My 5 Murphy’s Laws for Genealogists

1. The records you want are held in the next county over.

Experienced researchers know that when they are ready to travel to another state for research they should come prepared. Have a list of families with names and dates of those who lived in that area. This way we make the most of our time. Preparing also means knowing what records are available at the location. Umm, it also helps to know if the county you are researching was broken off from another county (or two) and the records for the two years you actually need are kept in the original county which is a two-hour drive away. This is a case of do as I say, not as I do. Don’t be like me, be prepared.

2. The cemetery you are looking for closed and all the records were lost when they reinterred the bodies at the new cemetery.

My 5th Great-grandmother Abigail, married 1st Russell E Post and married 2nd James Withrow in 1827 in Oxford, Ohio. She died sometime between 1850 and 1858, she was in the 1850 Federal Census in Oxford and family letters written between her grand-children in 1858 mention her estate. Armed with this information I traveled to Butler County, Ohio in search of a will, probate records or death information. I found none.

So I went to the library in Middletown and found a cemetery book written by Hazel Stroup. I glanced through the index, I found no family names, however the introduction looked interesting so I read it thinking I might gain some historical understanding of the area. And that I did. Turns out there were 2 Oxford Cemeteries. The original one was closed in 1855 and the land sold for a new rail line and most (note that word) of the graves were disinterred and moved to the “new” cemetery. The next line in Stroup’s book was the most interesting to me, “and Abigail Withrow was one of the first 5 burials in the new cemetery on March 7, 1856″. I drove to Oxford and went to the oldest section of the cemetery and there was a section with her son, son-in-law, and some grandchildren. And there was one extremely old stone, the writing too worn to read and I knew I had found Abigail.

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3. The Family Bible, Pension Records, Will, lists all the marriages except the one you need.

I’m sure I’m not the only one to whom this has happened. You learn that someone out there in “internet-land” has the family Bible. You send an email, and oh so nicely, ask for a copy of all the handwritten pages. And to your shock, it shows up in your in-box within days. You are excited when you open that email and then… Every child’s marriage is listed except your ancestor’s. Why? I asked when it happened to me. Why couldn’t someone list John Allen’s marriages? Is it because he had so many? Fourteen children that I know of and not one of them could write down their mother’s name. I have to write my mother’s name whenever I want to access my bank account and these people managed to live their entire lives without telling anyone the name of their mother. Oh the humanity!

4. Unless they come from two entirely separate continents, your parents are related.

I was living in Kentucky and having a late-night phone conversation with my mother on the West Coast. She was telling me a story about an in-law of her ancestor who was supposed to be the mid-wife at Abraham Lincoln’s birth. Confused, I looked at my tree and said, “Hendrick Enloes had a daughter, not a son.” I looked closer at the daughter, Hester, and said, “Oh my gosh, Mom. She’s Dad’s line, you are the son’s line!” Since then, we’ve found other times where they are interconnected so I’ve had to learn to live with it. Does that make me my own Grandma?

5. Your family line is not listed in the History of (fill in the blank) Family. 

There are many wonderful family history and local history books out there. For my family lines I have the Doty book (it stops right where I need to make the connection). In the Chaffee book, William H Chaffee lists my ancestor as Rhoda An Fluery married to Ambrose Worthington Chaffee, not Rhoda An Doty as her children and husband name her. In the Allen book, Your Royal Lineage, Valerie Larson lists my ancestor John Allen married to Marion Hurd, Marion didn’t seem to exist (just like Alford Abner Sisley).

Don’t let those Murphy’s Laws hold you back. When happenstance seems to come against you, renounce Murphy, keep strong and don’t let him discourage you as that seems to be his goal. As you work those family lines and things seem to be falling together easily, watch out. Murphy is hanging out just around the corner. He’s peeking at your work, smirking as he says to himself, “They think Catherine is the same lady, haha, it’s a new wife and they can’t tell.” Keep alert for Murphy and his laws. You can work around him, just be prepared.

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