Monday, February 10, 2020
You may think your ancestor was just an obscure farmer, minding his own business on the outback of some forsaken state, but chances are promising that, whether you know it or not, that ancestor may have been written about by someone else. Whether it was the journal of a local business owner, seeking to reconcile his books by reviewing the monthly pluses and minuses of his customers, or the journal published by a lofty academic organization, somewhere out there, your ancestor's name—and details on his life—may be featured in print.
Never forget to look at those printed journals. At least, I should have known better.
No longer hot on the pursuit of the roots of my mother-in-law's ancestor, John Gordon—I had given up the chase long ago, fooled by the consensus that nothing more was known about the man, other than that he had come from either Scotland or Germany—it was a case of mere serendipity that I took a second glance at possibilities. More specifically, it was thanks to another Gordon researcher's entry that popped up in the hints at Ancestry.com. Apparently, someone had discovered that John Gordon had parents. A novel idea.
Now, keep in mind that this John Gordon was born about 1739. While it would be terribly old fashioned of me to assume that he, too, might have had parents, there was apparently a lot of confusion about just where old John might have originated. Even his headstone—placed at the Gordon family cemetery in his memory years after his passing by family members wanting to settle the score on this question—confuses the issues by blending the two conflicting family fables about John Gordon's origin.
And that was where I left the fray, years ago.
But now, with this new hint popping up, I learned about another resource where someone claimed to have solved the mystery: it was an article in a journal.
Finding journal articles about one's surname seems to be a rather straightforward process. I happen to have a limited subscription to Findmypast, which conveniently provides a search engine for PERSI, the Periodical Source Index. However, in this quest, I was working backwards. From a hint at Ancestry leading to an obscure website, I learned about a journal article promising to name John Gordon's father. It was cut and pasted onto that website—a practice I abhor, not only because it violates copyright protection of those who work hard to provide such articles but because it makes it harder to find the source of the article.
Resolved to find the original version of the article, I headed to PERSI to search for the original publication. Problem One: there was no such article with the title as given in the pirated copy.
Next, I thought I'd try searching by the name of the author, Corinne Hanna Diller. I was pleasantly surprised to see that author's name, vaguely remembering having discussed specific family history details with someone by that same name via online genealogical forums well over twenty years ago. Even that attempt, however, didn't seem to produce any results.
Finally, I resorted to searching in PERSI by the location featured in the article: the Gordon home in Frederick County, Maryland. That's where, among the possible hits, I saw the article I was seeking—or at least one with a similar title: "George Gordon, Sheriff, 1748-66." At Findmypast, I could pay to access the article. Or, cheapskate that I am, I could search for another resource.
Since I still couldn't find that article listed at Worldcat.org, I headed to the website of the publisher of the journal article, the Maryland Genealogical Society. There, the Society conveniently listed all the articles published in its Journal and Bulletin in a freely-accessible file. There, on page seventy, I finally found the entry—and with the title as it had been listed in that original resource: "George Gordon—Sheriff of Frederick Co." As confirmed by the PERSI entry, the article had been published in the summer of 2000.
If all I want to know is the identity of John Gordon's father, why concern myself with this article on someone named George? The reason is simple: in an exquisitely-detailed proof argument, Corinne Hanna Diller laid out her reasoning for why she believes John's father was George Gordon. The article provides source after source of records and documents showing multiple connections—financial, legal, and social—linking the two Gordon men. Not only that, but the records pointed me to the fact that this John Gordon served in the Revolutionary War, which I cross-checked with the D.A.R. Patriot file where that same John Gordon has been listed.
While I still seldom consult journals—genealogical or otherwise—for my family's ancestral names, I have benefited greatly from the few entries I have followed through on checking. The smart thing, of course, would be to add that resource to my research routine, and regularly check on the oldest surnames I'm struggling with. Even if the majority of those names come up with a null set as the result, the few times I've been able to locate an article, the results have been spectacular.
On the other hand, it still just awes me to realize that someone else out there was that fascinated with an ancestor of my family to go to such lengths in creating such a well-researched article. After all, I'm still persuaded that—even if they didn't just "get off the boat"—those ancestors were just simple farmers, minding their own business out on the edges of a pioneer community.