Killing Eliza Frey

Week 26: #52 Ancestors – Identity, Part 1

By Eilene Lyon

Ancestry has 463 family trees (or more) that include my 4th great-grandfather, William Clark Anderson Jr. Over 70 of those trees include a spouse named some variation of Eliza/beth Frey or Frew. A few have just the last name(s). William married and had 8–10 children in Belmont County, Ohio, from 1806–1824.1

I confess that my tree at one time contained Eliza Frey, back when I first joined Ancestry eleven years ago. No doubt at least some of those current 70+ trees copied that information from me. I implore all those tree managers to kill Eliza Frey—immediately!

There will be no violence, bloodshed, or tears. No burial or headstone. Why? Because Eliza Frey is a wholly fictional person. Not a single one of these erroneous trees has a record belonging to this mystery spouse. A few have added a birth record for an Elizabeth Frey of Berks County, Pennsylvania.2 This person apparently lived her entire life in that county, and certainly never married anyone named William Anderson.

So how did Eliza Frey come to life in the first place? In my case, I relied on information passed down to me by my grandmother, Clare (Davis) Smith. Below you can see the information she included on her handwritten family group sheet. The wife named “Frew (or Frey),” without a first name, is not the only error in that little snippet.

Family sheet for William C. Anderson Jr. compiled by my grandmother (click to enlarge)

William’s birth, death, and marriage dates are all incorrect. He also did not serve in that company in the War of 1812. Interestingly, she did make a note that there was a William Anderson in Guernsey County (adjacent to Belmont) married to Sarah, who was a different man. That is true. It’s also true that this other William Anderson purchased land in Blackford County, Indiana, very close to where my William C. Anderson lived late in life, and is buried.3

What Grandma failed to note is where this information came from. Fortunately, though, she passed her source along to me as well: a letter from her uncle, James H. Ransom (“Uncle Jim”). In 1936, he wrote down what he knew of his Anderson lineage (also unsourced).4

Clip from the 1936 letter from Jim Ransom to my grandparents. Note that all the information is the same as Grandma put on her family group sheet.

This phrase about William’s wife being a Frew or Frey also appears in a 1948 book by Cora Anderson DuLaney called “The Andersons from the Great Fork of the Patuxent.” DuLaney may have corresponded with Jim Ransom, but oddly she calls him “Jesse H. Ransom of Los Angeles” and gives him a fictional sibling named Rose.5

Clip from p. 90 of DuLaney’s book.

You may have noticed that neither Uncle Jim nor DuLaney offer a first name for Ms. Frew/Frey. That comes from a different source entirely. Attorney Benjamin G. Shinn wrote several histories about Blackford and Grant Counties, Indiana. I give him credit for his efforts at accuracy, but even the esteemed (but not humble) lawyer made some notable errors. In 1900 he published this account about the Anderson family of Blackford County.6

Clip from Shinn’s book.

And thus we created, Frankenstein-style, a woman to be the bride of William C. Anderson, married in 1805, or was it 1808? However, William did just fine finding wives without our help. We’ll visit them in my next post.

Feature image: Headstone for William C. Anderson Jr. in the Trenton South Cemetery in Blackford County, Indiana. (E. Lyon 2017). William also has a newer headstone that includes his second wife and one of their daughters.


  1. William C. Anderson. 1820 U S Census; Census Place: Warren, Belmont, Ohio; Page: 275; NARA Roll: M33_86; Image: 154 – via Ancestry.com. This record has 8 children, of whom 6 are known to researchers. Two additional children were born after 1820: John K. Anderson, and Cavy Ann Anderson. 
  2. Elizabeth Frey (b. 1783). Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania, Church Records – Adams, Berks, and Lancaster Counties, 1729-1881 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004. 
  3. https://glorecords.blm.gov/details/patent/default.aspx?accession=IN3550__.480&docClass=STA&sid=a1dyx44d.4fd ; Blackford County Clerk. Deed Book D p. 548, Hartford City, Indiana. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/176394506/william-clark-anderson?_gl=1*6k8i6h*_ga*NjI2NDc0MjQxLjE2MDkwODExMzc.*_ga_4QT8FMEX30*MTY1ODk1MTg5MS4yNTcuMS4xNjU4OTU1MTM4LjA. Note: I created this Find A Grave memorial in 2017. Prior to that, William’s death date was not recorded on Ancestry anywhere. 
  4. Ransom, James H. Letter to [“Dear Folks” (Mr. & Mrs. L.M. Smith), Spokane, Washington], November 19, 1936, Los Angeles, California. Collection of Eilene Lyon. 
  5. DuLaney, Cora Anderson, compiler. The Andersons of the Great Fork of the Patuxent. Typed manuscript, 1948, pp. 90-1. 
  6. Shinn, Benjamin G. Biographical Memoirs of Blackford County, Ind. Chicago: The Bowen Publishing Co., 1900, p. 273. The first biography in section three is Shinn’s own, prefaced with an image and running for eleven pages! 

34 thoughts on “Killing Eliza Frey

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  1. It is always worrisome to me when I rely on someone else’s “research.” I’ve been lucky that many of those who’ve done research have been reliable—but even so, I always look for an actual record to verify their research. I’ve been burned enough times to know that lots of people just copy other trees without verification. And when it’s been done over 70 times, it takes on a life of its own!

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    1. I expect Eliza will exist in zombie form for a very long time! It took a while for me to realize that Jim had so many errors in his work. I’ve learned so much about research since 2011!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. OMG, you have no idea! My original version of this post had several images from laughable family tree pages for Eliza, but I decided against ridiculing them. I know my trees aren’t perfect, either.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My wife has several relationships she keeps trying to fix on the familysearch tree. She will fix a parent/child relationship and give her documentation showing why the information she is adding is correct. Then someone else will come and “fix” it back to the incorrect information because “there are so many ancestry trees with that information that it couldn’t be wrong.” She feels really bad that a number of the ancestor trees had copied from her tree before she found the documents correcting her original information.

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  3. I find this post very interesting and a bit funny (I think intentionally), Eilene.

    Without getting into my own silliness of pondering, wondering and studying of my own known/unknowns relatives of those who have passed from life to the other-side of the boarder that we call death, I find your efforts and research very very interesting!

    I look forward to your next post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve found a lot of that, too. I don’t trust any of it anymore. But at least it got me started, which was the whole point. My grandmother would be so envious of how we can research today.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh my gosh, I laughed so hard at your conclusion!

    This story summarizes beautifully why you should never believe what you read on the internet – and evidently in letters from dead relatives!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There was some pretty funny stuff in Ancestry. One had Eliza born in China (??!!). Another had her giving birth to children by two different men – at the same time! I know Uncle Jim tried, but did not have the resources at his disposal to evaluate his finds. I’m still mystifies as to where the Frew/Frey names came from to begin with.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. So on Ancestry, anyone can add, delete or reconfigure trees as long as you have an account? I had no idea how it worked. One time there was a “free Ancestry weekend” but it was only for the United States, so any info I got on relatives was through my friend. My great grandmother married brothers. The first died and the she married the second one. We will all be waiting for Part Two.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ancestry users have their own trees. No one can change them unless you give them permission. (No one has permission to edit any of my trees.) FamilySearch is a different story. It’s one giant tree that anyone can modify. I don’t go there.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I wonder how often that happens. Some cousins from Detroit (my paternal grandfathers siblings all went across the border) sent me a family history summary which they had sourced from an oral history my uncle had written down about the original crew who came from Ireland in the potatoe famine. This was in the days before Ancestry or the internet. It had me listed as my uncle’s child instead of his brother, my dad!

    Like

  7. This was an interesting take on some of the unfortunate slips on Ancestry, Eilene. And I liked your impressive detective work, fun title and fun Bride of Frankenstein image. Your skills for tracking and researching are lovely to watch in action.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Even experienced researchers get tripped up at times. I try not to think harshly about what I see on Ancestry. I no longer blindly trust others’ work, though. Thanks for reading and commenting, Jet.

      Liked by 1 person

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