29 May 2009

School of Hard Knocks

Admit it we've all done it. We do the genealogy dance only to find out, some times after much to do sharing with others and posting online, that we were dancing off in left field because the family we thought we had found turns out to the wrong family.

I decided to participate in this weeks Genealogy prompt brought to us by Amy of We Tree. 21. Lessons learned. Fess up to your research mistakes so others can learn from them.

My latest mistake I had documented and wrote about recently in my post about William Henry Manion. I didn't just make one mistake and link him to a William H Manion in a different county once, but I did it a second time when I thought it was possible that the William H Manion in the other county was the father of the William Henry Manion I was looking for. You can read more about this on going mystery of William Henry Manion in my previous post Paupers Cemetery, Post Falls, ID. I at least now know who he was and where he lived prior to his death. This is why it is so important to not rely on census records. They are a piece of the puzzle, but never use them as a sole source of proof. You always need more evidence to back up a census record.

Of course this was not my first nor will it be my last I'm sure. I remember my first though. I had only been doing family history research for maybe six months. I had stacks of paper piled everywhere. I certainly was not organized with it yet. I had known an approximate year and state where my great grandmother Mary Joann Williamson was born, whom she married and when she died. I was ready to begin finding her family. So being a real rooky I started looking for a Mary Joann (last name unknown) born 1890 in KY. I didn't find very many matches to that, but one. I was certain this had to be her, Mary Joann Wycoff. Don't ask me how I found it. For the life of me I can't even find how I linked her up now. I've since thrown away all of that when I realized I was on the wrong path. But for a while I thought that my dad's grandmother descended from the Wycoff's of NY. Finally one day when discussing this with my Aunt, she said "oh no! She wasn't a Wycoff. Her maiden name was Williamson. She lived next door to Ewing Woolsey and his family before she married him. Sure enough I went back to the census record that I had already found for Ewing Woolsey and his parents and there she was living next door. Her father was Henry King Williamson and appears her mother was dead at this point. This was when I learned that first lesson ALWAYS LOOK AT AND CONSIDER THE NEIGHBORS!

Another path I got off on was Mary's own father-in-law William Grant "Billy" Woolsey. He is still a mystery to me and it's almost as if he was hiding his past. But at one point I did find a William G Woolsey born the same year and also in Iowa as my William. I knew the story he told of having an abusive Irish step mother after his mother died. This other William born around 1865 in Iowa I found in one census record living in the Dakota Territory with his mother Armille and father William Woolsey. In the following census he has a step mother who is Irish. Oh it was too good not to be true. I was certain I had finally found the family, and for some time I was convinced of it. But I kept digging deeper and that same young William who was born in Iowa about 1865 ends up in Montana in 1900 when I knew for a fact that my William was in Oklahoma. Now we are talking before the age of easy travel. If I had seen that in today's time I might have questioned if my ancestor had two families and was a traveling man. But in 1900 that just doesn't make sense. These men were thousands of miles away from each other, the same age, born in the same state and having a very similar story of an Irish step mother. There is still a part of me that thinks there is something there that I will find links these two families together. In the 1880 census the young William is listed with his family in the Dakota Territory in the same county is listed another William Woolsey, same age and same place of birth living and working as a hand on a farm. I often still go back to that and wonder if these were the same boys or if in fact one of them (most likely the farm hand) is my great great grandfather and is it possible he was taking on this other boys identity to hide from the law. Anyway I did finally trace the other William through Montana and on in to Spokane, WA about thirty minutes from where I live is where he is buried. I've also talked to his descendants, so I know they are two different men. Just how do they relate, if at all, is still unknown. This is just another case of the puzzle pieces fit the census until you dig deeper and turn over every rock.

You can read more about how I became organized in my three part series, The Organized Genealogist, Getting Started I, The Organized Genealogist II, and The Organized Genealogist III. Getting organized and later learning to use more precise forms to guide my research helped. I also did a post on the forms that have helped me a great deal In Wordless Wednesday - Family History Made Easy.

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