I'm doing a single lineage study of the descendants of the first member of my maternal grandfather's family to emingrate in the 1730s to the American colonies.For one of the lines (started when his granddaughter married), there is a book that was published in 1985 that is widely viewed by other researchers as being definitive.And, by definitive, I mean that the information contained therein has been regurgitated onto countless family websites.I've also been told that researchers have gone to great trouble to track down copies of the book, for which they have paid premium prices.
The book does not list many sources, although there is lots of colorful detail about the family, who were Oregon pioneers.As a result, I have viewed it not as gospel (as other researchers do), but more as a starting point for me to do research and confirm what it contains (because, without sources, I'm not putting anything in my work that I can't confirm).
What I'm finding is that the book is really, really wrong in some cases.Examples include:
One woman is listed as marrying in Oregon and moving to Washington state with her family.A legitimate Washington death record (one of the few sources in the book) is cited as proof that her husband died there in 1893.Well, I've found probate notices filed in Oregon newspapers for the woman's estate.Because she had an estate to probate, it leads me to suspect that her husband had predeceased her, but I have yet to find death records or cemetery records for either of them.In addition, in two subsequent censuses, after the point at which I believe they both were deceased, their two children are found living in other family members' homes.(The book does not list any children from this marriage.) I've also found the man who died in 1893 and traced him back through a couple of censuses in Washington, and he has a different wife and children and seems to be too young to be the right person.This only reinforces my suspicion that both parents were deceased in Oregon in probably the 1860s.
Another woman is listed as having married twice.The book gives just last names for the two husbands.I found a marriage record in Oregon and filled in the first husband's first name.I also found the subsequent divorce record for this marriage.I then found a marriage record for her (her first name + first husband's last name) and a second husband who has a totally different last name than the one in the book.I found a subsequent divorce record for this couple.I've also found a child with the last name of the second husband in the census in her brother's household, listed as a nephew of her brother.I suspect that this child was a child of her second marriage, which I need to try to confirm, if I can.(The books does not list any children for her from any marriage.)Finally, the book lists her second husband (who I believe was her third husband) as Unknown Burton.I ordered a copy of the probate file for her mother's estate, and she is listed as a Mrs. Buntin in the filings.I posted this in one message board, and received numerous patronizing messages about the difficult of reading old handwriting.The name had to be Burton because it was in the book, and I only thought it was Buntin because of my inability to read old handwriting.At this point, I feel compelled to point out that the mother died in the early 1900s and the list of heirs at law filed by her executor was typed, not handwritten.And, the name is clearly typed Buntin.Not to mention the fact that no one has ever been able to find her as Burton.In fact, no one had been able to find her at all after her first marriage because the book had no information about the second marriage.I've kept digging and I think I've found her in the Oregon State Archives online index as Mrs. Buntin.I'm awaiting confirmation via a copy of the death certificate, but the listed age at time of death is what I would expect it to be.
Another woman was married and her husband died with ten years of their marriage.Children with his last name arefound in her father's household in the census after her husband died.(The book does not list any children from this marriage.) Her father moved from Oregon to Idaho, and I found a marriage record for her as Mrs. her first name + first husband's last name in Boise.She subsequently had more children.With this husband, she is included in a book published for the second's husband family line.In the 1920 census, she is listed back in Portland, OR living with a child from the second marriage and his wife and children.She has yet another last name and is listed as widowed, which leads me to suspect that she married and was widowed a third time.
I've found that one man remarried late in life, after he was widowed, and had one son with his second wife.I've tracked the son, who had an interesting career on Broadway as an actor, playwright, and producer.He was also in some very early films (before the film industry left New York and went to Hollywood).None of this is in the book.
I've found death notices in old newspapers which bring the count of children for one couple from three to seven.None of them are in the book.
I could go on and on, but, basically, I've found that the book has some things that are dead wrong and that it has some lines dead-ending because the authors don't seem to have pursued them.My problem is that every time I suggest that the book may be, um, incorrect or incomplete, I've been deluged with e-mail messages saying that I don't know what I'm doing because the book is right.
I will freely admit that I cannot conclusively prove some of my hunches and suspicions, although I am working to prove them as I can, but I do think that I've found enough information to at least put people on notice that they need to take the book with a grain of salt, especially since it has so few sources.But, what continues to amaze me is the amount of vitriol I've engendered by suggesting this to othe researchers.(And, I'm not even going to get in to what happened when I found someone as an inmate in the state insane asylum in the 1880 census.)
In particular, there is a website that is "familyname".org that purports to be the definitive website for anyone researching this name.The owner of the website is the most vitriolic of all, because he has regurgitated the book back out there and believes that it is gospel.I've learned to stop posting new information when I find it, but I do have old some messages out there on bulletin boards that continue to attract attention.But, on the other hand, there are descendants of these additional families (especially from the second and third spouses who seem to have been eliminated from book) who may be researching their family trees.They will hit this website and be extremely frustrated.
I may be venting a little here, but what do you all do when you find that published sources, which others accept as proof, turn out to be wrong.I've always believed that, at some level, genealogy is a matter of looking at all the evidence, which may be conflicting, and then making informed choices about what may be right and wrong.Like I said, I don't have definitive proof of all my hunches and suspicions.But, I do think I've found enough to alert other researchers to the fact that there are good and valid reasons to suspect the book.
I'm also not saying that the authors of the book (both deceased, I believe) were back people.They may have simply decided to publish what they had, warts and all, rather than have their research die with them.