Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Friday, November 11, 2016

Jumpstart Your Family History in Ten Steps: Step Three -- Correcting entries and adding sources

You will immediately note that I assume that as you begin to work on your family history, you will be entering your information into the Family Tree. This is not presumptuous on my part. I have already pointed out the reasons why I think that the Family Tree should be the ultimate repository for at least a copy of the family history information of all those who have lived and will live on the earth. At this point it is premature to be concerned about using a stand-alone or desktop genealogy program. But if you are persuaded to use another program, realize that an individual, isolated family tree will not provide the feedback necessary to explore the extent of your larger family's involvement in genealogy both in the past and at the present time.

If you begin your genealogical pursuits by following the "traditional pattern" of focusing on individuals and family group records, you will miss the essence of doing genealogical research, that is, focusing on what is missing instead of focusing on what you have. If you fail to focus on what is missing from your family tree, you will become satisfied with only a partial effort and become enamored with what you have entered and will ignore what is still missing. By working on a cooperative family tree, such as the Family Tree, you will be forced to confront the ideas and conclusions of your entire family. It is true that if you are the only member of you family working on your family lines, it may take you a while to realize that there are others who are also related to you but it is almost inevitable that as you go back in time, you will start to encounter lines that have already been entered into the Family Tree. If this does not happen to you because you are from some part of the world where the Internet has yet become ubiquitous or knowledge of the existence of the Family Tree has not yet penetrated, then you will be the pioneer and be the one laying the groundwork for your own descendants.

There are essentially two possibilities when you start with the Family Tree; either you have very extensive ancestral entries already available in the Family Tree or your family has not previously contributed information and your portion of the Family Tree is empty or almost empty. Either way, you begin by documenting and correcting the information already available. Although it is still possible to do so, no information should be added to the Family Tree without a record or document (a source) to support the information entered. Even when you know of your own personal knowledge that the information is correct (or you think it is correct) you need to provide documentation. The reason for this rule is simple: you will not be around forever and your descendants and other relatives will need to know that the information is source supported.

Because of its historical antecedents, the Family Tree is primarily a Western European product with a decided emphasis on the United States. But some of the fastest growing areas of the Family Tree include Latin America and even Eastern European countries. The Family Tree is now completely or partially translated into the following languages.

It is envitiable that additional languages will be added in the future. All of the present operating systems for computers have provisions for entering information using the alphabets and diacrital marks of a multitude of languages and all entries in the Family Tree should, as much as possible, be entered in the format and language of the place where the events occurred and accurately reflect the places and times that correspond to the actual events at the time the events occcurred.

If you are one of those people who find a substantial amount of information in the Family Tree, I suggest that at this stage, Step Three, you concentrate on making changes to the data to make it as correctly corresponding as possible to the time and place where the events occurred. For example, when I began my genealogical research years ago, my own Grandfather was consistently recorded as having been born in "Joseph City, Navajo, Arizona." According to the rule of recording the place as it was at the time of the event, the actual entry should have been "St. Joseph, Apache, Arizona Territory, United States." This is how the Family Tree entry is now recorded. However, here is a current example from an family tree entry from one of my relatives.

Because this person is maintaining an isolated, personally owned family tree, there is no practical way to communicate with him or her and correct the entry. If it is not obvious to you, in 1895 the town was called St. Joseph, the county was Apache County and the state did not yet exist.

The reason why this rule exists is the simple fact that genealogical records are created at or near the time of an event, at or near the place where the event occurs and where they are ultimately recorded and stored depends on the what happens to records from that location.

If an entry is missing, then that is an invitation to begin research. and that is an invitation to do some research and moves us on to the next step. By the way, although these "steps" are being presented as discrete steps, in reality, they are recursive and at this point begin to overlap and become hard to distinguish one from another.

Stay tuned.

Here are the posts in this series.


  1. I am related to several colonial Virginia families, and on the 17th and early 18th century families I watch and loosely watch, I am seeing their profiles on FamilySearch Family Tree getting worse not better, without constant attention.

    It seems there is a human tendency to want to have exact dates and places, middle names, and parents for every profile. There is also a tendency once something is in print to not question it further.

    Some new additions are easy to correct, such as finding out that an ancestor died on the day he made his will, though the will was then, if that is correct, held by the heirs for a full year before they presented it to the Court. Mothers who marry their sons-in-law that is pretty easy to figure out. Multiple women married to the same man with the same names and birth dates within a 10 year span can usually safely be merged. And these are recent additions.

    Requiring us to type something in the "Reason This Information Is Correct" block, helps though I am developing a strong aversion to "per gedcom" or "my gedcom." If the term "gedcom" is typed in that block, I suggest the "Save" button not be enabled.

    Another ingredient that seems to make the situation worse is an article published in the early 20th century about the family. A lot has been learned since then, and some of what was written was incorrect, however the information from those articles is still being added.

    For the Calvert family of Stafford and Prince William Counties, Virginia, people add exact dates and places that are not known and relationships to prominent people from earlier 20th century published sources or from their gedcom data where there is no support.

    The Strother family I am seeing approximate dates replaced with exact dates, again without support, that are wrong. Francis Strother lost a daughter because she was recently married to her son-in-law, while her husband picked-up two new wives. I suppose it works out though because Francis gained four new daughters and a middle name I have never seen in a contemporary record. He left a will and named his "eight" children. He is now up to 15 children.

    Two years ago I added a citation to his will. There are now 29 sources, but just about everything else is a duplicate, not applicable, or culled from secondary sources. He died in 1752 in Virginia. My favorite sources include his service in the Pennsylvania Cavalry during the Civil War. His service in the Virginia Militia during the War of 1812 is a close second. Both added by the same person on 6 Jul 2016. Francis did have a sword listed in his inventory! I have not looked at this family in a while and except for the most blatant errors I need to do the research to sort this out before making changes based on "my gedcom."

    I guess my points are profiles of people living in colonial Virginia families in the 17th and early 18th century that I watch are not getting better, but worse. The issue seems to be a human need for completeness and is exacerbated if information about the family was published in the early 20th century, ie., if it is published it has to be true and I don’t need to do further research

    1. See my answering blog post. I think you raise some issues that need to be discussed.