I've been musing on children and parents, prompted by one of the Genealogy Do-Over topics this week: start with yourself, your birth, and go from there. My mind can meander wide.... This post may seem far afield from family history but for me it seems to get to the nitty gritty of genealogy. Please bear with me (if you choose to continue reading).
Everyone has parents: a mother and a father (though, admittedly, not every child grows up with parents). Learning who those parents are is part of the challenge of family history. In the past we relied on the honesty of the mother and/or father to identify themselves as the parents of the baby. But truly, only the mother and midwife/doctor are present at the birth. Only they can claim the mother's relationship to the baby. Only the mother truly can name the baby's father, and only so far as her relationship with only one man (him!) goes. In which case she can, with certainty, state the name of the father of the baby.
In past centuries, records primarily pertained to men: pre-1850 census records, tax records, deeds, wills, etc. In most of those cases women are an aside. We are hopeful and think ourselves lucky to find a mother, sister, daughter named in the will of one of the males in her family -- one of our male ancestors, assuming the mothers have been accurate in declaring the names of the fathers.
In the mid-1800s some states and counties began recording births, including the names of the parents. If we're searching for ancestors during that time period, we may be successful in finding recorded names for babies and parents.
For the most part, though, so much of genealogy seems hidden behind the wall of men in families. Last year I spent some time researching Rebecca (Smith) Bartley's parents. Thomas Smith was named as her father in a newspaper article and she was named as his daughter in his will. In November or early December, another Smith descendant contacted me and invited me to join her and two others who are in search of Thomas Smith's wife and other family members. Based on the information they've found, they suspect that Thomas Smith was married twice and that Rebecca was a child of Thomas and his first wife and that the other children were from Thomas and a second wife, possibly Martha Redick/Reddick. They are descendants of Thomas and Martha. If they are correct about Thomas having two wives, I would be a descendant of Thomas and his first wife.
If Rebecca's mother was Thomas's first wife, how will I ever know her name? How will I ever find who she is? What records could there possibly be that would name her? (Rebecca was born in 1820 before births, with parents' names, were recorded.) Thomas Smith did not name her -- did not name either wife -- in his will. Without some hint as to her name I am without hope of finding her.
That parent-child relationship is everything in genealogy. We trust that the records accurately record the names of parents. And then we sometimes have such a hard time finding those parents again.
See more at Week 2 Genealogy Do-Over and Genealogy Do-Over at bagtheweb.com.
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