Analysis of the Elizabeth (Smith) Hait family history, 1938, part one

This post is part of an analysis of a manuscript family history written by my great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth (Smith) Hait, in 1938. See “Practicing what I preach…” for more information.

I received a photocopy of this handwritten, unpublished family history in 1998, from a first cousin of my grandfather. In this first part, I will describe the structure and content, and assess the origin and provenance of this manuscript. See “Five things you have to know about every record” for some of the analysis I will be conducting.

One of the first things that we should do, as genealogists, is determine what exactly we are looking at, on the surface.

The manuscript is a photocopy of an original, handwritten narrative. The photocopy clearly shows the edges of the pages on which it was originally written, and additional notes and pagination appears outside the bounds of the original pages.

The first page is dated “May 1938,” and a note in the top margin states, “Written by Elizabeth Nancy Hait, Our mother (Kenneth B. Hait) May 24, 1971.” This marginalia directly states both the author of the manuscript history, and the identity of the person who made the copy, as well as dates for both events.

Who were these individuals?

Elizabeth Nancy (Smith) Hait appears in the 1900 U. S. Census in Brookhaven Township, Suffolk County, New York–the mother of Chester M., George E., Marion, Frank F., Myron, and Kenneth B. Hait.[1] Internal evidence confirms this identification.

According to my source [name withheld for privacy reasons], she received the family history from her father, Frank Smith Hait, the son of Elizabeth and brother of Kenneth. Frank had received it from his brother Kenneth, who sent a copy to each of his six then-living brothers. This story was later confirmed by another cousin, who had received a copy independently from her grandfather, another of the brothers.

(Presumably, my own great-grandfather should have also received a copy of this family history, but it appears that he either did not receive it or did not keep his copy. Though he died when I was only a year old, his wife–my great-grandmother–was very helpful to me in the beginning of my budding genealogy career when I was 8 or 9 years old. She sent me copies of stories and notes about our family. When she died, my grandmother was able to “rescue” innumerable family history scrapbooks and notebooks spanning back several generations. But this family history was not among these papers.)

Kenneth Blaisdell Hait, the son of Elizabeth, died in Lafayette, Louisiana, in September 1980.[2] He was a professor of psychology at the University of Louisiana from 1938 until his retirement in May 1968.[3]

In summary, the provenance of the manuscript is likely as follows:

  • Written by Elizabeth Nancy (Smith) Hait, May 1938
  • Photocopied and distributed to [among others] Frank Smith Hait, by Kenneth B. Hait, son of Elizabeth and brother of Frank, ca. May 1971
  • Copy provided by Frank to his daughter [name withheld], unknown date
  • Photocopy provided by [name withheld] to this researcher, ca. 1998
The organization and structure of the manuscript
The family history is fairly well-organized.
The first seven pages (paginated in the margin as 1-7) are headed “The Smith family of Long Island called the Bull Smiths.”
The next eleven pages (paginated as 8-18) are headed “The Finlayson family.”
Three pages (19-21) are headed “The Hait family.” This section also notes “This is the story as Mother Hait told me. E. N. Hait.”
The next section of two pages (22-23) is headed “The other version of the Hait or Hoyt family.”
The final page (24) is headed “The Van Inwegen family” and notes “What I am writing I heard from Mother Hait who was Annie Van Inwegen.”
The entire manuscript is a family history narrative.

Was Elizabeth, the author, a reliable source for information?

Elizabeth was born ca. 1864 (see note [1]), so she was about seventy-four years old when she wrote this history. Yet the handwriting of the family history is steady, evidence that she probably still maintained her mental facilities at the time of this writing.

Elizabeth’s mother, Elizabeth (Finlayson) Smith Terry probably served as the source for some of the information Elizabeth reported in the family history. Elizabeth Hait and Elizabeth Terry lived together for over twenty years in adulthood, from at least 1910[2] until Elizabeth Terry’s death in 1932.[3] This afforded much time for the two women, in their elder years, to discuss the family history reported here.

Elizabeth’s mother-in-law, Annie (Van Inwegen) Hait, also likely served as the informant for much of the family history in the Hait and Van Inwegen sections. In fact, Elizabeth specifically cited Annie as the source, as noted already above, with the statements “”This is the story as Mother Hait told me,” and “What I am writing I heard from Mother Hait who was Annie Van Inwegen.”

The manuscript also clearly refers to family papers then in the possession of Elizabeth Hait. Though the citations are not up to Evidence Explained standards of format, the identification of these sources provides reference to original records.

As will be seen, however, much of the history written in this manuscript involved Elizabeth Hait herself, and, as a participant in the events, she was able to provide primary information in her own right.

The citation

What everyone is waiting for:

Elizabeth Nancy (Smith) Hait, untitled family history, dated May 1938; copy by Kenneth Blaisdell Hait, dated 24 May 1971; photocopy provided by [name withheld, address withheld], currently in the possession of Michael Hait, Harrington, Delaware.

One aspect of the citation that should be explained, as it often causes confusion: though various sections bear headings, the manuscript as a whole does not have a title. In the above citation I have not chosen to create a title for this manuscript. However, it is acceptable to create a title for unpublished works, so long as you do not italicize this created title, nor enclose it in quotation marks. Italics and quotation marks generally designate existent titles, so these should not be used where no title exists in the original.


[1] 1900 U. S. Census, Suffolk County, New York, population schedule, Brookhaven Township, enumeration district (ED) 749, sheet 3B, dwelling 65, family 66, Elizebeth Hait household; digital images, ( : accessed 29 April 2012); citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 749, FHL microfilm no. 1,241,165.

[2] “Social Security Death Index,” online database, ( : accessed 29 April 2012), entry for Kenneth Hait, SS no. 434-54-1670.

[3] “[Psychology] Department History,” University of Louisiana Lafayette ( : accessed 29 April 2012).

[4] 1910 U. S. Census, Suffolk County, New York, population schedule, Brookhaven Town, enumeration district (ED) 1354, page 224 (stamped), sheet 4A, dwelling 77, family 78, Elizabeth Hait household; digital images, ( : accessed 29 April 2012); citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 1081, FHL microfilm no. 1,375,094.

[5] Find A Grave, online database ( : accessed 29 April 2012), Elizabeth M. Smith, memorial no. 33496464, Brooksville Cemetery (Brooksville, Hernando County, Florida). It is unknown why Elizabeth M. (Finlayson) Smith Terry’s tombstone does not contain her surname from her second marriage; however, this gravestone lies next to that of her daughter Elizabeth N. (Smith) Hait, and the design is identical, one bearing the word “Mother” and the other the word “Daughter,” so the identification is certain.



4 thoughts on “Analysis of the Elizabeth (Smith) Hait family history, 1938, part one

  1. Do you realize how insanely lucky you are to have such a manuscript? Most of us don’t have great-great-grandparents who cared about genealogy. Analyze all you wish, but start each blog post with “lucky bastard that I am. . . “

  2. Interesting post Michael! I had a distant cousin send me a copy of an autobiography written by great great grandmother.You’ve given me a few things to keep in mind as I am reading through it.

  3. Michael, you ask “Was Elizabeth, the author, a reliable source for information,” and then note “Elizabeth was born ca. 1864 (see note [1]), so she was about seventy-four years old when she wrote this history. Yet the handwriting of the family history is steady, evidence that she probably still maintained her mental facilities at the time of this writing.”

    Handwriting characteristics is an interesting approach to a “sound mind” evaluation.

    Perhaps as you pursue evaluation of the manuscript you can explain how you know that you have a photocopy of Elizabeth’s actual handwriting. The 1971 notation “written by . . .” in itself is ambiguous, since it could mean authorship rather than manuscript.

    I would consider that a well-organized family account that was distributed to family members was written and put in its final form for that purpose. Thus its author would want the distributed version to be as presentable as possible.

    Could there be references in other family papers concerning whether one or more other persons were involved in this work’s production and/or reproduction?

    • These are very good questions to ask.

      The handwritten notations in the margins, which can be clearly identified as belonging to Kenneth, are in a completely different hand than the rest of the family history. This is also evidence that Elizabeth wrote it herself, along with the statement “Written by Elizabeth…”

      Notice my use of words, however. I am careful to use the word evidence as opposed to proof. There is a big difference. Proof would be a conclusion supported by evidence. Not having any other handwriting samples from this time period, I cannot state with certainty that this is Elizabeth’s handwriting. If I discover another piece of writing that Elizabeth did in 1938 +/- a year or two, and the handwriting does not match, then I will have evidence that she did not write this herself. My conclusion that she did would have to change with this new evidence.

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