SpringBoard is pleased to offer a review of this BCG Skillbuilding lecture, presented 4 May 2018.
F311, Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG®, CGL℠, FASG, FNGS, FUGA, “Samuel Witter vs. Samuel Witter: Separating Same-Name Soldiers, War of 1812
Reviewed by Yvette Hoitink, CG®
Elizabeth Shown Mills presented a situation we’re all familiar with: finding a record of a person with the right name, but not knowing if this is our person. Establishing identity can be difficult, especially in the period before vital records and census records were kept. To illustrate how to proceed in such a case, Mills led us through the research she did into Samuel Witter (1787-1876). His timeline showed a gap from 1808 to 1820. Could he have been the Samuel Witter who served in the War of 1812?
Expanding the research uncovered three men named Samuel Witter living in 1812. Online trees of all three men claim the 1812 soldier as their kin. Extensive research into the three men and their associates placed them in different geographic locations at the time of the war.
In an inspiring example of using evidence creatively, Mills used the enlistment records to determine the most likely place where the 1812 soldier was recruited. By studying the 100+ soldiers on his first muster roll and focusing on those who were recruited around the same date as Samuel Witter, Mills was able to map the path the recruiter took—key evidence for identifying the soldier. She used family, friends, associates, neighbors, and occupations to establish timelines for each of these men, tracing them across several counties and states.
There are many lessons to be learned from Mills’s presentation. We need to analyze the document being used, research the activity mentioned in the document, and identify and research all potential candidates for this activity. Building cases requires building identities beyond a name. Mills warned that conclusions based on half-done work tend to fall apart when someone else comes along to do that work.
The helpful syllabus gives an overview of the methods that this case teaches, and provides references to military-related records that were used and to the underlying research reports. Studying these resources allows us to go beyond the highlights presented in this Skillbuilding lecture and gain a deeper understanding of how to solve complex problems.
A recording of this lecture may be ordered from Playback Now www.playbackngs.com.
The words Certified Genealogist and letters CG are registered certification marks, and the designations CGL and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.