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Now browsing: Hometown News > Family Issues > Brenda Smith

Brenda Smith
This Week | Archive

Do your own genealogy research for the best results
Rating: 2.54 / 5 (113 votes)  
Posted: 2009 Jan 16 - 01:55

My grandchildren think I'm as old as dirt.

My 13-year-old grandson, Tyler, is continually asking me about what I did and had, at his age. How did I listen to music in a car? A radio? Is that all? Where were the tapes, CD's, iPods? How did we record?

I've been doing a lot of genealogy lately and started applying his thinking to my experiences and knowledge.

Technology has come a long way since I started this quest in the early 1970s. I was lucky that I lived in Orlando, which had a large public library and wonderful genealogy department. I had microfilm and a hand- cranked reader. The readers were in short supply, so I would get my children off to school, and be there when the library opened at 9 a.m. in order to get one. If I left it unattended I would lose my turn, so I sat there all day, turning that crank, page by page, until it was time to retrieve the children from school.

I traced my family through census records, state by state, county to county, page by page, with no indexes.

In chasing lost relatives the last couple of weeks, I am appreciating that old school of research that most of you don't seem to understand. Your people are there, you just don't know, or want to go to the time and trouble of finding them. Forget those fancy computer-generated indexes, when you are in a tough spot. They are wonderful, and a great help, but are often wrong!

Sometimes you just have to get down and dirty and actually do the work for yourself.

Please don't take those indexes at face value. Just because they aren't listed, doesn't mean they aren't there, you have to go look for them. What looks like the exact person you are looking for on the index probably isn't. Go to the actual page, and look at each person in the household. Then find this person on the census before and after, and every census they are on for their entire life. Document the entire family, age, birthplace, etc. year by year.

This is called "doing your census work." This should be done for every family in your database. Time-consuming? You bet it is! But your work will be documented (remember to add your sources as you go) and will be much more accurate, and maybe completely different, than all those you are so inclined to just copy from someone else's research.

When you start documenting these families yourself, and actually looking them up and checking the facts on your own, you will be amazed at how wrong your Internet copying has been. I've found grandparents, aunts and uncles listed in families of complete strangers, by someone who had just stuck them where it looked like maybe they should go.

The fact is, one person does poor research, or just gets a few names or facts wrong, and that throws the whole family genealogy into turmoil. Then they throw the whole thing onto the Internet. The next person comes along and finds their ancestor listed, with the whole genealogy already done. Wow! It's so easy to just copy it and add it to your own database. I am even guilty of it myself, and I know better. Dozens of people do this, so when you type in "Daniel J. Monahan, b 1849," 50 family trees show up, all with the exact information. It must be true if so many people have it, correct? These are great clues, but just use them as that.

Have you ever considered that the whole family tree you just found could be the figment of someone's imagination, and just put on as a prank? I could do this myself very easily and it would be copied by everyone who found it and be taken as fact. Scary, isn't it? All that "stuff" you have copied may be wrong.

This is why professional genealogists preach document, document, document and always cite your sources! If you will notice, most Internet family trees have no sources, many have no person to contact, and if they do, the contact person has no useful information. They will tell you they just copied it from someone else.

In genealogical research, the rule of thumb is that you need three sources that agree before the fact is proven. That is often tough to do, and at times impossible, but it will stand the test of time when accomplished.

The saying goes, "garbage in, garbage out," and "if you want something done right, do it yourself." These are especially true in genealogy.

If anyone else does research for you, always check it against the family facts you know for sure.

And that, my friend, is not a sure thing either, as you will learn in my next column. It seems you can never know anything for sure.

I'll be speaking at the Treasure Coast Genealogical Society meeting on Jan. 20 on connecting the dots: researching lateral lines, friends and neighbors to solve your dead ends.

Contact: BrendaKSmith@prodigy.net

The Treasure Coast Genealogical Society meets every third Tuesday at the Fort Pierce Main Library on Melody Lane, from 1:30-3:30 p.m. Volunteers are at the library every Tuesday from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. to help with research.

Indian River Genealogical Society is giving classes on beginning your research. Classes are Thursdays, Jan. 22 and Jan. 29 and Feb. 5, 12 and 19, and they will meet in the large meeting room of the Indian River County Main Library in Vero Beach. Each class will start at 9:30 a.m. and end at noon. The class is limited to 50 people and fills up fast. Call the library for space availability.

For questions and information, e-mail pcooper@irclibrary.org or call (772) 770-5060, Ext. 5. Download a copy of the registration at http://www.irgs.org and click on education. Charge for the six-week class is $35, which includes handouts

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