When in pursuit of those difficult-to-trace ancestors—like the many George and Sarah Gordons we've been wrestling with this week—there's nothing like being able to see the actual documents to verify the details in question. Yet, it isn't always possible to travel to the site where our family once lived, five, six or seven generations ago.
Yes, it's true that we can hire professional genealogists to retrieve records for us. Someone who lives locally—and is familiar with the lay of the land (including the land's local archives)—can locate documents for us more quickly and efficiently than we could do so, ourselves.
Since I live in California—and my husband's Gordon roots were in Pennsylvania and Ohio—it otherwise becomes a matter of plane tickets, car rentals, hotel stays and countless restaurant meals, all for the joy of obtaining a copy of a will, or the full application for naturalization, or that elusive headstone or marriage record.
But there's the rub: it's for the joy of the effort that we keep on doing these things. It's the thrill of the chase. Requiring patience—after all, we only visit our relatives back east maybe once a year, not the ten or twenty times I'd love to let our route detour through Fort Wayne to squeeze in a visit to the Allen County Public Library—our progress approaches its finish line incrementally. Ever so slowly.
As much as people seem to relish maligning the "instant" results of online research resources, I appreciate the handiness of entering a name on, say, FamilySearch.org, and pulling up not only a record's transcription, but often a digitization of the very record, itself. I get to see the very items in question: birth records, marriage licenses, death certificates. And I don't even have to send my money order by snail mail (along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope—and then wait six weeks) to do so.
That's why I certainly perked up when I saw the comment on Thursday's post, in which Geolover did a forced search—leaving the key detail in question blank, while providing parameters for supporting facts—and found some Perry County records online at FamilySearch.org for my Gordon family. Following that comment up the next morning was reader Marian Koalski's observation confirming that FamilySearch had scanned and added the images for the Perry County records I was seeking.
I've been in research heaven since then, finding every Perry County ancestor born within the years of that collection. Someday, I'll find that missing file I had tucked away years ago, but at this point, it really doesn't matter. Besides, while I had photocopies of the index to those births and deaths, the FamilySearch collection apparently is of the original registers. In all their handwritten glory.
That means when I encounter yet another previously-undiscovered maiden name for one of those aggravating Sarah Gordons (instead of the Dittoe and the Drumm I already had, adding Drew to the list), I can take a look around on the page and realize that, since the same surname was entered just a line above it, I may be witnessing an old-fashioned clerical error. After all, clerks in the 1800s were human, too—and likely had jobs requiring them to multi-task. Clerical errors are not solely the domain of our modern times in the twenty first century.
|Two "Drew" entries for mother's maiden name—possible clerical error?|
The beauty of it all is that we'd never be able to spot—and analyze—those possibilities without being able to see the documents, themselves. And when it comes to records housed at great distances from our own homes, it's not very likely that we'd otherwise be able to scrutinize those documents—at least without abundant latitude in our travel expense accounts.
So, yeah. Online genealogical websites. I salute you. You do not make me lazy. Or uninformed. You help me accomplish more of my research goals in less time. And with greater accuracy. Because digitized records are records that more of us than ever before can now see for ourselves.