Monday, June 14, 2010

"Mistakes are the portals of discovery." - James Joyce

It was a dark and stormy night…

I stared at the papers in front of me and realized: I’d made a mistake.

A significant mistake.

A big ole whopper probably sometime circa 1995 or so.

My AKINS family was not who I thought they were. Somewhere along the way I’d mixed up 2 John AKINS in the federal census and had then perpetuated it for like 15 years! 15 years without noticing!!! O the shame, the horror! :-D

Fortunately, John’s supposed ancestry had hit a brick wall at his supposed grandfather so THANK GOODNESS I wasn’t losing a line back to colonial New England or anything like that.

How did this come to be?

Well, back in February of this year, I got this great comment on a blog entry on my AKINS surname from the wonderful Leslie Ann (whose blog Lost Family Treasures is one of my favorites!).

Leslie Ann (to whom I will always be grateful) commented that she had found some John AKINS wills on the SAMPUBCO website! I was SO beyond thrilled! I ordered them right away.

I THOUGHT I was ordering the will of the father of my John AKINS. You see, my 2nd Great-Grandfather was named John Francis AKINS.

I got the wills (O happy day!) and pored over them.

Right away something didn’t feel right. Why wouldn’t this John guy mention his son John (my John) who was clearly alive and well? I started feeling weirder and weirder. But my transcripts of the source records (census’s) all showed a John living with his parents, John and Deborah. And this was definitely the will of the John who was married to Deborah.

Then I finally started going back through the original sources census files and THAT’S when I started feeling really concerned.You see, sometime back in circa 1995 I found an 1850 NY Federal Census record where there was a John who was the right age living in about the right place and he was listed as a son of John and Deborah AIKINS:

Apparently, in my naivety and enthusiasm, I just ASSUMED it was my John!

And then to compound the error, this is what I typed into my notes in my software:

Now what do you supposed would have made me type “John Francis” when the original record clearly states “John”. Yep, must have been that naivety and enthusiasm I mentioned earlier. Ah, youth!

So now I started really digging around. My AKINS family has always been mysterious, I never could find them in all the census records. Seems like now they were ready! Turns out my John Francis Akins liked to go around not just by the name John or John F. He also liked using Frank or Franklin! All my missing census’s popped up - with the right wife and kids matching my others, in the right places. It's just that my shady 2nd Great-grandfather liked to go by different names. I'm sorry Great-Grandpa, but "Franklin" is NOT the SAME as "Francis"! Frank can come from both of them, but they are NOT the SAME! Geez.

And then that’s when I found them - John F. Frank Francis Franklin's parents. In the 1850 census, over in Chemung County NY. It was George and Rebecca AIKENS. Son named Francis. And there they all were again in 1860 - still in Chemung County, but now he’d switched back to John!

I was incredibly frustrated with all my wasted years on the wrong family, yet also so happy I’d found the right one! This one felt right.

And so, back to SAMPUBCO I went and lo and behold!!!! There were wills for both George AND Rebecca! Both in Barton, Tioga County, NY and that matched up too with where they'd moved during the different census records!

And then I waited for the wills to arrive. On tenterhooks. (If you’ve ever read romance novels, I bet you’ve seen that phrase, that's where I learned it back in the day 146 years ago when I would bother to read fiction.) Look it up, it's exactly appropriate! Fine, I know you won't, so just click on the link:

And today the wills came!
The first one I saw was for Rebecca. And right there, on the first page, was a provision mentioning her grandchildren - Charles and Cornelia AKINS.

YES! MY Cornelia! My great-grandma Cornelia Elizabeth Akins Mix Simpson!!!

AND, both wills mention their son "John F. Akins". (yeah, that's right 2nd Great-Grandpa, your parents both called you John - so that's what you're gonna be in my records!)

YAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!! I'm back on track! With new stuff to look up, what could be better?

And now, time for a celebratory drink! Whew!


  1. How wonderful for you! The truth ALWAYS comes out! Yay indeed!

  2. Thanks for sharing this experience. When I have things like this happen, I call them teachable moments. I can use them in lectures to illustrate the pitfalls one experiences along the way.

  3. I've had a couple of those, and I think most researchers who are honest will admit to it. Its the dogmatic lines that one worries about, I think!

  4. Way to turn that dark and stormy night into sunshine, Leah! Congratulations!

  5. You've corrected a mistake AND opened up another line of enquiry after thinking you had a brick wall - congratulations! Jo

  6. I am happy that you are on the right track now with my mom's line. So, maybe, when you hit a brick wall it's because it's the wrong wall!!!

  7. Oh, yeah - I get to relive some of my early mistakes when I reread my early research notes - ouch! But now you have so much "good research" to look forward to on this family!

  8. I had 2 brothers who each had a daughter named Sarah Jane and each of them born in the same month and year. I followed the wrong brother and daughter for eons until I had a wake-up moment like yours. Good catch. See most of our brick walls are those that we have put up ourselves!

  9. Good catch! Mistakes truly are the gateway to the truth. Good luck researching your new family!

  10. Thanks for sharing this information - how you went astray and how you found that you went astray. It's a good reminder to all of us to be accurate and careful in our observations, assumptions, and transcriptions. Glad you caught the wrong turn.