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Yes, there are quotes around that…

The Legal Genealogist couldn’t believe it.

Simply could not believe that any genealogist could have done such a thing.

It just had to be an April Fool’s joke.

I mean, I know that online family trees can be problematic, but seriously?

How could anyone who’s done research into American families for more than a nanosecond have taken a woman who spent her entire life in the American South from her birth around 1830 to her death after the 1900 census — and say that this rural southern woman would have died in Iran?

Looking at that index entry, trying to find a death date for my third great grand-aunt Hattie Elizabeth (Battles) Cranford, I was flabbergasted.

And then I found the next family tree.

It didn’t say she died in Iran.

It said she was born in Iran.



How could these genealogists be making such a mistake?

Answer: they weren’t.

And I can’t really blame Ancestry here either.

Take a look at the entries.

Iran connection

You can see the problem, right?


It’s one of ambiguity.

To an American, of course, trained for more than a half-century by the Postal Service to use two-letter abbreviations for states, “Al” is Alabama.1

In the bigger world, however, “Al … is a village in Kardeh Rural District, in the Central District of Mashhad County, Razavi Khorasan Province, Iran. At the 2006 census, its population was 370, in 107 families.”2

Guess which one Ancestry uses?

Alabama works fine. The three-letter abbreviation “Ala” works fine. Al puts us on the other side of the globe in a tiny village with fewer than 400 residents.

And oh — by the way — her brother Azariah Battles, who died in 1862 while serving in the Confederate Army? He really didn’t die in Civil, Sud, Haiti, either.3

Ah, the “joys” of ambiguity…

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “The joys of ambiguity,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 1 Apr 2021).


  1. See “Our History: State Abbreviations,” About U.S. Postal Service ( : accessed 1 Apr 2021).
  2. Wikipedia (, “Al, Iran,” rev. 11 Mar 2017.
  3. The death date entry was, of course, “Civil War.”
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