Forget What You Know

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I was talking to one of the lead researchers at this week about brick walls.  Barry's first belief when it comes to brick walls is to forget what you know.  At first I was skeptical.  We are taught in genealogy to go from the known to the unknown.  To back up his theory, he gave the example of his wife’s family.  They had always known that their Duggan line came from County Cork.  My friend started questioning this assumption because his family had no male Irish first names.

By ignoring the County Cork assertion, my friend eventually found the family living in Ulster (Northern Ireland), which got me thinking.  I’ve got a McGuire line; family lore has always said we’re Irish.  I started considering the male names.  My pool consists of Charles, George, William, and John.  There aren’t any Brians, Connors, or Michaels.   And then I read the following:

The term Scotch-Irish is uniquely American.  Some historian and genealogists prefer the term Ulster Scots, which more accurately reflect this group.  The term Scotch-Irish is ambiguous because it does not mean people of mixed Scottish and Irish ancestry as the name seems to imply, but refers to the descendants of the Presbyterians from lowland Scotland who settled in Ulster — northernmost province of Ireland in the 17th century — and subsequently emigrated from there to America.

What?!  So we could be Scottish?  I might have to keep that under wraps until Barry can prove it.  In my attempt to “cross the pond” forgetting what I know might keep my brick wall from standing for a long time.

Another example: The family story was that the wife died during the flu pandemic in 1919.  The husband put the children into an orphanage, went back to his hometown in Italy and married his second wife, Susie.  They then returned to the United States.  I couldn’t find passenger records for Joseph Ennamorato.  I was hoping the ship's manifest would lead me to his birth town.  It turned out I was looking for records that didn't exist.  Finally, I found Susie's obituary.  She had remarried after Joseph, and Susie was short for Concetta.  The obituary said she was born in Philadelphia and gave her maiden name as well.  Sure enough, I found her living with her family in Pennsylvania prior to her marriage.   Of course, I could have skipped the passenger records and saved a lot of time, if I'd trusted the 1930 census which listed her birth state as Pennsylvania.  I discounted that piece of information because it didn't fit with the family story I'd heard.  I figured someone had given that information to the census taker who didn't know the correct information.

Are there any “knowns” in your family tree that you can’t prove and are faulty assumptions?

Case, Julia M., Myra Vanderpool Gormley, CG, & Rhonda McClure.  “RootWeb’s Guide to Tracing Family Trees, Guide 21.”

by Lindsay Moore© 2013,, All rights reserved

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January 3, 2014
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