Situation: family with roots across England, Wales, Scotland, New England.
Known information: family records, printed genealogies, family tree maintained in RootsMagic and generated mostly via Ancestry in 2019-2021.
Objectives: extend currently available information, validate family records, try to identify tools and methods that are of general usefulness, focus on data quality.
Initial question as ‘pipe clean’: identify given name of Tinkham 5 greats grandfather: Amanda Ruth Fisher (self) > (my mother) > Cleaveland > Aldrich > Darling > Mercy Adeline Greene > Sarah Ann Tinkham, b.1799 > ??? Tinkham (m. Sarah Eddy) (all this information from family records).
High level findings: I would say the above lineage was backed up by online records to a just about adequate extent, although with a high reliance on secondary sources.
The main published Eddy genealogy is the key secondary source, though it admits to its own doubts about the relevant Tinkham/Eddy marriage. Adin Ballou’s History of Milford, Massachusetts contains useful and interesting information about Mercy’s sisters Harriet Newell Greene and Abbie Greene Comstock. But neither of these provides a given name for Sarah Ann’s father, nor any evidence (beyond Harriet and Abbie having had a sister now deceased) that Mercy was in fact Sarah Ann's daughter.
The Tinkham Biographical Index (which took me ages to find online) does not cast any light; indeed it potentially confuses the issue in relation to Sarah Ann’s brother Welcome Eddy Tinkham, stating a possible paternity which (when combined with census data) contradicts the Eddy genealogy; this spurious paternity was subsequently picked up and published elsewhere as fact. (The Biographical Index does contain interesting information about Welcome’s eldest son Z.B., who was an early postmaster in California.)
The FamilySearch Family Tree is questionable in many relevant cases: persons/dates, linkages, sourcing.
I am still investigating census records. The 1790-1840 US censuses are indexed by Head of Family only, and no attempt appears to have been made anywhere to digitise the relevant table information (numbers of household members by sex and age) for easy cross-checking purposes. The only printed information that is available at the right level appears to be for the 1790 census.
The required given name was identified in the FamilySearch Family Tree (and elsewhere on the internet) as Enoch. The ‘source’ for this appears to be 2 entries in the International Genealogical Index ‘contributed’ section, both of which are pretty dodgy in other ways; relevant primary source images may exist (the relevant microfilm appears to have been digitised) but I have not yet been able to view them (working on that). The 2 Enoch Tinkhams of whom there is any online record at all (in both cases well sourced) were born far too late. I have removed the Enoch given name from the relevant FS Family Tree entry.
Sarah Ann Tinkham appears to have no primary sources available online under her maiden name except for one relating to her daughter Harriet’s death. The vital records of Mendon, Mass. do show Sarah Ann's death under, obviously, her married name. (They also show Mercy's marriage, which I suppose provides a bit of a circumstantial link between Sarah Ann and Mercy.)
Making things worse, Sarah Eddy has no primary sources available online, and her brother Thomas Jenckes Eddy has very limited ones, except in both cases for their father Thomas’ will; her older siblings, meanwhile, have plenty of primary sources beyond Thomas’ will.
The fact that many of the key events appear to have taken place in New York State, where record keeping was minimal at the relevant time, is probably not helping at all.
Thomas Jenckes Eddy can be traced via a town history and the 1810 census to Kinderhook, Columbia County, NY, where his father died that year (evidence in Providence Gazette and in probate records). Local militia records (backed up by the same town history) show Thomas Jenckes Eddy as an Ensign, and that he died in 1812. (Also, FamilySearch unhelpfully had him indexed on the 1810 census as Thomas I., despite the handwriting of the rest of the page clearly indicating that Thomas J. would have been more accurate. I have corrected this.)
FamilySearch also has two of the Eddy Genealogy's Thomases conflated into one, despite the Eddy Genealogy and Providence Gazette providing clear evidence to the contrary; I am working on correcting this.
FamilySearch is very clear about the level of data quality of the different types of information it makes available.
Many researchers appear to take ‘contributed’ sources as gospel. In many cases information is posted to the web without any sources at all. You can track erroneous facts as they make their way wider and wider.
There appears to be very little curation of collaborative data stores, and the whole focus feels like it’s on quantity rather than quality. I was expecting the FamilySearch Family Tree to work like Wikipedia with strong moderation and source checking, but very clearly not.
Services used: American Ancestors (3 month subscription): useful for access to the Mayflower Descendant periodical, Rhode Island Cemeteries, and some ‘Vital Records’ type secondary sources that don’t appear elsewhere.
Brief flirtations with Ancestry, MyHeritage, and FindMyPast, none of whose UIs gave me anything like the functionality of FamilySearch, and all of which would have cost money to take forward, though FMP has the ability to ‘pay as you go’ for some records. (Disclaimer: I was heavily involved, pre sales and as solution architect, with FMP when it first launched in 2003 as 1837online.)
FamilySearch: extensive use of Family Tree, Records, Catalog, Books. Some searching of Genealogies (especially ‘contributed’ IGI entries as mentioned above). Considerable trawling of Images.
Other (for secondary sources): various digital libraries, e.g. US Census publications, HathiTrust; Google.
Some fundamental problems with FamilySearch online search: It doesn’t let you query the indexes properly. Some really basic things I couldn’t do: omit rather than select; sort the results in specific ways; use ‘or’ rather than ‘and’; wildcards beyond terminal * or ?.
Obviously, incorrect or incomplete indexing makes information hard or impossible to retrieve.
FamilySearch allows Export of Records search results, but only 100 at a time, and not beyond 5,000. These exports do not show the Collection involved, and nor do they show whether or not this Record is aligned with the Family Tree as a source (both of these key pieces of information are shown on the Records search UI).
FamilySearch does provide very useful APIs (some documented more clearly than others), a lot of which are available to the general public (to be covered in post #3: How I use the FamilySearch APIs), though these, like the UI, don’t allow you to retrieve search results (whether Records or Family Tree) beyond 5,000.
The APIs allow identification of the Collection for an exported result, and also automated Records export. (I have found that a little simple screen scraping is required for the latter, but for record counting purposes only.) Matching of Records against Family Tree Person Sources is possible via the presence of the unique Record Arkid on the Source.
What I did next: Having decided that it was unlikely that an Enoch Tinkham existed with the right dates, clearly the next stage was to see which of the other Tinkhams of which records exist could at the right time potentially have married Sarah Eddy and/or fathered Lydia (1797), Sarah Ann (1799), Jeremiah (1800), and Welcome (1805); I could potentially then use census data to narrow things down further.
So I needed to be able to run some complex queries over the data (to be covered in post #2: Querying FamilySearch data via SQL).