Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Watch out for those false leads-the Mary J. saga continues

So I thought I had made some headway today in the continuing tale of finding Mary J Braden/Hawkins Bromagem's family. Unfortunately it turned into a cautionary tale of checking all of your leads thoroughly before jumping to conclusions. So for those of you who may think that suspicion is sufficient evidence for making those next generation connections, read on.

I was checking googlebooks for really anything that was of interest and came across the old faithful, the "History of Jay County, Indiana" book that I had seen a few interesting excerpts from in the past. This time though, one of the entries took on new meaning when I saw that the father of Mary J.'s husband had sold property in Jay Co. in 1860 to a B.W. Hawkins. Knowing that I was looking for Hawkins as well as Bradens in the counties surrounding Randolph Co., IN, of which Jay is one, I went straightaway to ancestry.com and searched the 1860 census for Hawkins in Jay county. B.W. showed up as Benjamin W. Hawkins and he and his wife, Caroline, had several children all aged appropriately to be siblings for my Mary J. So I tracked them back to 1850 and there they were again except this time they had another daughter, a Mary J., born abt 1839/1840. The exact age that my Mary J. would have been.

So this was looking like a great lead. I automatically started scouring googlebooks and yahoo for more on Benjamin W. Hawkins and came up with a great deal. Apparently he was from an OH and IN pioneering family with a few Rev War vets in his lineage, according to a DAR lineage book from the 1890s. He held several offices in Jay Co. during the 1850s and 1860s including County Clerk and Sheriff and his mother's homestead was a stop on the Underground Railroad. The whole family, including Benjamin, were active abolitionists and guided several groups of runaway slaves to freedom. They were a really exciting family to read about and even more exciting was finding additional sources which named a daughter for him as Mary J. Hawkins. But none said what happened to her. She appears with her family in 1850 and is gone by 1860. Did she die, or get married? Was she staying with a relative elsewhere? My Mary J got married in 1855 so finding out what happened to Benjamin's daughter, Mary J. was essential.

Unfortunately I ran into a speedbump when I found a biography for Benjamin which stated that Mary had died by the time of the publication in the 1880s. Knowing that 19th c. compiled genealogies aren't exactly the most reliable things in the world I kept looking for more. This bio stated that all of the Hawkins family had been buried in the Hawkins Family Cemetery on the land of the old Homestead in Jay Co. So I thought I'd try to find out if those graves have been documented yet. Sure enough, someone on Find a Grave had uploaded the names of 30 people buried there. Going down the list I was hoping there wouldn't be a Mary J. since this would help the case that maybe Benjamin's daughter was the Mary J I was looking for. There it was, Mary J. Hawkins, b. 1839 IN d. 1860 IN buried in the Hawkins Family Cemetery. This was not my Mary J.

I say this is a cautionary tale because it pretty much showed all the signs of being a great lead. The time, the place, the name, the age, even a connection to her future husband's father all worked together to form a great case. Even the population of the county according to the histories and the gazeteers, all pointed to this being the one I had been looking for. If I hadn't continued searching for proof though, I would have made an incorrect connection and linked back to a family that wasn't actually related. It's a big deal so I'm glad I didn't just accept the evidence at face value. Whew! I'm relieved about that, but now I'm back to waiting for the other records to arrive and going back to the drawing board again.

Be careful out there, those twists and turns can be rough!

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