Anatomy of a Mistake

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Anatomy of a Mistake

Today’s post is about the anatomy of a mistake in my genealogy tree.

So this week, I figured out a mistake I made in my tree. And while it’s human nature to blog about all the brilliant stuff we do to find our ancestors, I thought it might be just as valuable to examine a mistake.

When I was first trying to assemble the family group for my great-grandmother, Anna Schumann KIRSCHSTEIN KAHNS, I didn’t know much about the family. Some census work revealed that Anna had three siblings: Marie, Elise and Friedrich. Sister Marie was living in Chicago when she somehow met Christian Gross, married him in St. Paul and moved to Minnesota.

When I found Christian and Marie Gross in the 1920 census, they were right where they should be: Murdock, Swift, Minnesota. But they had an additional household member, Careline [sic] Gross, sister-in-law to Christian, the head of the household.

Eager for more Schumann siblings, I made the leap and decided the census-taker just hadn’t gotten Caroline’s surname down correctly. I’d seen it happen multiple times when a census taker used one surname for a household with two or more.

Yay! Here was an older sister Caroline, born nine years before my great-grandmother in Germany. Into my tree she went. I shared the information with others and soon there were trees up on the Web listing Caroline Schumann, b. 1851 in Germany. But I couldn’t find Caroline Schumann anywhere else. Not in census, not in migration records, not in death records. And what about that nine-year gap between children? That didn’t seem likely either.

When I thought about it, I realized that Christian Gross’s sister-in-law could have been his brother’s wife instead of his wife’s sister.

Then I finally figured out the village the Schumanns lived in before they left for America. So I’ve been mining the relevant parish records and finding wonderful things – wonderful except there is no Caroline Schumann because she never existed except in my overeager imagination.

I went through every birth in Freienwalde, Pommern, Preussen, from 1824 to 1861. No Caroline Schumann. And I found Anna’s parents married in there in 1860, about a year before Anna was born.

So my great-grandmother was the eldest child of her family group and Caroline Gross was the wife of Christian Gross’s brother. My searching did reward me with another Schumann sibling, one that I can prove: Anna had a younger brother, August Johann Carl SCHUMANN, born in April of 1874.

There may be other siblings out there, but unfortunately the LDS parish records end in 1874. But I’ve learned my lesson. No more leaps of imagination while reading the census!

About the Author:

Nancy Loe has an MA in American History and an MLS in Library Science and Archives. She has appeared on PBS’s American Experience, at Rootstech, SCGS Jamboree, and state and regional genealogy conferences. Her website was featured in Family Tree Magazine's “Social Media Mavericks: 40 to Follow.”


  1. Heather Rojo 12 October 2010 at 2:42 PM

    Congrats on catching and fixing your mistake! I had one that caused a terrific ripple effect of mistakes and took a long time to untangle. And that was before computers!

  2. Sassy Jane Genealogy 12 October 2010 at 11:51 PM

    My sympathies, Heather. I found a doozy from my trip to Kansas this spring because I had the wrong Albert Shank, both born in the same county in Kansas in the same year. But the gravestone didn’t lie and about 200 people came out of my tree as a result.

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