Friday, May 2, 2014

Darned Origins of Family Legends record of Eunice and the Bishop of AvonWe depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about our pasts.

Yet sometimes records have anomalies.
Some are amusing or humorous.
Some are interesting or weird.
Some are peculiar or suspicious.
Some are infuriating, even downright laughable.

Yes, “Records Say the Darnedest Things.”

Reader Betty Martin shared with me an indexing error that may well start one of those dubious family legends.

Betty’s gg-grandfather was Aaron Boss, a Wesleyan Methodist who, with his wife Eunice, had raised a family on their farm in Athol near Maccan, Cumberland, Nova Scotia. In “Oral History of Early Athol,” H. R. Baker wrote of the family:

They also had an excellent farm and were thrifty
well-to-do people. I spent two days with them once
when a boy, helping to put in the spring crop. They
were wonderfully religious people. If I remember
correctly, we had worship morning and evening. First
the father would pray – and such praying I have
rarely heard since. His whole frame swayed and shook, and his voice
rolled aloft in a great volume which fairly stormed the gates of
Heaven. Then the boys followed, more quiet, but none the less
fervent and earnest, and when we arose from our knees every face
seemed transfigured and aglow with Heaven's light. They were great
friends and supporters of Methodism in those early days when
Methodism was young and comparatively poor and small in numbers.

With this background, Betty was amused when she eventually found Aaron in the 1871 Canada census.

Searches for Aaron Boss turned up nothing.

“Varying the spelling of Arron brought up nothing,” she wrote. “Searching only on the surname ‘Boss’ brought up nothing useful. Searching only on given name ‘Aaron’ brought up nothing.”

Using good search strategy, she next searched for members of Aaron’s household. A search for Eunice Boss had previously returned nothing. Finally a search on just her given name located Eunice.

“There was Eunice living with the Bishop of Avon in Maccan!” wrote Betty. (See the screen image, above.) While she knew Methodists have bishops, she was quite certain her gg-grandfather had never been one. She also wondered where Avon was located.

Armed with a subscription to, (the image is unavailable on she viewed the original record. She calls what she found “a very creative transcription error.”

Aron Boss indexed as Bishop of AvonThe obsolete form for double s, so often mistaken for a p, had somehow induced the indexer to read “Bishop” instead of Boss. And “Aaron,” possibly written as Aron, had been read “Avon.”

“What fun!” she wrote. “I can hardly wait until word gets out to the family that our Aaron Boss was the Bishop of Avon!”


  1. Now that is a great story---but it also makes me feel like I may never find those ancestors who just seem not to be on a census. I've spent hours looking for certain relatives under any spelling I can imagine, but now I will have to think about how else their names could have been read by an indexer! My blog is www,

  2. We knew my dad, James White Miller, was one of a long line of James White Millers so I set about to find the first one. I seemed to be on the right track back to the 1820s in South Carolina, but hit a brick wall with the mom's name Sarah Mapey or maybe Sarah Doby. I looked high and low and could not find any other reference to her, but along the way the name Massey caught my eye. I found Sarah Mapey was indexed, but looking closely at the document I realized her name was actually Massey. She was head of household near her son, James Miller in Lancaster, SC.
    Sarah first married James Doby and they had three children. He died and she married James Miller and they had three daughters and a son. When Sarah's husband James died Benjamin Massey became her third husband. Benjamin died in 1854 and in 1860 Sarah was named in the census. She was also incorrectly indexed as Mapey.
    Additional research revealed her maiden name was White. And that's how I found the first James White Miller, b. 1824, a South Carolina plantation owner
    Family legend also says the name "White" had some connection to the family of John White of the Lost Colony of Roanoke. I have yet to find that link, but I'm always on the lookout for transcription errors when something seems totally out of whack.


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