Hughes' Views & News

Errors in Genealogical Records: A Case Study

Posted in Genealogy by tahughesnc on June 26, 2014

UPDATE (posted Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014):  I am way overdue in posting this, but I am happy to report that the Alabama Department of Public Health has amended this death certificate as I requested.

I started my search for my great-great grandfather’s death certificate armed with what I thought was all of the correct information, which I provided on the application form that I sent to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

As the form requested, I gave his full name — James Thompson Hughes. I also gave the names of his parents, the dates of his birth and death, and the two Alabama counties where I thought he was likely to have been when he died, Fayette and Pickens. I even included a print out of his Find-A-Grave memorial, which showed that we was buried in the Ashcraft Corner Cemetery in Fayette County, when I mailed in my form and the required $15 payment.

After some time had passed, I received a letter saying they had conducted a search of death certificates from Fayette County but were not able to find one that matched the information I had provided.

However, I knew at the time there was a death certificate on file reporting that Thomas Hughes, an 89-year-old white, male widower, died near Millport, in Lamar County, Alabama, on June 30, 1919. My great-great grandfather was called “Thomps,” which was an abbreviation of his middle name, and which sounds a lot like “Thomas.” According to his headstone, “Thomps” died on June 29, 1919. And, he was an 89-year-old white, male widower at the time of his death.

Millport, Alabama is less than 15 miles from the cemetery where Thomps is buried. So, I ordered a copy of the death certificate for Thomas Hughes, which is shown below. I believe this is the death certificate for my great-great grandfather and that his first name was simply recorded incorrectly.

0478_001Notice that the physician who certified the cause of death was A. W. Clanton. He was Albert William Clanton, and he also happened to be the nephew of Thomps’ first wife, Epsey Clanton.

In addition, in 1900 when this Albert W. Clanton was 19 years old, he and his mother lived in a household in Palmetto, in Pickens County, that was headed by Essie Cornelia Dollar Hughes. In 1900 Cornelia, as she was called, was the widow of John B.D. Hughes, who was a son of Thomps and his first wife, Epsey Clanton.

All of these factors taken together convince me that the man whose death is recorded on this certificate was not “Thomas Hughes” but was instead my great-great grandfather, Thomps Hughes. I have submitted an official request asking the Alabama Department of Public Health to amend this death certificate accordingly. So far I have not received a reply to that request.

What are the take-away lessons for me in this? When doing genealogical research, sometimes you won’t find what you’re looking for if you only search for what you believe to be the “correct” name of your ancestor. In such cases, you need to consider the possibility that your ancestor’s official records, including death certificates, may have been recorded under an alternate spelling of your ancestor’s name, or even under the wrong name. You also need to consider the possibility that the county where your ancestor is buried may not necessarily be the county where your ancestor died.

 

Newspaper (mis)reports the death of James Thompson “Thomps” Hughes

Posted in Genealogy by tahughesnc on April 29, 2014

This one-sentence item ran on the front page of The Fayette (Alabama) Banner newspaper on Thursday, July 3, 1919:

The front page of The Fayette Banner from July 3, 1919 (as seen on microfilm).

The front page of The Fayette Banner from July 3, 1919 (as viewed on a microfilm reader).

 

Fayette Banner 2

This 21-word sentence contains two factual errors.

Mr. Thomas Hughes

Mr. Thomas Hughes, well known and highly respected citizen of the Ashcraft Corner community, died last Monday, and was buried Tuesday.

The name of the deceased was given as Thomas Hughes, but I believe this was an error. My great-great grandfather, James Thompson Hughes, was called “Thomps,” which is short for his middle name. “Thomps” and “Thomas” sound a lot alike, especially when “Thomps” is pronounced the way many Southerners would say it — as if it were a two-syllable word.

Thomps is buried at the Ashcraft Corner Cemetery in Fayette County, Alabama, and the date of death given on his headstone is June 29, 1919, which was a Sunday. The newspaper gave the day of death as Monday, which would have been June 30, 1919.

So, if I am right about this, and if the date of death on Thomps’ headstone is correct — then the newspaper managed to pack two factual errors into just one, 21-word sentence.

This may be the closest I’ll ever get …

Posted in Genealogy by tahughesnc on April 21, 2014

As I have written about before, I simply cannot say with any certainty at this point, based on the evidence I have in hand, exactly where my 4th great grandfather, Andrew Hughes (1755-1843) is buried.

The question of where my 3rd great grandfather, Andrew’s son, Elisha, is buried — is fraught with even more uncertainty.

James W. Hughes (1798-1881)

James W. Hughes (1798-1881)

But I can say with great certainty where Andrew’s son, and Elisha’s brother, James W. Hughes (1798-1881) is buried. And, it is that certainty that led me to take my chances on a rainy Saturday and drive more than 2 hours from Charlotte, N.C., down to the countryside outside Pickens, S.C., to see the cemetery where James W. was laid to rest some 133 years ago.

Also buried in the same cemetery is a son of James W., named Larkin Hughes. The fact that I am related to James W. and Larkin has been confirmed by the Y-DNA test I did with Family Tree DNA. A descendant of James W. and Larkin showed up as a match for me in the results I got from that test.

This is Bethlehem Church Cemetery, about 1.5 miles outside Pickens, S.C.

This is Bethlehem Church Cemetery, about 1.5 miles outside Pickens, S.C.

I’ve known about the locations of these graves for some time now. I’ve seen pictures of their headstones on Find-A-Grave and ancestry.com. I’ve viewed the cemetery and its surroundings on Google Earth. But for me, a tremendous amount of value comes from seeing places like this in person that cannot be replicated any other way.

After visiting the cemetery, I find myself left with many questions. Why, for example, is James W.’s headstone, which at this point is no longer legible, of such markedly poorer quality than that of his wife, Mary Jane Smith Hughes, who died 8 years before him? Was his family no longer able to afford to pay for a nice headstone by the time he died?

The headstone of James W. Hughes is on the left. His wife's headstone is on the right.

The headstone of James W. Hughes is on the left. His wife’s headstone is at right.

Did James W. ever meet his nephew, James Thompson “Thomps” Hughes (my great-great grandfather)? Did he know that Thomps, after being born in Habersham County, Georgia, ultimately settled in “the other Pickens County” (in Alabama) and lived the rest of his life there?

And what about Larkin Hughes, who was Thomps’ first cousin — did he ever meet Thomps? Both Larkin and Thomps fought as Confederate soldiers in the Civil War, and both suffered for the rest of their lives as a result of that experience. Were they even aware of each other’s existence?

There’s a good chance I may never find the answers to those questions. And, there’s a good chance I’ll never know for sure where my ancestors Andrew Hughes and his son, Elisha, are buried.

But, I feel better now after having seen the grave of James W. Hughes in person. Because that may be the closest I’ll ever get to the grave of any of my ancestors from that era.