Sometimes when I'm talking to people about their family history they will state something along the lines of "That branch has already been researched and there is even a book so why should I do it?" When I first started my family history and genealogy research I used to have the same feelings. The Chipman family has a number of books compiled by various family members, same with the Fraser family of which I'm a descendant. Why should I duplicate all the work done by others?
To answer that question, how about we take a look at an interesting case concerning the family of "Daniel Wilsey Hatfield". Daniel married into the Lannen branch descended from Simon Baxter, in theory my 6th great-grandfather1, of New Brunswick, Canada.
This is from the book "The Hatfields of Westchester : a genealogy of the descendants of Thomas Hatfield of New Amsterdam and Mamaroneck, whose sons settled in White Plains, Westchester County, New York" by Abraham Hatfield published in 1935 that I found on the Internet Archive.
Abraham Hatfield, compiler, The Hatfields of Westchester : a genealogy of the descendants of Thomas Hatfield of New Amsterdam and Mamaroneck, whose sons settled in White Plains, Westchester County, New York, (Rutland, Vermont: New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, 1935), p 99; digital images, Internet Archive (https://archive.org/details/hatfieldsofwestc00hatf_0/page/n1/mode/2up : accessed 23 Jun 2020).
As you can see there is a lot of good information provided. Even better, on the next page the compiler has included the authorities from where he receive the information. Something that is often omitted in these sorts of family genealogies.
|Abraham Hatfield, compiler, The Hatfields of Westchester : a genealogy of the descendants of Thomas Hatfield of New Amsterdam and Mamaroneck, whose sons settled in White Plains, Westchester County, New York, (Rutland, Vermont: New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, 1935), p 100; digital images, Internet Archive (https://archive.org/details/hatfieldsofwestc00hatf_0/page/n1/mode/2up : accessed 23 Jun 2020).|
So everything should be good to go and we can trust what is written, right?
For those that have been reading my blog you will know that one mantra I stress is along the lines of "Trust no one, verify everything, and even if written in stone it might be wrong."
So what can we verify concerning the facts about Daniel as written in his biography? How about we start with his marriage to Mary Ann Lannen?
We are fortunate that a number of the New Brunswick marriage registers are available on FamilySearch in the New Brunswick marriage registers, 1792-1889 collection. This includes the Kings County, v. A, 1812-1844; v. B, 1844-1867 marriage registers. How do I know to look there? One reason was that Ancestry gave me a hint from the New Brunswick, Canada, Marriages, 1789-1950 collection but the main reason is that back in 2012 at Library and Archives Canada I came across the entry in the transcriptions of the marriages registers by Ruby M. Cusack in her work "Kings County Marriages: Register A".
|Kings, New Brunswick, Marriage Register v. A, 1812-1844, Daniel Hatfield-Mary Ann Lannen; FHL microfilm 845,798, item 1, image 163.|
According to the marriage register, which would have been created closer to the time of the event than the biography, they were married in 1828 and not 1829. That means for me that everything in his biography from this book is now suspect and needs to be verified.
I've not been able to confirm the date of his birth but based on the decennial census enumerations between 1851 and 1871 he was born about 1798. I was able to locate abstracts of newspaper articles through the Daniel F Johnson's New Brunswick Newspaper Vital Statistics database found on the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick site to confirm the date of his death in 1878. I haven't taken the time to confirm his land ownership but with the New Brunswick, county deed registry books, 1780-1930 collection on FamilySearch it wouldn't take to much effort to track any land transactions for him.
As for Daniel's middle name, the abstracts from the newspaper articles either record it as "W." or "Wesley". In the land deed records in Kings County, New Brunswick he is recorded as "Daniel Hatfield of Norton" without any initials. His youngest son, Heber, middle name is recorded as "Wolsey" in the 1871 census of Canada and the articles about Heber's death in Chicago. But it could be Wilsey, we just don't know.
What about Daniel's wife, Mary Ann Lannen? What can we learn about her? Using the Daniel F Johnson's New Brunswick Newspaper Vital Statistics collection we can find the abstract for her death notices in two newspapers and they both match what is in the biography. That's a good start.
However, it seems that she is not the daughter of Simon Lannen and Abigail Baxter but of John Lannen. This can be found in the abstract in the Wallace Hale's Early New Brunswick Probate, 1785-1835 database on the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick site. There in the abstract from John Lannen's will is written: "Daughter Mary Ann HATFIELD, wife of Daniel HATFIELD land."
But can we trust Wallace Hale's work? So far I haven't had any issues but since I try to verify everything, through the magic of the interlibrary loan program, back in 2015 I ordered a copy of the microfilm from the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick that holds the probate file for John Lannen.
|Kings County, New Brunswick, Probate Files, RS 66, John Lannen, 1832, will, p 2; Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, F11570. |
Although authorities have been listed for the information, this book doesn't indicate where they got their information. Was it from newspapers or bibles or was it from what they were told as they were growing up? We will probably never know. Just from a bit of digging through the records that are available to us we can see some mistakes in the biography of Daniel Hatfield and Mary Ann Lannen were found.
Can we blindly trust these sorts of compilations of family histories and genealogies? For me, I'd say no. However, they can provide clues for us to follow and confirm through using our own research skills.
So even if there is a book written about your family, take a look at the information held within and take the time and effort to verify and validate the facts recorded. You may just find that you discover something else that no one else has found that could change the family narrative (Widow's Pension Application = One Less Brick Wall).
1. I say "in theory" because I've not been able to connect, to my personal satisfaction, my 4th great-grandmother, Hannah Baxter, to her probable parents of Elijah and May (nee Smith) Baxter.