March 29th, 2011

Genealogical Theory

For those keeping track at home, I've decided that Hough/Hoogh/wtf may be either a Hoff or a Hoch, but either way, was definitely part of the German Palatinate migration. At least, I'm believing that until the Henry Jones books show up and disprove that, too.

This is by way of prologue to the concept I am currently tumbling around in the great grinder that is the inside of my head: genealogical theory. I am no positivist (on bad days, I am solipsistic, but I'm mostly better than that now); I have a lot of problems with the Idea of "Fact". However, I definitely recognize that some explanations don't make any sense at all, and of those which remain, some are more compelling than others. I am of the opinion that the tree falls in the forest, whether anyone notices then or later. I do not, however, consider that particularly relevant to the issue at hand.

In plainer language: I think people were born, had kids and died long ago, for suitable definitions of "long" and "ago". I think that some of those people left some evidence of their presence, and I spend a lot of my time happily tilling this evidence for relatives. But anything that I put into my tree, is not so much a "fact" as a theory, and _especially_ the pattern of relationships is a theory. Often, we have a record saying someone was baptized on a certain date, at which time they were accompanied by someone or someones identified as parents and accompanied by witnesses or sponsors. We might also have a marriage record, possibly with witnesses. And we might have wills, in which people use language to identify their relationships and respect that relationship through the transfer of property. A genealogical theory is an effort to take information like this and derive a representation of those relationships. We make assumptions (this must be the wife's kid by the previous marriage; that must be a sister of the father; etc.) that match the evidence, and we hope there isn't a better explanation that we are missing, but rarely can we attain even the standard of -unless-someone-came-in-from-somewhere-else-with-the-same-name-. That's not even much of a standard, in the face of mass migrations (for suitable definitions of "mass" and "migration").

A while ago, I posted that my maternal grandmother was the product of the marriage of first cousins, wondering what the term for that was (other than, damn, there goes a whole crapload of possible ancestors). The term, which H.S. correctly identified in a Facebook comment that then went missing, was Pedigree Collapse. In some ways, this made the duplicated 3gparents (I _think_ that's right; apologies for fenceposting) very desirable to track. They sort of counted double. Distressingly, this line was really hard to track beyond Exira, IL and family legend there about their priors, supported, to varying degrees, by research done in the early part of the 20th century in an effort to nail some of this down.

What we think we know is this. A Hamlin got off the boat in Barnstable in the 1640s. There are Hamlins in Middletown, CT shortly thereafter. My Hamlins stretch backwards to New Jersey, before getting on flatboats and going hither and yon, ultimately settling a couple generations later in Audubon County, Ill, the promised land where they proliferated (whoa and like damn, did they proliferate). It would be nice to find a connection between the Hamlins in Middletown, CT (I'm thinking of you, Capt. Giles, just like my distant cousin did a hundred years ago) with the world of Nathaniel. And I'm looking at a woefully underdocumented tree which purports to show just such a connection.

It's a Genealogical Theory. And at first glance, it's not too bad. But on second glance, it has an even wackier than usual death date for Mary Smith Hamlin (not a good sign, but absolutely excusable). And on third glance, it has this:

[84] John Hamlin b: July 16, 1687 Middletown, CT d: WFT Est. 1762-1822

Yeah, I'm a little concerned about that. People don't live that long even in Japanese Pension Records. Oh, and it reproduces the usual nonsense found in just about every Hamlin tree out there put together by an optimistic and incompletely attentive amateur:

Huntington, Hunterdon, New Jersey


When I see stuff like this, I try to get up, get a cup of tea, walk around a little bit. Because the first thing I see is that connection, and that the birth dates at least don't go the wrong way. It takes a few minutes for the GOLD GOLD GOLD to wear off so I can see the, yeah, _that_ place doesn't exist, or _that_ didn't happen _then_ or whatever else will tell me conclusively that no, I do not need to pay any more attention to this than anything else I've eliminated from the elusive ancestry of the Hamlins.


I think I've _got_ one! I've got an elusive Edward Taylor married to Rebecca Stout, daughter Ann Taylor marrying Ralph Schenck. He's simultaneously underdocumented and overdocumented (too many records for me to believe he's imaginary, but too few for me to make any sense out of his life, and too compatible for me to believe two Edwards have been confused) compared to everyone around him, and the time frame and some other hints are making me think he was a Loyalist. And let me just say, that Loyalists are freaking genealogical black holes in the US.

ETA: *sigh* Probably not, actually.