Monday, August 20, 2012

Three Brothers Northamer: More NGSQ Genealogy Olympics

No vital records, no church records, no helpful probates or deeds, no useful pension records, no useful guardianships -- how is a Pennsylvania genealogist to identify which of three brothers fathered Jacob Northamer and William Northamer in the late 1700s? Not from family speculations, as it turned out.

Northamer descendants Catherine Becker Wiest Desmarais, CG, and Noreen Alexander Manzella found a way. They describe it in the third article of the amazing June issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

Stage one -- logically, not chronologically! -- was elimination. Census, cemetery, and church records helped eliminate two of the three brothers. They also distinguish young William from a same-name first cousin five years older.

Reasoning by elimination can be a good start, but by itself it's not terribly convincing. In stage two, the authors found affirmative evidence connection young Jacob and William to the third brother, Nicholas Northamer.

Tax records showed that the young men were of the right ages, lived in the same township as Nicholas, and moved together. Even better, the same records also showed that the young men worked in the same trade as Nicholas, again unlike Nicholas's two brothers. (Woven into the logic of discovery are hints at some colorful and tragic family stories, which hopefully will see the light elsewhere.)

None of these records comes right out and names Nicholas as the father. This brick wall was felled by a weaving of gossamer threads of evidence, no one of which by itself looks like a match for a brick. But together . . .

Cathi Becker Wiest Desmarais and Noreen Alexander Manzella, "Who Fathered Jacob and William Northamer? Pennsylvania Tax Records Help Determine Kinship," National Genealogical Society Quarterly vol. 100, no. 2 (June 2012):123-32.

Harold Henderson, "Three Brothers Northamer: More NGSQ Genealogy Olympics," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 20 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

1 comment:

Shelley Bishop said...

Harold, I second your opinion that this was an outstanding NGSQ article, well-written and convincingly presented. I found the evidence regarding occupation and residence particularly compelling. And the article was easy to follow--no small feat when dealing with complex indirect evidence. Kudos to the authors on a job well done!