Friday, February 25, 2011

Keeping Up With the Joneses

I’ve already traced part of my maternal lineage back to Joshua Perry, who was born in Warren County in 1805, but migrates westward to Early County and died in Calhoun County in 1863.  Now let’s look at my primary paternal family, the Joneses.

Maggie & Dewey Jones (about 1950)
People who have a really uncommon surname, with few mentions in the historical record, think having a name like Jones would be just great.  They’re mistaken!  Don’t get me wrong, I like my last name, but when trying to trace your ancestors it can be truly a curse if you have to rely on just the public record.  Once you get back past living memory, it becomes easy to lose people, or conflate individuals (merge two people into one identity), or just lose track of the line altogether.

I’m lucky that my father is still living, as are most of his siblings.  And I’m extremely lucky that one of my cousins, Michelle, has been researching the family history for a couple of decades.  She has a great number of family names and dates, many gravestone photos and other documentation.  But I have used my own source of to obtain census records.  I’ve also used Georgia’s Virtual Vault to secure copies of some death certificates and marriage records.  And I’ve come up with some possible clues to more distant ancestors that she had not yet seen.  So I’m going to cover some of that for a few columns.

My grandparents were James Dewey Jones (1907-1973) and Maggie Frances Stringer (1907-2000).  They married in Claxton, Evans County, Georgia, in 1928.  Right away I run into problems.  I can find census records for 1910, 1920 and 1930.  His age is 2 in 1910, 14 in 1920 and 20 in 1930.  The 1930 census shows him living with Maggie and son James Dewey Jr. with his parents, and that he was 19 when first married.  I also have copies of pages from Maggie’s bible, given to me by my cousin Michelle.  It states that my grandfather was born 13 Dec 1908.  The Stringer family bible (again, the pages were provided by my cousin Michelle, though I also have paper copies given to me by my parents) lists my grandmother’s name as Frances Magadilin, and gives her marriage date to Dewey Jones as “Oct 6 1928.”  Granddaddy’s gravestone is carved with his birth date as 13 Dec 1907.

Oh my goodness!

Stringer Bible (left) - Jones Bible (right)
In this situation, there is a great deal of conflicting data in the sources.  There is no “preponderance of evidence” here.  So in this case I went with the first and last sources.  The 1910 census states that he was 2 years old in June of that year which is consistent with a birth date of 13 Dec 1907, and that’s what is on his gravestone.  Furthermore, I looked up his SSDI (Social Security Death Index) record online and found the same date there.  So that’s what I’ll use until further evidence comes in, though I will note the discrepancy in dates in my notes.

I mentioned the SSDI.  If you haven’t used it yet, the Social Security Death Index can be a very valuable tool for discovering or verifying vital statistics and possibly other family names as well.  The SSDI is available online from a variety of sources, including, and Family Search.  The first two are pay subscription sites; the Family Search site is free.  If a death was reported to the Social Security Administration after 1962 when they began keeping electronic records, then the person is in this database.  There are also some individuals included who died before then, but after Social Security became law.  A quick search in turns up the index record for my grandfather.  I can also use the retrieved Social Security Number (SSN) to order a copy of what’s called the SS-5 form, “Original Application for a Social Security Card”.  You can now order these online directly from the SSA at  The fee is $27 if you know the SSN, $29 if you don’t.  The SS-5 often provides information on your ancestor’s name, address, date of birth and parents’ names.  The farther back you go, the less likely you are to find all of this information on the form, but it’s a valuable piece of documentation nevertheless.  I still need to order a copy of my grandfather’s SS-5.

There will be no birth certificate, but there are other documents I still need to obtain on James Dewey Jones.  I need to order a copy of his death certificate and marriage license (Evans County records aren’t available through the Virtual Vault).  However, I do have his parents’ names from the Bible pages my grandmother wrote and from the census forms, as well as from information provided by Michelle, so next time we’ll go back another generation or two, trying to keep up with the Jones!

Here’s your summary:
  • Talk to your relatives.  An old family Bible is a valuable find.  Quite often they may be the only record of your relatives’ births, marriages and deaths.  When possible, try to link living memory with the historic document.  Is there someone alive who has personal memory of the people listed in the Bible record?  Try to get their stories recorded.  They can provide valuable clues about where to search and who to look for.
  • has much more than census records and family trees.  Try using the SSDI to search for ancestors who died in the 20th century – particularly those who passed away during the second half of the century.  Then use the SSN you obtain to order a copy of the person’s SS-5 form for documentation and as a pointer towards areas of additional research.
  • Families weren't always consistent or particularly accurate when talking to the census takers.  While the census forms are extremely valuable, they aren’t necessarily to be taken as Gospel truth.  When conflicts arise, try to arrive at a reasonable decision based on a preponderance of evidence.  At times you go with the “earliest report” method.  The earliest reported age is generally going to be the most accurate.

Later y’all,


1 comment:

Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...

Welcome to the Geneabloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

Dr. Bill ;-)
Author of "Back to the Homeplace"
and "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories"