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

Monday, December 30, 2019

Research Basics -- Part Two

Research is the process of posing a series of questions and then searching for the answers. In the first post in this series, I introduced an example from the Family Tree that has some obvious errors. Here is the example again.

The obvious error involves the fact that the birthdate for Cynthia Shepherd is eight years after the reported death date for her mother. In addition, all three children in the Samuel Shepherd/Sarah Cooke family were apparently born after their mother died. This could be a simple mistake or it might be more serious than that and all or some of the children are attached to the wrong parents. I would first look to see if there are any sources attached to this family to rule out the possibility that there was a simple mistranscription of the information in the source documents.

There are no sources recorded for Cynthia Shepherd but the recorded brother Jonathan Shepherd has 14 listed sources and the other brother, David Shepherd, has 15 sources listed. The father has five sources and the mother, Sarah Cooke, has 9 sources listed. Why then is there an issue with the dates? This part of the research is usually called reviewing or verifying what you already know. I will refer to the documents and records by those designations but they are recorded as "sources" in the Family Tree. It is common to refer to the document or record as a source but always remember that the source is merely the reference or citation to the original place the information was found in the form of a record or document.

Starting with Samuel (or Samuell) Shepherd, the listed father, I find a birth record summarized as follows:

There is a second record showing his birth in Connecticut. There are two more records showing a marriage between Samuel Shepherd and Sarah Cook (or Cooke) also in Connecticut. The final record or source is an anomaly. It is a record showing the birth of a child named John Shepherd in 1766 in England.

The First Rule of Genealogy is as follows: When the baby was born, the mother was there. So did Sarah Cooke Shepherd travel to Devon, England in 1766 to have a baby? By asking this question, I am illustrating the beginning of the process of doing research. Part of that process involves doubting everything that has been previously recorded. Are we seriously going to try and figure out how one of the children was born in England when all the other records indicate the family lived in Connecticut?

Next, I need to look at the records recorded as sources for Sarah Cooke. At this point, I also note that the marriage date for Samuel and Sarah is also after the recorded death date for Sarah. I now begin to suspect that if these dates are correct then we have the wrong parents and probably some wrongly added children in this family. I would normally stop looking at this particular family and move forward in time to find the first of my ancestors in this particular line that does not have these particular problems and can be firmly established. If the parents or children in this family are not correct, then the extension of this line back into the past is not supported by the sources. As it stands, this is the end of this particular line. In this particular family, the verified ancestor is the son named David Shepherd who was born and died in Vermont. Here is the David Shepherd family.

The real question here is whether or not David Shepherd has any documents supporting his birth and the names of his parents. In examining the 15 listed sources it is evident that the dates listed for him are wrong. His estate was probated beginning in 1821 so his death date is not correctly recorded and there are no other documents that show his death date. What is clear is that he was an American Revolutionary War Veteran. According to the documents, his recorded birth year is 1750 and his death year is 1821. This makes it possible that Sarah Cooke was, at least, the mother of David Shepherd, but there are no documents or records showing David Shepherd's parents. David Shepherd is the end of this particular line. Any entries past this point are speculative and unsupported by documents or records.

So here we are at the point where further research is needed to establish the names of David Shepherd's parents.

There is another interesting issue. How could David Shepherd be born in Vermont if the listed parents were both born and, at least, the listed father died in New York? To go any further with the assumption that Samuel and Sarah are the right parents, I would have to find some record showing, at least, that they lived in Vermont at some point in their lives that corresponded with the 1750 birth date for David Shepherd.

I now have a valid research question: who were the parents of David Shepherd. Why do I leave this record as it is in the Family Tree? Why don't I make the corrections to reflect the documents and records? In this case, I do not have the records to show that the information is wrong and I need to do some more research in Vermont records. I may come to the point where I make the changes. My most recent discoveries were the abstracted probate records that likely established his death year.

As a side note, if you are familiar with how the Family Tree works, you will see from these examples that there are valid reasons for changing the information that has been entered into the entries in the Family Tree. You may also be able to see that some of the lines in the Family Tree extend beyond the information in the supporting documents and should really end and not continue on for additional generations.

I am not through with talking about research. This series will go on for quite a while. As a final comment, for now, I did detach the record showing a child born in England.

You can see the first post in this series here:

Part One:

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