Elizabeth Shown Mills writes in Evidence Explained that “…we must remember: ‘The name’s the same’ does not mean the person is.” (p. 28 3rd edition)
There is a great deal of truth in that statement and it’s a lesson that every genealogist learns at some point in their research. Those with ancestors have common names are painfully aware of this potential problem. It is, after all, not their fault that their ancestors were named John Johnson or Annie Murphy. As we’ve seen in other postings, even names as unusual as Andrew Trautvetter may be held by more than one contemporary.
And so it is with Anson Butler–my probable ancestor who was living in St. Clair County, Michigan in 1850. The last name of Butler is common enough, but one would hope that the first name of Anson would make the individual relatively easy to find.
Yet there are at least three men with this same name-all of whom were living New York State for at least part of the same time. Part of my job in researching my probable Anson Butler is to try as best as I can to separate out my Anson from the others.
In an attempt to do this, I’m creating a spreadsheet with one entry per line for each record I locate on an Anson Butler in Michigan and New York (and the surrounding area) during the first half of the 19th century. That spreadsheet includes the Anson’s name, the year of the record, the location of the record, his age and inferred year of birth (if given), names of relatives. The intent is that I can then sort the spreadsheet by age, year of birth, location, etc. and perhaps notice something or make better decisions about which Anson is which.
I can’t just link all the records to the Anson in my tree–they aren’t all the same one. I need to look at the various Ansons and try and determine how many different Ansons there are. I’m not even thinking of using any genealogical database program for Anson yet as I’ve not yet sorted out which is which in the records. It is too early for that.
I want to research each Anson because at this point, I’m not certain where one Anson starts and another one ends. It also is a very real possibility that two or more of the various Ansons are related and researching one who is “not mine” may help me on the one who actually is mine.
Mills reminds us that one way to prevent false identification is through “careful correlation” and the study of individuals “in their context.” My spreadsheet (which we’ll show in a future post) doesn’t quite lend itself to the complete study of individuals in their extended kin and social network. There are only so many columns I can put on my chart before it gets cumbersome, but it is a good start.
Whether you use an “online tree” or only your genealogical software on your own computer, assigning records to specific people in your database is best done after you are reasonably certain you are certain to which individual those records are referring.