Monday, March 21, 2011

Assumptions are Dangerous

I recently had a reminder of how assumptions are dangerous in genealogy. I always knew my dad was born in West Virginia. I had assumed he was probably born in Gilmer County since that was where my grandparents married and I believed they had lived after their marriage.

Recently, I drove over to see my family. While I was there, I asked my mom for copies of her and my dad's marriage certificate, as well as their birth certificates. Everything looked just like I had thought, with the exception of my dad's birth certificate. It turns out he was born in the neighboring county of Lewis.

Granted, this wasn't a huge change from my assumption. However, if I didn't have the birth certificate or someone I could ask, I could have ended up wasting my time searching records in the wrong area. I would have eventually branched out into the neighboring counties and found him, but my false assumption would have delayed my research.

It could have been worse. I had always believed that my dad's mother was born in West Virginia. As far as I knew, her parents had always lived there, she married there and at least one of her children was born there. Imagine my surprise when I found out that she was born 300 miles away in a different state.

So far, my research hasn't shown any connection to where she was born. As it turns out, she told me and it's also listed on her marriage certificate. If I didn't know, I probably would have found out next year when the 1940 census is released.. However, without these clues, I would have first searched my assumed West Virginia counties, then branched out to the surrounding counties. It would have been a while before I checked the surrounding states for her birth certificate..

These aren't the only false assumptions I've made in my research. My paternal great grandparents, Charles William Radcliff and Living Neal, were married in Maryland, 250 miles from where they lived. My paternal 2nd great grandparents were married in the same place. One could assume that my great grandparents married there because my 2nd great grandparents did, but why did the original pair go there?.

On my maternal side, my 3rd great grandparents Aaron Hiram Rice and Martha Jane Register, disappeared after the 1920 census. Both were born in Georgia in 1872 and lived there up until that point. I searched the entire state of Georgia without success before moving to neighboring state. They turned up Florida where they appeared in the 1930 federal census, as well as the 1935 and 1945 state censuses.

Then, they threw me for another loop. Aaron died in Georgia in 1958. I'm still trying to figure out when and where Martha passed away.

While it's easy to jump to a conclusion based on known facts, sometimes you have to throw everything you know (or think you know) out the window to find the truth.

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