Sunday, September 5, 2021

The Kindness of Strangers

When I woke up this morning, I started scrolling through email. A message from Ancestry.com alerted me that I had a new comment on my family tree.

Someone commented on my tree?

Commenting on family trees is a handy feature that allows Ancestry users to add input to ancestor profiles in public trees. I use this feature when I find inaccurate information in someone's tree that's ripe for proliferation and threatens the truth of my family history (e.g., wrong family relationships; incorrect birth, marriage, or death dates; or even the misattributed identity of an ancestor in a photograph). 

When these trees are made public, many users blindly add the falsehoods to their own tree, never pausing to discern whether the facts are correct. The bad information goes viral and spreads like wildfire. A comment, which travels with the falsehood each time it's re-shared, can help dispel the propagation of the myth.

Naturally, when I saw that a comment was added to my tree, I immediately wondered if someone found a mistake in my research. Was there a comment intending to set me straight?

The Truth Shall Set You Free

The comment was attached to the profile of Sarah Kitto, my fourth great-grandmother. Born in January 1822 in Cornwall, England to parents John and Mary (Wearne) Kitto, Sarah married Henry Stephens in April 1844. Soon afterwards, the family emigrated to America. In 1860, not long after they arrived in the United States, Henry died and Sarah was widowed at the age of thirty-eight. 

After Henry's death, tracing Sarah's paper trail became an arduous task. A few years ago, a distant cousin shared that Sarah remarried, but she was unsure how the new husband's surname was spelled. Mylcarane was her best guess. 

That name was a dead end and turned up no positive leads. Soon, my attention was drawn to other research priorities and Sarah was quietly tucked away for another day.

That day was today!

I logged into my tree and opened the comment. Straight shooting in its brevity, the Ancestry user revealed that, "Sarah died in Ishpeming, Michigan in 1895. Recorded last name is Mulcrone."  

The user also brought the receipts, sharing FamilySearch URLs that linked to Sarah's death record and provided evidence that my Sarah did indeed die in Michigan in 1895 and that her second husband's surname was Mulcrone. 


Sarah (Kitto) Mulcrone 1895 Michigan death record

The user also pointed me to Sarah's location in the 1870 census and turned a once cold research trail red hot.

This morning, I am thankful for a fellow genealogist who was willing to reach out and share clues that reignited research into this long neglected family line. Sometimes, when we are at a roadblock, we are all dependent on the kindness of strangers.