Genealogy Tips & Tricks: Verify every source

Verify every sourceBy Barry J. Ewell

Ask for documentation. Never be shy about asking for documentation from another researcher when they have shared information with you. Again, without the paper records in hand, nothing is proven.

Always verify. There is never a time when you should not verify information you have received.

Through the years, I have found critical errors in what I downloaded. It often appears that genealogists wanted so desperately to extend the line or make a connection that they jumped to conclusions in their research, which caused other genealogists to research someone else’s family lines. Often the answers they were looking for were right before their eyes.

  • I verify everything for myself.
  • Family myths are just that, myths, unless you check and double-check
  • Do not automatically accept a version of ancestry from another person.
  • Make no assumptions.
  • Don’t believe everything you read; adopt a “show me” attitude.
  • Search for the source.
  • Seek to find the referenced source.
  • View the original online.
  • Primary sources were created at or close to the time of the event by someone with personal knowledge of the event (for example, a birth date provided by the family doctor for the birth certificate). Primary evidence usually carries more weight than secondary evidence.
  • If the record you are seeing is a photocopy, digital copy, or microfilm copy of the original source, then it is likely to be a valid representation.
  • Compiled records (which include abstracts, transcriptions, indexes, and published family histories) are more likely to have missing information or transcription errors. If you find these records, it’s in your best interest to track down the original sources.
  • Think about the possible source. When you find information that doesn’t provide you a source for the database or website, ask yourself what kind of record could have supplied the informa¬¨tion. For example, if it’s an exact date of birth, then the source is most likely a birth certificate or tombstone inscription. If it is an approximate year of birth, then it may have come from a census record or marriage record.
  • Use the “sanity checks” built into the better genealogy programs! The exact name of this feature may vary from one program to another, but all the better genealogy programs have the capability to find suspicious data within a database. These built-in quality checks help you quickly identify questionable data, such as very young girls or elderly women giving birth. When your software identifies such data, examine the evidence closely.

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