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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Trust But Verify

"Trust but verify." That's the #1 rule in genealogy and history research. Published books are secondary sources and very helpful but they can also contain errors. The information in secondary sources needs to be verified by a primary source such as a will, deed, gravestone, or other documents. Never assume. I thought I knew that. But I stumbled and it cost me a lot of wasted time and expense.
I have been working for more than a year to trace the descendants of 1754 immigrant Ulrich Burkholder of Bowmansville. He was the oldest brother of my ancestor, Christian. He is often confused with another Ulrich Burkholder who immigrated in 1732. I decided to trace the first four generations of the Bowmansville Ulrich in an attempt to resolve some of the confusion. It has never been done and was quite a task.
Ulrich had six children but only named three of them in his will. Finding the other three involved some work but eventually I had all six names from primary sources. They were Elizabeth, John, Peter, Anna, Maria, and Christian. Some of their families were easier to trace than others. Christian moved to Canada and left the best paper trail.
Elizabeth's husband, John Bowman, was one of the executors of Ulrich's estate. John Bowmans are as thick as flies around Bowmansville. But I found John and Elizabeth Bowman buried in the oldest cemetery in Bowmansville. (It was orgionally a family cemetery but the  Pine Grove Mennonite Church was later built in front of it.) John and Elizabeth had nice readable stones showing they were born in the 1760s. The death date on John's stone took me to his estate papers which gave me the names of his children. Tracing his descendants took me to Maryland, Mifflin County, Ohio, and other states in the Midwest. I have no idea how much time I spent tracing them but eventually I filled in all the blanks and was satisfied that the genealogy was complete.
THEN I showed it to another genealogist and he said, "But I thought her name was Elizabeth Clopper." Whoa!! He looked through his things and found a deed which proved he was right. There were two John Bowmans the same age married to Elizabeths. I had traced the wrong family. He was able to point me to another source for the right John and Elizabeth and their children but I am starting over. What went wrong? I assumed and did not verify Elizabeth's maiden name was Burkholder.
The sad thing is all the effort I put into tracing the wrong family. The good thing is that the mistake was caught before it was published in January. We have postponed publication until April to give me time to get it right. And I hope I have learned my lesson. Trust but verify and don't assume anything.

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