Analyze and Refine Your Results


Thanks to all of you who reached out over the past two weeks. I'm feeling better (though not yet 100%). I did, however, test negative for COVID which is the good news. I am registered with my local county for the vaccine (along with 86,000 of my closest friends), and when vaccine arrives they do a random pull from those who are registered and call you to set up an appointment. Some of my neighbors have had their first shot, but I'm still waiting.


Today I want to discuss Evidence Analysis. If you are not familiar with it, or need a refresher, I've provided a link to an earlier blog. You can also click on the image above to go to Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained website. After developing your research question, one of the first items on your research plan is to re-read everything you have in your files. Do you already have the answer to your question? Have you culled all of the information from each source? I always find something that I missed earlier. You're a better researcher today that perhaps when you first reviewed the source, so make sure you pull all of the information, including the names of witnesses into your research. Next is to make a timeline including all of the items you have for your ancestor and his family, including parents, siblings and children. I also add historical events that might indicate records that I haven't checked.


As you begin researching you need to analyze each piece of information to figure out how it fits in...and if it doesn't fit, don't force it! You can't sweep that difficult piece of information under the rug and forget about it. Ask the question, why? A birth registration for my grandmother listed her name as Rachel Hewston, although she had always been known as Minnie. Her mother was also named Rachel which was likely the reason for the nickname, and her father's name was also correct on the birth registration. That was a relatively easy conflict to resolve and the explanation appears in the notes of my database. Others, however, may not be as easy.


My current research on my Scots-Irish line in Fayette, Pennsylvania has turned up multiple conflicts. The Record of the Shaw Family by John S. Ritenour states that Robert Shaw (sometimes referred to as Jr.), my 3x great grandfather, was the 3rd child of Robert Shaw and Jane Downey. He was born in Ireland and married Ruth Haney. So far, so good. The fact that he naturalized in 1825 and stated he was born in County Antrim likely indicates that this information is correct. His three younger siblings, William, Andrew and David are all listed as having been born in Fayette County. Here's where the information starts to fall apart. Robert Shaw (Sr) does not appear in the 1800 census of Fayette County...he does show up in both the 1810 and 1820 census. My first question...who was John S. Ritenour who wrote this article and would he have known the information?


John S. Ritenour was the great grandson of Robert Shaw and Jane Downey through their youngest son, David. David's daughter, Elizabeth Augusta married William M Ritenour and John S was their oldest son, born 9 Feb 1851. His grandfather, David died in 1852, so any information he had was likely from his mother. William (his father) joined the military during the Civil War and it doesn't appear that he and his wife lived together after that time. William died in Washington, DC in 1892.


Back to John S. Ritenour. John died in 1925 in Pittsburgh after a long career as a newspaper editor both in Pittsburgh (at the time of his death he was the editor of The Press) and at some point he purchased the Genius of Liberty, edited it for eight years and sold it. The Record of the Shaw Family, could have been published in any of the papers he worked at, but unfortunately, like many newspaper clippings, it was cut out neatly with no date or name of the paper. I have tried searching for the exact title in various newspaper databases, but have not found a match. Clearly as a source it would have to be concluded that this is a derivative source with secondary information.


The conflicting information is when Robert Shaw arrived in Fayette County. Since Robert Sr doesn't appear in the census in 1800 it's possible that the family arrived in the US in 1794 (when my Robert would have been an infant) and his three siblings were born elsewhere before arriving in Fayette County sometime between 1800 and 1810. Below is the 1810 Census of Union Township in Fayette County.

2 males 10-15 [Andrew and David]; 2 males 16-25 [Robert and William]; 1 male over 45 [Robert Sr]; 2 females 16-25 [Frances and Margaret]; 1 female over 45 [Jane].

This matches the information in the Record of the Shaw Family.


A google search turned up a transcription of a Petition for Naturalization for Robert Shaw Jr. in 1820. It states, Robert was born in 1793 in Antrim, Ireland and emigrated in 1794. It goes on to say, He has been a resident of Pa [Pennsylvania] for 14 years. That makes sense...he would have arrived in Fayette about 1806, which explains why his father does not appear in the 1800 census. But the detail that he had been a resident of Pennsylvania for 14 years indicates he might have been in another state. I have searched all of the 1800 census records for Robert Shaw, but have found no listing that would match the family information. It's important to know that the following states are missing from the 1800 census: Georgia, Kentucky, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Virginia. I also checked to see if any of these states kept early birth records, but no luck there.

But wait, I have his Declaration of Intent...did I miss something? 249 is the number that appears on his Naturalization card for his Declaration. I went back and transcribed it word for word. If you have a document a complete transcription is one way to make sure you don't miss anything. There is nothing in there that gives his age, birthdate or mentions the amount of time he had been in Fayette County.

I've now added some additional items with a new question to my Research Plan. I need to obtain another copy of the Petition to see if there was a page left out. Another to do is to research the three brothers born in the US to see if they lived past 1850 and give a locality for their birth. William died in 1859 and never married. The 1850 census states he was born in Pennsylvania. The only information on Andrew is what appears in the Record of the Shaw Family which states he was born in Fayette and left at an early age. So far, I don't have enough information to identify him in any later census records. David died in West Virginia in 1852 and I haven't found him in either Pennsylvania or West Virginia in 1850. He had eight children that survived infancy and I'll have to research each of them.


This is a continuation of the Robert Shaw Research Plan. As you research you will find information that identifies additional questions and research opportunities. Just add them to your Plan.


I continue to work on this when time permits. Hopefully I'll have some definitive information by October to continue my research in Ireland.


Happy Hunting and Stay Safe!



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