Analyzing an Unsourced Image of an Unsourced Manuscript

I’ve referred briefly to one of my great-great-grandfathers before in NGS Monthly: Addison Harris Day of Toomsboro, Wilkinson County, Georgia. I was writing about ways to hear our ancestors’ voices and included an 1889 letter to the editor he wrote.[1] This time I want to revisit Addison and examine a record I’ve come across about him and his siblings, two electronic images of photocopies of a manuscript. It’s mysterious; equal parts tantalizing and maddening.

Take a look at the two images below. What do you think? How would you assess this record?

(click on the images to enlarge)

 

The first thing to consider is the source of these particular images. Several people on Ancestry and a few others online elsewhere have the same images attached to their family trees. I messaged the Ancestry user from whom I downloaded the images to ask about their source and his knowledge of the record, but have never gotten a response. When I’ve messaged others about the source of their particular image, they either don’t know, or they don’t respond. (Since I don’t mean to point fingers or embarrass anyone, I won’t cite my particular source here.)

While some people have these images attached to their trees or family histories, far more have recorded the same pseudo-transcript of these two images. With that rendering, a partial provenance for the original record is reported:

The following list of Day siblings and their birth dates is from a hand written list (author unknown) found in a paper wallet in a field beside a burned out house in Wilkinson County in the early 1900’s.

Oh, boy. That sounds like lore and legend if ever I’ve heard it. It may be true, but if it is, whoever discovered that record isn’t likely to be around any longer to corroborate the account or give any additional detail. And, well, it sounds awfully convenient.

The pseudo-transcript suggests that the record wasn’t transcribed so much as used as a basis for a slightly more detailed (and “corrected”) account of Addison and his siblings. No source is given for the information added.

Lusindy Day b. 25 Apr 1836 d. 25 Nov 1840 (birth and death dates on original list)
Benjamin T. Day b. 5 May 1839 in GA
Lucinda Day b.13 Aug 1841 in GA d. c. 1915 in Bibb Co., GA
Martha Day b. 21 Nov 1842 in GA d. 6 Jun 1917 in Bibb Co., GA
James M. Day b.25 Oct 1846 in GA
William F. Day b. 22 Apr 1848 in GA d. c. 1904 Twiggs Co. GA
Daniel C. Day. b. 22 Jul 1849 in GA d. 29 May 1912 in Wilkinson Co.GA;
Addison H Day b. 6 Oct 1850 in GA d. c[irca] 1910 on Savannah River in drowning accident
Eliza Day b. 23 Nov 1852 in GA d.28 Nov 1852 (birth and death dates on original list)

What do you think of all of this at this point? Would you use the images as a source? Would you not?

Since I haven’t yet been able to verify either the source of the images or the source of the original records, I’ll have to try a different tack. I could take my next steps in several different directions, but I’ll start with examining the images closely to see what I can determine about the original record. The following characteristics are notable to me.

  • I’m not a handwriting expert, but given my experience, the handwriting is consistent with general handwriting of the mid-19th century.
  • Looking closely at the bleed-through on both images, particularly the “W” in Wiliam [sic] and the “E” in Elizer [sic], I can confidently say that the original record is/was a single page.
  • In examining the edges of the original sheet as seen in the image, it seems likely that it was originally bound in a book (perhaps a Bible, perhaps not).
  • Words are written to the right edge of each page, whether recto or verso, with no distortion caused by writing into the binding. This suggests the page was cut out of the book before the births and deaths were recorded.
  • Only two deaths are included, the last apparently in 1859 or 1860 [last two numerals are debatable]. So whoever recorded the births and deaths stopped recording sometime thereafter and before the deaths of any of the other siblings.
  • There is a strong consistency in the handwriting of the birth entries as well as a strong consistency in the spacing between entries. Both of these characteristics support the idea that they were likely written at the same time, not one entry at a time over the course of sixteen years.
  • The death entries are somewhat different. They do seem consistent with each other and both may have been written at the same time, but perhaps at a different time than the births.
  • The spelling of names and some other words is consistent with the pronunciation used by Addison’s descendants who were still alive when I was a boy. They regularly added hard “r” sounds to syllables that did not contain an “r.” I can still hear them refer to “Co-Colar” (Coca-Cola) and “Aunt Juanitar.” The spellings of “wars” and “wirs” for “was” is consistent with this dialect. The same is true of “Adersin” for “Addison” and “Elizer” for “Eliza.” As for “bornd,” it was equally common to add a “d” to any form of past tense verb, whether or not it had an auxiliary.

Did you observe anything else meaningful? What do you make of these characteristics in combination?

Taken all together, my hypothesis is that the page was first cut out of a book, then had the births and deaths written on it sometime after at least 1852 and perhaps after 1859 or 1860. It seems quite possible it’s a legitimate family record, but not one that was recorded contemporaneously with the events described and may contain errors.

Another one of the many next steps I can take is to corroborate, corroborate, corroborate. We should do that anyway, even if we can fully determine the record’s provenance.

Would Addison’s death certificate help corroborate the information recorded on this page? It would if it existed, but no death certificate for him has ever been found. It’s also likely that none was ever created. Family lore suggests that he disappeared around 1910 and drowned while floating logs down either the Alhambra River or the Savannah River. I’ve yet to find any evidence to support or refute that claim.

What about Addison’s birth? Would there be any other contemporary record of that? Probably not. The statewide registration of births in Georgia did not begin until 1919. Baptism? If the Days were like most of their descendants (many of whom still reside nearby), they were Baptists. Baptists only baptize those who confess Christianity; they do not baptize infants. To date, I’ve found no evidence of any baptisms for anyone in the family, even as adults.

Some Georgia counties recorded some births earlier than 1919. Probate courts, for example, sometimes recorded delayed births. Wilkinson County was created in 1803, but its courthouse in Irwinton burned in 1828, losing all its records to date. The next courthouse burned in 1854, again destroying all records created since 1828. The third courthouse was razed during the Civil War. Few of its records survived. And another fire in 1924 destroyed yet more records. So no luck there.

Alright, then, what about the 1850 federal census? We should be able to find most of the siblings with their parents in that census, right? Again, luck is not wholly on our side. For reasons that are yet unclear, the surviving Day children are found in three separate households in 1850, none of them Day households. Their reported ages, however, generally agree with the birth dates given on the family record.

As for Addison specifically, “Adison H Day,” 1, was in the Thomas Fort household with his sister “Lucindy Day,” 8.[2] At first glance, his presence on the 1850 census would seem to preempt the possibility of an October 1850 birth, but the Fort household was enumerated particularly late that year: 29 October. So a 6 October birth is entirely possible.

Doesn’t his written age suggest he was born in 1849? Infants under a year old in censuses are generally given ages expressed in months: 4/12 and 10/12, for example. No such fractional age is given here; he is just “1.” Interestingly, he’s not alone. Counting the census page Addison appears on, the page before, and the page after, 11 out of 126 people are aged “1.” Nearly 10% of the local population. None of the ages are expressed as a fraction. Chances are good that “1” covers a fairly broad spectrum, perhaps from newborns to nearly 2-year-olds. So it’s plausible that Addison was just a few weeks old at the time.

Is there any record that corroborates Addison’s birth date of 6 October 1850? Yes. Remember that 1889 letter to the editor I mentioned at the beginning? It was to the editor of the Atlanta Constitution. In it he says, “I claim the honor of being the youngest soldier that bore arms in the confederate army. My father’s family record shows that I was born October 6, 1850.”[3] He then goes on to cite his military record and to complain that despite his service, injuries, capture, and imprisonment, the state denied his request for disability payments.

The birth date he gives is the same as the one recorded on the manuscript. Is the sheet of paper his “father’s family record?” Perhaps. It’s certainly an enticing thought to consider. But this is the only record for Addison that directly corroborates the family record.

Much more corroboration was found as I looked for records of his siblings, far too many records to enumerate here. Only a handful were direct corroborations, agreeing specifically with birth dates, but none of the records found refuted the family record. All in all, my confidence in the veracity of the record was growing stronger. It still bothered me, though, that I didn’t know who wrote the record or when it was written. Finally, though, I came across a big hint.

A 1911 Confederate pension application by Daniel C. Day,[4] one of Addison’s brothers, features Daniel’s distinctive handwriting and his signature.

The handwriting looked familiar. I compared it to the handwriting on the family record, especially his name.

Again, I’m not a handwriting expert, but the similarities are striking. Striking enough that I have some confidence in suggesting that Daniel C. Day was the man who wrote the family record I’ve been examining all this time. Since he was born in 1849, he couldn’t have written it until sometime after the War (it’s not a young child’s handwriting). That fact is consistent with the analysis of the record suggesting that the family record was likely written after the events they describe. It also seems likely that Daniel copied his record, probably from his “father’s family record” that Addison referred to in 1889.

Having now identified the author and his likely source, I have much greater confidence in the veracity of the otherwise unverified details recorded on the manuscript. It’s still derivative, but it’s much closer to the original source than I had previously been able to get.

So what do you think? Do you agree with my conclusion? Or would you reach a different conclusion? Would you analyze the record similarly? Or would you analyze it differently? Do you have an unsourced image of an unsourced manuscript? If so, try approaching it as I did the manuscript here. And if you make any breakthroughs this way, be sure and tell us about it.

 

[1] Aaron Goodwin, “Hearing Voices,” NGS Monthly, January 2020 (https://ngsmonthly.ngsgenealogy.org/hearing-voices/ )

[2] Thomas Fort household, 1850 U.S. Census, Georgia, Wilkinson, Division 93, p. 787 (penned), p. 394 (stamped), dwelling 846, family 846, lines 28–33; image at Ancestry, citing NARA M432, roll 87.

[3] “Letters from the People,” Atlanta Constitution, Thursday, 19 December 1889, page 4.

[4] D. C. Day, 1911 pension application, Confederate Pension Applications, Georgia Confederate Pension Office, RG 58-1-1, Georgia State Archives; image on Ancestry, Georgia Pension Applications, 1879–1960.

Comments
  1. September 28, 2020 9:18 am

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