Verify Your Genealogy Sources

We have all selected information from some book or source, especially when we are first beginning genealogy, only later to find out that it was wrong. It is so easy to find a source and take the information from it. All too often we do not verify the source or the information, and if we put this in print somewhere, we keep the error going forever. Generations will take our efforts as correct and it just keeps going.

There are a number of sources to keep your eyes peeled for errors. These sources are readily verified if we just take the time and effort to consult the original. The main one is a transcription of a census. A transcriber does not mistranslate the information on purpose, but reading the original sometimes leaves room for doubt. As a transcriber, I have to constantly be asking myself, “Is that an ‘i’ or ‘e’?” or “Is that an ‘a’ or ‘o’?”. Even with modern ability to enhance the original, it is often not easy. Most people don’t like going to the original and looking this up to make sure it was reported correctly.

Even when you know the truth and you see the reason for the errors, it does not make sense. I have a marriage record in my family where the original record does not ring true with the facts. The male in the marriage was ‘Jonathan Richard Douthat’ who was my grandmother’s uncle. I have photographs of him and his bride and other documentation. In the original court records, he is listed as “J. B. Douthat‘. This has caused that side of the family to say the Jonathan was not the man as they think his name is “John”. I stood in the vault at the courthouse looking at the original and then realized that this was the way the clerk made his “R’s”. His name was “Richard” and in the script it looked like “Bichard”.

Transcribers try to do their best in all work, but frequently the best is not enough. Anytime you see a book on the shelves done by a secondary person, take the time to double check the original. The error may not be the transcribers in the long run, but at least you know what he’s written down is correct.

For example, I was helping a friend with his family and as we traveled to the courthouse I happen to say, “We’ll look for various spellings of the name” and then I proceeded to give a few examples for his last name. He informed me that his name was always and only spelled one way. There was no need to disagree with him at this point. At the court house, I selected the book I wanted to examine and he goes off to have lunch with friends. When he returned, I had found the deed in question and he verified the deed as one of his grandfather’s. He knew the location and the name matched. However, within the deed the name was spelled three different ways just within the writing of one deed. I did not rub it in, but he did agree that I knew what I was talking about.

Another source of errors would be in the books written in the 1850-1950 era. You see them by the thousands on library shelves where there is great history and no index. There are lots of facts, yet not one footnote is given of where that fact is found. We have taken much of this information for the “gospel” without regard as to the correctness of it. In many cases there is little back tracking on the information as it is so vague that a source may or may not exist. This is the kind of situation that most often creates problems.

Many think that if it is in print, then it must be correct. Many also think the same holds true for anything information on the internet. One well known internet source has my family listed and my grandfather is the father of his grandfather. There is no correcting it as the site refuses to correct the mistake even when I have submitted birth certificates, census records [copies of the original] and other data. No change has been made in the last ten years at least.

In conclusion, doubt check all sources with the originals as far as is possible. Sometimes this is not possible, especially with church or school records and Bible records. The originals are not always readily available, but just keep in mind that the information has not been verified when drawing conclusions from these facts.

Happy Hunting!


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