Verify what? Part Two

Alicia Crane WilliamsCollect and compare as many different published versions of the subject as you can. Often there is one old surname genealogy and/or a “dictionary” of settlers. Then there will be some accounts of different branches in some “all-my-ancestors” volumes (often seen in Torrey’s New England Marriages Prior to 1700 – see the new version of Torrey on that now takes you to the image of the full page from the book, allowing you to see and print all of the entries with the same surname together.)

“All-my-ancestor” works – the best example of which is still Mary Walton Ferris’ massive two-volume treatment on the ancestors of Vice President Rufus R. Dawes, Dawes-Gates Ancestral Lines, a Memorial Volume… (Milwaukee: privately printed, 1931–43) [available in digital form online in various places such as and] – usually treat only one line of descent from an immigrant ancestor, but they very often provide updated accounts and sources for the first one or two generations and can save you a lot of updating effort.

Then there will likely be some published additions, extensions, and/or corrections in the major genealogical periodicals, such as The New England Historical and Genealogical Register. Keep up with what is in print by accessing periodicals on and through source indexes like New Englanders in the 1600s: A Guide to Genealogical Research Published Between 1980 and 2010.

Once you have all the different versions you can find together, start typing everything into a “dump” draft with footnotes, noting differences among the accounts. See which ones were copied verbatim from earlier versions and which ones add new information. Highlight dates, places, questions that need to be checked out. My dump drafts look like rainbow beach towels with all the different color highlights, but they give me a visual idea of how cohesive (or not) the sources are. Also, look for missing sources such as probate records, deeds, church, and town records, highlighting questions about them – e.g., Probate Plymouth County? Middlesex Court Records? Findagrave? – and see what you can access at the library or online (the first two mentioned, of course, are on

You obviously won’t be able to verify everything, especially when working in areas and times that have few available sources or where the references are to obscure, unpublished, or private records you cannot easily check, but making a habit of “auditing” the things that you can access will give you a feel for how to judge which sources are more (or less) reliable than others.


P.S. I need ideas for post topics. Let me know about the types of problems with which you are dealing, and I will see if I can come up with something helpful.

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.

22 thoughts on “Verify what? Part Two

  1. Topic suggestion: how about something on getting more out of land records? I acquire them but I often don’t feel I utilize them to their fullest potential. Thanks for all the great posts!

  2. “Vice President Rufus R. Dawes”? – Nope…Rufus R was FATHER of VP Charles Gates Dawes!

  3. I would love to see an example of your “collect and compare” documents. Do you use a table or Excel or something else?

    1. Rachelle, I simply start typing the material in the Early New England Families format, which helps to organize them. Starting with one source, hopefully, the most useful one, I fill in the form and then go back and add from the second source. I’ll try to find an example of a “dump” draft to post.

  4. I always enjoy your posts – very informative and you write well. As an idea for future posts, how about something- anything- to do with the NEHGS library? I know it has lots of books and other things (remember fondly and wish you still had the circulating library), but seldom hear anything specific. Example – what did you use there to solve a problem? Or something there that can’t be found elsewhere. Or an inconsistency you found there. Just about anything because you give me ideas for my research.

  5. Topic suggestion: what documentation is acceptable for admission to Society for Mayflower Descendants. I’m “allegedly” descended from William Brewster through his son Jonathan.

    1. Jean, the first thing to do is contact the Mayflower Society to find out how much of the line has previously been filed — they have over 90,000 lineages. They have a “Preliminary Review” process for this on their website – -
      There is a fee and probably a backlog of inquiries, but they will be able to tell you where your documentation has to begin.

      Good topic for a post.

  6. You asked for topic suggestions. I suspect my great-grandfather was either separated, or divorced from my great-grandmother. He lived for a while in a Boston hotel. Sometime I’d like to pursue trying to verify this. Might this be a topic of interest?
    (Eugene Kincaid Dunbar (1847-1915 Attleboro & Boston) and Janette Everett Richardson (184501932 same area)

  7. How about any old marine records that might provided documentation? Bills of lading….ships’ crews’ lists….old captains’ logs…..governor’s records from Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket or up in Maine, Boston, Plymouth, Provincetown.

    Did they have harbor pilots in the old days? Did they keep records of the comings and the goings? Taxes?

    How about something about the old “lost graveyards” of the Cape…..the graveyard in Provincetown has relatively new graves, nothing like the old ones in Eastham, Orleans, Chatham, Sandwich. I think it might have been closer to the original settlement out on the inland lakes which were at one time an Atlantic-side harbor.

    Truro has also lost one of its graveyards….out on South Pamet Rd.

    These were some of the first comers to the cape….and seven of Plymouth’s first Mayflower families moved out there around 1641, so there are interesting families.


    1. Jane, all good ideas, thanks. Depends on your definition of the “old days” is. No harbor pilots or tax lists in the 17th century, but a good source to check now that it is on the databases is The Great Migration Newsletter, vols. 1-20. Bob Anderson has done thorough research on ships, passenger lists etc. during the Great Migration. I’ll see if I can come up with some other suggestions.

  8. I’ve got a couple of brick walls if you want to tackle them; one in Vermont circa 1830, one in New York or Quebec circa 1850, and one in Pennsylvania before 1790. All involve mysterious men with no apparent point of origin until they or their child marries into the line. If you’d like to take on these fellows, I’d love to learn more about them.

    1. Anne, quite a challenge, but I’ll have to pass! These are the mysteries that make us all turn green, but one never knows what new source will be digitized next and out will pop your answers — we can hope, at least.

  9. Topic suggestion: migration patterns. One of my brick walls is my third great-grandfather George Farrington, born 1805 in MA. By about 1830 he was in French Canada and married a woman named Isabel, had two children, and by 1838 had moved to Porter County, IN, near Valparaiso, where they spent the rest of their lives. I’ve had no luck in finding George’s parents or Isabel’s maiden name. Also, the Vice President was indeed General Charles Gates Dawes — I volunteered as a docent at his house, which is home to the Evanston, IL Historical Society, when I was in high school way back in the last century!

    1. Steven, Nice duty at General Dawes’ home. I may need some help from other readers about a migration pattern from Mass. to Canada to Indiana in the early 19th century. I have seen similar patterns in Mayflower lineages, but have not studied whether there is a particular part of Mass. that took that route. Are they any other MA-CAN-IN families that show up in the censuses that you might be able to track back to MA and see if there are Farringtons in the same area?

  10. Alicia:
    I believe you have not followed you own advice in footnote 11 of your sketch on Thomas Starr, where you state that “Herodius (Long) Hicks deserted her first husband,” perhaps based solely on His petition for divorce. More objective records show that she stayed put in Rhode Island, while he picked up and moved to Long Island.
    Please consider further discussing this matter in a forthcoming sketch for Herodius Long Hicks Gardiner Porter. with many children by three different husbands, she certainly meets your criteria for her own sketch.

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