Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Building a Solid Case - GPS Study Group Chapter 2

Genealogical Proof Standard Study Group

Chapter Two – Building a Solid Case
Anna Matthews

Christine Rose, Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case, 4th Edition Revised. San Jose, California: CR Publications, 2014.

Due to ongoing issues within Google, today's study group has been moved. Please go to DearMYRTLE's blog post for the links. If information is available about a replay after the webinar, I'll post it here.

Chapter 2, Building a Solid Case deals with when to apply the GPS.  Three scenarios are presented, the second of which deals in part with conflicting evidence and seeking every piece of evidence which could resolve the conflict.

I haven't done much research offline so far, due mainly to constraints of time and budget, so I don't have a lot of conflicting information in my research. There are some age discrepancies and immigration year discrepancies and citizenship discrepancies, but almost all are from census records which I don't, in general, consider a very reliable source for those facts.

The example I chose to blog about today was one of the first times a discovery caught me by surprise because it was different from what I thought I knew.

This obituary is for my 2nd great-grandmother, Mary Ann Codner Smith, which contains a few pieces of misinformation.

1. Her name. Her initials should be Mary A. C. Smith or Mary A. Codner Smith as her name was Mary Ann. This I know from family lore, a family Bible and her marriage notice.

2. The occupation of her son George R. which is mentioned at the end of the article. George R. Smith was my great-grandfather and he did hold office, but he was a member of the Quebec Legislative Council, not the Canadian Parliament. This I know from multiple sources.

3. Mary Ann's place of death. The obituary (for which I have no publication name or date) states that she died at the home of her daughter, Mrs. James M. Fisk, in Newark, NJ. When I first received this clipping, I had no reason to believe Mary Ann died anywhere other than her daughter Charlotte's home. Mary Ann and her husband Benjamin had lived in Newark since at least 1860 according to the family and census records and Benjamin had died six years earlier, so Newark as a place of death made perfect sense. Obviously, more than an obituary would have been needed to try to verify that information, but it wasn't something in my immediate research plans, when....

this death certificate popped up as a hint on when Pennsylvania death certificates were added to their database and indexed. (Ancestry hints can be frustrating sometimes, but I don't know if I'd have ever thought to look in PA for Mary Ann's death record.)

At first I was ready to dismiss it out of hand as a bad match since I was still a relatively new researcher then, but something told me to give the record a better look and I realized that there was a chance the decedent was my Mary Ann. I didn't add the record to my tree, however. Even with no knowledge of the GPS or any genealogy standards, I decided I didn't know enough to be sure and put it in what Ancestry calls the shoebox and forgot all about it until I was considering this post.

So, what next? After last week's post about this study group, one of the panelists, Kate Challis, read and commented on my post, specifically my statement that records should be analyzed when you have done your reasonably exhaustive search. She reminded me that this is not a linear process, we don't - generally - go out in search of documents from a checklist and analyze the information once we have checked the last box. Thoughtful analysis of each document as we find them is important to better research and to staying organized.

Taking a closer look at this death certificate, I see that the dates of birth and death are a match to my Mary Ann. Also, this Mary had only lived at her current address for 8 months, 20 days, previously residing in Newark and her body was being removed to Newark, N.J. The informant, a vital piece of information to consider, appears to be one of her sons, Wm (William) Smith.  But there is some conflicting information, other than the place of death. My Mary Ann's daughter Charlotte was a member of the D.A.R. This lineage goes through Mary Ann's line and I have the application which lists Mary Ann's parents as Robert Codner (not John) and Phoebe Chidester (not Mary Chedister).

I still lean towards the decedent being my Mary Ann, but I won't be able to make a case for it without more information. While I can't imagine not knowing the names of my grandparents, it is possible William grew up knowing little or nothing about his. As an adult he certainly moved around quite a lot, spending years in Canada and possibly some time in China, according to a passport application. William also had a brother, John Codner Smith, who he may have assumed was named for his grandfather because of his middle name. Although the identity of the informant and the reason for the record's creation are important facts to consider, they can't tell us everything we need to know about every fact in the document. Clearly, this case is calling for more research to be done,

1. Was my William Smith living in Ambler, PA in 1914?

2. Can I find out if William knew his grandparents and knew them well?

3. What newspaper carried this obituary?

4. Was Mary Ann's obituary published in any other papers?

5. Try again to find Mary Ann's burial record.

6. Search in New Jersey for Mary Ann's death certificate.

Although this familial line is not part of my current research plan, I'm glad that I took another look at these documents. A thoughtful written analysis is so much more helpful than a quick glance and a "could be her" and throwing it onto a deal-with-it-later pile. Practicing these skills will help me whoever I am researching.


Marian B. Wood said...

You really learned a lot from this close scrutiny. I'm amazed at how often published obits have errors, considering that the info comes from family members in most cases. My hypothesis is that in the stress of the moment, people forget correct spelling and even omit some relatives by mistake, let alone getting all the other facts correct (like marriage dates). So I'm going to follow along with you and practice my skills too.

Anna Matthews said...

And you never know who actually contacted the newspaper, when my father died it was the staff at the funeral home who took the info from us and then relayed it to the papers.

Dana Leeds said...

Interesting, Anna! I don't think I'd given a lot of thought to who provides/provided information for obituaries. I know how wrong newspapers can be, even when the right information is given! I just recently ran across the article where my photo had the wrong last name captioned under it. I'll have to post about that soon! :)

Anyway, great job with this obituary and death certificate. Keep up the great work!