Monday, March 24, 2014

Methodology Monday with Elder Henry Hait (NYGBR)

Methodology is not always rocket science. It can involve dealing with many difficulties, each one small in itself but cumulatively daunting. In the case of the Elder Henry Hait -- the ancestor of Michael Hait, CG, and the subject of his article, the first installment of which is in the January New York Genealogical and Biographical Record -- it involves being aware of at least five potential research pitfalls:

* spelling variations. The title of a classic book on the family tells it: "Hoyt, Haight, Hight," not to mention Hoit or even Hyatt.

* common names in the area, in this case "Henry Hait"!

* borderline matters. For much of his life, Elder Henry lived along the Connecticut-New York border and created records (or failed to do so) in both states.

* family discontinuities, limiting available records and creating considerable uncertainty as to how he fit into the extended Hait family.

* a religious denomination that created useful records, but not the ones genealogists typically reach for first (infant baptisms and marriages).

These add up to a distinct lack of records that provide direct evidence. And even when a record is found naming the father of a Henry Hait, we still have to make sure it's the same person as Elder Henry. This is a US "Dark Age" problem, as Henry lived from 1779 to 1864.

NYGBR co-editors Laura Murphy DeGrazia and Karen Mauer Green make an important point introducing the issue. "Background research" does more than just provide general historical context or color. In this case, historical records of the Primitive Baptists actually provided first-hand information that helped cement the identification of Henry.

Like knowing the law, knowing the relevant denominational history (and its publications!) is like standing on a mountaintop and mapping the ridges and valleys below. It sure beats chopping our way through the brush and wondering where we are or which way we're going.

Michael Hait, "The Ancestry of Elder Henry Hait, Primitive Baptist Preacher of Connecticut and New York," New York Genealogical and Biographical Record 145 (2014): 25-38.

Harold Henderson, "Methodology Monday with Elder Henry Hait," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 24 March 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

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