Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pedigree Analysis

This is another one of those analyzing the data type posts. I am working on some family lines in Jefferson County, Georgia. I am trying to put together a skeleton of the families I am interested in using the federal census and marriage records (digital images of Georgia marriage records are available on Georgia's Virtual Vault). I am also working back and forth between Find-A-Grave and the obituaries found in the Augusta Chronicle. There are a couple of family cemeteries for the surnames I am working with and I am looking at every person buried in those cemeteries (This would be a Cluster Genealogy technique). There are a couple of people that popped up that I know are related but I am not sure how so I went to Ancestry.com and New FamilySearch to get some clues so that I can then find some records that will verify the information. So far so good.

When you are looking at compiled genealogies, whether online or in a book, you really need to be analyzing the information you see. It is real easy to be led astray by information that you don't immediately realize is in error. Here are a few examples I found yesterday. All of these were on Ancestry.com:

1) Husband and wife were married 03 Sep 1814 (I was able to verify this with a marriage license). Their son is listed as being born 1808. The math doesn't add up. Was the husband married before or maybe it was the wife. Obviously more research is needed to clear this one up.

2) Husband and wife were married 27 Oct 1856 (I was able to verify this with a marriage license). The wife's parents were listed on the family group sheet. Looking at the census records the wife is found in the household of the listed parents in 1850 but she is only 2 years old (and you can follow her through to the 1860 as a 12 year old). This would mean she married at age 8 and was back living with her parents at age 12. I realize that Georgia is famous for its young marriages but I don't think this is the case here. These are two different people.

3) I found a man that fathered 3 children after he died (I verified the death with an obituary and tombstone photograph). The person on Ancestry didn't have a death date for the man so he/she didn't realize that the children he/she had listed couldn't have been his.

4) I found a man married to 1) Martha 2) Elizabeth. The person didn't have marriage records to support this. He/She assumed two wives because of a name change in the census. 1850 Martha E., 1860 Martha, 1870 Elizabeth, 1880 Lizzy M. The first 5 children were attached to wife Martha and the one child born after 1870 were attached to wife Elizabeth. The man actually married Martha Elizabeth in 1849. Her name is spelled out completely on their marriage license. Further evidence that there was only one wife; no gap greater than 2 years between children, husband and wife buried next to each other but other wife not found, no 2nd marriage record found in the marriage books which are complete for this county, obituaries for the 5 of the 6 known children were found and they list their mother as Martha, including the youngest child that was attached to wife Elizabeth.

5) I have a man that died in 1890 but married in 1901. This could have been a simple typo but in this case it wasn't. It is two different men (first cousins as a matter of fact).

6) I found a family with 14 children. The first two were born when the wife was 9 and 11. Not likely. I checked the census records and here are the ages recorded for the wife:
1850 - Sarah Rachels, age 18
1860 - Sarah A. E. Rachels, age 19
1870 - Sarah Rachells, age 29
1880 - Sarah Rachel, age 38
1900 - Sarah Rachel, born Apr 1840, age 60
1910 - Sarah Rachels, age 68

The person on Ancestry had his tree linked to these census records but apparently he/she didn't see the discrepancy between the 1850 and the 1860 census. Could Richard Rachels have been married to TWO Sarahs? The answer is yes. There were two Sarahs.
Richard married Miss Sarah Ann McDaniel on 16 Aug 1849 in Hancock County (Marriage book 1808-1875, page 85)
Richard married Miss Sarah A. E. Screws on 27 Mar 1856 in Jefferson County (Marriage book A, page 391)

The person on Ancestry also missed that Sarah listed the 2nd oldest child as her "stepdaughter" on the 1910 census. Stepdaughter Ranie was still unmarried at age 57 and living with her stepmother. This is the only census with a step designation.

A lot of the data you find in family trees posted on the internet is not sourced properly. Even so, you can still look at the data and use it as a possible clue and then look for documentation to support it. Before you do that though, take a close look at the information because you just might see some impossible situations that you can immediately rule out which will save you some time.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. This is an excellent post! It's a good reminder that we should always be doing a good review of our data.

    Thanks for the examples.

  2. Thanks so much for the kind comments! I have to tell you that there have been times when I found something and got all excited about it without really looking at the data first. I then end up getting really disappointed :)

  3. Good post! It illustrates just how easy it is to come to the wrong conclusions!