I have been researching my paternal line and have come across a stumbling block. My line can be traced pretty easily back to the beginning of the 19th century in Ohio, where we come across one Ebenezer Blackstone (1776?-1824). Try as I might, I cannot go back any further, but my searches have come across the following passage which may or may not prove fruitful. At


we have the following passage of interest.

September 25, 1859, he married Miss Ionia Blackstone, great-great-great-granddaughter of William Blackstone, the famous author of Blackstone's commentary on law; also of George Fox, the famous leader of the Quakers; and a third cousin of ex-President Rutnerford B. Hayes. Her father, Ebenezer Blackstone, was born in Smithfield, Ohio, and was a son of William Blackstone, a dry-goods merchant of Philadelphia, and later a resident of Smithfield; he married Miss Ann Price, whose mother was a daughter of George Fox. William's father, Ebenezer, was born in England, where his father, William Blackstone, was a leading attorney and writer upon law. The various branches of the family were allied with the Society of Friends. Ebenezer Blackstone, Jr., engaged in the dry-goods business in Middletown, Guernsey County, Ohio, where his daughter, Ionia, was born.

I would like some help interpreting that passage, in light of the following facts.

As far as I can tell, the lineage here is Sir William, William, Ebenezer, William, Ebenezer, Ionia. It is my hypothesis that the first Ebenezer listed here is my Ebenezer, but that is not really relevant for the rest of the question.

It is a fact (as much as is possible) that Ann Price and William Blackstone married in 1808. (from ancestry.com) Public trees there have William being born in 1787.

It is also a fact that Sir William married Sarah Clitherow about 1760 and had a number of children including two named William. The first, born in 1762, died as a child, and the second, born in 1769, survived until adulthood. There are also public trees on ancestry.com that indicate a son William by a previous marriage (to Margaret Smith) born in 1756. It seems unlikely that any of these children could have had a grandchild born in 1787, as the passage implies.

I have not been able to locate any additional biographical information that would indicate that Sir William had any sons before 1756. Since he is a relatively famous personage, I would assume that his children would be well documented.

So what is the best way to reconcile/verify the claims made in this passage? I have not been able to track anything else down on ancestry.com. The public trees there are fairly prone to error in any case. The SAR/DAR websites are not helpful here as the immigration occurred after the Revolutionary War. I have other evidence that indicates that the immigration probably occurred in 1799, but nothing shows up on ancestry.com -- are there other, better, sources of immigration information? Basically, I have hit a brick wall and would like some additional resources to check.

So after this preamble, I guess my question is the following. If we assume the lineage Sir William, William, Ebenezer, William, Ebenezer, Ionia is correct, what can we say about the birthdates of these people given that Sir William is well documented as having lived from 1723-1780 and the last William married in 1808? I am interested both in determining the birthdates of the people listed here and in learning about the resources available for answering such questions. I will add a separate question for the immigration issue, as it is not the focus of this question.

  • Welcome to G&FH SE! Thankyou for providing such excellent background to your question(s). Something I am hoping you may be able to do is to edit your question to focus in on whichever question is the most important to have answered first. It seems like the last question about finding evidence for (or against) a 1799 immigration might be best handled in a separate question. For the "passage of interest", I think much could be gained from breaking it down into each of the individual "facts" that you are looking to verify, and from that to determine which is best tackled first.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 3:08
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    Welcome! I've edited your question to set off the quoted material in a quote box.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 3:20
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    Thanks! I've narrowed the question down to one (broad) question. I also have learned how to do a quote box. :) Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 4:11
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    In the meantime, try Joe Beine's research guide for the immigration question: researchguides.net/immigration/index.htm
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 4:12
  • Thanks for re-working your question into two - I am hoping that will lead to useful answers to both.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 5:04

1 Answer 1


Since you asked a very broad question, I will give a broad answer.

I have a similar situation in my research. One of my husband's great-grandfathers is listed in a big two-volume history of a famous New England family, and in that book, one can trace his line all the way back to England. The difficulty is, the author and his father, who allegedly spent 25 years compiling this work, did not (as far as I can tell) list many of the specific sources they used -- it was probably based on the commonly-available town vital records, correspondence with other family members, and so on. But the effect is the same as consulting an un-sourced public tree on Ancestry that was done by a well-known researcher and put up as "cousin bait". You know they probably have good sources for what they've done -- but what were they?

The difficulty with starting research on a service like Ancestry is that it is very name-centric, and when users make trees and record the names and dates of births, marriages, and deaths, but nothing else, it reduces people's lives to numbers. But extracting the numbers from the records that supply them can strip away the clues we need in order to learn more. This is one reason why genealogists like Ancestry's Crista Cowan say that most "brick walls" are self-created. We think we "know" things but we either don't remember how we know, or never knew, where the information came from.

So it helps to think a bit about what you think you know, and what you want to discover. Break down your bigger question into smaller specific ones. If you want to verify the information in the public trees, start with what you have -- e.g. with Ionia Blackstone -- and work outwards in small increments.

If an author asserts "Ann Price and William Blackstone married in 1808" then your first question might be what source that author could have for that assertion. No one alive today can know whether this event took place or not -- all we can do is take someone else's word for it. For Ohio Vital Records in that time period, marriages were recorded at the county level. The Family Search Research Wiki cautions that "Parents are not usually named in records dated before 1900." which raises another question: How can you tell that you have the right people, and not someone else with the same name?

One approach is to widen your focus and study not just a single family, but the wider group of friends, associates, and neighbors. Some genealogists call this "cluster" research; Elizabeth Shown Mills, author of Evidence Explained, calls it the FAN principle. See her QuickLesson 11: Identity Problems & the FAN Principle.

I would write up a Research Plan. Start by making a timeline of what 'facts' you think you know, and how you know them. Then ask how you can find a better source of information for each item than an un-sourced public tree or statement. If you have a compiled work like a published biography, ask how the author might have found that information. Also consider how you can learn more about the time period and the community in which each person lived, so that the details in each record you find will have more significance when you assemble all the records for analysis.

The key to finding out more is to look for specific answers to specific questions -- and then, when examining a record that you have found, think about what questions it raises. Then look for the answers to those questions.

The detail that jumps out at me in the quoted passage is that George Fox is a leader of the Quakers, and that your focus family was allied with the Society of Friends. You have an opportunity here to study a community, the Society of Friends -- a community that left behind many records.

Since you are interested in verifying the birth dates in this lineage, one obvious place to start might be Understanding Quaker Dates.

To find more resources:

About the Quakers:

Area Research:

Record collections which have not been indexed:

At the end of this months' "What's New at Ancestry.com" video on YouTube, Crista Cowan says that Ancestry.com has made the decision to put up images so that they will be available for browsing before they have been indexed. FamilySearch.org also has record collections with no index which can be browsed -- scroll down on their main page and you can find the list underneath the search box. In order to make effective use of records like this, it helps to know the time and place that your research subjects lived. This is where making a timeline and assembling a historical map collection can really pay off.

Research Methods:

In addition to these resources, widen your search by consulting state and local archives, the local historical and genealogical societies, and so on. Check the public libraries in the communities where your ancestors lived -- sometimes you can discover wonderful locally-written research guides describing what materials are available for genealogical research at that public library. Don't forget the Family History Library's catalog, and see what microfilms might be available, or available to order, to be viewed at your local Family History Center.

There is a huge amount of material out there -- there are even newspapers that survive from this period -- so explore a little. Don't make a brick wall for yourself by limiting yourself to the material which is available on Ancestry.com, or by limiting yourself to research which is entirely name-based.

Also of interest:

The online magazine Genealogy in Time has this news item from their calendar of records which have recently come online for the United Kingdom (added June 2014):

National – The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) has put online an index of their books, pamphlets, periodicals, and committee meeting records. Some of the information goes backs to the 1600s. The archive can be searched by keywords, such as name. You still need to visit the library in London to view the underlying document. The search is free. Quaker Online Archive- See more at: http://www.genealogyintime.com/records/UK-genealogy-records.html#sthash.z3GngSIb.dpuf

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    Thanks for this very comprehensive answer as well! My initial interest in this question was to determine whether the immigrant Ebenezer mentioned here could be the Ebenezer from my paternal line, and this answer gives me some ideas. I am relatively uninformed when it comes to genealogy, and I appreciate you taking the time to write out this set of tips and resources. Thanks again! Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 12:12
  • When you have specific questions about records or problems of identity, feel free to ask a new question. You can also read the other questions here to get a feel for what others have done for similar problems.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 15:59

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