The Anatomy of an Error?

One of our members asked recently about guidance on the correct marriage date for Stephen Babb (1-2-2-1-6) & Sarah Morrow. It seems that there are two common dates of marriage that float around for Stephen & Sarah. 12 Feb 1788 & 12 Feb 1799. Stephen is the Son of Philip (1-2-2-1) who is the pioneer of Greene County, TN that founded Babb’s Mill. Stephen is also a brother to Seth Babb who built the Homestead I talk so much about.

Marriage info varies widely over different time periods & geographic areas. Also, because I keep a tree for such a large family (almost 18,000 people), I don’t always notice minor data conflicts, such as this one. That is until one of the Eagle-Eyed members brings it to my attention. Which was the case here.

I myself had lifted the 1788 date from Jean A. Sargent’s 3rd edition of Babb Families of America (Copyright 2000), which seems to be unsourced. This sent me on a quest to find out where the info came from. When I secured Jean Sargent’s Papers, I also received Jean’s master copies of the first two editions that she used when creating the next edition. In that was a printed copy of the First Edition of the series, which was titled Babb Families of New England …and Beyond.

BF of New EnglandTaking a quick look at the page, you will see why I don’t recommend people use this edition. Phillip’s (1-2-2-1) entire list of descendants takes up less than 2 pages. By the 3rd Edition, this encompassed 27 pages and in the soon to be released Babb Unabridged, this area is roughly equivalent to 108 similarly sized pages. The massive number of side notes, gives a clue about just how much work goes into this. Before you ask, I don’t have a date for release, just yet. Currently, I’m struggling with formatting problems, but hope to deliver it in the next few of months.

From the 1st Edition, I can see that Stephen wasn’t discovered until after it was finalized in 1987. He does make the 2nd edition goes to print in 1994 and we find the 1788 marriage date listed. Jean got most of her data via communications with other researchers. She was a stickler for accuracy, but had to rely on other researchers to enable something the size of her book. Fortunately, she kept copious records.

Next, I turn to Box 5, Folder 10 in Jean’s papers. This is Stephen & Sarah’s folder. It contains two sub-folders, Correspondence of Vetta Babb Barton (14 Pages) & Miscellaneous Correspondence (95 Pages). In it I find many references to 1788, but initially overlook a critical document.

The exact origin isn’t obvious, but a variety of sources were quoting this date as early as 1988 and Jean herself is quoting it as early as 1989. This date has gone unchallenged for roughly 27 years. And, why not? The 1788 date easily line up with the birth of their children in 1790.

During this timeframe, the world of genealogy has been turned on its side by the Internet & Personal Computing. So, next I turn to Ancestry.com. I bypass the trees, which are notoriously incapable of handling this sort of problem, and head directly for the source documents.

The answer is instantly clear. Or is it? There are two source documents available. The first is an Index of Tennessee Marriage Records, which uses the 1788 date. It’s source is unclear.

Stephen Babb 1-2-2-1-6 Marriage RecordTurning to our second record, we finally have something of substance. A copy of the Marriage book from Greene County, TN dated 12 Feb 1999. In the original book, there is a note in the clerk’s handwriting,  that lists a previous marriage date in 1788 (no month/day was included), in the State of Franklin. Franklin is a failed State that encompasses the 8 Easternmost counties of what is now Tennessee. Franklin failed in Dec 1788 and the land returned to North Carolina, until Tennessee was founded in 1796. This harkens to an earlier document. But, where are those records? Why, they are in this same book. This is because the county always existed, just under different government names.

Looking back through the entries from 1788, there is no record of Stephen and Sarah getting married earlier. There is a girl named Sarah who marries, but that isn’t enough to say they are the same person. It also begs the question of, who is the mother of Stephen’s first two children (William & Alcy). It’s possible that either of them married someone else earlier and in a different county, but all of those seem unlikely. It’s for sure something happened, but what?

Stephen Babb (1-2-2-1-6) & Sarah Morrow Marriage-Greene Co, TN Book A, Page 577To answer this question, I searched through every marriage record that exists from 1788 in Franklin (now Tennessee). Only two of the Franklin Counties have records going back that far, so it was a short list. There isn’t a semblance of another Babb or Morrow (Moorow) in those records. As I’m about to hit send on this post, I got back one more time to copy a passage from Jean’s Papers and I come across the source document, which appears to have been entered in Deed Book A, instead of the Marriage book. I’m not clear on which collection it is from, but it clearly is marked at the bottom as being from Greene County, TN.

So, the final answer is, both are correct. It seems they reaffirmed their vows on their anniversary, or had a previously lost record re-entered into the right place. Next time I’m in Greeneville, I’ll search out the full location and see if I can get a better copy of the record.

I hope you have enjoyed this little stroll through history! I had great fun tracking it down!

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