Friday, January 05, 2007

Family History Do's and Don'ts

Here are some do's and don'ts for family history.

Do Document
I've said this before, but I can't emphasize enough the need to document what and where you've searched whether you found anything or not. This will keep you from going through the same records over and over because you don't remember you searched this record before. When you share your genealogy, it's important to send along your documentation (not the actual documents, but a list of your sources with enough information to guide the recipient to the original record).

Do Make Copies
A photo copy of a document helps to reduce the errors that can creep into our research. It is so easy to make a mistake when copying by hand from documents.

Do Check for Obvious Errors
Before you add new information to your family history go over it to look for obvious errors. Do a little math on the dates to make sure the parents weren't born after the children, they didn't get married at 7 years of age, they didn't die before the child was born, or any other mistake that can happen. I've seen all of these errors in family history.

Do Organize
Choose a filing system that works with the way you do research, making sure it includes a way to organize your papers, certificates, your digital documents, and other computer files. The main thing to look for when choosing a filing system is ease of use. It's useless if you have a system that is so involved you don't use it.

Do Verify
Just because something is printed in a book or is found on the internet doesn't automatically make it true. Even vital records can have mistakes. In one death certificate I know of, the deceased is married to his son's wife. Just one wrong fact can have you going around in circles.

Do Rule Out Other Possibilities
You know that your great-great-grandfather lived in Virginia around the turn-of-the-century, so you look him up in the 1900 U.S. census and there he is! In truth, however, this isn't him - just someone else with the same name living in the same area during the same time period. It is a scenario that actually isn't all that uncommon, even with names you might think are unique. This actually happened to me with my Harrison line.

Don't Assume
"Junior" and "Senior" as well as "aunt" and "cousin" were often used very loosely in earlier times - and still are, even today. A designation of Jr., for example, may have been used in official records to identify between two men of the same name, even if they were unrelated (the younger of the two being called "Jr."). You also shouldn't assume relationships between people living in a household unless it is specifically stated. The sole adult-aged female listed in your great-great grandfather's household, may indeed be his wife - or it could be a sister-in-law or family friend. Always remember that undocumented facts are just educated guesses.

Don't Skip Generations
Prove and verify the information you have on each generation. Start with your parents and don't assume you know everything about them. Have copies of vital records, church records, school records, military records, and any other record you have come across that documents their lives.

These do's and don'ts will help keep us from barking up the wrong family tree.

Dale L. Edwards

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