Category Archives: Sources

Musing about Sources. This is not a list of my Sources.

Sources – A Necessary Evil

Exploring my roots has never been a constant past-time. The desire usually surfaces while dusting off my bookshelves and seeing all of the genealogy books gathering dust. Or when looking for Christmas stuff in my cabinets and finding a huge stack of papers on my Morris line that I still haven’t gone through after 16 years. All it takes is coming across some book or tidbit of information that sparks a potential research idea, and then – I’m off exploring! Searching the internet for databases or photos, or hunting down and copying info at the Archives from dawn to dusk, like a blood hound hot on the trail.

And, then…the scent disappears. Nothing. I look over what I’ve collected, copied, and researched for days, months, even years. But, Nothing. And, what is this Nothing throwing cold water on my exploration? Nothing is hitting a dead-end because there are no sources or the sources quoted in a book or email can’t be found or verified. So, if after a few more attempts Nothing is still there, then I usually set the genealogy stuff aside. You know, “Fiddle-dee-dee” to quote Scarlett O’Hara.

Sources are truly a necessary evil in my genealogy life. Would I ever consider not having them? Absolutely not. Would I ever consider every source I have as being the final word? Absolutely not.

After purchasing a new genealogy software program this past weekend, I could feel the stirrings in my blood. Time to blow off the dust, drag out those huge binders full of papers, and find a trail with a scent. So, as a warm-up, I ran a small family group report on my granddad and noticed that his death certificate had a source with the wrong repository. Tennessee? He died in Mississippi. Oh nooooo!!! It hit me that this must be how a Rockett lineage on a popular genealogy website had Tennessee listed as the death place for my granddad.

Years ago, I must’ve sent a GEDCOM to someone not realizing one or more sources had gotten combined or mixed up when switching from one software program to another. How many more sources are wrong?

The great Pit of Despair descended upon me as I realized that I was going to have to go through all of my source citations and verify them one by one:

  • My source citation report is 101 pages long.
  • It took me 5 hours last night to find and compare my source documents for 5 Rocketts from my daughter back to my great-grandfather, so I’m averaging 1 hour per person for the people I know!
  • I have over 2,900 individuals in my genealogy database not including my husband’s lines.
  • I’m 50 years old. You do the math!

“I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.” Scarlett O’Hara, Gone With the Wind.

A Source by Any Other Name

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare

What matters is what a source is, not what it’s called or categorized as.
But, you say, what about sources called birth certificates, for example. They’re a great primary source.
Or, are they…

Everyone knew that my grandmother, Rita, was one year older than my granddad, Louis Rockett. She was born in 1911, and he was born in 1912. No big deal. He was taller, so it evened out.
I never saw her birth certificate until years after she’d passed away, and I was documenting my lineage so I could get in the Daughters of the American Revolution society (D.A.R.). Her birth certificate shows her name as Rita Hall and that she was born March 13, 1911. Great! I have a primary source documenting the dates and info I need from the state Health Department. This is etched in stone, right?
Upon further inspection, though, I noticed at the top it said “Delayed Certificate of Birth”. Hmmm. I don’t remember all the details but it seems like some states didn’t require birth certificates until a certain year or some birth certificates had been destroyed or damaged. Anyway, this certificate was notarized and filed in 1959. Forty eight years after her birth. Hmmm. I also noticed that it has her signature, her mother’s signature, and her sister-in-law’s signature (the latter was the notary). Totally cool. Very different. But, it’s from the state Health Department, so it’s all good.
As I got more serious about documenting sources, and joining more societies, I started hanging out at the Archives. That’s where I discovered census records, a wonderful primary source. I love census records! My first discovery with a real source was with a census record. Good times! So, I’m looking up every surname I have on the 1910 U.S. Census, and I get to the page showing my grandmother’s Hall family. Hey look! Here’s her dad James, her mom Vienna, her sister Nona, her brother Cecil, and an infant named Xylda Marie who wasn’t even 1 year old. Hmmm. There were only 3 kids in her family. When I started asking my family what they knew, turns out grandmother always hated her name Xylda Marie and insisted everyone call her “Ree” or Rita. OK. Name solved.

BUT LOOK AT THE YEAR! It’s 1910. Grandmother was born in 1911, right? Maybe, the census taker was wrong or accidentally put a neighbor’s child on the line with the Halls. (A stretch, I know, but I had a birth certificate from the state Health Department. Right?) So, I’m combing over this document and noticed who the census taker was: James N. Hall. That’s right. Her dad!

Now, I’ve got 2 primary sources with conflicting information. Which one do I think is right? The census. Which one holds weight as the source to most people? The birth certificate.