‘Fake News’ , ‘alternative facts’, conflicting genealogical evidence, whatever title you use, how do you apply it when researching your Kerry ancestors? In other words, what ‘facts’ can you believe in?
Just because you are on a certain genealogy website, and you find a name exactly or similar to your ancestor who lived at approximately the same time, do you immediately ‘adopt’ this person into your family tree? Do you check where this information came from? Is it cited? Can you check back to the original birth/baptism/marriage record? Is this information that you are looking at, copied or just plain incorrect? I can understand the excitement of finding a name, a date that resonates, either on a genealogy site or a suggestion from a Facebook ‘friend’. But stop there, check it out, how genuine is it? Can it be backed up with documentary proof? Even then, is it YOUR ancestor or just maybe your ancestor. The best advice I can give to anyone searching for ancestors, drawing up family trees or just trying to find Who Do You Think You Are is to stick to the five rules of the Genealogical Proof Standard (below).
This week I want to highlight two very simple ‘facts’ which turn out not the be ‘facts’ at all.
A reader asked me if Peig Sayers mother might be related as he just saw on Wikipedia that Peg Brosnachán her mother was from Castleisland and his Brosnan relatives were natives of the same place. I happen to be an admirer of the same Peig, even though I know she is gone out of favour as it were but I have a family photo on display of my parents Dan and Margaret Moloney taken with Peig while on their honeymoon in 1939 in Dunquin.
Before I checked, it occurred to me that it would be very strange that a Castleisland woman would go fifty miles, most likely walking, in the month of March weather in 1851, in the dying days of the Great Famine, to meet the man of her dreams. Sure enough, when I went back over the documentary proof, while the marriage in 1851 of her parents Thomas Sears and Margaret Brosnan is recorded, there is no record of a home address of either party or of their parents. So how do we know that Margaret Brosnan was not from Castleisland?
Well firstly check the land records for the period. Here we are lucky in that Griffiths Valuation has been published for this part of the country dated 1852 one year after the marriage. And here we find John Brosnahan occupying a house at Coomeenole North at that time. (Spellings in the 19th century don’t come into ‘facts’, just ignore). This of course is not documentary evidence that Margaret is a daughter of John Brosnan. A phone call to a native of Dunquin, with longstanding knowledge of the area and its people, a check through Bryan MacMahon’s translation of Peig, the autobiography of Peig Sayers of the Great Blasket Island and I am satisfied that Peig’s mother was a native of the Dunquin area and her husband Thomas was from Kilvickadownig. Is this proof good enough that her mother is not from Castleisland? The good people of that town might not agree with me but I feel that this research is up to Genealogical Proof Standard whereas the Wikipedia fact is not backed up by any citation or research.
Another ‘fact’ which I discovered a few years ago was the birth date of Tom Crean, famous Kerry Polar Explorer.
I read in a respected book (published in 2000) that Tom Crean was born on 20 July 1877 and his birthday was celebrated on social media on this date for a number of years. This is a marvelous book about a a very brave Kerryman and I am not in any way being critical of the incorrect date. It was extremely difficult to find the birth certificate. When asked by the family go back over Tom’s history, I could easily find all of his siblings, his parents’ marriage etc etc but no baptism and no birth. Because I had the advantage of a genealogical training I was lucky enough to find it. Tom Crean was the son of Patrick Crean and Kate Courtney.
According to his birth certificate (above), Tom Crean was born on 25 Febraury 1877 and his mother is named on the certificate as Kate Cournane. Both these names Courtney/Cournane are interchangeable in Kerry but not a lot of people would know this. His baptism is not recorded on www.IrishGenealogy.ie but his sister Johanna is recorded as being baptised in Annauscal on 15 February 1877! The same year and same month as Tom. There is no Civil Birth record of a Johanna Crean born to Patrick Crean and Kate Courtney/Cournane so more than likely this is a wrong transcription of Tom’s baptism.
So what is a ‘fact’ ?
Stick to the Genealogical Proof Standard (below), cite your own sources as you find them and you can’t go too far wrong.
The purpose of the Genealogical Proof Standard is to show what the minimums are that a genealogist must do for his or her work to be credible.
There are five elements to the Genealogical Proof Standard:
- Reasonably exhaustive research has been conducted.
- Each statement of fact has a complete and accurate source citation.
- The evidence is reliable and has been skillfully correlated and interpreted.
- Any contradictory evidence has been resolved.
- The conclusion has been soundly reasoned and coherently written.
Any proof statement is subject to re-evaluation when new evidence arises.