Friday, November 20, 2015
...Yet Never Discounting Those Staples of Sound Genealogical Research
While I'm grateful—as I mentioned yesterday—for those book-digitizing projects that are bringing hundred-year-old publications to the forefront of our researching attention once again, those books were penned by people who were no less prone to error than are humans of our modern era. Admittedly, those authors faced the same snares we face—and we all know the foibles of family fables—and yet, they had other research challenges we now can bypass with a click of a mouse. When you think of the snail-mailed, personal-memory-riddled reports authors of a bygone century once had to overcome just to compile their genealogies, it's a wonder they got as much right as they did.
One aggravating aspect of riding the online family history wave back through the centuries is the lack of scanned documentation, once the census records drop off the scene. While everything seems to go along swimmingly back to 1850, before that, researchers may—or may not—have at their disposal copies of any other actual pertinent governmental documents. Ancestry.com, for instance, offers up a lot of "data collections" which may or may not merely be compilations of user-contributed say-so reports. It is nice to peek at these collections for hints, much as one queries a trailblazer before attempting a wilderness journey never before traveled. But we all have to prove our own way, eventually.
On the other hand—at least for those of us with ancestors firmly (and successfully) interwoven into the American social fabric of the last two or three centuries—our well-heeled forebears left significant paper trails of another sort: court records and land records. While I am exploring the possibilities in my Meriwether, Gilmer, Lewis and Strother lines, I'll be corroborating—or disproving—the details unearthed by other researchers via governmental records of a type entirely different than the scant details offered up in pre-1850 census records.
That, of course, becomes the part of my daily research which goes underground as I pursue it, mainly owing to my observation that, like the making of laws and sausage, the tedium of genealogical research can sometimes get both messy and boring. While we all live for the stories, it's the sound genealogical research methods that provide the skeletal framework upon which those family stories need to hang.
Not that I won't make a peep about it, from time to time—one never knows when an exceptional or curious anecdote may surface that simply must be shared. In addition, as I hit each matrilineal node, based on my mtDNA quest, and turn around to trace that other woman's female line back down to the present, I'll track my progress in connecting to my mystery cousin. But my first love, at least for blogging purposes, is to share the stories. It's just that there aren't too many stories amidst all the grunt work of reading legal proceedings or land records.
Above: "Autumn in the Welsh Hills," watercolor on pencil, circa 1860, by British landscape artist, George Price Boyce; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.