Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Untangling the String: Examining Records
I have recently been confronted with several questions from patrons in the Brigham Young University (BYU) Family History Library about ancestral families where it appears that two or more families have been combined. This usually manifests itself in a tangle of children either because of an unusually large number or ages that overlap. However, you have to allow for incredible possibilities. Apparently, the World's Record for the largest number of children born to one woman is 69 to the wife of Feodor Vassilyev (b. 1707–c.1782), a peasant from Shuya, Russia. In 27 confinements she gave birth to 16 pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets and four sets of quadruplets. See Guinness World Records. The rest of the story also can give the average genealogist pause to consider:
The Gentleman's Magazine (1783, 53, 753) recounts: "In an original letter now before me, dated St Petersburg, Aug 13, 1782, O. S. Feodor Wassilief [sic], aged 75, a peasant, said to be now alive and in perfect health, in the Government of Moscow, has had–
By his first wife:
4 x 4 = 16
7 x 3 = 21
16 x 2 = 32
27 births 69 children
By his second wife:
6 x 2 = 12
2 x 3 = 6
8 births 18 children
"In all, 35 births, 87 children, of which 84 are living and only three buried. . . The above relation, however astonishing, may be depended upon, as it came directly from an English merchant at St Petersburg to his relatives in England, who added that the peasant was to be introduced to the Empress."
In Saint Petersburg Panorama, Bashutski, 1834, the author notes that:
"In the day of 27 February 1782, the list from Nikolskiy monastery came to Moscow containing the information that a peasant of the Shuya district, Feodor Vassilyev, married twice, had 87 children. His first wife in 27 confinements gave birth to 16 pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets and four sets of quadruplets. His second wife in eight confinements gave birth to six pairs of twins and two sets of triplets. F. Vassilyev was 75 at that time with 82 of his children alive."
And the Lancet (1878) refers to a twin study carried out by the French Academy and:
"Apropos of the enquiry, the Committee of the Academy recall an account of a quite extraordinary fecundity that was published by M. Hermann in his "Travaux Statistiques de la Russie," for Fedor Vassilet [sic]. . . who, in 1782, was aged 75 years, had had, by two wives, 87 children."
OK, baring that possibility, most of the time, the tangled children need to be sorted out and the families separated.

This is usually accomplished by careful examination of the place where each child was born.  This challenge is most common in countries with very similar given and surnames, such as the Scandinavian countries and Wales. I also run into this issue in Latin America. I once knew a family in Panama with six boys, all of whom had been given exactly the same name.

Here are some suggestions for avoiding combining children from different families (assuming you don't end up related to Wassilief)

  • Look carefully at the locations of each birth.
  • Do not assume people with the same names are the same people.
  • Look closely at the birth order and dates.
  • Make sure the parents are identified correctly. 
  • Take the time to think about what you are doing.

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