Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Genealogy Frustrations

Originally posted HERE on Thursday, April 14, 2005

In the first comment made to this new journal, Duane (fdtate714) has hit upon a constant in every genealogist's life, frustration!

If I had a low tolerance for frustration, I would have quit long ago. Yep, it would have been great to know exactly what year John A. and Mary Catherine Eckroat first came to Oklahoma (family stories say they were real "Sooners", that at least John Eckroat was there before he was supposed to be.) And I was disappointed to find that the number of great-grandchildren was part of the information that was illegible. But when dealing with old records, especially if you're looking at them on microfilm.

Personally, I HATE transcribing wills. I have found that they are some of the greatest sources of information about families and how people are related to each other (overall, most tend to mention their heirs by name and relationship, but there are exceptions) but I have a real problem reading the copies I make from the FHL microfilms. If the top part is clear, then often the bottom is too dark or too light to read. Sometimes I make several copies, changing the brightness so that a section will be legible on each separate copy and that all together, I'll be able to read the whole thing. Or the handwriting might be messy so that I can't make out what's being written. Or they might use legal language that makes it hard to figure out exactly what the will writer wanted to do. There's one will, that of my 5th great-grandfather, John McCormick of Allegheny County, PA, who died in 1828 that I have been working on transcribing for over a year. Not constantly, of course, but a little at a time, until I get so frustrated that I want to tear the thing up!

Interested in taking a look at what I'm looking at? See McCormick.pdf (Warning, it might take a while to download!)

Another place where frustration is common, is trying to find people in the census. The quality can be awful, but the indexing can be even worse. From what I understand, if the census-takers couldn't speak directly to a member of the family, then they would ask the neighbors, which can be one explanation for the many mistakes the census can contain. And then those who made the indexes that we use had to read the handwriting of the original census-taker, which is many times VERY difficult. Recently I was able to find my g-g-aunt and her husband in the Ancestry.com index for 1930 by searching for a man named Eugene and a wife named Alice in New Jersey. No wonder I hadn't been able to find them, their surname, "DeVergnies" had be indexed as "Stevergnies". And at that time, I had no idea how the name had REALLY been spelled. The only source I had was the writing on the back of an old photo that read "Camden New Jersey, Aunt Alice and Uncle Eugene DeVernie's (Grandma Fife's oldest sister)" and I had been told the spelling was incorrect by another cousin who also didn't know what it was really supposed to have been.

And you never know how the census-taker might misspell a name. Back in my early days of research, I looked and looked for John's g-g-g-grandfather, whose name was Batte Peterson Clark. I knew he was born in Georgia in about 1820 from some research that had been done in the 1950s by John's Uncle Terrence. Terrence had also known that Batte Peterson's children had been born in Alabama, probably near Tuskeegee. I searched and searched for Clarks in the 1850 index for Alabama, concentrating mainly on Macon County where Tuskeegee is located. No luck at all! I think I even tried going thru the microfilm itself, page by page, but it's easy to miss someone if you're tired and not even sure you're going to find what you're looking for. Still came up empty. Then, in a desperate attempt to see if I could have possibly missed the family in the index, I looked once again at the index. This time my eyes wandered to the other side of the page where I noticed some people indexed under the spelling "Clarck"! Now who could imagine that anyone could misspell "Clark"??? I had looked for an "e" at the end, but I never, before that, would have thought of someone adding an extra "c" to the middle. But there among the Clarck families was a B. P. Clarck. Finally I was able to find the entire family in the 1850 census.

Unfortunately, I still have not been able to find any of these family members in the census for 1860 and 1870, but I have a logical explanation for why this might be. Sometimes you have to think about what was going on at the time when you're looking for people. In 1860, the Civil War was about to start. I imagine that many southerners weren't very cooperative when the Federal government sent people out to take the census that year. And by 1870, I think there was probably still in a lot of turmoil in Alabama. Things like that can lead to a lot of frustation for genealogists.

These are just a couple of the challenges that have faced me as I work on genealogy. I'm sure if I thought about this longer, I could come up with more, and I bet other genealogists could name their own pet peeves! But over all, the rewards must outweigh the frustrations, and I have to hope that the info I can't find one place will be available somewhere else if I just look hard enough!

NOTE: The link for Sooners in the first paragraph is no longer valid. The closest substitute I could find is on Wikipedia.

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