Family History Is Not Just Name Collecting
Putting aside the planned article for this week, I am writing this as a reminder to experienced genealogists and family historians, and as a warning to those just beginning these pursuits. I got involved in a project where others had done research into a person and his family. The story was written as a narrative with a list of sources used. Unfortunately, the facts in the story were not footnoted to what source was used for that information.
In looking at the list of sources it is likely that http://ancestry.com was used to do the research. Ancestry.com is a good tool to use for genealogy and family history but it does not contain everything. Often people find the right name in some one else’s compiled tree and just copy the tree without checking and verifying all information. Even finding the name you are researching in the images of original records does not mean it is the same person as the one you are researching.
This is particularly true with common names and even with very unusual names. In the case I am working on now, the couple in question both seem to have a first name and a middle name that appear on a number of records with only one of the two names used and not the same one each time. The surnames are not very common and one depending on spelling can be very unusual. If a name is unusual, people tend to decide that it is the same family since there are so few found. The variant spellings have to be considered when there are so many ways of spelling some names, especially non-English names in the earlier records in the United States.
For this case, even the records found with the same names in the ancestry.com records have other variations, such as differing ages and birth dates. There appears to be three marriages and probably two divorces involved but divorces are not usually found on ancestry.com, so these had not been located or even looked for according to the list of sources. There is no actual marriage record listed for the second, longest lasting marriage from which there is a child recorded.
That marriage appears from a naturalization record, again without full name, and from census records with varying names and ages. Few obituaries have been located although a findagrave.com record has been used to find a grave for the daughter but again the birth dates and names are not the same as in the few other records. Another grave was located for the second wife but the death date varies from other research. The other death date was done probably in city directories which may have assumed her death when her name disappears from the directories. Records after the 1930 census are lacking in the list so it is now a question of further research to fill in what happened to these people and are they the same people as ones we have now found in later records in the local area.
Obituaries, probate records, and even newspapers do not appear in the list of sources. These types of records are harder to find since many do not appear on ancestry.com.
Newspapers can add tidbits of information about someone’s life which can help confirm you have the correct person, not just someone with the same name. Obituaries often, again depending on the location and the time period, can give names of other family members.
These names can help sort out married names of female children or siblings, residence of others family members at that time, and sometimes dates of birth, marriage and deaths of family members. A single person can not be successfully researched without knowing about family members, neighbors, and other friends and associates as the person goes through life.
All of these pieces of evidence must be used together to verify, disprove, or point a way to more research to be done. Each source must be analyzed as to its reliability as it is being used. A timeline of these people, or the people of the same names, with the source of each fact can help to sort out the person of interest and the records used.
As summer activities come to an end and routines commence again, many people begin family history either where they left off in the spring or as a new adventure for the winter. Take the time to analyze the records you find and build the evidence that you have the correct person, not just a name.