Sunday, March 6, 2011

Did your ancestor REALLY die in "Y, Somme, Picardie, France"?

The answer in a nutshell is almost certainly no

But first some background on doing genealogical research on To save on verbiage, cut to the chase and read about the "Y, Somme, Picardie, France" glitch, drop down to where the pink text resumes.

I've been researching and compiling my family tree on for several years now, and this page is for the benefit of others researching theirs on the same site. So far I have thousands of entries, the compilation of which has been quite an experience. I've learned a lot,  and I've made a LOT of mistakes.  (I'll write about that in another post.)

Sources for the information on and other genealogy sites are quite varied and range from other people's family trees to actual government records. Most of the info is basically correct, but mistakes can be found almost anywhere, especially if the only source is a Family Tree. But we forge ahead, determined to learn whatever we can about our families. 

One bit of weird "data" that kept popping up in my research was a place called "Y", a tiny* village (or commune) with an appropriately tiny name, in the d├ępartement of "Somme", in the region "Picardie" in northern France. "Y", obviously one of the world's shortest place-names, was supposedly the "Place of Death" for quite a large number of my ancestors, & in most cases I knew it just wasn't  possible
                             [See the map below for the location of "Y". ]

*Historical population of tiny  Y, Somme, from Wikipedia
1962 1968 1975 1982 1990 1999 2006
109 116 86 90 82 89 86
From the year 1962 on: population without double counting—residents of multiple communes (e.g. students and military personnel) only counted once.

Well, finally I figured out what I call "The Secret of Y" (or the "Y Anomaly", or the "Y Phenomenon", take your pick). It is now clear why this minute little village kept popping up as the "Place of Death" on for so many of my really ancient ancestors....ancestors from all over the place, going back to the 4th Century AD...I knew it couldn't be true and suspected a computer-generated mistake.

Haven't you ever found a totally impossible place of birth or death for an ancestor and questioned it? I sure have!

I've found a Druid priest supposedly dying in the South Pacific, or a 18th Century iron-monger from Scotland managing to die in Alaska., or a king from the 13th Century dying in "Europe, Fayette, Georgia, United States". 

                         Shield of "Y, Somme, Picardie, France", a real place.
That's the one that cracked it for me- I knew as soon as I saw "Europe, Fayette, Georgia, United States" that someone (without a clue as to the place of death) must have meant to enter "Europe" and didn't notice the sometimes tricky drop-down list of suggestions, and accidentally accepted the "Georgia, USA" place name.

That led me to crack the code on "Y Somme, Picardie, France". ... read on to see how it appears that masses of people supposedly died in a tiny commune:

1. An amateur genealogist (who isn't particular about form) is entering information about an ancestor; when he comes to the field that asks for the PLACE of DEATH, he realizes that he doesn't know the year-has absolutely no idea.

2. Somehow unable to just leave the PLACE of DEATH field blank, which would be SO MUCH better, the genealogist feels compelled to enter SOMETHING in that field, so he enters "Y", as in "Yes". (Like "Yes, my 28th great grandfather is dead (duh!), I just don't know when he died, but he is definitely dead!")

3. When "Y" is then entered in the PLACE OF DEATH field, "Y, Somme, Picardie, France" pops up first in that sometimes-helpful drop-down list that appears next to the "Place" field.

4. The person entering the info isn't paying enough attention and unknowingly ACCEPTS "Y, Somme, Picardie, France", without noticing that instead of "YES" for place of death, it's now "Y, Somme" etc. And it looks legit, in that it's a real place.

5. WE see it, accept it without question which is a HUGE mistake, and duplicate it, and on and on it goes....this tiny place gets the dubious credit for hosting about a zillion corpses from all over the world.

A little knowledge of history, a little more curiosity, and a lot more patience helps avoid some of this stuff, but mistakes are bound to happen.

Anyway, I've been going through the massive list of names on my tree and deleting "Y, Somme" etc. everywhere I find it. If any of my ancestors actually DID die there, which is totally unlikely, too bad. 

Bienvenue sur le petite commune de "Y" en Somme, Picardie, France"!

Tiny "Y", courtesy of Google Earth.
My apologies and best wishes to the handful of residents, alive and dead, who REALLY call tiny Y, Somme, Picardie, France  home. I'm sure they've had their share of confused tourists. If I can only think of the right Lotto numbers, I'll be able to go there someday myself and pay my regards in person. Meanwhile, I visit via Google Earth's Street View. Y appears to be so tiny as to be barely there, but charming, and utterly unhaunted :o)