Monday, April 22, 2019

Out of Place Records

A few years ago I performed a broad search at Ancestry for my great-great-grandfather, Dixon Bartley.  Based on other research, I believed he was born in Butler County, Pennsylvania, in about 1806, lived there his whole life, and died there in about 1900.  If I found any information other than census records in my Ancestry search, I expected his name to be in records for Butler County.

So it was a surprise to see Dixon's name as a result in Ancestry's Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Church and Town Records, 1708-1985 in the Durham Reformed Church, Durham, Bucks County, Pennsylvania collection.

I almost ignored the link thinking it couldn't possibly be him.  To my surprise, I found the names of Dixon along with other citizens of Butler County.  Could they all have moved together from that area to Bucks County?  If so, why would Dixon have moved more than 300 miles in his later years?

It took a bit of investigation to discover that the record I saw was from the pastoral record book of Rev. Charles F. Althouse, who had been assigned to St. Peter's Reformed Church in Fairview, Butler County, Pennsylvania, from February 15, 1897, to June 30, 1902.  Dixon and friends hadn't moved.

Rev. Althouse served in eight different locations, the last being Durham Reformed Church in Durham, Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  I assume that whoever catalogued these records at Ancestry checked the location at the beginning and end of the Rev. Althouse's record book but not the locations in the middle of the book.  It seems that because Rev. Althouse's last location of service was in Durham, these records were included in the Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Church and Town Records at Ancestry. 

Because I have more than a few ancestors who lived in this location at this time, Rev. Althouse's book was a boon to my research.  I found Dixon, his wife, Rebecca, and their son's father.  The records in the book also added some social history and context to the lives of those ancestors.

Don't be fooled by search results.  Just because the record seems like it couldn't possibly be for your ancestor because the stated location of the record is not where your ancestor lived, don't ignore it!  Some records are just out of place.  

This post was written for Amy Johnson Crow's 2019 version of 52 Ancestors.  The post topic for the week was "Out of Place."


Related Posts
Mixed/Misidentified Church Records on Ancestry - Church Record Sunday
Dixon Bartley - Church Record Sunday 

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  1. Wow, this is a great story and lesson. Your family didn't move - the minister did. This explanation is probably similar to why my 4X great-grandparents' marriage is recorded in 2 counties - the minister must have forgotten he already recorded it.

    1. Thanks, Wendy. When I first looked at the record I couldn't figure out what was going on. Good thing I was familiar with family names in Butler County. It is interesting to have your grandparents marriage in two places. Do both records give the same location for the marriage?

  2. Thanks, Nancy. I've found other place-naming problems in that particular collection. Sometimes it seems to be that a congregation changed names, or that one pastor served several congregations at once, but other times it seems to be volumes of several congregations' records lumped under one congregation's name. The collection has invaluable records, but it pays to look at page numbers and try to find the first page of the volume and not just the first image in the "film." If we can get to page 1 or something like it, it often gives the name of the congregation and location at the time the records began. Sometimes we can find an image of the modern-day church official's instructions for having the volume microfilmed (by the Penna. Historical Society or the equivalent NJ organization).

    1. You're right, Marian, that it's important to look at the page numbers and try to find the first page of the volume. I'm not sure how one would cite a source without all the added detail of figuring out the volume and page number. It takes longer but, in my opinion, very worth the time. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


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