Monday, July 11, 2011

Did Daniel Boone live in Booneville, Kentucky?

I wouldn't expect anyone to remember, but a long time ago I wrote a post in which I mentioned that my family had a tradition that we were related to Daniel Boone through his mother, who was a Morgan. One of my family names is Morgan. Unfortunately no relationship exists despite the identity of surnames. Morgan is a very common Welsh name and this particular claim was apparently made solely on the basis of the names being the same. As a result, in disproving this family tradition, I have already done some genealogical research on Daniel Boone. So it was interesting to get into another Daniel Boone question, this one, concerning a claim that Daniel lived in the place now called Booneville, Kentucky.

This issue comes up in the context of genealogical proof. How do we evaluate information, data, facts and evidence to construct a proof? Who or what decides that our proof is sufficient. In genealogy, do we start out with an assumption and then try to prove it? Or do we gather information and let the information create the proof? I will look at both ways of approaching a proof, the a priori assumption and the extraction of evidence and deductive reasoning processes.

Daniel Boone is a good example. I can a priori make the assumption that Daniel Boone lived in Booneville, Kentucky and then try to prove it or I can simply gather information about Daniel Boone's residences and see what the evidence shows. In both cases, I can illustrate and comment on the process of developing genealogical proof.

Now, if I were starting out from the standpoint of The Genealogical Proof Standard, I would first do a reasonably exhaustive search before I ever dared to claim that Daniel Boone lived in his namesake community or one of its predecessor communities. But, if I am fascinated by the a priori claim that he lived in Booneville (or its predecessor community) then I start by focusing in on that question. Do you see the difference? In one case, I start with an unsupported assumption. In the other case, I make no assumptions and simply let the evidence take me where it will. If I find that D. Boone lived in my small town, then well and good, but I do not make that assumption before I have heard any evidence. I call this problem the "George Washington Slept Here" principle. That is, claiming an historical relationship to a famous person without evidence or documentation. But then you say, George Washington really did sleep somewhere every night, so couldn't it be possible that he slept in my ancestor's inn or house? Yes, but here I am talking about methodology and establishing proof.

In genealogy, it is exceedingly common to claim a relationship no matter how remote, to a famous ancestor without any real evidence to make the connection. There are even software programs that will ferret out a relationship, no matter how remote and unlikely. Consider that the program has no way of determining whether or not a name in a certain slot in a pedigree is correct or not. The conclusions of these programs is only as valid as the weakest link in the purported relationship.

But the real proof issue is much more subtle. It is the problem of accepting unsubstantiated and unsupported claims that may lead us away from the reality or "Truth" about our family lines. Is the object of our search to learn about Daniel Boone or about Booneville? Or both? In one case, like I did previously, we may be interested in Daniel Boone as a relative, but in the other case, we are trying to find our own set of relatives and the fact of establishing a relationship to Daniel Boone is purely incidental to our inquiry.

In my post, A Genealogical Reality Check, I started this discussion about Booneville which is the county seat of the present Owsley County, Kentucky. This place is not to be confused with Fort Boonesborough, Kentucky which was the the first chartered town in Kentucky, and one of the first English speaking communities settled west of the Appalachian Mountains. See Wikipedia: Boonesborough, Kentucky. Fort Boonesborough is now a Kentucky State Park and is located about 75 miles from Booneville, Kentucky.

OK, so I am running out of time today. This will have to be continued.

1 comment:

  1. I am learning from your presentations; I approve of Genealogical Proof Standard, but I am not comfortable in my attempts to apply it. Thank you for this guidance.
    In your two approaches today (assumption versus evidence path), I'm not sure that either approach affects the outcome AS LONG AS YOU KEEP AN OPEN MIND.
    The first genealogical research I ever did (before I even knew about genealogy) was to disprove the family story that my great grandfather "was on the Fremont expedition which climbed Pike's Peak." While I high school I found a book about that expedition; I read it with fascination and found a) it wasn't Pike's Peak and b) no one named Dorrance was a part of that expedition. Being young but wise, I didn't try to disabuse my mother and her sisters of their story (it was "folk lore" and harmed no one); but neither was I very disappointed. I just took the facts as facts.
    Am I wrong in believing that if you search for all the facts and follow where they lead, then your initial motivation is unimportant?

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