Monday, October 21, 2013

Preponderance of Evidence

ANNOUNCEMENT! Posts for the next two weeks will be brief with genealogy tips only. When the blogger returns (Oct 28) we will go back to our standard format. As they say: “Don’t go away. We’ll be right back."

Caleb Putnam Trask

Genealogy tip for today: Preponderance of Evidence

Recently we talked about citing your sources and how it is a must if you want your work taken seriously, even by your own family. It IS important.

Now, I’m going to flip the coin and talk about when you don’t have proof. It’s called ‘preponderance of evidence’. It is a method of almost proving a connection or a situation. But you hedge it with ‘strong possibility,’ ‘possible,’ ‘looks probable,’ and the like.

I’ll give you an example. This can get confusing but hang in there.

I have a great-great-grandfather whose name was Caleb Putnam Trask. My grandmother said (!) he was the great-grandson of Gen. Israel Putnam of Revolutionary War fame. This is how I got into genealogy to begin with. She had written down her other three great-grandparents except one – Caleb’s Mom and Dad.

Down through the years, as I dug and dug, applying all kinds of theories and techniques, I thought I had found his father. But let me give you the setting of Caleb.

Caleb, youngest of 5, was born in New York. All his older siblings had been born in CT. (I have their dates but I won’t bore you with that much detail.) The two oldest siblings were half -brothers with the same last name. And with half-brothers, this implies that it was his father who was married twice.

What do we know so far is, the family lived in CT from at least 1801 to 1820. By 1820 the family was living in NY. His next older sibling was born 1814 in CT, so they would have moved to NY between 1814 and 1820. In notes that I have, it is said that Mom (no name) and Caleb moved to PA in 1830, when he was 10 years old. When he was 14 years old his mother died. By 1840, he is found on the census with a young female living with him.

The next older sibling is a sister, who from 1850 on, through the rest of his life, even after marriage, who lived with him and is found on all the censuses. 1840 indicates the same, but no Mom. She supposedly died in 1834 when he was 14 as I mentioned. I have the town she was buried in, but no grave has been found. No court records exist declaring his sister guardian – or of his older brothers when Mom died. With no grave or guardianship records, her name is unknown.

In following the cluster theory (groups moving together), I found a nest of Trasks in New York that came from CT and MA. I found a family that has names in their family similar to Caleb’s family. Naming patterns is another factor to consider. They were very important back in the 1700’s and 1800’s.

To make the long story short, a fellow researcher in Salt Lake City had drawn my attention to a William Trask.

He had died the year Caleb was born, after his birth. William was buried alone and he had an uncle named Caleb and a grandmother named Putnam. My Caleb had a brother named William; Caleb’s middle name was Putnam.  Also, the dates lined up correctly in order for William to be the father of these 5 children.

Yeah, I found his father…I thought. I began writing all the things I knew about Caleb and all the things I’d learned about William. They lined up. Everything indicated a strong probability that William was the father of Caleb and his siblings. The preponderance of evidence indicated that William was the long lost father of Caleb. I was ready to say, according to the evidence on hand, I would say William is most probably the father.

I was excited but tried not to be because I knew that the hard evidence (documents) wasn’t there. Remember, you always hedge your conclusions with ‘maybe,’ ‘possibly,’ ‘strong probability,’ etc.

Sure enough about a year or so later, my researcher friend in Utah had found William’s wife and she was not in Pennsylvania, and she only had two daughters, not 4 sons and 1 daughter. So he was not my guy. I was disappointed once again. Basically I had to start looking again.

At the moment William’s father, Noah, looks like a strong possibility, but there has been a lot of research done by many people and no one has ever uncovered additional wives, which Noah would have to have, to be Caleb’s father. So for now it looks like we are again back at square one.

If you have stayed with me this far, you can see how important it is to document, but that at the same time occasionally you can create a supposition based on circumstantial evidence. You just have to have it opened ended, in the event that new evidence does come along to tell you otherwise. There have been articles and a book written on Preponderance of Evidence. I would encourage you to follow up with further reading on this topic.

Documentation is a must, but sometimes, just maybe you can conclude otherwise. Trials in court have been won or lost based on circumstantial evidence. You just have to keep an open mind it could change.

If any of these posts are helpful drop us a line in the comments section below. We just want to know if the information we provide to you is helpful in anyway.



Now You Know!