Monday, June 26, 2017

If This, Then That — Or Not

Some of the logic of genealogy has to rely on inferences—those conclusions you feel safe arriving at, despite not having any documentation specifically stating the case.

In our current predicament with my two Mary Frances Gordons—one whose mother was Elizabeth McCabe, while the other's mother was Elizabeth McCann—I thought perhaps I'd be safe in utilizing a little inference work where documentation was lacking. After all, back in 1884 when these two women were born, there weren't many birth certificates issued. I had to have another way to link each woman to family members.

I've already mentioned that the ill-fated Elizabeth McCabe died shortly after her second-born daughter, Blanche, was born. While I didn't feel secure about the few documents I had found for Elizabeth McCabe Gordon's eldest daughter Mary Frances, I thought maybe relying on the records for other family members might shed some light on which Elizabeth was which.

Sure enough, when Blanche Gordon came of age, her marriage record stated her parents' names as T. V. Gordon and Elizabeth McCabe. As added security for this hypothesis, I found another Ancestry record, "Ohio Births and Christenings Index," giving a transcription for Blanche's parents as "Thos. V. Gordon" and Elizabeth McCabe.

Ergo...if Blanche was Mary Frances' younger sister, then Elizabeth McCabe was Mary Frances' mother, as well.


This is the type of exercise that firmly cements one lesson into my mind: even the people we trust to get things right often fail us. Miserably. I'm thinking of the numerous times I've spotted errors in newspaper reports—okay, granted, these are not "official" documents, but still public record—and even found errors engraved in stone, marking ancestors' burials.

But government documents? Apparently, we can now add those to our list.

I'm certainly happy the collection of Ohio marriage records from has made its appearance at as well—something I didn't have access to, back when I first worked on this line in my mother-in-law's tree. All I had to rely on, back then, was a photocopy of the index of marriages listing Gordons that I had gleaned during a visit to Perry County—and the help of a lot of other enthusiastic, sharing fellow researchers congregating in online genealogy forums, ten to fifteen years ago.

Finding one other marriage record, now, did not help this predicament. In double checking all my supporting evidence for these two Mary Frances Gordons, at first I was glad to see the FamilySearch marriage collection included a record for Mary Frances—but then, not so sure what to do with the result I found.

In short, when Paul Hennessy applied to take Mary Frances Gordon to be his wife, someone at the courthouse recorded her mother's name not as Elizabeth McCabe—what we'd expect, seeing Mary Frances' sister Blanche's application—but as Elizabeth McCann.

No wonder I'm so confused! I can't even find records that can get the facts straight!

Excerpts from each marriage license application shown above courtesy via

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Getting Things Right

It took only a few minutes of playing with that Ooh-Shiny genealogical divertissement I found yesterday, when I realized what I really needed to do was attend to my genealogical duty. That, in case you've forgotten, is to rectify the error I discovered while doing some spring cleaning on my mother-in-law's oft-intermarried family line.

Just to recap, I was scrolling through the list of all persons in that tree, searching for duplicate entries, when I spotted one which seemed to qualify. It was for a Mary Frances Gordon, born in Ohio in 1885, and passed away in the same state in 1963. One of my two entries for this person said she was married to John Patrick Hennessey, the other claiming her husband was John P. Hennessy.

All seems well at this point—until I check her parents' information. In one record, she is daughter of Thomas Gordon and Elizabeth McCann. In the other record, she is daughter of Thomas Gordon and Elizabeth McCabe.

There seems to be a problem here.

I can't simply assume these two Mary Franceses are duplicate entries with that discrepancy, now can I?

This calls for digging in further to check out the rest of the details. Admittedly, this was probably a Gordon line I had worked on nearly twenty years ago, given the amount of shaky-leaf hints generated by a fresh click on that entry now. And there are certainly other details that don't quite mirror each other.

For instance, the Mary Frances whose mother was Elizabeth McCabe was one of only two children. Her mother died soon after giving birth to Mary Frances' sister, Blanche. Within three years, her father, Thomas Gordon, married once again, to Mary Alice Cull.

The other mother—the one for the Mary Frances Gordon whose mother was Elizabeth McCann—married her Thomas Gordon in 1862, and had many children before Mary Frances' arrival in 1885.

This required going back through all the documentation I had saved for each of these "duplicate" people, checking for discrepancies. It was clear to see, from the headstone photographs posted on Find A Grave for each of the Elizabeths, that they were certainly different individuals.

But as I went, document by document, to double check each entry for accuracy, I began to realize that perhaps I wasn't the first to have gotten confused by Elizabeth, wife of Thomas Gordon. A clerk in the Perry County Probate Court may have made a similar mistake, himself.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Gone Fishing

Despite good intentions to complete this seasonal genealogical cleaning process, a suddenly-appearing ooh-shiny bauble appeared before my cyber-eyes yesterday, and I had to follow it to its source.

The bauble was the FindMyPast offer to explore their British and Irish records online for free. There was, of course, one caveat; that deal wasn't going to last forever. In fact, it's only good through the end of the weekend—a long weekend, for some of our friends up in Canada—closing at 6:59 p.m. Eastern Daylight time on Monday.

I simply cannot be sitting here, dutifully scrubbing my genealogical records until they squeak, when such an attractive offer is tapping on my shoulder.

So, it's off to see what can be found on my father-in-law's tree—everything from that scoundrel Stephen Malloy, who left town in such a rush, his young wife grabbed their baby and went after him all the way to Boston, to the predictable Denis Tully, who is now quite findable on the County Tipperary records where our trip to Ireland proved he would be.

Only, this time, I don't have to go scrolling through illegible microfilms at the National Library of Ireland; I can search for further gems all in the comfort of my—ahem, still air conditioned—home.

As with all good things—nothing is ever truly free—in exchange for this wonderful opportunity, one needs to sign up for the offer. That, of course, means giving up your email address—and, presumably, means you may be subject to further offers from offers to explore their international records for a limited, but free period. Sure, I'll take that.

In fact, I had signed up for a great opportunity from a prior offer, in which I have a very limited subscription for one year at this same company. I'm operating on the principle that the more places where I can post my tree, the more opportunities I will have to attract the interest of a distant cousin who may also be researching my hard-to-find ancestors. And I'm all for crowdsourcing the answers to those difficult genealogical questions.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Facing Those Uncomfortable Facts

There is one hazardous fallout from the spring-cleaning approach to genealogy: every once in a while, "duplicate" files turn out to be two separate individuals with similar names and dates. Those of you researching those ubiquitous Irish couples, say, John and Mary Kelly, whose sons all dutifully named their firstborn sons after their father—and all at the same time—know exactly what I'm up against.

Since my mother-in-law's Perry County, Ohio, line is riddled with circumstances producing similar results—in that case, something I've dubbed "Endogamy-Lite"—I've had to face up to some duplicate entries in her family tree. Still, I have to tread carefully through that list of potential duplicates. Sometimes, those "doubles" turn out to be separate individuals with very similar life scenarios.

Yesterday—still hunkered down in front of my computer as an escape from the heat wave bearing down on us outside—I ran across that very problem. I had been working on my mother-in-law's Gordon line because, well, lots of duplicate entries. I ran across two entries for a Gordon descendant named Mary Frances. Both showed dates of birth in 1884, and dates of death in 1963. Both were Ohio residents.

One of the entries for Mary Frances Gordon showed her marrying a man named John Patrick Hennessy. The other entry had the husband's name as John P. Hennessey. Each one of those Mary Frances Gordons were listed as daughter of Thomas—only in one record, the name was Thomas R. Gordon and the other record showed Thomas V. Gordon.

This was clearly a case of duplicate entries. With, perhaps, a case of a hard-of-hearing census enumerator to top it all off.


Of course, now that I've asked that rhetorical question, you know the answer isn't necessarily a slam-dunked "yes." That would be too easy.

The one stumbling block was the mother's name for each of those daughters named Mary Frances. One mother was listed as Elizabeth McCabe. The other one was identified as Elizabeth McCann.

Close. But not exact.

Back to the drawing board. I can't simply assume I made a transcription error. I'll have to pull out all the old documents and re-examine to see where I went wrong. Then, because each Mary Frances was only one of several siblings, I'll have to re-sort the whole family unit to make sure the right children are aligned with the right parents. Worse, since each of those children include records of their own spouses and subsequent descendants, I've got a long trail of names that will require meticulous attention to sort out properly.

Our simple (and well-intentioned) genealogical tasks can sometimes inadvertently end up with mistakes which can echo down through the generations. Better to take some time on a regular basis to double check what work has already been done. Sometimes, we've placed the wrong grandchild under the wrong John and Mary Kelly. Or Mary Frances Gordon.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Double, Double

Toil and trouble: removing the list of duplicates from a ten-thousand-plus family tree. And a tree like mine is bound to have duplicates, if it's a tree with intermarried branches.

Every now and then, I remember the need to go back and review my family trees for duplicates. After all, if I'm dealing with a family where cousins married cousins—albeit in the distant past—I will eventually run into branches which were, in reality, branches I've run into before.

That's the case with my mother-in-law's Perry County, Ohio, family. Not that we're Ashkenazi Jews. Or have Cajun ancestry. But Perry County has its own kind of intermarriage. I call it endogamy-lite.

So, from time to time, when I get on a genealogical organizing kick, I remember to check the full listing of all people in my mother-in-law's tree on What I'm looking for are duplicate entries on that master list—those double entries where the names I entered when working on one side of the family show up in the work I then do for the other side of the family.

This can be tedious work. First I pull up the "list of all people"  tab on my Ancestry tree, then start scrolling through the universe of names, letter by letter, stopping when I find two in a row of the same first and last name. I wish there was a quicker way—some magic button which scans for consecutive entries containing the same name.

Granted, some of those duplicate names belong to father and son duos, for neither of which I've managed to glean any other telltale clues—like dates or places of birth or death. Still, each of those pairs need to be individually inspected for other similarities. Some—a significant enough number to make this pursuit worth my time—turn out to be exactly that: duplicates.

And so my tree shrinks by a small percentage each time I trim these two-headed twigs. It's yet another way I try to check for accuracy and prune those superfluous entries—something I've dedicated this week of outdoor extreme heat to doing, safe inside where I can enjoy the air conditioning. I can safely say this is one tree trimming exercise not many genealogical researchers ever need to do—except for those whose tree contains a good number of intermarriages among the same families. See what small, closed communities can do for your genealogical pursuits?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Taking Those Hints

Sometimes, when faced with an enormous task, the easiest way to start take the easiest way.

Since I've decided, during this sizzling summer week of stay-inside warnings, to go back to each of my family trees and spruce things up a bit, I climbed right up before thinking about organizing strategy. Now, at least, I'm realizing I need to grab some well-thought-out tactics for my approach. Why? Because I'm faced with a sheer mountain of shaky-leaf hints. Thousands of them. Attacking this problem one ancestor at a time will not bring about a quick resolution.

That was the way I was handling this project yesterday. It made sense at the time, since the two trees I was working on had such a small universe of entries. But I have two more trees to handle, and each of them claims upwards of ten thousand individuals. This calls for working smarter.

This, of course, is not a problem peculiar to my research alone, of course. I see by a recent letter to fellow genea-blogger Randy Seaver that others have complaints about keeping up with that constant barrage of oncoming hints. Seems every time another Ancestry subscriber gloms on to the same photograph being circulated among distant cousins, the hint pops up on each one's tree. And so, we enter a realm of perpetual genealogical Whac-A-Mole, deleting the hint once again in Sisyphean despair.

While there may be no escape from this dilemma, there is a shortcut to its resolution: head straight for the tree's drop-down menu and select "All Hints."  Then, systematically choose subcategories, such as "photos" and click "ignore" for each one you wish to poof into oblivion.

There is a caveat to this solution, however. It seems the faster you work, the more likely it is that the mechanism will choke up and simply refuse to cooperate. I've had to approach this task in waves, working through pages and pages of hints until the system insists I have no more hints to remove (clue: there are), then clicking over to another task and returning in a few moments, when suddenly, more hints are released from their cyber-cell to face my ruthless delete button.

Gone, with that determined effort, are the well-meaning comparisons to family trees of other researchers, the photos of distant cousins, the cute little avatars hobbyists like to use to decorate their trees—Confederate flags, maps of the counties of Georgia, DNA double helix sketches, banners that proclaim, "Second cousin twice removed." Poof. And poof again!

The sad part is that they will almost certainly be back, tomorrow. Reincarnated, re-issued, or whatever "re" the case may be, those genealogical dingle balls and gewgaws will surely reappear in my hints list as soon as someone else thinks they're cute, or useful, or who-knows-what-else...and adds them to her tree. Right on the spot for a person who just happens to also be in my family tree.

And the whole scenario will repeat itself all over again.

In which case, I've learned to wait a few months before attempting to clean house once more. After all, there will surely be another heat wave hit here before the summer is out; I'll need something to keep me occupied in air conditioned comfort then, as well.  

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

When It's Been Too Long

I love genealogical research, so it's no surprise to discover how time flies—after all, I've been having so much fun traipsing after my recalcitrant ancestors, I've hardly paid any attention to how much time I've devoted to the effort.

When I determined to use the time this week to go back and spruce up my genealogical database, I had no idea how long it had been since I last passed this way. There was a time—apparently longer ago than I care to remember—when I could keep it straight in my mind just who populated which lines in my family tree. Not so, anymore. After all, who can recall ten thousand family names? (And that's just for one side of the family.)

To my dismay, I discovered yesterday that the reason I can't remember as many names as I'd hope is that I haven't run across some of them for years. Perhaps decades.

I decided, since I've been so remiss in working on our family's two paternal lines, that I'd begin my genealogy clean-up with the lines of my father and my father-in-law. Call it penance, prompted by Father's Day.

Now that I've rolled up my sleeves and begun applying the elbow grease to this effort, I've made a discovery: when you've not only done genealogical research for years, but for decades, you miss all the new stuff that has popped up in the meantime.

Like the 1940 census. Oops.

Yes, it's been that long since I reviewed some of the branches of my father-in-law's tree. Even I was surprised to discover that. And if that was missing from my documentation, you can be sure there have been many other records which have since been digitized and added to the holdings at and which I have yet to add to the people in my family's trees.

I have a long row to hoe, ahead of me.

Above: "Kahaluu, Kaneohe," oil on board by English-born American painter residing in Hawaii, Helen Thomas Dranga (1866 - 1927); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
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