Saturday, January 23, 2016

Jacob Sommer - A Footnote

Since this blog is meant to record not only discoveries, but also lessons learned, let me share with you a real head slap: Whenever I find a source mentioning my ancestor, LOOK FOR THE FINE PRINT!

When I previously recorded in my blog the sources where I had found mention of Jacob Sommer who served as a judge in PHL, I was operating under the assumption that the occupation of judge was Jacob's main lot in life. Now we know that Jacob was a judge toward the end of his life, but before that, he was many other things. Piecing all that together has been rather painstaking, I'll admit.

And then I stumbled upon a source I had missed previously. Here is the citation:

Mitchell, James T., “The District Court of the City and County of Philadelphia, An Address Delivered at the Final Adjournment of the Court, Jan. 4, 1875”, Report of the Fifth Annual Meeting of the Pennsylvania Bar Association held at Wilkes-Barre, PA, July 6 and 7, 1899; pp. 273-284. Mitchell was one of the judges of the Philadelphia district court, and the address was reprinted with his permission and with some additional notes by him.

On page 283 of this new source begins a description of Jacob Sommer that can be found, almost verbatim, in some of the other sources I have mentioned. It's entirely possible that I saw this source 'in passing' during various searches, but I saw only the snippet that matched text I knew had been used in other sources. But this time, thankfully, I looked more closely. Unlike the other sources, there is a footnote in the description of Jacob Sommer - not one, but three footnotes, the last of which reads:

There you have it. Except for the detail about Jacob being a prisoner in the Revolutionary War, the story of our Jacob Sommer is all there, and with a few additional details thrown in. And when I followed up on the Westcott's History of PHL reference, the detail about Jacob having been taken prisoner was confirmed. All my digging and analyzing and documenting about the life story of Jacob Sommer of Moreland can, in the end, be largely substantiated by this single footnote which I previously failed to notice or read.

So the lesson is, Beware of Snippets when you're looking at search matches. If the source title is different from others you've used, take the time and really look. I can't say I would trade the journey I've been on to find Jacob's story, but knowing about this footnote might have saved more than a few long hours while in the pursuit.

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