Thursday, 26 March 2015

Follow up to the BNA story

About two weeks ago I posted a story detailing how the British Newspaper Archive helped me solve a bit of a mystery involving mixed up dates and ancestors. To summarise, the death date of my great-great-great-great-great grandfather Amos BANNISTER has been quoted as either 1782 or 1796 by various researchers. There are trees online with one or other of these dates and parish records can be found for the burial of an Amos BANNISTER in each of these years. Some trees and family histories quote the 1782 date and mention that Amos was crushed to death by a wagon, but some (including my cousin, whose book on the family helped guide my own research) use the 1796 date with the same story. I had found a source for the 1782 "crushed by a wagon" tale - a book called A History of the Ancient Chapel of Stretford, Volume III recounts this tale and date. So why do some people place the wagon incident in 1796? Or were there two eerily similar deaths of men named Amos BANNISTER in the same town 34 years apart?

I think I have finally pieced it together. I recently obtained a copy of a wonderful little book called Old Stretford - Reminiscences of the Past Half Century by Sir Bosdin Leech. In this book he recounts tales of many residents of the town of Stretford, including several of my ancestors and relatives. He specifically mentions my ggggg-grandfather, Amos and tells how he was crushed to death by a wagon in 1796. So this is the most likely source of the "crushed by a wagon" in 1796 entries. I know my cousin was aware of this book and had copies of several pages, so it is very likely that he saw the story in the book and included the cause of death in his tree.

Having found the source of the 1796 cause of death, I then pondered why Sir Bosdin Leech would have written this. Where could the misinformation have come from? The book, Old Stretford, was written in 1910, over a century after the death of Amos. The Leech family had been renting a house from Amos' son (also called Amos) so it is probable that Bosdin would have heard many tales of the BANNISTER family from his landlord. In the book he mentions Amos BANNISTER from Adlington who came to Stretford - details that must have come from his landlord, the son of Amos. He also would have known when Amos died, in 1796. Another tale he would have heard, either from his landlord or other people in the town, is that of the wheelwright Amos BANNISTER who was crushed to death by a wagon. It is conceivable that the tale of the crushing would leave out the exact year, so it becomes easy to believe that someone hears the tale of an Amos BANNISTER who died in 1796 and an Amos BANNISTER who was crushed to death and assumes the two tales refer to the same person.

So now I am fairly confident I know why some people, including my cousin, had the correct date of 1796 but the wrong cause of death. This little exercise has just reinforced to me that we should be careful to try to find as many distinct sources as possible and that we should study the sources to determine how and where the author might have come by the information. Having an ancestor who dies in such a gruesome fashion makes for a great story, but if the evidence just doesn't support the story we must let it go and stick to the provable facts.

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