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

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Comments on Becoming an Excellent Genealogist -- Chapter Fifteen

This is an ongoing series of chapter by chapter comments on the book,

Meyerink, Kory L., Tristan Tolman, and Linda K. Gulbrandsen. Becoming an Excellent Genealogist: Essays on Professional Research Skills. [Salt Lake City, Utah]: ICAPGen, 2012.

I am now commenting on Chapter 15: "Jurisdictions: Who Created the Record?" by Loretta Evans, AG.

Whether the analogy is the one used by the author of this chapter, Russian dolls, or my own, a stack of pancakes, the idea is the same. Records about individuals and families are kept at various geographic levels of the entities making those records. The concept of jurisdiction is not an easy one for most people to understand. The word is used in a very general sense to include all sorts of divisions of all sorts of organizations. This chapter of the book contains a list of examples of the types of records created by different jurisdictions of government, churches, fraternal organizations, social organizations, schools, businesses and many others.

Two of the largest online resources for genealogists, the FamilySearch Catalog and the Research Wiki are organized to reflect the real-world way records are located. If you begin a search in either resource by entering a place name, you will see a list of available records for that place organized by category. You can also see links to any enclosed area where additional records may be kept. The complicating factor, of course, is the that records tend to move. Older records may stay in the place where they are created, but may also be moved to larger archives, libraries or other repositories. Records may also be created on a local level, such as a death certificate in the United States, but maintained on a state level.

There are really two main questions to ask about records:

  • Where were the records created originally?
  • Where are the records located today?

In both cases, it is implicit in the process of researching your ancestors that you determine an exact location where an event occurred in the individual's life. I have been teaching a class on research beginning this past week, and it has become abundantly clear that finding records about an ancestor absolutely requires knowing an exact location where an event occurred. It is all too easy to choose the wrong person from those with similar names and dates, unless you are extremely careful in recording the places where each event identified occurred.

Knowledge of the place of an event allows you to then identify the jurisdictions of the various record keeping organizations or entities that may have created records pertaining to your ancestor.


If you are researching back on a particular line, you must move from place to place. You cannot begin a search for records until you identify the next level of places. General locations such as "Ohio" or "Prussia" are absolutely useless. This is especially true because jurisdictions change over time. The date something happened can be approximate, but the place has to be exact.

How exact is exact? In many cases, you may have to identify the house where the family lived. This is true whenever there are a number of people with the same or similar names living in the same area. Some countries where this is the common rule include Wales, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and other areas where similar names are found in abundance.

What happens if you find a pedigree and none of the places where events occurred are listed? This is really common when people list their "ancestral royalty." It is also common on a very localized level with records that came from family Bibles. In each case, the list is nothing more than a suggestion to start doing research. As I have said many times previously, when copying starts, genealogy ends. When you start copying dates and names out of a book, off of a family tree or other similar source without verifying the information, you have left reality behind and are now in fantasy land.

This chapter seems rather simple, but in fact, it is the core concept of genealogical research and cannot be emphasized too much or too many times.

You may wish to review some of the preceding chapters:

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