Friday, October 10, 2014

Be a Genealogy Skeptic

When doing genealogy research, don't believe everything you hear and everything you find. Even if you really, really want it to be the truth, details you uncover may be inaccurate. I'm here to tell you that it's perfectly ok to question.

For example, my 2nd great-grandfather was a Civil War veteran. I have a packet of his military records that confirms his service. When he died in Ohio in 1893, though, there were some statements in his obituary that don't seem to add up.

First, the Toledo Bee obituary says that he "came to America directly after the war [the German revolution of 1848] with Hecker and Schurz, two of the leaders in the revolution." Second, it says "Mr. Jay was a great personal friend of Gen. Hartranft, ex-governor of Pennsylvania, and was one of the pallbearers at the funeral of the ex-governor."

Ok, both things could be true. Who knows, maybe he was on the same ship with Hecker and Schurz before they ended up in completely different U.S. cities. And who's to say that a saloon owner couldn't be best buds with a governor? They weren't in the same Civil War regiment and lived more than 200 miles from each other, but that's not TOO far-fetched, is it?

He could be mentioned in the Governor's archived letters or perhaps there's a newspaper story that names the men who were pallbearers that day. But until I find something to connect him with these famous men, I choose to be skeptical. Remember, family members don't always get it right in stories, obituaries, or death certificates. Questioning can actually be a good thing and makes us better researchers.

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