Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Collateral Corroboration

The trouble with relying on death certificates alone for family history information is that, well, folks are under just a wee bit more stress than usual when government officials pelt them with those prying questions like, "Mother's maiden name?" Is it no wonder that a grieving widow or orphaned daughter might not recall such details at a time like that?

Still, if you are like me, when in researching a particular ancestor, you spot an unexpected name in a death certificate, you immediately snap to and wonder, where did that come from?! And that's exactly my thought when we stumbled upon King Stockton's wife's death certificate Monday. We had already learned from King Stockton's biographer that his wife's maiden name was Louvenia Ann Lewis. Where did that Dean surname come from?

We have to remember that we are operating this search from a handicapped starting point. When King Stockton's marriage was made official back in 1866, his wife was listed with only a given name; there was no surname provided. It was his biography which provided the surname Lewis.

But earlier this week, we saw the name provided on Louvenia's own death certificate: her father's surname was Dean. Where did that come from? Was it just an understandable mistake made by a grief-stricken relative? I wanted to check elsewhere to find corroborating evidence.

One of the drawbacks of only paying attention to what is called a person's direct line is that the eventual brick walls we encounter can sometimes be circumvented by including other family members in our research. If a direct line, for example from King Stockton's son—also named King Stockton—were traced to the father, our King Stockton, and then to his father, we would be following a direct line. If we couldn't move any farther back in the timeline using the three men from this direct line, moving to a sibling, for instance, might yield some more information. It's those siblings and other, indirect, lines of relationship which genealogists call collateral lines.

So it was with the discovery regarding Louvenia's maiden name. If I couldn't find anything from her husband's biography to help determine the validity of the information given on her death certificate, where else could I look?

One solution would be to see where else that woman's maiden name might appear. In this case, I first toyed with the idea that the informant on Louvenia's certificate might have been her daughter Annie—and, if I were a direct descendant of Annie's line, that direct line would be the most reasonable first place to search. If it weren't for the impossible handwriting documenting Annie's last name, as we saw yesterday, coupled with conflicting information from her father's biography, my next step would have been to seek out her own death certificate.

Fortunately, the Stocktons had more than one child. It wasn't long until I located another death certificate—and in the process, discovered that here, too, the listing of the family's children in the biography wasn't entirely accurate. The very next death certificate I found was for Mandy Whittington, who, as her father's biography had mentioned, died in a car wreck in 1925—four years before her father's death in 1929.

I looked on the list I had compiled for the children of King and Louvenia Stockton, and there, based on information drawn from their household in the 1870 census, was their daughter, listed as Manda. In her father's biography, she was identified by her married name as Amanda Williams, along with a note that when she died, she had left two children.

That was not the case, if we work backwards from her death certificate. Apparently, Mandy married a man by the name of John P. Whitington in 1880, and by the time of the 1900 census, she and John certainly had more than the two children mentioned in the biography.

It was also not a surprise to see the informant on her death certificate listed as J. H. Stockton. Mandy's husband had pre-deceased her, and that J. H. Stockton was likely Mandy's brother John, in whose home their parents had been living.

John's response when asked what Mandy's mother's maiden name was? Once again, we have the answer as Dean—in this case, recorded as "Deen," but likely referring to the same surname, whichever way it was spelled.

It is likely, if I could search for the other King children's own death certificates, that I'd find the same answer as the corroboration from this daughter's record. But running into the other discrepancies we've stumbled upon in the process makes me wonder whether it would help to double check the author's listing of all the Stockton children.

Though it was helpful to find this tiny publication on the life of King Stockton, the list as given in the biography doesn't agree with simple records from, for instance, census enumerations—a clear lesson that relying on only one record to verify the facts in a family tree may be a risky decision for those who desire accuracy in their research. And a reminder that records from collateral lines may help to sort out conflicting "facts" uncovered in the process of a reasonable search.   


  1. yes you should explain that all to my husband who takes everyone's word for it since DNA testing:)

    1. DNA testing can be a wonderful tool, especially for those branches of the family tree where we are stuck. But it was never meant to be relied upon, at least for genealogical purposes, absent of a family tree. The two research processes go hand in hand. The paper trail provides the context to help determine how unexpected DNA matches fit into the family tree.

      Admittedly, though, DNA testing has really changed the pursuit of family history. I can see how Far Guy would think that way.


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