Thursday, April 28, 2016

Thou Shalt Not Accept Shaky Leaf Hints Without Reviewing Them

In the last week or so, I began reviewing additional shaky leaf hints at Ancestry for some of my more recent ancestors. I was appalled when I looked at the family trees that included my ancestor James M. Thornton.

Let's look at some of the erroneous information I found.

Erroneous information: James M. was born in Georgia. 
Fact: James M's Civil War (Union) pension file gave his birthplace as Jefferson County, Alabama. Censuses consistently listed James M.'s birthplace as Alabama.

Erroneous information: James M. was in the 1880 Lincoln County, Tennessee census.
Fact: James M. was enumerated in Franklin County, Alabama in 1880. [See 1880 United States Federal Census, Franklin County, Alabama, population schedule, Newburgh, Beat 8, SD 1, ED 95, p. 627B, family 35, lines 9-15, Jas. M. Thornton family; digital image, Family Search ( : accessed 23 Apr 2016); citing National Archives microfilm publication T9, roll 13.] Those who accepted the Lincoln County, Tennessee census are likely accepting it because James M.'s first wife's name was Lucinda. However, she died in childbirth in 1855, and their son Cape was reared by his maternal grandparents. The James enumerated in Lincoln County was born in Virginia instead of Alabama.

Erroneous information: James M. Thornton descends from the Dozier/Mark/Luke Thornton line of Virginia. These trees list James M.'s paternal grandparents as William Thornton and Clarissa Vice.
Fact: Y-DNA testing of descendants shows James M. Thornton's descendants are from the South Carolina E group whose common ancestors appear to be Thomas Thornton and Martha Boykin of North Carolina. (Dozier is part of the Virginia A group.)

Other mistakes were also found. For example, one person said he died in the Armory in Splunge, Mississippi. As a native of Monroe County, I got a big chuckle out of that one. Splunge does not and has never had an armory. The person obviously meant the town of Amory which is in that part of the county. However, James M. lived in the community of Splunge which was really a bit of a distance from Amory. Persons living in Splunge would have traveled to Amory when they needed to travel by railroad or when they needed items they could not get in the local community.

I never accept the tree hints. I do, however, review them for hints AFTER I've worked through the hints given and made certain I have all the census records and checked other sources for key pieces that might be missing such as marriage records, birth and death records, cemetery records, etc. I then take any hints I find to see if those can be documented. Most of the time my own research and documentation has already uncovered the hints, or I can easily disregard hints because someone has added something that is very obviously erroneous, such as the parents being born after the child.

Always check shaky leaf record hints also to make sure they apply to your ancestor. Recently I was reviewing shaky leafs on a different line on which I was working. I got 3 hints on this particular person. None of the hints were records for the individual on whom I was working. I searched and found the right records rather than accepting the ones given. In fact, I had to switch from Ancestry to Family Search to give me two critical records proved my own research was on the right track.

No comments: