barry miller

Evidence 2.0

In Evidence on February 18, 2011 at 5:05 pm

I have to credit a family member, albeit a distant one, for making me think more rigorously about genealogical evidence. The thought occurred while I was reading about another family—the Leverings (who married into the Dehavens, who married into the Millers), in Col. John Levering’s book Levering Family History and Genealogy. The link is to a copy of that book in the Google Books library. It is free.

Google Books is a fantastic resource, and has a number of genealogy books in digital form. Some are free; others cost money. I was fortunate to find two free books on the Levering family history on Google Books. Less fortunate was the author of the first book Horatio Gates Jones, who was scorned by Col. John for his less-than-rigorous approach to assessing evidence. Col. John describes Mr. Jones, on the first page of his preface, as a “boyhood friend.” That friendship did not compel Col. John to give a good review to Mr. Jones’ work:

I contemplated an easy start in the genealogical feature, by beginning where he ended, save supplying the poverty of dates which characterized his publication. I found this a difficult undertaking. A third of a century had elapsed since he gleaned the field. A generation had passed away, and the scent had become cold. Notwithstanding these advantages, the emendations must be undertaken, as his work needs clothing.

Mr. Jones was not the only family member who earned Col. John’s wrath. As most authors do who write a preface, he devoted part of it thanking those who had helped him. Unlike any other author I ever read, the Colonel added a section berating those who had not helped:

Adversely, there are others whom I might name, but who should be grateful to me for the several return postage stamps which each absorbed. When I addressed educated, cultured persons, I felt sure of a prompt return, but my very numerous letters of inquiry exposed the existence of some mere bas-reliefs in the connection; lacking individuality.

In all well regulated families there are persons, who, when weaned as calves, have Topsy’s idea of parentage. The Bible says of such: “For he beholdeth himself and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.”

I might dip my stylus in gall and draw pen pictures of a few, but perhaps I had better—don’t!

Levering Family History, Preface, p. 11.

I can only applaud Col. John’s restraint. Imagine the scolding that his unhelpful correspondents might have received if he hadn’t held back.

But the Colonel’s anger was one that all family researchers must feel at some time. They seek the truth about their family’s history, and sometimes the truth resists finding. Like the Colonel, they keep looking. He went a long way toward explaining why we keep looking by quoting Daniel Webster: “Men who are regardless of their ancestors and their posterity are very apt to be regardless of themselves.”

It helps my review genealogical evidence to wonder whether my conclusion would satisfy Col. John.

  1. Welcome to the Geneabloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill 😉
    Author of “Back to the Homeplace”
    and “13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories”

  2. Thanks, Dr. Bill. I appreciate the welcome. I hope to be able to tell Barnett’s story someday.

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