Tuesday, December 15, 2015


I generally like to keep the content of my posts to the details of the families I'm researching, my research process, and my findings, and not so much about general genealogy topics because I figure people can find that information in other places. But this fall while participating in a study group about the genealogical proof standard, the word "provenance" came up in several discussions, and that was a new one on me. I trust that others can still look up what this term means in genealogical context, but I thought I could share here what it means in relation to our Sommer research.

As previously posted in "Sommer Originals," I have located several original documents pertaining to the Moreland Sommer branch of our family. But I was feeling uncertain about how to cite that information "officially," so I wrote to Elizabeth Shown Mills, the author of Evidence Explained, via her website. You can read my questions and her answers here.

I subsequently found myself once again writing to the Hagley Library to inquire about the history of the collection where the Sommer papers were found. Here is the reply I received from the archivist there:
The materials in the Longwood Manuscripts, Group 8, were materials acquired by Pierre S. du Pont (1870-1954) through either purchase or gift. All of the other materials in the Longwood Manuscripts are items he inherited from various family members.  P.S. du Pont was known as an avid collector of materials concerning the du Pont family, DuPont Company, and the explosives industry in general. Many of the items in the Longwood Manuscripts, Group 8 and other collections in our library were originally acquired through his collecting. 
Specifically, for the Potts materials, his source is listed as “Unknown Source”. So, unfortunately, we have no way of knowing where P.S. du Pont acquired these papers.
And there we have it, the provenance of our precious original papers pertaining to the Sommer family. How in the world did DuPont end up with the scrapbook of Howard Newcomb Potts, 1819-1906? Potts, who had no children, left quite an extensive estate to nieces, nephews, and charities. I've looked to see if there were any obvious connections between Potts' nieces and nephews and the DuPont family, but I haven't found any yet. I imagine that DuPont acquired these papers almost accidentally, i.e., they were part of something he inherited from some family member, which then remained in his collection even though their subject matter was not his primary focus.

Well, if anybody has ideas on this one, how to tie the scrapbook of H.N. Potts to Pierre DuPont, I would appreciate hearing from you. Otherwise, I'm going to have to lean on a lot of logic to make the case that these papers do, indisputably, belong to our Freistett Sommer family. It seems obvious, but this business of proof can be a challenge.

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