20 December 2012

How Precise Can You Be?

I am thinking out loud here.

I'm typing up my ahnentafel chart for presentation on my website. One of the issues I have is the precision of the location of an event.

Many of my families are clustered in several rural areas, locations are not always overly specific. Genealogists like specifics, but sometimes we have to make do with ranges and not precise points.

As I put the entries on my ahnentafel chart, I realized I was repeating myself without repeating myself. All those references to Walker Township, Hancock County, were not really to the same place. To look at my ahnentafel chart, I have the following individuals who were either born, married, or died in Hancock County's Walker Township:

  • Charles and Fannie (Rampley) Neill were married there in 1903
  • Fannie Rampley was born there in 1883
  • George Trautvetter was born there in 1869
  • George and Ida (Sargent) Trautvetter were married there in 1898
  • Riley and Nancy (Newman) Rampley, married there in 1867
  • John and Franciska (Bieger) Trautvetter, married there in 1868
  • Franciska Trautvetter died there in 1888
  • Sophia Trautvetter died there in 1877
  • James Rampley died there in 1884
  • Elizabeth Rampley died there in 1883
And that's just the vital events for my direct-line ancestors. 

I want my records to reflect the accuracy of the documents, but I also want my records to reflect the reality of the situation as well. For the 1903 and 1867 marriages, I have sources providing locations more specific than the township.

But for the other events I do not.

How Precise?

If I list them all as taking place in Walker Township, it seems to indicate all these events took place in the same place  On one level they did. I could solve the problem and just indicate that every event took place on planet Earth--that's correct, but a little too broad.

Walker Township is a fairly large place--thirty-six square miles. I'm not yet entirely certain how I'm going to handle the vague nature of the location listed for these events. And while a township is not that large of a location, I prefer to narrow down the location as much as possible.

And it is one reason that I am not always fond of genealogical software: many times genealogical conclusions are not precise. They are not clean. And, they often come with conditions.

In the events listed above there are basically two families: the Rampleys and the Trauvetters. They lived in different parts of the township and most likely were not in the same circles during the time period referenced by the events listed above. The Rampleys lived in the eastern part of Walker Township and the Trautvetters lived in the southwestern part. Knowledge of this is based upon where the families' farms were located and the assumption that they lived on their farms and that ,for the most part, those farms are where births and deaths took place--or relatively near to those farms.

Narrowing the Trautvetters

For the Trautvetters, I would be reasonably safe (I'm hoping) in narrowing their places of birth or death as "probably near Tioga in Walker Township, Hancock County, Illinois." My "place of birth" for George Trautvetter is not just Walker Township--that's too large and I'm not comfortable with that size of a location if there is anyway that I can pinpoint it more precisely. Precision does not imply that I have an exact "spot, but refining the location beyond the township is possible in this case. George was very likely born on his father's farm, which is known to have been a short distance from the village of Tioga. Of course, it is always possible that George was born somewhere else than his father's farm but still within the confines of the Township. However, I would be comfortable saying that George was born in Walker Township, Hancock County, Illinois, probably near the village of Tioga. My evidence for that statement would be George's christening record, other materials which indicate his place of birth and land, census and other records that imply George's father was living in Walker Township in 1869. I realize that the father does not have to be present at the birth for that birth to take place.

Near?

One problem is that I have not defined "near." At this point, I'm not going to. Given the imprecise nature of the location within the township, I'll leave "near" somewhat vague. Genealogical conclusions are like that--sometimes not everything can be pinpointed.

My statement regarding George's place of birth should include all this analysis and discussion along with sources, adequately cited.

That's a tall order for most genealogical software packages and why I prefer to perform most analysis using text, along with some images and transcriptions.

Didn't These Families Intermarry?

For those reading carefully, you will conclude that the Trautvetters and the Rampleys eventually intermarried. They did once, when my grandparents married in 1935. But that was after both of their families had left Walker Township.





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