Friday, September 11, 2015

Darned Records: “Published Errors Are Immortal”

Records say the darnedest thingsWe 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, or downright laughable.

Yes, Records say the Darnedest Things.”

Robert Charles Anderson is the eminent genealogist who has been director of the Great Migration Study Project at NEHGS since 1988. He made an interesting statement recently regarding The Great Migration Directory. The directory lists all New England immigrants from 1620 through 1640. If there was any question of an immigrant having arrived early enough, Robert’s philosophy was to exclude them.

Because published errors are immortal, an error of omission is always preferable to an error of commission. If someone who was not a Great Migration immigrant is included in this volume, that mistaken conclusion will live forever on library shelves.1

It’s a concept we all know. But having a noted genealogist state it so succinctly was cool. From this point on, I will quote Robert. “Published errors are immortal.”

It was once published that my cousin, Lucy Mack Smith, was the granddaughter of Sarah Cone, instead of the currently accepted conclusion that she was the granddaughter of Lydia Fuller.2 The error still persists.3

Anybody out there fighting a published error? An error in the Ancestral File or the International Genealogical Index, perhaps?




     1.  Robert Charles Anderson, “Documenting New England's Founders in the Great Migration Directory,” American Ancestors (Spring 2015): 27-8.
     2.  Audentia Smith Anderson, Ancestry and Posterity of Joseph Smith and Emma Hale (Independence, Missouri: Herald Publishing House, 1929), 201; citing Heman Hale Smith, Journal History (Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) 5:424.
     3.  Two examples can be found on RootsWeb’s WorldConnect.


  1. My 4X g-grandfather Isaac Cleaver (1770-1827), of Columbia County, Pa. was m. to Mary Davis. He and his 2nd cousin, Isaac Cleaver (b.1768, m. Rachel Sturgis) of Dauphin County, Pa. have been confused in many places (including in the International Genealogical Index, likely the principal source of the confusion).

    They're often listed as the same person, despite having lived two counties away from each other, and the birthdates of their respective children overlapping.

    It's curious how many people appear to believe that it's perfectly reasonable for a Quaker (which they both were) to have had two families, in two different counties, at the same time.

  2. I couldn't agree more! In the UK people sometimes use the term 'gateway ancestor' to indicate someone from the landed or titled classes who appears in highly respected publications by Burke's, Debrett's and so on. This then plugs you into a whole family history, often going back several centuries. Wonderful though this is, it is still advisable to check the information for yourself, because much of it was supplied by the family, and might not be accurate.

    An example of this is George Henry Keeling Boynton, grandson of a baronet, and nephew of three more, but something of a black sheep in that family, to say the least. His entry in Burke's Peerage is fine with regard to his birth and first marriage, but continues: 'm 2ndly, 1886, Frances, dau of G W Smyth, and has issue, Lilian Constance, b 1888'. While Lilian Constance was indeed born in 1888, George did not marry her mother until 1891. It also says, correctly, that George was the son of George Hebblethwaite Lutton Boynton and his first wife Elizabeth Laura Keeling 'whom he divorced'. Yes, they were divorced, but SHE divorced him on the grounds of cruelty and adultery, which is not quite the same thing! So even highly respectable publications like these can't be taken at face value.

  3. Actually Ancestry is in a position to help mitigate some of these "immortal" errors. They could make it possible to comment on their site when we find an error in a published record. Ancestry already does this (to a limited extent) with census records. Why not other records and publications? At least allow comments!

  4. I have not checked for some time to see how it stands, and I have done my best to battle this error, but my great-great-grandmother, who was NOT LDS, was separated at the age of 8 or 10 from the rest of her family after their father died around 1830 in what is now, Ontario, Canada, soon after the family emigrated from Scotland. She was taken in by a family and married one of their sons. Her two brothers and her mother became Mormons sometime before 1851, and eventually, by 1860, went to Iowa and then Utah. A later family member apparently was so convinced my ggggrandmother had died at the age of 8, rather than simply been separated, that she was "Sealed to her parents" in 1939. In actual fact, she lived to be nearly 90, dying in Ontario in 1908, and my grandfather knew her well and remembered her fondly and wrote quite a bit about her in a little memoir. When I first got on Ancestry, I found dozens of trees with my ancestor dead at age 8, and when I have written to correct the record have at times been very rudely rebuffed and all contact cut off. I have persisted, and I think the word has begun to leak out, but I would wager there are still dozens of wrong trees out there. Of course, it does not help that a number of wrong family trees also had the family coming directly to the US, instead of spending 20 years in Canada before coming to Iowa/Utah! But at this point, I just shake my head. if they want to be wrong, let them be wrong. I can't chase after everyone.

    1. Judy, bravo! I too have extensive misguided ancestors in trees that 'prove' false information taken as 'gospel'. Please keep attempting to make the corrections public. I find the fault lying with ....... the lack of standards in training and serious understanding of what it REALLY means to do temple work. The numbers can be in the millions, the data is worthless as far as the reason 'families are sealed'. Why? would the LDS church perpetuate these low quality standards for high quantity of 'just names'.

  5. Actually, I just checked, and what a difference from 12 or 15 years ago! Tree after tree has it correct! I see lots of other misinformation on some trees--wrong marriage dates for her, and her dying in Norwich, England, not Norwich, Ontario, but at least my persistence--and lots of accurate records linked as sources by me--paid off! So maybe published errors can be choked to death by facts.

  6. I love hearing this follow up. It meshes with my own experience that things ARE improving.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.