Monday, January 31, 2011

Assumptions Can Be So VERY Wrong!

Today, I would like to share a personal anecdote as a warning to others to "Never Assume". In this story, I was/am the topic of the erroneous assumptions.

My late father John was married - and divorced - three times. In his teens, he had a brief marriage to Alice, which resulted in the birth of a daughter. When they divorced, my father enlisted in the Army and he and Alice allowed their infant daughter to be privately adopted by their older, childless neighbors. The young couple felt they were much too young and unsettled to raise the child as single parents.

While he was in the Army, my father met and married Olie in the state of New York. Note the resemblance of the names - change the "A" to an "O" and drop the "c" and Alice becomes Olie. Since John was born and lived his life in Pennsylvania with the exception of his Army commitment, many family researchers don't bother searching for that second out-of-state marriage.  It's easier (and lazier) to just assume they are the same person.

John and Olie moved back to Pennsylvania after his Army stint was finished and had three children - myself, my sister and my brother. Because John and Alice had a daughter, I've seen assumptions that I was that daughter, even though I was born three years after John and Olie married. They were married 19 and 1/2 years, divorcing (in PA) while I was in high school.

About seven years later, John married a third time to Consuela (known as Connie). His third wife was a widow with her own children and grandchildren. John and Connie did not have any children together, yet I've seen family trees where my younger sister (2 years younger than me) and brother (4 years younger than me) are listed as the offspring of John and Connie! My sister had actually worked with Connie at a local factory before my father even met her! Pretty nice trick for someone who wasn't born yet, eh? As we were all adults by that time, none of the three of us siblings had ever lived with them, even for a short or temporary period. Connie's own son and daughter from her prior marriage lived with them, which probably contributes to the offspring identity confusion. John and Connie divorced about 10 years later.

The obvious assumptions made by others seem to have been:

  • Alice and Olie were the same person, transcription errors being the reason for the name difference. (No, they weren't)
  • Not locating the PA divorce records on docket for my father and Alice (sloppy or lazy research)
  • Not searching for an out of state marriage record for my father (Alice never remarried).
  • Assuming that the daughter born to Alice and John was me, even though our births were years apart (one generic birth announcement of a daughter in a local newspaper is not proof of identity).
  • Assuming that my sister and brother were the offspring of John and Connie, even though my siblings were adults when John and Connie married.

The lesson here is NEVER ASSUME. Just because a name is similar does not mean it is the same person with an alternate spelling. Don't assume that just because someone lived the majority of their life in one locality, that they didn't have a major life event take place elsewhere.

Source, source, source your info and make certain that all your facts line up. Are children's ages too old to be the product of a later marriage? Don't allow assumptions to neatly fill in gaps that you want filled. The story you may have in mind may be way off the truth trail. Don't force your facts to fit the story you want, let the facts reveal their own truth.

FYI, John, Alice, and Connie have all since passed on and I have my mother Olie's permission to dicuss this in this blog.


  1. Great post! Thanks to your mother for allowing you to share this.

  2. Thanks to Michael Hait for referring to this blog post in his article that can be found at

  3. So, so true...I see so many people who make assumptions and then so many people who *copy* those assumed family relations - unless a person has documented and verified their info, it is so important to do your own research. Thanks for the reminder!

  4. I have a less recent example - a two people I think may be father and son (with other children) on a ship's passenger list. I assumed - but have no sources or other information to support my assumption - they were my great- and g-g-grandfathers. The topic is in a line-up of future posts. Thanks for sharing your experience. It's so good when we get the whole story, isn't it?!