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Barking Up The Wrong Tree or How I Was Seduced By Jabez Whitaker

March 18, 2012

I have broken more rules of genealogy research than have ever been made. Some of them were because I didn’t know any better, and others were because of my wishful thinking and hardheadedness.

My worst offense has been spending two years working on a branch that turned out to be not mine after all. My time was consumed with not time or thought to posting on my blog. Just look at the date on my previous post!  All because I thought I was related to someone relatively famous and with a lineage that would have ancestors who signed the Magna Carta, married into the powerful families of England, and even went back to William the Conqueror and Charlemagne.

This is a cautionary tale to other family historians.  You can’t cut corners. You have to check your facts and have as much documentation as you can before you make assumptions or jump to conclusions. Dr. Melton P. Meek, the pre-eminent genealogist on the Whitaker Family of Holme-in-Clivinger, Lancashire, England, gently reminded of this. Bless Dr. Meek for finally setting me on the right track and to Joye Boardman for graciously sharing the correct information.

How did I get so far astray? Well it’s the fault of my 4th great grandfather, Richard Whitaker. He had the audacity to be living in North Carolina at the same time as another Richard Whitaker, who was born around the same time and lived in Halifax Co. NC. The Halifax Richard was the son of Richard, Sr. and Elizabeth Cary. These Whitakers could trace his ancestry back to Jamestown and Jabez Whitaker, who married Lady Mary Bouchier, whose illustrious ancestors went back to Charlemagne.  Jabez’s father, Dr. William Whitaker, was a famous cleric in the court of Queen Elizabeth I, and his half-brother, Rev. Alexander Whitaker was the minister who converted Pocahontas to Christianity and then performed her marriage to John Rolfe.  As a former history teacher, I was seduced by all of this. Besides, as I looked at hundreds of web resources with convincing historical data, many researchers had this lineage as credible.

As Lee Corso, my favorite college football analyst says, “Not so fast, my friend.” My Richard may have been in Halifax County, but he settled in Rowan County, and later Lincoln County North Carolina. He married Rachel Bentley, and ended up being grafted onto the wrong branch because of name, geographic proximity, and confusion.

I corresponded with Dr. Meek, who is THE authority on the Richard > Jabez > Dr. William Whitaker line whose family originated in a Lancashire hamlet with the quaint name of Holme-in-Cliviger. His book, The Descendants of Thomas Whitaker of Holme-In-Clivinger Burnley Lancashire, England 1400-1996, is considered to be the Bible on this branch of the family.  Dr. Meek and I were exploring the possibility that Rachel Bentley was Halifax Richard’s second wife, since we knew his first wife was Nancy Ann Peete.

In the meantime, I was in a frenzy of research, locating the ancestral home in Lancashire, and learning about Dr. William Whitaker’s contributions to the Protestant movement and to Cambridge University. I corresponded with the parish church in Holme-in-Clivinger, and received wonderful photos from a local photographer of the ancient church, the countryside, and the pub.  My nonagenarian mother, who is like Betty White on steroids, was ready to make a pilgrimage to the homeplace in Holme-in-Clivinger. I use the term nonagenarian because my mother is quite sensitive about her age, but if you don’t know the meaning, just look it up to get what decade her age is. I don’t want to be disinherited, and after all, she does have the legendary mountain Whitaker temperament.

Then I got the email followed by mailed written documentation from Dr. Meek with the proof that Halifax Richard never married Rachel Bentley and my Richard was a different person entirely, not related to the “famous” Whitakers. It dawned on me with stunning clarity. I had been careless, going after a quick fix, following the crowd, sharing shoddy information and not following good genealogical practices. Dr. Meek gently showed me an experienced genealogist in action, working slowly and methodically. By the way, Dr. Meek and my mother are close in age, and are good role models in mental activity and having a zest for life. They are what I want to be when I grow up.

Now I was back to square one. Where had my Richard come from? What about the descendants of his 11 children with Rachel? I found an out-of-print publication, Richard Whitaker of North Carolina and Washington County, Virginia by Joye Boardman. I contacted her about getting a copy, but she didn’t have any more. She kindly emailed a text copy and it provided excellent information along with documentation. We began corresponding, and I encouraged her to make her information available on the Internet so that others wouldn’t make the same mistakes I had.  She said she didn’t have time or expertise, but graciously gave permission for putting her research on my AppalachianAristocracy.com.

The moral of this story is wishful thinking and conjecture are no substitute for research and documentation in doing your family history.  The other lesson learned is experienced genealogists can be our best teachers if we let them. Family history is more than collecting names and filling in the missing blanks on a pedigree chart.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. July 25, 2012 2:17 pm

    This is a great article. Thanks for sharing. Genealogy is full of such cautionary tales.

  2. Leah permalink
    January 28, 2014 5:00 am

    I believe I am related to Jabez Whitaker, but never know until tonight that they might be “famous!” Thank you so much for sharing this. I can’t wait to tell my mother all about it!

    • January 28, 2014 5:12 am

      Glad I was able to help, Leah. Jabez father, Dr. William Whitaker, was the most famous of the family. His theological works are still studied today.

  3. parafighter permalink
    August 1, 2014 4:18 pm

    Love this article..I worry if I am “barking up the wrong tree” family rumor that my gggrandfather changed his name from Angell to Briggs. For 19 yrs I have been researching this. I can’t find Briggs from his birth until 1892 when he shows up in NJ and his move to Missouri. But I find an Angell who has the same birtdate, mothers maiden name, occupation and born in the same area in Ma., I can find him from his birth to 1885 when I can no longer find anything on him. I visit Ma. every summer and dedicate several days to just do research. I have had many pro genealogist tell me they are 99 % sure I have found him but finding proof and/or when & why is my brick wall. I worry I have spent all this time on this and without proof, am I wasting my time. Of course no one out there is researching the Angell family, if they are, they have they stop with his father and know nothing more!

    • August 1, 2014 5:52 pm

      It sounds like you’ve done all your due diligence in trying to solve this mystery. If the pros are saying you’ve found him in MA, then I would take that as confirmation. Have checked local newspapers for information? It could be he got into some legal trouble or there was a scandal that caused him to change his name.

      • parafighter permalink
        August 2, 2014 1:02 am

        I have been checking newspapers and haven’t found anything. This past June I spent 7 hours in Taunton at a historical society reading newspaper (they are not index in any form) and couldn’t find anything but only got through 2 years worth!! I talked my dad into doing a DNA testing. We just sent it in this week, at this point I am trying anything! Thank you for your response and I am open to more suggestions!!

  4. August 2, 2014 1:12 am

    Let’s hope DNA gives the leads you need. You definitely have put in the effort of exploring all the usual options. Happy Hunting!

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