Publisher of Quality Genealogy Materials
Volume 4, Number 13 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 August 21, 2012
Author's Notes In this article we discuss documenting your sources. When I first started my genealogy hobby, I didn't keep track of any sources. It would have helped in later years to identify different documents and photographs. We will be in Birmingham next week for the FGS 2012 Conference. Please stop by and say hello if you are attending. We would love to meet you.
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James L. Douthat
In the early 1950s, I started doing research on my Mother’s family. At that time, there were no computers to consult, no microfilm available to me, and no xerox machines to make copies. If I wanted a copy of a document, I had to have a photographic copy made by someone with more than a Brownie Hawk Eye camera to get the close up image of the page. Needless to say, much of my early research went undocumented. Besides all of the above, I had never even heard of a genealogical society or a genealogical workshop to give me directions. I learned by making all of the mistakes that present genealogist hate to see in a report.
The biggest mistake that I made was not to make notes on where I found information. I first started with the various members of the family. I was fortunate in that this family had available five couples all who had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Each of them had great memories, great stories and tons of photographs of their “second” family. Their father had been married during the Civil War for the first time and they had six children. She died along the way and he later married a second wife and they had six children. All of the children from the first marriage were married and gone from home by the time the next set began to come along; therefore, the second set knew very little about the first set of children. They all lived in a small area of Virginia at the time, so I was able to connect with the older six children’s families. All but one of these six had died by the time I started work.
Nowhere in my notes are there records of who said what, where this photo came from or which courthouse I visited. It is frustrating to look back through the information and not know the source. In the years that followed, I have learned to keep track of where and when I found various records. This now makes the work more valuable.
How do you prove something you found? When a visit to a courthouse proves worthwhile, you need to keep down which courthouse, which department in the court house, date, book number and page number. Now, in most courthouses, you can get a good clear image of the record in question. Many times the staff will want to make the copies for you to protect the material in question. If it happens to be on a microfilm, they will usually let you make the copies. This sure beats my having to copy by hand the entire record and failing to note the book and page number of the material.
Unfortunately, there are times even today that hand copying is the only method available. My wife and I were in the National Archives in Washington, DC a couple of years ago and I wanted to see the original Yazoo Land Records of Georgia. After four hours of waiting, a secretary to the director figured out where they were and retrieved them for us. There were about fifty plus large boxes of records, crammed to the bursting point with the original deeds. Each of them was on real velum about 2 x 3 feet with the handwritten print running in the three foot direction. They could not copy them for us, so we sat there and hand copied two of these over a two hour period. When you reached the end of a three foot line of print, you had a difficult time finding your place on the return line. The one I copied was a deed for Alabama that was fifty miles south - east 100 miles - north 50 miles and then back to the beginning. This made the owner buying the top third of Alabama for $14,000.
When you copy something out of a book, you might want to make a copy of the title page as well. While this might increase your cost slightly, it is worth it when you get back home and wonder where this page came from. As you know, many of the older books on local history were not indexed. You might want to consider scanning of a portion of the book if possible. When you do this, just make sure that you scan the title page first.
The proof will be very important in years to come. First, this information is not something you invented, but is verified by documentation. Second, if your work is turned over to someone else later, they will have a track of when and where you have already searched. Third, with so much that is on the internet that is inaccurate, you will have documentation to help correct any errors. You know that not all “John Smiths” are the same, but the computer does not know the difference. Don’t be a part of maintaining the errors in your research - document each step of the way.
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