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  • Writer's pictureTheFormidableGenealogist

The Many Newtons

A frequent error in genealogy is conflation. It’s the merging of two separate things into one, and it happens when separate people are merged into one person. For example, if a man’s wife is Sarah in one document and Mary in another, the easiest solution is to say the man was married to one woman named Sarah Mary. The more difficult solution is to meticulously track the records and clues to determine if the man was married to two women—one named Sarah and one named Mary—or if the names indeed refer to the same woman. We know the easier solution is generally the most common one. So in family trees around the internet (and also in the early-20th-century family histories that are generally considered indisputable fact even though they do not contain sources) the conflated identities of Sarah and Mary exist infinitely as a singular person.


Conflation happens in another big way. “Philemon Bland is such a unique name,” one might think. “This Philemon Bland must be the same as my Philemon Bland. After all, how many Philemon Blands could there possibly be in Virginia in the mid-1800s?” Well, there may be a whole lot.

Say a Philemon Bland in 1800 is the earliest I can find. If he had six sons, one of them would likely be named Philemon. The younger Philemon and his five brothers would probably each have a son named Philemon. So there could be Philemon Sr., Philemon Jr., Philemon B., Philemon T., and so on until each of those Philemons also had a son named Philemon. To distinguish themselves from the other Philemons, they would likely use their middle initials or begin by using their middle names instead. By using only a name to justify that two or more of these men are the same person is how “road blocks” happen. We can’t get any further because the roadmap trying to bridge one person to the next is incorrect.


Recently we were trying to find more about a man named Newton E. Bateman. Progress past him was stalled for seemingly everyone who was looking for record of him. Later censuses agree that Newton E. Bateman was born in Kentucky around 1815. Consensus among family researchers is that he was the householder Newton Bateman on the 1830 federal census in Fleming County, Kentucky. The man in that household is age 20-29 with one female age 20-29, one female 15-19, and a female and male both under age 5. Even considering the inconsistent data often found in census records, that a 15-year-old boy could be the householder needs to be challenged.


Newton E. Bateman, according to these same family trees, died before 1860 in Sangamon, Illinois. His known wife Rebecca Enyart Bateman and a young daughter are living with another family that year, and their other children are found in homes across the same area. His death is an easy explanation for his absence. However, The Formidable Genealogist feels the need to challenge that too.


What we found was that there were more than a couple Newton Batemans in Kentucky and Illinois around the same time. The middle initial in Newton E. Bateman led us to Edward Bateman, the name he used at one point in his life, no doubt to distinguish himself from other Newton Batemans. Analyzing the records indicates that Newton B. Bateman is the householder in Fleming County, Kentucky, in 1830—not the Newton E. Bateman whose identity is frequently conflated with Nathan B.


Newton E. didn’t die before 1860 in Illinois, either. Newspaper records and deeds show that he had been hounded by financial difficulties in Illinois. By 1880, a Newton Bateman of the same general age was enumerated in Tollesboro, Kentucky, where his occupation was barrel-making—the same as the known N. E. Bateman on the 1850 federal census.


Newton B. Bateman, who was Newton E.’s cousin, had died in 1876, as proven by his probate records in Mason County, Kentucky. His location on the last census of his lifetime was Mays Lick, about 20 miles from where the other Newton was living in 1880. Newspaper clippings about the longer-lived Newton led us to his sisters and our estimate for his death—around late 1891 or early 1892. We haven’t yet found a record of the death of Newton E. Bateman, but record analysis leads us to have confidence that his parents were the John Bateman and Polly Knash married in Fleming County, Kentucky, in 1809.


The will of Thomas Bateman of Fleming County reveals more relationships for the Batemans. Polly’s name is more likely Nash. The marriage register in that county also includes Nancy Nash, who married John Deaver in 1807, and is likely a clue to Polly Nash Bateman’s identity. Until the next researcher picks up where we have left off, we’re content that Newton E. Bateman has regained his own identity—separate from Newton B. Bateman, and for many years beyond his reported death.

Map of the area around Tollesboro, Kentucky--a key location in the search for Newton E. Bateman.

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