I recently located testimony that appeared to have been given by my wifeâ€™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 wifeâ€™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 wifeâ€™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 weâ€™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.Â
- Years of birth and death may have to be estimated for all individuals who are a part of the chronology.Â
- Sources for any date estimates should be given and if a “complete” guess is made, the rationale behind that guess should be noted.Â
- 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, thatâ€™s very young for Katharine, but itâ€™s not unheard of.)
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, Iâ€™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.
Katharineâ€™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.
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
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, weâ€™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.
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 email@example.com or visit his website at http://www.rootdig.com, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.