When it comes to ancestry, I always stress caution. Sometimes I stress it to the point of seeming absurd, but there are reasons why I am hounding everyone for evidence and verification. You can spend hours–days–researching someone and find out all this wonderful information about them, only later to discover that they are, in fact, not related to you at all. This, quite to my dismay, happened to me last week. Why? Because I trusted information that was written at the turn of the century, in a book about my family history, when fact-checking and source verification were completely unknown. And boy it hurts.
When going through my files for processing a SAR application, I noticed that some of my information contradicted what others had for the same individual–Paul Flick (who as many readers know was one of the ancestors of whom I cherished the most)–and his daughter, Susanna. In my ancestral line, according to what I knew, Susanna Flick was my 6th Great Grandmother. But someone else had also claimed her as theirs. This was disturbing. I rechecked all my records.
1) I had my 6th Great Grandfather’s records from the county courthouse which spelled out that he was married to a Susanna (c/o Dennis Schall).
2) I had court documents from Susanna discussing the estate and debt amounts of my 6th Great Grandfather–Johan Peter Schall (c/o Dennis Schall).
3) I had photographs of the actual Will of Paul Flick, with the name ‘Peter Schall’ clearly indicated as his executor (c/o Don Drewry).
So what went wrong? How could another family be claiming him and his daughter Susanna as their ancestor? Well, here is where a little extra fact-checking could have come in handy when I was first putting my tree together.
(a) Their ancestor who they claim married Susanna Flick was Simon Peter Scholl (note the difference?), who also went by the name ‘Peter Scholl’.
(b) Peter Scholl and my ancestor Peter Schall went to the exact same church, lived at the exact same time, and died within 7 years of each other–and they’re buried in the same cemetery.
(c) All transcriptions of the Will of Paul Flick spell his executors name as ‘Peter Scholl’.
(d) The courthouse file under Peter Scholl contained Paul Flick’s name as someone whose account he had managed.
Get all that? Both my Peter Schall and their Peter Scholl (likely relatives–cousins at that) were married to a Susanna. Except my Susanna was not Susanna Flick. So whomever wrote the book on my Schall family history must not have dug that far down to get the evidence or they would have discovered that Simon Peter Schall’s headstone mentions that his wife was Susanna Catherine Flick. Even in church records (as witnesses to baptisms for example), the names Peter Schall and Susanna come up at the same time as Peter Scholl and Susanna. Just two different couples going about their lives without any realization that they will have an impact on their descendent in 2013. And boy what an impact.
So who is my Susanna? I don’t know. I searched high and low for the past week trying to find a last name for her. Thus we come to the problem of ancestry. I thought I had verified something well enough that I found it to be insurmountable evidence. I was completely wrong. To the family of Paul Flick, however, I have strengthened their own line a bit more. I sincerely hope that his descendents appreciate the things I have uncovered–most importantly, I hope they put to use the script that shows he was an associator (that is kind of a big deal).
I have lost Paul Flick as an ancestor, which was tragic (and it still pains me to accept). But I am now on the hunt for Susanna’s last name; I want to discover who she is, who her parents were; this is always the exciting part–the initial discovery, the history they forged, when they arrived in the United States, what part they played in the revolution (if any), if they were involved in the French and Indian War… so many questions that can be answered with just one surname discovery.
So let my experiences be a lesson to all of you: verify, verify, verify. And don’t always just trust family trees on Ancestry.com. Ancestry.com is a fantastic resource, but one you have to always utilize with a critical mind and a passion to fact-check. And when you are done with that, work to debunk your own facts and sources. What you are left with is likely the truth (or the best possible truth available).
See the other side of this, the joy of ancestry research, here.