A Red Herring

Week 49: #52 Ancestors – Oops

By Eilene Lyon

Yes, even experienced researchers sometimes make mistakes! Here is one of my recent bloopers.

The principal protagonists in my gold rush book are my 3rd great-grandparents, Henry Zane Jenkins and his wife Abigail Gummersall Bedford. I know quite a bit about Henry’s mother, Ann Widdifield Zane, and her family, but next to nothing about his father, David Jenkins.

As for Abigail, I know next to nothing about her mother, Jane Thompson. But thanks to a genealogy book on the Atkinson family, I know quite a bit about her father’s origins. Thomas Bedford’s mother was Abigail Atkinson. His sister, Abigail Bedford, married a man named Joseph Gummersall. Hence the name of my ancestor, Abigail Gummersall (Bedford) Jenkins.

Unfortunately, the Atkinson book is focused on the family in England and gives short shrift to the ones who came to America. Therefore, I have scant information about Thomas Bedford’s life once he immigrated.

Thomas Bedford’s signature (from his brother’s naturalization application) reveals an educated man with excellent penmanship. (Ancestry.com)

The only narrative I have on Thomas comes from one of his granddaughters, Florence Bedford Wright, daughter of William S. Bedford. Writing about her father’s role in the Underground Railroad, she said:

“Among those acting as conductor was a Friend, William S. Bedford, by name, who had probably inherited his abhorrence of the system from his father, Thomas Bedford, who as early as 1786, shortly after his landing from England, threw up a lucrative position in Charleston, S. C., because his conscience would not allow him to direct or use slave labor, thereby so incensing his uncle, by whom he was employed, that he refused to pay him anything for the labor already done, upon which he started to walk to Philadelphia, stopping in Virginia and Maryland to teach school, thus helping himself forward.”1

That uncle was Joseph Atkinson. The genealogy has this to say about him:

“Of Thorne [England] ; grocer. Later of Charlestown, South Carolina, America, where he became a Member of Congress and married the daughter of the then Governor of Charlestown.”2

Though they belonged to the Society of Friends, I have not found a marriage record for Thomas and Jane. Their marriage date in 1796 came through another grandchild, writing to the Indianapolis Sunday Star in the early 20th century.3

Thomas and Jane Bedford relocated from Philadelphia to Springboro, Ohio, in 1831, a few years after the Hicksite/Orthodox split.4 The Bedfords were Hicksite Quakers. Several of their children had already moved to Springboro (including Abigail and Henry), though one or two of their adult children remained in Philadelphia.

I do not know what sort of work Thomas did in Philadelphia. His sons became carpenters, bricklayers, blacksmiths, so it could be that he was in the trades. I found a city directory listing for a Thomas Bedford who was a painter and glazier and that seemed a likely fit, though this name was not unique.5

1799 Philadelphia Directory. I assumed Thomas Bedford, painter and glazier, to be my ancestor. (I recently learned he had a brother in England who was a glass cutter, so this wasn’t an improbable occupation). Mine may have been the shopkeeper, or he may not be listed. The Joseph Bedford listed is Thomas’s older brother (as I just learned), who arrived in Philadelphia in 1798. Click to enlarge image.

The city directories have varying occupations for different Thomas Bedfords over the years. They are not at all consistent. It’s possible my Thomas was not listed sometimes for some reason. And if I had taken the time to look, I would have found the painter/glazier still residing in Philadelphia in 1833, after Thomas and Jane had moved to Ohio.6 I did consider it possible that they returned to the city.

Family notes indicate that Thomas and Jane both died in Springboro about 1846. However, census records indicate that Jane was a widow in 1840, so I knew that Thomas died prior to that date.7 I expected the answer to my query would be found in the Springboro Monthly Meeting minutes. When I looked for these minutes in Family Search under Warren County, I did not find them.

The originals are kept under lock and key at Wilmington College in Ohio. My attempt to have a professional genealogist look at them for me turned into a fiasco. My intention to go there on a research trip this past spring also blew up for obvious reasons.

This past summer, I finally found Henry and Abigail’s wedding announcement in a transcription of Poulson’s American Advertiser, compiled by the Pennsylvania Genealogical Society. I decided to look in these records and see if I could find a death notice for Henry’s father, David Jenkins. No luck, but I did come across this notice for the death of Thomas Bedford, the painter/glazier.

“February 10, 1837. Died, on the 8th inst, in the 72d yr of his age Thomas Bedford, Painter and Glazier, for many yrs a respectable citizen of Northern Liberties. Funeral from his late residence 114 Dillwyn St.”8

According to my records for Thomas, this man was the right age, in a plausible occupation, and in a plausible location, if he had moved back to the city from Springboro. (The family had previously resided in the Northern Liberties part of the city.) I thought it must be correct, and of course I passed it along to a couple of cousins.

WRONG!

A different search path in Family Search finally turned up a digitized (but not indexed) copy of the Springboro minutes I’d been so anxious to see. Reviewing it page by page, I finally turned up Thomas’s actual death record, along with Jane’s and descriptions of their burial locations in the Springboro Friends Cemetery.9 As a bonus, the record also reflects Jane’s maiden name, Thompson – the only official record I’ve found confirming this information.

The Springboro minutes record the deaths of Thomas Bedford (November 25, 1833) and Jane, his widow (October 8, 1846). Click to enlarge image.

Oops! Quick retraction to the cousins and correction to my Ancestry tree.

Plugging the information about Thomas’s death date and exact age at death into an Age Calculator gave me a birth date for him of February 3, 1765.10 That exactly matches the records I have for Thomas Bedford, son of Abigail Atkinson and Isaac Bedford of Essex, England.11

Feature image: Thaxted, Essex, England, birthplace of my 4th great-grandfather, Thomas Bedford. (Wikimedia Commons)

Thomas Bedford on Ancestry.com.


  1. Wright, Mrs. Florence Bedford. 1905. “A Station on the Underground Railroad.” Ohio Archaeological and Historical Publications, Vol. 14. Ohio Historical Society. Fred J. Heer, Columbus, p. 165. 
  2. Atkinson, Harold W. 1933. The Families of Atkinson of Roxby and Thorne and Dearman of Braithwaite. Self-published, Middlesex, England, p. 30. 
  3. Brown, Imogene. 1976. Indiana Genealogy: Articles appearing in the Indianapolis Sunday Star: 1st series beginning June 26, 1926 thru Jan. 25, 1931, 2nd series beginning April 5, 1931 thru Jan. 22, 1933. Alexandria, Ind., p. 18 – via Ancestry.com. 
  4. Thomas and Jane Bedford. Removal from Philadelphia to Springborough. Swarthmore College; Swarthmore, Pennsylvania; Certificates, 1828-1865; Collection: Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Minutes; Call Number: MR-Ph 374 – via Ancestry.com. 
  5. Stafford, Cornelius William. 1799. The Philadelphia Directory, p. 19. Available online at http://www.donslist.net/PGHLookups/PhilaPA1790sM.htm 
  6. Desilver, Robert. 1833. Desilver’s Philadelphia Directory and Stranger’s Guide for 1833. Philadelphia, PA, p. 13. Available online at http://www.donslist.net/PGHLookups/PhilaPA1830sM.htm 
  7. Jane Bedford. Year: 1840; Census Place: Clear Creek, Warren, Ohio; Roll: 431; Page: 179; Family History Library Film: 0020178 – via Ancestry.com. 
  8. Notices of marriages & deaths in Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser, 1791-1839. Family Search digitized film #8102915 image 364. 
  9. Church records, 1773-1917. Society of Friends. Springboro Monthly Meeting (Springboro, Ohio : Hicksite). Family Search digital film #8132974 image 11. 
  10. http://freepages.rootsweb.com/~fgris/family/brown/agecalc.html 
  11. Thos Bedford birth record. Son of Isaac and Abigail Bedford. The National Archives; Kew, England; General Register Office: Society of Friends’ Registers, Notes and Certificates of Births, Marriages and Burials; Class: RG 6; Piece: 1382 – via Ancestry.com. This information is also included in the Atkinson genealogy. 

29 thoughts on “A Red Herring

Add yours

      1. Well, there’s a lot in there that I did before I realized how much bad information was out there and I hadn’t scrutinized it. I come across others oops moments every now and then. But thanks for the vote of confidence!

        Like

      1. I know I’m way too hard on myself when I make a mistake. I think we need to stop and remember that we’re not intentionally trying to make a mistake or mislead. We need to be kinder to ourselves

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Some day I need to go back to the branches of my tree I did first before I really knew what I was doing. I fear I will find many errors. I guess it’s part of learning.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I find little stuff all the time, like an incorrect census record attached to someone today. It’s just a process. That’s one good thing about blogging – it does get me looking at people I might otherwise overlook.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. In terms of the time required, it’s like unravelling the knitting to correct an error – except with knitting, you might be (or rather, **I’d** be) inclined to let the error stay and hope no one notices.

    But you simply cannot do that in ancestry research.

    So, you put on the brakes, put the car in reverse, and head out in the right direction.

    Forgive the mixed metaphors – I’ve only had one coffee so far this morning.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not just surnames. This family used the same given names over and over, every generation. It’s crazy. Many first cousins ended up with exactly the same name, though sometimes a middle name was thrown in to help distinguish them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It is amazing. Still, I find some of the best material when I visit archives and historical societies. Sometimes I can find a catalog entry and pay to get scans, but not always.

        Like

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