If you have done or plan on doing genealogy research, you might find this interesting. What I discuss here is an example of the difficulties and confusions a researcher can come across. What at first appears correct sometimes turns out to be false or uncertain. And at other times, the apparent confusion only exists in your own head.
Previously, I showed another example, even more perplexing than what I’ll present here. Both examples are also connected, which demonstrates how problems overlap.
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I’m preparing for a visit to Kentucky. I’m excited to go. I have been there before, but I’ve never spent any time exploring the state. It is mostly a foreign place to me. I know of it from history books and from genealogical research. For this trip, I want to get a more personal sense of the place.
I’ll be traveling to the areas where much of my mother’s family comes from, mostly the central region of the state, from Jessamine County down to Pulaski County. The main preparations I’ve been doing involve clarifying the locations of where my ancestors were living and when. I need to know which records I lack in order to know which records I’ll need to look for locally and the precise counties in which to look for them.
The past week I’ve been focusing on the maternal side of my mother’s family. I already knew the paternal side had many lines that came through Kentucky because I’ve spent most of my time researching those names, but it seems many lines on the other side may also have come through there as well. This maternal side I’m less familiar with for the family tree we have for it came from someone else, my second cousin, who researched it years ago.
I don’t have access to all the records and orally-shared information. He was able to speak directly to a number of people on that side of the family because, living in Indiana, he grew up around them. I’m not entirely sure about how he went about doing his research and what he was relying most upon. I need to verify his research on ancestry.com in order to get this all more clear in my own head. I need to see the connections in terms of what is available to me.
Most of this research isn’t difficult, just tedious. I’m being systematic about it. I go down each line looking for possible links to Kentucky. The genealogical company ancestry.com simplifies this process by offering hints and showing related documents. My second cousin didn’t have access to ancestry.com or anything similar when he was doing research. He was forced to do a lot more traveling than I’ve had to do. I’m not sure I’ll find much new info by visiting Kentucky, but it is partly just a vacation to see the area and to hopefully get some pictures of headstones.
The difficulty arose when I got to Thomas H. Lewis. According to the previous research, he was married to Sarah Wineinger/Wininger (I’ll just use the Wininger spelling for the sake of simplicity). They had a daughter named Eliza Elizabeth Lewis, the name Eliza I assume being a nickname for Elizabeth, although I’m not sure.
The Wininger aspect is what interested me previously. Thomas supposedly married a Wininger; and, likewise, his daughter Eliza also married a Wininger who was a convergence of two Wininger lines. The three Wininger lines then converged in Eliza’s children, including Flossie Shipman who was my mother’s maternal grandmother.
What confused me was that I kept seeing the same names as I went back. It took me a while to realize that all three lines descended from the same original line. It was all the same Wininger family marrying back together after several generations. They probably didn’t know they were related. There were a lot of Winingers around in the area.
It turns out that one of these lines may not be my family, after all. I came to this suspicion by looking at federal census records, marriage records, and headstones. There were many people involved and I was trying to see what matched and what needed disentangling. There were many records for a Thomas Lewis sometimes with the last spelled ‘Louis’ and sometimes with a middle ‘H.’. A few of these didn’t seem to be the same person. Even though they were all living in nearby locations, the places of their births were different and the places of their parents births were different. It wasn’t just that an individual person was being counted multiple times in the census.
However, a researcher should take census records with a grain of salt. Who gave the information to the census taker may have not been the person in question. The informant could have been any of the people in the household. They may have not known or could have misremembered such details as the age of a person or their birthplace. Two different census records, even when the information isn’t exactly the same, could refer to the same person.
The most confusing part in my research was the marriages. Three marriages I found in southern Indiana were between a Thomas Lewis and women with three distinct names and at three distinct times: first with Sarah Wininger (1840, Dubois Co. IN), second with Eliza Jane McGregor (1856, Clark Co. IN), and third with Lavica Pinnick (1877, Orange Co. IN). Dubois and Orange are adjacent counties and Clark is one county over from Orange. Was this the same Thomas H. Lewis who remarried? It is possible. The marriages with Sarah Wininger and Lavica Pinnick were both with a Thomas H. Lewis, which strengthens the case that it was the same husband in both cases, just at different times.
For my purposes, I’ll ignore for the time being the marriage with Lavica Pinnick (who, as a side note, is probably the same as Levisa Giles in the 1840 Orange Co. marriage to Isaac Pinnick). Her marriage to Thomas H. Lewis is too late to be relevant. Even if she did later marry the Thomas Lewis of my ancestry, my family line doesn’t descend from her. Looking at her records would only be helpful if it clarified who this or these people who went by the name Thomas Lewis, but old marriage records offer little in the way of useful info.
Also, I’ll be ignoring lots of other records and narrowing my focus. In the mid-to-late 1800s, there were possibly hundreds of people in Indiana going by the name Thomas Lewis/Louis, some with middle initials and some without, of varying ages and locations, and quite a few with daughters named Eliza or Elizabeth. One early federal census for a Thomas Lewis (or Louis, depending on how one interprets the handwriting) is from 1840 in Dubois Co, and it doesn’t say much beyond that besides mentioning that a few other unnamed people were living with him. This is problematic for research purposes and daunting for even the most intrepid of genealogists. These early censuses show almost no information beyond the name of the head of the household. It is near impossible to determine that you have the right person. The 1850 federal census is the first to show all the names at a particular residence along with other useful points of reference. So, let me skip forward to that more genealogically profitable era of 1850s onward.
One 1850 census record shows a Thomas Louis (age: 30; birth year: about 1820; birthplace: Indiana; occupation: cooper) living in Monroe, Clark Co, IN with apparently no wife present, at least on the day the census was taken. He is living with an Emily Louis (7) who likely is his daughter, a Martha Louis (73), and a Thomas Sparks (18). That doesn’t give me much information to work with. This could be a Thomas Lewis, as spellings of names wasn’t of great concern of many people back then. There was the Thomas Lewis who in 1856 married Eliza Jane McGregor in the same county and even the same town. That would make sense if he was without wife in 1850. In the 1860 census for Thomas and Eliza Jane Lewis (same location), there is no record of the previous child, Emily, who would then be 17 and likely either married or otherwise living on her own.
I’ll discuss that 1860 census further down a few paragraphs, but let me first consider a different record that fits some of the data claimed in my tree.
Another 1850 census record shows a Thomas H. Lewis (age: 29; birth year: about 1821; birthplace: Kentucky; occupation: farmer) living in Orange Co. IN with a Sarah Lewis (age: 29; birth year; about 1821; birthplace: Tennessee), presumably his wife who was born a Wininger, and a bunch of children: Amanda M. Lewis (9), Elizabeth Lewis (8), William F. Lewis (5), Thomas Lewis (4), George Lewis (3), and Bara E. Lewis (1). At first inspection, this seems to match what is known about my family, including Eliza Elizabeth Lewis. The complicating detail is that this Elizabeth Lewis is eight years old in 1850, but the Eliza Elizabeth Lewis in my family apparently wasn’t born until 1856 or so it is claimed on her headstone:
What appears to be this same family is found on the 1860 census for Martin Co. IN (adjacent to Orange Co.), although Thomas Lewis is listed without the middle ‘H.’. Also, some other info is different for him (age: 46; birth year: about 1814; birthplace: Missouri; occupation: farmer) and different for his wife, Sarah (age: 43; birth year: about 1817; birthplace: Indiana), which is significantly different as according to the previous census they should both now be 39 years old, but I wonder if people didn’t keep track of ages very closely back then, especially of older family members. As for the differences of birthplaces, that is much more difficult to explain away. Looking at the original documents on ancestry.com, I suspect there is a lot of error going on — the ages could have been informant error, if the census taker was talking to an older child who happened to be the oldest adult home at the time, and that supposed Missouri (Mo) birthplace easily could be transcribed as a sloppy Indiana (Ind).
I would doubt it was the same family, if it weren’t for the almost exactly matching info for the children. Most of the same children, all ten years older, seem to be present along with some new children that were born since the last census: Amanda Lewis (19), Delphia A. Lewis (18), Wm Lewis (16), Thomas Lewis (14), Geo Lewis (13), Borbara A. Lewis (10), Sarah A. Lewis (9), John Lewis (8), Eliza Lewis (6), Lucy A. Lewis (3), and Thomas Self (21). The Elizabeth Lewis who was eight years old in 1850 would be eighteen years old in 1860, and so it is unsurprising she is no longer living there. Interestingly, there is now an Eliza Lewis listed who is closer to the age of Eliza Elizabeth Lewis in my family. This Eliza is stated as having been born about 1854 which isn’t too far off from 1856.
To challenge this claim for our ancestry, there is the other 1860 census I mentioned above for Clark Co. IN. This record also has a Thomas Lewis who is around the same age and same place (age: 40; birth year: about 1820; birthplace: Indiana; occupation: laborer), and that matches perfectly with the 1850 census for Thomas Louis. He was then living with an Eliza Jane Lewis (age: 24; birth year: about 1836; birthplace: Pennsylvannia) who probably is the Eliza Jane McGregor who married a Thomas Lewis in 1856, also Clark Co. (As a side note, an Eliza McGregor from Pennsylvannia can be found in the 1850 census record for Ohio where she was then living with her parents.) The children listed for the 1860 census are all under four years old which matches the 1856 marriage date. What catches my attention most of all is the oldest child who is also named Eliza Jane Lewis. This Eliza is claimed to have been born about 1857 which is even closer in birth year to the headstone of Eliza Elizabeth Lewis. Also, this Thomas Lewis has a closer matching birth year.
I wasn’t able to find an 1870 census for Thomas and Sarah Lewis. However, there is one in Monroe, Clark Co, IN for Thomas Lewis (age: 51; birth year: about 1819; birthplace: Indiana; occupation: farmer), his wife Eliza Jane Lewis (age: 35; birth year: about 1835; birthplace: Pennsylvannia), his daughter Eliza J Lewis (age: 13; birth year: about 1857; birthplace: Indiana), and four other children: William B. Lewis (10), Martha E. Lewis (7), Georgetta Lewis (5), Thomas H. Lewis (2). It basically fits the previous censuses, other than Thomas changing professions.
Now onto the 1880 census. This year seems to be the deciding factor.
I know that my maternal grandmother’s paternal grandparents are George Alexander Wininger and Eliza Elizabeth Lewis. The marriage record shows a George W. Wininger and a Eliza Lewis being married in Martin Co in 1876. The ‘W’ is probably a transcription error, but I’m not sure as I don’t have access to the original document. There is an 1880 census record that lists a George A. and Eliza E. Wininger living in Martin Co. with their first two children, and all of those named are definitely my family.
Sarah Wininger supposedly died in 1876. If that is true, we shouldn’t find her on the 1880 census with Thomas Lewis. I couldn’t find such a census record, which doesn’t absolutely prove anything. It would be nice to have a death record for her or a picture of a headstone. Even lacking that, I do have other interesting records. There is that 1877 marriage between Thomas H. Lewis and Lavicka Pinnick (or Louisa, once again maybe transcription errors). The middle ‘H’ is an important clue. The case for this being the same Thomas H Lewis who first married Sarah Wininger is strengthened by the fact that the Lavicka/Louisa marriage happened a year after Sarah Wininger’s claimed death. The 1877 marriage happened in Orange Co. Next door in Martin Co, the 1880 census shows a Thomas H Lewis living with a Louisa Lewis and a child with the last name Pinnick. Like the 1850 census for the exact same name with the middle ‘H.’, it is stated that Thomas (then living with Sarah) was born about 1821 in Kentucky.
We at least have connected the two marriages for a Thomas H. Lewis. More importantly, it is shown that in 1880 his daughter Eliza was no longer living with him. And at the same time, it is shown that my great great grandmother Eliza was married and living in her own house at the time. This seems to confirm that this Thomas H. Lewis is my ancestor.
Let me verify this further. Also, in the 1880 census, it is found that the other Eliza daughter was still living with her parents, Thomas and Eliza Lewis. Based on that simple fact, she couldn’t be living at home while also living with her husband and children. I can’t see any way that this other Eliza and her parents can be of my family line, unless there was a single Eliza who was double-counted, but that doesn’t make sense as the one living with her parents is listed as single while working as a teacher whereas the other is a married housewife. Even so, it is odd that both Eliza daughters were 23 in 1880 and both of their fathers were also around the same age.
That is the confusion, but my certainty has grown to the point of dispelling any reasonable doubts. The most probable conclusion is that, as was originally claimed on my family tree, Thomas H. Lewis is my ancestor along with his wife Sarah Wininger. The other Thomas Lewis and his daughter apparently was just a strange coincidence of a parallel life. Of course, I could try to spice up my family tree by claiming that he was the same person who was a bigamist with two wives simultaneously in nearby counties and who used the same name for two of his daughters that were the same age. That is an interesting theory that technically can’t be disproven, but life is already complex enough without the need for multiple wives.
It seems I was on a wild goose chase. That is the way genealogy works. It was worth the effort, nonetheless. A researcher should never accept any unverified claim. I found the data to back up what was already in my family tree. I’ve presented my evidence and made my argument. Case closed.
To keep the practical in mind, the whole point of all this research was my upcoming visit to Kentucky. This Thomas H. Lewis was born in Kentucky. After all that work I did, I’d definitely like to find some local records or headstones in Kentucky that are related to him and his family line. Unfortunately, the county he was supposedly born in won’t be close enough to where I’ll be spending most of my time. Maybe I’ll have to do another trip sometime.