Sunday, August 27, 2023

Read the Fine Print


Read the fine print—then read it again. It's that double-check which sometimes saves us from veering off in the wrong genealogical direction.

I can't tell how many times I've been grateful that I actually laid eyes on a document itself, rather than trusting someone's transcription of the form. Mistakes can happen, of course, and we always want to avoid those needless errors. But I know that looking at a second document—and then a third and a fourth—further keep us from getting snared in someone else's error.

In my behind-the-scenes research drill this month, I've been adding Tully cousins to my father-in-law's tree. Just today, though, a census record caused a double-take. An entry for what, ten years prior, had been a daughter, became a son in the subsequent enumeration.

I'll chalk that up to a clerical error, but though I have run into such problems in the past, I do admit this time, I hadn't spotted it right away. It was only after said daughter Francis seemed to disappear from all subsequent signs of existence that I went back, searching. Sure enough, that Francis turned out to be a son in the later document. By his adulthood, I noted that he preferred to go by the name Frank—perhaps for obvious reasons.

In the same research project, I've spotted a transcription giving another new Tully cousin's date of death as 1944, when in reality it was 1994. Someone just keyed in a "4" to the sequence one space too soon. Now, wouldn't that have made a rather curious entry in the family tree? The record's transcription made it look as if it took the family fifty years to actually get around to burying the poor bloke. Made me look twice on that one, too.

I'm sure everyone's got their favorite story of records errors and transcription troubles. No matter how long we have been on this family history research road, though, there's bound to be one or more transpositions which slip by us unawares. It always helps to review our efforts. Actually lay eyes on the document. Read the fine print—not just once, but twice. Make sure it's a digital version of the original if at all possible, not merely someone's transcription. And double-check what has been found; if possible, find two different records to confirm a fact, not just rely on one document.

Perhaps it's the unfamiliar research path I'm on right now which heightens my caution. After all, this line of the newly-discovered Dennis Tully represents a family I hadn't known about before. I have no family stories to rely on, no hand-me-down photos or family treasures to guide me in this process. All I have are the records, right or wrong. Those can build a lifelong sequence of events for each member of Dennis Tully's family line by letting the fine print do the talking, from document to document, to identify the right relationships.   

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