Is Your Family Tree Accurate?

Mary Parry, Llanfechell, Wales, ca. 1875. Photograph by John Thomas. National Library of Wales.

Errors abound in genealogies usually because we don’t recognize them, and like the flu, we keep passing the germs along. The internet has aided and abetted the spread of family trees—some with sources cited properly; but many of them must be put in the fiction section. A number belong in the fantasy area and others in Sci-Fi.

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It is almost impossible to correct an error in a genealogy and usually futile to try to stomp out folklore, myths, legends and mendacities. Numerous errors abound in genealogies usually because we don’t recognize them, and like the flu, we keep passing the germs along. Many of us copy from what others share—online, orally or in print. The careful family historian tries to verify all information, but that is a challenge and necessitates a considerable amount of work and attention to details—some things we often let slide by. We might have good intentions to “check it out later,” but seldom do. Some evidently do not even know how to “check it out.”

The internet and the plethora of online trees and genealogical information has aided and abetted the spread of family trees—some of them carefully crafted with sources cited properly; but many of them must be put in the fiction section. A number belong in the fantasy area and others in Sci-Fi. This is not to point a finger at novices or nonprofessionals. We all started as newbies, and even professionals make mistakes. The difference is serious genealogists check and re-check their work—and the work of others. They take the time to analyze what they’ve compiled. They challenge everything and give it the sniff test. With some real research experience, you will learn to smell a bad genealogy.

When we find an ancestor (or think we have), shouldn’t we take time to verify that the John Vanderpool we’ve found is the “right” one and just not someone of the same name? Do we take the time to look at our family group sheets—I mean really looked at them? Do the dates of the children’s births and their marriages make logical sense? Women didn’t give birth to six kids in three years—not usually. Spacing of less than 1.5 to 2 years between children should raise a red flag. Five or more years between children is another warning light. Investigate. Maybe it is your typing; possibly you read the record incorrectly; or perhaps your math is rusty. Is the mother way too young (say 10 or 12) or way too old (say 48)? Do the math. Any woman over age 42 having children in the 19th century and earlier is suspect as far as I’m concerned. At least that’s enough to make me stop and check my math, my typing, my data and my sources.

There may be a few of these older mothers, but don’t blindly accept them. Do you have ancestors leaping about in illogical localities in relative short time spans—like some in Virginia or Georgia and then up in Maine or Delaware? In 1800 it took a person in New York about two weeks to reach Ohio or Georgia and five weeks to get to Illinois or Louisiana, and that was probably a lone young man on a fast horse. Families didn’t move that fast and they usually moved from one locality to another with a stop or two along the way. Sometimes these stopovers were for several years.

An example that made me start to question a compilation of one of our Vanderpool families was found online recently. It has the first child born about 1750 and the next one born in 1761—11 years apart? The woman had only two children in a time period when it was common to have five, eight or 10 children? Easy to say, “well they lost lots of children in those days,” but that is not a valid reason to suspend verification. That gap in children’s births should ring a bell and demand additional research and a checking of the sources.

Of course, as in way too many cases, we have no idea where a person “found” the information because no sources are given. Was the information made up to fit a belief? Is that why there’s no response to a polite query about the evidence used? In this case, the mother is given a maiden name but no sources for it. It is claimed she was born in 1715 in North Carolina. Well, that is possible, but not likely, and especially not in the far Western county listed (which didn’t exist in 1715). So, if she was born somewhere in North Carolina, why would she go to Albany, New York in 1738 to marry into my Dutch family? Most women in that day and place were married in their home county— not 750 miles away. From North Carolina to New York would have been a long difficult trip and the purported bridegroom had been gone from that area since he was about 20 years old. Moreover, he was married to another woman at the time and having children by her—in New Jersey. Details, details.

If this woman (said to have born in 1715 and married at age 23) married my Abraham, perhaps as a second wife, but at another date and place, doesn’t it make you wonder why she did she not have any children until she was 35 years old? And, why did she not have another child until she was 46. FORTY-SIX? I think something is wrong, very wrong, with this genealogy. It isn’t passing the sniff test.

For many years I’ve tried to track down an elusive Jacob Vanderpool in Surry County, North Carolina. Supposedly, he is a son of my Abraham Vanderpool (1709—1778); but, the only reference I’ve seen to him is that he appears on a 1771 Surry County, North Carolina tax list. Well, he does and he doesn’t. The actual tax list for that date and county lists him as: VERDAMAN (or Vanderpool), Jacob —1 poll. So the transcriber was not sure of the surname. Additional research reveals a notation that the original list from which this information was transcribed and published in The North Carolina Quarterly Journal of Genealogy and History was almost impossible to read. That’s how the elusive Jacob Vanderpool was created, but he doesn’t exist.

I was excited, and at my age, that doesn’t happen often, when I discovered someone had found information about Amy Kinman, the first wife of my Wynant Vanderpool (born by estimation in 1740). Some of us have looked a long time for information about her. She is one of those colonial women for whom we have her name and that’s about it. She, like so many women, are invisible in the records and we find them only when they marry or die, particularly if they outlive their husbands. Amy married Wynant (we assume based on his age and ages of purported children) about 1761 in North Carolina (no marriage record found yet) and appears to have had about 10 children by him and probably died before 1810. She just appears on the scene (drops out of the sky) without any family or documentation. Ah, Amy, we barely know ye. Information about her has been handed down via great-granddaughters and the one who took the time to record the genealogical information.

However, the Amy Kinman someone has recently attached to our Vanderpool tree is linked to a woman in Quaker records in a Philadelphia meeting in 1797—1800. Interesting. Our Amy was in Western North Carolina at that time, about 620 miles away from Philadelphia and why would she use her maiden name after being married to a Vanderpool for more than 25 years? Don’t you think the Quaker lady might be a different Amy Kinman? And, didn’t the compiler consider the fact that the Amy Kinman in Philadelphia might be listed under her married name?

On yet another online tree I’ve found my Abraham Vanderpool (baptized 1709 in Dutch Reformed Church in Albany, New York) listed as: Abraham Isaac Plank Vanderpool.

;”>Really? Two middle names? Middle given names were uncommon in the American colonies before the Revolutionary War and the Dutch did not use them except in instances when actually it was patronymics that were being used. Until the mid-1800s, double given names were not that common in American families. My Abraham’s grandmother was a Verplanck and her father was an Abraham who was a son of an Isaac. Is where the compiler became mixed up on this lineage?

I realize untangling early Dutch-American families can be a challenge, but it is not necessary to add to the confusion.

Grote gruten!

Photo: Mary Parry, Llanfechell, Wales, ca. 1875. Photograph by John Thomas. National Library of Wales.