Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Just For the Record

In the case of determining just which Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Gordon should be shown as the parents of John P. Hennessey's bride, Mary Frances—notwithstanding what her Perry County, Ohio, marriage license may have indicated in 1912—we are not without other resources. The wife of Candidate Candidate Couple Number One—Thomas R. and Elizabeth Gordon—actually sported a maiden name of McCann, just as the application for marriage license had indicated. This couple had several children, at least some of which should show up, given a diligent search, with baptismal records which could also confirm that fact.

Though the wife of Candidate Couple Number Two—Thomas V. and the other Elizabeth—was known before her marriage as a McCabe, not a McCann, she was one of the unfortunate women of that era who did not live long after giving birth to her second child. Thus, to confirm her maiden name for her eldest child Mary Frances' sake, we'd have to hope her second daughter left a paper trail up to genealogical standards.

Mary Frances' younger sister Blanche was born in January of 1886. Fortunately for our purposes, not only did her marriage application twenty eight years later include her by-then long-deceased mother's maiden name, but thanks to a collection provided online via, known as Ohio, Births and Christenings Index, we can see the transcribed collection states Blanche's mother's name was Elizabeth McCabe. Thus, Mary Frances' only full sister comes through with the provision of the right maiden name for the woman who married John P. Hennessey, regardless of what the document said.

If, that is, we can trust these other official documents. We've already seen—at least in this one example—that government-issued records aren't always correct. Better to make sure that the other couple can assuredly be ruled out as the potential parents, so let's use the same treatment to look at records for a sibling in that other family.

Let's take another child from the family of Thomas R. and Elizabeth Gordon, say, one from approximately the same year of birth. In that family, the candidate to examine would be their daughter Rose, born in 1884 in that same county in Ohio. Taking a look for what records could be located for Rose, the Ohio, Births and Christenings Index comes through again. Sure enough, the record for Rose is transcribed, showing her parents to be Thomas R. Gordon and Elizabeth McCann.

What a relief to have that settled. However, of course, that means there is a mess left for me to clean up, back on my database. And the very first step may have been triggered by noticing the date of birth for the Gordon daughter, Rose. After all, not only was Rose born on July 3, 1884, but Mary Frances, herself, was said to have been born in April of 1884—a sure clue that not only was her mother not Elizabeth McCann, but that I really didn't have duplicate entries at all.

There were no two Mary Franceses. The only thing I can figure out is that, at one point in my research, I must have noticed the mother's maiden name was listed as McCann, not McCabe, made the switch in my database, and added Mary Frances to the wrong family constellation. Then, another time, saw another record indicating Mary Frances should have been under the McCabe descendancy, made another entry, and added an entirely new line there, as well.

Now, as Wendy likes to say, "Clean up on aisle three."

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Not the Only One

If conflicting bits of information gleaned from public documents showed that even Perry County record keepers couldn't keep it straight about which Elizabeth was mother to which Mary Frances Gordon, I can't be too hard on myself for getting things wrong. After all, I was apparently in good company. The volunteers at Find A Grave were struggling over this same issue.

Granted, Find A Grave is a volunteer-driven organization. What we may sometimes feel are helpful links added by volunteers to an ancestor's burial record may turn out to not always be correct. Though Ancestry, as their host, seems to encourage wholesale acceptance of all entries on Find A Grave when they offer them up on "hints" to be added to one's tree, I've learned to view these with a critical eye. Some volunteers seem to get a bit carried away with their assumptions.

So, it will come as no surprise to you to learn that while the photograph for each Elizabeth's headstone clearly indicates a different woman—different dates, primarily, but also different middle names for their Gordon husbands—it was the volunteer-designated entry for each memorial that threw a curve into the search.

For instance, the Mary Frances whose mother died young, just after her sister Blanche was born, clearly had the older headstone. Besides, the engraving showed that this Elizabeth was "wife of T. V. Gordon." The headstone also emphasized her youth, stating that the woman died at the age of twenty four years and six months at her passing on January 6, 1887.

The headstone for the other Elizabeth was a much more recent engraving, and the style of the design is a clear visual affirmation of that. This Elizabeth, according to the engraving, was wife of Thomas R. Gordon, not Thomas V. Gordon. Her dates indicated a birth in 1843 and her death in 1919, about eight years after her husband's passing.

For the Elizabeth who passed in 1887, a volunteer has linked her memorial to those of her parents, stated at Find A Grave to be William McCabe and Catherine Pluck.

Ah, you think, So the other Elizabeth must be the one who was the McCann daughter.

If you drew that conclusion, apparently you did not share the same thought processes used by the volunteers who worked on these entries, for each of them was headlined with the name, "Elizabeth McCabe Gordon."

Whatever was used to arrive at that decision, I cannot tell from the Find A Grave records provided. But I certainly understand why there can be so much confusion out there about two similar family lines. Clearly, to get to the truth of the matter, we'll have to dig a bit more deeply to see what else can be uncovered about these parallel Gordon lines.

Monday, June 26, 2017

If This, Then That — Or Not

Some of the logic of genealogy has to rely on inferences—those conclusions you feel safe arriving at, despite not having any documentation specifically stating the case.

In our current predicament with my two Mary Frances Gordons—one whose mother was Elizabeth McCabe, while the other's mother was Elizabeth McCann—I thought perhaps I'd be safe in utilizing a little inference work where documentation was lacking. After all, back in 1884 when these two women were born, there weren't many birth certificates issued. I had to have another way to link each woman to family members.

I've already mentioned that the ill-fated Elizabeth McCabe died shortly after her second-born daughter, Blanche, was born. While I didn't feel secure about the few documents I had found for Elizabeth McCabe Gordon's eldest daughter Mary Frances, I thought maybe relying on the records for other family members might shed some light on which Elizabeth was which.

Sure enough, when Blanche Gordon came of age, her marriage record stated her parents' names as T. V. Gordon and Elizabeth McCabe. As added security for this hypothesis, I found another Ancestry record, "Ohio Births and Christenings Index," giving a transcription for Blanche's parents as "Thos. V. Gordon" and Elizabeth McCabe.

Ergo...if Blanche was Mary Frances' younger sister, then Elizabeth McCabe was Mary Frances' mother, as well.


This is the type of exercise that firmly cements one lesson into my mind: even the people we trust to get things right often fail us. Miserably. I'm thinking of the numerous times I've spotted errors in newspaper reports—okay, granted, these are not "official" documents, but still public record—and even found errors engraved in stone, marking ancestors' burials.

But government documents? Apparently, we can now add those to our list.

I'm certainly happy the collection of Ohio marriage records from has made its appearance at as well—something I didn't have access to, back when I first worked on this line in my mother-in-law's tree. All I had to rely on, back then, was a photocopy of the index of marriages listing Gordons that I had gleaned during a visit to Perry County—and the help of a lot of other enthusiastic, sharing fellow researchers congregating in online genealogy forums, ten to fifteen years ago.

Finding one other marriage record, now, did not help this predicament. In double checking all my supporting evidence for these two Mary Frances Gordons, at first I was glad to see the FamilySearch marriage collection included a record for Mary Frances—but then, not so sure what to do with the result I found.

In short, when Paul Hennessy applied to take Mary Frances Gordon to be his wife, someone at the courthouse recorded her mother's name not as Elizabeth McCabe—what we'd expect, seeing Mary Frances' sister Blanche's application—but as Elizabeth McCann.

No wonder I'm so confused! I can't even find records that can get the facts straight!

Excerpts from each marriage license application shown above courtesy via

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Getting Things Right

It took only a few minutes of playing with that Ooh-Shiny genealogical divertissement I found yesterday, when I realized what I really needed to do was attend to my genealogical duty. That, in case you've forgotten, is to rectify the error I discovered while doing some spring cleaning on my mother-in-law's oft-intermarried family line.

Just to recap, I was scrolling through the list of all persons in that tree, searching for duplicate entries, when I spotted one which seemed to qualify. It was for a Mary Frances Gordon, born in Ohio in 1885, and passed away in the same state in 1963. One of my two entries for this person said she was married to John Patrick Hennessey, the other claiming her husband was John P. Hennessy.

All seems well at this point—until I check her parents' information. In one record, she is daughter of Thomas Gordon and Elizabeth McCann. In the other record, she is daughter of Thomas Gordon and Elizabeth McCabe.

There seems to be a problem here.

I can't simply assume these two Mary Franceses are duplicate entries with that discrepancy, now can I?

This calls for digging in further to check out the rest of the details. Admittedly, this was probably a Gordon line I had worked on nearly twenty years ago, given the amount of shaky-leaf hints generated by a fresh click on that entry now. And there are certainly other details that don't quite mirror each other.

For instance, the Mary Frances whose mother was Elizabeth McCabe was one of only two children. Her mother died soon after giving birth to Mary Frances' sister, Blanche. Within three years, her father, Thomas Gordon, married once again, to Mary Alice Cull.

The other mother—the one for the Mary Frances Gordon whose mother was Elizabeth McCann—married her Thomas Gordon in 1862, and had many children before Mary Frances' arrival in 1885.

This required going back through all the documentation I had saved for each of these "duplicate" people, checking for discrepancies. It was clear to see, from the headstone photographs posted on Find A Grave for each of the Elizabeths, that they were certainly different individuals.

But as I went, document by document, to double check each entry for accuracy, I began to realize that perhaps I wasn't the first to have gotten confused by Elizabeth, wife of Thomas Gordon. A clerk in the Perry County Probate Court may have made a similar mistake, himself.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Gone Fishing

Despite good intentions to complete this seasonal genealogical cleaning process, a suddenly-appearing ooh-shiny bauble appeared before my cyber-eyes yesterday, and I had to follow it to its source.

The bauble was the FindMyPast offer to explore their British and Irish records online for free. There was, of course, one caveat; that deal wasn't going to last forever. In fact, it's only good through the end of the weekend—a long weekend, for some of our friends up in Canada—closing at 6:59 p.m. Eastern Daylight time on Monday.

I simply cannot be sitting here, dutifully scrubbing my genealogical records until they squeak, when such an attractive offer is tapping on my shoulder.

So, it's off to see what can be found on my father-in-law's tree—everything from that scoundrel Stephen Malloy, who left town in such a rush, his young wife grabbed their baby and went after him all the way to Boston, to the predictable Denis Tully, who is now quite findable on the County Tipperary records where our trip to Ireland proved he would be.

Only, this time, I don't have to go scrolling through illegible microfilms at the National Library of Ireland; I can search for further gems all in the comfort of my—ahem, still air conditioned—home.

As with all good things—nothing is ever truly free—in exchange for this wonderful opportunity, one needs to sign up for the offer. That, of course, means giving up your email address—and, presumably, means you may be subject to further offers from offers to explore their international records for a limited, but free period. Sure, I'll take that.

In fact, I had signed up for a great opportunity from a prior offer, in which I have a very limited subscription for one year at this same company. I'm operating on the principle that the more places where I can post my tree, the more opportunities I will have to attract the interest of a distant cousin who may also be researching my hard-to-find ancestors. And I'm all for crowdsourcing the answers to those difficult genealogical questions.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Facing Those Uncomfortable Facts

There is one hazardous fallout from the spring-cleaning approach to genealogy: every once in a while, "duplicate" files turn out to be two separate individuals with similar names and dates. Those of you researching those ubiquitous Irish couples, say, John and Mary Kelly, whose sons all dutifully named their firstborn sons after their father—and all at the same time—know exactly what I'm up against.

Since my mother-in-law's Perry County, Ohio, line is riddled with circumstances producing similar results—in that case, something I've dubbed "Endogamy-Lite"—I've had to face up to some duplicate entries in her family tree. Still, I have to tread carefully through that list of potential duplicates. Sometimes, those "doubles" turn out to be separate individuals with very similar life scenarios.

Yesterday—still hunkered down in front of my computer as an escape from the heat wave bearing down on us outside—I ran across that very problem. I had been working on my mother-in-law's Gordon line because, well, lots of duplicate entries. I ran across two entries for a Gordon descendant named Mary Frances. Both showed dates of birth in 1884, and dates of death in 1963. Both were Ohio residents.

One of the entries for Mary Frances Gordon showed her marrying a man named John Patrick Hennessy. The other entry had the husband's name as John P. Hennessey. Each one of those Mary Frances Gordons were listed as daughter of Thomas—only in one record, the name was Thomas R. Gordon and the other record showed Thomas V. Gordon.

This was clearly a case of duplicate entries. With, perhaps, a case of a hard-of-hearing census enumerator to top it all off.


Of course, now that I've asked that rhetorical question, you know the answer isn't necessarily a slam-dunked "yes." That would be too easy.

The one stumbling block was the mother's name for each of those daughters named Mary Frances. One mother was listed as Elizabeth McCabe. The other one was identified as Elizabeth McCann.

Close. But not exact.

Back to the drawing board. I can't simply assume I made a transcription error. I'll have to pull out all the old documents and re-examine to see where I went wrong. Then, because each Mary Frances was only one of several siblings, I'll have to re-sort the whole family unit to make sure the right children are aligned with the right parents. Worse, since each of those children include records of their own spouses and subsequent descendants, I've got a long trail of names that will require meticulous attention to sort out properly.

Our simple (and well-intentioned) genealogical tasks can sometimes inadvertently end up with mistakes which can echo down through the generations. Better to take some time on a regular basis to double check what work has already been done. Sometimes, we've placed the wrong grandchild under the wrong John and Mary Kelly. Or Mary Frances Gordon.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Double, Double

Toil and trouble: removing the list of duplicates from a ten-thousand-plus family tree. And a tree like mine is bound to have duplicates, if it's a tree with intermarried branches.

Every now and then, I remember the need to go back and review my family trees for duplicates. After all, if I'm dealing with a family where cousins married cousins—albeit in the distant past—I will eventually run into branches which were, in reality, branches I've run into before.

That's the case with my mother-in-law's Perry County, Ohio, family. Not that we're Ashkenazi Jews. Or have Cajun ancestry. But Perry County has its own kind of intermarriage. I call it endogamy-lite.

So, from time to time, when I get on a genealogical organizing kick, I remember to check the full listing of all people in my mother-in-law's tree on What I'm looking for are duplicate entries on that master list—those double entries where the names I entered when working on one side of the family show up in the work I then do for the other side of the family.

This can be tedious work. First I pull up the "list of all people"  tab on my Ancestry tree, then start scrolling through the universe of names, letter by letter, stopping when I find two in a row of the same first and last name. I wish there was a quicker way—some magic button which scans for consecutive entries containing the same name.

Granted, some of those duplicate names belong to father and son duos, for neither of which I've managed to glean any other telltale clues—like dates or places of birth or death. Still, each of those pairs need to be individually inspected for other similarities. Some—a significant enough number to make this pursuit worth my time—turn out to be exactly that: duplicates.

And so my tree shrinks by a small percentage each time I trim these two-headed twigs. It's yet another way I try to check for accuracy and prune those superfluous entries—something I've dedicated this week of outdoor extreme heat to doing, safe inside where I can enjoy the air conditioning. I can safely say this is one tree trimming exercise not many genealogical researchers ever need to do—except for those whose tree contains a good number of intermarriages among the same families. See what small, closed communities can do for your genealogical pursuits?
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