Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Dumb Genealogical Mistakes I Have Made — Elmer/Elmore

I'm inaugurating a new type of blog post where I confess my past (or sometimes current) sins that I have made while researching my family tree. I know, nobody else has EVER made a dumb genealogical mistake. Or if they have, they are not masochistic enough to expose their sin to the whole world. Makes you wonder about my early potty training, right?

When I first started working on my family history, our family had been told that one of my paternal great-grandfathers was one Elmer Smathers. We knew that he had lived in the Jackson/Vinton/Athens county area of southern Ohio. I became extremely diligent in trying to find “our” Elmer.

I was so diligent that I found two. I first found him in the 1910 census with his wife and four children listed as Elmer Smathers — his children, his wife all matched the known data. I found only one Elmer in the 1900 census, and I found the two Elmers in the 1880 census. El-MER Smathers was the son of Reuben Smathers and El-MORE Smathers was the son of Henry Smathers. I would later learn that the two were cousins.

Because Elmer's name was spelled correctly, I concluded that the son of Reuben was “my” Elmer, the Elmer of the 1910 census. Even when I found a list indicating that this Elmer had died in February of 1910, I rationalized that the family had a reason for pretending he was still alive in the 1910 census.

I imagined several scenarios. Maybe he had to be alive so the family could retain their mining company housing. Maybe he had simply disappeared one day and they didn't know that he had died. Maybe the census taker had interviewed a neighbor who didn't know of Elmer's death. I wove a lovely coat of improbable explanations as I stubbornly clung to my initial conclusion. Hey, I had invested a lot of time into Elmer being THE ONE, he wasn't going to get away that easily.

It wasn't until I actually received his death certificate from the Ohio Historical Society that said El-mer was SINGLE, that I reconsidered my stubborn insistence that Reuben's Elmer was THE ONE. Even when I accepted that this was not the correct Elmer, I was insistent that Elmore could not be correct. The spelling, the spelling I kept repeating.

If my mother, who is much wiser, hadn't written for the other Elmer's death certificate, which instead of being in the Jackson/Vinton/Athens county area as expected, was found in Lucas County of all places, I might have thrown up my arms in defeat. But my mother wrote for the death certificate, and when she finally received it, the information turned out to be for “our” Elmer. It also answered a couple of questions, and in hindsight, made perfect sense.

The moral of the story is spelling, schmelling You can't chip away at facts to make them fit. All you can do is keep an open mind and follow where the genealogical trail leads. You can waste a whole lot of time and energy clinging to a beloved but erroneous theory. And if that isn't enough of a moral for you, try this — Momma always knows best!

Until Next Time — Happy Ancestral Digging!

Note this post first published online, January 9, 2008, at Desktop Genealogist Blog at The News-Messenger Online

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