Monday, June 26, 2017

If This, Then That — Or Not

Some of the logic of genealogy has to rely on inferences—those conclusions you feel safe arriving at, despite not having any documentation specifically stating the case.

In our current predicament with my two Mary Frances Gordons—one whose mother was Elizabeth McCabe, while the other's mother was Elizabeth McCann—I thought perhaps I'd be safe in utilizing a little inference work where documentation was lacking. After all, back in 1884 when these two women were born, there weren't many birth certificates issued. I had to have another way to link each woman to family members.

I've already mentioned that the ill-fated Elizabeth McCabe died shortly after her second-born daughter, Blanche, was born. While I didn't feel secure about the few documents I had found for Elizabeth McCabe Gordon's eldest daughter Mary Frances, I thought maybe relying on the records for other family members might shed some light on which Elizabeth was which.

Sure enough, when Blanche Gordon came of age, her marriage record stated her parents' names as T. V. Gordon and Elizabeth McCabe. As added security for this hypothesis, I found another Ancestry record, "Ohio Births and Christenings Index," giving a transcription for Blanche's parents as "Thos. V. Gordon" and Elizabeth McCabe.

Ergo...if Blanche was Mary Frances' younger sister, then Elizabeth McCabe was Mary Frances' mother, as well.


This is the type of exercise that firmly cements one lesson into my mind: even the people we trust to get things right often fail us. Miserably. I'm thinking of the numerous times I've spotted errors in newspaper reports—okay, granted, these are not "official" documents, but still public record—and even found errors engraved in stone, marking ancestors' burials.

But government documents? Apparently, we can now add those to our list.

I'm certainly happy the collection of Ohio marriage records from has made its appearance at as well—something I didn't have access to, back when I first worked on this line in my mother-in-law's tree. All I had to rely on, back then, was a photocopy of the index of marriages listing Gordons that I had gleaned during a visit to Perry County—and the help of a lot of other enthusiastic, sharing fellow researchers congregating in online genealogy forums, ten to fifteen years ago.

Finding one other marriage record, now, did not help this predicament. In double checking all my supporting evidence for these two Mary Frances Gordons, at first I was glad to see the FamilySearch marriage collection included a record for Mary Frances—but then, not so sure what to do with the result I found.

In short, when Paul Hennessy applied to take Mary Frances Gordon to be his wife, someone at the courthouse recorded her mother's name not as Elizabeth McCabe—what we'd expect, seeing Mary Frances' sister Blanche's application—but as Elizabeth McCann.

No wonder I'm so confused! I can't even find records that can get the facts straight!

Excerpts from each marriage license application shown above courtesy via


  1. Oh man -- and I guess it's too late to fix it. I wonder if the clerk knew one of the families and "assumed"?

    1. That's possible, Wendy. After all, the Elizabeth who was a McCabe was long off the scene by the time of Mary Frances' wedding, but the Elizabeth who was wife of the other Thomas Gordon was still definitely around. Perhaps someone was thinking of her and filled out that perfunctory form on autopilot?

  2. I think that in many counties until, say, the 1920s, one party could apply for the marriage license alone. I blame that for some of the errors about brides' parents that I have found. Did you find signatures of both parties on the application?

    1. Now, that's a great point to remember, Marian! In this case, yes, I believe those were both each party's signature--but I can't be totally sure, as I only know the groom's signature (which I recognized for his characteristic capitalization on his middle name). As for who filled out the form, other than the signatures, it appears it was a third party, as it doesn't match either hand on the signatures.

  3. Yes I would guess it is informant error ...what a mess.

    1. Yes, a mess! Too late to do anything about it in the court's records, I suppose, but for my own peace of mind, I've got to check it out. In the meantime, I have two parallel lines built in my tree--one entirely on a false premise. That will never do...


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