I was sitting with a client the other night, when suddenly I noticed a big problem in her pedigree. We were in the process of establishing a link with a distant cousin, when I noticed that we had two individuals by the same name. These two men appeared in the 1850 Census living in adjacent counties. They shared the same name, John, and each had a son named Jesse, who was 7 or 8 years old. The questions become, which Jesse is the correct Jesse, and how do the two Johns connect? (The cousin assures my client that they a very closely related, sharing multiple family lines.)
Few vital records are available in this time period in America, so I turned to the census records. I searched for both families in every census where they appeared, solving the first question easily. Each father, John, lived in the same county where I first found them in 1850. One son, Jesse, stayed in the same county and town as his father. In the 1880 census, father and son were living next to each other. Looking at the names of grandsons proved convincing evidence that the cousin's ancestor, Jesse, was not the brother of my client's ancestor as was believed.
The second question remains unanswered at this time. It is obvious that the relationship between the two families goes back at least one more generation as none of my client's ancestor's brothers had a son named John. Hopefully, a little more research in family records will prove the relationship between these families.
Mixing generations is another common problem associated with same name individuals. Sons listed as their mother's spouse, a brother listed as the child of another brother, etc. Careful attention to dates and places is needed to prevent the mixing of individuals and generations. Analyze your records for similar errors.