I imply nothing ethereal in the title’s question. Evidence/documentation is the mantra of genealogy. But what is a preponderance of evidence, scientific or otherwise? A great blog delving into this debate can be found here[i], but the following account, I think, exposes the issue with concrete experience.
I focused my investigation of late into the ancestors of Zerah Paine and Amy Felch Payne, discussed in the previous two posts (on a personal note, my 3xgreat grandparents.) Three lines of research presented themselves. First, the interesting little biography in The History of Coshocton County quoted below. The next source was information from the …Ancient New Haven and Vital Records of Williamstown Massachusetts that provided an extensive lineage of the Payne (Payen, Paine, Payn…variously spelled) family. Finally, I discovered a notation on a Find-a-grave link giving the birth and death dates of Samuel and his wife, Abigail Grimes(Graham) that sited a Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) number. So, how trustworthy are each of these pieces of information, or, more accurately, what do you choose to trust?
“Mr. Markley was married July 9, 1842 to Miss Selina, daughter of Lera and Ann (Felch) Payne. Mrs. Markley’s grandmother was Sarah Knox, sister of General Knox. They are the parents of fourteen children, nine of whom are deceased, viz: Caroline, William F., Cristena Frances, George E., Charles D., Mary Melissa, Judge Harper, Lily May, and Edward; and five living, viz: Samuel Asberry, Minerva Catherine, Emma, Annie E. and David, Jr.” [ii]
History and biography books encompassing a particular community were quite popular from the late 1800’s into the 1940’s. Inaccuracies are rampant. Use them as a touchstone but don’t take them as truth, though the Coshocton one is generally very good. I am acquainted with a local historian who found one of these histories containing blatant slander, all because of a rivalry between two families and the fact that the slandered gentleman wouldn’t pay for his spot in the history! Right away, in the Coshocton history, I noted the incorrect spelling of the parents of Selina Payne Markley (Zerah and Amy are the correct spelling.[iii]) as well as Samuel’s middle name (correctly Asbury.) I can’t account for all of the deceased children (Caroline, William F., George E., Charles D., Lily May and Edward) though I find it logical since they may have died in childbirth. And the Knox connection? Unlikely. General Henry Knox had many brothers and sisters but all died before adulthood except three, two brother and a sister (Peter, William, Hannah.[iv]) I searched for nieces with the name Sarah as well, but no luck. Conclusions? The note on Knox was likely a bit of pomp or wishful thinking. True? Not likely.
Next, there are the books delineating the research of genealogical societies of early historic places. I base most of my information regarding the ancestry of Samuel and Amy Felch Payne on these.[v] Given the limited records available before 1790, I rely on these as the baseline for my research and then search for historical verification of the information along with vital records it. I find they match well so, given the quality of the researchers who created these volumes and their proximity to the sources, both in place and time, I chose to believe. Note, I said, “Choose.” True? Possibly, I’d even go so far as probably.
Lastly, the Find-a-grave information that gives the birth and death dates and places of Amy Grimes Paine and Samuel Paine (the site spelling) sites a DAR number.[vi] The site does not provide a place of burial but is a “Global, Find A Grave Index for Non-Burials.” The post uses the DAR information as the basis of the memorial. Good genealogy says to verify everything beyond actual gravestone information. I tried but could not. I went to the DAR site where the number noted is used to determine “lineal descent from Patriots of the American Revolution.” In my research I often find errors in these applications and wondered at their accuracy, so it interested me to see the following message posted clearly on their site.
“The databases contain DAR proprietary information which should under no circumstances be redistributed to others; assembled or collected for purposes other than DAR membership or for citation in genealogical scholarship; or reproduced, published or posted in any form whatsoever.”
Well, what can I say? True? Possibly.
So what is a lover of family history to do? Enjoy the stories. Learn the history that surrounds them and those grand souls that occupied it. Don’t get too hung up on absolutes. Value the true along with the probable and possible. The stories are amazing! My next posts will contain a few.
[ii] N.N. Hill, Jr. Ed., History of Coshocton County Ohio: Its Past and Present, (Newark, Ohio: A.A. Graham & Co., 1881) Pg 743
[iii] That statement is itself relative as there are many spellings on census data and beyond. I usually rely on the spellings on gravemarkers or government documents like draft records, not census records as they vary radically. If census records are all I have I use the most frequent and most complete record.
[iv] Based on correspondence found on DAR web site and NARA. There are numerous histories on line. Check this one. http://www.dar.org/museum/exhibitions/general-henry-knox
[v] all available on Ancestry.com Original data from
- Record of the colony and plantation of New Haven, from 1638 to 1649. Hartford: Printed by Case, Tiffany and Co., for the editor, 1857
- Vital records of Williamstown, Massachusetts to the year 1850.Boston, Mass.: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1907
- The Barbour Collection of Connecticut Town Vital Records. Vol 1-55 Baltimore, MD, USA Genealogical Publishing Co., 1994-2002
- Families of Ancient New Haven, Vol 1-3 Baltimore, MD, USA Genealogical Publishing Co. Inc., 1981 (orginals from New Haven colony Historical Society New Haven Conn.)