Feb 3, 2023

Timothy Terry’s Middle Name

February 3, 2023

Benjamin Franklin famously wrote “nothing is certain but death and taxes.” If you’re a genealogist, you can add another certainty. Once something is online, it will be there forever. It’s especially true if what’s posted online is wrong.


My third great grandfather, Timothy Terry, was born in 1798 in Canada. He died in 1886 in Illinois. During his long life, he left a lot of records. Over the years I’ve found deeds, marriage records, militia papers, newspaper articles and death and cemetery records. I even have a copy of an original letter that he sent to the War Department when one of his sons was missing during the Civil War.


In every one of those many records, Timothy’s name is written as “Timothy Terry.” No middle name or initial is written on any of them. Why then, does nearly every tree on multiple websites list Timothy’s name as Timothy Peter?


For years I couldn’t figure out the answer. Eventually, I did more research into Timothy’s descendants and learned that one of his grandsons was named Timothy Peter. My theory is that someone looked at the grandson’s name and assumed it must be the grandfather’s name as well.


The several dozen records I have for Timothy Terry argue against that assumption. In an effort to set the record straight, I sent emails to several tree owners asking them to remove the middle name. Most of them never even replied. A few replied but insisted they were correct because someone else had told them the middle name was correct. Some said they’d seen it that way on some document or other. No one ever offered to share a document that included the middle name.


It took me a while, but finally I realized I’m never going to get Timothy’s name changed. Anyone who consults trees on Ancestry, My Heritage and who knows where else is going to find “Timothy Peter Terry.” It’s going to be that way permanently.


Death and taxes may be certainties, but errors on the internet are also inevitable. Apparently, they’re just as permanent too. As a genealogist, I’d love to be able to fix errors like Timothy’s name, but I know that’s not going to happen. I think the best I can do is make my information available online so that anyone who really cares has access to it.


Carol Stetser