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Take time and care in family search

I was recently invited to speak on beginning genealogy research at the Kiwanis meeting in Thomson. During the question and answer portion on the program a couple of interesting topics came up that I would like to address here.

In previous columns, I have emphasized how important it is to document your sources for every piece of information you gather. Today, I want to explain three different scenarios in a little more detail.

Let's say you have a copy of someone's birth certificate. Your source would be Jane Doe's birth certificate, McDuffie County, GA #12345, "copy of which is in the possession of the compiler." You do not have the original, the courthouse does. You must document your source as being a copy.

But let's say you have a birth date recorded in a family Bible, and you are actually in possession of that Bible. You now have the original in your possession and can document your source as such. However, you must realize that a birth date in a Bible is subjective, and it has to be analyzed further.

The third example is when you get a piece of information from another researcher. This researcher tells you that she got her information out of a book or from a document, but you didn't actually see this source. You are merely taking her word for it. Your source would then be the researcher not the documentation that she quotes.

You do not know if this researcher is accurate or not. You will have to go and look at the material she cited yourself and then you can document it properly. Even though taking the word of another researcher is a poor research practice, it does give you a starting point to find the evidence for yourself.

Evidence! Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian by Shawn Mills is an excellent reference book detailing the proper documentation format for every different type of source you will encounter in your research. Learning how to document your sources properly is one way to add some professionalism to your research. Proper documentation is such an important part of quality research that we will discuss it more in later columns.

Another question that was asked was, "When are the genealogical dry spells?" Your most difficult period of time to document will be from the time your ancestors came over to America to the 1850 census. Though the 1790 through 1840 census are valuable, they do not contain the names of the family members, only the heads of household. European records, even those prior to the colonization period, are pretty good.

Churches in Europe have very complete records. However, once the immigrants got here, the records are much spottier. The exception to this rule are the church records kept in New England during the colonial period. These records were kept in accordance with the way they had been kept in Europe. The church records will give you birth dates, baptismal dates, marriage dates and death dates. Most of these records have been microfilmed.

Speaking at the Kiwanis meeting was a great opportunity to encourage others to start researching their family history.

Web posted on Thursday, February 26, 2004

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