Saturday, May 18, 2013

Simple Saturday

It's just simple to pick Simpson. 

That was the gist of a tongue-in-cheek email comment I received on my previous post. Unfortunately, when researching family history, simple is not always right. With the two-men / same-name problem, simple is a word that just does not apply. Interestingly, we also learn far more about our families when the research is difficult and we delve deeply into time and place.

If you have this sort of problem, it's essential to examine every piece of evidence and try to assign it to the right man.

If I were to ignore the Ancestry users who chose Simpson Alexander as the father of Thomas Jefferson Alexander, I would not be doing thorough research myself. Although I've studied this problem for over 10 years, it was important to see what everyone else has found.

Revisiting the Ancestry public trees, I looked at the sources cited for Jeff, Simpson and other family members. I found not one shred of evidence that was new to me. The most often cited sources were "that person said so" and census records.

Using a census record is acceptable, but when there are two conflicting census records, choosing one and ignoring the other is incorrect. You can't just ignore it as an inconvenient truth. Also, remember that a census record is not a primary source. So by disregarding census records and other users as sources, there is no evidence. None.

What evidence does exist?

One key record has recently come online for our use. Jefferson Alexander's error-filled death certificate names his parents as Sampson Alexander and Beulah Ann Nix.

You say, well there's your proof -- no need for further debate!

Did you know that a death certificate is not considered a primary record for the birth of the deceased? If the informant is a parent, it's more likely to be accurate than when the informant is a child, sibling or spouse.

In this case, the informant is his wife, Rebecca. The errors on the death certificate include Jeff's first name and his birthplace. Those glaring errors then make the entire document suspect and leave his parents names still open to debate.

In the absence of any other evidence, this is the one record we have found to rely on. Interestingly, a few of the Ancestry users had attached this death certificate as a source, yet kept Simpson and Delilah as the parents.

Now we learn that Sampson is the simpler choice, but is he the right choice?

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