Don’t “Assume” in Genealogy
Everyone likes those “shaking leaves” on a popular genealogy program, but sometimes they can lead a person astray. Each of those hints represents a single piece of evidence. However, it takes multiple pieces of evidence that correlate with each other to have “proof.” Consider an example: people with the same surname.
It is a common misconception that everyone in a certain town with the same surname is probably related. I once assumed this and it led me down the wrong path. My 3x great grandfather was Samuel Porter Moss. He lived in Northern Missouri in 1860 with his newly-wed spouse, Anna May Cunningham Moss (pictured above). They were renting their home and lived next to an older Cunningham couple who were old enough to have been Anna May’s parents. All four individuals were born in Virginia and so it was easy for me to assume that they were probably her parents. I was wrong.
1850 Census Excerpt
Citation: 1850 U.S. Census, Mercer Co., Missouri, population schedule, Marion, dwelling 881, family 880, page 127 (handwritten), Samuel Moss household, digital image FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : accessed 22 January 2022) > Missouri > Mercer > Marion Township > image 2: citing NARA microfilm M653, roll 406.
Testing this theory, I researched the elder Cunningham couple and found they came to Missouri via Tennessee where all of their children had been born. I could find no record of Anna May in their 1850 household, where she should have been if she were their child. I couldn’t figure out how to make Anna May fit, but I was sure she must.
I took a trip to Nemaha County, Kansas – where Samuel and Anna May Moss had died – to learn more about them. While searching in a local library, I found their obituaries. I read that Anna May was indeed born in Virginia, but I was surprised to learn that she was orphaned as an infant and raised by an uncle in Indiana.
I still haven’t identified Anna May’s parents, nor located her in the 1850 census. What I did learn is that it is never safe to assume anything in genealogy. Maybe that fits with life as well.