Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Don't Ignore Signs of a Genealogy Mistake

In 1904, a publication about the Cowden and Welch families indicated that a man named David Sloan was the father of Annie Sloan Cowden. David was a Revolutionary soldier who was killed at the Battle of Long Island in 1776. It turns out that David Sloan did have a daughter Annie, but she was not the woman who married John Cowden.

The Canonsburg Daily Notes (Pa.),
November 2, 1925
More than 25 years after that publication was printed, my husband's 2nd cousin three times removed, Lyda J. Cowden, sent a letter to the U.S. government, trying to locate the grave of this assumed Patriot ancestor. She was a member of the Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and even held DAR meetings in her home in the 1920s. I found Lyda's letter dated October 11, 1930, in a bounty-land warrant application record for David Sloan on Ancestry.com:

     "Dear Sir, Is it possible for you to furnish me with the information of the burial place of Lt. David Sloan who was killed in the Battle of Long Island Aug 27, 1776.
      Left a widow Mary Sloan and a daughter Ann. I am a member of D.A.R. through Lt. Sloan, and am seeking the location of his grave. A pension was granted to Mary Sloan widow of David Sloan Feb. 8, 1785 but I can not find any record of his burial place. Sloan served under the command of Colonel Miles First Penn Regiment.
      If you do not know or have records of his burial place please tell me if the bodies at that time were returned to their respective homes or buried on the battlefield."

The response she received is also part of this Ancestry record and makes it clear that Annie Sloan Cowden's father was not the Patriot David Sloan:

     "Dear Madam, You are advised that the Revolutionary War records of this bureau show that the widow of Lieutenant David Sloan was Mary and that his daughter Ann married Robert Hunter. In 1806, said Robert and Ann were of Salem Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.       
     The location of the burial place of the soldier is not shown and the bureau is unable to advise you further in regard to same."

Did Lyda choose to ignore what the letter was saying about her DAR connection? Or did she skim over that part and just take away from the response that David's grave location was unknown? Hmm. I do know from a newspaper article that Lyda continued to meet with her fellow DAR members for at least five years after learning that David Sloan was not her ancestor.

The mistake was still circulating in 1935 when a Welch cousin contacted the government to request the pension file of David Sloan. Like Lyda, she had submitted a DAR application and became a member through her connection to Lt. David Sloan. There are more than a dozen DAR members who claimed this inaccurate connection between Annie Sloan Cowden and David Sloan.

Fortunately, the DAR eventually caught this mistake, and all of these incorrect applications are now flagged with this message on its website: "Problems have been discovered with at least one previously verified paper." The explanation given is that "Annie who married John Cowden is not the dau of this man."

This is a good reminder to read everything carefully and to correct genealogy mistakes even if it's painful to remove a high-profile person from your family tree. Accuracy is more important than bragging rights.

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