Thursday, May 18, 2023

Searching Far and Wide


When we devise a plan to tackle a research question, the expectation is to hone that strategy to target specific resources. Yet in my current search for information on Lyman Jackson, my mother-in-law's fourth great-grandfather from the Revolutionary War era, a surprise entry by a subscriber on reminded me that perhaps our searches should not only dig deeply, but also reach far and wide.

Here's the reasoning. I'm currently pursuing all the information I can find on this Patriot. Granted, the D.A.R. website provides me with basic details of Lyman Jackson's life, as well as the name of his wife and some of his children. But I want to find far more than those basic details. I'd like to connect him to his parents, then their parents, and hopefully push back through the generations until I find the founding immigrant ancestors for Lyman's family.

The problem, of course, is that Lyman Jackson was born 1756, still within the colonial era and certainly back during an era for which we often find it difficult to locate records of birth, marriage, or death—let alone details on those ancestral lines. Since Lyman and his wife Deidama were said to have been parents of several children besides John Jay Jackson, my mother-in-law's third great-grandfather, I already know that any one of those other children could have passed down the details on the Jacksons' roots—but which child would have been the one to inherit those genealogical treasures? I don't yet know the names of any of them, so how could I follow their tracks to see what they might have passed down through the generations?

The subscriber-shared note I found provided an answer to this dilemma. Posted on, the note itself was a transcription of a biographical entry for someone who shared the surname I've been seeking: Jackson. Since Jackson is such a common surname, I checked the transcription carefully and recognized the story contained familiar elements.

However, transcriptions being prone to errors, I wanted to see the original version, if possible. Thankfully, the subscriber provided a website address as the transcription's source—but something about that address didn't look quite right. It seemed like the original resource might have come from a library, but when I looked closer at the URL, I noticed a subdirectory contained a familiar name: "genweb."

That was a resource I've known for years. Perhaps not as often frequented as in those years past, GenWeb is still very much accessible online, so I did a Google search for the GenWeb of the county mentioned: Atchison County in Kansas.

Now, I realize that Lyman Jackson's last home was in Erie County, Pennsylvania, nearly one thousand miles from this county in Kansas. What could be the connection? Pulling up the GenWeb for Atchison County, Kansas, I noticed there was indeed a section devoted to biographical entries on several local people. 

By now, I was not surprised to see the name of the same Jackson man whose biographical sketch had been transcribed by the subscriber. But even this was not the original source. Scrolling to the bottom of that GenWeb page for Horace Mortimer Jackson's biographical sketch, I noticed the original transcriber had provided the source for that entry. 

The source was a book published in 1916. Right away, I recognized this was a date which fell well within the current bounds of material considered to be in the public domain. You know what that means: if a volunteer wishes to upload the digitized book onto a website, it is fair game for such accession.

My main go-to resource for public domain books is the Internet Archive, so that was my next step. The transcriber had provided the title of the book—History of Atchison County, Kansas—as well as giving the author's name as Sheffield Ingalls, so I googled those two details, searching specifically for hits at Internet Archive. And there it was, just as the transcriber had said.

It took a little searching, once I found the book on Internet Archive, since no page number had been given for the transcription entry. That was no problem, as once a book is located on that website, the internal search capabilities quickly locate the terms I'm seeking. There was another problem that popped up, though: the page upon which the transcription appeared turned out to have been a very dim scan.

Once again, no problem. I know that, depending on the book sources as well as the individuals or organizations uploading the digitized version, there may be more than one copy of a given book posted. I was hoping that might be the case for this book, as it was quite hard to read the material I wanted—and I wanted something I could save digitally, as well. So I repeated my initial search and looked for other Google results for the same title, either on Internet Archive or on another online repository.

Fortunately, there was more than one edition of the book uploaded to Internet Archive, and the second one I found had a clear scan for the page I wanted.

The reason I put so much effort into pursuing this biographical sketch of an as-yet unknown descendant of Lyman Jackson is that the book included a brief family history stretching several generations before the man featured in the sketch. While I still need to do my own check to verify any information mentioned, as I've done with any other trailblazing source like this, I'll use this book's entry to point me in the right research direction.

Still, on first glance, I could spot a statement in error in this biographical sketch—a good reminder that we all need to verify any family history information for ourselves, rather than accepting anything we find in print (not to mention, online). We'll take a look at this discovery tomorrow, but for now, this experience reminds me that sometimes, the information we seek on our family can come at us from the most unexpected places—like from Kansas for a Pennsylvania man who likely never stepped foot anywhere as far west as that place. We never know where a person's descendants may take his story—maybe even nine hundred fifty miles away to Kansas. 

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