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October 19, 2017

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Facts need to be verified through multiple sources

Stefani Evans

Stefani Evans

Why do we need a variety of sources for one fact?

The Genealogical Proof Standard dictates that we conduct a "reasonably exhaustive search" for evidence even when we find a single document that tells us what we want to know. Why keep looking? The document could be incorrect or incomplete and must be corroborated by independently created evidence. Further, when we find conflicting evidence we must explain it and not ignore it. Catharine Dodge MacCorkle's death provides example.

A Tombstone Inscription Card File at Spruance Library, Bucks County (Penn.) Historical Society, notes Catharine S. Mac Corkle [sic] wife of Nathan Mac Corkle, "23 Aug 1809 – 5 Dec 1891," was buried in Beechwood Cemetery, Bensalem Twp. A privately published (1925) MacCorkle family history states Catharine died Dec. 5, 1801 [sic], likely a typographical error for the year of her birth. Catharine S. Mac Corkle of the Borough of Bristol in Bucks County wrote her will May 4, 1883; the will was proved in Bucks County, Dec. 16, 1891.

So, did Catharine die in Bucks County Dec. 5, 1891? The date is consistent with the date Catharine's will was proved. But these records do not state where Catharine died, and I have not yet conducted a reasonably exhaustive search. The MacCorkle family history contains a significant typographical error, and its authors might have taken the date from Catharine's tombstone or the cemetery card. I do not know if the cemetery card accurately represents the dates on her tombstone, or if her tombstone was carved correctly.

The Newtown (Penn.) Enterprise newspaper announced Catharine's death on Dec. 12, 1891: "In Philadelphia, on December 5th, 1891, Catharine S. MacCorkle, aged 82 years. Interred at Beechwood Cemetery, Bensalem." The newspaper is a contemporary record created independently of the cemetery card and corroborates Catharine's name, age, place of burial, and names her date and place of death. It tells me where I can find Catharine's death record.

Catharine's entry in the 1891 Philadelphia Register of Deaths reads as follows: "Cath. S. MacCorkle, white female, 82y, married, died Dec 5, cause pneumonia, attending physician W. R. Batt, no occupation, born Philada, parents John and Mary [no surname], ward 29, address 1603 N. 28, buried Dec 8, Beachwood [sic]."

This entry has problems. Catharine was the daughter of Ezekiel Dodge and Jane Power, and not "John and Mary." Further, she was born in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and not Philadelphia. The death record lists no informant, so I do not know who provided that data. Catharine's death record is the only one that names her parents as John and Mary. The record created to document Catharine's death is credible regarding her death; data in that record relative to her birth 82 years before is less reliable. Census records for 1810 and 1820 reveal no John or Mary Dodge in New York, Philadelphia, or Poughkeepsie with a daughter of Catharine's age. The data regarding John and Mary and the Philadelphia birthplace are likely erroneous.

However, other information in Catharine's death record correlates with extant information on Catharine, spelling of cemetery, erroneous parents and birthplace notwithstanding. The 1893 Philadelphia City directory lists Augustus P. MacCorkle, gardener, residing at 1603 N 28th, the same address listed in Catharine's death record as her place of death. Likely Catharine was visiting or temporarily residing with her son Augustus in Philadelphia at the time of her death.

Catharine's Bucks County burial and her will implied that she died in Bucks County. Only a reasonably exhaustive search disclosed that Catharine died at the home of her son Augustus P. MacCorkle in Philadelphia.

Stefani Evans is a board-certified genealogist and a volunteer at the Regional Family History Center. She can be reached c/o the Home News, 2275 Corporate Circle, Third Floor, Henderson, NV 89074, or [email protected].

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