The Importance of What It Does Not Say

Hasty research can easily lead to incorrect conclusions, causing the researcher to think they are the right path when the reality is something entirely different.

I recently read a 1742 deed from Massachusetts where the widow was listed as the late widow and her children were quit claiming their property to one of their siblings. Such deeds are frequently drawn up when the surviving widow dies. A careful reading of the deed indicated that while there were several references to the widow, none of them indicated she was actually deceased. The more I thought about the deed the more I realized that other deeds of this type (drawn to settle real estate amongst the heirs after the surviving parent dies) infrequently mention the parents by name. A more careful reading was in order and that led me to discover that none of the references to the mother actually indicated clearly that she was dead.

My recent purchase on Ebay of a picture of the church my grandmother’s family attended got me to thinking about her baptism as it was the same year the picture was taken. I got to thinking “how nice it was” that I had a picture of the church about the time she was baptized in it. Then I remembered that she was baptized at home and not in the church (indicated by the church records). Assuming can get us in all sorts of research trouble.

We can all benefit from the occasional reminder to not infer things that are not stated in a document and to not rest conclusions on assumptions of what we remember.


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