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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Don't Let Research Flaws Multiply!

Carrol asked an intriguing question about her great-grandmother from Ireland to Boston and on to Ontario Canada in 1847. My interest was piqued so I decided to do some research on her behalf. That led me down some very interesting paths and sadly (for Carrol), the conclusion that her original research is flawed!

Having errors creep into our genealogy research is not unusual. It's not always easy to keep on an accurate path in the excitement (and desperation) of the search for ancestors.

Carrol, let me show you what I found versus what you presented to me below. I'm going to go step by step through your email and insert my comments, sources and details.

I'm trying to find any information on my great grandmother, Ann Whelan. Apparently from Cork.

She came to Canada in 1849, according to the 1901 Census.

Ask Olive Tree: Carrol, the year of immigration is the most MIS-remembered of all years, so be cautious taking one source (the 1901 census) and using the immigration year as set in stone. Always allow a few years on either side, and better still, try to find another source which provides an immigration date.

I have a FTM disk listing passengers from Ireland. There is an Ann Whelan from Cork arriving at the port of Boston in 1847. She is 14 yrs. of age (which corresponds with previously found information) & is accompanied by her brother, Thomas Whelan. At least I assume Thomas is her brother. Ann is a spinster, Thomas a bachelor. This ships list is for the Brig Mary. On OliveTree ships list for this ship & date there is no Ann or Thomas Whelan listed.

Ask Olive Tree: Carrol where do I start? You sent me to my Ships Passenger Lists on my Olive Tree Genealogy site

I don't see a passenger list for a ship MARY from Ireland to Boston in 1847 on my site.  I do have a list for a ship called CATHERINE MARY sailing from Bermuda to Boston in 1847, but no other lists to Boston that year.

Next problem - your statement that Thomas and Ann are travelling *together* on *the Brig Mary Ann* and that Ann is *from Cork* (or are saying that the ship sailed from Cork??)

Those statements are all incorrect. I first checked FTM's CD #256 "Passenger and Immigration Lists Boston 1821-1850" because to help researchers I need to be able to DUPLICATE their findings! In other words I need to find what they found so I can see if there are clues that might have been missed.

What I found was that the index shows an Ann WHALAN (note the spelling. A little friendly tip is to quote your source exactly as recorded, as this helps the person you are writing to), age 14 arriving in Boston 24 May 1847.

No ship name is given but the orginal source microfilm is noted as M277 Roll 22. This is the correct film for those Boston Passenger Lists. So far so good except remember that NO SHIP'S NAME is given. A Thomas WHALAN is also noted (as you mentioned) but again - no ships name is given.

I next went to Boston Ships Passenger Lists via Steve Morse's One Step Search Engine. I found Ann, and also Thomas listed in the online index search. Both arrived in Boston on 24 May 1847. But they were NOT on the same ship!

14 year old Ann Whalan is noted as sailing on the ship OMEGA (not Brig Mary !) Her place of origin is Ireland. She is not travelling with Thomas WHALAN. 17 year old Thomas is sailing on MINSTREL. Both ships left Liverpool (not Cork) and sailed to Boston. Thomas is listed as being of English origin, not Irish.

So your assumption that they are brother and sister may be correct, but it's not looking very likely. Your statement that they were on board the same ship (the Brig Mary) is not correct.

There *was* a ship Mary that sailed to Boston from Cork Ireland but it arrived May 17, 1847 and was refused entry so sailed on to Halifax Nova Scotia.

In 1856 Ann Whelan is at Clarence Creek, Ontario where she is married to my ggrandfather, Jean Baptiste (John) Payie (PayƩ, Paille, Payet, Payette, etc.!!). In September of that year she has given birth to her first child, under the name Payette. I know nothing else about Ann except that she undoubtedly was one of the Famine Irish.

Ask Olive Tree: Another gentle piece of advice - please give locations in full when asking for help. I have no idea where Clarence Creek is so I had to scramble around to find it.

On the 1901 Census for Nipissing there is a Thomas Whelan listed along with his two sons, Stephen & James. Their names have been scratched off with the notation "they had already left the area"
Ask Olive Tree: You sent me scrambling again. does not have these three names. I used wildcards. I used date of birth only for Thomas. I tried every trick I could think of and nothing.

So I went to and found them. But here is the interesting part - and I must add that I consulted the actual image of the census page - there are no ages given for Thomas, James or Stephen. There are no locations of birth. So how can you (and why would you?) assume that Thomas is the father?

It might be more likely to theorize that they are three brothers, possibly the sons I found for a Thomas Whelan and wife Sarah living in Admaston, Renfrew Ontario. (found in 1871 and 1881 census) The point is that we do not know their relationship to each other!

Also, several names are crossed out before getting to the Payette individual. The notation does not read "they had already left the area" A check of the image shows it to read " Left before the arrival of [illegible]"

Am I being too nit-picky? NO! Please read my blog post called "The Importance of Being a Copy-Cat" which is about copying original records EXACTLY as we see them, not as we interpret them, not as we want them to read but as they were written. It's important to realize that this notation might mean that the 3 men (and note it refers to all 3, not just Stephen and James) simply were not home when the census taker came around. It might also mean that they had moved away. We don't know the meaning, and thus it is important to copy it accurately.

Along with this Thomas Whelan & his 2 sons, is James Payette, a Shanty Man. There is no question that this James Payette is my great uncle, the son of Ann Whelan & John Pay(ie).
Ask Olive Tree:  The Census image does not show "James Payette" as you stated. It reads "William J. Payette" He states he was born Dec 22, 1860, and is married. I have no way of knowing if this is your great-uncle. But it would have been helpful to have known this was the name on that 1901 census. No wonder I could not find him on when I tried to duplicate what you had found.

The name James strikes me as being a "family" given name for the family of Ann. My reasoning being that all the other children of Ann & John appear to have French names.

Ask Olive Tree: I wondered what you meant by "French names" so I had a look for the family in census records. In 1871 they were in Clarence, Russell District Ontario. The children's names are given as: Julia, James, Ellen, Alexander, John and Nelson. Those are not French names. They are very common N. American or English or Irish names! My own great grandfather (Irish) was named Alexander. So your conclusion that James was a family name may be based on incorrect reasoning.

My question is:How do I find out what happened to the Ann & Thomas Whelan after they arrived in Boston in 1847?

Ask Olive Tree: Carrol, I don't think that's what you need to do. I hope I've shown you to your satisfaction that your original research is flawed. There is no shame in that, but it does mean that you need to start over.

My suggestions follow:

* Document your Ann Whelan very carefully.

* Don't jump to conclusions without having accurate sources to support them.

* Don't theorize without some evidence to support your theory.

* Go slowly and be careful that you are marking down your information accurately.

* Assess what you've found and go from there working backwards as you go.

Be prepared that if your great grandmother sailed directly from Ireland to Canada, you may not ever find her on a ships' passenger list. Those are challenging years, as Canada did not require that passenger manifests be archived before 1865. I've provided a URL ("challenging years") which will give you a list of all available ships passenger lists to Canada in the time period you want. Any that are online are clickable links.

It was much cheaper to sail to Canada and if she fled Ireland during the famine, it is unlikely she had much money. Just something to keep in mind.

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