06 December 2013

Forget What You Know & Challenge Assumptions -- You MIght Just Knock Down that Brick Wall!

Though we often don’t think it’s a good idea to be “forgetful,” sometimes, as we research our ancestors, that might be a valuable tactic, especially when considering family lore!  Lindsay Moore (via Genealogists.com) suggests that you Forget What You Know and it might help you to overcome a brick wall.  She gives two examples of family lore that was followed even when other evidence suggested a different research tact.  As she says, a lot of time could have been saved (put towards other research) by paying attention to the records found, regardless of the family lore.

I always consider “family lore” as great clues.  The odds are that most are based on some truth and it can be dangerous to consider them as “fact.”  Often, they are priceless clues that lead us to places where we might not have looked otherwise.  On the other hand, we have to be careful to not get caught in trying to “prove” the lore at the expense of doing other research and following the other trails and clues we come across.

For example, here is some family lore about George Nelson & family along with what I subsequently learned via research.  The family lore was all provided by my grandmother; George Nelson was her maternal grandfather.  It is also important to know that my grandmother’s mother, Mary (Nelson) Taylor, did not remain close to her Nelson siblings.  Additionally, my grandmother was born in 1907 and her grandfather George died in 1910; hence most of this information would have been passed down to her.

And, you will see, that there were elements of “truth” to most of the family lore, though, there were inaccuracies and as I collected more documents, the “facts” became more apparent.

So, do keep an open mind when you are using “family lore” as a basis for your research.  If you don’t challenge the assumptions of what you were told and what found records tell you, you might spend a lot of time researching in all the wrong places ....

Family Lore
Not proven
Part of Clan Gunn
All found records are along the Scotland/England border (e.g. Lowland Scots).

No evidence found yet of any Highland Scottish connection.

George Nelson born in Newton-Stewart or Minigaff (Scotland)
George was born in Minigaff, Kirkcudbright, Scotland and the family did live in Penningham Parish, Newton-Stewart, Scotland

George entered the family trade of saddler. The family shop in Newton-Stewart only changed hands in the 1970s and there are still Nelson’s Saddler’s shops in other parts of Scotland
George was a Saddler/Harness Maker

The few mentions of the father listed him as a “weaver” and/or “lace maker” though he was NEVER with the family on census night.

Extensive research into Nelson’s Saddlers Shops did NOT reveal any “family” connection
Not proven
After serving his apprenticeship in Newton-Stewart, he went as a journeyman to Dublin (Ireland) where he worked for a few years and then went to Hollinwood (England)
George was in Newton-Stewart, Scotland in the 1871 census and by 28 August 1875 he was marrying in Oldham, Lancashire, England

NO evidence of any residency in Dublin (Ireland) found

George had a brother John who married an Irish girl and went to live in Ireland and of whom nothing more is known
George’s brother John (who became a watchmaker) did marry an Irish girl.  He lived in Limerick and then married her in Dublin (so, brother John had a connection to Dublin).

John actually died in Inverness, Scotland in 1887 at a sister’s house.

The informant was a Samuel Alexander, brother-in-law, husband of Jessie (Nelson) Alexander (married in Glasgow, Scotland).

George had two sisters, Jessie and Maggie (or Margaret) who never married and became cooks at big mansions in the area
George did have sisters Jessie and Maggie (Margaret) though he also had sisters Jane, Mary and Hamilton (twin to Margaret)

Jessie did marry (see previous entry). No marriage yet found for Maggie (Margaret)
X (off 1 generation)

George’s mother was Hamilton nee Walker
George’s mother was Mary (McCartney) Nelson.

Her parents were James McCartney and Hamilton Walker (meaning that George’s maternal grandmother was Hamilton Walker)

George’s mother was a local midwife
George’s mother (Mary Nelson) was listed as a midwife in 1861 though she was listed with no occupation in 1841 and as a sewing agent in 1851
Editor’s Note: More details on George Nelson and family are available here.

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