Saturday, June 13, 2020
There are some times when the handiness of technology can make messes a bit too easily. I just stumbled upon such a case.
It was a situation of a family tree with too many Georges marrying women named Sarah. I thought I had dealt with this particular case of duplications a while back, but apparently doing so "to my satisfaction" left me blissfully unaware of the mess I left behind me.
Now, in retrospect, all I can figure is that, at some point, I must have clicked that "merge with duplicate" button in my genealogical database program and—poof!—instantaneously evaporated the finely-delineated two identically-named men into one. With two wives. Named Sarah. And umpteen kids, all claiming vaguely similar names.
These things can happen.
I owe it all to the irritatingly ALL-CAPS family tree readout of a DNA match to my husband's side of the family. When I spotted the surname in question—Gordon, as in descendants of that George Gordon of Georgetown—I confess I had thought, "Oh, this will be a snap." How wrong I was.
Recreating a mistaken pathway to untangle the false branches can be a challenge. My first instinct is to start not from the point of discovering my messy two Georges, but to move back to the present to begin at the point of the DNA match, himself. After all, unless they are adoptees, most people can assert fairly confidently the names of their own parents. I can feel fairly certain about that part of this DNA match's tree, and from that point, build my own version of his tree to confirm each step of the way backwards in time.
That will make me feel a bit more confident about which branch of the family this match belongs to, but it doesn't entirely resolve my problem. After all, I have somehow combined the families of two Gordon men named George, and will have to figure out which Sarah belongs to which George.
Arriving at that answer won't be the end of the problem, though. The knot will be untangled only when the right Sarah is attached to the right children—and then, each couple needs to be correctly aligned with their own parents, as well. That means, with two Georges and two Sarahs, there should be eight parental names to further untangle this mess. Hopefully, those individuals don't also carry the same exact names. That would really mess with my mind.
The tedium of situations like this requires the type of attentiveness which can wear on a researcher—but they are cases which can't be left undone. Often, they require delving deeper into an ancestor's life story than simply relying on a few documents sparsely touching upon key points in that individual's life. This is where newspaper reports or probate records can fill in the blanks where a few census records might miss the crux of the matter. If nothing else, at the end of this research do-over, I'll have not only a clearer picture of each ancestor, but a richer, more contextually-based understanding of each individual.
I've flagged the spot in the tree where I stumbled upon this record catastrophe and made a note to myself so I won't lose track of where the error is, buried deep within the nearly twenty thousand individuals in my mother-in-law's tree. This isn't the type of research which makes for scintillating story telling, but it is necessary, nonetheless.