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Branches, Twigs, & Roots, Issue #011 -- Placing Ancestors with their Parents
July 03, 2012

Hello, and welcome to the latest edition of Branches, Twigs, and Roots!

Genealogy Tip of the Month

When trying to determine
which of several people with the same name
is your ancestor,
look for clues that would eliminate some
- or all but one -
of the contenders.

Your Brick Walls

This month’s brick wall deals with two families in the district with the same surname, which both have a child of the same name. Here's what our contributor wrote:

" My 4th great grandmother, Nancy Oldham, married James Sewell. She was born in 1786 in Servier, TN, and died in McMinn, TN. Her father was James Oldham, and her mother Leah Stephens. Both parents were from the VA area.

My problem is that, at the time James Oldham was born and lived, there were 2 Oldham families in the same area and both families had members with the same name. How can I figure out which Oldham is mine? "

This is a situation often faced by family historians. The farther back in time, and the scarcer the records, the more difficult it is to determine which family a particular person (in this case, James Oldham) belongs to.

The problem often is exacerbated by family naming patterns, in which couples named their children after their own parents and grandparents. This resulted in several grandchildren of the same name, and mass confusion for us, in attempting to sort them all out a few centuries later!

I was not able to locate the families in question, so can only make general comments.

In these circumstances, my approach would be to look for clues that would eliminate one of the families as a contender. This would involve looking at all available records.

One of the first records I would look for would be the wills of the two prospective fathers. These generally are "snap-shots in time", and usually name all living children at the time the will was written. In many cases, they also mention in passing the occupations and locations of the children. This could well provide evidentiary clues that will help to sort out which family your James belongs to.

Other sources I would look into right away would be any available records which tend to list parents as a matter of course. These would include:

  • death records for James Oldham. Often, there was an 'informant' listed (the person who provided details with respect to the deceased's name, etc.). This person often was a child, or the spouse of a child, of the deceased.

    The record may provide the names of the parents. If indeed the informant was a child of the deceased, you would have the names of three generations of the same family, and (assuming you have a list of the family members in each grouping) can therefore determine which set of parents belong to your James Oldham.

  • the marriage record for James and Leah. While some older records list only the names of the bride and groom, others provide the names of parents, and/or of witnesses to the marriage. Witnesses to the marriage often (but not necessarily) were family members. Either set of names could provide vital clues as to which family the James who married Leah belonged to.

You could also look at land petition records, or any records relating to the purchase and sale of land. Your James Oldham may well have fought in the American Revolutionary War, and may have been granted land as a reward for service.

Depending on when he and Leah were married, his military service record may provide that missing piece of information that connects the generations.

That is, if all of the other information in the service record indicates that this is 'your' James Oldham, and he listed his 'next of kin' as his mother, you have your answer!

However, if he and Leah were already married, he would list her and his children as dependents, and this would not be overly helpful.

I would also look at settlement patterns, as families tended to settle in the same area, and fairly close to each other. In many cases, they also moved together as a group to a new location.

Hopefully, those few pointers will help in teasing out which James Oldham is yours, and you can get farther along on that line!

News, Stories, Contests, etc.

A reminder about the contest currently running at!

It runs until July 8, so get your entries in soon!

Details and the entry form can be found here.

R.I.P. to Andy Griffiths, who died today at the age of 86.

A well-known public figure and a beloved actor, he is best remembered for his roles as Sheriff Andy Taylor in Mayberry, and as Ben Matlock.

More information here

After that sad bit of news, here's a genealogy saying to brighten your day, courtesy of My Heritage:

"Genealogy: A hay stack full of needles.
It's the threads I need."

To access this month's webinars, click here

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