The Old Ball Game: The Ball Family Revisited, Collective Ancestor No. 25

Returning briefly to the saga of the Ball Family (see Ancestor(s) #10)…

Samuel C Ball

Over the weekend I tracked down a source I’d heard of but hadn’t seen before “The Ball Family of the Potomac” (Doris LeClerc Ball, George Lilburn Ball, Stevenson’s Genealogy Center, 2004).

Chapter 3 of the book contains a lot of the misinformation I’ve run into in researching this family – but the authors call out the misinformation for what it is, do a great job pinpointing the sources of the confusion, and do what they can to explain it all.

In addition to the usual causes of genealogical headaches – the deterioration of resources over hundreds of years, the unreliability of family histories, the infuriating repetition of given names over the generations, and so on – there are two primary culprits responsible for the tangle in these particular trees.

1.  The allure of Social Position:  There is a legitimate connection between George Washington and the Ball Families of Virginia and Maryland… but not EVERY Ball Family of Virginia and Maryland. 

Understandably, folks like the thought – and sound – of calling themselves Third-Cousin-Twice-Removed of Our Country. It was a tempting conclusion to jump to, I’m sure – particularly when reaching the less appealing, opposite conclusion required a veritable Bataan Death March of research.

2. The allure of Money:  There was a Joseph Ball of Philadelphia who died intestate in the 1830s. A lot of people stepped up to claim a stake to even a piece of his fortune.  Some told the truth about their lineage, many did not. A LOT of misinformation has been mined from those court files over the years.

Remarkably, a new batch of rumors started in the late 1890s – that there were still unclaimed Joseph Ball Estate funds.  One group, descendants of the ever-jaunty Samuel Ball (above), took action. They wrote to all sorts of family members for a detailed, written explanation of their Ball lineage, and information on as many relatives as they could identify.

There were two problems with their effort.  One, the rumors were false. There were no unclaimed funds.  And two, even if there had been funds, our side of the Ball Family (that is, the descendants of Daniel Ball), have zero connection with Joseph Ball of Philadelphia.

(Interesting that those who were able to share in Joseph Ball’s estate also have a much cleaner claim to the George Washington lineage.  Money AND position. Hmmppff.)

The big payoff of the later information-gathering effort, though, was the goldmine of information it left us genealogists! AND this seriously-cool point of fact:

According to the authors, George & Doris Ball, the family at the center of this fact-finding mission was the LaFortunes: Alexander and Christina (Ball) LaFortune of Kings County, California, who sent out the initial contact letters, and their son Daniel, who seems to have been working as liaison between the family and an attorney-representative.

Daniel had moved to Oakland in the 1880s and became a successful real estate broker-developer. He also married my 1st cousin, 4x removed, Jennie Watson, in 1891, and each promptly took their place on both sides of my family tree. Jennie and Dan link my mom’s family (the Balls, an old Virginia family) and my dad’s family (the Watsons – an old New York family). In California, of all places!

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