Making Certain I Have the Right Person, by Michael John Neill

I recently located testimony that appeared to have been given by my wife’s ancestor in a Revolutionary War pension application. My excitement over the new discovery was tempered by the realization that I needed to make certain the person giving testimony was indeed my wife’s ancestor. While it is certainly natural to be excited over new discoveries, it is important not jump to conclusions. Hasty research can lead to wasted time, money, and brick walls higher than the ones we originally had.

The 1847 Revolutionary War pension application for Katharine Blain in Delaware County, Ohio, contained testimony from a Katharine Wickiser. My wife’s ancestor, Katharine Wickiser, also lived in Delaware County and both women were about the same age. But before I used the clues contained in the pension file to further my research, I needed to be reasonably certain the two women were the same person.

The first step was to review the chronology and family structure I had compiled for Katharine Wickiser and her husband Abraham. Comparing the information already located with the information in the pension testimony would help me in determining if the two Katharines were one and the same.

Chronologies are such an important tool that we’ll briefly discuss some suggestions for compiling them.

  • The chronology should have a specific beginning and end, typically the birth and death of the focus person or the births and deaths of the focus set of parents. 
  • Years of birth and death may have to be estimated for all individuals who are a part of the chronology. 
  • Sources for any date estimates should be given and if a “complete” guess is made, the rationale behind that guess should be noted. 
  • Complete consistency is not realistic, but a reasonable amount is. The laws of time and physics should not be suspended to make details fit.

For more information on creating a timeline, see this step-by-step guide.

Who Else Has That Name?
Searches should be conducted to determine if there were contemporaries in the area with the same first and last name. In many cases individuals of this type are actually related (often named for the same relative); the problem is determining which documents belong to which one. Census, tax, and property records are good sources for this purpose and determining family structure can help distinguish one person from the other.

A Brief Chronology

  • 1780 (approximate) Abraham Wickiser born in Pennsylvania
  • 1784 (approximate) Katharine [---] Wickiser born in New Jersey
  • ca. 1798-1808 Abraham and Katharine marry, probably in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, or nearby. (Yes, that’s very young for Katharine, but it’s not unheard of.)

Katharine’s Testimony
Katharine Wickiser’s testimony is contained in the widow’s claim for
Katharine Blain, widow of Elam Blain. Her 8 April 1847 testimony
indicates she was living in Delaware County, Ohio. Katharine indicated she had been acquainted with Elam Blain (and Katharine Blain) since 1786 and at that time he lived in New Jersey. It also indicates that Elam moved to Pennsylvania in approximately 1801, then in 1815 to Muskingum County, Ohio, and from there to Delaware County, Ohio, in 1822.

Wickiser indicates the Blains were married before she was acquainted with them. She does not indicate any relationship with the Blains or whether her migration followed theirs precisely. Since the dates given are significantly before the 1847 testimony date, they could be somewhat incorrect.

Comparing the Testimony
The parallels between the details in the testimony and information we have on our Katharine are interesting. The age of the Katharine giving testimony is indicated as between sixty and seventy, approximately the same age as the known Katharine. Since there are no other Katharine Wickisers in the same area, I’ll initially conclude the two are the same person.

There are actually many more parallels between the chronology of the Blain family and that of known Katharine Wickiser, indicating a potential relationship. The date of 1786 (when Katharine first knew the Blains) is close to her own estimated date of birth (1784), hinting she has known them her entire life.

Katharine’s movements are remarkably consistent with the Blains. The “known” Katharine Wickiser was born in New Jersey per the 1850 census and most likely met and married her husband Abraham in his native Pennsylvania. Her own daughter Lucinda was born in Muskingum County in 1816 and she and her husband purchased property in 1822 in Delaware County, the same year she indicates the Blain family moved there.

Lessons
Records for people other than our ancestor may contain vital clues on our own relatives. This is particularly true of records that may contain testimony from witnesses with no relationship to the parties involved, such as pension and court records. The difficulty is in locating these records as they frequently are not indexed by every name mentioned. Because of this limitation, current research techniques for searching these records include looking for pension and court records of:

  • ancestral siblings
  • extended family members
  • neighbors
  • associates

That takes time. However, as we have seen in Katharine’s testimony, our searches are often rewarded.

The last lesson this week is the importance of reading the entire
file or record and not stopping at the first document. Katharine’s testimony was not the only testimony included in the Blain pension file and that other testimony provided even more information than Katharine’s did. In an upcoming column, we’ll see how helpful that other information was. But it was important first to make certain we actually had located information on the same Katharine. Jumping to conclusions can create more problems than it solves.

Click here for a printer friendly version of this article.

Michael John Neill is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is currently a member of the board of the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS). He conducts seminars and lectures nationally on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including “Ancestry” Magazine. You can e-mail him at mjnrootdig@gmail.com or visit his website at http://www.rootdig.com, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

9 thoughts on “Making Certain I Have the Right Person, by Michael John Neill

  1. Very interesting and helpful article. Too bad Ancestor dot com wouldn’t allow the links to open pages. There must have been a charge and someone forgot to tell us.
    JWY

  2. Sorry about the broken links. I’m checking into it right now. It looks like the headlines rolled to the library, but not the articles themselves. Hopefully we’ll have it fixed shortly.

    Juliana

  3. Found the article very interesting, lucky to have a relatively unusual name – my problem is they all have the same names and come from the same part of Scotland, but I’ll keep going. Thank you for the helpful tips.

  4. Per reference to age of Katherine at marriage as being very young – this, as you note, is not ‘unheard’ of: my own gr-grandmother married at age 13 and gave birth to the first of fourteen children within one year.

  5. That is a very informative article. Doing my own genealogy can be complicated. Oftentimes I find many people with the same names living around the same time. Although your method doesn’t break down all the brick walls, it will help out a bit.

  6. Thank you for this article! But how do you get someone who is supposedly a professional genealogist to correct their mistake? I have found that too many people use this information as the truth instead as a guide without researching it. What I have found on my family is on the Faye Moran website. She she states that the parents of Thomas Cooper (1780-1823)were John and Elizabeth (Padgett) Cooper and his siblings were wrong. While they may have had a son named Thomas Cooper the one she uses is NOT their son. People on Ancestry.com in the family trees are using this as the truth without researching it. The parents of Thomas Cooper (1780-1823) who married his second wife Martha Winston Dabney were Thomas (died 1789 in Caroline Co., MD) and Taphenus, various spellings, (White) Cooper. This Cooper family moved to Caswell Co., NC in 1794 from Caroline Co., MD. and finally settled in Davidson Co., NC. They also are using Thomas Cooper Sr and Jr as the same person. Thomas Sr did not have the middle initial of D. His son Thomas Dabney Cooper did. In fact one of Thomas Dabney Cooper’s granddaughters is still living and is very upset about this. The will of Thomas Cooper Sr and the Memoirs of Thomas Cooper (Jr) proves all of this. Please be sure to check out other resources! I am very thankful to have a website like Ancestry.com that provides us with photos of original resources and/or tells us where to get them. THANK YOU ANCESTRY.COM!

  7. I do not like to have to go to the Blog to get the rest of an article started in the Weekly Journal. Why isn’t the whole article in the Weekly Journal like it used to be?

  8. I have read your pages and i still can not figure out how to find the name of my gg-grandfather. i know my g-grandfather,know where he was born and the year.he is from Maryland,but there is not one clue as to who his father and mother was. so how do all of these people go back to the begining of time ? can they prove all the stuff that they write and say, i would say no they can not.i have found so much wrong information on Ancestry.com and its a shame and what you have to do to correct it is unreal.If there is a secreat to go back to find a ggg relative i sure would like to know how.trying to find a immagration is a joke. or birth certicates, death records. if your family was not promiment and did nothing but live have children and die you wont find much.I will tell you that Maryland is suppose to have good records but i don’t find this is so. I guess 1818 is not in there indexes.

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