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Recognizing and overcoming inconsistencies in genealogy research

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It is a good practice to refrain from drawing conclusions about your genealogical findings until you have exhausted every possible every avenue of research. See "How to conduct a "reasonably exhaustive search" for relevant records," by Michael Hait. The records that you turn up that are not consistent with your current findings or theories help you to know you are being successful. How do you feel when your findings cause you to question the opinions you have formed, and what do you do about it?

Keep in mind that you are relying on historical documents and other people's memories which may form a spotty recount of your ancestor's life at best. Even the accounts shared by those who lived during the same era can become tainted with time.

Gather all the evidence and pass the baton. Share your interpretation of your findings, but do not lead the next generation into believing everything you share is a cold hard irrefutable fact. It only takes the discovery of one more record like one more child born out of wedlock or a different spouse in the home to change the whole course of events in your family history. You are always on the cusp of that occurrence. Who really knows everything about their ancestors like they thought they did when they started out?

In a perfect world, every family historian's compiled research could stand the test of the lens of DNA testing, but that is not possible in every case. If it were, what things might you discover differently about your progenitors? That does not mean you should not take you research nor the interpretation of your findings seriously.

With all the many historical records being made available online today, you may feel you have finished with certain lines. Records that were not available at the time you were researching should be reviewed, such as:

  • newer census records
  • vital records (especially death records)
  • county records

A death record from 1941 can still reveal information about a person's ancestral line two and three generations back. For example, Henderson and Lucy Nelms were listed on each census going back from 1920 until 1880. One of their children was Ora Nelms (Foster) and another was presumed to be her sister, Olean Nelms. For no apparent reason, a desire to search for this family in Memphis, Tennessee ensued.

The widowed Olean (married to George Long) was living with her sister, Ora Nelms Foster, in Memphis when she died, and Ora was listed as the informant on Olean's death certificate. Ora gave the name of Sam Bradford as the father of Olean. This entry throws a wrench at 20 years of research on this ancestral line. No one knew or admitted that Henderson was not the father of both Ora and Olean. There will be some work involved now to prove or disprove Sam as the father of Olean:

A. Name of decedent: Olean Long (search 1940 Census and marriage record)

B. Name of father: Sam Bradford (search census and death records)

C. Name of mother: Lucy Nelms

D. Informant (also sister): Ora Foster

E. Cemetery: Norfolk in Walls, Mississippi

These type of inconsistencies cause you to have to begin all over again researching for other possible missed clues, and that is what will be done in this case. Perhaps further research will prove this entry to be an error, but it must be validated or invalidated and not just overlooked.

Fortunately, the cemetery where Olean was buried was revealed. Walls, Mississippi was the birth place of her formerly enslaved mother, Lucy. Norfolk could very well be the family burial ground. No matter where these clues lead, the researcher's interpretation will be shared as well as all evidence, conflicting or otherwise.

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