“Yeah? Me, too. I’m…whatever you said. Independent.”–Rudolph in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1964)

After 39 years of living with an accountant (31 of them, a CPA) I’ve heard more than enough about “being independent.” In the accounting world, it has to do with auditors not having their

“integrity, objectivity, or professional skepticism” (3.03b, p. 27) compromised, “so that their opinions, findings, conclusions, judgments, and recommendations will be impartial and viewed as impartial by reasonable and informed third parties.” (3.04, p. 27-28)

“Government Auditing Standards”. 2011. U.S. GAO. [Accessed 4 Jul. 2019].

Reports or financial statements impacted by that requirement include a statement about being independent at the bottom; or one informing the reader the accountant was NOT independent with regard to that particular company. Not being independent isn’t necessarily a problem, but readers are alerted that maybe they should make further inquiries before relying on or acting on the financial information.

Genealogy isn’t that much different, with Genealogy Standards (Second Edition) providing the necessary guidelines. It’s published by the Board for Certification of Genealogists, but the introduction makes it very clear the standards apply to everyone — not just those who are certified, accredited, or professional:

These standards apply to all genealogical research, whether shared privately or published . . . personal research and research for clients, courts, and other employers.

Genealogy Standards. 2019. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: Board for Certification of Genealogists, p. xix.

The five standards guiding our research are:

  • Reasonably exhaustive research — “one and done” won’t work
  • Complete source citations — if I don’t know where my information is from, how can I assess it?
  • Testing, analyzing and correlating everything — sources, information, conclusions
  • Resolving conflicts — “wishing away” inconvenient information doesn’t cut it, either
  • Constructing a coherent, well-reasoned conclusion based on the best evidence available.

Reading through the standards, nowhere do we see the term “independent,” yet it’s an underlying concept through throughout. Researchers should

not allow bias, preference, or preconception to affect their choices of information to collect and not collect. They suspend judgment about the information’s effect on the research question until after they have collected sufficient relevant information, analyzed it, and compared it to other findings.

ibid., p. 18, standard 27

Remaining “independent” when researching someone else’s family is a little easier than when working on my own. The separation I have from “those guys” allows for clearer, less biased thinking than when working on “my guys.” Nevertheless, I try really hard to put on my “Joe Friday” fedora and stick to “just the facts,” instead of what I wish was there!

Researching Mike’s ancestors, I basically started from scratch. No one had done any research on either branch of his tree, so I had no preconceived notions or existing theories. Staying independent wasn’t really that hard. All I needed to do was start with the few facts I knew, and follow the trail backwards. At least, that’s the theory.

I began with John Joseph Carmody’s second wife, Mildred B. Fitzgerald (Mike’s grandmother). I had Mildred’s name from my father-in-law’s death certificate. In DNA, I followed her mother’s line up to Mike’s Crockett/Creighton DNA match. Of course, Mildred had a father, too. Her death certificate¹ tells us his name was Ashley Fitzgerald, born in Canada, and her mother, Eliza English, born in Michigan. Her parents’ names are confirmed in both of Mildred’s marriage records:

  • 13 July 1921, in Bay City, to John Joseph Carmody²
  • 1 January 1908, in Port Huron, to Gordon E. Marshall³

Her father’s (Ashley’s) marriage4 to Eliza English on 10 April 1886, in Elgin, Ontario, Canada, listed his parents as Frederick and Maud Fitzgerald. It also provided a middle initial of “C” for him. His death certificate on 8 April 1931 expanded that out to “Cooper.” His father was listed there with just initials: “F.J.” but we got a maiden name for his mother: Maud Varcoe. She variously used “Maud,” “Augusta Maud,” “Augusta,” throughout her life.

Ashley and Eliza were found in the 1901 Canadian census5, with Mildred, her siblings, and Eliza’s mother, Isabella. It’s always helpful when widowed parents show up in the census to confirm it’s the right family! I’m not going to detail all the records found for Ashley (children’s birth registers, censuses, etc.), but most are consistent for him, using his middle initial, or the full name, and reporting ages within a birth range of 1865-1867.

So far, I’ve not found him in the 1891 Canadian census, but he may have still been in the USA at that time. Mildred was born in Ohio in December, 1890. An unmarried Ashley and his parents appeared in Sarnia, Ontario6 1881, though. His mom was Augusta Maud in that list, and her widowed mother, Jane Varcoe, was living with them. Another generation proposed! His father, Frederick, was a painter, consistent with Ashley’s eventual trade. I had another indication I was on the right track.

Aged 14 in 1881, Ashley should definitely have been in the 1871 census, but no matter how creatively I searched, I couldn’t find the family. I tabled it for a while. Months later, I saw a hint for a Michigan divorce record for an Ashley Cooper Fitzgerald. I was at home, without Ancestry access, so had to wait for a trip to the library to follow up. My next trip there, I searched for a database I knew had Ashley, then looked at the suggested records list for quick access to the divorce in question. I know, I was being lazy, but I knew it would work, and I’d neglected to write down the exact database title.

So I’m scanning down the list of suggestions, when my eyes catch “1871 Canadian Census Ashley Flynn.” I did a double-take, and briefly wondered what kind of party they were having in the Ancestry databases offices. Where did they get that name? I fully expected it to be some weirdly off the wall suggestion. Should I even waste my time?

Remember, though, we are talking this week about being independent: eliminating bias and preconceived notions, suspending judgment. I braced myself for a laugh and then clicked through to it.7 There he was, 3-year-old Ashley Flynn, a 21-year old widowed, Maud Flynn, and a 56-year-old widowed Jane Varcoe. It sure looked like my people!

Simplified ancestor tree for Mildred Belle Fitzgerald. The right side you’ve seen before, in DNA. The paternal line for Ashley is different than it was when I thought Frederick John Fitzgerald was his father.

No wonder I couldn’t find Maud, Frederick, and Ashley in the 1871 census — they were not a family, yet! Further searches turned up the marriage record for Augusta Maud and her first husband, John Flynn, in 1866. Her marriage to Frederick John Fitzgerald in 1874 finally found its way online, but at the time, it wasn’t available. Had I found it earlier, I would have realized they married six years after Ashley’s birth, though I still wouldn’t have had a clue what the surname of the first husband was.

What do I know about the relationship between Ashley and Frederick? Not much, really. I don’t really know whether Ashley was adopted by him, or not. The census record shows Ashley only as “son,” not “adopted” or “step.”

My gut feeling, though, is that they had a good relationship, based on the fact that Ashley went on to work in the same profession as Frederick. I assume Ashley “apprenticed” under his stepfather, learning the trade, and spending time together. Unless a diary or letter turn up, that’s the best we can do.

In the meantime, I will continue to employ independent thinking when researching! By the way, the divorce record that triggered my discovery was for his son by a second wife I hadn’t found yet. But that’s another story . . .


¹”Michigan Death Records, 1921-1947″, database, Michigan Historical Society, Seeking Michigan (, accessed 8 July 2019, entry for Mildred B. CARMODY, 37, 14 September 1928, citing Port Huron, St. Clair, Michigan, registered no. 355 [written].

²”Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952″, database, (, accessed 6 July 2019, citing Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952. Michigan Department of Community Health, Division of Vital Records and Health Statistics; Lansing, MI, USA; 1921 Midland-1921 St. Joseph, film number 158, record # 16709. John J. CARMODY (54) and Mildred B. MARSHALL [FITZGERALD] (30).

³”Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952″, database, (, accessed 27 December 2015, citing Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952. Michigan Department of Community Health, Division of Vital Records and Health Statistics,1907 Montcalm – 1907 Wayne, film number 93, record # 10124. Gordon E. MARSHALL (21) and Mildred B. FITZGERALD (18).

4“Ontario, Canada, Marriages, 1801-1928”, database, (, accessed 27 December 2015, entry for Ashley C. FITZGERALD and Eliza ENGLISH, 10 April 1886, citing Ontario, Canada, Registrations of Marriages, 1869-1928. MS932, reel 53, certificate 002734, no. 52. Archives of Ontario, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

51901 census of Canada, population schedule, Sarnia, Lambton (West), Ontario, e.d. 79; family # 246, page 24 (written); line 39; Ashley G. FITSGERALD household; accessed 7 July 2019, citing Library and Archives Canada microfilm T-6428 through T-6556. Ashley G. FITZGERALD, age 34; digital image,, Canada (

61881 census of Canada, population schedule, London East, Middlesex East, Ontario, e.d. 167; page 65 (written); line 20; John FITZGERALD household; accessed 28 June 2018, citing Library and Archives Canada microfilm C13162 through C13286. Ashley FITZGERALD, age 14; digital image,, Canada.

71871 census of Canada, population schedule, Ward 3, London, Ontario, e.d. 10; page 95 (written); line 20; Jane VARCOE household; accessed 28 June 2018, citing Library and Archives Canada microfilm C-9906. Ashley FLYNN, age 3; digital image,, Canada (

2 thoughts on “Independent”

  1. Thank you so much, but you give me WAY too much credit. I was FULLY prepared to laugh at Ancestry’s ridiculous suggestion! I have seen so many absurd ones, before. They obviously got the last laugh, that time. Anyway, I now check out every suggestion they throw at me, even if I think I already know it/have it (sometimes it’s a different register–not just a 2nd image of the same page, scanned to a different database), or if it seems out in left field. Sometimes left field comes through. They have located misspellings I would have never thought of, so would have missed the document. The wrong hints, I just ignore. Also, if I hadn’t chased after that divorce record, I’d have missed an entire “second family” for Ashley, since I had no family stories giving me a reason to suspect one. Those half cousins may come into play with DNA results at some point.


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