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

Monday, June 25, 2018

Click Your Way to Genealogical Success - Part Six

Finding Accurate Information

When I was in the very early stages of doing genealogical research, about thirty years ago, I got most of my information from the huge collection of family group records housed in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. This was long before FamilySearch came into existence and over the years, my extended family had submitted family group records to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and these records were stored on shelves in big binders in the Library. By the way, many of these records are now available in digital copies online. Here is a screenshot of the Collection page on
Here is a screenshot of one of the records.

I ended up with a pile of photocopies about three feet high. These records were stored alphabetically and searching for records involved pulling the huge binders off of the shelves and paging through them looking for relatives. If I found one I was interested in, I had to pull the record out of the binder and take to a copy machine and make a copy. Copies cost 25 cents each. So I had rolls of quarters for copies. That stack of copies represented hundreds of dollars of copy costs.

If you look closely at this family group record (FGR) you will see that there is a small section that asks, "Where was information shown on this family record obtained?"

Could you identify the source of the information from this citation? I learned that this was one of two books and here are the current, more accurate, citations to these two books.

Tanner, George C. William Tanner of North Kingstown, Rhode Island, and His Descendants. Minneapolis, Minn.: Pub. by the author, 1905.

———. William Tanner, Sr. of South Kingstown, Rhode Island and His Descendants: In Four Parts. Faribault, Minn.: G.C. Tanner, 1910.

Essentially, the information on this FGR was copied from one of two books published in 1905 or 1910. If you did not know about the books, how would you know that this citation referred to the books? The reference to "B4 B14" is the Family History Library catalog number used at the time and no longer is in use.

More importantly, how would I or anyone else know whether or not the information on the FGR was accurate? How would even know if the person submitting the FGR had copied the information accurately from the book? The FGR did have the name of the person who submitted the record, but I found that most of these people were no longer alive or had moved and could not be located.

The challenge is that nearly all this information was incorporated into the Family Tree. Yes, nearly all this information without regard to the origin or accuracy of the information. In some cases, the incorporated information reinforces inaccurate or incomplete family traditions about ancestors and their identity. Some of the information can be verified but it may take extensive research to "correct" the inherited information. In addition, many of your relatives may have incorporated the inaccurate information in their personal files and may never have taken the time to verify what has been passed down from generation to generation.

The Family Tree is not the only online family tree program that has incorporated unverified and unsupported information. For example, I commonly find people in family trees that have no supporting sources or just one or two. This is the case even though the program provides record hints for all its users. The same situation exists in many of the other online family tree programs.

If you have inherited ancestral information or have "borrowed" information from someone's family tree online, you should be extremely careful in accepting anything that is not supported by a source with a citation to the place where the information can be viewed and verified.

You can read the previous posts in this series here:

Part Three:
Part Two:
Part One:


  1. If they haven't thrown them out, the FHL has books that cross-walk the old call numbers shown in your example to the Dewey numbers that they were reassigned. And then you have to have a staff member tell you whether that book still is on the shelf in paper form, or whether the Dewey number was retired because of microfilming and/or digitization of it. Because it is so much work to do this, I last did it several years ago. Which is why I am not sure that they still have the books that crosswalk the old call numbers to the newer (but probably not current) call numbers. Several years ago, the crosswalk books were extremely hard to find, since only a few librarians still knew about them, and they were then stored in a cupboard accessible to staff only.

  2. I should have checked the FHLC first. Your Archive group sheet call number starts with a "B", so I need to consult "Changes of family history 'B' group call numbers" to find the Dewey number that it was reclassed with. The catalog record for that book tells me that it has not yet been digitized, but it was microfilmed and years ago, and is also available on microfiche. Neither the film nor the fiche have been imaged yet, so I would need to visit the FHL to look at the microfilm find out what the Dewey number was. And then I would try that Dewey number in the FHLC via a call number search. If I was lucky, it would tell me that the book still exists in physical form and is on the shelf. If I am not lucky, but not unlucky either, it would tell me that the book has been digitized and give me a link. If I was unlucky, I would need to go to a staff member to him or her to help me.

    1. Thanks for the explanation. That helps. But fortunately, I have digital copies of both books. The problem is that you (or anyone else) would have to know all that to find the source and then determine if the source was valid or not.

  3. I'm not an LDS member, so I can't view the images with my plain vanilla FS i.d.:-(