THE BLOG

You Know What Happens in Genealogy When You Assume!

31/03/2014 13:35 BST | Updated 31/05/2014 10:59 BST

No matter how long I have been working in genealogy and family history, every so often I find that I need a bit of a reminder, or a kick in the tush, to not fall into the trap of assumption. After all, I know full well what happens when I assume ... as they say, 'it makes an ass out of you and me'.

I'd like to share a recent example when, unfortunately, once again I found myself hoisted with my own petard as a result of some unfortunate genealogical assuming on my part.

I had been working on a set of Phillipps ancestral probate records from the middle 1600s in the parishes of St. Teath and Lanteglos by Camelford when I came across the name of a property owned, and passed down within the family, by the name of Culloden. It wasn't long before I discovered a newspaper account from the March 29, 1823 edition of the Royal Cornwall Gazette headlined "Nisi Prius. Borough of Camelford~Battle of Culloden!" In this article was the following sentence:

"It appears that a person named Phillips, to whom Culloden belonged, devised it in trust for the benefit of his four sons, who were not of age at the time of his death." The only clue as to which branch of our Phillips family this 'Battle' belonged was the mention of the name of only one of the four sons, who at the time of the court case was still a minor, "Arthur Phillips".

I assumed the newspaper account was accurate. How silly!

I spent many hours working on tracking down said "Arthur Phillips", which was a name that had never shown up at any other time in our genealogy. There were plenty of additional clues though. There were multiple parties to this 'Battle of Culloden' and several of the surnames involved showed up in our family tree: Rosevear, Cock, Pearce, Tabb, and others. But in spite of the hours I spent looking, I could not come close to finding 'Arthur'.

So I finally decided the only place I might discover the answer would be in the records of the Court. I called on a wonderful researcher, Duncan Harrison, for help and it wasn't long before information began to pour into my inbox from the National Archives in Kew.

Was I surprised! In the dozens of images that Duncan provided was finally the clue that made me say aloud "Geeze, Scott, you should never assume in genealogy!"

But what was this clue? We saw found, hidden in one parties' answers to the interrogatories, was the sworn statement that the 'testator' who had died 'some years back' had been William Phillipps and that he had bequeathed Culloden not to Phillipps brothers, but to four Chapman brothers. There it was, in black and white (and parchment)!

What was it that we have here now? Cousins perhaps? We are hard at work finding the Chapman brothers, their parents, and their connection to the Phillipps family. Next stop: the Estate Duty Register Records.

I'd have been there far quicker had I not assumed!