My latest pet peeve is the use of a middle initial "M" for David Thacker, husband of Sally Lemay Thacker.
Quick show of hands, how many of you have gotten sucked into using the middle letter "M?" You can't see me, but my hand is raised, too.
I was doing some research and came across a David R. Thacker in some land records in Vinton County. Well, I knew it wasn't "my" David, because after all, my David had the middle initial of "M." Still curious, I looked at the deed closely and I was correct, it wasn't my David. But it got me thinking. Where had I gotten the middle initial "M?"
I looked through all my bits and pieces of information I had on David. I couldn't find one instance of an M.
Below is the marriage bond for David Thacker and Sally Lemay. See, no middle initial.
My next step was to search for "David M. Thacker" on Ancestry. Ah, there he was - David M. Thacker, 1820 Census for Louisa County, Virginia. Thank goodness, proof of the middle initial "M". True, it was the only result that listed "my" David with an M, but at least, I had proof.
So wanting to bask in my "I'm a responsible researcher" persona, I clicked open the link to see my proof.
I looked at it, and "Oh, crap."
By this time, I'd been doing enough research on my free colored ancestors to know what I was really looking at. The "M" was actually a scrunched together version of the letters "FN" which stood for Free Negro.
Take a look:
Notice that David, unlike the next few gentlemen listed below him, had no marks on the left side of the sheet - only on the right. The left side of the sheet tallies a family's white members, while the right side tallies slaves, and then free colored.
Here's a closer look at David's name:
When I first noticed the issue, I put a comment on Ancestry. I blush to say that when I made the comment I used the examples of John Ivan, Winney Jackson, and Joseph Kennie. I realize now, that Winney is actually Henry, but my error merely emphasizes the problem of reading almost two hundred year old handwriting.
Here's a look at the John, Henry and Joseph's page and their postscript of "FN."
Note again, white members of the family appear on the left hand side, slaves and free colored on the right.
When this page was indexed, the indexer thought the letters were "FET." Below is a closer look:
Finally, one more example from the 1820 Louisa County Virginia Census found on Ancestry.com.
Below is Gilbert Gibson and Nathan Gibson.
The indexer this time correctly indexed the letters as "FN," however, they read Nathan's name as Rashad.
Below is a closer look:
You may be saying to yourself, "Sheesh, Terry, take a chill pill. It's only a little letter. Why are you making a big deal about it?"
Well, there's a couple of reasons I am making a big deal about it.
1. If I reject looking at documents for say, a David G. Thacker (or P or R etc.) because I am so darn sure it can't be "my David "( because his middle initial is "M"), I may miss out on some useful information.
2. In point of fact, the "FN" distinction is definitely more important than the middle initial, given that this is the only census where David is listed as a Free Negro. In all the other censuses, David Thacker is listed as white.
If you look in Paul Heinegg's list of tax records for Free Negroes you will notice that not one Thacker is listed. However, Sally Lemay's family is listed as Free Colored. In 1816, when the two married they would have only been legally allowed to marry if they were both considered to be of the same race. So, if David had been considered white at the time and Sally had been considered free colored, it would have been illegal for them to marry. Which makes this "FN" designation a very big deal!