Monday, April 8, 2013

Lessons from The Wall (I)

Spending time climbing many different "brick walls" gives one a certain perspective on this thing called genealogy.  "Lessons" they might be called.  I do not know how many of these walls presented themselves to this tree climber over the past 53 years of butting heads, but I do think there have been quite a few.  It might be of help to discuss some of these "lessons" in this blog, since the point has been to help ease the grief to some of my fellow tree here goes.

Lesson (1)

From my earliest days of tree climbing (starting age 9) it had always been assumed that the formal documents were correct.  Especially government records that had found their ways into court houses and such places.  One such record was the 1840 census of Kentucky.

One of my early brick walls was trying to find the JONES family that connected my family tree to Virginia.  I had found that Nicholas Jones (my direct line) had first come into Kentucky from Virginia in 1811.  Thus, any one who had been born in Kentucky before this date would not be directly connected to my family tree.  One such fellow was a Thomas Jones who had been born in 1796.  In this 1840 census, he was listed as being born in Kentucky.  Thus, his parents (at least mother) would have come to Kentucky before 1811.  Therefore, I assumed he could not be a son of my Nicholas (b. 1762) who was not in Kentucky until much later.  So, I spent roughly ten years checking every other JONES family in Clark County, KY convinced this Thomas was correctly eliminated.  It was not until I had eliminated every other JONES family that I checked the 1850 census to find that it listed this Thomas Jones as being born in Virginia!  What! In one census it had listed him being born in KY (1840), and in another census (1850) being born in (VA).  It just so happened that the luck of the draw, I found the 1840 census before the 1850 census.  This error did allow me to work through all the JONES families in Clark County before the 1870 census, but it sure did make me realize that not all "official" records were error free! 

Ten years...can you believe it?  Lesson (I) = don't trust everything you read...especially census records!


  1. One of the errors I accepted because so many others also accepted it, was a census that listed a teenage daughter who didn't appear in any other census. After several years I went over that census again - maybe with my glasses on? - and saw that she was listed as married as was a son who's name was listed after her. I finally realized that she was a young daughter-in-law and that her name had been garbled. Written as Candacy, but I believe her to be Miranda C. And I just went along because all the other trees I had seen for this family had her listed as a daughter based on this one record.

  2. Hey Kathy, thanks for sharing, some good tree climbing there! It is often much easier to accept other family trees without checking them for yourself. Census records also include the folks that might have been living with the "head of household" including married sons and daughters, hired farmhands, workers, or other related family members on the maternal side of things. They may also include parents or even grandparents. There may also be two or more families living in the same household during the time that the census was taken.