Saturday, July 30, 2011

Mistakes can be gold--don't disregard them!

Skimming and scanning, searching and clicking-- diligence pays off. Even misinformation can be helpful. Why is it there? Two possiblities--it is an egregious, pointless error, or much better, it is a mixed up clue! Before dismissing what seems to be garbage, consider why it might be there. Sometimes it does take a few minutes to discover that, yes, someone is on the wrong track. But once in awhile gold is hidden in those mistakes. For example, I could find no clues whatsoever as to the maiden name of one of my ancestors. I knew her husband, Jacob Van Allen, had been married twice. All the children were from the elusive ( and unnamed at the point of my researching) female ancestor, Mariette Kimball.

I found a detailed family tree with another woman, Jane Pawling, listed as married to Jacob in 1802. I checked and double-checked with the census. It just couldn't be.  In the census record, Jane Pawling was listed as a second wife, mother of no children, married to Jacob in 1802 (yes the census provided all of that information).

According to the mistaken family tree record, Mariette Kimball married Jacob in 1846. That was certainly not possible. Mariette had died by then. I knew Jane was the second wife. The researcher knew the names. They were absolutely correct, at least as far as being wives of Jacob. Painstaking work on my part after the find proved that Mariette was my ancestor, the first wife, not the second as listed by the mistaken researcher. Mariette was mother of all of the children. Jane was not mother to any of them.

The mistake was a great clue. It was probably of no particular interest to the researcher which wife was which. But it was everything to me--one more name that I could confirm as an ancestor. And I couldn't have found it otherwise.

This is my favorite example, but this type of error does happen quite a bit. So take care to absorb a bit of misinformation before dismissing it. It might be the clue you want, the clue that will take you to information for your family tree.

The record of the Van Allen family, with mainly excellent and correct information can be found at:

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