Friday, May 12, 2023

Collaboration is not Cheating


When researching the ancestors in your family lines, you know the drill: start with yourself, then move step by step through the generations, not only entering the pertinent dates and places for each person's birth, marriage, and death, but attaching verification of each statement of fact. A process like that can easily translate into solitary work. After all, each researcher must prove the worth of his or her own work.

Though the responsibility may be our own, the way through that process doesn't necessarily need to be solo work. We can go much farther when we collaborate with other researchers. It's just that we need to prove the work for ourselves, no matter who provides those helpful tips. Collaboration doesn't amount to cheating, but our research will be in a sorry state if we don't do our own due diligence to assure that each statement of fact is verified by documentation.

Thus, when I found some way-pointing entries in various books and in online resources, I did not just jump on the opportunity to "copy" someone else's tree. I had to see for myself whether the assertions were backed up by documentation.

There was, for instance, a statement concerning the very William Ijams we've been tracing this month. I had found it quite a while ago in the Harry Wright Newman book, Anne Arundel Gentry. At the time, it seemed the perfect answer. According to Newman, William Ijams' children were named Richard, William, Rebecca, Rachel, Mary, Comfort, Sarah, John, Joseph, and Frederick. But notice what the entry in the Newman book states: "The following children...were supplied by a descendant."

Which descendant? The author doesn't provide a name. Since the Newman book was published in 1933, the unnamed descendant would likely have been alive at the time Newman was writing the book. It would be impossible that that one Ijams descendant would have been an eye-witness reporter about the entire family, since those children's father William himself died before March of 1816. If no one else did, I certainly wanted to wait until I found reliable documentation.

Of course, eventually I found that William Ijams' will provided the names of his sons. It was his daughters who had slipped away unnamed in that document. It would have been very tempting to just give up the chase and rely on someone else's reporting. After all, collaboration is not necessarily cheating on research—but we still need to let that collaboration lead us to the documentation.

Once again, that Newman book passage popped up in someone else's attempt at collaboration. In one of those subscriber-provided notes on, a hint popped up referring to the Newman book's list of William's children. At first, I was just going to bypass the note, until I realized there was more to be had by scrolling down the long page of information. This collaborator had more to contribute.

The subscriber continued by referencing the very Newman book I've been discussing, by examining the various dates of death given for William, then adding one more resource. This addition was a copy of an entry posted originally in October, 2000, likely to the old RootsWeb forum for Fairfield County, Ohio.

It was in that entry to the now-dismantled genealogy forum where that researcher had posted a resource, found at the Fairfield County Public Library in Lancaster, Ohio. The reference was a collection of Fairfield County will and estate abstracts, from which the writer extracted the pertinent case number for William Ijams' probate files: case number 256.

Equipped with that number—remember, collaboration is great, but we really need documentation to complete the research circle—I was able to find the exact location where William Ijams' paperwork was parked in the microfilmed records online at

Though I was able to spot one error in transcription in this note—James, not Joseph, Turner was identified in receipts as the husband of William's daughter Rachel—overall, the subscriber's note and transcriptions provided a wealth of information. But the most important part was: the note also provided a way for me to find the documents by replicating the steps of the original researcher.

That is what makes collaboration such a valuable aspect of research: helping fellow researchers to replicate the same path to documentation. With collaboration like that, research friends lead friends to the source so they can see for themselves whether the document answers the specific research question. That kind of collaboration enables all of us to do our due diligence in ensuring we are adding the right people to our family tree. That's the kind of sharing we can learn to appreciate—and remember to become part of the process of passing it on, ourselves.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...