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Friday, 10 August 2012

A Trio of MIstakes - 52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy

Learning from Mistakes is the latest topic from Amy at http://wetree.blogspot.com/ in conjunction with Geneabloggers, in the series of prompts on the theme of 52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy.

Genealogy research mistakes are wonderful learning experiences. They can be blessings when they show you how to improve your genealogy research. Which  genealogy research mistake in your past has provided the most benefit to your present?  How did you discover the mistake?

Which Ellen Danson married Ralph Dewhurst?
My four times great grandfather John Danson had a daughter Ellen Danson, baptised at St. Chad's Church in 1763 (Poulton Parish Register, Lancashire). In searching for a marriage I came across an Ellen Danson marrying a Ralph Dewhurst - and made the basic fatal family history mistake. I assumed this must be my Ellen.

Some years later I had contact from a fellow Danson researcher who thought that that my John and his Richard were brothers, both sons of Peter Danson. Richard had six daughters including an Ellen, born 1768 who my contact believed married Ralph Dewhurst.

I then  received an e-mail from a fellow member of the  Lancashire Family History and Heraldic Society who had in her family an Ellen Danson (daughter of Raplh Danson) and guess what - this Ellen married Ralph Dewhurst.  So who was right?

In my favour is that Ellen and Ralph appeared to name their eldest daughter Margaret, (the name of "my" Ellen's mother) and second son John after her father - so following the traditional naming pattern in the north of England and Scotland. On the other hand these are Christian names in popular use, and "my" Ellen would have been 33 years of age on marriage, which seems quite old for the time.
What is certain is that an Ellen Danson was born to my ancestors John Danson and Margaret Fayle, and that an Ellen Danson married a Ralph Dewhurst at the same church in 1796, but which Ellen was she?
Unfortunately the records available do not throw any light on this mystery and the message to me is a strong one - DO NOT MAKE ASSUMPTIONS!

A False Trail   -  
For many years when researching my husband's Donaldson family, I made serious wrong assumptions. 

I traced the family easily through census returns and old parish records to the marriage of Samuel Donaldson and Ann Howieson in South Leith, Midlothian, Scotland in 1759.
Marriage entry for Samuel Donaldson in the Old Parish Records for South Leith , Midlothian, 1759

Then I reached the proverbial brick wall in trying to prove Samuel's parentage.

In the Old Parish Records, there was a Samuel Donaldson born in 1729 in Kirkbean, Kirkcudbrightshire on the south west coast of Scotland. This very much appealed to me - the date was about right, the coastal location on the banks of the Solway Firth in south west Scotland fitted with Samuel's later life as a merchant in a seaport and Kirkbean had an interesting history as the birthplace of John Paul Jones, found of the American navy.   I know - not exactly convincing research conlusions!   On the bass of following ancestral roots, we even had an enjoyable short break exploring the area.  

It was only many years later when I was writing the narrative of the Donaldson family history, that I stopped suddenly and thought - I have absolutely no proof that the Samuel Donaldson, born Kirkbean,  was the same person as the Samuel Donaldson who married 30 years later in Leith and was my husband's G.G.G.G.G. Grandfather.

I had another look at the ScotlandsPeople website (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/) and there were only 3 entries for a Samuel Donaldson born in Scotland in the relevant period:
1729 - Samuel son of John and Jean
1725 - Samuel, son of James and Jean
1752 - Samuel, son of John and Janet

The traditional naming pattern can sometime be a clue to identifying the "right" person. However Samuel's firstborn son was named David (probably after his maternal grandfather), though second son was John. None of his five sons was called James, and none of his three daughters named Jean or Janet.

Given that it was not compulsory to register births, marriages and deaths, perhaps there is simply no record of Samuel's birth and no evidence to confirm the names of his parents.

So years of assumption and work on the background history of Kirkbean came to nothing, though we did enjoy our holiday there.   And the lesson  - DON'T JUMP TO CONCLUSIONS


The Puzzle of Peter
Early on in my Danson family history, my aunt recounted a story of her grandfather James having a younger brother buried in St. Chad's Churchyard, Poulton-le-Fylde. I soon found in the local library a Danson entry in an "Index to Graves" which I noted down as:

Henry Danson, who died 27th October 1881 aged 75 years.

Elizabeth Danson, wife of Henry Danson,
died 8th April 1879 aged 67 years.

Peter Danson, son of the above who departed this life
18th May 1866 aged 12 years.

Sacred to the memory of James,
son of Henry and Elizabeth Danson.

This quick confirmation of the younger brother of James Danson delighted me and indicated the young Peter was born 1853-4, so would have been about 8 years old at the time of the 1861 census. However no entry in the census records had been found of him locally. He was not at the home of his parents of any of his older married sisters, nor was a record of his birth traced.

Moreover when help was sought from the Blackpool Registrar, the only relevant certificate related to Peter, the brother of Henry Danson, who died aged 72 of apoplexy on 18th May 1866 at Back Street, Poulton. The informant was Jas Brownhill, of Tithe Barn Street Poulton, who was present at his death - thought to be the husband of Peter’s niece Margaret Danson. The burial entry in the St Chad’s Church Register is rather faint but the age given is clearly 72 not 12.

As a further check I later obtained a copy of the monumental inscription from Poulton Library to discover that I had originally recorded the entries in the wrong order, and this subtly changed their meaning. The correct order was:

Sacred to the memory of James,
son of Henry and Elizabeth Danson
(I now realise this refers to 15 year old James, son of Henry Danson and Elizabeth Brown, who died in 1827, and not as first thought my great grandfather James)

Also of Peter Danson, son of the above
who departed this life 18th May 1866 aged 12 years.
(Was this a confusion between 12 and 72
in recording the age for the Index ?)


Also of Elizabeth, wife of Henry Danson

who died April 8th 1879 aged 67years.

Also of Henry Danson

who died October 27th 1881 aged 75 years

By changing the order in which I had originally written down the inscriptions to give emphasis to “my” James parents (above), I had completely misinterpreted the entries - not helped of course by the repetition of the same Christian names down the generations.

That I had made a mistake was further confirmed when I found in a history of St. Chad’s Church that the graveyard had been closed in 1883, so the James Danson buried there could not be the James Danson my great grandfather who died in 1906.  

hether there was a young Peter remains doubtful, and perhaps the family recollection was on this occasion wrong. 


St. Chad's Churchyard, Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire  where
my Danson ancestors were baptsied, married & buried.


  1. Very wise and insightful advice Susan. Using your own mistakes to highlight the potential hazards is very helpful.

  2. Since I have not ever actively done any of this research, I have not encountered any such problems. However, just looking at our family tree and reading through the history that some family members have written up I can see how the repetition of certain names could lead to confusion.

    Wrote By Rote


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