Avoid Unintentional Booby-Traps

booby-truthYou have worked on researching your family history and have a good start on the creation of the family tree. Yet, even the most experienced researcher can fall into an unintentional booby-trap. Normally a ‘booby-trap’ refers to a set up by someone to scare or harm someone else. The following instead are unintentional booby-traps that were unknowingly done that you might be tricked by.

Some examples: booby-castle-garden-1882You assume your original ancestors to America came through Ellis Island in New York City. Wrong! Ellis Island officially opened on January 1, 1892. booby-ellis-islandPrior to that, if your ancestors arrived in New York Harbor and they passed through Castle Garden. This location at Battery Park in Manhattan, NY functioned between 1855 and 1890. Note that is if they arrived at the port of New York City. Many immigrants came to America arriving at the Ports of Boston, Philadelphia, New Orleans, booby-new_orleans_1862Baltimore, Savannah, San Francisco or even through a port in Canada (such as Quebec and New Brunswick) and then crossed the border into the United States. So try to narrow the time frame an immigrant ancestor arrived to determine what ports were available and do not forget to consider smaller, less well-known ports.

Covering arrival to America, another faulty trap is assuming the family surname was altered when they entered the port. A ship’s captain typically made passenger lists when leaving the original port and before arriving in the U.S. Looking at a passenger list, the name recorded on the manifest is likely the name the immigrant gave to the captain at the time of departure. A captain could have misunderstood or misspelled the name. After arraign and settling in months or years later, immigrants would often Americanize their first and last names. Many immigrants simply changed their names to “fit in.” Your ancestor was not forced to change their name upon arrival at an immigration station, and even less likely that they changed their name prior to arriving in America.

Earlier attempts by relatives to do the family history can not be assumed to be 100% accurate. They may have overlooked something or someone. It does not hurt to go back over all the family lines with a fine-tooth comb to check names, dates, and places. You might be surprised at how many family branches were not finished, incomplete or the relative may have overlooked someone.

booby-general_shermanEvery family tale or legend includes about being related to a celebrity or famous person. Our own personal family legend was that with the Sherman family name we were related to General William T. Sherman of Civil War – burning of Atlanta fame. Also if a family member lived at any time in the Deep South, you never were to tell anyone native to that region your name was Sherman. Well, working on the lineage I actually started by tracing the William T. Sherman line. I quickly saw that his family was never located in the areas my Sherman family had lived. Further research showed the early Sherman branch was Pennsylvania-Dutch (German) and the original spelling even in America was ‘Schermann’. Whereas W. T. Sherman’s family was from the New England states and related to colonialist, Roger Sherman. Be as accurate and complete to either prove those claims to famous people or debunk them.

Never assume what an ancestor writes on a document, even an official record is correct. Find proof one way or the other. Examples include how many times a person was married – many an ancestor will fib about that number. When a person was born, that includes men and women fib that date. What occupations they have done over the years, sometimes a few are left out. Never be surprised … instead learn what really happened.

Photos: The Truth; Castle Garden in NY 1882; Port of New Orleans in 1862; Ellis Island about 1900; General William T. Sherman.

Related FamilyTree.com Blogs:

Recording Tall Family Tales

Fibbing Ancestors

Musts in Genealogy


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