Thursday, November 19, 2015

Here's to Hundred Year Old Resources!

Now that I've examined my options, having moved up the matrilineal line four generations earlier than my grandmother's time, I could see I was entering a realm of surnames which surely would be adequately documented in the many local histories and genealogies of bygone eras. I knew, for instance, the Gilmer surname had books written about that family—at least two of which I've already mentioned here on A Family Tapestry. Googling the terms "history of" plus the county name of family origins in colonial America also has yielded a number of books addressing the genealogy of my ancient kin. If this was a winning combination in the past, why not try it again?

Besides the Gilmers, the next two generations preceding my fourth great grandmother, Mary Meriwether Gilmer, included the surnames Lewis and Strother, so I applied those search tactics to these additional surnames.

I'll always be grateful for those organizations and companies seeing the digitization of hundred year old books as a vital mission. Once again, both Google Books and Internet Archive came to my rescue. It was John Gilmer Speed's 1897 book, The Gilmers in America, which had reminded me that my fifth great grandmother Mary Meriwether Gilmer's mother Elizabeth Lewis was daughter of Thomas Lewis and Jane Strother.

I had known that the Lewis family has been mentioned in a number of books and genealogical articles stretching back over the last hundred years. But I hadn't known anything further about that Jane Strother, wife of Thomas Lewis. To continue down the trail of this matrilineal line to find the nexus with my mtDNA "exact match" mystery cousin, I would need to push back a few more generations, as my current stopping point hasn't yet yielded any connections. Jane Strother thus may become the linchpin to allow me access to additional generations of information.

So I tried my hand at that same old search routine. I searched for "Strother family in colonial America." While most of the results seemed to lead to commercial entities, such as the records on that surname, there were a few references to articles, including this publication—accessible here thanks to Google Books—which provided me an entire recounting of the family history of the Strother line.

Searching within the text, I looked for entries specific to Jane Strother. While much of the material, as often happens in these hundred year old family histories, seems to focus on the litany of male accomplishments, one passage did provide the tidbit I was seeking. It spelled out exactly who were the parents of this Jane Strother, wife of Thomas Lewis.

Thanks to that one mention about Jane Strother in William E. Railey's "The Strothers" in the The Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society, volume 15, I now have an indication that the name of Jane Strother's mother might have been Margaret Watts.

Of course, that 1917 article provides extensive research on the rest of Jane's family—especially her many sisters, each of whom could also pass along that same mtDNA that should show up as an exact match to mine. It will become a thumbnail sketch to provide me with the roadmap to determine a reverse genealogy of all Margaret Watts' female descendants—Jane's and all her sisters' daughters. 

Granted, I'll have to run that research through a double-check with current online resources. What once may have taken researchers months and even years to complete, we can now often verify within  mere hours. Of course, we can't believe everything we see in print, so I'll keep an eye out to check the author's assertions. But if this provides a correct listing of descendants, I'll have my work cut out for me for a long time to come.

Hopefully, this will yield some promising results—just in time to compare with the new research finds of my mystery cousin upon his return home from his own family history journey. 



  1. In one of my lineages, parentage of both husband and wife were erroneously published in 1936 and again ca. 1980 by the same author. He worked for decades a 5-minute walk from the Courthouse, but he never incorporated the two easy-to-find deeds and one clearly indexed death record that would have set him straight on this line. He could have further clarified both ancestries with an hour's drive and a day's Courthouse work on a vacation day, but the wills, deeds and tax lists there did not see light of day in his publications.

    This author's assertions were repeated in several other published books, and now appear in scores of on-line trees. Possibly each re-publication was viewed by tree-owners as "corroboration," though they all copy from the same erroneous works and/or each other.

    Much the same routine is found in myriad published genealogies and accounts in County Histories, including those finding digital homes in on-line repositories. Not to mention trees. Same name = same person? Same surname = same family? It is to laugh. Or weep.

    Locating the evidentiary documentation is usually not as easy as the 5-minute walk or the hour's drive, but some direct exploration can save a lot of tripping down wrong-way paths.

    1. It certainly can be frustrating to see mistakes perpetuated in printed material, Geolover. And especially within such an easy distance from the source! It pays to take that deeper look, do one's due diligence and always ask questions when details don't seem to align.

  2. Funny thing. I took some Find-A-Grave photos yesterday (mostly just to get out of the office for a bit) and came up against a woman named Jermina Wood (of Norriton, PA). She is listed in the 1850 and 1860 US censuses with very different birth dates.

    I found an entry in a Google book for her father - and it "confirmed" the later of the two birthdays AND better yet, named her husband.

    Of course, I can't find the husband in Ancestry...... :)

    1. Frustrating. I hear you on those wildly divergent census dates. Sometimes, I think it's just a matter of poorly transcribed handwriting, but then I take a look for myself and realize that it can't be explained away quite so easily. Makes you wonder what some people were thinking...


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