Why Analyze Genealogical Data?

Genealogy is a constant learning process. In the beginning stages, the question may be, who were my great-grandparents. Learning a name and where they lived fills in an empty spot on a family tree and for many that is sufficient. But once a name on a tree is not enough and you decide to look for documentation to track where they lived and worked, bore their children and are buried, the need for careful examination and evaluation of what you find becomes important.

Yesterday, as I was trying to clear up a death date – to which of the multiple Leanders did it belong [I had the same birth/death dates for two Leanders - one in Linn County, Missouri and one in Carroll County, Virginia]. Although the Virginia death date came from the family Bible, it was beginning to look as if it were the one in error]. In this process, I came across a perfect illustration of why it’s important to analyze the data from the documents you find. Although the search began with Leander Lineberry, eventually the bigger question of the moment became who were the parents of Robert J. (R.J.) Lineberry.

I started with information from the 1900 census for Linn County, Missouri for Leander Lineberry, which showed him with a second wife [first wife, Prissilla Coulson Lineberry, had died in 1893].

1900 Mary Harmon

This record shows that he and his wife, Mary, have been married for six years and that she is the mother of one child born/one child living. She is recorded as 52 years old, which would mean she was over 45 when a child of that marriage would have been born; however, there is no child enumerated within the household. The most logical interpretation for this information would be that her child had been born in a previous relationship, but at this point only a guess.

I found the marriage record for Leander and Mary, which verified what I had already learned from other family records – that his second wife was Mary Harmon:

Marriage License Leander Lineberry-Mary Harman

The 1850 census for the Harmon family shows both Mary ‘Polly’ Harmon and her sister Elizabeth still living at home in Carroll County, Virginia with their widowed father, Patrick, my third great-grandfather:

1850 Mary Harmon

When I looked at the 1880 census for Mary Harmon, I found her living with her sister, Elizabeth Harmon and her husband, Joseph H. Lineberry, and their children.

1880 census mary harman robert lineberry

By the 1880 census, relationships within a family unit are listed; the relationships are listed as to how they are related to the head of household. Typically, a census lists the core family as a unit before listing any other people living in the household. Since that is not the case here, it is cause for wondering why. The core family would appear to be Joseph and Elizabeth and two children, Patrick L. and Harriet A. with Mary Harmon as a sister-in-law living with them. The insertion of Robert Lineberry below Mary as a son of the core family is a little unusual and the main reason for further consideration. The 1870 census for Mary sheds a little light on the situation.

1870 census mary harman robert harmon

Joseph and Elizabeth are shown on the previous page, which I have not copied; at the top of the second page are three of their children – Wilburn, Alverdo and Patrick. In the next household [this enumerator seemed to place the household numbers at the bottom of a family unit rather than at the top], Mary Harmon is enumerated with her son, Robert Harmon. Since Harmon is Mary’s maiden name, it leads to a possibility of his birth being outside of a marital relationship [it would not be unheard of for her to have married someone with her same surname]. This listing does seem to support the interpretation from the 1880 census that the listing of Robert underneath the name of Mary rather than underneath the core Lineberry family was not an accident. It does not, however, address the name change from Harmon to Lineberry and whether this was an enumerator choice or reflected some surname shift.

Checking with Ancestry.com family trees for Robert Harmon Lineberry does not show anything for the Harmon name, but does for Robert Lineberry. Every tree shows him as a son of Joseph and Elizabeth Harmon Lineberry. If one stopped at the 1880 census and the listing of him as a son of the head of household without considering his placement on the census form, that would be the conclusion.

However, assembling information on a family line is a process that, over time, gives a lot of variables – from that list of variables, I now know Robert Harmon went by R. J. Lineberry. a 1900 census listing for R. J. Lineberry provides additional insight to help clarify who he was:

1900 R.J. Lineberry census

This record shows R. J. living in a presumably unrelated household, listed as a servant but [not shown in this image] also working as a saw mill hand. He is listed as 35 and widowed; I have not yet discovered a marriage record to account for the widowed status. Here is the more telling piece of the puzzle: both he and his mother were listed as born in Virginia but he doesn’t know the birth location of his father, which would not be the case if Joseph Lineberry were that father.

Still with the name of Robert J. Lineberry, two years later, there is a marriage record for him and Mary J. Briggs.

Robert J. Lineberry marriage

I found a FindAGrave record for R. J. Lineberry showing his death in April 1909. The 1910 census record gives credence to that death:

1910 census mary harman mary briggs lineberry widows

This 1910 record supports several items of interpretation even though it is an enumerator mess – please note the head of household is listed as Mary Lineberry [who only picked up the name of Lineberry in her 1896 marriage so not pertinent to the 1865/66 birth of her now known to be only child]; this Mary is widowed and 64, while her mother-in-law is also Mary Lineberry who is widowed and only 24. Additionally, Robert is listed as a female born in about 1907 – Robert was, in fact, a male child who died in 1909 while there was another male child, Theodore, who was born in 1909 but is not listed. That misinformation notwithstanding, we can now see that Robert’s mother was not Elizabeth Harmon Lineberry, but was Mary Harmon Lineberry – she, once again is listed as having had one child, this time deceased, while Mary Briggs Lineberry is the mother of four children, one of whom is deceased [Robert, the who is the one listed as living].

The FindAGrave record for Mary L. Lineberry opened new questions. It listed her as the spouse of R. J. Lineberry rather than the Leander of the marriage license and 1900 census. It also illustrates another reason to not take records at face value – if I had, I would have believed this death/burial record to be for another Mary L. Lineberry. Upon a review of the details, this Mary Lineberry’s birth is listed as 6 January 1845 while her spouse, R. J. Lineberry, has a birth date of 16 November 1866 – he would have been 19 years younger than his wife (not impossible but certainly unusual); additionally, the 1910 record for R.J.’s wife, Mary, would show her to have been quite young at the time of her marriage – perhaps 15. Since Mary Harmon was approximately 19 years old at the time of the birth of her son Robert J. Harmon-Lineberry, I had to wonder if  this was perhaps a mis-linking by the FindAGrave memorial creator. I emailed him with my questions and a request for any supportive details he might be able to provide in order to determine if this record was my Mary Harmon Lineberry or another Mary Lineberry. He responded by saying he couldn’t determine why he had them linked since this memorial was Mary L. and R.J.’s wife was M. J. He said he would look into it and get back with me. After several emails back and forth his conclusion is that R.J. was, in fact, the son of Mary L. Lineberry rather than her spouse. He also contacted his sister who provided a brief obituary for Mary L. Lineberry, a transcription [or summary] is below:

June 24, 1921
Died, Mrs L. Lineberry died rural home near St. Catherine age 76. Services at Wyandotte Chapel Husband and son preceded her some years ago, Mr. and Mrs. Griffin had cared for her for a number of years.  This came from the Marceline Mirror-Journal 1920–1924. [The date listed is the date of publication - her death date was 21 June 1921.]

A marriage record for Beulah Lineberry, the child listed in the 1910 census] shows her mother as Mary Griffin who had to give permission for her underage daughter to marry, which record, combined with the obituary, tells me Mary Briggs Lineberry Griffin continued to provide a home for her mother-in-law until her death in 1921.

Although I still do not know when, why or how Robert Harmon changed his surname to Lineberry, I believe it is clear from the record that he did. I also believe that since Elizabeth Harmon Lineberry was not his mother, it is not likely that Joseph Lineberry was his father [though such complicated relationships are not unheard of] – the 1900 census record stating he did not know the birth location of his father is also supportive of the interpretation that Joseph was not his father. I have not searched for any possible legal name change papers, but it is highly probable that due to being raised in the home of his aunt and uncle, Joseph and Elizabeth Lineberry, and to avoid the difficult issue of illegitimacy, and going to school with his cousins that the name merely evolved over time. It is also clear that his relationship with his mother remained over that same period of time, in spite of a name change.

Without taking the time to analyze as broad a spectrum of the paper trail as is feasible, the names and relationships on a family tree are likely to contain a relatively large degree of misinformation and error. To utilize an expression most of us heard when we were growing up – “If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well.” Genealogy or filling in names on your family tree is a great illustration of that family adage.

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2 Responses

  1. Whew! That is definitely a conundrum! I have seen more than one case in my own personal research of some of the things you suspect or wondered about. For instance, one early 19th century person I was researching– the man had an illegitimate child with one sister, then went on to marry the other sister and have several more children with her. Complicated! In another case, an early 20th century relative may or may not have been married to this guy, they had a child, and he left her. In a census record the little girl is listed with her father’s name, then later she is listed with her mother’s maiden name instead (after the mother had died and she was being raised by her grandparents). Oh the tangled webs that are sometimes woven!

    • Trying to figure it out is one of the more interesting facets of the research. Just think, people who settle for just one record or just a name miss so much of the fun and the challenge. Thanks for stopping by.

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