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An Introduction to
General and Internet Genealogy

"Who has fully realised that history is not contained in thick books but lives in our very blood?"
Carl Jung (1875 - 1961)


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song being played is "Lament for Limerick"

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime.
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807-82
"A Psalm of Life" (1839)

 
  

 

DEAR ANCESTOR
author unknown

Your tombstone stands among the rest
Neglected and alone
The name and date are chiselled out
On polished marble stone
It reaches out to all who care
It is too late to mourn
You did not know that I exist
You died and I was born
Yet each of us are cells of you
In flesh and blood and bone
Our blood contracts and beats a pulse
Entirely not our own.
Dear Ancestor...the place you filled
One hundred years ago
Spreads out among the ones you left
Who would have loved you so
I wonder if you lived and loved
I wonder if you knew
That someday I would find this spot
And come to visit you.

From the List Mom

When we record our heritage we take great pride in looking at our list of ancestors and admire their origins, migrations and accomplishments. But, what good is it - unless it's true?

We need stories and rumors, they are great and often lead to the truth! BUT - Help eliminate errors. Don't take anything as Fact! Check references for validity! If we don't our children's children will be led down false trails and they will never be able to find their true heritage.

Please take the time to read the following bits of information for insights which you may not have considered, or may have forgotten.

IF I THROW IT AWAY, I'LL NEED IT
by Richard A. Pence richardpence@pipeline.com

As every genealogist knows, you can't be too careful when it comes to throwing things away. No piece of paper, book, periodical, pamphlet, program, syllabus, clipping, letter, post card -- whatever -- should be thoughtlessly discarded. You never know when you might need it.

I sensed trouble when it turned warm the other day. Every spring the cleaning bug takes a bite of my wife and eventually she reaches my office. This time, when I saw she had the stepladder with her, I knew it was big-time trouble!

Over the years I have developed some pretty good defenses to counter these annual spring cleaning rites. One method has been the "high-shelf shuffle." Way up high, beyond her reach, is where I put all the stuff that is beyond verbal justification.

She moved in, quickly got up on the ladder and began calling the roll: "Program for the 1987 NGS Conference?"

"I was on the program. It's got my name in it."

Plunk.

"1994 Syllabus?"

"There's a great article on finding ancestors in South America."

"You don't have any ancestors in South America."

"You never know."

Plunk.

"What about this pamphlet on GENEALOGY RESEARCH AT THE INDIANA STATE LIBRARY? It's dated 1986."

"That was the last time I was there. During Indy week."

Plunk.

"Summary of Your 1971 Employee Benefit Plan Options?"

"I was saving it in case I needed the notebook cover."

"For 30 years?"

Plunk.

"Here's a W-2 form for 1984."

"So that's where that went."

"What about these two boxes of genealogy magazines and journals?"

"There's good stuff in them!"

"When was the last time you looked at one?"

She had me there. "Well," I stalled, "I just can't throw them away without checking. Someone may need them."

"Who?"

"Maybe the library?"

"Call them. I'll get the number."

Trapped. My only hope was a sympathetic ear. Librarians know about saving things. If I can't keep all this stuff, at least I can find a decent home for it.

After pressing a couple of buttons, I got right through to the librarian in the Genealogy Room.

"Do you need any back issues of the NGS Quarterly?" I asked. "I've got about 25 years worth."

"Spring cleaning?"

"Yeah. How did you know?"

"Third offer today."

"What about the Quarterlies?"

"Are you kidding? Not only do we get several offers a week, we're trying to get rid of ours. We have it all on CD-ROM now."

"Come to think of it, so do I," I mumbled.

I was getting desperate. "You've got to help me. My wife is in my office and she's throwing genealogy stuff away!"

"You could do what I do."

"What's that?"

"Wait until the others are in bed and go out and salvage what you can."

"Worth a try, but she'll probably check."

"Maybe you could try some of the other libraries near by. You can see what they might need by checking their online catalogs. Or I can give you a list of libraries to call."

"Never mind."

"Finding Your Ancestors In the Mississippi State Archives?"

Plunk.

"What about this stack of 'This Month at the Library's Genealogy Room'? There must be 200 of them."

"Wait a second, I'll check with the library."

Plunk.

If we can just get through spring without a flat tire, it may work out. By then I'll have most of the stuff I salvaged during the midnight foray back on the high shelves and we'll be able to find the spare in the car trunk.

As for next year -- the other day I saw an Office Depot ad for file cabinets with locks on them.

[Richard Pence is retired and up to his eyeballs in his one-name PENCE family study http://www.pipeline.com/~richardpence/ He thinks he should have gotten the big bedroom when the kids moved out -- not the tiny one he now has to use as a combination office, library, archives, and computer center. His wife, only recently retired, divides her attention between creating a showcase guest room out of the big bedroom and scouting for fresh territory into which she can introduce those huge trash bags.]

[LIBRARIANS: Please e-mail your top five "wish list" of genealogical items to :rwr-editors@rootsweb.com . Eds.]

HOW ACCURATE ARE OUR RECORDS?
By LeRoy F. Eastes
3 December 1999

When we record our heritage we take great pride in looking at our list of ancestors and admire their origins, migrations and accomplishments. But, what good is it - unless it's true?

In recent years there are more and more genealogical assumptions and misleading information being circulated due the coming of the internet. I know most of it is unintentional, as I have found myself guilty of doing the same thing in the past. This innocent practice comes about by picking up information that is not documented or if it is we don't check the validity of the references. Then with all good intentions, we record it and pass it on not knowing if it is true or not!

An element of error has always existed in genealogical research. If we look closely at public documents, errors have been found in almost every type of legal record that ever existed. Wills, marriage, birth, land, court and military records. Many times these are the results of human error but some have been intentionally induced for a variety of personal reasons.

The coming of the internet has been a great boon for genealogical research. At the same time it's multiplying errors and is out of control like a contagious disease. There are many individuals and organizations that collect files from donors everywhere they can be found, which in itself is fine. Unfortunately, not all of these records are correct. Many do not show any documentation, others are found with misleading and often inaccurate information and references. Also unfortunately, some researchers are too eager to grab the first thing that "sounds reasonable" and treat it as a gospel fact. These records are copied by the unwary, passed on to an untold number of others, accepted as fact and the problem is perpetuated into the future.

There is nothing wrong with recording and passing along estimates of dates, places and even theories and stories. This is where we find the key elements that lead to the true picture of the past. However, information of this nature must be recognized and treated as such by all of us.

This is a very serious problem and recognized by the National Genealogical Society. They felt it to so important they published a Special Edition to their quarterly publication, titled, "Evidence" - Volume 87, 3 September 1999.

The following are the Standards recommend by the Society and can be found on the internet at -

http://www.ngsgenealogy.org/

(I suggest everyone take a look at Consumer Relations while on this site)

Standards For Sound Genealogical Research
(Recommended by the National Genealogical Society)

Remembering always that they are engaged in a quest for truth, family history researchers consistently -

  • record the source for each item of information they collect.

  • test every hypothesis or theory against credible evidence, and reject those that are not supported by the evidence.

  • seek original records, or reproduced images of them when there is reasonable assurance they have not been altered, as the basis for their research conclusions.

  • use compilations, communications and published works, whether paper or electronic, primarily for their value as guides to locating the original records.

  • state something as a fact only when it is supported by convincing evidence, and identify the evidence when communicating the fact to others.

  • limit with words like "probable" or "possible" any statement that is based on less than convincing evidence, and state the reasons for concluding that it is probable or possible.

  • avoid misleading other researchers by either intentionally or carelessly distributing or publishing inaccurate information.

  • state carefully and honestly the results of their own research, and acknowledge all use of others work.

  • recognize the collegial nature of genealogical research by making their work available to others through publication, or by placing copies in appropriate libraries or repositories, and by welcoming critical comment.

  • consider with open minds new evidence or the comments of others on their work and the conclusions they have reached.

Š1997 by National Genealogical Society. Permission is granted to copy or publish this material provided it is reproduced in its entirety, including this notice.

This is followed by two more sections titled:

  • Standards for Using Records Repositories And Libraries.>/li>
  • Standards For Use Of Technology In Genealogical Research.>/li>

I encourage everyone to consider these guide lines. All of us who are searching for our ancestors should make an attempt to minimize the possibility of errors. If we don't, our children's children will be led down false trails and they will never be able to find their true heritage.

Reprinted with permission of Roy Eastes

"RECIPE FOR A 'HEALTHY' FAMILY HISTORY,"
by Juliana Smith

My husband Mark and I both love to cook. We love nothing more than creating a great meal from scratch, working from the ground up using "whole foods" to make a delicious meal. We both have our own specialties. While Mark makes incredible spaghetti sauce, lasagna, steaks on the grill, and salmon that seem to get better each time, my "specialties" include chicken paprikash (like my grandma used to make), pork chops, soups, and my own special recipe of ground turkey, rice, and veggies. (OK, enough of that, I'm getting hungry!)

When we cook, rather than reaching for processed ingredients and seasonings that may have lost some of their flavor or nutritional potency, we try to use only whole unprocessed foods and seasonings. Sure during the busy workweek, you will catch us eating the occasional tacos, pizza, burgers, or even the dreaded fast food fare, but we try to maintain a good balance and lean more toward home-cooked meals. Thankfully with two cooks in the house, this is a bit easier on us time-wise.

Similar to cooking, I like my family history research to include "whole," or original records. While it is a huge convenience to have "processed" records in the form of indexes, extracts, abstracts, databases, etc., when it comes to putting out a "healthy" family history, nothing beats the real thing! Here are some reasons why:

GETTING THE "WHOLE" PICTURE

Many of the records we use to document our ancestry, do not pertain specifically to our ancestor, but rather record an entire group Census records, passenger lists, directories, military rosters, congregational records, and cemetery records are all examples of this. With this type of records, it is often very helpful to see your ancestors in the context of the whole group.

Census records are extremely helpful in this aspect. The obvious reason to view the actual census record versus the index, would be the additional information that it contains, particularly in later years when more questions were asked in these enumerations. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Other families residing at the same address or nearby often turn out to be relatives. Since travel was often difficult, you may find women marrying "the boy next door," particularly in rural area. In addition, since immigrants often traveled in groups, the neighbor in an immigrant's new home, may have been a neighbor in the old country as well.

When I locate an ancestor in the census, I like to browse the entire district. Not only does it give me a glimpse into the social nature of the neighborhood by looking at the various occupations and nationalities, but I have also occasionally found other family members or in-laws living nearby. Furthermore, the surnames I see in the area, often turn up as witnesses or spouses in later records.

Passenger records are another good example, since traveling companions were often family or neighbors in the old country. Families often came over in waves, with some coming over early to find work and a place to settle, and the wives, children, parents, cousins, aunts, and uncles coming over later. By seeing who came over together, you can see how the entire family assembled in the new country as time progressed. This can be helpful in identifying your family in other records when there were others with the same surname in the area.

Cemetery records also should be looked at in context. While finding Great-grandpa Joe in an index is helpful, it may not tell you that great-grandmother's family is in the plot right next to it!

WHAT'S IMPORTANT TO YOU

Another important thing to remember is that with abstracts, extracts, indexes, and databases, facts that are of major significance to you might not have seemed as important to the indexer. The names of witnesses, addresses, causes of death, and other pertinent facts are often only found on the original records.

ERRORS, OMISSIONS, AND MISINTERPRETATIONS

While errors will even be present on original records, the further a record is removed from the original, the more opportunity there is for more errors to be made. As it is transcribed into a printed index, the indexer may misinterpret a name. Later when the printed index is converted to database form, more errors can creep in.

Sometimes an entry can be missed entirely, leading you to believe that the record does not even exist. Too often we may find ourselves forming assumptions based on indexes that turn out to be false, which can lead to a lot of unnecessary frustration, head-banging, and hair loss!

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN

While there are definitely inherent problems with indexes, extractions, abstracts, and databases, we probably would not get too far in our research without them. Apart from helping us speed up the research process by pointing us in the right direction, in some cases the index may be the only record that exists now. Courthouses burn, records deteriorate, and although the genealogist shudders to think of it, some are even destroyed intentionally. If they have been preserved in an index, or some other form, at least all is not lost.

Databases also give us ways to manipulate the data in ways that previously would have been impossible. A directory arranged alphabetically by surname can now be searched with the click of a mouse by address, occupation, and a variety of other ways that would have previously been difficult and time-consuming to say the least. Indexes previously only available in multiple volumes, can now be searched simultaneously. Huge database collections like those at Ancestry.com can help you search thousands of databases that span the globe all at once, as you look for those elusive ancestors that skipped town without leaving a clue.

KEEPING A GOOD BALANCE

While I truly enjoy cooking, there have still been hectic days when a pizza delivery has saved my sanity. But on the other hand, my fondness for cooking with good whole ingredients is important to our health. Similarly, original records will keep our research "healthy," while good indexes can help us to zero in on our ancestors and save our sanity and eyesight. The trick is to find a good balance.

_______________________________________________________

Juliana Smith is the editor of the "Ancestry Daily News" and author of "The Ancestry Family Historian's Address Book." She has written for "Ancestry" Magazine and "Genealogical Computing." Juliana can be reached by e-mail at: editor@ancestry-inc.com, but regrets that she is unable to assist with personal research.

An archive of her Monday columns is available on the Ancestry.com site at:

The Family History Compass

Our Ancestors

If We Could See Our Ancestors
All Standing In A Row
Would We Be Proud Of Them
Or Don't We Really Know
Some Strange Discoveries Are Made
In Climbing Family Trees
And Some Of Them You Know
Don't Particularly Please

If We Could See Our Ancestors
All Standing In A Row
There Might Be Some Of Them Perhaps
We Wouldn't Care To Know
But There's Another Question
Which Requires A Different View
If We Could Meet Our Ancestors
Would They Be Proud Of You

Author Unknown

Contributed by:

Paul Davis

Visit Pauls's Site at: travelingman@bigpond.com

Send Email to Paul Davis at: Paul Davis

Use of the Internet Search Engines

A topic more important to Internet Genealogy, and the one most overlooked, is the "Use of the Internet Search Engine".

Yahoo, Google, and Goto.com are just three of the many good Internet Search Engines out there on the Internet. You simply go to one of these search enginges, type a name in the Box and click on the Search Button and it will take you to a List of Sites which relate to the Keyword(s) you are searching for.

It seems that "Keywords" are something which many people find perplexing, and yet it shouldn't be.

The first thing people should know is that there is no law which governs the choosing of Keyword(s).

If you run a site which is about Comedians, you can choose a keyword of Angioplasty if you wish.

Web Masters/Designers have been choosing Frequently Used Keywords for years just to widen the audience they reach for their site. It didn't matter to them whether the word had anything to do with their site or not.

This means there is no such thing as the "Perfect" Keyword in searching for the sites you want. The best you can do is use the most logical words and hope for as few unrelated hits as possible. What could be simpler than that? :) Even asking those on the Mail List, or someone through E-Mail, often isn't faster -- for you have to wait for a reply. And sometimes replies never come. Some people even have typed in the name of an ancestor, or research subject, and found results useful for their searches.

So the use of the Internet Search Engines can be a valuable tool to utilize. And don't be afraid to try other search engines if the one you picked don't find anything to match your query. Quite often, one search engine will find information, where another won't.

"EXPLORING INTERNET MYTHS,"
by Juliana Smith

As family historians, we are like detectives. We spend much of our time analyzing the details of our ancestors' lives, collecting clues and stories, creating theories, and then proving or disproving those theories. We take great pride in our investigative abilities, but too often, we are swayed by the appeal of fast information and don't take the time to really look at the information that comes our way via the Internet.

Like many of the family stories we examine, the myths that surround Internet genealogy often contain a grain of truth, but the trick is in separating truth from fiction. So let's don our best Sherlock Holmes cape and magnifying glass and do a little sleuthing to get to the bottom of three common myths about Internet genealogy.

MYTH #1 - THE SILVER PLATTER: Just get hooked up to the Internet, log on to a site, and your ancestry will be presented to you on a silver platter.

TRUTH: There is an incredible amount of data available on the Internet that can lead you to your ancestry. The Internet also offers many opportunities to connect with other researchers, some of whom may have information on the same lines you are researching. The Ancestry World Tree (http://www.ancestry.com/awt) and other free GEDCOM collections can give your search a major boost when you locate an ancestor in them. However, these files were submitted by humans (presumably--I'm still hoping to find some of my alien ancestors who obviously dropped down here from another planet!). As we all know, humans make mistakes, so we will need to do a little doublechecking of the sources of this information to make sure we are not being led on a wild goose chase. I don't know about you, but I don't have the time or the money to chase ancestors that are not mine.

I think most of us know by now that we are probably not going to log onto some site and request our pedigree and have it laid out for us on a silver platter. There is no one-stop shopping for your family history. It will require some digging, and in most cases it is a life-long pursuit. And although there is a lot of information available online, we still have a long way to go. We will still have to refer to offline resources to complete our research. The good news is that there is a ton of reference information online in places like the Ancestry Library (http://www.ancestry.com/learn/library) that can help us to locate the offline records we need in our quest.

Besides isn't that the fun part? Like homegrown tomatoes that always taste so much better than those from the store, our family trees will mean much more if we "grow them" ourselves!

MYTH #2 - THE INTERNET IS INFALLIBLE: If you read something on a Web site (or in an e-mail or on a message board), it must be true, right?

TRUTH: There is a lot of good information available, but it is important to note the source of any online information before accepting it as fact. If the virus warning came from McAfee, Symantec, or another reputable site, it is most likely a fact. If it came through a string of forwarded messages, from someone whose cousin's next-door neighbor's friend is a computer genius and urges you to pass this on to everyone you know, chances are it's a hoax; should you decide to share it with your local mailing list, your inbox will probably be filled with so many flaming messages that you will need to wear your flame-retardant jammies to check your inbox!

The same holds true for databases. As mentioned before, lineage - linked databases are a great boon for researchers, but information should always be checked and sources included. Traceable databases, like those in the Search tab at Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com/search/main.htm), are accompanied by a description of the original source. By noting and analyzing the sources of information used to create the databases, you can learn a lot about the information within them; this can help you if a discrepancy should arise. If you run across a site where no source information given for a database, it is best to treat it with a healthy amount of skepticism until you find out where the data came from.

MYTH #3 - I ALREADY CHECKED or COUSIN HARRY ALREADY CHECKED THERE: If you have looked online and didn't find anything, just give up.

TRUTH: Genealogical data is literally exploding on the Internet. For that reason, it is a good idea to keep an Internet research log that can tell you at a glance when you last searched a site. Most genealogy sites are continually adding to available information by posting new databases and updating old ones. By checking back periodically, you may find that the ancestors whose searches previously came back with the ever-dreaded "record not found" have now been found!

If you're still having trouble, try being creative with your searches. Look for misspellings, or focus on given names using keywords and other information to narrow down the search. Also, by reviewing your research, you may unearth new clues that can help you direct your inquiries.

MYTH #4 - THE FREE LUNCH: If it is on the Internet, it's free.

TRUTH: Sorry, but there is no free lunch. Putting large amounts of information on the Internet costs money, and someone, somewhere has to foot the bill. The National Archives site is paid for by taxpayers. FamilySearch.org is supported by the LDS Church. Companies like Ancestry.com offset hardware and development costs, employee salaries, data acquisition, and other costs incurred in running a site of its size with subscription fees, ad sales, and publication and product sales. Just remember that with the costs come added benefits for users as companies try to make their offerings worth the money.

Juliana Smith is the editor of the "Ancestry Daily News" and author of "The Ancestry Family Historian's Address Book." She has written for "Ancestry" Magazine and "Genealogical Computing." Juliana can be reached by e-mail at: mailto:editor@ancestry-inc.com, but she regrets that she is unable to assist with personal research.

The Elusive Ancestor
by Merrell Kenworthy

I went searching for an ancestor, I cannot find him still.
He moved around from place to place and did not leave a will.
He married where a courthouse burned. He mended all his fences.
And avoided any man who came to take the US Census
He always kept his luggage packed, this man who had no fame,
And every 20 years or so, this rascal changed his name.
His parents came from Europe. They should be on some list
Of passengers to the USA, but somehow they got missed.
And no one else in this whole world is searching for this man.
So, I play geneasolitaire to find him if I can.
I'm told he's buried in a plot, with tombstone he was blessed;
But weather took engraving, and some vandals took the rest.
He died before the county clerk decided to keep records.
No Family Bible has emerged, in spite of all my efforts,
To top it off, this ancestor, who caused me many groans,
Just to give me one more pain betrothed a girl named Jones.

Contributed by:

Kernsdona@aol.com

Books and Sites about Genealogy