27 June 2015

Finding the right man with the wrong photo

When something doesn't add up (Ancestry.com trees)
Recently, Ancestry.com redesigned its web site to provide “a whole new way to bring your ancestors’ stories to life.” Incorporated into this redesign is the new Facts View on Ancestry online trees, which visually and literally connects sources to support the family tree’s relationships and life facts. It’s easy to check sources by clicking the links to viewable documents within Ancestry.com’s database.

One Ancestry.com family tree included a photo of a husband and wife, which referred to a 1920 passport as the source. What a find! I hadn’t thought to look past the immigrant ship manifests to see if anyone in the family traveled back to the mother country to visit relatives. I couldn’t wait to tell my uncle I found a picture of his grandparents online. Luckily, I checked the source first.

It turns out that the pictured couple is not my uncle’s grandparents but another passport applicant and his wife (#16380). By 1918, a passport application for naturalized citizens was a two-sided form. The front of the application included the person’s name, birth date, emigration and naturalization dates, home address, occupation, travel plans, and oath of allegiance. The back included a description of the applicant, an affidavit of an identifying witness, and a photograph. These original papers were bound together in book form and scanned. 

Obviously, the family tree poster saw the couple’s photograph on the left and assumed it belonged to the applicant on the right. And since the couple’s application was accompanied by a letter-sized note from the man’s employer, it covered up the back side of their legal-sized application—except for their photo. My uncle’s grandfather (#16381) also had a letter from a business associate explaining the reason for the trip overseas and on the scanned page, visible below that letter, is a third passport applicant’s oath of allegiance (#16382). 

Although I couldn’t swap the couple’s photo with the correct grandfather’s face on the family tree posted at Ancestry.com, I did add a note about the misidentified image to prevent others from making the same mistake. And, thanks to that online tree, I was able to share with my uncle his grandfathers passport application and photo. 

For sources, it’s important to check the pages or images before and after the one that you’re looking for—in case you misinterpret or miss information that you need.

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