Publisher of Quality Genealogy Materials
Volume 9, Number 9 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 May 31, 2017
Publisher's Notes In this article, we discuss mistakes in genealogy. We all make mistakes, but we should try to expand our research areas to minimize them as much as possible. I would be interested to hear from you on mistakes you have made as well at email@example.com.
James L. Douthat
All throughout our life, we make mistakes. Some are just goofs and do not amount to much and then sometimes we really mess up big time. The same is true of our genealogical research. We put down a “3" instead of the “8" that should be there. For someone that died two hundred years ago, it probably is a moot point. However, we should strive to be as correct as possible in our research. Following are some of those mistakes that can be little ones or big ones, it all depends on what, who, and why.
First, many times researchers are looking for a person. This can be a problem if you are JUST looking for that person and not the people around them. Can’t find their parents? The death and burial eludes you? You need to look beyond that one person. In doing a search of the census, I have always advised to check the families around the one you are searching for various reasons. You might discover the spouse next door or at least in the neighborhood. Those New York - California marriages did not occur much in the seventeenth and eighteenth or even the nineteenth century. This is a late event.
Begin to look into other members of the family and their records. It is not unusual for an aunt or even a great aunt to keep down some data on their families. In some of their records, they might mention in a letter going to the funeral of their nephew/niece last week when they died in a wagon wreck. It will be helpful to note that the nephew/niece are the parents you are looking for and this gives an approximate date of death. The same holds true for weddings, births, etc. We do not live in a vacuum, but in a society. Some relative may reveal that they go to Greasy Ridge Methodist Church in a letter. They do not usually go alone, but go with other members of the family. Check out this churches records to see if your ancestor was one of the congregation. There are plenty of clues to those brick walls, if we will only be creative in the search.
A second mistake is to check only in the location where you think they lived. We search all of the records that are available at the time and come up empty of any usable fact for our research. Do not give up on the area, but go to the local societies and historical groups in the area. Find out about the changes within the area as to boundary changes and political changes. You have to find out where to continue in your search. That area might have even been in another county or even state. As I have always encouraged, be sure and know the history of the area of research.
Local societies and groups may know about records that disappeared or ones that might be located in other areas. It was not unusual in the past for a clerk of the court to get disgruntled and take the court records home with him and they remained there until they were destroyed by some careless relative. Some clerks have been known to throw the records out because they did not like the smell of the musty old books. This happened to a county in our area, but thank goodness a local man saw them and threw the books into the back of his pick-up in the 1920s. Those records are now part of a collection at a university in another city. Any and every thing has happened to records through the years.
A third biggie is that you search only the general records of the area of interest. Do not just read a century old history of the county or the State history looking for one person. Unless that one person is a very famous person in the history of the area, they are not likely to be recorded. There has been an explosion of local records for most part of the country. You can find specific records of many small organizations, clubs, or churches around the nation. Check these records out for the information you want. Have you ever read the minutes for a local Post in the G.A.R.? I have seen some of these records where the Clerk would take a whole page in the minute books to record the death of a member with drawings, biographies, and details that you are looking for in your research. Not all of the Posts had clerks like this, but when you find one, it is worth a “pound of gold”.
A fourth area is the internet. If you are not using enough different sites for the information you need, then you are short changing yourself. There are probably dozens of different sites that exist for each area of the country. Different groups, clubs, and organizations have web sites that may or may not help. Some of these are established by individuals, some by organizations, and others by governmental groups. Each one can contribute to your store of knowledge of the area so use them.
Use these suggestions as you see fit for your own research. If you can think of others, pass them along. We hear from readers all the time with other suggestions.
If you have any questions or suggestions for future editions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.