Thursday, June 27, 2024

Ripple Effect, Genealogy Style


Have you ever spent a lazy summer afternoon down by the lake, throwing stones into the water and watching the ripples move ever outward? That has become the inspiration for likening that effect to other observations in life, from economics and sociology to even naming episodes from television series, movies, and video games.

I see things a little bit differently. When I consider the ripple effect, my mind goes rather to genealogy and how the effect makes its appearance there. And there is no better example I can think of than the very brothers I want to discuss in today's post: Jacob and Henry Metzger.

Jacob and Henry were the two youngest sons of my mother-in-law's second great-grandfather Michael Metzger. One son was born in 1831 and the other in 1833—only you couldn't really tell which one was which, judging solely by what you could find online in other Metzger descendants' family trees.

I think I've found the root cause for the discrepancy, too: a genealogical ripple effect, thanks to an editorial error in a hundred and forty one year old history book about Perry County, Ohio. The book, History of Fairfield and Perry Counties, Ohio, included biographical sketches of some of each county's leading citizens.

For the section on Perry County, one of those sketches was supposedly about Jacob Metzger—only the one paragraph about the man included the name of his brother's wife and children. Yes, Mary Elizabeth Snider did marry a Metzger man, but the one she married was not named Jacob; her husband was Jacob's younger brother Henry. The birth date provided in the history book, incidentally, also belonged to Henry—as did the name of each child attributed to Jacob. The only reason the last two sons of Henry weren't mentioned in the book was that they were born after the book's 1883 publication date.

So, what can we find about the real Jacob Metzger? His marriage was to a woman named Martha Ann Hersberger on September 9, 1852. Together, they raised sons William, John, and Francis, and daughters Mary, Florence, and Rose, up until her death in 1878. Following that, he had a son named Brice from his subsequent marriage to another wife who died in 1890, named Lizzie Welch. By the time of the 1900 census, Jacob's household included only that last son Brice, plus third wife Mary.

A story like that might not neatly fit within one paragraph of the 1,218 pages of the History of Fairfield and Perry Counties, Ohio. Nor might one want to read of the misfortunes of this thrice-married Metzger man. But somehow his name got affixed to the story of his brother's far less tragedy-ridden life. And oddly enough, I've seen that same report echoed down through the umpteen copied family trees easily found in online genealogical websites—a ripple effect, genealogy style, thanks to what was at first simply an editorial error. 

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