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Identifying John Wilson’s Irish Origins, Part 2: Autosomal DNA Analysis

Having identified the probable ancestral origin of John Wilson (1716-1799) using Y-DNA in Part 1 of the blog post series, Part 2 uses autosomal DNA (at-DNA). The purpose here is to provide corroborating evidence that John’s ancestral origin is County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland as well as to offer greater geographic specificity within the county.

Compared to Y-DNA, at-DNA has the benefit of identifying more recent cousins (possibly as far back as six to eight generations). Also, both males and females can take the test enabling a larger pool of people who can ultimately help answer the research question.

For this analysis, I used a third cousin who is two generations closer than I am to John Wilson (1716-1799). John is her 4x great grandfather giving her potentially as much as 75% more DNA from earlier ancestors than I would have received. The objective of the at-DNA analysis is to find genetic clusters of DNA matches linked to the Wilson line and determine if the cluster(s) support the tentative County Fermanagh ancestral origin conclusion from the earlier Y-DNA analysis. Ancestry.com’s autosomal DNA product is used.

Genetic Cluster Identification

Two genetic clusters were identified using Ancestry.com’s “Shared Matches” feature using what I call an “earliest-known generation sibling search strategy”. To identify relevant clusters, this entailed viewing the shared matches for cousins who descend through other children of John Wilson (1716-1799) and his wife, Ann Skelton (1721-1803), other than the one my cousin and I descend. Unfortunately, all clusters here were associated with the Skelton side of the ancestral couple. Therefore, I moved down a generation through John and Ann (Skelton) Wilson’s son, William Wilson (d. 1804), through whom my cousin and I also descend.

This resulted in the identification of two viable clusters. Care was taken to ensure these clusters were not associated with the line of William Wilson’s wife, Phebe Penrose (d. 1842), but rather the Wilson line. This was done by reviewing the shared DNA matches for members of each cluster to ensure they were not associated with other matches who are confirmed to be part of our Penrose line. None appeared to be so.

As discussed shortly, I call the two identified clusters as the “Pennsylvania Cluster” and the “New Haven Cluster”, which are depicted below in a Gephi network graph (see Figure 4).1 The graph was created by downloading all my cousin’s in-common with matches and corresponding segment data from Ancestry.com using the DNAGedcom Client.2 From the resulting DNAGedcom file, only the members of the two identified Ancestry.com clusters were retained for analysis. DNA matches are sized according to the amount of shared DNA in centimorgans (cM).

The network graph delineates the two clusters. Highlighted are four matches who descend from children of William and Phebe Penrose Wilson other than the one my cousin descends, and these matches are labeled with either a 1 or 2. The Pennsylvania Cluster is a larger network, which is probably due to a couple of factors including the number of people who have tested and its members having immigrant ancestors who arrived the U.S. about two to three generations prior to those in the New Haven Cluster, which makes sense given that American Ancestry.com DNA test takers outnumber international test takers.

Prior to a brief introduction of the Pennsylvania and New Haven Clusters, Figure 5 theorizes how these clusters likely fit into John Wilson’s (d. 1799) extended County Fermanagh family tree. It serves as an additional reference point for understanding the many matches, sub-clusters, and documentary evidence yet to be presented. For a full discussion of the clusters, readers may review my final research report, which will be posted with the third and final blog post.3

Pennsylvania Cluster

Figure 6 graphically presents the DNA matches for the Pennsylvania Cluster. The cluster is comprised of 53 shared DNA matches forming five sub-clusters, which are organized using their family trees back to their own common ancestral pair rather than the theorized family tree presented in Figure 5. All sub-clusters match one another within the overall Pennsylvania Cluster. One sub-cluster (12 DNA matches) represents the DNA matches who descend from William Wilson (d. 1804) and Phebe Penrose (d. 1842). The other sub-clusters, which are named based on their ancestral origin of birth, include the so-called “County Fermanagh Cluster” (21 DNA matches), “Irish Cluster” (10 DNA matches), and a single match called “County Fermanagh Farry Match” (1 DNA match). The final sub-cluster (9 DNA matches, which is not graphically shown) consists of the “unknown match group” whose respective family trees are not publicly available and for whom I could not reconstruct a tree through genealogical means.

Across the three Irish sub-clusters (excluding the William Wilson Cluster), the amount of shared DNA varies from 44 cM to 8 cM with eight matches having more than 30 cM of shared DNA. According to Ancestry.com, these eight matches possess a high level of confidence (95%) of having a recent shared common ancestor with my cousin.4 The high confidence matches are found within each of the sub-clusters: County Fermanagh Cluster (5 high confidence DNA matches), County Fermanagh Farry Match (1 high confidence DNA match), and Irish Cluster (2 high confidence DNA matches).

The identification of the ancestral origins of the County Fermanagh Cluster comes from a biographical sketch of Robert J. Wilson (b. 1845), who is a great grandson of David Burgess Sr. The sketch states that Robert’s grandparents were:

“…John Wilson and Mary (Burgess) Wilson, natives of the Emerald Isle, but of Scotch descent. They were born in County Fermanagh, Ireland, emigrated to America shortly after the Revolutionary War, settling in Lancaster County, Pa., where they resided several years. Thence they removed to Mifflin County, [Pennsylvania] where most of the children were born and raised. Subsequently, they removed to Ohio…” 5

The County Fermanagh sub-cluster includes Mary Burgess, who married John Wilson.6 It also includes David Burgess Jr., who married a woman named Nancy.7 Because Nancy’s surname is unknown and Mary Burgess married a Wilson, I wondered whether Nancy might be a sister of John Wilson and whether the at-DNA connection is through the Burgess line and/or the Wilson line. As such, I engaged in targeted Y-DNA testing and recruited a male Wilson descendant of John and Mary (Burgess) Wilson and sponsored his Big Y-DNA test. Results confirm that he is a Y-DNA match to me, and the recruited Big Y test taker is graphically represented by “Wilson 10a” in Figure 2, which was presented in the earlier Part 1 blog post. While these results do not confirm that David Burgess Jr.’s wife Nancy is a Wilson, it does provide some support for the theorized County Fermanagh family tree for John Wilson (1716-1799) presented in Figure 5.

The Irish sub-cluster includes Henry Cosgrove who married Mary Jane Wilson.8 Both County Fermanagh and Irish sub-clusters lived about eight miles from one another in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania in the early 1800s and by 1830 all moved near Westchester, Ohio, which is town in Tuscarawas County, Ohio bordering Harrison County, Ohio. 9

For the County Fermanagh Farry Match, the paternal great grandmother of the test taker for this match emigrated from County Fermanagh to Philadelphia in the 1880s.10 Because this “sub-cluster” has only one match, it is difficult to ascertain for certain that the identified connection is through the Fermanagh great grandparent line. However, a thorough review of the test taker’s other lines finds no other possible connections to William Wilson (d. 1804) or Phebe Penrose. The great grandmother is Bridget Farry (1859-1921), who married Charles Carr in Philadelphia.11 Bridget Farry’s mother was Catherine Bannon, who resided near and died in Cavancarragh in County Fermanagh.12 The importance of the Bannon surname and Cavancarragh is discussed next and further supports the theorized County Fermanagh Wilson family tree presented in Figure 5.

New Haven Cluster

Figure 7 graphically presents the DNA matches for the New Haven Cluster. The cluster is comprised of 28 shared DNA matches forming three sub-clusters. One cluster (12 DNA matches) represents the DNA matches who descend from William Wilson (d. 1804) and Phebe Penrose. The other so-called “Cavancarragh, County Fermanagh Cluster” is comprised of five DNA matches. The remaining 11 matches constitutes “unknown matches” for whom trees were not available and/or their connection to the cluster could not be determined. Within the Cavancarragh sub-cluster, the amount of shared DNA varies from 37 cM to 11 cM with two matches having more than 30 cM of shared DNA. These two matches have a high level of confidence (95%) of having a recent shared common ancestor with the test taker.13 The common ancestral pair of the Cavancarragh Cluster is James Bannon III (b. 1829) and Bridget McHugh. The ancestral origins of James Bannon III’s wife, Bridget McHugh, is unknown.

Based on evidence presented in a family research report prepared by M.S. Pitkin,14 the Bannons appear to have immigrated to New Haven in a couple of waves during the 1840s and 1850s. James Bannon III (b. 1829), along with his parents, James Bannon II (b. 1800) and Margaret (last name unknown), and siblings, were enumerated in New Haven in 1850.15 James Bannon II’s (b. 1800) father, James Bannon I (b. 1767), appears to have immigrated in the 1850s and died 27 Mar 1858 in New Haven.16 James Bannon I (b. 1767), James Bannon II (b. 1800), and James Bannon I’s other son, Michael Bannon, appeared in the Tithe Applotment Books (agricultural tax records) for 1835 in Cavancarragh in Derryvullan Parish, County Fermanagh, which is within a couple of miles from several of the towns identified in the Big Y-DNA analysis presented in the earlier Part 1 blog post.17

Chromosome Mapping and Segment Triangulation

An important determination when analyzing shared DNA matches within a cluster is to ensure they share a portion of the same segment on a chromosome. Ancestry.com does not provide a chromosome mapping feature, and so I uploaded my cousin’s at-DNA to GEDmatch, MyHeritage, and FamilyTreeDNA, which provide this feature. While only a few of the shared Ancestry DNA matches were also on these sites, enough were present to identify matching segments. Triangulated segments were found for two contiguous segments on chromosome 7 as displayed in Figure 8. The shared DNA matches from the New Haven Cluster appear to be located at the lower end of chromosome 7, and DNA matches from the Pennsylvania Cluster are located immediately adjoining the New Haven Cluster. Situated within and across the lower and upper portions are descendants from William Wilson (d. 1804).

While reviewing the family trees for matches on MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA at the identified locations on chromosome 7, four new relevant matches were found. One is a new member of the County Fermanagh Cluster group, which is part of the larger Pennsylvania Cluster, descending from David Burgess Jr. (identified in Figure 8 as sharing 19.4 cM). The second new match also appears to fit within the Pennsylvania Cluster based on its location on chromosome 7 (31.6 cM match). Interestingly, this match has a direct paternal line back to a Patrick (Patt) Bannon who lived in Killee in County Fermanagh, which is an adjacent townland to Cavancarragh. According to this match’s family tree, Patrick was born about 1788 and died between 1852 and 1862.18

The other two matches have Wilson ancestry from County Fermanagh and are also situated at the same location on chromosome 7 as the Pennsylvania Cluster. One match (12.6 cM) descends from Mary (Wilson) Armstrong (1804-1866), a daughter of James Wilson (1769-1853) and Rebecca Coulter of Derryhillagh, County Fermanagh. The final new match (12.0 cM) is also located at the same location as the Pennsylvania Cluster and descends from Hall Price Wilson (1851-1924), a son of Alexander Wilson (1819-1905) and Rebecca Price of Lackaboy, County Fermanagh. Lackaboy is about one mile from Derryhillagh, which is where several Big Y-DNA matches have ancestral origins as presented earlier in Figure 2 in the Part 1 blog post.

Summary in Brief

Evidence from the at-DNA test appears to confirm County Fermanagh as the ancestral origin of John Wilson (1716-1799). In conjunction with the Y-DNA analysis, the at-DNA analysis additionally appears to preliminarily point to an area just to the east of Enniskillen in County Fermanagh near the townlands of Cavancarragh and Derryhillagh as a more specific location of John’s origin (see Figure 3 from the Part 1 blog post for a map of this area).

The next and final blog post utilizes documentary evidence and historical writings to corroborate prior DNA evidence and contextualize the results. A link to full report on the Ancestral Origins of John Wilson is found on my website here.

This blog post was initially posted as a guest blog at FamilyLocket.com.

Don’t miss new blog posts. Complete the form below to be notified every time I write a new blog.


Sources
1. Gephi.org. (2021). Gephi version 0.9.2, available at www.gephi.org. Visualization settings: The layout or dispersion of nodes used ForceAtlas 2, and modularity class was used to partition and color the nodes into sub-clusters. To improve visualization, all DNA matches who descend from the test taker’s direct line from John Wilson (b. 1784) were removed as were DNA matches with fewer than six connections to another DNA match. 
2. DNAGedcom LLC. (2021). DNAGedcom Client, available at www.dnagedcom.com
3. Wilson, Rick T. (2022). Research Report on the Ancestral Origins of John Wilson, who died 1799 in Franconia, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, USA, available at www.MyFamilyPattern.com.
4. Ancestry.com (n.d.), What does the match confidence score mean? Retrieved 23 July 2021 from https://www.ancestry.com/cs/dna-help/matches/confidence.
5. Chapman Brothers (1887), “Robert J. Wilson” in Portrait and Biographical Album of Linn County, Iowa, Chicago, IL: Chapman Brothers, p. 311-312.
6. Ibid. 
7. Tuscarawas County, Ohio, land deed, David and Nancy Burgess to Neal Morris (1829), Book 5, p. 478, Recorder of Deeds, New Philadelphia, Ohio. 
8. While the Henry Cosgrove’s marriage to Mary Jane Wilson is undocumented, Henry had a child named Wilson Cosgrove and a grandson named James Wilson Cosgrove: “Public Member Trees,” database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com, accessed 2 April 2021), “Cosgrove” family tree by Tracy Cosgrove DeCarlo, profile for Henry Cosgrove (1768-1845). 
9. 1820 U.S. census, Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Union, p. 191, image 2 of 4, David Burgess; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 12 September 2021); NARA microfilm publication M33, roll 102. And 1820 U.S. census, Tuscarawas County, Ohio, population schedule, Perry, p. 176, image 1 of 2, John Wilson and David Burgess; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 12 September 2021); NARA microfilm publication M33, roll 95. And 1830 U.S. census, Tuscarawas County, Ohio, population schedule, Perry, p. 14-15, image 5-6 of 6, John Wilson and David Burgess; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 12 September 2021); NARA microfilm publication M19, roll 141. And 1820 U.S. census, Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Armagh, p. 352, image 4 of 4, Henry Crossgrove; database with image, Ancestry(www.ancestry.com, accessed 12 September 2021); NARA microfilm publication M33, roll 102. And 1830 U.S. census, Harrison County, Ohio, population schedule, Freeport, p. 228, image 9 of 16, Henry Cosproue [Cosgrove]; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 12 September 2021); Family History Library Film 337944.
10. The Philadelphia Inquirer (1921, December 17), “Carr, Bridget E.”, p. 21, col. 7, Philadelphia, PA; online database, https://Newspapers.com, accessed 12 August 2021. 
11. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Marriage Index, 1885-1951, Bridget Ferry and Charles Carr (1887), license 14821; database, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 12 September 2021); Clerk of Orphans Court, Philadelphia. 
12. Civil Records of Death, General Register Office Enniskillen, Catherine Farry (5 Jun 1879), Cavancarragh, No. 401, p. 63-1, database with image, Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media (www.irishgenealogy.ie, accessed 1 January 2022). 
13. Ancestry.com, What does the match confidence score mean?
14. Pitkin, Mary Stanford (2013), “The Descendants of James Bannon of Fermanagh, Northern Ireland,” unpublished family research report, p. 11-12; PDF in author’s files, p. 6. 
15. 1850 U.S. census, New Haven County, Connecticut, population schedule, New Haven, p. 219b, image 230 of 485, James Barnow [Bannon] in James Barnow [Bannon] household; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 15 August 2021); NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 47. 
16. Pitkin (2013), “The Descendants of James Bannon of Fermanagh, Northern Ireland,” p. 11. 
17. “Ireland Tithe Applotment Books, 1823-1838,” Irish Genealogy Hub (http://www.irishgenealogyhub.com/fermanagh/tithe-applotment-books/parish-of-derryvullan.php, accessed 15 August 2021), > Fermanagh Genealogy > Derryvullan Tithe Applotments, James Bannon Sr., James Bannon Jr., and Michael Bannon, Cavancarragh, 1835.
18. “Moore Web Site,” database, MyHeritage (www.myheritage.com, accessed 28 August 2021), person-150013_457807291, Patrick Bannon (1788-1852).

Identifying John Wilson’s Irish Origins, Part 1: Y-DNA Analysis

Have you been fortunate enough to trace one of your American ancestors back to the 1700s but found no records indicating where in Europe they originated? Oh, and what if you are “lucky” enough for this ancestor to have a common or occupationally derived surname, such as Smith or Miller, providing no clues as to its origin?

I had such a problem until I embarked on a systematic, four-step strategy to identify where in Europe my 6th great grandfather John Wilson (1716-1799) originated. Figure 1 summarizes my research strategy and evidence used to identify my ancestor’s Scottish and Northern Irish roots. I utilized Y-DNA as a compass to point me to a country/region of interest and then used autosomal DNA to navigate to a smaller area within that country. Documentary evidence added structure and corroborating support for the patterns observed in the DNA results. Finally, published regional histories, academic journals articles, and historical immigration and emigration texts provided rich illustrations and meaning to my ancestor’s journey.

John Wilson first appears in American records in 1747 when he places a newspaper advertisement offering a 20-shilling reward for his strayed mare.1 He indicates his residence as near Thomas Pryor’s mill in Solebury Township, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The next record finds John attending the Quaker marriage of his wife’s brother, William Skelton, in Solebury Township.2 Quaker marriage certificates list family members and friends who were present at the marriage with parents, siblings, and other close family members listed in the far right-hand column under the groom’s and bride’s names, which is where John was listed. While John’s own marriage is not found in Quaker records, John likely married Ann Skelton (1721-1803) about 1746.3 The Skeltons lived near Thomas Pryor’s mill. John and Ann (Skelton) Wilson left Solebury about 1752 for Franconia Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania,4 which is where John lived the remaining years of his life.

Big Y-DNA Analysis

Because Y-DNA analyzes the Y chromosome, which is passed down mostly unchanged from father to son, I found it to be the ideal place to start the ancestral origin analysis for John Wilson (1716-1799). I used FamilyTreeDNA’s Big Y-700 test, which tests 700 genetic markers and is the most advanced Y-DNA test available. I tested myself, as I possess a direct paternal line back to John Wilson. I also used targeted testing and sponsored Y-DNA tests for two autosomal DNA matches who had Wilson ancestors for whom I could not connect into my tree but who were part of genetic clusters principally comprised of my 3rd and 4th cousins with shared Wilson ancestry.

My closest Big Y-700 STR DNA matches (17 in total) are graphically displayed below in Figure 2 in what FamilyTreeDNA calls a block tree, which I redrew and edited to better tell my story. Each gray bar below the black bar represents a genetic mutation that was passed down to subsequent generations enabling distinct branches to be identified with each gray bar representing more recent genetic ties. The alpha numeric identifiers in the black and grayed boxes are the named SNP variants delineating each haplogroup branch. According to FamilyTreeDNA technical support, the common male ancestry at I-Y32317 represents a time frame going back about 300 to 400 years.5 My own Y-DNA results are shown as “Wilson 1a” in the red box and the other DNA matches are similarly privatized by including only their surname (e.g., “Wilson”), group/cluster number (e.g., “2”), and individual designation (e.g., “a”). Wilson 1b and Wilson 10a are the two men who were part of my targeted testing efforts.

The family trees for the 17 Y-DNA STR matches were either posted to FamilyTreeDNA by the respective test taker or obtained through personal communication. Not all test takers had extensive knowledge of their paternal line, but all were able to confirm paternal ancestry back to Northern Ireland and a near majority to County Fermanagh. In several cases, test takers were still residents of County Fermanagh and, while not having extensive knowledge of their family tree, knew their paternal ancestors had lived in the area for hundreds of years.

For each branch, the geographic location within Northern Ireland for their earliest known paternal ancestor is noted, which is located between the grayed boxes and the privatized test taker boxes. Geographic location and test taker boxes are color coded for easier pattern recognition. County Fermanagh matches are denoted by shades of green, neighboring County Tyrone matches in mustard brown, and those in my smaller haplogroup branch are in red.

Except for one branch (Wilson 8), all close Big Y-DNA matches have ancestral origins in County Fermanagh, and most of these are to the east of Enniskillen (see the above map in Figure 3). Nearly all matches also carry the Wilson surname except for two clusters who carry the Toner surname, which is due to an 1883 non-paternity event.6 Within my cluster (Wilson 1), Wilson 1b is an individual who descends from a Wilson man who resided in Pennsylvania in the early 1800s, but whose connection to my line are presently unknown despite my completion of descendancy research for all of John Wilson’s children into the mid 1800s.

Summary in Brief

Based on the evidence from the Big Y-700 DNA test, it appears that John Wilson’s ancestral origins are in County Fermanagh.

The next blog post utilizes autosomal DNA to narrow down from where in County Fermanagh John Wilson might originate. A link to full report on the Ancestral Origins of John Wilson is found on my website here.

This blog post was initially posted as a guest blog at FamilyLocket.com.

Don’t miss new blog posts. Complete the form below to be notified every time I write a new blog.

Sources
1. The Pennsylvania Gazette (1747, December 3), “Strayed away”, p. 4, col. 3, Philadelphia, PA; online database, https://Newspapers.com, accessed 15 December 2017.
2. U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935, William Skelton and Susanna Beck, 23 April 1748, Buckingham Monthly Meeting, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, p. 151, image 81 of 242; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 19 July 2021), citing Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, Quaker Meeting Records.
3. Wilson, Rick T. (2022). Research Report on the Ancestral Origins of John Wilson, who died 1799 in Franconia, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, USA, available at www.MyFamilyPattern.com.
4. U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935, Ann Wilson, 6 April 1752, Buckingham Monthly Meeting, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, p. 182, image 103 of 151; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 19 July 2021), citing Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, Quaker Meeting Records.
5. FamilyTreeDNA (2021), personal communication with technical support, August 16, 2021. 
6. The non-paternity event is associated with, Francis Toner, who was born on 11 May 1883 in Derryhowlaght to an unwed mother, Eliza Jane Toner. Derryhowlaght is eight miles south of Enniskillen. Source: Ireland, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1864-1958, Francis Toner (11 May 1883), vol. 3, p. 205, Derryhowlaght, registered in Lisnaskea, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 27 December 2021); citing Family History Library film no. 101059; citing IrishGenealogy.ie, Civil Records. And “Public Member Trees,” database, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com, accessed 27 December 2021), “Christine Hilda Toner Family Tree” family tree by Christine Toner, profile for Francis John Toner (1883-1964).

The Power of Original Records

Have you come across a derivative record transcribed from an original document? Ever wonder if it is worth the time, effort, and expense to obtain a copy of the original? The answer to the last question is a definite YES. Let me explain through a brief example.

When reviewing my autosomal DNA matches on Ancestry.com, I discovered a genetic network or cluster of matches showing great potential to help me break through a brick wall and go back another generation on my Wilson line. This cluster contained 24 matches who matched one another suggesting all descend from a common ancestor. Most matches in the cluster descended from two different ancestral couples who appeared to travel together in the early 1800s from the same places in Pennsylvania to the same places in Ohio. Adding to the intrigue, one person within each of the two couples was a Wilson. [Can you feel the excitement?!] However, there was another group of four matches within this larger cluster who appeared to descend from the union of John L. Craig and Nancy Jane Burgess, who were generally from the same time period and traveled the same migration route as the other two groups. But how do John and Nancy Jane fit into the genetic network?

To learn more about John L. Craig and Nancy Jane Burgess, I started by finding their marriage record, which I found in the Office of the Illinois Secretary of State’s online Illinois Statewide Marriage Index.1

The record was a derivative or a transcription and did not contain an image. Yet, I noticed something interesting. The record indicated Nancy Jane was a “Mrs” suggesting she might have been previously married. Could Nancy Jane have been born a Wilson? It seemed logical given the other Wilsons in the cluster.

I then expanded my search to Ancestry.com. I found the record here too, but again no image. Interestingly, this record included no mention of Mrs for Nancy Jane. Now, I was not only agitated by the lack of an image, but I was also now confused. Was she or wasn’t she previously married? Which record is correct?

The only way to reconcile the issue was to obtain an original copy, which I did by contacting the Illinois Regional Archive Depository at Western Illinois University. In an era where we only wait seconds for online images to load, ordering an original from a repository felt like an eternity. Yet, after several weeks and $17 (well worth the wait and cost), I received the following copy of the original.

In reviewing the original record, it becomes clearer where the confusion originated. The marriage license, which is in the upper portion of the record, states that Nancy Jane was a “Miss” suggesting she was a Burgess by birth. (“Miss” is written using the long s, or “Mifs” without the crossbar on the f, which is the old style of writing a double s.3) However, the recording of the completed marriage, which is in the lower portion of the record, appears to indicate that Nancy Jane was a “Mrs”.

While the original record doesn’t conclusively answer the question whether Nancy was a Miss or Mrs, it does explain why the online Illinois Statewide Marriage Index and Ancestry.com show conflicting information.

Professional genealogists often insist that researchers obtain original copies of records and not rely on transcripts. So, it’s worth repeating here again. Transcripts are made by people. People make mistakes. Had I relied solely on the online Illinois Statewide Marriage Index, I might have recorded Nancy Jane’s maiden name as unknown, and perhaps through confirmation bias, believed (or hoped) her maiden name was Wilson because of the genetic network to which she belonged among my autosomal DNA matches.

On the other hand, if I solely relied on Ancestry.com, I would have recorded Nancy Jane’s maiden name as Burgess. However, having access to the original record provided me with the necessary knowledge to interpret Nancy Jane’s marital status at the time of her marriage to John.

The moral of the story is that there is power in the original record. Spend the time, effort, and expense to locate it because it will ultimately save you time, effort, and expense in the end.

Spoiler Alert: Further research (and time) led me to identify Nancy Jane’s parents and confirm that she was a Burgess. The same research also has me believing that Nancy Jane’s mother might be a Wilson, but that’s a story for another blog.

Don’t miss new blog posts. Complete the form below to be notified every time I write a new blog.

Sources
1. Illinois Statewide Marriage Index, 1763-1900, John L. Craig and Mrs. Nancy Jane Burgess (20 March 1843), Fulton County, Illinois, Vol. A, p. 110, license number 39, database, Office of the Illinois Secretary of State (ilsos.gov, accessed 7 November 2020).
2. Illinois, U.S., Marriage Index, 1860-1920, John L. Craig and Nancy Jane Burgess, database, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 5 December 2020); citing Illinois State Marriage Records, Illinois State Public Records Office.
3. Donal, A. (n.d.), “Reading Old Documents: The Long S,” Family Tree Magazine, accessed 9 January 2022 from https://www.familytreemagazine.com/strategies/reading-old-documents-the-long-s/.