Publisher of Quality Genealogy Materials
Volume 6, Number 17 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 August 13, 2014
In this article we discuss the mistakes that genealogists make. I know that I have made many mistakes over the years. Just keep in mind that our main goal is to leave a legacy for those that come after us, so the stories behind all the dates are so important to pass down.
I had lots of great comments on the Family Bible article a few weeks ago. A reader had also benefited from someone saving a family Bible and copying the information for her. If you see family bibles for sale at garage sales or on eBay, try to save them for the descendents or an organization in your area that preserves them. It will be greatly appreciated by future generations.
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James L. Douthat
MISTAKES GENEALOGISTS MAKE
In the last fifty plus years of doing genealogical research, I have made lots of mistakes. I hope that all of them were unintentional mainly from not knowing better, but history will have to judge that score. Let’s look at some of the worst genealogy mistakes that I have seen through the years.
The main mistake I see is that we think we “own” all of the information. Just because we found it, does not mean we own it. I know that you have worked hard, spent tons of time, energy and probably a lot of money to get to where you are in your search. However, we need to think of our research as just a stepping stone for those that follow.
When someone asks you to help them, by all means help them in their quest. They may discover material that you never knew was out there that would answer some of your nagging questions. You never know, they may have a clue to the missing link in your family.
I have also heard genealogists say, “I have finished all that can be done on this family.” We all know that the genealogy projects are never really finished and there is always something else to research. If we are just a collector with a list of names and dates, we have only just begun. We have not ask the right questions and searched for the right answers. Do you understand why great-grandpa gave up a nice farm in the hills of Virginia to go to the southwest? What was going on in the community at large or a religious community at the time that might have made someone move? Why did the second son disappear and suddenly reappear after thirty years? These are the real stories of the family and not just the dates of being hatched, matched and dispatched.
The stories behind the dates is where the past will help us in our forward quest. I mentioned a story in an earlier column about my grandmother and both my children said, “You have never told us that story before!” This makes me wonder what all I have left out of my research. Our main goal in all of this is to leave a legacy for those who come after us.
Another great mistake is for one to take information handed down from another source without cross checking the information. Documentation - Documentation - Documentation is the key word in all of our research. If another researcher cannot double check your information, it might be made up. Now I understand that some records will vary such as birth dates. The family Bible may say one thing, the tombstone another and the marriage license still a third date. After all the living relatives are gone, who can testify which is correct, if they ever knew. When there is differences of opinion, then it is best to reference all variations of the fact. Someone down the road might find the real truth.
Documentation is also important in all avenues of genealogy research. The internet is great for a quick search, but everything there should be verifiable from one source or another. It would be a great mistake, if you just took it all at face value without double checking it. I found a reference the other day to a marriage where the wife wasn’t born until after the husband had died! I know there was a mistake somewhere and needed verification.
Verifying information also applies to the bits and pieces that great-grandma shared over seventy-five years ago. We know that things are sometimes shared that aren’t quite the truth. As a minister I always said that all children take about nine months to be born, but the first one can come at any time. We don’t pass judgment on the couple, but grandma might.
Another big mistake is to find the name of a famous person and assume we are kin to them. We sometimes spend hours trying to prove that relationship and get frustrated when we cannot prove they are our kin. Always work from what we know to what we do not know. It is easier in the long run. If we happen to find someone famous in our line, then that is great news. Just look very carefully at that person to see if they really are someone that we want to claim in our line, are they going to be “head liners” or “by liners”.
Through the years, I have done all of the above and have now gone back and corrected most of the mistakes I made early in life, or at least the ones that I know now as mistakes. Do you need to examine your records as well?
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