What’s in a Name?–John Adam or John Adams

Posted on: December 16th, 2014 by
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In my last post, about upgrading sources, I gave an example of accessing and citing a digitized copy of a book of biographies rather than a USGenWeb transcription from the book.

The subject of the biographical sketch I cited was John A. Whetstone. John was the son of Elias Whetstone of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania and Summit County, Colorado. Both John and Elias were early settlers and successful ranchers in the Breckenridge, Colorado, area. 1

I “always thought” that John’s name was John Adams Whetstone, and that he was named after President John Adams. After all, he had a brother named James Madison Whetstone, 2 so it’s not illogical that his family used a Presidential naming theme. And twelve member trees on Ancestry.com call him John Adams Whetstone. 3

However, Progressive Men of Western Colorado lists him as “John Adam Whetstone.” 4 This discrepancy caused me to review digital source materials I had accumulated about John–census records, newspaper accounts, and death index and Findagrave entries. All give his name as either John or John A. Whetstone. Delving into paper files, I found a copy of an article from a California genealogical journal to which several granddaughters contributed materials. 5 The article give the same name as Progressive Men of Western Colorado–John Adam Whetstone.

Still, the evidence about John’s middle name was less than completely convincing. In favor of “Adams” was an apparent family naming pattern. In favor of “Adam” were two unsourced authored works. The information in Progressive Men of Western Colorado might have been provided by John, but might also have accumulated errors in the editing and publication process. The journal article contains information apparently provided by family members, but the family informants named in the article were under ten when John died, and a generation removed. 6

Ancestry.com helpfully provided a more conclusive answer through its hints: four entries for John A. Whetstone in its “U.S., Sons of the American Revolution Membership Applications, 1889-1970″ database and application images. John’s SAR membership application dated 14 April 1925 is signed “John A. Whetstone,” but three supplemental applications dated 1 March 1929 are signed “John Adam Whetstone.” 7 They provide evidence that I accept as conclusive–original sources with primary information from the man himself.

John’s SAR applications also provide the maiden name of his wife and the names, birth dates, and residences of his children and grandchildren, along with more, which I’ll discuss in a future blog post.

  1. Progressive Men of Western Colorado Illustrated (Chicago: A. W. Bowen & Co., 1905), 444-445; digitized book, Internet Archive (https://archive.org/details/progressivemenof00awborich : accessed 16 December 2014).
  2. “J. M. Whetstone Passes Away,” Routt County Republican, 30 July 1926, copy supplied by Joyce Cusick, Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
  3. Hints for John Adam Whetstone, Lois Mackin’s Tree (private member tree), Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 16 December 2014).
  4. Progressive Men of Western Colorado, 444.
  5. Peggy O’Neill Solberg with Flora Labar, “The Whetstone Families,” Hidden Valley Journal, 21:9-13.
  6. “California Death Index, 1905-1939,” database, Ancestry.com, entry for John A. Whitstone, 28 January 1934, citing original data from California Department of Health and Welfare. “California Birth Index, 1905-1995,” database, Ancestry.com, entries for Flora Mae Schneckenber, 20 July 1931, and Virginia Sybil Whetstone, 14 August 1926.
  7. “U.S. Sons of the American Revolution Membership Applications, 1889-1970,” database and images, Ancestry.com, entries and application images for John A. Whetstone, SAR member number 41397.
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Upgrade Your Sources

Posted on: December 9th, 2014 by
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Genealogists need to be constantly mindful of the quality and reliability of the sources they are using. 1 In today’s world, digitization of original records and printed works is making higher-quality, more reliable genealogical source materials ever more widely available and ever more convenient to access.

I was recently reminded of this when I drafted an upcoming column for Minnesota Genealogist, the quarterly journal of the Minnesota Genealogical Society. 2 For the column, I summarized research I originally conducted about ten years ago. In revisiting the research, I found that I had relied on derivative sources in a number of instances. Happily, a large number of the sources I originally used could be easily and conveniently upgraded, from home.

What do I mean by upgraded? Upgrading sources means replacing more error-prone sources with less error-prone ones. Sometimes it simply means moving upstream, as close as possible to the original record, for example, consulting an original will instead of a published abstract. Other times, upgrading means replacing second-hand information about an event with first-hand information, or substituting contemporary accounts for accounts recorded fifty or a hundred years later. (Of course, any evidence needs to be correlated with all other evidence in order to determine the most plausible and accurate account of past events, in the light of all the sources and information available. Robert Charles Anderson provides wonderful examples of this process in his recent book Elements of Genealogical Analysis 3).

Here’s one example from my recent rework: ten years ago I consulted and cited a USGenWeb transcription from a book called Progressive Men of Western Colorado. I had not seen the book, I had seen the transcribed excerpt published on the Internet. Because I had seen only the USGenWeb transcription, my citation was “Routt County CO Archives Biographies: Whetstone, John Adam,” The USGenWeb Archives Project – Colorado (ftp://ftp/rootsweb.com/pub/usgenweb/co/routt/bios/whetston431gbs.txt : accessed 13 July 2006), citing Progressive Men of Western Colorado (Chicago:: A. W.. Bowen & Co., 1905). This citation shows that I was citing a derivative of the original authored work.

Since the book was published in the U.S. prior to 1923, it is now in the public domain. Both Google Books and Internet Archive offer digitized versions. In revisiting the research I was able to consult and cite Internet Archive’s digital facsimile. My citation became “John Adam Whetstone,” Progressive Men of Western Colorado (Chicago: A. W. Bowen & Co., 1905), 444-445; digitized book, Internet Archive (https://archive.org/details/progressivemenof00awborich : accessed 8 December 2014). Although in this case I didn’t find any errors in the USGenWeb transcription I originally consulted, I still upgraded my research by reading and citing the original book.

Other examples of upgrading sources include replacing information received from other researchers with information from original sources. This is worth doing even if the researcher providing the information is very experienced, with a record of high-quality work.

  1. For concise explanations of source evaluation, see Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof, (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013), 8-16; Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 2nd ed. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2009), 15-38; and Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, 50th anniversary ed. (New York: Ancestry.com, 2014), 81.
  2. The column will appear in Minnesota Genealogist, vol. 45, no. 4.
  3. Robert Charles Anderson, Elements of Genealogical Analysis: How to Maximize Your Research Using the Great Migration Study Project Method (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2014). See particularly chapters 1 and 2, “Source Analysis” and “Record Analysis.”
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Philosophical Observations on Blueberry Picking

Posted on: August 30th, 2014 by
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This being the end of summer, my husband and I decided that we needed to pick some blueberries before the farm closed. It was a beautiful morning, not too warm, not too cool, slightly overcast, with a breeze blowing. Late in the season, a lot of fruit had been harvested, but the farm told us there was plenty left in the fields.

It had been a long time since I picked blueberries, and I’d forgotten how relaxing blueberry picking is. As I picked, I began to notice things about the process of picking. I noticed also how my thoughts about picking blueberries apply to harvesting information about ancestors. (Warning: philosophical observations.)

Here are some of my thoughts:

  • Blueberries don’t shout out, “Here I am, pick me!” Most of the time, neither do records about our ancestors. You have to look.
  • You have to slow down and see what’s there. Once I stopped trying to move down the rows of bushes quickly in order to fill my bucket, I began to appreciate how much fruit really was left. Sometimes we search databases or indexes in registers fast, taking a quick look and moving on. I wonder how much fruit we miss by doing that.
  • Sometimes you have to step back to go forward. The blueberry bushes were in rows, with plenty of space between the rows but not a lot of space between the bushes. I found myself getting into a bush, noticing berries on branches I couldn’t reach, and backing out so I could move into a better position to reach the fruit I wanted. I also had to position my feet so I could reach without falling. I do this often in research too–it’s not all forward movement and collecting. You have to back up and look at what you have in order to position yourself to get that new information. Sometimes you have to get your feet under you with new skills, languages, or vocabulary before you proceed.
  • You have to care for the bush and pick without breaking branches. Native Americans are said to thank the plants and animals they harvest for food. Careful genealogists handle fragile materials appropriately. They thank the clerks, librarians, and archivists who care for the materials for their help, and they support efforts to maintain collections and preserve materials. (As I write today, Judy G. Russell, the Legal Genealogist; D. Joshua Taylor; and colleagues raised more than $50,000 at the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference in San Antonio to digitize War of 1812 pensions, at once preserving the fragile originals from the wear and tear of use and making digitized copies free forever online at fold3.com. Genealogists at the conference and all over the country contributed.)
  • Some of the best fruit isn’t easy to reach. In genealogy, not everything is on line. Not every set of records has a index. Not every courthouse register is on an accessible shelf. Not every arrangement of materials is user-friendly. But some of the most valuable information is in those hard-to-reach places.
  • There is lots of good fruit that is low-hanging. Like blueberries, there are a lot of great genealogical resources that are easy to reach–online, well organized, accessible.

I wish you luck with your blueberries and your ancestors. I’m going to enjoy my harvest now.

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