Deeds, wills, estate settlements, inventories and similar documents can offer clues to ancestral relationships, identify missing family members and eliminate incorrectly identified family members.
In some cases, those same documents can add confusion to the issue. It may simply be a case of misreading the document or misinterpreting the document as it was written. In other instances, the document itself may be the contributing factor. Standard rules of grammar and punctuation did not necessarily concern our ancestors.
Case #1: Deeds help determine the parentage of Samuel St. John. Orline St. John Alexander's The St. John Genealogy identified Samuel St. John as the son of Matthias St. John III and Rachel Bouton. Samuel birth was estimated as 168? and his parents' marriage about 1690 in Norwalk, Fairfield, CT. The conflicting dates raised a red flag, but not seriously enough for questioning Samuel's parentage. Other researchers and authors followed Alexander's lead.
I came across Jim Churchyard's website in the early 2000s. He had written research findings entitled Those Four Early Children of Matthias St. John III. Mr. Churchyard had investigated the purported four eldest sons of Matthias and Rachel: Matthew, Ebenezer, Samuel and John. He discovered that Matthew and John were the sons of Matthias III. Ebenezer had been confused in records with his Uncle Ebenezer, Matthias III's brother. Samuel was not Matthias III's son, but his brother. A major focus of the Churchyard research had been Connecticut deeds. With Jim's blessing, I tackled his theory in Salt Lake. I examined Matthias I, II & III deeds, as well as local histories and other documents.
Research note: During the Colonial era, if there were two men of the same name in a community, the oldest was referred to as Senior, the youngest as Junior. This did not necessarily mean that they were father and son or even related, just that one was older than the other. Matthias St. John I died in 1669, Matthias II in 1728 and Matthias III became of age about 1683. In the Norwalk, CT deeds, Matthias I would have become Senior about 1649/50, when MII became of age and became Matthias Jr. Matthias II became Sr. when MIII reached majority. Still with me? It was during the years [c1670-1728] that MII was simply Matthias or Matthias Sr. references were made to "my son" Samuel.
The deeds supported the Churchyard theory. Along with other evidence [Norwalk histories, vital records, etc.], I concluded that Samuel St. John was indeed the son of Matthias II & the brother of Matthias III. Likewise, there was nothing in the deeds that assigned a son named Ebenezer to MIII.
Here we have a case of misinterpreting deeds leading to children being assigned to the wrong parents and those same deeds clarifying the relationships.
Up next, more Prall problems....