Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Clueless About That Clue

How many times have genealogy researchers—you know, the ones who should know better—berated themselves for making one simple mistake, when it comes to documentation?

Let me paint you a scenario.

You have just found out that you have this wonderful opportunity to squeeze in a few hours of research at one of the nation’s primo genealogy libraries. You hurry and gather all your material in preparation for the big trip. On the day you arrive, you dive right in to work.

Fortunately—given the extreme limit on your amount of time allotted for the visit—you find yourself inundated with great resources almost instantly. Too many sources, actually. And you scramble to get everything organized, noted, photocopied, or whatever can be done to glean every last bit of material before you have to leave.

After time is up, you triumphantly close up all the books, button up your notebooks and computers with a flourish and head for the door with the rest of your crack research team, confident that you now have, in your possession, a reasonable facsimile of all the wealth you located during your whirlwind research opportunity.

And then you get back home, open up your new-found treasure trove, and discover—to your dismay—that that most important record you had transcribed neglects a source.

How did that happen?

I don’t know—but believe me, while I don’t know how it happened, in my case, I know that it did happen.

Cry, scream, rant, bang head—it all doesn’t matter. Nothing will recoup that missing citation. The only recourse is to reconstruct the research trail and hope to fortuitously stumble upon that same source once again.

Of course, another trip to the Allen County Public Library is not in my future for several more months. And I certainly don’t want to wait that long. So…step one in my process to recreate the record of Nancy Ann Jackson Snider’s family tree will be to write it all out here—what I know so far, and what I find as I try out the reconstruction phase of this search.

Here’s what I had in my notes. First, I believe the book in which I found the material (you know, the one I thought I had photocopied) was a publication by the local Perry County, Ohio, Genealogical Society. Step one might be to contact them and see if anyone knows which book I have in mind. (Of course, that might also mean that the book is actually a compilation of society members’ own research notes—in which case, it wouldn’t be source documents, and I would still need to check the paper trail for myself.)

Then, I need to transcribe my notes and put them in a reasonable order. I need to glean the substance from the outline I wrote.

At that point, I can use those transcribed notes as a road map on a virtual trip that will, hopefully, lead me back to the point of the information I’m seeking: whether Nancy Ann Jackson’s father was John J. Jackson and whether that John Jackson—or perhaps his father—did indeed serve as a patriot in the Revolutionary War.

At least, that’s what this nameless, missing source seemed to indicate.

Maybe it’s a good thing that I’m missing that actual photocopied page. It’s forcing me to retrace my steps and test the research trail for myself.

In that case, the first clue is: doing your own research is the best policy—as long as you don’t forget to include the source citations. You could, after all, have just walk out of the library without that photocopied prize you thought you still had in your possession.


  1. The good news is you didn't devote your limited time to finding/copying/transcribing something you had forgotten you already had.

    1. Wendy, time management is not my forte :)

      The only thing I can say is, "Maybe next time..."

  2. Replies
    1. Grant, I'm afraid that is the story of many of our lives. At least I'm in good company!

  3. Aww..I am so sorry..perhaps the nice people at the Genealogical Society will help you! They may know which reference you are refering to:)

    1. Far Side, you are right. I actually did get an email note from someone with the right reference. Glad for all the help...but still wish I could have been more organized!

  4. I have three wonderful photocopies of an ancestor's life details ... each from a different book, all looking quite similar, and I have no idea which comes from which. Who knows when I'll be able to look at those books - I wasn't even clever enough to keep the scribbled list of books I was searching for, with stars next to the ones I found! Sigh. You've got some clues however which is excellent!

    1. Celia, now that I'm a little further into the reconstruction phase, I'm finding the same thing: additional photocopies of the same life story. And, as you said, they are all looking quite similar--with one problem: some of the details are not in agreement.

      Now that I've encountered this additional sticky mess, it is turning out just as well that I'm needing to retrace my steps. Who knows? Maybe all of those stories need correction...


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