This just in: the Internet is not always reliable. Case in point, the Wikipedia entry on James I. Van Alen, half brother of Martin Van Buren. In fact, much of this page is egregiously wrong. First, it claims that Van Alen was born in 1776, which is hardly likely since his father died in 1773, at the very latest. It also says that Van Alen died in 1870, which is off by a mere 47 years. His place of death is listed as Newburgh, when in fact it was Kinderhook. It seems as if the writer/editor of this page used as a source the website Find a Grave. I went to this site and found much of the same misinformation. This one had the added error of claiming that this childless, lifelong bachelor was married and had a daughter named Sophie Van Alen Grinnell. The website contains photographs of Van Alen’s tombstone. There’s just one problem—it’s not his. If you look closely, it’s the gravesite of John J. Van Alen. A relative, no doubt, but a different person. The same untruths can be found in the Biographical Dictionary of the United States Congress.
I’ve been reading a lot lately about Van Alen, as I believe he was an important influence in Van Buren’s early years. The amount of misinformation about him is astounding. Part of the confusion stems from the varieties of ways his name is spelled. His surname can be found as “Van Alen” and “Van Allen.” His middle initial can be either “I” or “J” or “Q.” His first name can be found as “James” but nearly as often as “John.” He was born Jacobus Van Alen on December 31, 1772, the third child of Johannes Van Alen and Maria Hoes Van Alen, who would later give birth to Martin Van Buren. By the time Jacobus was born, he father might have already been dead; his will refers to his pregnant wife. He rarely merits more than a passing mention in the history books, but I believe there’s good reason to suppose that James Van Alen had a formative influence on Martin, who was ten years his junior. I will have more posts about him soon.
I will be correcting the Wikipedia entry on Van Alen shortly, unless one of you beats me to it.