Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 18 June 2016.
Last time I blogged about the discovery of one of my husband’s great great grandpas wearing some type of insignia in an old photo I had not previously noticed. I intended to work towards identifying it this summer when out of the blue, a descendant of that two times great grandpa emailed me.
The cousin believes it may be Masonic so I’ll be exploring that angle soon. In the meantime, her email had me in a tizzy! Cousin wanted to know if I was the Ancestry tree that had placed the same grandfather’s first wife as the sister-in-law of his second wife.
It wasn’t my tree that she was referring to but when I investigated the owner of that tree I noticed he had borrowed the photo I was now hanging on my office wall and a Bible page that I had posted. There were no source citations as to the marriage. I emailed him and although he’s had a tree for a number of years and was on the site recently, he didn’t respond.
I haven’t researched that line in at least 6 years so I went back over my own notes and realized that I had come to the same conclusion he did. (Well, maybe he didn’t reach that conclusion and instead, borrowed it, whatever!) Thankfully, my notes were clear as to where I got the information – from a transcription of a letter written by the granddaughter of the couple. It was the only record of the marriage from upstate New York in the early 1800’s that has ever been found. I emailed the cousin a snippet of the letter.
Her response was not what I expected; she snipped a copy of a letter authored by the same person that had completely different information! It stated that the grandfather’s first wife had been the sister of the second wife.
Neither letter was dated but the letter I had a copy of displayed shaky handwriting, punctuation was lacking and there was many misspelled words. The letter she had a copy of was well written and clear.
I received my version of the letter from the cousin’s now deceased mother who never told me about an earlier letter. The cousin had gotten her letter also from her mother and wasn’t aware of the older letter. All of the mother’s genealogical information resides with a niece who planned to carry on researching. Why we each only got half of the information I don’t know. Why the information conflicts I can’t explain, either. Was it faulty memory of an elderly relative or a correction to an earlier mistake? Whatever the reason, this definitely confirms you can’t believe everything you read and the importance of seeking out more than one source. I will now ask, “Is that all?” when meeting with family and clients to make sure I have everything that is available.
All I know for certain is that I’m thankful I kept notes and citations. Originally, I had transcribed the word “her” as “his” and had come to the same conclusion as the cousin. I looked at the letter several years later and re-transcribed it. The second time, however, I had scanned and blew the letter up to 200 times when I made the transcription. It was then that I determined that “her” should have been “his.” That small difference provided me a different maiden name for the first wife and through that, I was able to identify two other siblings who connected with this family in two different states.
Last blog I mentioned how valuable it is to take a look back at your old photos. I’d add it’s equally important to take another look at other documentation you may have. You might be able to break through a wall with information that is in front of you all along.
Just two little letters can make all the difference and change the direction of your research.