The difficulties I mentioned yesterday are not the only ones - there are more. One of the biggest is that everybody in Scotland has the same name. Okay. I exaggerate. But this statement is not as hyperbolic as you might think. In Scotch Settlement I encountered five adult Alexander McIntoshs all of whom died before 1850; there were also three or four William McIntoshs, two of whom had wives named Isabella. And these are just two examples.
These problems would almost intractable except for the fact that I studied the entire community – at least 1300 individuals over a fifty year time span. I also examined a wide range of documents – wills, deeds, tax duplicates, censuses, etc. The best census was the 1850 one, even though it was outside the time span for my dissertation. The 1850 census is great because it is the first US census to list each individual in the household and where they were born, plus lots of other nifty things. This census facilitated the identification and reconstruction of many households that were established in the 1820s and 1830s. However, it was useless for individuals who had died before 1850.
Estate records, when they existed were marvelous. They frequently included property owned, names of children, grandchildren and other relatives, and the names of wives. A handful of women left wills too. Many young men, as might be expected, died intestate, which is a bother for the historian. An even bigger bother is how many older men who owned property and had children did not leave wills.
Property records and maps were also extremely helpful, especially for men who died before the 1850 census. For example how do you tell which Alexander McIntosh is which if there are two in the 1820 census, one in Yellow Creek Township and another in Madison. Deed records show that an Alexander McIntosh purchased land in the former township in 1809 and another purchased land in the latter township in 1817. Since the properties are not contiguous and there are two men enumerated in 1820, they are almost certainly two separate men. If you “match” up a census with a property map a neighborhood can be discerned and sometime people can be indentified that way. The McLanes who lived at the north of Madison Township and had no known Scottish neighbors can be eliminated from the potential residents of Scotch Settlement. This is obviously not a fool-proof method as the census takers could wander around any-which-way on their rounds.
The problems of identifying unique individuals was a problem for me and will likely be a problems for any historian or genealogist researching Scots in America, especially prior to 1850. Ultimately, it was the matching of men to their property and to the rest of their family that was key to recreating Scotch Settlement as it existed between 1800 and 1840. You too, might have to research several members of a Scottish community across many documents before you can pin-point which of these emigrant is your ancestor.
I do believe I see several trips to look at microfilm at the local LDS family history center and the local library which has large genealogy holdings for the eastern United States. Since I would like for family historians to buy my book (provided it is published before the Second Coming), I need to make sure it is as accurate as possible. Small mistakes in family connections won’t impact my research, as I was interested in what an entire Scottish community could teach about patterns in Scottish migration. However, for family historians if I connected somebody’s great-great grandfather to the wrong parents, that would be a big deal for them.