Tip #5: Good Genealogists Are Skeptics

Good Monday morning!  Here’s your Backtracking the Common tip for today.  Enjoy!

All good genealogists are skeptics. They have to be. Grandpa Jones “improved” the family’s history. Aunt Sally miss-remembered. Aunt Polly covered up the date of a child’s birth to better match a wedding date. Paw Paw embellished his military record. And the beat goes on. The wrong information was recorded on records at the local, state and/or federal levels. Names are misspelled. Handwritten copies are inaccurate copies. Census takers wrote it down wrong. Informants on census records told it wrong. Informants on death records didn’t know the correct answer. How could they possibly provide it? And the beat goes on…

“I read it on the internet. It must be true.” That’s supposed to be a joke and everyone’s supposed to already know it. But I see many new (and some not so new) would be genealogists/family historians who don’t seem to get it. It’s as if we want to control the narrative of our family’s history instead of uncovering, recording, and reporting it.

To be a good genealogist we have to be truth seekers. We know we’re not bound by the past, so we’re not afraid to reveal it. We may not want to repeat it, but we look for tactful, compassionate ways to tell the true family story. We have to decide. Do we want to be myth tellers or historians?

Good genealogists are skeptics.
Collect all of the family stories you can. Be respectful of family members but be skeptical. The facts have to support the stories or they’re only stories.
• In your skepticism, remember, some stories will prove to be completely accurate and almost all stories have clues in them you need to follow.
Don’t be afraid of conflicting information. Determine to know the truth.
• Use multiple sources and work toward a preponderance of evidence.
• Once you have settled the issue in your own mind, be prepared to change it. Be open to reconsidering old and new facts.
Don’t “break up” with others over a difference of opinion.

Happy hunting!

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4 Replies to “Tip #5: Good Genealogists Are Skeptics”

  1. Great post, Gary! I’ve found this to be true over and over in my research! From women of a certain age forgetting a few years as they age to totally omitting major family incidents, it happens over and over Again! My favorite? My Smithson ancestors were descendants of the founder of the Smithsonian Museum! Actually he never married, or even came to America! Furthermore, he was an illegitimate son of the King of England! Not a drop of Smithson blood in his veins!

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  2. I always approach the census with the firm belief that whoever I am searching was the last house on the beat and the census takers had been pickling themselves in gin the entire day. People tend to get upset when the facts do not add up to their family stories..I wish I had a nickel for every family story that I was able to disprove. And for goodness sakes, please do not take paid genealogy web sites for being the be all end all in research. They are a guide at best and only as good as whoever was entering the information! Okay, I digress…Great blog!

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