Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Genealogist behaving badly, but not for long

Good examples are indispensable, but sometimes a bad example at the right time can teach a lesson that stays taught. Here's one published example from a few years ago, and here's another, simpler one:

Once upon a time, a friend of mine started a project with the information (source unknown) that the person of interest had been born in 1849 and married early in 1870. She sneaked a peek at the census and found the couple all right, noting that he was a property owner. She was in a hurry and didn't make a copy or write down the citation. How hard could it be to find a census again?

Then she looked for the marriage record. It wasn't in the index for 1870, or 1869, nor was it in the chronologically organized register itself. Then she looked for a deed of purchase. Again, not there. Annoyed but not altogether surprised, she went back to the 1870 census and looked again. Now she was surprised. The household wasn't there either -- even though it had been the day before!

That sound you hear is not the old "Twilight Zone" theme. It turned out that the census she had viewed, showing an apparently newly married couple, was for 1860, not 1870. The provided birth and marriage dates were more than a decade too recent, and in the absence of notes or copies she'd misremembered the date of the census she had consulted. (By 1870 the family had moved west.) The project went on to a successful conclusion with only an hour or so wasted.

And maybe it wasn't wasted. I'll skip the language of standards for the moment: No matter how picky we may appear to our non-genealogist friends, chances are we aren't picky enough.

Harold Henderson, "Genealogist behaving badly, but not for long," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 5 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

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