Monday, December 30, 2013

The Process of Discovery

Researching family history leads to an ever-unfolding revelation.

For one thing, more records are being converted to digital files and added to various online resources every day. What couldn’t be found yesterday has a better chance of being found today—and an even greater possibility of being discovered in the weeks to come.

In addition, the more we know, the more we are equipped to find additional facts. Each detail drops into place like a missing piece of the puzzle, clarifying most-likely next steps to nudge into place.

However, sometimes those revelations are not so much Ah ha! moments as Oops recoveries. Going back over what we’ve already entered in our databases, we may find details entered in error—or provided by documents themselves riddled with mistakes (yes, even death certificates). And we may uncover spots in our records that had been left blank. The last time we passed that way, we just weren’t prepared to enter some data, whether because of lack of supply, or because of sheer doubt of our source.

Since embarking on a revisit of my records for my mother’s cousin, Sarah Martha Moore McKinnon—whom I introduced to you when I stumbled upon her childhood picture a couple days ago—I’ve realized I needed to do some housecleaning of her data.

I was particularly in need of her birth and marriage information. While I had most likely gleaned the April 3, 1927, birth date from an entry in the Davis family Bible, I hadn’t been able to uncover any other documentation of that date, especially any that indicated the location of that birth. One could easily assume she would have been born in Tennessee, where her parents were raised. Knowing her immediate family’s propensity to travel—and live—in Central America, though, I couldn’t be sure she was American-born.

Between those blanks in my records, and my unprepared launching into a blog post on her part of our extended family, I was brought back to the fact that I was missing some details and documentation on this one family member’s entry.

So what can a winter-bound family history researcher do on a cold post-Christmas day? Scour the Internet to see what can be found!

Of course, as often happens, while I was looking this way, what should show up from that way in my search? Trying desperately (as I have for years, now) to discover any more on Sarah Martha’s husband, the mysterious Mr. C. J. McKinnon as my grandmother always addressed him, I happened to bump into a birth entry for Sarah Martha, herself.

Undaunted by the fact that the date was one day off from records gleaned from our family Bible (chalk that up to a source listed as an index of material), Tennessee Births and Christenings, 1828-1939 did at least confirm that she was born in Tennessee, not Honduras or any equally exotic (and inaccessible for records) location.

And that date being a matter of one day’s discrepancy from my previous notes was no problem. As it turns out, thanks to both and (for those willing to subscribe to obtain the privilege of accessing their records), I was able to find quite a few travel records showing Sarah Martha’s yearly return trips to the States to attend boarding school while her parents remained in Honduras. Thankfully, of those passenger lists that included a birth date, the April third date I originally obtained was amply vindicated.

So much for governmental records. Or the indexes thereof.


  1. If this is an offspring - it is interesting how her path crosses near you...

    1. This McKinnon certainly has an impressive bio! And comes from the Baltimore area, too. You are amazing in the clues you find, Iggy! Thanks for sending that.

  2. shows Sarah Martha got a Master's Degree... :)

    1. ...and impressive that she was awarded this degree from Johns Hopkins University. Thanks again, Iggy, for finding this link.

  3. Cold in California...sounds horrid! Glad you had something to keep you busy! :)

    1. Well, in my defense, our overnight lows have really been making it down below freezing--unusual for around here :)

      However, after reading your blog post, oh, how I wish I could send you some of our daytime highs. I'm sure you could put them to good use, after the temps you've been getting lately!

    2. Sure...c'mon over! :)

      Actually, if you ever come to California...please consider yourself welcome!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...