Martin McGraw: There’s no “V” in Martin V. McGraw

I run across “Martin V. McGraw” quite often in others’ family trees and I’m amazed at how quickly erroneous information spreads and soon becomes “fact.” We all know that if you repeat something enough, it eventually becomes truth (Joseph Goebbels). Not really but it does become accepted as such. The fact is, there is no middle initial in Martin McGraw’s name. I know how it happened and I know where it started.That’s what this post is about.

Yes, I’m a stickler for accuracy. Inaccuracy often leads to hitting a brick wall in genealogy and no one hates a brick wall more than I do – especially when it’s one that I created myself! So let’s get back to how Martin McGraw got the middle initial “V” in his name.

A family member was involved in genealogy and drew me in, unwilling at first, in the early 1990’s. Back then there was no such thing as internet (that’s right, kids) so finding genealogical records required trips to the library and the courthouse. On one particular trip to the Putnam County Courthouse (Winfield, WV) with said family member I was shown the death record of our mutual ancestor, Thomas McGraw.

Indeed, Thomas McGraw, my direct ancestor, died on 5 August 1855 on 18 Mile Creek in Putnam County, West Virginia. His wife, Catherine Withrow, knew full well who Thomas’ parents were and provided their names to the County recorder. Said recorder had a funny way of writing an ampersand (“&”) – it looks like a curly “V.” So there in black and white before me were the names of Thomas McGraw’s parents: Martin V Margarett McGraw.

My eyes scanned the full page of the parents’ names listed for the other decedents. Sure enough, that “V” was used for most of the names in that column. Here’s a snippet of the very page (with Martin and Margaret listed on line 68):

No amount of refutation and evidence from me has induced the dozens of individuals with “Martin V. McGraw” in their tree to change it. “It’s not hurting anything, what difference does it make?” Those are certainly valid points until someone later comes along and adds what they believe the middle name must have been: Victor, Vandale, Virginius, etc, etc. And later generations hit that brick wall because they’re unable to find records of that individual based on that name. Why in the world it is so important to assign a middle name or add a name when there is no evidence is beyond my comprehension. I’ve even seen it as “Richard Martin McGraw” or “Martin Richard McGraw.” Why?

The truth is we create our own brick walls when we apply erroneous information to our publicly shared family trees, blatant or subtle. One is as bad as the other.

In all of the records that I’ve been able to locate for Martin McGraw (both Senior and Junior), no middle initial, no middle name exists on any documents. It took us quite a while to work out that there were two Martin McGraws, father and son, because the only discernable difference was the elder man lived over a hundred years and lived in two counties at the same time!

So, yes, I’m quite the stickler when it comes to genealogy. And yes I sometimes get it wrong. When I get it wrong, I want you to point it out to me but for goodness sake, please provide evidence to convince me.

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