Tuesday, September 3, 2013

More on Genealogical Proof: the standard for what it is and is not

Every fact in a record must come under scrutiny for accuracy, as well as for being applied to the correct person. Typos and other faults cause misspellings which can throw a record into confusion. Place names can change as counties grow and boundaries are re-drawn, and new counties are created.

An example I recently saw would be on my 7th gr-grandfather, Richard Hancock, who died in Cohansey, Cumberland, New Jersey 20 May 1689.  A public record was created which stated he died in Cohorsey, Cumberland, New Jersey.  With the Internet, it is a very quick check to see the location mentioned in a record. In this case, it would show there is no such thing as Cohorsey in New Jersey. Since I was familiar with the family, and had seen other records showing they had lived in Cohansey, the mistake was quickly resolved for me.

Other times, I have puzzled over a place name for days or even weeks before finding enough clues in alternate records to sort out the location.

This is but a very simple and obvious part of creating accurate family trees.  Genealogical Proof Standard, by Christine Rose, defines what is a genealogical proof in her small but powerfully written paperback.  I strongly recommend the book, printed in 2005, as the best way to guard against wasting time, creating erroneous trees and false data. Correct spelling isn't even at the beginning of the list of cautions in the book.

Her six-step process chart on page 18 begins with "Conduct a reasonably exhaustive search among a variety of records" and ends with "Write up the conclusion, including an explanation of any opposing evidence and how it was resolved. Include citations."

A more typical conflict in genealogical proof is in the case of my grandfather, Kustaa Heikkila. Records from relatives in Finland give his mother's name as Josefina Seppala. His border crossing record, from the ship Tunisia log of alien passengers, shows his destination as his cousin, August Seppala, in Albion, California. My grandmother, who knew his family and visited them, said his mother was Josefina Seppala.  But now I have a conflict to resolve, because his death certificate as excerpted by Merle A. Reinikka, says that his mother's name was Josephine Tabbla.

Possibly the handwriting was so poor that it is merely a transcription error. But I will need to resolve the conflict.

This week seems to have been sprinkled with errors of one kind or another. As I was comparing my information to other family trees, I found one tree that had assigned my gr-grandmother Elizabeth Anderson to the family of Joshua Anderson and his wife California Queen.  I sent the tree owner a copy of the 1850 census which shows Elizabeth with her father, Joshua Anderson and his first wife, Millie Jones. The census agrees with the information on Elizabeth's death certificate, given by her husband John Dellinger whose father Eli served with Joshua Anderson in the Civil War.  California Queen was twelve years old when my gr-grandmother Elizabeth was born.

Part of verifying the accuracy of a tree is whether the given ages of people make sense within the relationship. I have seen multiple trees where the mother's death date was some years before the birth of her child. Clearly not possible, but someone missed the error, and others copied it. Is the mother's death date wrong, or the child's birth date wrong, or was it a different mother entirely?

I have a strong liking for solving puzzles, untangling mysteries and uncovering hidden stories in the lives of my ancestors. How wonderful to live in an age where so many records and books are available on the Interent.  Not that long ago, people had to travel to where the records were kept to do the research. While this is still true of some records, it is less true every day as diligent librarians scan records and books into digital format.  I can time travel to the scene of Magna Carta in England in 1215, or to New Caledonia in 1945, where my father served as a radioman for the Navy in WWII.

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