“To err is human, to repent divine, to persist devilish.” – Benjamin Franklin
If you read my December To-Do list, you know that one of the things I’m working on this month is looking for source records to verify facts in an ahnentafel report that my cousin sent me. It’s not that I don’t trust her research, it’s just that I like to back up facts with my own research. This weekend, I came across a fact that should have been easily verifiable, but I couldn’t find the source, and it was as if a devil took hold of me – I couldn’t let it go until the problem was solved.
The problem began with the marriage of John Patterson. The ahnentafel report stated that he was married on August 4, 1890 in Gilmer County, Georgia. The bride’s name was only reported as Martha. Georgia’s Virtual Vault has the Gilmer County Marriage Books digitized and available online, so I thought it would be easy to find the marriage certificate.
I started by pulling up the marriage book for the years 1877-1892. There is no online index to these records, but the paper indices from the books have been scanned, so I looked under the Ps and wrote down all the page numbers that referenced Pattersons. I proceeded to look up each page, but there were no marriages between a Patterson and a Martha and no marriages of a Patterson during August 1890.
I went back to the Ahnentafel report and discovered that Cousin P. had sourced this fact with an online database from Ancestry.com: “Georgia Marriages 1851-1900.” I went to Ancestry, found the database, and searched on the name John Patterson in Gilmer County. Voila. There was John Patterson married to Martha Ledbetter on August 4, 1890. I looked at the source information for the database and found that the author was citing the Gilmer County Marriage Books. It was apparent that someone had laid eyes on this marriage certificate. Why couldn’t I find it?
I went back to the online marriage books. I tried all the Patterson pages referenced in the index again, to make sure I hadn’t accidentally missed the one I was looking for. I thought it might be easier now that I knew the bride’s surname. Again, no luck. I decided to try paging through the book around the time of the marriage. I always thought that certificates in marriage books were in chronological order, but this one jumped around from month to month and year to year with no rhyme or reason. Since the marriage occurred in 1890, I even looked in the next book, which included the years 1893-1909, to no avail.
At this point, I was about ready to give up. John Patterson is my great-great-grandmother’s brother. How important is it that I have his marriage certificate?
But it bugged me.
I decided to see if there was an online index of the Gilmer County marriage records. These types of indices can often be found on GenWeb sites. I looked up the Gilmer County GenWeb site, but there were no marriage records available. So I went to the USGenWeb Archives and drilled down to the Gilmer County records. They did have an index of marriages from 1851 to 1900, sorted on both groom’s surname and bride’s surname. I found John and Martha, but unfortunately, still had no clue to the location of the marriage certificate.
I decided to give it one more go. Since the GenWeb sites didn’t have what I was looking for, I thought maybe, just maybe, a personal website would. I did a Google search on “john patterson martha ledbetter gilmer county ga marriage.” The first hit that came up was for a free site hosted at rootsweb and was titled “Gilmer County, Georgia Marriages by Groom – K”. When I clicked on it, I saw that it was, in fact, an index of Gilmer County marriages by surname and that it included the marriage book and the page. Pay dirt! I went to the page for surnames beginning with P and there were John Patterson and Martha Ledbetter, married on August 4, 1890 and recorded in book 3 on page 446.
After that, it was a simple, 5-minute task to go back to the Virtual Vault, pull up Book 3 (the same one I had originally been looking in) and click on page 446. I had my certificate.
I looked at the marriage book index again after I found the certificate and there was nothing on the “P” page for page 446. A simple case of human error, and a good example of why one should look at other indices, if the first one yields no results. Mr. Franklin may consider persistence devilish, and at times I felt like I had a devil on my shoulder, but it certainly pays off.