Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Correcting the FamilySearch Family Tree -- A Retrospective and Case Study Part One

Stepping off into the Family Tree is like taking a journey into an unknown world. You can prepare, based on your present knowledge, but you are very likely to find conditions that will surprise you and see things that will challenge your credulity. It helps to approach the task with a large measure of skepticism and a well developed methodology for handling fantasy. In this regard, I quote Frodo from The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring Being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings. London: Collins, 2001).
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
There not really an adequate way to prepare for a journey where you may find a whole new set of ancestors and find out that your parents and grandparents are either not who you think they are, and that there are even darker secrets that you were never told.

My own journey began long ago and and far away and I am still traveling. I am a little wiser and very travel weary, but I must still press on.

What in the world am I talking about? That is probably a valid question. Let me first define the word "fantasy." Fantasy is the faculty of activity of imagining things, especially things that are impossible or improbable. If you are one of my fellow travelers in the fantasy world of the Family Tree, then you know exactly what I am talking about. If you are a casual observer (one who came to watch the movie) then you are probably lost in your own fantasy world.

Our assignment, if we choose to accept it, is to separate truth (as far as it can be ascertained) from fantasy in the Family Tree and replace the imaginary world created by our relatives with something that approximates reality.

Let's start the journey.

Each of my current ancestral lines in the Family Tree (hereinafter just plain Family Tree) has been verified and copiously sourced back five generations. For this series, I am going to be focusing on my direct lines. I am aware that there may be some issues with the details of their descendancy, but I am going to ignore that issue until another day and another series of posts. As an ultimate family history skeptic, I will start with my own surname line.

My father has 49 sources. This is far from the total that can still be added, but it is adequate to establish his birth, marriage and death with a reasonable degree of certainty. The circumstances of my own birth are also adequately represented in the Family Tree. There is likewise a fairly substantial degree of certainty about his parents. My Grandfather, Leroy Parkinson Tanner (b. 1895, d. 1944) was one of the first ancestors I encountered where the data was deficient or contradictory. His death was well documented but not either adequately sourced or completely accurate. He died in a truck/train accident on 5 November 1944 in Grants, Valencia, New Mexico, United States. Some years ago, I attempted to find a death certificate and found that the county had changed. Grants, New Mexico is currently in Cibola County. It took me a while to figure out that any record of his death would be in Valencia County, but I quickly found the death certificate after making that discovery. Leroy Parkinson Tanner has 43 sources listed in the Family Tree.

This was a very early example of the lessons I learned along my family history journey. If the death date had been recorded with the county that existed at the time of his death, I would have found the record immediately. As it was, I needed to do some preliminary historical work on the status of the counties at the time of his death to find the original record. We will come to this lesson again and again during the course of this post series.

Leroy Parkinson Tanner's father was Henry Martin Tanner (b. 1852, d. 1935). Henry Martin Tanner has 80 sources listed. When I started doing research over 33 years ago, my investigations of Henry Martin Tanner were some of the first to give me an idea about the fantasy world built by my relatives. As I have mentioned many times in previous posts, he was born in San Bernardino, California. Just as with my Grandfather, the county recorded was the present county of San Bernardino. However, I discovered that San Bernardino County was not created until 1853 and Henry was born in Los Angeles County. You might argue that this is a minor issue but we will see that it is details like this that take us off the path and create a fantasy world.

Now we are going to take a side path. Henry's wife, my Great-grandmother, was Eliza Ellen Parkinson (b. 1857, d. 1930). She has 44 sources in the Family Tree. At this point, I should point out that Henry and Eliza were Arizona pioneers. They show up in a number of history books about the settlement of Arizona and their family became prominent in Arizona. A company started by several of Henry's sons became, at one time, the Arizona company with the largest employment in the state.

Eliza Ellen Parkinson's father was Thomas Parkinson (b. 1830, d. 1906). Here is where our journey (and my examples and case study) really begins. Thomas Parkinson (my Great-great-grandfather) has presently 26 sources listed. He was born in England. He traveled to Australia where he met his wife as they both came to America. He got married in San Pedro, Los Angeles, California (maybe), and died in Utah. I decided to take this detour from the Tanner line because once I go further back with the Tanners, the Family Tree is in a constant state of flux with changes being constantly made. So, it is off to the Parkinsons.

Here is where we begin. Thomas Parkinson was supposedly born in Farcet, Hntingdonshire, England, United Kingdom on 12 December 1830. This is what is recorded in the Family Tree. His youngest child, Mary Jane Parkinson (b. 1855, d. 1878) was reported to have been born in San Bernardino, San Bernardino, California, United States. Looking at the dates and places where the children are born will become really important in this discussion. Why do I say that Thomas Parkinson was "supposedly" born in Farcet? Because there are no sources of the 26 listed that document his birth. In this case the birth date and place are going to become crucial. Since all his children were born in the United States, I will move on to Thomas and his progenitors. Here is the first issue as shown in this list of Thomas and his parents and grandparents. This is what is presently in the Family Tree.
  • Thomas Parkinson born in Farcet, Huntingdoneshire, England
  • James Parkinson born in Ramsey, Huntingdonshire, England (father) (12 sources)
  • Charles Parkinson born in Great Reveley, Upwood, Huntingdon, England (grandfather) (1 source)
  • William Parkinson born in Great Reveley, Upwood, Huntingdon, England (no sources)
This family is the subject of a surname book, which, by the way, has almost no sources listed for any of the information. Here is the surname book:

Parkinson, Diane, and John Parkinson. James Parkinson of Ramsey: His Roots and His Branches : England, Australia, America : a Biographical History and Genealogical Record of the Family of James and Elizabeth Chattle Parkinson. Austin, Tex: Published for the James Parkinson Family Association by Historical Publications, 1987.

If you focus on the number of sources listed for this family line as I mentioned above, you will begin to see the problem. In short, it is my contention, that the lack of sources for the birth of Thomas Parkinson is the place in this family line where reality becomes fantasy.

Stay tuned for future installments.

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