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Genealogy Gazette

Volume 5, Number 19
Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369
September 18, 2013


Author's Notes

With this article we discuss verifying your resources and understanding who provided the information. There will be times when you get conflicting information and you may have to look elsewhere to verify the sources.

We are in the process of working on our 2014 calendar for workshops and lectures. If you are a part of a group east of the Mississippi River and need a speaker or lecture for a workshop, feel free to contact me at jimd@mountainpress.com. We will see if the dates work with our other engagements.

As always, we love to hear your stories after each newsletter.

Thank you,
James L. Douthat
Mountain Press




In doing research, we all have to face the possibility that our source is wrong. This is one of the major reasons that we should use primary sources for the majority of our research. Secondary sources are useful only to point us in the direction that we need to go, but when it comes to the facts, depend on the primary or original source as much as possible. Often sources conflict and then you have to decide which is the most accurate. For example, the tombstone dates for grandpa are different from a Bible record. Each of these records was written down after the fact. Now the problem is which is correct?

When you come across different dates, you have to assess the information. I want to know who wrote down the records. Was his wife still alive and possibly confirmed the dates? Is this her Bible and she would have written down the date? Did the funeral home record the dates? Is this the date of burial and not the date of death? It is not easy to decide between two dates, especially when they are close. When the “year” is different, then there are other sources to determine which is correct. Other sources might be able to tell you if he sells property one year and seems to have disappeared by the next.

Always be alert to the possibility that a certain record might not be correct. This is especially true if you are using secondary sources such as transcribed census or court records. Having transcribed hundreds of sources of court records and census records, I know for certain that we are always questioning ourselves about the correct spelling of a name. It is amazing how many different ways each name can be spelled.

I was helping a friend with his family once and suggested that we look for various spellings in the courthouse where we were going. He was very emphatic that there was only one way to spell the name. I let him believe that for the time being. We found a deed for his grandfather and he assured me that this was correct. In reading down through the record, we found that the name was spelled three different ways in this one document. He finally admitted that maybe there was more than one spelling. The further away from the source you get, the more likely that errors can creep into them. It is not intentional, but just a fact of life.

A second possibility is that the source is correct, but our perception of that fact is off. Many times, we have a mind set to find the answers we want and overlook the real truth of the information. We want Grandpa to have been a General in the Civil War, but the facts point out that he was just a Private at the surrender. Now there is nothing wrong with being a Private. They were the ones down in the trenches doing the real fighting and not on a hilltop miles away from the real battles. We want a General, but take honor in the man in the trenches.

I have a relative that lectured after the Civil War that he was the only Captain in Longstreet’s Corp who was not wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg. That might sound like a real bragging point, but in my mind I’m thinking he just found a better hole to hide in than the others. Go for the truth in your research and not to just make a pretty history for the family.

As you research, remember who is creating the history and what are the circumstances surrounding the information. It is possible that Grandpa does not know the exact dates when something happened? Can your spouse tell you the date of your birth or the date a child was born without having to think about it? It was that way then and still is today. Our minds hold millions of bits of information, but the filing system is sometimes in error. My father-in-law could give me dates that happened in his childhood that proved to be accurate when he was in his nineties. He was a bookkeeper for a large railroad all of his working career and facts and figures were his life. Not everyone is that way, I know this for certain.

Frequently, we make errors in understanding the details as we do not understand the history of an area. Small communities are called one thing by some and another name by others. Older maps and histories of the area sometimes clear this up, but not always. You just have to study a little deeper on the local area.

We were working on a family in the 1850 census and they had four children named and with ages. In the 1860 census this same family had four children, same names but different ages that made no sense. What happened? In reading other records, we found a newspaper for the time frame and there was an epidemic of cholera during these ten years. In a cemetery record, we found the first four children were buried in those ten years. The parents survived and had four more children and named them the same as before. Why waste good names? We just have to understand what records are there and search for the truth.

We all make mistakes, some more than others, but our task is to be as accurate as possible with what we have to work with right now. In later years, other sources might become available and will correct our mistakes.

Happy Hunting!!



50% Off Sale



We have overstocks of several items and we are offering them at a 50% discount through Monday, September 23rd.

The 50% Off Sale Page will have the entire list of sale books.


Warren County, TN Wills


Memoir of Catherine Brown (Cherokee)


Journal of Dr. John Howe Hoge (Bland County, VA)


Brazoria County, TX Probates


Hunt County, TX Archives


Jack County, TX Minutes of Commissioners Court


Jackson County, TX 1860 Census


Ochiltree County, TX Marriages


Refugio County, TX 1870 Census


Smith County, TX Marriages


Waller County, TX Probates



If you have any questions or suggestions for future editions, please email us at jimd@mountainpress.com.