I wrote in an earlier post about the importance of skepticism when doing genealogy/family history research. Here’s a good example. This is a death certificate I found yesterday while doing some research for a new cousin. What do you see recorded as the full name for the subject of this official death certificate? How would you transcribe this name?
The indexer for this collection saw this name as “Edith Van Connie Drury”. What did you see? Here’s what the indexer should have seen and recorded: Edith Victoria Drury.
Be cautious and tenacious when doing your research. A future fellow researcher will rise up and call you “blessed!”
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.
If you have family or research family history in North Texas, this blog post is for you. These resources will make your research more productive.
Dee and I recently used the genealogical sectionsof three North Texas libraries. One was a surprise, one was status quo in our experience and the third one was a gem. Here’s our report with some basic information on these resources plus tips for researching any library in any place.
We were in McWright Cemetery in Hunt County, Texas looking for the final resting ground of my 2 x great grandfather William Henry Price. Three of us were looking (including my sister Debbie from Collin County), but we could not find him. It’s a large cemetery and has been in use since the 1800’s. It’s possible his burial marker had been destroyed by time. I wondered and then hoped someone had recorded the graves earlier before there was a Find A Grave. That’s when a car pulled into the cemetery occupied by two elderly sisters. They had lived near the cemetery all their lives, but they could not recall the Price name. They did remember there was a book in the Greenville library with a listing of all of the graves in the cemetery at the time the book was published and suggested we look in that book for William Henry Price.
I was surprised by such a large, modern facility in such a small place. I was also surprised by the generous genealogical holdings secluded in their own room. The library has a public break area with vending machines, very nice for long hours of research. The staff on duty this day did not seem particularly knowledgeable in the field of genealogy and appeared to be pre-occupied with preparing to watch basketball on the computer. So, be prepared. You may have to provide for yourself. (see below). We found the book our good Samaritans told us about but did not find William Henry in it. We did however find several other useful facts about other family members. If you’re researching family in Hunt County, you’ll want to visit this facility.
The Status Quo
We were looking for old Collin County, Texas tax records. When I say old, I mean from the beginning of the county (1846). I was looking for evidence my 2 x great grand father Samuel Byrd made it to Texas before his death. I was pleased to discover the microfilm of the earliest tax records was available in McKinney near my family’s residences. It would not be necessary (as we had been told by the county officials) to travel to the library at the University of Texas at Arlington. (BTW, I found no evidence that day or any other day that Samuel Byrd made it alive to Texas in spite of what someone posted on the Find A Grave website.)
Hours: Mon.-Thu: 10 am – 9 pm, Fri.-Sat.: 10 am – 6 pm, Sun.: 1 – 5 pm
This library is modern and spacious, pleasing to the eye. The genealogical section is good on Collin County and fair on the surrounding counties. There is, as there is in most Texas libraries’ genealogical sections, as smattering of books on the states from which Texas settlers came. The second floor space is shared by an open computer room where it appears mostly young adults are checking Facebook and playing computer games. There has been an attempt to tuck the research tables back into a corner away from distractions. This provides a place for others to talk and text away from the crowd. The staff from which we requested assistance did not come across as knowledgeable of their genealogical holdings or how to operate the microfilm viewers. It was a fairly standard experience and thus the term “status quo”.
And then you find that special place with special people. I’m talking about the Haggard Library in Plano, Texas. I speak specifically of the basement in this library and the people who work there. The basement? Sounds rather dark and damp. I assure you it’s neither.
The genealogical section of the Haggard Library is in the basement. It’s large, comfortable, well stocked and well staffed. I could spend a long time here and I did spend most of a day and part of another. You need to plan your visit or you’ll be going from “one shiny thing” to another. There’s plenty here for the history hound and the family historian. And then there’s the staff. They are knowledgeable, courteous and considerate. Considerate? Yes. When I’m researching I generally have goals and don’t have time for chit chat. I need the staff to be knowledgeable, but share with me only the knowledge I request. Otherwise I need them to simply give me space and solitude. I’ve just described the five staff I met working the basement in my two days at the Haggard Library. And the gem of this gem was Genealogical Librarian Cheryl Smith. She is a wonderful and respectful resource for family historians and genealogist researching North Texas families. She is especially knowledgeable of Collin County. Thanks Cheryl! I smile when I think of the staff — and that basement!
My one complaint about Haggard is the lack of a public break area. Researchers may be in the stacks for long hours and need regular breaks to stay nourished and hydrated. This would be a nice addition to the library and provide additional income.
Preparing to research a library:
Have research goals. What do you hope to find or accomplish with you visit?
Know before you go. What is available? What is allowed? What are the hours? Where is it located?
Search the online catalog. Have your titles and call numbers ready. What questions do you have for the staff? Prepare your research log in advance.
Don’t forget your equipment. Notebooks, computers, cameras (know their policy) and money for the copier
When you’re there:
Be courteous to the staff and considerate of others. Allow them to do their work. Don’t distract others around you.
Follow the library’s protocols. Don’t reshelf the books. Place your used materials on the carts if they’re provided. Know how to use the equipment and properly use it. Ask for help if you don’t.
You’ll probably be a sucker for the hobby (obsession) of genealogy. If you don’t want to be trapped, back away. Leave now and don’t ever look back!
Genealogy is like filling in the blanks I didn’t know I had.
I wish I could remember who said that. I would love to give them credit.
There are many reasons we enjoy genealogy and family history. Each family historian or would be genealogist will have their own explanation or perhaps not be able to explain it at all. I recently came across one person’s take on genealogy and I wanted to share it with you.
Kris Williams has loved history since her childhood. She “blames” her father. She was a sucker for genealogy and was hooked by a school class assignment when she was 11 years old. Her love for family history and background in research helped her land a job as the historical researcher for Syfy’s Ghost Hunters. She’s also served as a contributor to Ancestry.com for over a year. You can follow Kris and gain from her knowledge at The Key to You Tree. The link is in our blog favorites list to the right.
I’ve asked Kim’s permission to link to a recent blog post she wrote on the “why” of genealogy. I like her “take”. Check it out. Genealogy: What’s the Point? Thanks Kris!
How do you get the most out of your “on the ground” research time?
I previously blogged about a trip Dee and I took to North Texas backtracking my Roberts, Byrd, Horn, Laningham and Ingram family lines. This was an aggressive agenda of five counties in five days. If you haven’t seen the post, you may want to read about the scope of our discoveries.
How does the genealogist/family historian get the most done in the least amount of time? In a word, it takes PREPARATION.
I love being able to research our family in my pajamas. The internet has made this possible. There’s nothing like the comfort of my easy chair and laptop for making new discoveries. But then, there’s nothing like walking the ground on which our ancestors walked. The fact is it takes both for us to do our “due diligence” in documenting our family histories. To do it right, you’ll have to get out of the house.
We’ll eventually have to (and want to) take to field in order to backtrack our family’s trail. Here are some tips to make this time more productive.
Goals, Goals, Goals
Have goals for your research trip. Review your work and know what information you’re missing.
Know what you want to do on your trip. Be specific.
Write it down. Aim at nothing and you’ll hit it every time.
Plan, Plan, Plan
Now that you know what you want to do, how will you accomplish these goals?
What will be done and when will it be done in order to reach your goals?
Where, at what physical location, can you complete each goal?
What has to be done before I leave?
If you’re not a planner, please invite someone to help you plan. Tell them what you want to accomplish in your research and let them help you.
Preparation, Preparation, Preparation
Research the resources. What family members need to be contacted? What interview questions do I want to ask? What courthouses will be visited? Cemeteries? Libraries? Research Centers? Have I made my appointments? Have I checked the open and closed hours? Will they be closed during lunch?
If I’m going to a library, why? Do I know what’s available? Have I searched the online catalogs? What about their microfilm holdings? Have I written down the titles and call numbers of those resources?
Have I planned my schedule? Do I know when I’m going where? Prepared my maps or GPS coordinates?
Do I have my notebooks, maps, and cameras, contact information, etc? (I once prepared my camera equipment, had all of my batteries charged, extra memory cards and then left it all! Dee bailed me out with her IPhone.)
Do I know what I want to accomplish at each stop? If I have a research partner, do we know what each other will do at each venue?
Things rarely go exactly as you plan them. This is not a reason not to plan. It’s simply a realistic expectation.
Plan and prepare. Work hard at making the things happen that you want to happen. When it doesn’t, go with it. It helps to have a partner to remind you of this outlook.
Enjoy your time and space and especially the people in that space!
You can go on a trip and enjoy it without doing all of these things. But if you want to have a great family research trip, have goals, plan and prepare.
Wealth generates paperwork. Deeds, lawsuits, contracts, account books, purchase records, education, etc. all produce records of our past. The wealthier you are, the more paperwork is produced. The more paperwork produced makes it easier to find and follow our relatives and their past. We follow their extensive paper trail.
Backtracking the common is the challenge. Finding and following those who have left little to follow is the task of many family historians. You’ll need determination and tenaciousness. You may have to get creative. You will need the help of others. Reach out. Ask. Collaborate. Be open. Be grateful.
Consider joining an online community like Backtracking the Common.
As you’re finding your family’s facts, keep in mind this saying among professional genealogists.
There is no truth without proof.
I know that statement could be debated on several levels but I want us to keep in mind its main point. People who read your genealogy, your family history records, should be able to go to the same sources you went to and find the same set of facts.
Here’s how the Board for Certification of Genealogists puts it. Don’t let it scare you.
a reasonably exhaustive search;
complete and accurate source citations;
analysis and correlation of the collected information;
resolution of any conflicting evidence; and
a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.
Here’s my simple explanation for beginning genealogist/family historians. When you find facts about your family, record with those facts the where, how and when your found them. Always “leave the bread crumbs” for those who come after you. Doing this and how to do it is an on going discussion on this blog. Some of you may wish to use the comments section to share how you do it.