Saturday, May 14, 2016

William Bennett (1806-1890) Revisited, Part Two: Weighing Direct Evidence, Circumstantial Evidence, Scientific Evidence, and Historical Context in Consideration of a Hypothesis.

Climbing My Family Tree: Is This Connection Correct?
Is This Connection Correct?

I am not a genealogist. I am a genealogy hobbyist who works in state agency law in my regular job. I am used to working with evidence, analyzing it, coming to conclusions about its credibility, and determining whether it adds up to anything in particular. Working in agency law I’m used to working with the “substantial evidence” standard, which is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept is adequate to support a conclusion” (more than a “mere scintilla” of evidence).  In making a decision on a case, it is required that there be evidence in support of the conclusion, that I can cite the source of that evidence and  that I explain how the evidence supports my decision. Since this is what I’m used to, this is how I approach my family history hobby.

Another thing that I am used to in my job is bouncing difficult cases off my coworkers or supervisors to see if they can poke holes in my thinking, or whether simply “thinking out loud” can help me get un-stuck on an issue. So in this post, I am “thinking out loud” and seeking feedback from anyone who reads this. 

Before I start talking about my hypothesis want to give a brief definition of the sort of evidence I talk about in the title of this post. I’m largely using the categories I named in a broad sense:

·        “Direct evidence” provides proof about a fact in question or answers a specific, stated question, without requiring us to make any assumptions or draw any inferences. Classic examples of direct evidence are eyewitness testimony, photographs or video of the perpetrator “in the act” or incriminating statements made by a person involved in the matter. In terms of genealogy, wherein most the people I’m looking at are dead, direct evidence would be eyewitness written statements/notations of events or the portion of the death certificate filled out by the doctor as to cause of death and date of death, or basically, anything which relies on the personal knowledge or observation of the writer and gives a definite conclusion.

·        “Circumstantial evidence” or “indirect evidence” relies on inference to connect it to a conclusion of fact. It indirectly proves the fact supports the theory. The more circumstantial evidence there is that tends to support X, the stronger your case. While the media tends to say things like “they only have circumstantial evidence” rather dismissively, circumstantial evidence is not a lesser form of evidence. Eyewitness testimonials are not necessarily always credible or correct, and circumstantial evidence can build a better case, with the caveat that interpretation is key – a misinterpretation can color the whole case and lead to an incorrect conclusion.

·        “Scientific evidence” is actually circumstantial evidence. I separated it out in the title because it occupies a separate stage of thinking for me in this case and I will treat the DNA evidence in a separate section of this post.

·        “Historical context” and/or “cultural context” can inform one’s interpretation of evidence, and it can also help determine whether the evidence is credible or not. Failure to try to understand the context in which events occurred makes coming to a fair or correct conclusion much harder.


Hypothesis: The parents of William Bennett (1806 Ireland-1890 Michigan, USA) are Thomas Bennett and Lucretia Hingston (daughter of Edward Hingston and Lucretia Sewell) of Schull, County Cork, Ireland.

Background: In most of the family trees I have seen which lead up to my second great-grandfather William Bennett (1806 Ireland-1890 Michigan, USA) as a common ancestor, William’s parents are listed as Thomas and Laura Bennett, and born in Northern Ireland or Ulster County, Ireland. I believe that is based on William’s obituary and his death certificate.

His obituary appeared in the Imlay City Times on January 8, 1891, as follows (underlining mine):
Died at his home south-west of Deanville, Mr. William Bennett, Sr., on Dec. 29, 1890. Mr. Bennett was born in the northern part of Ireland about 1808. He emigrated to Montreal, Canada, while quite young, where he remained until 1869, when he moved to his farm near Deanville. He has raised a family of 12 children, all of whom have left and established homes of their own except the youngest, who still remains with his mother on the homestead. He was respected by his neighbors as an honest upright man and will be missed, for he always had a pleasant word for everybody.

His death record lists his mother as Laura Bennett.

Climbing My Family Tree: Michigan Death Record of William Bennett, 27 Dec 1890
Michigan Death Record of William Bennett, 27 Dec 1890
Click to make bigger

However, in most of the trees that I have seen where they are coming down to William as a sibling or child of their direct ancestor, having gone up another branch of the tree, William’s parents are listed as Thomas Bennett and Laura Hingston of County Cork, Ireland.

Originally, I had no reason to doubt the obituary or the death certificate notations, even though I know them to be hearsay or speculative evidence, at best, depending on the knowledge of the person who gave the information included in the obituary and the death certificate. That is generally the deceased person’s child, although not always, and I have seen often enough in the course of my family history explorations that the children don’t necessarily know that much about their parents origins and fill out the death certificate or the obituary with incorrect information (sometimes close but not quite right – Heck, until I started doing the family history and asking questions, I probably would’ve placed my mother’s birthplace in a different town than that in which she was actually born. It would have been the one in which she grew up, but she wasn’t born there).

Neither the obituary, nor the death certificate – for the particular fact of who is William’s mother – is direct evidence. I haven’t got any direct evidence tending to support my hypothesis. But I haven’t got any direct evidence refuting it either.

The first inkling I had that basing the facts in my entry on the  William Bennett in my family tree on the obituary and the death certificate might be part of the reason I hadn’t been able to find out anything more about him and might be leading to the dissemination of incorrect information, came when I was contacted by Beverly Jones through my Ancestrydotcom tree, when she said, “If your red puzzle piece with the caption "is this connection correct" is an invitation to weigh in, I'd like to respond I think it is correct that William Bennett's parents were Thomas Bennett and "Laura." Perhaps she was called "Laura", but I think her full name was Lucretia Hingston, and if so, she was the sister of my second great-grandmother Dorothy "Dorah" Hingston Abbott, who lived in the same area of Quebec. I believe William Bennett's brother was Andrew Bennett, who married Dorah's daughter, Ann Abbott (first cousins). Perhaps you know all of this, but I'm willing to share if you don't. I found you through a DNA connection of [my Dad’s test*] with [LK*] & [P2*], who are also DNA matches to me.” (I have permission to use Beverly’s name in this post but have not asked whether I could use the name or identifier of the persons in the brackets, so I’ve made them less identifiable.)

Among the things Beverly shared with me was an AncestryDNA-style DNA circle made up of Hingston-Sewell DNA connections [Lucretia Hingston's parents]  -- it is too far out from both of us for Ancestry to have made one. The below illustration shows a modified copy of the one she sent me (again, I don’t have permission from everyone included to use their name/identifier in this blog post so I have made them less identifiable). The changes I have made are basically cosmetic; this is her work. [Note: this is based on Pre-Change AncestryDNA information. I’ve checked to the extent I can and the connections are still there.]

Beverly Jones' Hingston-Sewell DNA Circle
Used with permission
Click to Make Bigger

This pretty much convinced me that I do descend from Thomas Bennett and Lucretia Hingston. But, this is only one piece of evidence and it is not direct definitive evidence, as we could be connected at a further level up. I’ve since checked my uncle’s and my aunts’ DNA for shared matches with any of the above-listed people and the graphic representation of the circle turned into quite the spider web with so many lines it is difficult to read in a hand-drawn picture, so while the connections are even stronger, particularly as to the Andrew Bennett (1796-1895) group, I decided to post only the original of the line drawing Beverly sent me (edited version) as the illustration here.

So far I have not found a single direct record connecting my William with Thomas Bennett and Lucretia Hingston Bennett of Cork. But circumstantial evidence is good evidence, too, and it is starting to pile up.

For me, one of the most convincing pieces of circumstantial evidence is the listing of Thomas and Lucretia’s children versus the listing of William Bennett and Margaret McFarlane Bennett’s children. (I’ve found baptism or marriage records of many of William’s purported siblings, connecting them with Thomas Bennett and Lucretia Hingston.)

The children of Thomas Bennett and Lucretia Hingston are (not necessarily in the right order) as follows:

Eliza, and 
(Please also keep in mind that Lucretia’s parents are Edward and Lucretia.)

The children of my William Bennett and Margaret McFarlane are:

Mary Jane McFarlane, 
Charlotte Margaret, 
Janet (“Jenny”), 
John Edward, 
Lucretia Anne, and 
James R. 
(Notably, not a single “Laura” among them.)

The two lists are remarkably similar, with the addition of Lucretia (William’s mother and maternal grandmother, if my hypothesis is correct) and Edward as part of John Edward  (Edward would be William’s maternal grandfather under this theory). When I ran preliminary incarnation [mentioning only one DNA connection] of my attempts to work out this hypothesis by a genea-blogger friend who lives in Ireland (Dara, of the Black Raven Genealogy blog ), she told me, “Along with everything else, the strongest evidence in support of the theory, in my opinion, are the two daughters Lucretia and Dorothy. In Ireland, there was little variety in given names, most especially for girls. e.g. one in five girls was called Mary, and one in six boys, John. Very few people were named outside the top ten common names of each sex.  Lucretia and even Dorothy were rare names (probably gentry) in Ireland. It's a huge coincidence if the two families shared these names by chance, as well as all the more common ones.  Naming conventions, eldest son after paternal grandfather, etc) provide clues but in reality were not always followed.”

She also told me that Bennett is an Anglo-Irish name from before the Cromwell conquest, and so originally Catholic. She said it was originally common around Kilkenny from the 14th century, according to MacLysaght (upon looking up that name I discovered that MacLysaght is the absolute expert on Irish surnames and that his books cost a fortune so I’m going to see whether his stuff is available through interlibrary loan at my local library). Dara said Hingston is probably English and is not common in Ireland. (Beverly has found a lot of information on the Hingston family which she has been sending me links to – fascinating stuff, which confirms English roots.)

Beverly had told me that her research, and a letter from a neighbor of the parents mentioning the sons, showed the three sons of Thomas Bennett (Sr.) left Ireland to move to North America (to what became Canada). So I started trying to see if I could find Andrew Bennett or Thomas Bennett Jr, or the three of them traveling from Ireland to the British colonies in North America. I have been so far unsuccessful in finding any ships manifests or other such records showing the three of them traveling together, or separately, to the British colonies in America. I will keep looking for ships records.

I have been able to find Andrew Bennett in Lower Canada. Andrew Bennett lived in the same area as my William Bennett in Lower Canada. In fact, on page 335 of the History of Huntingdon and the Seigniories of Beauharnois and Chateauguay by Robert Sellar. in its end of the chapter list of first occupants of lots in North Georgetown, 1st concession, it shows Andrew Bennett as part tenant (with Neil McNaughton) of the same lot number as I later found William owned according to the English transcription of the Cadastre Abrege for 1854 for North Georgetown (see William Bennett, Revisited, Part One). The history book also shows that lot (#22) is two lots away from that owned by the man who became William’s father-in-law, Andrew McFarlane. Lot #22 was first occupied around 1830. (Prior to the Rebellions of 1837 and 1838, the Seigniories operated as a feudal-style land system, as described in Part One, and it was not possible to own the lot free and clear. I understand that that was changed by the British government after the rebellions, and it became possible to purchase the land.) At the time William owned lot #22 in the first concession, Andrew owned lot 1 in the 3rd concession of the same town.
Battle of St. Denis, Contemporary Watercolor, In the Public Domain.

I discovered that Andrew Bennett served in the same local militia that William Bennett did during the uprising of 1838, in the Beauharnois Loyal Volunteers, the Beauharnois Battalion, 1st company, Georgetown). They were both privates. 

I also found a mention of Andrew Bennett and his wife, Ann Abbott, “of County Cork,” in A History of Northwest Missouri as the parents of Charles Bennett. The history indicated that Andrew (born in 1797) and Ann (born in 1817) were both from County Cork, Ireland, were married in Canada in 1833, and that Andrew Bennett had emigrated to North America at the age of 34. Andrew Bennett would’ve been 34 in approximately 1831. In 1831, my William would’ve been approximately 25 years old if he came to North America with Andrew Bennett. Age 25, this would probably comport with the line in William's obituary stating that he “emigrated to Montreal, Canada, while quite young.” It is worth noting that Ann Abbott is listed as the godmother of William Bennett and Margaret McFarlane’s son Thomas. (I also note that, as described above, Beverly Jones is descended from John Abbott and Dorah Hingston. As noted, Dorah is Lucretia’s sister, so it would appear that the Abbotts intertwine with the family on more than one generation.)

Andrew Bennett died in 1865. It is shortly after this time that William Bennett and his family moved to Michigan, USA.

I haven’t been able to find record of anyone I can definitively say is William’s brother, Thomas Bennett (hereinafter TBj) in the British colonies in North America although I did find his baptism record showing him to have been born to Thomas Bennett and Lucretia Hingston (– the index says Houghton but the document itself clearly says Hingston – and baptized on 21 July 1810 in Schull, County Cork, Ireland). I have found a few possibilities and have a favorite, but I’m not sure enough to add the information to his entry on my tree yet. My possibilities include: 1) There is a Tom Bennett in the 1851 New Brunswick census who is Irish and born in the same year TBj was baptized living with a Graham family, but why would he be in New Brunswick as a laborer when the rest of his family is southwest of Montreal? 2) There are two Thomas Bennetts in several censuses and death records in Canada West/Ontario, born within two years either side of TBj’s baptism date, but both list their place of birth as England throughout the censuses [in the death records one in listed as English and the other Irish] and belong to the Church of England, so I’m thinking possible but not necessarily probable. 3) [Admittedly, my favorite] is an 1832 burial record for a Thomas Bennett, age 24, who died in the Emigrant’s Hospital on 18th and was buried on the 20th day of January 1832.  In the 1830s, all who emigrated to Lower Canada (now Quebec) from the British isles were quarantined on Gross Isle in the Quebec Harbor in the St. Lawrence River, one ship at a time (other ships had to wait their turn), until the ship, its passengers, crew and all their bedding and clothing had been scrubbed and approved by government inspectors. Any who showed signs of disease were detained in the Emigrant’s Hospital on the Island.  This Thomas Bennett’s listed age in the index would have him born within 2 years of TBj’s baptism. I like this one because he is at least in the same province as his putative brothers, and because it explains not being able to find him in the same area as William in the years to come. It’s tragic, but plausible.

Climbing My Family Tree: Map of Ireland, 1830
Map of Ireland, 1830
Click to make bigger

One of the main problems with my hypothesis versus William Bennett’s obituary is that County Cork is not in northern Ireland. This is where a little consideration of historical context may supply some reasons for the difference in the obituary. First, Northern Ireland as a separate political entity did not exist until 1921, thirty-one years after William died. Prior to that, saying someone was from northern Ireland was a common reference point indicating that the person was likely from County Ulster and not Catholic. I have been unable to find a Thomas and Laura Bennett from County Ulster, in the correct time frame, or anywhere in that timeframe, for that matter. Under my hypothesis, William came to British North America when he was approximately 21, based on the information on Andrew in his son's, Charles’ write-up, in the History of Northwest Missouri, about a decade before the Famine, in the early 1830’s when Irish immigration to Canada was substantially Catholic. In the first census in which I found William in Canada East, the 1851 census, he and his family were listed as Catholic. It is unlikely to be a census taker’s mistake as others on the same page were listed as Presbyterian. True, on later U.S, censuses, William, and his family were listed as Protestant/Church of Scotland. When I wrote to Dara, of Black Raven Genealogy, she reminded me that there were strong anti-Irish sentiments in the post-Famine era both in Canada and the USA, so that it was not abnormal for an Irishman to claim northern roots in order to avoid being tarred with the poor Famine-immigrant brush. Some of her own ancestors who emigrated to the US did so, claiming to be Scots-Irish (which means northern Irish, and Protestant). Moreover, I note that in the mid-to-late 19th century there was also a strong Anti-Catholic bias in the U.S.A. It is possible that William changed his religion to that of his wife in order to avoid discrimination, and that the obituary writer simply presumed he was from northern Ireland because he was Protestant during the time the composer of the obituary knew him. Being originally Catholic when he emigrated could also explain the delayed marriage indicated in his son Thomas’ baptism record (see Part One) since the Catholic Church in British Canada did not like marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics, and the priest may have refused to marry them. The Church of Scotland was less stringent as to mixed marriages in that time. It is possible that they married in the Protestant church after giving up on being able to be married in the Catholic Church – after the birth of three kids (two daughters, Mary Jane and Charlotte Margaret, and his son, Thomas).

Taken together, these are my reasons for believing that my second-great-grandfather's parents are Thomas Bennett and Lucretia Hingston of Schull, County Cork, Ireland instead of Thomas Bennett and Laura [?] of somewhere in northern Ireland. Does this make sense to you? I’d truly appreciate it if you would leave your thoughts in the comments below, whether you agree with me or not. In fact, particularly if you do not, and especially if you can state reasons. I’d also appreciate it if anyone can give me ideas of where to look next. And if anyone is descended from William’s putative brother Thomas and knows where he went to, or from any of the girls, I would love to hear from you. If you think we might share DNA, I administer my Dad’s and his sibling’s DNA kits as well, and they are all up on AncestryDNA and GEDmatch. Please feel free to contact me by leaving a comment or emailing me at the address at the “Contact Me” tab above.


The History of Huntingdon and the Seigniories of Beauharnois and Chateauguay, From Their First Settlement to the Year 1838 and Revised to the 1900s by Robert Sellar, p.335 (150th anniversary edition, the Gleaner, Huntingdon, Québec, June 1975; originally published by Huntingdon, Québec, the Huntingdon Gleaner Incorporated. 1888.); transcription of the Cadastre Abrege for 1854,; Transcribed militia pay lists for companies in the Beauharnois Battalion during the Rebellion of 1838, ; A History of Northwest Missouri, Vol. 3, pp. 1889-1890, ed. by Walter Williams (The Lewis Publishing Company of Chicago & New York, 1915); The church record index at IrishGenealogy.i.e. for Tom Bennett,; “Life and Death on Gross Isle, 1832-1937”,; Les Ecossais, The Pioneer Scots of Lower Canada, 1763-1855, by Lucille H Campey (Natural Heritage, 2006); Courtship, Love, and Marriage in 19th Century English Canada, by Peter Wald (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1993); Adventures and Exiles: The Great Scottish Exodus (Profile Books, 2003); Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc., 200 - Original data: Gabriel Drouin, comp. Drouin Collection. Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Institut Généalogique Drouin; 1851 Census of Canada East, Canada West, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia; U.S. Federal Census for 1870, and 1880; Imlay City Times, January 8, 1891;;;; Ontario, Canada, Deaths, 1869-1938, Archives of Ontario; Series: MS935; Reel: 61,;  Ontario, Canada Census for 1871 and 1891.


  1. Great post, Jo. Here's my tuppence worth - given you've already found William, his parents, and lots of his siblings in Schull, maybe you could try tracing them forward in Co. Cork. You might find nothing, i.e. 'negative evidence', adding to the probability you've identified the right people, and you may learn more about the family. (start with church records, property records, civil records, directories, etc, and newspapers)

    1. I haven't found William in Schull, just his DNA. ;) But I like that idea. I'll give it a try. Thanks, Dara.


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