday:   Continuation of Monday and Tuesday for Posten family  group sheet project. Followed one BSO – 1st husband  (William Allen) of dad’s sister, Grace; his grandfather was born in Scotland and his grandmother was born in England.  Started research log with complete citations and links; downloaded and copied documents for files.   Bought 3 reams of paper at a garage sale.

Sunday:  Continuation of same.  Estimated time of completion—next week??

[1] Susan A. LaCoe,  Lenay LaCoe Blackwell, and Velma Sue Miller, compilers/ updaters, Commemorative Record of LaCoe Family: Containing Biographical Sketches and Genealogy. Illustrated. 1750-2010, Martha L. LaCoe, compiler of first edition, edition 2010 (Pennsylvania: Privately published, 2010), pp. 45-51.

reflection-swirl-green-color-hi

Analysis of experience:  Who knew that printing family group sheets for 3 generations of a family would take so long?  I thought that I could do this in one, maybe two, afternoons.  I have now spent 20+ hours on this project – not counting the BSO times!  Correcting and verifying citations in genealogy software  program is taking up most of the time.  Doing this now will save time later when I revise the Posten history written in 2012.

Addendum (one week later):  Family group sheets for Grandpa & Grandma Posten,  their 6 children, and multiple grandchildren are printed and ready for mailing to my brother.   Items for 2 people still need to be entered on research logs.  The act of writing down or typing a complete citation for each item forces me to slow down and think about the document – what does the document really say about this person? How does this help my research?  What is next step?   I am proud of myself for not  following several BSOs for distant relatives, such as mother-in-law of 2nd cousin.  For the next generation (my great- grandparents and their children), I want to continue researching  one generation back about spouses of  my great-aunts and uncles.  Files on great-grandparents are complete but files on their children are not.   For now, continue to focus on Posten family.

 

Research plans and BSOs

Research?  Really?  That’s what I’m doing when I’m ‘doing genealogy’?  Answer:  Yes.  The term ‘research’ often brings up images of laboratories, white coats, and persons with no interests beyond that laboratory.  As an amateur genealogist, my family sometimes wonders if I have any other interests.  Housework versus searching census records for an elusive ancestor?  The census record search will win every time!  At least, until the laundry hamper is overflowing and my stomach is growling! Then, the census record search is only deferred for a few hours.

research dictionary.jpg

As promised,  in this blog, I explore more of my not-so-wonderful research practices, specifically “going wherever the research leads me” and “following rabbit trails (aka BSOs or bright shining obects)”.  At first glance, these look like similar items.  And, in some ways, they are similar.  Both practices are inefficient and waste time and resources.   Here’s an example:

Current practice Improved practice
Going wherever the research leads me Tracking census records for one family back from 1920s.  1900 census listed 3 children living with parents.  I click on each child’s name and trace them , and their children, as far as I can.    Sometimes,  I go to other sources but not on a regular basis.  Child #2 is my direct ancestor.   Write basic information on piece of paper (only source notation is 1900 census).   Make mental note of what additional info is needed and/or questions.  Follow BSO for other children. Before ending session:

  • Enter names of spouses, marriage date & location, death date & location on Family Group Sheet for parents.  Use pencil if still needs to be verified.
  • Enter information to genealogy program on personal computer.
  • Add information to research log, including complete citation.
  • Create  item, with note, on To-do list, as needed.
  • End session.  If time permits, begin another item on To-do list or go to another person’s To-do list.
Following rabbit trails (aka BSOs) Two of the 3 children are not my direct ancestor.   Spent about 2 hours (after midnight) clicking on every hint.  Finally ended session when I was going after the parents of mother-in-law  of  Child #3’s son.  Did not meet that session’s goal of tracking my family before 1900. Ask:  Is this information relevant to my current line of research?  If not,  STOP!  If potentially relevant, enter on research log and  to-do list. Include questions to be answered.   Continue with current plan.

Note:  I like tables to compare information.  Creating a table helps me to put things in perspective rather than slogging through several paragraphs.  My co-workers often rolled their eyes when I presented them with another table of data!  But, I learned to accept the fact that not everyone sees the world in the same way.

Genealogy research is a process.  Most of us (including me)  probably just have a mental plan when we do genealogy.   If you have problems staying focused, write out a plan at the beginning of each session.  A research log can be the place to document your actions and findings.

  • Goal/ expected outcome/ proof point: What are you looking for or trying to prove ? What questions do you have about the person or family?
  • Assessment: What information do you already have?
  • Plan of action: What specific items are you looking for?  Where will you look ?  How much time do you have?  If you have a long list of items,  set priorities.
  • Actions taken: Check off each item as you locate and review it.  Be sure to write out complete citations or transcribe immediately to your computer-based research log.
  • Effectiveness of actions/ analysis:  Write down what you discovered.  Analyze your findings.  Were  your questions answered?  If not,  what are your next steps?  Add  next steps to To-Do list.

Here’s an example:

Goal/ expected outcome/ proof point:    Prove parents of James D. Posten.

Assessment:    Typewritten lineage from great-aunt (now deceased), courtesy of cousin [1]

typed Posten lineage.jpg

James D. Posten, born 1829 and died 1914, buried in Pittston City Cemetery, Pittston, Luzerne county, Pennsylvania.[2].  1850 census, Monroe county, PA:  James Portons, 19, with Thomas Portons, age 68 (as transcribed).[3]

Plan of action:  Obtain death certificate for James D. Posten.

Actions taken:   Requested death certificate from Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Effectiveness/ analysis:   Received copy of death certificate[4] about a month after making request.    Names of parents reported as Thomas Postens and Esther Brown.   James’s birthplace recorded as Monroe county, Pennsylvania.  Goal met.  James’ birth date recorded as Aug. 11, 1829.  From 1850 census, James’ birth year about 1831. Could still be same person.   Next steps:   Search 1830/ 1840/ 1850/ 1860 census records for Thomas and Esther.  Focus on Monroe county.  Continue search of census records from 1860 to 1900 for James Posten.  Search 1850 census for James Posten  birth year about 1831 with focus on Monroe and surrounding counties.

I have lots of handwritten notes on printed census records and other documents.  As I continue to work through the various generations, I plan to create research logs,  a tool that I have rarely used.

No, I did not actually write out the initial plan!  But, I did have it (sort of ) in my head.   This is my typical way of doing things. Then, I let the information take me wherever.  Two (or five) hours later, I have followed numerous BSOs and still may not have what I was looking for.  At this point, I usually am not even sure about what I found that didn’t help, those ‘negative findings’.  So, I look  at the same material again and still find that it doesn’t answer my question.

What if you don’t find what you expected?  Set a new goal and develop a new action plan. Keep track of what you searched for and what you found, or didn’t find.  Further research showed that the next two generations in the line (James E.  Posten and Mary Dean, Jacob Posten and Anna Burson) are not my direct ancestors. That is a story for another day!

Want to know more about the genealogy research process?  Try these links:

Next blog:  My experiences with research logs.

Footnotes:

[1] Posten family traditions regarding ancestors of John Posten (born 1887), Ruby Grace Gardner, compiler (Pedigree and notes privately held by Susan Posten Ellerbee, [address for private use,] Yukon, Oklahoma) as reported by Vera Posten Brooks, ca. 1989.  A handwritten note on the document states “I don’t know how accurate it is.”

[2] Find A Grave, database with images (http://www.findagrave.com   : accessed 3 Mar 2012), memorial 5613463, James D. Posten, Pittston City Cemetery, Pittston, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania; gravestone picture by sharleenp.

[3]1850 U.S. census, Monroe County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Hamilton Township, p. 17B (stamped), dwelling 220, family 220, Phebe Bertyman [Brutzman]; image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com    :  accessed 3 Mar 2012); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm M432, roll 789

[4] Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Health, death certificate no. 118955 , James D. Posten (1914); Division of Vital Records, New Castle, PA.

Genealogy Do-over: Month 1, Part 2

Progress report:  Month 1,  Goal #2:  locate/ sort/ file essential documents and those that ‘”took considerable time, effort and money to order or collect.   Set aside for later review.”[1]

As of April 24, 2017 (Month 4),  this task is finally, almost complete for maternal & paternal lines, maternal  & paternal- in-laws families, taking much longer than I anticipated.  But, then, I realize that there are 500-600 people (or more) in each tree,  going back 5-7 generations.  Yes, not all of those people are directly related to us!  My husband said, more than once, “I hope that all of this  will actually help!” as I totally took over a dining room table.  Son #2 has his computer on our office desk so that space isn’t currently available.  I kept telling husband and sons, and reminding myself, that it was as much for those who will inherit my files as for me now.  I think that their eyes glazed over more than once when I tried to describe why I was doing this!   During the re-organization process,  I tried to carefully review documents.  I jumped ahead to Month 4 (research log) for a couple of brick walls and questions that came up.   I am proud of myself that I only followed 3-4 BSOs!  Staying away from those is a definite challenge!

What is a BSO?  BSO stands for “Bright and Shining Object”.   According to Thomas MacAntee [1],  a BSO is anything that “can cause your research to be derailed while you lose focus on your original research goal.”   For me, this has included not only those hints on the genealogy websites but a note that a town in the 1880 census no longer exists (spent 2 hours finding out more that was not really relevant to our family’s history), a 1940s newspaper clipping about a boy with our surname (turns out he was son of a 2nd cousin) and the death certificate of wife of  distant relative (until 2 am tracking her parents).   He recommends using a To-Do List.  To-Do lists include what you are trying to find, what you have found, and what you need to find to meet your research goal.  Basically, it’s a research plan and incorporates the BSO that is tempting you.

disco-ball-150x150

BSO example #1:    Finding 1st wife of  my  maternal great-great grandfather, Jeremiah Tucker.  According to oral family history, his wife’s name was Margaret/ Maggie Irwin.

Census records for 1870, 1880 & 1900 show Jeremiah and wife, Margaret.   A closer look at 1900 census record shows that Jeremiah & Margaret have been married for 33 years or estimated marriage year about 1867.  So, what’s the problem?  1870 census record – child, Lavinia, age 8 (born about 1862).  1880 census – daughter, Lanna, age 18.  If marriage information given in 1900 census is correct, then Margaret is probably Jeremiah’s 2nd wife.   Next item of interest already in my files, death certificate for George Tucker (age 3 in 1880) — his mother’s name is listed as Margaret Collins.  Wife, Margaret, listed in 1870/1880/1900 census records died before Jeremiah, who died in 1914.

Was  Jeremiah Tucker married to another woman named Margaret ?

This is definitely a BSO!  At any other time, I would have gone after this immediately.  But, I restrained myself .  So, here is the To-Do list:

  1. Confirm death date & location for Margaret Tucker.  Obtain death certificate.
  2.  Confirm death date & location for Lavinia Tucker; obtain death certificate.
  3. Obtain death certificates for other children of Jeremiah & Margaret – William Frederick Tucker (my great-grandfather),  Augusta Tucker Sanford.
  4. Search New York marriage records for Jeremiah Tucker and 1st wife, possibly also named Margaret, years 1860 to 1862.

During the re-organization & review process,  I encountered more BSOs and was able to avoid the temptation most of the time.  Frustrating?  Yes,  because I REALLY want to find the answer to the questions!   I will discuss other BSOs and my experiences with research logs  in a later blog.

For the moment,  I am beginning to see the benefits of the time spent on the re-organization of my files.  For each person, I can quickly scan 1 or 2 sheets of paper and see exactly what I need to find.  I also have entered  questions on the to-do tab in my genealogy software program.  Most of these will eventually be entered on the more detailed research logs.  And, future searches will, hopefully, be more focused and efficient because of time spent now.

Still to be done:   complete scanning of BMD certificates sent to me from cousin.  Put original certificates in archival quality plastic sleeves in appropriate notebooks.

[1] Thomas MacAntee, The Genealogy Do-Over Workbook. (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016);  download from Amazon.com