Monday, September 17, 2012

The Problem with William J. Crawford

**September 15, 2012, a story came out in the Boston Globe that had a picture of Harry Reed and a caption that said, "Harry Reed was part Indian, say descendants." The article that followed was very long, full of misconceptions about Cherokee history and based on nothing but family lore. The article is so long, I will write a series of posts dealing with one topic at a time so my readers don't get lost in the information.**

I hate it when I have to publicly point out a person's mistakes in genealogy, but in this case, because of the extreme damage it has done to genealogy and by encouraging the myth of Cherokee genealogy without documentation in a very public forum, the media, I feel this is too important to allow to go unmentioned.

Do you want to see how family myths are born and grow to something that is difficult to beat down? Then pay attention. This is one such example.

This entire fiasco concerning Elizabeth Warren's false genealogy has grown to mythological proportions in the media. Over and over and over, various media outlets have stated that Warren's great great great grandma, "OC Sarah Smith" was supposed to be full blood Cherokee. This information was supposed to have come from a marriage license of "OC Sarah Smith's" son, William J. Crawford. 
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Even though it has been shown the marriage license did not say "OC Sarah Smith" was Cherokee, and that the information from the Lynda Smith family tree on was incorrect, no one has bothered to stop and consider, if one thing was wrong, then maybe a lot is wrong with that tree.

There was no OC Sarah Smith. Please see The Warren/Boraker Families - Are They Really Related? for more on this. There is no documentation to show this woman, OC Smith, was actually Warren's ancestor either. Everyone seems to assume she is because one person said she was. But, the conclusions that person came to are flawed.

From Lynda Smith's family tree posted on (my comments in blue),
  • This William Crawford is a mystery. (He isn't to me.)
  • It appears that the William who married Oma C. Nipper in Roane Co., TN was not the same William Crawford who was the son of Jonathan H. Crawford and Neoma or Oma Smith. (According to his Civil War pension application, he WAS the the same man. He married Naomi C. Nipper in Roane County, Tennesse on 18 October 1857.)
  • John or Jonathan H. Crawford was a common name. (There were several men in Tennessee at living at the same time who used variations of the names, John H. Crawford, Jonathon Crawford, John Crawford, etc...)
  • Several Crawford researchers have stated that the William who married Oma C. Nipper in 1857 in Roane Co. TN is the same man who married Mary E. Long in Oklahoma in 1894. (And those researchers would be correct.)
  • The William who married Oma Nipper lived with his father John H. Crawford in Roane Co. (This might be his father.)
  • John is listed on the 1850 Roane Co census: John H. Crofford, 47, b. Va; Rebecca, 52, b. N.C.; Lucinda, 18; WILLIAM, 17; Rebecca J., 15; John W., 14 and Edmund H., 12 (John H. Crawford married Rebecca Woody 15 September, 1829 in Roane Co.) (This might be the family William came from. But he listed his mother as OC Smith on his marriage license. Is the Rebecca listed on the census his mother, stepmother, or is this an entirely different family? I don't know.)
  • This Roane Co. John Crawford is not the same man who married Neoma Smith (No, he isn't.One is always found in Roane County, married to Rebecca, using the name John H. Crawford. The other is found in Bledsoe and Jackson Counties, married to Neoma, and using the name Jonathon Crawford. No middle initial ever listed/found.)
  • The statement was made on the marriage application that his mother was O.C. Sarah Smith and his father Jonathan H. Crawford. (Incorrect. William J. Crawford, of the marriage license controversy, listed his parents as JH Crawford and OC Smith. No John H. No Jonathon. Just JH. No OC Sarah. No Sarah. No Neoma. Just OC.)
  • It is not known whether William was married before he married Mary Long. He would have been over 50 at the time of this marriage. (As stated above, it is known. He was first married to Namoi C. Nipper according to his Civil War pension application.)
  • William J Crawford stated on his marriage license application when he married Mary E. Long that his father was Jonathon H. Crawford and his mother was O.C. Sarah Smith. (No, he did not state that! No matter how many times this is repeated, it won't make it true. He did not state what is being claimed here, repeatedly.)
  • He also said that his mother was Cherokee Indian. (See for yourself. Look at the marriage license and see if there is anything that says "OC Smith" was Cherokee Indian. If you are blind and can't see, I will tell you -- no, it doesn't say that anywhere on the license.) 
  • 1860 census of Roane Co., TN: Wm Crawford, 25; Oma C., 25; James J.,7/12; Sarah Nipper, 40; Richard Nipper, 17. (All b. TN) (This is the family which has been confused with that of William probable son of Jonathan and Neoma.) (Yet this is the man who had the marriage license that everyone is trying to use for proof that Elizabeth Warren's ancestors might have been Cherokee! Not only can this man not be linked to Lynda Smith's family, he can't be linked to Warren's either.)
Ah......the birth of a genealogical myth. See how it happens? One person makes a mistake and people come along behind them and copy the mistake and because it gets repeated over and over and over, people assume it is true, never bothering to check the documents for themselves. 
In the last bullet point, Lynda Smith says this William who was married to Oma C. Nipper has been confused with a probable son of Jonathon and Naoma Crawford. She came to the conclusion that the William who married Mary Long was the son of Jonathon and Naoma Crawford and the William who married Oma Nipper was the son of John H. and Rebecca Crawford. The problem is, the William J. Crawford who married Naomi C. Nipper is the same one who married Mary Long in Logan County, Oklahoma. Lynda Smith has assumed there were two men when there was only one man. And that one man, William J. Crawford, cannot conclusively be linked to the family of Lynda Smith/Robert C. Boraker or to that of Elizabeth Warren through documentation. But a legend has now been born.

Now everyone believes that Preston Crawford, Elizabeth Warren's ancestor, had a brother named William J. Crawford and that their parents were named Jonathon H. Crawford and OS Sarah Naoma Smith. Nowhere are documents found at this point in time to show this is true.

What does Lynda Smith have to say about publishing these errors and causing such a fiasco? What does she say after she knows the Cherokee reference is not there and after she has been notified of other errors in her tree as well?

"I'm sorry that I posted something that wasn't correct (the Cherokee reference on the marriage record) but I'm not sorry about the rest of it being posted because it can be a starting point for others to do research."
No, Lynda, it was not just a starting point for others. Instead, it started a firestorm of controversy and helped perpetuate myths. As a genealogist, I would think one would want to be more careful about making a lot of assumptions and posting them on the internet, not making it clear that they are only assumptions and not set in stone fact. Now, unfortunately, not only do some people still believe Warren has Cherokee ancestry, others believe Preston Crawford was, without a doubt, the son of Jonathon and Neoma Crawford.

So what can we learn from this? If you are a genealogist, do your own work and don't copy from anyone. Insist on viewing the primary or secondary documents yourself. If you are a journalist, be careful who you use a a source. Don't assume they are correct, especially when Cherokee ancestry is an issue. If you want to get to the bottom of an issue in Cherokee genealogy, ask someone experienced in Cherokee genealogy. Don't assume anyone with a subscription to knows what they are doing.

Those are my thoughts for today.

Thanks for reading.

copyright 2012, Polly's Granddaughter - TCB

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