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.

“Missing Children”: The case of Lillian Maurer (abt 1901 – ‘died in infancy’)

Willie, age 3, appears on a census record. Ten years later, Willie’s name does not appear on the census record with his parents. What happened to Willie? You question relatives with no result. Using your best research practices, you search diligently for Willie in online databases – birth and death records, websites for newspapers and cemeteries, city and/or county genealogical society websites. You query the local historical society. Nothing turns up.  Viewing microfilmed newspapers at the local library also yields no information. You record everything on a research log, vowing to return another day.  You keep Willie in mind but, in essence, Willie remains “missing” in your family’s genealogy. Hopefully, you eventually find out what happened to Willie,  the “missing” child.

Two often overlooked sources are the 1900 and 1910 United States Census records. Column headings for 1900 census included “mother of how many children”  and “number of these children living”.[1]  Column headings for 1910 included  “number of children born” and “number of children now living”.[2]  For both censuses, instructions for enumerators stated: “Stillborn children are not to be counted.” [3], [4]  Compare the numbers recorded on the census with listed names and ages of children.  You may find that more children were born to this woman. These are among your “missing” children. Search your records obtained from other family sources. Again, compare that information with the census records.

Maurer_Lillian_b1901

Lillian Maurer photograph ca 1901, label taped to picture when received; privately held by Susan Posten Ellerbee, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], Yukon, Oklahoma, 2018. Photographs originally held by Esbon Herman Tucker, grandson of William F. and Bertha. Photographs given to Ms. Ellerbee by Mary Ann (Tucker) Rogers, daughter of Esbon Herman Tucker, April, 2018.

I present the case of children, including Lillian,  born to Anna Klee Maurer, my maternal grandmother’s mother.  From Aunt Viola’s family history:  [5]  Herman Maurer and his wife, Anna Klee “had 8 children (all born in Brooklyn, NY)”:

  1. Edward (Eddy)    1887? – 1892. “Edward died at about 5 years of age.”
  2. Arthur                   6/ 17/ 1888? – 7/ 1954
  3. Charlotte               5/ 26/ 1892 –   4/ 9/ 1974
  4. William                  6/ 30/ 1890? – 11/15/ 1957
  5. Harry                      1894 ? – ? infancy
  6. Herman                  1893 – 6/ 1957
  7. Lillian                     1901 – ? infancy
  8. Viola                        1906 –

Given the reported birth and death years, the 1900 census should list 6 children born and 4 children living for Anna;  the 1910 census should list 8 children born and 5 living. Can Viola’s information be confirmed? After all, these are her siblings!

I began with the 1892 New York State Census, conducted in February, 1892: [6]

  • Page 2, column 2, lines 38-40: Herman Maurer, age 32; Annie Maurer, age 27; [illegible] Maurer, age [illegible]
  • Page 3, column 1, lines 1-2: Arthur Maurer, age 4; William Maurer, age 2.

Charlotte (my maternal grandmother) was born in May 1892. Her birth certificate[7] shows her as the 5th child of Anna, suggesting another child born between 1883 (Herman & Anna’s marriage year) and 1892.

Continue with the family as recorded on the 1900 census:[8]

  • Maurer, Herman, head, b. Oct 1859, New Jersey, married 16 yrs.
  • Maurer, Anna, wife, b. July 1864, New York, mother of 7 children, 4 living
  • Maurer, Arthur, son, b. June 1887, New York
  • Maurer, Willie, son, b. June 1887, New York
  • Maurer, Lotta [Charlotte], daughter b. May 1892, New York
  • Maurer, Herman, son, b. Aug 1893, New York

Analysis:  Compared information to 1892 census and family records. The 1892 census records 3 children; the 1900 census adds 2 more children (Lotta and Herman).  The number of children still living (4) suggests that one of the children reported in 1892 (illegible name and age) died before 1900. Family records show 6 children born by 1900 with 2 of those having died.  The 1900 census data support my hypothesis that another child was born and died. So, there is still one more child to be found!

What is revealed in the 1910 census? [9] Barely legible, the record lists Anna as the mother of 8 children with 5 still living.  The living children are Arthur, age 22; William, age 19; Charlotte, age 17; Herman, age 16, and Viola, age 3.

1910 Census_Herman Maurer family_3

Putting the census data together suggests:

  • 3 children born between 1883 (marriage year) and February 1892.
  • 4 children born between February 1892 and June 1900 (7 children born).
  • 1 child born between June 1900 and April 1910 (8 children born).
  • 3 children died between 1883 and 1910 (5 children living by 1910).

Family records (family history + Charlotte’s birth certificate) indicate:

  • 4 children born between 1883 (marriage year) and February 1892
  • 3 children born between February 1892 and June 1900 (7 children born).
  • 2 children born between June 1900 and April 1910 (9 children born).
  • 3 children died between 1883 and 1910 (5 children living by 1910).

Records agree that 5 of Anna’s children survived in 1910. Records disagree about the number of children born to Anna- 8 or 9. Was the “missing child” stillborn and reported by Anna in 1900 but not reported in 1910? If the child was stillborn, Viola may not have known about him or her.

Birth and death indexes support information given by Viola about three of the ‘lost’ children:

  1. Edward Maurer. Birth: 22 January 1885, New York City Municipal Archives, New York City Births [10].  Death: 30 June 1892, New York City Municipal Archives, New York City Extracted Death Index.  [11]  Recorded by Viola as “1887? – 1892. Edward died at about 5 years of age.”  Analysis: Database entries consistent with family history; confirmed.
  2. Charles Harry Maurer. [12] Birth: August 1893 (based on age 4/12 at death). Death: 10 January 1894. Recorded by Viola as “Harry , 1894 ? – ? infancy.” Analysis: Database entry consistent with family history. Estimated birth date of August 1893 suggests that Charles Harry was twin of Herman Charles.
  3. Lillian Maurer. Birth: 7 January 1901, New York City Municipal Archives, New York City Births [13].  Death:  Before 1910; Lillian is not listed on the 1910 census. Databases support handwritten family history.  UPDATE  22 Oct 2018:  Received from another Maurer researcher, copy of birth certificate for Lilian Maurer, born 7 Jan 1901; source NY Birth Index. Parents listed as Henry Maurer and Catherine Schell. Back to the records! 

Having a child every 2 to 3 years was common in the early 20th century.  The semi-final list of Herman and Anna’s children appear to fit this pattern:

  1. Edward Maurer      (22 January 1885-30 June 1892)
  2. Arthur Maurer        (19 June 1887 – 2 April 1953)
  3. Unknown child        (possibly abt 1888 – before February 1892)
  4. William Charles Maurer      (30 June 1890 – 15 November 1957)
  5. Amalie Charlotte Maurer    (26 May 1892 – 9 April 1974)
  6. Herman Charles Maurer     (22 August 1893 – June 1957)
  7. Charles Harry Maurer         (August 1893 – 10 January 1894) (possible twin of Herman Charles; still to be confirmed)
  8. Lillian Maurer                        (7 Jan 1901 ?  – before 1910) See update above.
  9. Blanche Viola Lucy Maurer  (16 March 1907 – November 1985)

Given the six and seven year gaps, Anna may have been pregnant more than nine times. I am still looking for information about the unknown ‘lost’ child. Lillian’s case is not yet solved but I am getting closer!

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REFLECTION:

Aunt Viola’s handwritten history provided the names of Edward, Harry and Lillian.  Without those names and dates, I would have had a more difficult time discovering information about them. Census questions about births and living children did not include stillbirths. Gaps of 3-4 years (or more) between births suggest additional pregnancies which may have ended in stillbirths or miscarriages.  I have 2 children, both living, and experienced several miscarriages. So, if asked the census questions now, my record would show ‘Number of children born to this person =2;  number of living children= 2.”

Initially, I discounted the August 1893 birth dates implied and reported for Herman Charles Maurer and implied for Charles Harry Maurer. One of the dates had to be wrong! Alternate question:  Were ‘Herman Charles Maurer’ and ‘Charles Harry Maurer’ the same person? Answer: No. Hmm- a subject for another post!

My research is not complete.  I don’t have copies of  records that could give more clues. A genealogist’s work is never done!

What I learned:  Look for hidden treasures in census records. Question every bit of data. Keep looking! Even scant information from a family member provides clues. A research log and/or software program are valuable tools to record conflicting data and your analysis. Writing up  stories for my blog helps to identify gaps.

What helped:  Viola’s family history. Access to multiple databases online. Copy of Charlotte’s birth certificate. Conflicting information required additional research to prove or disprove the claim. I put my questions aside for a period of time.

What didn’t help: ignoring clues from the records. Not considering one obvious answer- twins!  I don’t have a copy of the birth record for Lillian Maurer, born 1901, per NYC Birth Record Index.

Next steps:   Continue looking for evidence of the missing child. Request copy of Aunt Viola’s birth certificate. Identify potential birth & death records for Lillian Maurer from NYC Records Database;  request copies of most likely records, beginning with copy of birth record for Lillian Maurer born 1901.  22 Oct 2018: received copy of birth certificate for Lilian Maurer, born 7 Jan 1901; source NY Birth Index. Parents listed as Henry Maurer and Catherine Schell. Back to the records! Order birth and death certificates for Edward and Harry Charles.  Add these to my ‘BMD certificates to order’ list.

SOURCES: 

[1] Department of the Interior, Census Office. Twelfth Census of the United States, June 1, 1900: Instructions for Enumerators (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1900), 29, 30; accessed from U.S. Census Bureau (https://www.census.gov/history/pdf/1900instructions.pdf   : 6 June 2018).

[2] Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of the Census. Thirteenth Census of the United States, April 15, 1910: Instructions for Enumerators (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1910), 29; accessed from U.S. Census Bureau (https://www.census.gov/history/pdf/1900instructions.pdf   : 6 June 2018).

[3] Department of the Interior, Census Office, Twelfth Census of the United States: instructions for Enumerators,30.

[4] Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of the Census, Thirteenth Census of the United States: Instructions for Enumerators, 29.

[5] Viola Blanche Maurer Tucker, “Maurer-Tucker Family History,” pages 1 & 2; MS, 1800s to 1980s, Huntington, Suffolk County, New York; privately held by great-niece, Susan Mercedes Posten Ellerbee, [address for private use], Yukon, Oklahoma, 2017.  Carbon copy of original document created ca. 1975-1980; sent to Ms. Ellerbee by her great-aunt.

[6] New York State Department of Health, “New York, State Census, 1892,” database, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed, downloaded 31 January 2018), entry for Herman Maurer, age 32, page 2, column 2, lines 38-40; citing New York State Education Department, Office of Cultural Education, Albany, New York; Street Address: 173 Hopkins Street.

[7] New York, New York City Department of Records and Information Services, birth certificate 5947 (28 May 1892), Amalie Charlotte Maurer; Municipal Archives, 31 Chambers Stree, New York, N.Y. 10007.  Photocopy of original certificate held by Susan Posten Ellerbee, [address for private use,], Yukon, Oklahoma.

[8] 1900 U.S. Federal Census, Kings county, New York, population schedule, Brooklyn Ward 21, enumeration district (ED) 331, p. 3B (penned), dwelling 13, family 63, Herman Maurer head; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed, downloaded, printed 8 October 2010); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. microfilm publication T623_1058.

[9] 1910 U.S. Census, Suffolk County, New York, pop. sch., Huntington, enumeration district (ED) 1367, p. 2B, Family #26, Herman Maurer (head); digital images, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed, viewed, downloaded 31 January 2017); National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C., microfilm publication T624, roll 1083.

[10] New York, New York City Births, 1846-1909,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:61903/1:1:2WQN-B2J: 20 March 2015), Anna Klee Maurer entry for Eduwart Maurer, 22 Jan 1885; citing New York City Municipal Archives, New York.

[11] “New York, New York, Extracted Death Index, 1862-1948”, database,  Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 5 June 2018); entry for Edward Maurer, born 1885, died 1892, citing Index to New York City Deaths 1862-1948. Indices prepared by the Italian Genealogical Group and the German Genealogy Group, and used with permission of the New York City Department of Records/Municipal Archives. Certificate no. 10178.

[12]  “New York, New York, Death Index, 1892-1898, 1900-1902,” database, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com:   accessed 5 June 2018); entry for Chas. H. Maurer, death date 10 Jan 1894, age 4 M; citing New York City Deaths, 1892-1902; Deaths Reported in January-February-March, 1894 and Deaths reported in the city of New York, 1888-1965, New York Department of Health, Albany, New York; certificate no. 1429.

[13] “New York City Births, 1891-1902; Births reported in 1901. Borough of Brooklyn,” database, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed & downloaded 21 April 2018), entry for Lillian Maurer; citing New York Department of Health. Births reported in the City of New York, 1891-1902. New York, New York, USA: Department of Health; certificate #7178.

© Susan Posten Ellerbee and “Posting Family Roots” blog, posted on WordPress.com, 2018.

Two sides to every document

FACT: There are two sides to every document. An obvious statement, you say. I agree. So, why am I writing about this? Because I was surprised recently when I turned over a document and read what was written on the back of the page. Here’s the story.

In my last blog post, I mentioned a box of family pictures and documents sent to me by a cousin.[1] Among the documents is a yellowed, fragile piece of paper with a list of names and dates. An uneven edge and incomplete dates suggest that the paper was torn. The paper measures 10 inches long x 4 inches wide.  A scanned copy, received via email about two months ago, did not reveal the color or condition of the page. First guess? From a family Bible, although the page did not include the usual headings of “Births” and “Deaths”.

Jones_Jimmey_Patience_children_crop_for blog

Jimmey Jones and Patience, list of names & dates.  Privately held by Susan Posten Ellerbee [address for private use,] Yukon, Oklahoma. 

The list appears to be a list of children born to Jimmey Jones and Patience Heamons/ Havens (or variation). These characteristics identify the document as a primary or original source. The origin of the information is unknown although possibly based on firsthand knowledge of the events. [2]  (For a review of  primary, secondary, and tertiary sources, read  “Evaluating sources & information”.

The person of interest is “Nancy born September the 22: 1823” (line 9). Nancy A. Jones, wife of Esbon Traver, is one of my maternal great- great grandmothers. Nancy’s maiden name is carved on their gravestone. [3] I admit that I presumed the information to be true and haven’t actively done the research to confirm Nancy’s maiden name.

This list of names introduced me for the first time to Nancy’s parents, Jimmey (James) Jones and Patience Heamons/ Havens. Confirming names and dates on the list is the subject of a future post. Today, I focus on the document itself.

I turned the page over, expecting to find it blank. Imagine my surprise, and delight, when I discovered additional information there. A printed form with hand written entries, a date, and tape marks. Get out the white gloves!

Reverse side of Jimmey Jones and Patience list:

Esbon_Traver_reverse side Jimmey Jones_Patience children.jpg

The list of names and dates wasn’t a page torn from a family Bible! It was written on the back of a form. Tape marks suggest that someone thought one side was more important than the other.  As a genealogist, both sides of the page are equally important. Where is the rest of the page? What information is on that paper?

Who is George Barker, named as substitute for 37 year-old Esbon Traver? Many men “avoided military service by simply taking advantage of that section of the Enrollment Act of 1863 allowing draftees to pay $300 to a substitute who served for them.” [4]  I am still looking for his service record and will report in a later post.

Compare the handwriting on both sides of the documents. I’m not a handwriting expert but the handwriting appears to be that of two different people. Ink appears consistent with time period of 1860s. I need a hero- an historical document expert!

Review of historical documents is one aspect of genealogy. Asking questions – who, what, when, where, why- reveal information about the document and its provenance.  The National Archives suggests these steps to analyze such documents: [5]

  1. Meet the document.
  2. Observe its parts.
  3. Try to make sense of it.
  4. Use it as historical evidence.

As you meet a document, inspect it carefully. Dates and signatures give clues about the document’s authenticity.[6] Is there a seal on the document?  Look for signs of tampering. Read the words carefully. Is there a hidden meaning? Consult books on historical and/or genealogical research for more information about document analysis.

Questions and preliminary answers:

  1. Who wrote the document? List of names could have been written by Esbon Traver, his wife, Nancy Jones, or one of their children. A different person probably wrote the entry on the other side.
  2. What information is contained in the document? One side: A list of names and dates beginning with Jimmey Jones and Patience Heamons/ Havens and their presumed children. Other side: Entry for a substitute for Esbon Traver, dated 1864.
  3. When was the document written? List of names: After 1866, since that is last date on the document. Substitute form:  Probably 1864.
  4. Where was the document written? Unknown, possibly Ulster or Greene county, New York.  Sources: census records for Esbon Traver and his wife, Nancy.
  5. Why was the document written? List of names: to preserve family history? Consider possibility that back of substitute document was an available piece of paper and, therefore, used for the purpose of recording family names and dates.
  6. How was the document produced? Printed form on one side.  Handwritten entries on the form. Handwritten name and date list on the other side of the form.

Next steps:  Consult with historical document expert and/or handwriting expert. Continue search for records about Jimmey, Patience, and their children. Identify Civil War service record for George Barker.

Online resources:  I found this Document Analysis Worksheet  on the National Archives Website.

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REFLECTION: 

I was really surprised to find the ‘substitute’ form and entries on the back side of the name list. I don’t know why I expected a blank page. Now, I have more information about Esbon Traver.  I plan to follow up on the substitute information. I remembered bits and pieces about evaluating historical documents from various research courses. The date on the form helps to date the paper itself and gives another clue about the date of the entries on both sides of the paper.  I don’t have the exact provenance of the paper – who gave it to my uncle? Since he and my maternal grandfather are both named Esbon, presumably after Esbon Traver, I wonder if the paper was given to my grandfather by one of his parents and then to my uncle. I need to buy a basic ‘genealogy how-to’ book for reference purposes. Maybe one about historical research methods?

What I learned:  Always look at both sides of a document! Expanded my knowledge base about the dating of documents.  Found a worksheet for document analysis.

What helped:  seeing and handling the original document. Having an archival quality plastic sleeve for the document.

What didn’t help:  knowing the document was old but no idea how old (paper from 1864). I would have gotten my white gloves out sooner!

Future plans: Consult historical document expert.

SOURCES:

[1] Family papers and photographs from estate of Esbon Herman Tucker (1917 – 2003). Privately held by Susan Posten Ellerbee [address for private use,] Yukon, Oklahoma. Items sent to Ms. Ellerbee by Mr. Tucker’s daughter, April 2018.  Mr. Tucker is brother of Ms. Ellerbee’s mother.

[2] Elizabeth Shown Mills. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 3rd ed. (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2015), 24-25.

[3] Find A Grave, database and images (http://www.findagrave.com : viewed 27 April 2018), memorial page for Nancy H. Jones Traver, Find A Grave Memorial # 92468922, citing Locust Cemetery (Greenville, Greene county, New York), memorial created by Lorna Puleo, photograph by Lorna Puleo.

[4] Michael T. Meier. “Civil War Draft Records: Exemptions and Enrollments”.  Prologue, Winter 1994, Vol. 26, No. 4, Genealogy Notes.  (https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1994/winter/civil-war-draft-records.html  :  accessed 8 May 2018), paragraph 4.

[5]National Archives, “Teaching with Documents: Document Analysis,”  National Archives (https://www.archives.gov/education/lessonsaccessed 8 May 2018).  Includes worksheets and other materials related to the analysis of documents and other primary sources.

[6] History Detectives, “Document This,” PBS, History Detectives (http://www.pbs.org/opb/historydetectives/educators/technique-guide/document-this/  :  accessed 8 May 2018).

 

Writing & publishing a family history: Part 3. Evaluating sources & information

In two previous blog posts, I described format changes for the next edition of Dad’s family history and examined citation of sources.   This blog post, third in the series, presents evaluation of  sources and  the information in them   Get a cup of your favorite beverage and a snack because this is a long post!  You may even want to read it in 2 sittings!

Entering the facts in a database or research log is only the beginning!  “Oh, no,” you say, “there’s more?”  Oh, yes, there’s more!  Review the document itself.  Identify the document  (or source)   as original/ primary, derivative/ secondary, or authored / tertiary.  Classify the information found in the source as primary, secondary, or unknown.   A statement about both the source and its contents can be included in your citation of the source.

“The Evidence Analysis Process Map”, designed by Elizabeth Shown Mills, puts these concepts in perspective:

QL17-Gallery (1)

Elizabeth Shown Mills, “QuickLesson 17:  The Evidence Analysis Process Map”.  Evidence Explained (https://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/quicklesson-17-evidence-analysis-process-map  :  accessed 18 December 2017.

To begin, use one of the sources cited in the previous blog:

1790 U.S. Census, Bucks county, Pennsylvania, population schedule, township not stated, p. 112 (penned), col. 1, Peter Pofte [Poste]; digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com  : accessed, viewed, downloaded 17 October 2017); citing National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C., microfilm publication M637, roll 8.

1790 United States Federal Census

The document is a scanned or microfilmed copy of the original document, held at National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C. (the repository).  An online database provided access to the document. Document is a primary source.

The writing is uniform, indicating that one person filled it out. Census takers received instructions about the report and what information to collect.  Recording the information at or near the time of the event, the census taker asked questions of a household member, possibly the head of household, Peter Poste, or a neighbor.  The number and ages of people in the family should be validated by other sources and serves as a base for future research.    Primary information.

Guidelines for Evaluating Sources & Documents

Sources

In genealogy, sources are classified as original, derivative or authored. [1] You may also see the terms primary, secondary, and tertiary sources. [2] , [3]  The concepts are essentially the same.  An original source is “material in its first oral or recorded form.”   [4]  Created at or near the time of the actual event, reports by someone who experienced or witnessed an event are  classified as original sources. [5]   This includes original materials from the time period, such as tax lists.

Examples include original birth & marriage certificates, physical objects (such as a cross-stitch sampler), autobiographies, personal diaries and audio recordings.  A map created at or near a specific date is an original source. [6]  Other examples are creative works, such as art, poetry and music and original articles or reports of research studies.  Are satellite images of the earth primary sources?  Yes, if the image has not been changed.  An exact photocopy , microfilm image, photograph or scanned image of a document [7]  are generally classified as primary sources.  However, the information may be either primary or secondary.

One of my prized items is an autograph book that belonged to my maternal great-grandmother, Anna Klee Maurer.   The small book contains notes from her friends and teachers.  The most significant entries (to me) are the notes written by Anna’s future husband, Hermann Maurer (dated October 21, 1883) and the notes written, in German, by her future in-laws,  Valentine and Katharina Maurer.

Anna Klee front pages_crop

Anna (Klee) Maurer .  “Autographs Album”  ( book,  Brooklyn, New York, ca 1883); privately held  by Susan M. Posten Ellerbee, [address for private use,], Yukon, Oklahoma, 2017.  Ms. Ellerbee is Anna’s great-granddaughter.  The book has multiple handwritten entries which appear to be from her friends and teachers as well as her future husband, Hermann Maurer, and his parents, Valentin & Katharina Maurer.  Entries by Valentin and Katharina are written in German.  Some entries are dated, varying  from April to October, 1883. Hermann and Anna married December, 1883. The book was found in the personal effects of Ms. Ellerbee’s mother, Eunice Bertha (Tucker) Posten and was probably given to her by her mother, Charlotte A. (Maurer) Tucker, daughter of Hermann and Anna.

The book itself is a primary source.  Translations of the German language entries are derivative sources.  A transcription of all entries in the book becomes a derivative source with secondary information.

In contrast, derivative or secondary sources are created after the event.  A copy of an original or original in which the content has been manipulated are examples.  Derivative sources interpret or evaluate evidence, especially when the original work was done by others.  Specific examples include delayed birth certificates, tombstones, county record books (which are transcriptions of original documents), databases, translations, transcriptions of personal diaries or audio recordings, and some family histories.

An image copy of an original birth, marriage, or death certificate is a primary source.  However, if the certificate is a transcription of the original certificate, then it is a secondary source. My maternal grandparents’ death certificates, obtained from the state of New York, are original sources with a blend or primary and secondary information.

My great-aunt Viola wrote a brief family history of the Tucker and Maurer families.  The handwritten document names five generations of my mother’s family with some birth, death, and marriage dates.  Two family stories tell of possible lost fortunes.  I have a carbon copy of the original document.   Here’s my citation with source and contents evaluation:

“Maurer- Tucker Family History.” (Handwritten notes. Huntington, New York, ca. 1985), carbon copy privately held by Susan M. Posten Ellerbee, [address for private use,], Yukon, Oklahoma, 2010.  Transcribed by Ms. Ellerbee in 2012. Author considered  reliable.  No sources given.  Family stories told to Mrs. Tucker by her grandparents.  Most names & dates have been verified with other sources.  Secondary source with blend of primary and secondary information.

The third category of sources is authored works which are a “hybrid of both original and derivative sources” [8]  Labelled as tertiary in other disciplines, these sources obtain information from primary and derivative sources.   Examples include manuscripts with personal conclusions; family histories may fall into this category.   Other types are county histories with genealogical and biographical information, textbooks, directories, video documentaries and reference books such as encyclopedia, handbooks, and manuals.  The Posten family history that I am revising is this type of source.

Q & A

Are photocopies  original or derivative sources?  Mills (2015, p. 30) states  “. . . image copies as originals so long as (a) the images are legible; and (b) their information does not conflict with other information.”  If these criteria are not met, treat the image copy as derivative and  “seek access to the material from which the images were made.”   This concept provided my rationale for seeking the actual books at a local library instead of using online copies of the same books.

What about a scanned or digital image of a  marriage record found online?  Most consider this as a primary source, it meets the criteria above.  Some consider this as a derivative source.   If possible, obtain a copy of original by personally visiting or requesting the document from the repository.  Remember that the county clerk’s office or the church where the marriage was performed are the repositories, not the online database.  The church or county hold the original document as filed in their office.  A note of caution here.  Ask for an actual copy of the original or you may get a copy of a form with information typed in.  This type of document is a transcript of the original and, therefore, not a primary source.  (Disclaimer:  I read this on a blog and now can’t find the reference!).

Information

As the next step, evaluate the information in the document. Similar to the classification of sources, information is classified as primary, secondary, or unknown.  Any document may contain a blend of these categories.  Information in the document, a.k.a,  content , is classified according to its origin[9] :

Primary information is information provided by someone who experienced or witnessed an event .[10]  If created at or near the actual event, the document or information is marked as primary. [11] Examples include eyewitness accounts of an event, names of persons on census records, and first person accounts of an event  in their original form, such as handwritten entries in a personal diary.

What about death certificates?  Death certificates contain both primary and secondary information.  The person’s name and  death information – date, time, place and cause of death- are primary information.  The person’s date of birth, place of birth and parents’ names are secondary information.

Secondary information  is information provided by someone who has some knowledge of the event but did not actually witness the event.  An intrepretation or evaluation of someone else’s work is secondary.  Specific examples include marriage information copied into a courthouse or county marriage book, hearsay, tradition, and local lore.  The family stories documented by my great-aunt Viola are secondary information.  A newspaper report of a family reunion contains secondary information although the reporter may use information obtained directly from the participants.

Information is labelled as ‘unknown’  when you don’t know who provided the information.  Two examples are a newspaper obituary with no documentation of source and a photograph with no information about the persons in the photograph.  This information needs to be validated by other sources.  When you locate the newspaper where the obituary was published and the publication date, the information can then be classified as ‘secondary’.

Demarious Family Bible

Family Bible Records:  Original or derivative? 

To evaluate family Bible records,  follow guidelines from historical research methods for evaluating documents.  [12], [13]  Ask these questions:

  1. When was the Bible published? If the Bible was published prior to the events documented, then the record (and its scanned or photo copies) might be a primary source.   When photocopying or scanning Bible records, also copy the title and publication date pages.  “My cousin sent me a copy of the Bible pages but doesn’t  have the page with the publication date!”  Now what?  Look further.
  2. Who wrote the entries? You may not know exactly who entered the information.  I am fortunate to have a scanned copy of the presentation page for one family Bible so I know who the Bible belonged to and can date the entries from that point.  A transcription of that information equals a derivative source.
  3. Look for differences in handwriting. If the entries were made close to the time of each event, you should see differences in the style of handwriting as well as differences in the ink.

Ask similar questions about each document that you review.

  • Who created the document? Does the person have the authority to do so?  Ask if the creator is an expert on the topic.  A mother who writes her baby’s name and birth date in the family Bible is certainly an expert on the baby’s birth!
  • What does the document contain? Is the information relevant to your research?
  • When was the document created? If not an original document, when was it copied?  If a transcript of the original,  when was the transcription done?  How accurate is the transcription?  Think of census records.  How many times have you seen a name that was transcribed incorrectly?  Was the error because of poor or illegible handwriting?
  • Where was the document created?
  • Why was the document created?
  • Assess the quality and accuracy of the information in the document. Can you verify the information using other sources?

To summarize, careful review and analysis of every source and fact leads to a more accurate story about your family.  Seek primary sources whenever possible.  Do you include an evaluation of every source and every piece of information?  Ideally, yes.  Drop-down menus appear on most genealogy software programs for this task.  Document  the classification of sources and information on research logs.  Use software, such as Evidentia  (https://www.evidentiasoftware.com ), to assist in your analysis.

For a fun and more concise view of the topic:

RootsWeb’s Guide to Tracing Family Trees, Guide No. 12 (http://rwguide.rootsweb.ancestry.com/lesson12.htm   : accessed 18 December 2017.

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REFLECTION

As a nurse and teacher, I participated in 10-12 research studies during my career.  As either primary or co-investigator, I wrote and implemented protocols, then analyzed  the data and finally, wrote the final reports.  I applied lessons learned from these experiences to genealogy.   As I wrote this blog, I realized that I have not consistently evaluated sources and information.  In some cases, I saw what I wanted to see.  Months later, as I again reviewed the document and my notes, I thought, “How did I ever come to THAT conclusion?”  I am slowly becoming a better genealogist.  There is so much to learn!

What helped?  Reading about each topic from a variety of sources.  Fairly consistent information in the sources. There is some debate about whether photocopies of original certificates are primary or secondary sources.  Putting the information in a chart form for easy comparisons, although I didn’t include the chart here.

What didn’t help?   Finding other websites written in a more concise or reader-friendly format.  I had to consider that maybe I just needed to post a list of the websites and let readers go there.  But, I always learn something when I write my blogs, so here it is!

Next steps:   Take time to critically review at least one document or piece of information per research session.  I often just skim over this process.  Put a copy of the Evidence Analysis Process Map on my bulletin board.  Add items to my Research Toolbox (done).

References

[1] Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 3rd ed. (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2015), 24.

[2] The US GenWeb Project, Primary & Secondary sources (http://www.usgenweb.com/research/sources.html  : accessed 19 Dec 2017).

[3] “Comparative Literature:  Primary, secondary & tertiary sources.”  Yale University Library (https://guides.library.yale.edu   :    accessed 14 October 2017.

[4] Mills, Evidence Explained, 24

[5] George E. Morgan, How to do everything: Genealogy. 3rd edition.  (New York: McGraw-Hll, 2012), 32.

[6] Joni Seager,  “Mapping” Primary and Secondary Sources. (http://teachinghistory.org/history-content/ask-a-historian/25244   :  accessed 19 December 2017

[7] Morgan, Genealogy, 10.

[8]Mills, Evidence Explained, 24.

[9]Mills, Evidence Explained, 25

[10] Ibid.

[11] Morgan, Genealogy, 32.

[12] Randall Seaver, “Original or Derivative Source?  Bible Records,”  Weblog:  Geneamusings, 13 June 2012 (http://www.geneamusings.com/2012/06/original-or-derivative-source-bible.html  :  accessed 14 October 2017.

[13]   Gena Philibert Ortega, “Genealogy 101:  #4:  The Family Bible.”  Weblog:  Genealogy Bank, 8 November 2016 ( https://blog.genealogybank.com/genealogy-101-4-the-family-bible.html  :  accessed 18 December 2017.