Friday, July 1, 2016
Lost in a Genealogical Forest
Have you ever been so lost in the details that you quite missed the sense of how the research pieces can all fit together?
Going back, in that dusty folder I pulled out from my old files, and reading the notes I exchanged, nearly twenty years ago, with a fellow Gordon family researcher helped me sort out the answers to my own questions about just which George and Sarah belonged to our branch of the Gordon family in Perry County, Ohio. It's interesting to note—now in retrospect—how our original comments showed we were fully aware something wasn't adding up quite right, yet we couldn't see we had the answers within our grasp all along.
The long haul through those dusty file folders began yesterday, but it wasn't long before I was reading comments pertinent to my search. In a long and detailed email from Ruth—the Gordon researcher with whom I had been collaborating—she acknowledged, "This George W. has been a BIG problem because his wife is sometimes listed as Sarah Jane Dittoe and sometimes as Sarah Jane Ryan."
The source for this discrepancy, per Ruth's conjecture—and I respect her judgment, considering her strict training in the analysis of history—was "the usually accurate Donald Gordon," who published a small (and difficult to locate) family history. His conclusion was based on a report "on a genealogical form from George A. Gordon."
Oh, no! Another George Gordon, I think to myself, as she continues: "Since George W. himself also corresponded with Donald, the source for this is probably good."
This, I now concluded after backtracking to read all those notes from years ago, was a mess I would have to clean up myself, after diligent combing through all the baptismal records I could find.
In the meantime, I decided to continue my project of transferring all my old Gordon records from the database on my dinosaur computer to my tree on Ancestry. Since I had already finished the entire collection for my husband's Gordon ancestor, William B. Gordon, and his second wife, Mary Cain, I decided to move on to the descendants of the next sibling in order after William.
No surprise here: it was another George Gordon!
Calm yourself down; it was a George Gordon born way before our twin Georges. In fact, this George—born in Maryland in 1774—wasn't even married to a Sarah. His wife was named Eleanor White. And even though he migrated westward with the Gordons, the farthest west he made it was Greene County, Pennsylvania. So no chance he even stepped foot in Perry County, Ohio.
He did, however, have one descendant of interest: a son named George W. Gordon, who just happened to be married to a Sarah. And happened to move to Perry County, Ohio. And had a year of birth matching the other George in my name-matching dilemma.
So I started working my way down through the descendants of George and Eleanor. Starting with the firstborn, I entered birth, marriage and death information. Then, for each child who married and subsequently also had children, I repeated the process for the next generation in George and Eleanor's line.
Eventually, I got to a spot where the names sounded vaguely familiar. It was at the turn of the century—no, the other turn of the century—when I knew where I was. This was Ruth's own line! She, herself, descended from the very George and Sarah in question! How did she miss that?
As it turned out, Ruth was fifth cousins with my mother in law. Of course, they never knew that—and likely had no knowledge of each other, at all. In her notes on this line, Ruth's direct ancestor, the other George in our problem, was listed as married to Sarah Drumm, a totally different maiden name than either of the two we had been puzzling over when considering that other George and Sarah.
Although I haven't completed the task yet, I suspect checking the baptismal records for each of the children of George and Sarah Drumm Gordon will bear that maiden name out. And help clear out the phantom children mistakenly placed in the household of their near neighbors—and first cousins—the other George and Sarah Gordon.
Was it that, in poring over the records of George and Sarah for so long, we got blinded to the other trees in this family forest? Or is it just that it sometimes helps to take a break from brooding over research problems, and come back to tackle them again with fresher eyes?