In the face of scandalous findings

Maybe you’re one of the genealogists who aspires to connect your roots to royalty, wealth, or some other, well, glamorous or historic past. That was certainly my mother’s ideal, if she had ever undertaken the research. (Having done a bit there, I can reply she wouldn’t have liked most of the findings.) My Quaker connection, via my dad’s side, which prompted my genealogy efforts has become, well, much more humbling than I’d envisioned at the outset. You can forget the smiling oatmeal-box portrait. Scroll through this site for the real photos, if you wish.

At some point, though, you’re likely to come across a scandalous discovery, and that can be troubling. One friend told of the way her Italian family’s quest came to a halt when they learned they’d been Jewish five generations back rather than proudly, even prominently, Roman Catholic. Others have mentioned the ancestor hanged as a horse thief or, as one found, banished from several New England towns as, uh, having a sexual appetite that ran in all directions.

You can stop there.

Or you can choose to push through the bad news, which I feel gives us a much richer and more honest history – more appealing and dramatic in its own way.

Coming across transcripts of bastardy court records in the Guilford County Historical Society’s periodical untangled one of the knots in my ancestry, as I report in one of the postings here. So there was illegitimacy even within the Quaker culture? We’ve survived, and the sexuality of Southern folkways is part of a larger story that needs understanding. There are several other knots in my lineage where I suspect it will play out. We’ll see.


Are there points of inquiry you’ve put aside for similar reasons? Are there others that gave depth to your understanding? What’s scandalized you as you’ve pursued lines from generation to generation? Have any of your ancestors been charged or convicted of crime or taken flight to evade prosecution? Where does divorce fit into your perspective? What about questions of confidentiality, no matter how long ago they arise? Any other situations we need to consider?

Would we like them?

Our ancestors, that is. Let’s be candid, as much pride as I claim in my Quaker and Dunker/Brethren ancestors, I doubt we’d get along. I’ve come to believe there was no golden age in our past. For all the harmony in Peace Church traditions, there were also all those restrictions, for one thing. It was a long list. Then there were peculiarities, such as the chewing tobacco common among Brethren men. Could we even understand them as they spoke? I dunno, but it looks like communicating would be a challenge. And their lives, no doubt about it, were demanding, modest, rural, even difficult – a world apart from mine.


So what about yours? What qualities do you admire in the ancestors you’ve “met” through your research? And which ones repel you? Anybody you’d especially like to sit down with if you could do time-travel? Any you’d especially avoid?

Who are all the babies and toddlers?



Identifying adults in old photos is difficult enough. Without a written identity, putting a name to a child is nigh impossible, I’d say. Here are some examples from Joshua Hodson’s collection. Those from Josie Jones’ appear in her album.

Anyone want to comment on the fashion statement?

Anyone want to comment on the fashion statement?

How did the photographer ever get them to sit so still so long?

How did the photographer ever get them to sit so still so long?

Baby pictures as a custom go way back.

Baby pictures as a custom go way back.

The chair was a useful prop.

The chair was a useful prop.


Benefits of membership

As your research takes focus, you may likely come across societies that publish related genealogical magazines and books. Joining the group or subscribing to the journal (usually the same thing) can add immensely to your findings.

For me, the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, with its deep archives and marvelous quarterly Pennsylvania Mennonite Heritage, has been especially helpful even though very little of my ancestry was Mennonite itself. Instead, what I got was insights on the culture and practices that also influenced my Dunker/Brethren, Amish, and River Brethren families. In addition, the book service made possible the purchase of many related books, many of them from obscure presses. Through this source, too, I learned more about my Wesleyan-based United Brethren roots than I had growing up in the church.

The Southern Friend, the journal of the North Carolina Historical Society, and the quarterly periodical of the Guilford County Genealogical Society – along with the books published by each group – proved essential for my understanding, to say nothing of family data I would have never turned up on my own. The Fellowship of Brethren Genealogists and its newsletter rounded out my memberships.


What genealogical groups have you joined? How have they helped? What success have you had from the Queries pages of their magazines? What advice do you have for finding the right affiliation? What periodicals have been especially helpful? What about online services like Any others?

Trying to keep up with the Joneses

This portrait, taken from a book or newspaper clipping, varies from the other features I've seen in the Jones family, even before we get to the facial hair and his dress.

This portrait, taken from a book or newspaper clipping, varies from the other features I’ve seen in the Jones family, even before we get to the facial hair and his dress.

Another mystery. I'm wondering if he's the same subject we examined in the earlier part-of-the-hair posting.

Another mystery. I’m wondering if he’s the same subject we examined in the earlier part-of-the-hair posting. The cut of the coat, though, is Quaker.

Josephine (Josie) Jones was the only sister among nine brothers, two of whom died as an infants. While I’ve been able to identify photos of Samuel C. Jones and his brother Lambert, the rest of their appearances remain a puzzle. I’ve already presented some of the portraits in her photo album posting.

Samuel Coate Jones attended Antioch College and became a civil engineer before earning his law degree and working as a prominent railroad lawyer, a county prosecuting attorney, and a professor at the Ohio State University Law School in Columbus. He joined the Methodist church, had four children by his first wife, and remarried after her death.

Lambert Jones, another attorney in the family, moved to Columbus, where he remained a Friend.

From the little I know:

  • Dr. Henry Warren Jones married Carrie Thornburg and settled into a practice in Spiceland, Indiana. They had at least two children.
  • Laban Jenks Jones was deceased by 1896.
  • Ephraim M. Jones earned a law degree but became a Friends revivalist pastor. He died in 1885 at the age of 36, leaving a wife and young daughter, according to The Friends Review.
  • Roswell B. Jones was residing in Troy, Ohio, in 1896, and later relocated to Minnesota, where he farmed.
  • Barton H. Jones, another Quaker minister of the Holiness strand, was deceased by 1896.
  • And the 1880 Census adds another daughter, whom I take to be a daughter-in-law, Caroline, age 31, and two children: Alice, 5, and Clarence, 2.

Any help sorting these out would be most welcome.

A caution about genealogical data

Serious genealogists soon learn to be tentative about their findings. We want verification for our facts. Just because a date is carved in stone doesn’t make it true, as I can attest from one that has one of my great-great-great-grandmothers a decade older than she was.

Transcription mistakes and typographical mistakes are always a possibility, even before we get to outright errors.

Census records, as we learn, can mislead widely, starting with spelling and penmanship. I try to read their entries, as well as any earlier registers, with a phonetic awareness the informant may well have been speaking with ill-fitting dentures – or none at all. What would the name sound like mumbled? That’s before we get to something like the 1860 Census for Montgomery County, Ohio, where my great-great-grandfather’s household appears twice, with the first names and members’ ages varied enough for me to believe for all too long (more than a decade, I believe) we needed to account for a mysterious cousin. And another of my great-great-great-grandmothers apparently shaved her age when it came to official reporting. What was denoted as 35, for instance, should have been 38. Thirty years later, it was 62 rather than 68. (Anyone else want to hear her explanation for that one?)

The hefty county-by-county histories with biographical portraits that were commercially published in the late 1800s can be a wealth of data, but once again, caution is required. By then my McSherry line in Ohio was claiming to be of Scottish origin rather than Irish from Colonial Pennsylvania. (Matters of respectability? Should we footnote how times, too, can change?)

And just because something’s in a book doesn’t make it true. Clay Hodgin’s widely quoted Early History of the Quaker Hodgson-Hodson-Hodgin Family boldly proclaims that Orphan George descended from Robert of the Woodhouse mission and then, in a second mangling, insists that Robert’s linage was from Yorkshire, rather than Durham as Quaker records have it. To repeat my point, there is no apparent family connection between Orphan George and Robert of the Woodhouse. Nor is there any known connection to William and Isabell (Stockdale) Hodgson.

As a final caution, keep in mind that official repositories are no guarantee of accuracy. The massive Latter-day Saints (Mormon) collections name a John Hodgson of Doncaster in Yorkshire as Orphan George’s father, for instance, without any supporting documentation. (I’ll argue that what is available, via Quaker records, instead points to Lurgan, Ireland, and from there back to Lumplugh in Cumbria, England – but I raise that in a tentative context requiring further, definitive research. Go for it if you will.)


As you’ve pursued your own research, what cautions have you discovered? Has wrong information ever caused you pain? How about needless hours of labor only to reach a dead end? Can you think of any ways erroneous information can add to our understanding? What advice would you offer other researchers?