Saturday, October 14, 2023

Double-Checking Details


Though I groan and complain when I uncover confusion about double identities in my family tree, if I work through the details thoroughly, there usually is a way to spot the telltale differences. Thankfully, spending some time last week in double-checking details did exactly that for two men, both sporting the name Anderson McMahan, who had become conflated into one person in my tree. That has led to reworking the clues laid out in ThruLines suggestions for several DNA matches, all of whom supposedly were descended from my Tilson line, a line reaching back to Mayflower connections. 

It certainly pays to rework the research on a specific ancestor. If you'll recall, last week I had the nagging feeling that I was not working with records for one man named Anderson McMahan, but two. Though the two both lived in Cocke County, Tennessee, and were born within nineteen months of each other, they definitely had different genealogies.

While working step by step, gathering every document I could find to support the facts about each man, I ran across something which helped me ascertain the real DNA nexus between the one man's descendants and myself. It was through his wife, not his own line, as ThruLines had indicated, that there was a connection reaching back to my Tilson ancestor. For all those DNA matches,'s ThruLines had picked up a much-copied error from other subscribers' family trees. But none of them made sense.

Now that I've spotted the correct path to our most recent common ancestor—it was through one Anderson McMahan's wife—I'm in the process of placing all those DNA matches in their correct spot in my family tree. The connection turned out to be through Anderson's wife, Echo Ford, daughter of Fletcher White Ford and Marena Coggins. 

It was through a volunteer's entry at Find a Grave for Anderson's wife Echo's own memorial that I spotted the surname Coggins. Since I had made a practice for years of adding into my family tree all the descendants of collateral lines, I had run into many branches of the Coggins line, intermarried into my own Tennessee kin, so thankfully the name stood out.

Unfortunately, I had selected the wrong set of parents for my Anderson McMahan, Echo's husband, so back to the beginning I went, ripping out all the names attached to Anderson in my tree, and entering all the correct individuals. Since, contrary to what ThruLines had asserted, Anderson was not my direct line back to my Tilson forebears—the key to this whole ThruLines exercise—I needed to add the correct identity for his parents, then follow the line of descent to link nearly ten more DNA matches to my family tree.

The exercise was worth the effort—at least, that's what I'd say for any family historians using ThruLines to help connect DNA matches to their tree. But it also reminds me of the value of going step by step through confirming documentation—as many as can be found, not just accepting one or two records as confirmation that we've identified the correct person. As Miss Merry pointed out last week, a lot of us have name twins out there in our family's past, some of them more challenging to untangle than others.

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