Thursday, July 7, 2011

Mistakes! And about your Ancestor

Most of the ancestors out there, if they go back hundreds of years, are not just our ancestors, but the ancestors of others as well. And they aren't known just to us; they are often known publicly in some way or another.
Unfortunately, researchers and descendants, or would-be descendants get mixed up. Then they publish their results, or make corrections to the public family tree of others. It happens, and it happens not infrequently. It is one reason that you look to a public tree only for possibilities and not for answers. In my case it happened with several ancestors so far.

One ancestor who has been so mistreated is Phineas Keith, of Henderson, Jefferson County, New York, and originally of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. He served in the Revolution, as is well documented in the text Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War. and in Revolutionary Soldiers in Onondoga County, New York. The DAR also documents his service.

 Another resident of Jefferson County, Phineas Heath (similar name--different person!), also served from Massachusetts. If you see family trees online, you may see the post-its that try to explain that this person actually deserves the credit for the service of Phineas Keith. Not so.

What can you do to counter the damage when your ancestor is maligned or incorrectly categorized? Publish here there and everywhere who your ancestor is, what he or she has done, and what the sources for that information are. And of course, you contact the poster who has the misinformation. The writer is usually quite attached to the misinformation, so it is best to just lay out the facts and ask that they be taken into consideration.

Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't.We can always hope that truth will win out, or at least that the best facts will be available to be understood! It is our responsibility as descendants to try to set facts straight, and if we happen to be the ones in error, to acknowledge that and move on.

Genealogy is about facts, truth, getting it right. Yet it is also about narrative, past and present, and that is always a matter of subjectivity. Science and art, with an emphasis on science.

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