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 Ancestry.com. To save on verbiage, cut to the chase and read about the "Y, Somme, Picardie, France" Ancestry.com glitch, drop down to where the pink text resumes.

I've been researching and compiling my family tree on Ancestry.com 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 Ancestry.com 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√©partement 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 Ancestry.com 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)

37 comments:

  1. Well the topic you choose really unique and information is ultimate you gave us. I completely enjoyed the post and hoping more post from you soon.
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  2. Great info, enjoyed the read. This was the first time I had come across the place, so now I know!

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  3. I wonder if this is the same for Not, Graz, Umgerberg, Styria, Austria. I have a few ancestors from there.

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  4. Thank you for sharing this with others. I, too, figured it was a mistake or some kind of default. Now whenever I do see see the reference, I ignore it. Thanks again, for explaining why it is happening.

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  5. Thanks! I will cross Y off of my geneology-inspired travel plans!

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    1. That's probably a good idea. It DOES look like a charming little spot, but I wouldn't go out of my way to check it out.

      Happy (ancestor) hunting!

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  7. Thank you for writing this - I have just spent the last day trying to work out this family where every second person for 4 generations all from somerset died in Y, Somme. Now I can clean up the mess.

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  8. Amazing, this thing we call the internet! I am chasing my family tree as well, and seeing some of my (I think) family born in North Carolina, and dying in Y, was a bit confusing :) Thanks so much for clearing it up for me as well!

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    1. You're welcome! I was lucky to stumble upon the explanation.

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  9. Thank you, Thank you and 1 more. Thank you, it was driving me nuts..

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  10. I'm delighted to have been able to help, Thomas.

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  11. Hilarious! I am one of those with a lot of ancient Scottish ancestors who died in Y! I thought maybe Y was a refuge for those escaping all those wars. Thanks for taking the time to educate us all. Now I know to go back and research all those people to find out where they really died.

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  12. Well, it's really true -- if you google, you can find EVERYTHING! Thanks for posting this information. I lecture people constantly to never trust trees posted on Ancestry. Those for my family are mostly very wrong. But this death in France was quite the mystery for one person, and I wanted to learn where and how anyone thought she went to France. Of course, there is never any documentation with these posted trees. But it finally occurred to me to just google the location. And you popped up! Thanks ever so much for such a great service!

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  13. thank you! this makes perfect sense. I was wondering why my British ancestor who lived his whole life in Devon could somehow have died in France in 1610. I was looking for the history of the town to see if there had been a battle or something, and found your insightful explanation! bravo!

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    1. You're welcome. Happy to have helped.

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    2. I found it the same way :P There were several battles between the British and the French during the reigns of Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, so an ancestor dying Calais in 1558 might be possible :P Otherwise, not so much.

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  14. I found Essex ancestors on a public tree today and was puzzled to find three of them had died in "Y", so I looked it up on Google and found this site. Voila! Thanks.

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  16. On many occasions I have found this doltish entry, from a Scot who moved to Mersea, Ontario, CANADA, to an English noble who lived in the 12th century and never left England. It makes a certain convoluted sense that my grandfather might have been buried there as he was in WWI, but he returned from the war and lived out his days in Winnipeg, dying in 1955. So I copped to the fact that this was wrong after I found the third person, but I couldn't figure out why. So thank you!! (FYI, as of May 2016, Y has a population of 84.)

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  19. I'm trying to find information on the surname Ponthieux. I know Ponthieux and Ponthieu originated in Picardie but other than that I don't know anything about my last name. Not even why some have an X and some don't. Please if anyone knows any info please help. Thank You.

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  20. Thanks for this. I saw that some of my DNA matches had entered this location as a new one for the death of a gg aunt. In fact, after one did it, I noticed it spread like wild fire. I was skeptical and went looking for supporting data.

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  21. I was just adding some aunts & uncles families & noticed quite a few of their 10 kids ended up dying there in y France from america? I knew it wasnt right & was deleting them as I saw them but figured whatsup? I needed to look this up, THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!! I knew something was up! ;) & I NEVER use those LEAF HINTS Either, 9 outta 10 times they are WRONG I manually search for everything & half I find elsewhere anyways... "Always Think Outside The Box"

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  22. I'm happy to hear that it helped. I really just kinda lucked into it, and being a true believer in accurate information, I thought it best to share it. Happy ancestor hunting!

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  23. You have answered one of my most curious questions in my family tree! Thank you so much. Your logic is very reasonable, and maybe some day provable, and I will help by going thru and deleting my many Y's. Mine are exclusively with very distant (1000 a.d. or earlier) Scandinavian ancestors. I actually took that heritage with a large grain of salt, because it is so far back. I have folks back to 200 a.d., and I distrusted this a bit.

    I recently did my DNA test through Ancestry, and I didn't think this lineage would not show up, because it was too far back. Surprisingly, I came up with a smidgen of Scandinavian ancestors; the results showed the lineage was at least 1000 years old. It seems more than ever that I need to correct all of my ancestors from "Y".

    Thank you for including the imagery. It makes the explanation quite real. (Of course, I once lived in a town of 350 that had had a population of 10,000 only decades before, so one never knows!)
    Again, many thanks!

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  24. Thank you again to everyone who commented. Honestly I just lucked upon the answer, but I must admit it sure helped ME. I have enough challenges in my struggles with my amateur genealogical research without goofy answers like that derailing me.

    And it isn't just "Y", it's other place names that sneak in from time to time via the drop-down list of options, helpful hints that lead people to accept (and share!) the shocking information that their ancestor who lived in ancient Rome somehow managed to die in West Virginia or Oregon.

    I'm sure you've come across weird or downright silly answers like that from time to time if you spend much time on Ancestry.com like I do, and the wildest curve balls get thrown in most often from Family Trees. You've probably also found that maintaining a sense of HUMOR helps one enjoy (or at least tolerate) the process of separating true from false data.

    But overall, despite the errors and flaws, the whole hunt IS usually fun, isn't it?

    I enjoy exploring my family tree on Ancestry so much that over the years I've created some 36 OTHER Family Trees besides my own, starting with trees for close friends, just to see what if anything we might have in common: I was delighted to find out that one of my best friends and I are actually distantly related!

    Of course, many of those extra trees I planted were always meant to be limited. For example, when I found a Scottish branch of my family tree back in the Late Middle Ages with ancestors named "Hepburn", I created a quick tree for the late, great actress Katharine Hepburn to see if we might possibly be related, and it turns out we actually ARE, but VERY distantly; her 10th great grandfather, Sir Adam Hepburn, the 2nd Earl of Bothwell (c1450-c1513), was my 15th great grandfather. (Yes, that's a lot of generations between two people who lived only two to three generations apart, but I take it all with a grain of salt when it comes from Family Trees.)

    Happy hunting!

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  25. Thank you for this info. My ancestor Josiah Stone could not have died in Y, because he never left Massachusetts.

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  26. Another Thanks for this posting. I also had the same experience with an ancestor who lived in Virginia during the late 1600-1700's. I knew he had never left there. He is listed in many Ancestry.com family trees as having died in Y, France. Obviously, as you described, a less than attentive early researcher was entering something that began with "Y", and it completed it as the location in France, OR (I think less likely) perhaps it was the other possibility of answering Yes to the question of being dead, in that Place field. But Thanks for posting and sharing.
    Dan

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    1. You are very welcome. And you're right; our ancestors from centuries ago were in no position to bounce back and forth across the Atlantic. A little logic should have told us all that in the first place, but personally I was too excited about growing my family tree, and now I have to prune it back whenever I see something illogical like "Y". Thank you for your comment and Happy (ancestor) Hunting!

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