Thursday, May 17, 2018
There are times, in chasing after our recalcitrant ancestors, when we run up against two ancestors with the same name. In the same place. At the same time.
The genealogist who wishes to deftly "complete" that family tree is suddenly stopped in her tracks. It takes a lot of hunting for clues—mostly about the rest of the folks in that family constellation—to determine which John Doe belongs with which wife and children, and which parents claimed which mystery man.
Of course, it doesn't help when both men's wives also had the same name. And named their son the same thing.
The only answer is to toss the net wider, to capture even more associated people in the circle to help determine which of the two names belongs with which circle of friends and family.
Call it a tedious application of the FAN Club, or cluster genealogy. Call it whatever you want, but please join me on this journey of sorting out two gentlemen and their parents, all of whom possessed the same exact names.
Today, let's review the players in this drama.
It all started out innocently enough, when I decided to weed out the duplicates in my mother-in-law's family tree. I began building that tree much like anyone else might have done: start with the first person—in this case, my mother-in-law—and then move backwards in time, generation by generation. Because I believe in including records on collateral lines—those siblings that researchers on a quest to find their most distant direct line ancestor seldom stop to consider—for the sweep through each generation, I also included documentation on the brothers and sisters.
Then genetic genealogy came along—those DNA tests which can reveal all your hundreds of third and fourth cousins—and I had no idea how those people related to our family. This precipitated the decision to take each one of the siblings in that generation of the third great grandparents and bring their tree forward. In other words, I began adding the descendants of each of those siblings of my mother-in-law's direct line.
Pretty soon I had a glut of people with the same surnames. My mother-in-law's family name was Flowers, and they were a prolific Catholic family, so you can imagine how many people there soon were added in that category. There were, for instance, twelve men with the Flowers surname, all of whom were called by the given name Charles.
And that was the start of my problem. After working this system for a few years—that of researching all the collateral lines, then adding their descendants—I decided it was time to clean up some duplicate records. I pulled up the "List of All People" utility at Ancestry.com, where I keep my mother-in-law's tree, and went through the names in alphabetical order. I did quite fine, finding and eliminating duplicate entries—thank you, endogamy lite—until, that is, I got to the heading for the Flowers surname. When I got to Charles Flowers and saw those twelve entries staring at me from my computer screen, I knew it was time to roll up my sleeves and get to work.
Some of those entries, of course, had middle names, although not all. Some of those with middle names seemed to be duplicate entries in their own right—witness the three entries I had for Charles Albert Flowers— but at least that was one detail which provided me with a handy device for determining duplicates among them.
Others already were entries complete with dates of birth, helping me to rule out others as duplicates.
But two of them didn't have any additional information to help me determine if they were duplicates—or just two men who coincidentally had the same name. Not knowing anything more about them from the list I was using, I had to click through to the full entry on the tree. I wanted to see if they both had the same set of parents.
At first glance, it seemed they did. Each Charles had a father named Joseph. Each Charles claimed a mother named Mary.
Of course, I needed more proof than just that to make my decision about combining the two entries. And that was the beginning of the quest to examine the cluster of family names, places, and other details to differentiate two families—or confirm them as one.