Sunday, September 12, 2004

I'd Like to Teach the World to Gene. . . .

Some people think I've become obsessed with this genealogy thing. But see the last post, "Resistance is Futile." I suppose it can become an addiction. With the growth of computerized databases and widespread availability of technology, it's never been easier to do some basic research. Finding one's way past the brick walls still requires actual examination of actual documents, however.

The Mormons research their family history for religious reasons. I asked a former LDS member about this and she gave me an explanation that certainly within the tenets of their faith is internally consistent. It wouldn't be fair to the LDS Church or anyone else for me, not being of that faith, to attempt an explanation.

Whatever one may believe about the LDS beliefs, one surely must credit them for their magnificent work in genealogy. And further to their credit, they have made it accessible to the public, believer or not.

Genealogy is art and science. It exists as a field of endeavor because of uncertainty--like all science. And like all science, it offers some answers in which there will be necessarily a degree of ambiguity. "Facts" rely on assumptions and are established within "confidence intervals." Perhaps in this sense, genealogy and all science share something in common with religion--to a degree, at least.

As a practical application, take the case of George Micheau (1854?-1944?). For the benefit of his now 83 year old granddaughter, I set out to discover his ancestors. She knew he had been born in Missouri and had lived his life in two places: St Louis, Missouri, and Prairie du Rocher, Illinois. She knew he had died when he was about 90 years old. I found federal census records that indicate that George Micheau was probably born in about 1854--but the census in the early part of the 20th century did not record or report exact birth dates. The census records confirm that he lived part of his life in St Louis and part in Prairie du Rocher. The census records do not say who his parents were.

I found other federal census records that show two men named Micheau turned up in southern Missouri in the mid-1800's. John Micheau, born in 1796, and Auguste Micheau, born in 1799, both were born in Kentucky and ended up in Ste. Genevieve County, Missouri. Ste. Genevieve is just south of St Louis and directly across the Mississippi River from Randolph County, Illinois, where Prairie du Rocher is located. Auguste had a son, Philip, born in Illinois in 1852. What confidence should I have that John and Auguste are related to George Micheau?

That's more than a rhetorical question.

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