There was a lot to digest in the Jerome Bettis episode. Character traits, misspelled names, African American research, death certificate information, and that feeling of standing on the spot where your ancestors lived.
When it comes to misspelled names, everyone will have a problem sooner or later. I don't care if you are looking for Jones, it will eventually be misspelled! Someone, somewhere will find a way! My mother's maiden name is not only misspelled, but also mispronounced. Whoever was recording a surname from immigration officials to census takers would spell it the way it sounded. They were also good at dropping syllables and rearranging vowels. Even in today's world, Google is misspelled (it should be Googol)!! So I really find it difficult to believe that census takers purposely misspelled African American names, but that is just my opinion. Once again you need to be flexible. Take a blank piece of paper and write down all the ways you think your ancestor's names could be spelled. Be creative!! And be prepared to be surprised!
Death certificates can be a wealth of misinformation. My grandfather's death certificate is a good example. The date of death was wrong.. I was trying to figure out how this could happen and then a week ago I had to take my husband to the Emergency Room at 3 in the morning. In my mind it was still Saturday night, but in reality it was really Sunday morning. That is probably what happened with my grandfather's date of death since he died early in the morning. However, everything else can be wrong simply because the person providing the information may not have all the facts. In the case of my grandfather, his place of birth is wrong. You really need to look at the person who is providing the information on the death certificate -- wife, husband, son, daughter, friend, neighbor. I have recently come to the conclusion that the only fact you can actually count on being correct is the fact that the person passed away.
Jerome Bettis traced his mother's family back to the days of slavery. His 3 times great grandfather, Abe Bougard, was born a slave in Kentucky in the mid 1800's. This birth date was estimated from the information on his death certificate. Abe's parents were named as Jerry and Eliza with no known surname, which suggests that they were slaves. Research found the estate of Joseph Bougard, a white slave owner, who willed two slaves named Jerry and Eliza to his wife. Slaves frequently took the names of their owners after they were freed, but I understand this is not always the case, and the whole Bettis family research looked extremely easy. I would imagine there are a lot of brick walls and frustration involved in African American research.
In the last few years, I have noticed that there are more lectures on African American genealogy at the conferences. This could be due to the interest in genealogy we have seen from Who Do You Think You Are. Every new season brings out a whole new group of family detectives. I have noticed from my own research that wills in the southern states are a great source of slave information. Make sure that you get the entire packet of information including estate inventories and sales. Every piece of information should be looked at as a clue.
As always with any type of genealogical research you need to have a plan. Also, don't forget to record what you find and where you find it. This eliminates any repetitive searches and possibly any unnecessary expenses. Try to stick to your plan as much as possible, but also allow yourself to wander off occasionally. This will lead to those serendipity moments all genealogist love. This is a moment when a book or a record grabs your attention for no apparent reason. Or you start talking to a stranger at the library who turns out to be a distant cousin. Serendipity moments lead to information that could otherwise take you years to discover, if at all. I always think it is my ancestor's way of nudging me in the right direction!
What do you inherit from your ancestors? Jerome Bettis found that he is descended from a couple of very strong willed men who stood up for what they believed to be right in a society of Jim Crow laws, segregation, and lynchings. Maybe this is why he was known as "The Bus" when he played for the Steelers. He was out to win. Aside from your physical characteristics, you will eventually begin to see your family traits. I have found that you won't see them in yourself, but rather in your children. I see my grandfathers in my son. I see Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors in my younger daughter. And I see my Aunt Daisy in my older daughter.
Next on Who Do You Think You Are. Helen Hunt goes to San Francisco to find a connection to Wells Fargo she never knew about. Friday, March 23, 2012. 8/7 Central.