Even “Respectable” Data Might Be Suspect – Check It!

Family History is like a jigsaw, except there’s no box with a picture on the cover, and most of the pieces aren’t there, even when you’ve looked down the back of the sofa. And there’s only one side piece – that’s you! So we have to make do with what data we can find out.

Sometimes, some people don’t bother to look too hard. As one correspondent put it, it’s “the power of coincidence over fact”. Ancestry is good these days at pointing out to you other people researching the same documents that you’ve looked at. All too often, when you look at their trees, there are elementary mistakes, often from choosing a person as an ancestor because he (or she) has the right name and the right date of birth. Sometimes, even Geography can’t persuade these people that it’s the wrong choice.

Sometimes however, what you think of as a respected source can lead you astray. Joseph Foster wrote several volumes of Pedigrees of Yorkshire Families. This is wonderful material for the family historian, but the same rule applies – check it! A Google search shows many of his trees are regarded with suspection.

When my colleague John Micklethwait did his research, he too found that Foster could not be relied upon. There are so many John Micklethwait(e)s in South West Yorkshire that picking the right one is never easy – I know I keep getting it wrong. And Foster did too. John (my colleague!) turned up a marriage bond which showed that the parents of the John Micklethwaite, born about 1627 and married to Catherine Greaves, were Richard and Jennet. (Foster has them as John and Elizabeth Sotwell, who did have a son John but he, as far as we can tell, didn’t marry). The problem is then that every other Micklethwaite tree on the Internet quotes Foster on this matter – they just haven’t checked their data.

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