Thursday, March 30, 2017

Errors in Original Records and an Example of How to Deal With It...

As all seasoned Genealogists know, even original records are not completely infallible. Sometimes through human error mistakes are made, and while some are quite challenging to discover, some are not, if a person is willing to just simply study the document closely. This is the case with the 1900 Plymouth, Sheboygan, Wisconsin Census.

In researching my family roots, I discovered that I am distantly related, through marriage, to the Washington F. Wright family. It matters not to me that Washington is the “father-in-law of the nephew of the wife of my 3rd great-uncle, Thomas Barrington Casson”. What matters is that we are connected through our family history. So, that is why I am discussing the Wright family here, they are family.

Anywhoo…back to the subject at hand.

Here’s the background:

Washington F. Wright married Elizabeth Osstock on Feb. 28, 1878 in Sheboygan, Wis., (Wisconsin, Marriage Index, 1820-1907). They had four daughters; Mabel in 1879, Florence ‘Flora’ in 1881, Harriet ‘Hattie’ in 1886 and Fanny in 1890. Elizabeth died in 1898. Washington never remarried.

However, I’ve seen Washington listed in other Family Tree’s as having two wives, named Elizabeth and Flora. Also, the girls are often listed as Elizabeth being the mother of Mabel and Florence, and Flora being the mother of Hattie and Fanny. None of these are correct. And here’s why…

The original 1900 Census was incorrectly transcribed by the Enumerator for that district, a Mr. Carl Strune. As proof, I am including images of the original census. I’ve enlarged them. Let’s begin our discussion…

Under Name:
You can clearly see underneath the name Flora, is written the name Elizabeth. Obviously, someone came back and wrote ‘Flora’ over the original name, the ink is darker than the rest of the page.

Under Relationship:
The original entry is clearly written ‘daughter’. As in the name entry, the word ‘Wife’ was added at a later point. Again, the ink is much darker than the rest of the page.

Under Birth Date:
The original month and year are illegible, except for the first two numbers, 18. Clearly, again, the Enumerator wrote ‘June 1851’ over the top of it.

Under Age & Marital Status:
You can see that the original age was written over to read ’48’, and the letter ‘M’ was added later, in heavy ink. 

Under Years Married:
The number ‘22’ was obviously X’d out for both Washington and Elizabeth/Flora, then it was added back in, but only to Washington’s line. (22 years would place the marriage year at 1878, the same year that Washington married Elizabeth.)

Under Mother To & How Many Children Living:
Again, with that heavy black ink the numbers ‘2’ and ‘2’ were added at a later time, presumably with the rest of the additions. (Which explains why some Family Tree’s list Hattie and Fanny as Flora’s children.)

Under Birthplace:
The original place of birth was clearly written ‘New York’, which matches Elizabeth’s birthplace in the 1880 Census for Plymouth. And again, ‘Wisconsin’ was written over the top, which matches her daughter Flora’s birthplace.

Full Picture:

So we are left with the following questions…What happened? Why are there two sets of information for presumably the same person? What happened to their daughter, Florence?

Let’s answer them, shall we? Here’s what I think happened, based on the description above.

First off, let’s give poor old Washington Wright a break. His wife Elizabeth died just 2 years prior to the 1900 Census, and since he never remarried we can safely assume that he was still grieving. When he and his girls reported for the Census, and he was asked for his family information, I have no doubt that he answered as he had previously. Naturally, after his own information, he spoke about his wife, Elizabeth. Realizing his mistake, he corrected it, and told the Enumerator his daughter Flora’s name. For some reason, most likely to save space, the Enumerator wrote Flora’s name over the top of Elizabeth’s instead of crossing the wife out and placing the daughter on the next line, (which would have been the best option and saved future Genealogists the headache of trying to figure it out. Just saying…)

Because of this mistake I believe it created a bit of confusion, and the Enumerator ended up mixing the mother/daughter information. At some point, perhaps later that day, Mr. Strune, or someone else, came back to it and ‘fixed’ the entry, using a heavier black ink to rewrite his entries. As you can see from the full census page, theirs was not the only entry to be ‘fixed’ in this manner. Whatever happened, the end result turned a daughter (Flora) into a wife.

“But,” you’re probably asking, “how can you be so certain? What about Flora? What about Mabel, she wasn’t listed in the 1900 Census either?”

I’m glad you asked that!

As to Mabel, she married a man named John Sippel in 1897, and they were living in Neva, Langlade, Wis. in the year 1900, so she wouldn’t have been listed with the family. (she went by the name Belle)

As to Flora (Florence), she was still living with her dad and her two younger sisters, Hattie and Fanny. She didn’t marry her husband, Peter Faas, until the year 1903. This places her on the 1900 census, with the family, she would have been just about 19 years old.  (It’s not her fault that the guy writing down the information couldn’t get it right. In his defense, it was probably hectic and hard to keep all that information straight.)

So, there it is.

While we can’t be 100% positive about what happened, and why, based on the evidence contained in the original 1900 Census I am confidently secure in the simple fact that Washington Wright only had one wife, her name was Elizabeth, and they had a daughter named Flora.

The Lessons Learned…

Always double check the information contained in other people’s Family Tree’s against the original document, if you can. 

If you can’t get a hold of the original document, use as many other resources as you can to find the information. Google it, find biographies, and check out genealogy blogs. 

If that fails, be hesitant about adding the information to your own Tree until it can be confirmed, and be willing to change/correct the information in your Tree if you find out at a later date that the information is incorrect.

And most of all, remember that digging up those roots in your Family Tree can take time, but the thrill of making a new discovery is well worth the effort!

Happy Digging!