A Sister of Alonzo DeGraff

Scholefield Family Tree

One of the challenges a genealogist often faces is the evaluation of contradictory bits of evidence. Which fact do we add to the family tree?

The IGI at FamilySearch.org reports Helen Marr DeGraff’s parents as Harmonus Degraff and Susannah Thomas. 1 However, a biography about her son reports that she was born in Amsterdam, New York, and her father was the Holland native Emanuel De Graff.2

How do we determine which is more correct? We must evaluate the evidence. In genealogy, we need to know where the evidence came from. We consider the source. We want to consider such things as knowledge, purpose, and reliability.

The IGI is a modern source where people were able to submit family group sheets. Therefore, one assumes that the submitter of the information about Helen’s parents did some research or had some basis of fact for their assertion. However, that is not noted in the IGI. Likely the submitter never knew Helen and her parents so without the name of the source, it is quite hard to take the assertion as gospel truth.

The biography about George was written within Helen’s lifetime, but the publishers of the type of work the piece was carried in were not known for their accuracy. Their sole purpose was to sell books. They did not mind the occasional stretching of the truth or outright lie if it made a client feel more inclined to purchase. And if they made an error, they made no effort to correct it because that took time and money. Helen lived in New York; George lived in Arizona. George had been in Arizona for twenty years so it is possible that the information he provided to the person who appeared on his doorstep requesting information was less than accuate.

Now we add an additional bit of information. Helen’s obituary states that her brother was named Alonzo.3 Even obituaries have been known to be inaccurate, but since they were usually about people who were right there in the community, genealogists might consider them to have more exact information. Also, they could easily print a retraction or correction to set the record straight.

With only these three sources, a genealogist cannot make a determination about which is true. Instead, more research is needed. Therefore, we add in the following tidbits of information.

An online transcription of a book about the Hudson and Mohawk Valleys of New York contains information about three Emanuel DeGraffs associated with Amsterdam:

  1. Whose 2ggrandfather came from Holland. But he lived from 1751-1824; therefore, he was not alive to father Helen in 1842.
  2. Son of above, 1789-1844. His wife, Jane Teller, is listed at 1738-1840 aged 102, but why would he have married a woman so much older? And she was having children in 1810. Maybe her birth year is in error and she was actually born in the 1780s?
  3. Son of above, 1810-1865. He was of an age to be the father of Helen, but a list of his children does not include Helen or Alonzo.4

Another source reports that Jane Teller’s date of birth was 1788 instead of 1738.5 The later date seems much more accuate. However, she would likely not have been the mother of Helen at age 54. Since it seems we can rule out each of these Emanuels, we then check the second possible set of parents.

When looking for information about Harmonus and Susannah Thomas, my search lead me to a ghost hunting site. In the course of Ferlazzo’s investigation, he attempted to locate information about Susan and her husband Harmonus. Ferlazzo includes a list of their children and includes both a Helen M. (no dates or additonal information) and an Alonzo DeGraff.6

So, with this small amount of research. It seems that the Emanuels have been ruled out and that Harmonus and Susan(nah) are the couple I am after. However, again, there are no specific sources on the ghost hunting site, so I will need to verify information.

Research Plan:

  • Investigate information reported by NYPI.

1. See post dated 8 Dec 2008.
2. See post dated 13 Nov 2008.
3. See post dated 29 Jul 2009.
4. Cuyler Reynolds, ed., Hudson-Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs, (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1911) 3: 1275-1277; online transcription, Schenenctady Digital History Archive (http://www.schenectadyhistory.org/families/hmgfm/degraff-1.html : accessed 31 Aug 2009).
5. James B. Van Bokkelen, Van Bokkelen and Related Families (http://www.faracresfarm.com/jbvb/genealogy/html/vanbokk1.html : accessed 31 Aug 2009), entry for Jane Teller b. 1788.
6. Vincent M. Ferlazzo, “Widow Susan Research,” NYPI [New York Paranormal Investigators] Blog, 14 Oct 2008 (http://blogs.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=421615023&blogID=440855312 : accessed 31 Aug 2009).

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.