I am one of a small group of Tow descendants who are researching Tow genealogy. We have found several files on the Internet which contain a significant error. In view of the large number of people who view this information, I am concerned that it will be propagated throughout future generations of Tow researchers.
These files list my great-grandfatherÂ’s name was Mitchell Alexander Tow. This name was originated by a lady in North Carolina who placed it in the LDS Family History records many years ago. She later admitted to one of my cousins in Texas that she did not remember where she obtained the name Mitchell and agreed that it is an error. However, she has not corrected this file and it not only resides in the LDS database, but has subsequently appeared in the records of many researchers.
The correct name for the person identified as Mitchell Alexander Tow in these records is Alexander A. Tow. The best source of this information is the family bible in which AlexanderÂ’s wife, Sarah Anna Stockton, recorded his name as Alexander A. Tow. Other sources of the first name Alexander include Federal censuses. His family called him Alex.
Please note that I used the name Sarah Anna Stockton in lieu of Sarah Ann Stockton or Sarah Annette Stockton. These latter two names are also used widely in genealogy records, but I believe them to be wrong. Again, my source for this name is the family bible in which Sarah recorded her family group. It is signed, Â“Sarah anna Tow borned July the 13 1827.Â”
Some of the files in which I have found the errors cited above also list my grandfather as Charles Gilbert Tow. His name was Charles Gibson Tow. I believe the Â“GilbertÂ” was originated by the daughter of one of CharlesÂ’ sisters, but have not been able to confirm that. His obituary contained his correct name and birth date and his children knew the factual information and had records of it. He was born September 21, 1871, in Taney County, Missouri, and died March 25, 1950, in Salem, Marion Co., Oregon.
I am confident that Alexander A. (not Mitchell Alexander), Sarah Anna (Not Sarah Ann or Annette) and Charles Gibson (not Charles Gilbert) are based on good source information. However, another error that appears in Tow genealogy is that Towe is too frequently used where Tow applies. I recognize that these are difficult to sort out, but records that use the name Tow go back as far as the 1600s. It appears that some researchers believe Tow is an error and change it.
Some of the early settlers named both Towe and Tow arrived in Maryland as early as 1665, 1672 and 1693. Some were illiterate and, therefore, relied on others to record their names. Tows in North Carolina in the 1700s who appear in official records as Tow have been found later to be the parents of Towes. Why is an older generation a Tow, while the younger generation is a Towe? I believe that the Tows who immigrated to the Colonies in the 1700s, and who could read and write, spelled their name correctly as Tow, whereas the Towes who are traced back to those early Tows are the victims of name changing because they were illiterate and someone else spelled their name wrong. However, there is family lore in some branches that indicates individuals changed the spelling from Tow to Towe because they thought it would cause the name to be pronounced correctly; i.e., like how now brown cow instead of like the bow in bow and arrow and the tow in tow truck.
Another example of this name changing is one of Charles Gibson TowÂ’s grandsons, who was raised by foster parents. They changed his name from Tow to Towe because they thought Tow was wrong. He is the only Towe in our branch of the tree.
Another problem I have encountered is that the cursive Â“TÂ” was written by many scribes in the 18th and earlier centuries the same way we currently write the cursive Â“L.Â” This has resulted in transcribers of censuses, marriage records and other official documents in the 19th century recording the name Tow as Low and the name Towe as Lowe. This knowledge of changes in writing helped us find Rachael Tow, Alexander A. TowÂ’s sister, in a marriage record that documented her marriage to Isaac Cauble. Her name was recorded as Rachael Lowe by the person who transcribed the original marriage record. What makes this difficult is that most of the Lows I have traced in records are actually Lows, not Tows.
Genealogy sites on the Internet disseminate many errors which may appear to be factual. The root cause of most of these errors is that the contributor has not personally verified the information with good source documents. Others then use this information because they assume that the person who provided that information knows a lot of facts and therefore must be an expert. Very little of the information on the Internet is accompanied by the identity of a valid source document. Without a source, it is guesswork, not fact.
When I find what appears to me to be erroneous information, I sometimes ask the originator to provide me with a source. In return I have received silence, only the name of a person from whom that information was obtained or, worse, the identity of a web page without the identity of the person who posted it. These are not valid sources. I file such information in a folder titled, Â“Failed the snicker test.Â”
A valid source is an official record or family record; e.g., censuses, marriage bonds, family bible entries and other documents recorded at the time of an event. Each fact requires a source. Even a name of a person entered in a family group should be verified by a source document. To this end, researchers who pass their information to others should identify the sources with which they verified their information.
Although many official and family records contain errors, they are not, as a type, as unreliable as genealogy records found on the Internet. The internet provides a means for the posting of unverified information by people who do not perform the research necessary to establish reliable records. Family lore can be more accurate than the Internet, but even this source is best supported by documentation.
Please do not feel that I am putting down the LDS Family History or any other web site. I am simply trying to communicate the fact that they are all contaminated by errors because contributors are not required to include references to their sources. I still use them, but with caution. I use them only to obtain information on where to look for facts. For example, if a contributor states that two people were married in Washington County, Indiana, in 1860, I look in those marriage records to see if I can find a copy of that record. If I cannot find that record, I put the file I downloaded in my snicker folder.
I hope this message will help others understand the hazards associated with accepting information without verification. I am submitting it as an effort on my part to enhance the accuracy of records of my ancestors.