April 15, 2014

Pitfalls in genealogy: right name, wrong person

One of the most common errors people make in genealogy is confusing two people with the same name.

This is not hard to do. I can give you several instances where I've either done it myself or seen others do it, but I'll cite only two:

I have a 4th great-grandmother named Mary WEBSTER, who married my 4th great-grandfather John WINSLOW on 14 Apr 1796. I had Mary as being born in Kingston, New Hampshire on 11 Dec 1772 to Captain Jacob WEBSTER and Elizabeth GEORGE.

Then I ran into a problem: there was another Mary Webster who was born one week after, on 17 December, also in Kingston, to John WEBSTER and Mary CARTER.

This brought up the question, to which set of parents was my ancestor born? Every family tree on that I found gave Jacob and Elizabeth as her parents... but of course family trees are often unreliable, and certainly can't be counted as valid sources.

I had to find evidence. The marriage record I found on FamilySearch didn't list the parents' names, and I had no death record.

A breakthrough finally came in the form of a death notice for her on GenealogyBank: it gave her father as Captain Jacob Webster, who had been a soldier in the War of American Independence, and even gave some details of his service. So now I knew that her parents-- and my ancestors-- were Jacob and Elizabeth.

Funnily, another example involves Mary's mother Elizabeth... I had erroneously had Elizabeth GEORGE as being the daughter of Micah GEORGE and Mary FAVOR. Then I realized that, while Micah and Mary did have a daughter Elizabeth, this Elizabeth George married a John JONES and died in Hopkinton, as did her parents. The parents of my 5th great-grandmother Elizabeth, who died in Kingston on 13 Mar 1824 and was buried there, are still unknown.

The moral of these two stories: different people with the same name, especially when born about the same time and in the same area, can easily be mixed up.

Ancestry chain:

Jacob WEBSTER (1745-1836) m. Elizabeth GEORGE
Mary "Polly" WEBSTER (1772-1861) m. John WINSLOW
William WINSLOW (1800-1860) m. Mary "Polly" SEVERANCE
James W. WINSLOW (1838-1906) m. Elizabeth A. MACE
Bessie Maud WINSLOW (1886-1970) m. Frank Bailey PALMER
Dorothy Elizabeth PALMER (1918-1984) m. Henry Richard HOWES
S. HOWES (1937-1999) m. my father

April 9, 2014

2x great-grandma Jess

Got in touch with a third cousin I found on, who had posted a picture of my 3rd great grandparents George Albert and Hannah Melissa (SPECHT) BAKER (his second greats). I shared them here previously.

This cousin was good enough to send some more photos, and one of them was a very nice portrait of Jessie May Baker Simmonds, my great-great grandmother:

Jessie May Baker as a teen

In the above photo, Jessie appears to be in her teens, which would date the portrait to between about 1887 and 1892. In the 1891, she is listed in Census of Canada as 17 years old and living in the household of her parents, George and Hannah. So the above photo was most likely taken in Nova Scotia.

She married my 2nd great-grandfather Thomas Parker Simmonds in Waltham, Massachusetts on 4 Aug 1892; on that same day, just 60 miles away in the town of Fall River, the most famous murder of the 19th century took place.

I imagine that this event probably put something of a damper on her wedding day.

Ancestry chain:

George BAKER (1842-1914) m. Hannah Melissa SPECHT
Jessie May BAKER (1873-1927) m. Thomas Parker SIMMONDS
Estelle May SIMMONDS (1893-1930) m. Horace William HOWES
Henry Richard HOWES (1913-1987) m. Dorothy Elizabeth PALMER
S. HOWES (1937-1999) m. my father

April 5, 2014

Living in the past

Dick Eastman mentions a story about a Dutch woman who decided to live in the 1930s.

She has nothing post-World War II in her home, except for her computer, which she needs for work. But she does laundry with a bar of soap and a board, darns socks, reads, plays board games with friends, and listens to the radio. There's no TV. No cell phone either-- an antique phone for work. She even cleans with a 1920's vacuum cleaner (I'd be terrified to use a 90-year-old electric appliance when even modern versions are a pain in the keister-- seriously, we create Google Glass, but we can't create a vacuum without a cord and continuous 80-decibel noise?).


It seems that we early 21st century moderns (including myself) are hankering for things of the past. All things "retro" are in-- big band music, record players... some people I know of even use old typewriters.

So the question is, why? My opinion: because today's world sucks.

Granted, the world has probably always sucked, but today we seem to be without many of the institutions and mechanisms that made it worth living in. In the past, families and communities were tight. Today families are frequently broken, and don't live with or near each other anymore. We're much more mobile, and this has the affect of scattering people and making us, frankly, rootless.

Most people today don't know or even speak to their neighbors either. Far fewer of us belong to social and civic organizations than we did just a couple of generations ago.

In addition to this, there's the type of work we do. In the old days, people worked physically harder in general than we do today, but this work had value and meaning. At the end of the day plowing the field, you may have been hot and tired, but there was a sense of accomplishment and pride. Today many of us work in some stupid office doing work that is frankly meaningless, in a framework of idiotic policies and rules at a company that pretends to care about you but doesn't. There's just irritation, anxiety, and no sense of pride or accomplishment or meaning in what we're doing. We're Peter Gibbons from Office Space.

Then there's technology. Yes, while we gain things with technologies, we also lose something with them. I use email all the time, but there's a personal aspect of a handwritten letter that electronic communication just can't match.

Is it any wonder, then, why we're looking to the past and trying to simplify our lives?

What Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse has chosen to do is probably too radical for many of us (sorry, but I rather like using washers and dryers for laundry), but the idea is attractive. I for one would like to put into practice some ways of getting back what I feel we've lost, getting rid of things that are cluttering and complicating my life and being freer and happier.

I'm a computer addict, so forget tossing the Macbook. I already don't have cable, because 98.6% of what's on the 200+ channels is garbage-- just Apple TV. I do enjoy movies and educational programs, so getting rid of the TV isn't something I want to do either.

How would you want to go about simplifying your own life? Would there be a time period in which you would like to "live" if you could?