Two different applications for SAR (Sons of the American Revolution), both crediting the same sources, state the same person born on the same date and serving in the same militia as having been born in two different states.

This leads me to think that, while lineages might be correct, that accompanying marriage dates and locations may have some inherent unreliability.

How can I check these (and DAR = Daughters of the American Revolution) lineages?

The particular person is one Josiah Elston who served in the New Jersey Militia, as noted in the SAR application of Jack Russell Smith to the California Society of SAR, membership #84376.

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    I would like to see the answers address how to evaluate the information found in the applications. It is impossible to answer a blanket statement that covers all applications to all lineage societies. My answer would be the same as genealogy.stackexchange.com/a/9227/1006, which discusses Delmar Rial Lowell's Historic Genealogy of the Lowells in America (a work often cited in DAR/SAR applications). I've started a question on Meta to address this as well. genealogy.meta.stackexchange.com/q/3254/1006
    – Jan Murphy
    Apr 24 '17 at 22:31
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    I think that it would be useful to use the particular person that you are interested in as an example of the divergent information that you are finding. That would make it a much more focussed question, which is what we seek.
    – PolyGeo
    Apr 24 '17 at 23:36
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    Thank you to Jan for her link. @ PolyGeo, the particular person is one Josiah Elston who served in the New Jersey Militia. The SAR application of Jack Russell Smith to the California Society of SAR cites
    – BobE
    Apr 25 '17 at 1:29
  • I know the DAR Library is open to the public. They also have a Genealogical Research System: http://services.dar.org/public/dar_research/search/?tab_id=0 that might be of interest.
    – hlg
    Apr 26 '17 at 21:23

Let's consider for a moment how lineage society applications come into being. One of the tools we have to aid in evidence analysis is Elizabeth Shown Mills' Evidence Analysis Process Map (also known as the "3 x 3"), which is in her book Evidence Explained. It can also be seen on the Evidence Explained website, as part of QuickLesson 17: The Evidence Analysis Process Map.

The 3 x 3 asks us to consider three different things as we begin our analysis:

  • The nature of the Source itself (what kind of container holds the information)
  • The nature of the Informant (what we know about who gave the information)
  • The kind of evidence we have (how the information is relevant, according to the specific question we are trying to solve, and how precise the information is)

Information becomes evidence once we ask a specific question, such as What was the birthplace of Josiah Elston?

For each of the different elements in the 3 x 3, there are three different choices. You are looking at SAR applications and have at least two different answers to your research question. What next?

SAR applications can be viewed on Ancestry as part of their database U.S., Sons of the American Revolution Membership Applications, 1889-1970. On the search page, the information under About this Database tells us more about the source. It's important to read this page carefully to learn more about the database and the source material. Note where Ancestry says:

Also, please be advised that many older SAR applications are not sufficiently documented pursuant to current SAR genealogy standards. You may need to supplement the old SAR application with additional documentation. Please review the SAR's genealogy standards and procedures on its website.

Lineage applications are written by people hoping to join the society; they are not original sources, but are at least derivative works. (My preference is to think of them as authored works.)

For the second element of the 3 x 3, we know that the applicants have gathered material to make their case about the lineage between them and the patriot. Each application cites sources. We can try to locate those sources and analyze each one in turn, doing our best to understand the record and to locate images of the originals if we can (a process ESM calls "chasing a record down into the rabbit hole" -- see QuickLesson 12: Chasing an Online Record into Its Rabbit Hole).

For the third element of the 3 x 3, the evidence is direct -- Josiah's birthplace is stated in the record. (The other choices are indirect, which describes what happens when we need to combine information from many different records in order to make a case, and negative evidence, when a person does not appear in a record when we would expect him to be there, such as a list of beneficiaries in a will where we would expect to find him if he were alive.)

On Ancestry, an exact-name search for Josiah Elston revels three search results:

enter image description here

There might be even more applications which mention Josiah Elston if there are name variants in the index to the database, but let's use these three as our examples for now. All three of them refer to someone named Josiah Elston, allegedly born around 1759, who married someone named Rebecca Lewis; the search results say that two of the applications also list parents' names -- William Elston, and Mary. But you can see that the search results differ when it comes to the death date. We can't tell if we have two different men Josiah Elston or just one without going deeper. Always click through to the record page, and then to the image, where an image is available, making note of any additional information about the source as you go.

  • Jack Russell Smith's application (dated 26th March, 1958) asserts he is the 5th great-grandson of Josiah Elston born 1759 in Connecticut and who died before 1832, who served as a private in New Jersey troops. The description of service says that Josiah joned the army in Sussex County (New Jersey), along with a brother Jonathan Elston, and that following the war, he moved to Kentucky, and eventually to Wayne County, Indiana. For this information, the applicant refers us to page 286 of The Officers and Men of New Jersey in the Revolutionary War, and "Family Bible Records". A handwritten note adds "No DAR / No Pens[ion]".
  • Cecil Clyde Moore's application (dated 1 Jan 1969) asserts he is the 2nd great-grandson of Josiah Elston born 1759/1760 in Sussex County, New Jersey and who died around 1830 in Wayne County, Indiana. 1832, who served as a private in New Jersey Militia. The description of service also says that Josiah joined the army in Sussex County (New Jersey), and gives more specific information, naming the unit and giving dates of service. For this information, the applicant refers us to pages 114 and 215 of The Elson Family in America, by James Strode Elson, Tuttle Publishing Co, Vermont, 1942; Stryker: Jerseymen in the Revolution, page 586; page 220 of the DAR Patriot Index (Washington DC, 1966), and Certificate #251 from the State of New Jersey Department of Defense records.
  • Wallace Stephen Moore's application, also filed in 1969, asserts he is the 2nd great-grandson of Josiah Elston born 1759 in Sussex County, New Jersey and who died around 1830 in Wayne County, Indiana. This application also cites James Strode Elston's The Elston Family in America and page 220 of the DAR Patriot Index (1966).

What next?

Possibilities include:

  • Consulting the Genealogical Research System at the DAR to see what they have about Joseph Elston. (If you do so, I highly recommend going through the tutorials.)
  • Looking for the books cited to see if you can find them online, via Google Books, the Internet Archive, or Hathi Trust, or find the physical books in a library near you using WorldCat.
  • Looking for works that mention Josiah Elston via Google or with other search engines, such as this guide WAYNE COUNTY, INDIANA REVOLUTIONARY WAR SOLDIERS & PATRIOTS from the Morrisson-Reeves Library (Richmond Indiana).
  • Looking for works that mention Josiah Elston in genealogical publications by searching on PERSI, the Periodical Source Index (the most up-to-date version is hosted by findmypast).

In all cases, ask yourself where the author of the work got the information about Josiah's birthplace, and keep chasing until you find out how they discovered the information. Then you can evaluate the new sources, using the 3 x 3. Remember though, that even if you find a primary source that gives you direct evidence of Josiah's birthplace, that doesn't mean the information is accurate. See Thomas W. Jones, PhD, CG, CGL, “Perils of Source Snobbery,” OnBoard 18 (May 2012)..

It would be fun if we could just say "this author must know what they're talking about" and call it a day -- but you have to take into consideration what material each genealogist had available to them at the time they made the lineage -- the things they might have seen, and the information that might not have been available to them. Elizabeth Shown Mills, who is a thorough researcher, capable of analysis that can be mind-boggling, has said repeatedly that you can't go on someone's reputation alone, that you have to look over their work and judge it for yourself, seeking out any updates to the published articles in case more information has come to light since the original article was published.

So when conflicts like this come up, roll up your sleeves and ask why, and try to resolve them. My personal opinion is that Resolution of conflicts among evidence items is the most fun element of the Genealogical Proof Standard. When I see conflicts, it makes me ask What did the author see? and my curiosity kicks in -- I have to find out why.

For further research: the other detail that jumped out at me about Josiah Elston is that he allegedly died in Wayne County, Indiana. Wayne county is four counties south of Allen county, the home of the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library. Don't neglect public libraries when you search for more information -- librarians sometimes produce wonderful finding aids about what they have in their own collections. Records, just like people, can move to new locations -- and you may be able to find out more about a person by asking the people who live in the place where someone died than you can by looking in the place that they were born. Historical societies or archives in Indiana might have clues that won't be found on the East Coast. Archive Grid, NUCMC (National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections), and DPLA (The Digital Public Library of America) can lead you to manuscript collections and other lesser-known resources that you won't find by searching big sites like Ancestry.

  • I'm in possession of the James Strode Elston's , The Elston Family in America, which incidently is also in Ancestry's card catalog. While I've little doubt that the aforementioned SAR applicants have correctly identified their respective grandfathers (and thus met the qualifications for society membership) I am coming to realize that (for example) dates of birth and death for Josiah are likely approximations. While James Elston asserts 1759 as Josiah's date of birth, he allows that that is his guess based on a 1790 census. Lesson learned, and Thanks.
    – BobE
    May 1 '17 at 0:16
  • When you're trying to sort out conflicting evidence -- it helps to write things out. It could be something as simple as a table in a Word document, a paper research journal, a project in Evernote or Scrivener, or using Lineascope: lineascope.com -- just a summary of "James Elston's 1759 was calculated from the 1790 census" so you can see who says what and why, to compare and contrast them. If you have to leave off and come back to things later (and who doesn't), it's much easier if you've got notes you can look at, and see the summary all in the same place.
    – Jan Murphy
    May 1 '17 at 7:12

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