15 August 2021

Robert Curry: Conflation or Not?

Strictly speaking, this brief article would not go into the Bogus Genealogies blog. It certainly doesn't fit the genetic genealogy blog, although well-placed Y-DNA testing might resolve the problem (autosomes will not). Still, this conundrum features a phenomenon called conflation, perhaps the original sin of inexperienced or untrained genealogists. At first blush, these are separate men. However, a number of researchers insist that these Roberts are the same Dr Robert Curry (1717-1804) of Augusta County, Virginia. In fact, the discrepancies have the potential to be reconciled. Still, a great deal of work and research must be done to consider it a fait accompli. Merely citing similar names in order to conflate what might have been separate men and to make Dr Robert's son, another Robert, the grandson of Andrew McComb doesn't quite cut it. I understand that this is the desirable outcome, but it needs to be shown that it's the true outcome.

My of Currys in Pennsylvania and Virginia and others have revealed that they often intermarried. Whether they were cousins or of separate paternal lineages, I can't say for sure. The same is true for the Irwins I study. And very often, Curry / Irwin marriages are found, even within the same families. I don't know what accounts for it except that those Scots who were enticed to move to Ireland during the period of the English Civil Wars were largely isolated to their communities in Ireland, forbidden to run for public office, and had their religion outlawed. Their numbers were relatively small, and a certain degree of consanguinity would have resulted.

In regards to this problem, all we can do at this point is to look at the facts uncovered so far and to drop the what-ifs and could-bes.

A Tale of Two Wills

Robert Curry and Elizabeth McComb (will of Andrew McComb, 1788) — It appears Andrew McComb followed convention by listing his grandchildren by birth order. They are specifically stated to have been of Robert and Elizabeth.
  • Andrew
  • Margret
  • Jean
  • William
  • Mary
  • Robert
  • Elizabeth
  • Agness
  Dr Robert Curry and Ann Curry (Robert's will of 1804) — As was the custom, he did not list by birth order, instead by sex. The mother of any of the children is not explicitly stated.
  • daughter Margaret Nickel
  • daughter Mary Erwin
  • daughter Ann Glen
  • son Samuel
  • son Robert
  • son William
  • Samuel's brothers
    • William Curry
    • James Curry
    • Robert Curry
    • Alexander
    • Isah

In his will, Andrew McComb stated that Robert Curry was his former son-in-law. Robert was obviously still living. It seems likely, then, that Elizabeth was dead by 1788 making it possible that Robert remarried.

If we assume that these Robert Currys are the same Robert Curry, then we have to assume that the grayed-out names were from Robert's first wife. (And Ann Glen could have been Agness.) Dr Robert states only Samuel, Robert, and William as sons and makes no mention of Andrew, Jean, Elizabeth, and possibly Agnes. He doesn't state how James, Alexander, and Isah were Samuel's brothers. Were they his half-brothers? Had Ann been their mother through another marriage to an unknown Curry? None of this has been answered.

If this is true, the following must be proved.

  • That Margaret Nickel's mother was Elizabeth McComb
  • That Mary Erwin's mother was Elizabeth McComb
  • That possibly Ann Glen's mother was Elizabeth McComb
  • That the mother of sons Robert and William was Elizabeth McComb
  • That Robert's wife, Ann, had previously been married to a Curry and had sons James, Alexander, and Isah
  • The final disposition of children Andrew, Jean, Elizabeth, and possibly Agness
  • The confusion between Ann and Agness needs resolved
  • Reliable birth documents for the children and death date for Elizabeth McComb

It's possible to short-cut these points by proving that Dr Robert Curry's land was the same land willed by Andrew McComb to his former son-in-law, Robert Curry. But if the suppositions turn out to be correct, then we have the following.

Parent and Child
Robert and Elizabeth Dr Robert and Ann Ann and 'Curry'
Andrew, Margret, Jean, William, Mary, Robert, Elizabeth, Agness Ann?, Samuel James, Alexander, Isah

It is certainly possible that both Robert and Ann had been previously married and that together had son Samuel and that he, Sam, was a half-sibling to all the children born to each parent's former marriages. But, without proving some of the points above, it's just as likely that these Roberts were different men. Because there are similar names in two different documents written more than fifteen years apart is not proof of relationship. Yes, it is possible, even reasonable, that Robert married twice. Speculation is a fine thing, but it doesn't replace certified documentation. Even without it, for that matter, compounded evidence can be overwhelming. But, as things now stand, this is not that.