I'm not sure if my friend Marshall Kirk actually coined this phrase or not. Former ancestors are those people whom you thought were your ancestors, but through continued research are proven not to be. You still have a special affinity for them, because you did spend time researching them, perhaps even adding them to your family tree, before that crucial document was found and they were summarily pruned off.
If you've been researching for a while, you've undoubtedly gone down the wrong road more than once. My first time was figuring out the the parents of my great-great-grandmother, Olive Ann (Hurd) Pinkham 1851-1934. Her death certificate showed her parents as George Hurd and Abigail A. Leonard. [Massachusetts Death Records for 1934, 89:378] Since I was doing this as a teenager, I hadn't learned the lesson that death records are the least reliable of all vital records. George Hurd was the first obstacle. After many false starts I found Olive in the 1860 U.S. federal census in Dover, N.H., in a family headed by a Abiah Hurd, living next door to a George Hurd. In the 1850 census, this Abiah was the wife of a Benjamin Hurd. However, since Olive was yet to be born, there was no clear confirmation that these were her parents.
Olive's husband, George Hale Pinkham 1843-1888, was known to be a Civil War soldier and I wrote away for his military and pension records. This gave me their marriage date and place, but no leads on her parents. Several years passed and I began to look at this problem again. One strange thing was the disappearance of Abiah/Abigail after the 1860 census. Where had she gone? The first clue was to get the actual marriage certificate of George and Olive from the N.H. State Archives. They were married in Dover, N.H. on February 6, 1869 and the certificate noted Olive's parents as Benjamin W. Hurd and Abiah R. (---). It further noted that Benjamin had been born in Rochester, N.H. and Abiah in Canton, Maine. So, I was now looking for an Abiah R. Leonard in Canton, Maine. Sure enough, I found her! Abiah Leonard born in Canton, Maine in June 1830, daughter of Elkahah Leonard and Betsey Barrows. Wow. I then began to research them in order to prove the two Abiahs were the same person.
Along the way of doing that, I researched both parents and found an incredible eight separate Mayflower lines. However, I could not find the connection where any member of this Leonard family of Canton mentions my Abiah Hurd. I was stumped. I finally printed a query in the Maine Genealogical Society's newsletter for help--and, thankfully, I got it.
Canton, Maine is a very small town in Oxford County. Two towns over was a place called Weld, Maine. That was where Abiah Russell Learned was born on June 5, 1830. Her name appears in the Weld Town Book with her parents Amos and Polly Learned. What are the chances of two women named Abiah Leonard/Abiah Learned living so close to each at the same time? I'll never know. My Abiah's family moved to Canton in 1840 and are listed in the 1850 census. She married Benjamin Wingate Hurd in Holliston, Massachusetts (of all places) on December 31, 1846. [Massachusetts Marriages 1846/7, 25:64], and for some odd reason it was recorded in the Newton, Massachusetts Vital Records (?!!) [Vital Records of Newton, Massachusetts to the End of the Year 1849 (NEHGS, Boston, 1905) p.314]
To shore up this identification, I researched Olive's two sisters, Sarah and Mary. Mary's death certificate in N.H. gives her father as Benjamin Hurd and mother as Abiah Leonard (sic). Sarah's death certificate, also from N.H. notes her parents as unknown. Abiah remarried on August 8, 1869 at Errol, N.H., Samuel Sargent. She had two more daugthers and died in Corinna, Maine on January 5, 1926. Her own death certificate lists her parents as unknown. My clinching proof was the Civil War pension records for her first husband, Benjamin W. Hurd, in which her daughters, including Olive, filed affidavits noting their relationship.
So I lost all those Mayflower lines and Plymouth County families. Did I learn my lesson? Nope. Abiah's mother did the very same thing to me. Her name was Polly Dudley from New Hampshire and I went through the same process all over again before I found her parents. Luckily, when I did it turns out Polly's mother, Elizabeth (Denison) Dudley was a descendant of Mayflower passenger, John Howland. And one is better than none!