Yesterday, I was fairly lusting over the twelve volume set of Pioneers of Wiregrass Georgia. Today, I think I've gotten over it. As luck would have it, I didn't need to actually fly to Salt Lake City to access the entire collection at the Family History Library there; all I needed do was take a look at their website.
While true, all twelve volumes are indeed at the Family History Library, a little poking around online showed me enough of a snippet to dampen those flames of bookish desire. For the book's entry on Job Tison's father-in-law, West Sheffield, another researcher had posted a snippet from page 295 of the third volume of Folks Huxford's massive work.
In the very first line of the entry for West Sheffield, I spotted details I could easily work to verify—or discount—right from home. According to Pioneers of Wiregrass Georgia,
West Sheffield of Wayne (now Brantley) County, was a son of John Sheffield, R. S., of Duplin County, N. C., and was born there Dec. 13, 1747. He died at his home in Wayne County, Sept. 22, 1830.
True enough, West Sheffield died on September 22, 1830, and his will was presented in court in Wayne County on the first day of November in that same year. The rest of that biographical entry, however, needs some closer scrutiny.
The least of our concerns is the assertion that Wayne County is now Brantley County. True, Brantley was carved from Wayne—but that didn't occur until 1920. Even if the original land upon which West Sheffield built his home now stands in that location, it is to Wayne County that we need to turn for records on his life story in the early 1800s.
But let's get down to more serious doubts—in particular, whether West Sheffield was from Duplin County, North Carolina, and, more importantly, if he was indeed son of a man there named John Sheffield.
I took the "R. S." after John Sheffield's name to stand for Revolutionary Soldier, though of course, I don't have access to the volumes to seek out any reader's guide to abbreviations used in the Wiregrass works. It is easy enough to see what can be found on any confirmed Patriot: just look at the website hosted by the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
There, I find two entries for a John Sheffield. Fortunately, one is specific to a man by that name from Duplin County. Things seem to be going swimmingly so far—until, that is, we realize the entry is bathed in red ink. There seem to be problems with this Patriot's record. Prime among the objections is the obvious fact that a man born "circa 1740" would be hard pressed to father a son born in 1747. The D.A.R. record comments on this aberration.
Of course, West Sheffield has his own listing as a Patriot at the D.A.R. website, as well. An interesting comment added to that entry was his residence listed as the Beaufort District of South Carolina, bringing us back around to that other puzzle for the extended family.
While twelve volumes of biographical and genealogical information may seem, to those of us far from research repositories, to be a gold mine of information, we need to keep in mind that despite being published works, books can contain errors in research, or even copy errors. They are simply guides pointing a possible way for us to continue our own quest for answers.