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October 22, 2017

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Tricky transcription calls for careful sleuthing

Stefani Evans

Stefani Evans

I flirted with Poughkeepsie's Fitchett family for two years.

Our courtship began when Nanci Peluse, church administrator at Poughkeepsie's Reformed Church, kindly sent me a copy of Jane Power's 1781 baptism, which named baptism sponsors Andrew "Fitchet" and Aletta Murray. I recognized Aletta Murray. I wanted to know about Andrew "Fitchet."

Eighteenth- and 19th-century Poughkeepsie had Fitchetts a-plenty (the family now uses the double-t ending), but despite searching two years I did not find Andrew. Poughkeepsie historian Bernice Fitchett also was unable to place Andrew.

When a genealogist continually finds negative results, she (eventually) realizes she's searching for the wrong thing, time, place or person. I returned to Jane Power's baptism record and viewed it critically. The page contained easy-to-read handwriting and no blemishes — it was too perfect. It was a transcription in English, clearly written in one sitting by one copyist in a later script than the 1781 baptisms it recorded. However, Ms. Peluse noted the book contained no information on when or by whom the transcription was made.

What did the unknown copyist see when she or he placed pen to paper and caused me to pursue Andrew Fitchet? I could not locate original records at Poughkeepsie's Reformed Church or Adriance Memorial Library. The Family History Library (FHL) owns five microfilms of Poughkeepsie Reformed Church baptisms for the 1781 time period. While the microfilms all contain hand-written records of the Reformed Dutch Church in Poughkeepsie, only one is described as a reproduction of "original [five volumes]" at the New York State Library. The handwriting style (especially the numerals) is consistent with 18th-century forms.

The Dutch record arranges data under four headings: 1781 [year], Kinders [Children], Ouders [Parents], and Getuigen [Witnesses]. The "Sep 17" baptism of "Arletta," daughter of "Andrew Sitcher" and "Mary Sadler Zyn hs. Vw." [zyn huisvrouw, his wife], records Arletta's birth, "geb. [geboren] 19.oct.1780." Jane, daughter of "Nicolas Power" and "Mary Miller Zyn hs. Vw." was born "26 Jany 1780" and was also baptized Sept. 17; "Andrew Sitcher" and "Arletta Murray" were Jane's witnesses. The 18th-century Dutch records prove Jane's baptism sponsor was Andrew Sitcher. He was not Andrew Fitchet, as claimed in the later English transcript.

The other FHL microfilms represent English transcriptions in three different hands, probably scribed from the late-19th- to early-20th-century. For more on handwriting see Kip Sperry, "Reading Early American Handwriting" (fourth printing 2002). Two FHL microforms represent different filmings of the volume now held by Poughkeepsie's Reformed Church. However, unlike the extant volume, the filmed versions begin with a transcribed English annotation that A. P. Van Gieson, "Pastor of 1st Ref. Ch. Poughkeepsie," loaned the originals for copying April 20, 1883. Below that, the same hand notes that "copy 2" was made "from the first copy" March 1892, by [?] E. Braman, Hyde Park. The annotations likely date the transcription about March 1892, over 110 years after the baptisms took place. The page contains an "Adriance Memorial Library" [established 1898] stamp. The identifying page was removed since microfilming as it is no longer in the extant volume. Why might the late-19th-century transcriptionist write Fitchet when the name was clearly Sitcher? Possibly he or she knew Poughkeepsie's old Fitchett family and perhaps "corrected" the spelling for the transcription.

Poughkeepsie's Fitchett family serves as my reminder to re-examine every document critically and to question whether it is the best possible source I might find for a given event. I'm over my two-year Fitchett fling. But If I hadn't pursued the 18th-century Dutch record of Jane Power's 1781 baptism, I might still think I had something going with Andrew Fitchet.

"An ex-ancestor, like an ex-husband, is someone with whom you once thought you had an excellent relationship, only to discover that you really had no relationship at all." —Patricia Law Hatcher, used with permission.

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, 2360 Corporate Circle, Third Floor, Henderson, NV 89074, or [email protected].

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