Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Jethro Potter's secret in NGSQ

When a grown man gives his mother three different names over more than half a century, you know you've got trouble. That evidence was the beginning of my article just published in the new June 2013 National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

When Jethro Potter died at the age of 94 in Ohio in 1963, he reportedly had more than two dozen grandchildren. But his parentage was cloaked in mystery and possibly deception. The article identifies his parents by tracing a plausible mother's life forward, a lengthy process that eventually led to five key documents, all of them created decades after Jethro's birth, and only one directly naming the parents. In the course of the research eight Alberson half-siblings and two McCroskey half-siblings were identified.

This all-Midwestern story has many colorful subplots and stories, most of which were not relevant to establishing the genealogical framework. The scene shifted among multiple counties in four states: Ohio (Darke, Portage), Indiana (Randolph, Wells, Jay, Marshall, Starke), Illinois (La Salle, Livingston), and Michigan (Muskegon).

As for records, I did not find or use anything exotic. In the end the 66 footnotes contained standard genealogical fare: census, vital, Social Security, military, court, newspaper, probate, property, cemetery, and funeral home. Many records contained mistakes and omissions requiring the records to be analyzed and correlated and corrected.

This article grew out of two client reports that first grew into a case study for BCG certification. (It is much more condensed and focused than the case study.) Those who are working on credentialing of any sort should keep NGSQ and similar publications in mind if you want your work to last, and especially if you want it to get a really thorough going-over!

Harold Henderson, "Jethro Potter's Secret: Confusion to Conclusion in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 101 (June 2013):103-112.

Harold Henderson, "Jethro Potter's secret in NGSQ," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 24 July 2013 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.] 


Cathi at Stone House Research said...

It was an excellent article, Harold! Congratulations.

Catt said...

I am currently working on creating a searchable index of the Wells County Marriage Supplemental Record Vol. A 1882-1899 for the genealogy department of my employer, the Wells County Public Library in Bluffton, Indiana. This week, I have spent considerable time confirming the information on Jethro Potter, and I wanted to say Thank You Very Much for all the work you've done! It was immediately evident that something was "off" as I waded deeper and deeper into one page of confusion after another, and your paper, "Jethro Potter's mother" was my lifesaver. I do so enjoy a fascinating story with a satisfying ending.

Michelle Goodrum said...

I started the article last night. Between the title and the beginning of the article, I'm hooked!

Sheri Fenley said...

Congratulations Harold! A most excellent article!

Yvette Hoitink said...

I really enjoyed reading the article, especially now that I know it was derived from your BCG case study. If this was the condensed version, I wonder how elaborate the one in your portfolio was. I would imagine that the NGSQ version would be great for your portfolio. Could you explain what types of things you left out? I'm always looking for great examples since I'm on the clock myself.

Harold Henderson said...

Thanks all. Yvette, the BCG case study and the article are not perfectly comparable, as additional evidence arrived for the father I submitted my portfolio. For the rest of it, the main difference was that in the portfolio piece I was much more explicit and detailed than in the article. The portfolio case study is for showing that you know what's going on. The article assumes that you and the readers do know, so many details are trimmed or omitted. For example, the nearby "false positive" for Mary's second husband (the elderly James Masterson from Pulaski County) was a necessary part of the portfolio, but it was almost left out of the article altogether on the grounds that it was a conflict easily solved. To put it another way, BCG case studies and NGSQ articles are two species of the same genus, but they are different because they have different goals.

Harold Henderson said...

Another example of the difference between portfolio case study and published article: in the case study I made a table to analyze and correlate 11 different records as to Jethro's birth date (ranging from 1868 to 1872). None of that made it into the article; it was a good exercise and I think it played a useful role in the argument, but it wasn't necessary for a publication.