Thursday, August 16, 2012

Facts, Assumptions & Theories

When first joined the PRA (Pennington Research Association) as a young and inexperienced genealogy researcher, I accepted information that I did not critically examine.  I knew better – I had the training in historical research from college, but I hadn’t applied it to my genealogical research.  I remember feeling wonderful that I had taken my family back a few more generations and had a few more names to put on the tree.  I took the research that someone else had done and took it as fact, while I updated the more current information.  At the same time, I noticed inconsistencies but chose not to examine them too closely.
One of the things that forced me to look at the situation more critically was the thoughts about pursing a DAR membership.  Wanting to do this with mother, we chose a line that we thought we could get the documentation for.  It was easy to connect my mother to parents and then to her grandparents.  It got a little harder to connect to the great grandparents and great great grandparents.  However…after that branch we ran into some trouble…here is the line:
  • My Parents –Betty & Gene
  • My Grandparents – Capitola Friddle & Richard Tannahill
  • My Great grandparents – Sophia Dollar & David Carl Friddle
  • My 2nd Great Grandparents – John Dula Dollar & Buena Vista Bailey
  • My 3rd Great Grandparents – Elizabeth Pennington m. Alexander Monroe Dollar
  • My 4th Great Grandparents – Levi Pennington m. Elizabeth Henson

It was the 5th Great Grandparents that caused the most trouble.  You see – I had been told that Levi Pennington b. 1794 was the son of Levi Pennington b. 1767 and the grandson of Micajah Pennington and Rachel Jones.  Besides the common name, I could find nothing that connected Levi b. 1794 to Levi b. 1767.  There were no land documents to look at, no census records to examine – only a few tax records that were somewhat ambiguous.  Levi b. 1767 seemed to disappear about 1815 and is not found in the Ashe Co., NC area again, however Levi b. 1794 lives there and remains there his entire life.  Micajah and his sons seemed to move off to Lee Co., VA or at the least the Grayson Co., VA and then in to Harlan Co., KY.  They did not stay in Ashe Co., NC – in fact the only member of the family to stay there was Johanna Pennington and her husband Douglas Dickson. 

Now it became time to start looking at this situation a bit more critically.  Levi b. 1794 is recorded in every census until his death and stays in the same area.  One researcher pointed out to me that not only did he stay in the same area, but that he mostly likely was on the same land that his father had.  It is a reasonable assumption to look at land records and believe that two men who owned the same piece of land might be related.  This area of land in the Little Laurel area was not owned by Micajah Pennington or his son Levi, in fact it looked as though it came through an Ephraim Pennington.  Later a letter was uncovered which spelled out the relationship more clearly and the 1850 census listing an Ephraim Pennington b. 1769 still living within the household of Andrew Pennington in Ashe Co., NC was even more proof.

So now I have my line from Levi b. 1794 to Ephraim b. 1769 – this is when the theories come in.  There are groups of Pennington from the same region who share some of the same DNA.  Theoretically these common lines probably go back about 8 generations.  If you theorize that Ephraim b. 1769 is likely a son of another Ephraim likely born about 1745, you have an interesting theory.  The Ephraim b. abt 1745 probably dies about 1800 and the Ephraim b. 1769 probably dies about 1852.  Ephraim b. 1745 looks almost as if he might have a tie in to Micajah b. 1743 – one wonders if they might have been brothers or cousins.  Furthermore, there are several  Penningtons that could possibly be connected.  There is Wells Pennington (Group 32) who might be a brother of Ephraim b. 1769 and perhaps Benajah b. 1770, Abel b. 1768, Abram b. 1775 and possibly Aaron b. 1786.   All of these men were born in a span of 17 years.  Theoretically, they could all be connected.  Is there proof?  Absolutely not!  However there are similarities that are interesting.  Someone in each of these lines has had their DNA tested and we know that there is a common link between these descendants.  If Ephraim Pennington b. 1745 is my direct ancestor, then that is 8 generations ago.  The theory about common names in a family is not terribly helpful – there are enumerable Ephraim’s, Benewah’s, Micajah’s, Abel’s, Levi’s, Abram’s and Aaron’s – you cannot make a connection based on names.  This was done with my Levi b. 1794 and Micajah’s son Levi b. 1767 and they turned out to be not connected. These families seem to travel to the same areas of Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky – is that because of family connections or economic opportunity or a combination of both.  They all probably connect to the progenitor of Group 4, Ephraim b. 1720 because DNA has shown the connection.

The biggest problem is that there seems to be no documentation to back any of this up.  If the records ever existed, they were probably destroyed in a fire or war.  DNA can show you a relationship – but it isn’t proof as to what the relationship is.  So, all you can do as a researcher, is look at the facts and let them take you back as far as possible.  It is those facts that you must rely on – not the theories or the assumptions.  There are people out there who will connect any ancestor on the flimsiest of threads, so it is up to the individual researcher to decide if what they are looking at is a fact, an assumption or a theory and take it as such!