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It should be noted that the ancient documents(1) which most genealogists research are at best physically degraded and at worst totally illegible. This is the nature of ancient documents. There are various reasons why this is so –
Honest transcribers spend many long and arduous hours poring over these documents in order to provide you, the reader, with as accurate as possible an account of exactly what those documents contain.
With the best will in the world, at any stage in the process from the original data capture(2), to the final display on your screen, there are liable to be mistakes. These can fall into three main categories:
So far as (a) is concerned, there is little that can be done unless two(3) or more documents, other than the one in doubt, can be found delineating the same data in an unequivocal manner. In the event that any transcribed data can be proven to be incorrect then the original should not be changed(4), but an annotation inserted outlining the correcting sources. With (b) the only way to avoid (not eliminate) such things happening is for there to be more than one transcriber who can worry at a problem of partial illegibility until it is resolved. Given the number of documents out there, and the number of people prepared to give their time to such projects, the chances of this occurring must asymptotically approach zero. However if any such errors are provable, then they should be corrected. Finally (c) – this is fortunately rare, is to be regretted and should be corrected.
Thus a website author may be willing to note your "correction" as an ERRATA, but they are not obligated to modify the source. The source or extraction must stand inviolate. Nor can you reasonably ask the parish council or other agency to correct their original records or a monument inscription in order to suit your wishes.
Additionally, spelling and word usage have changed over the centuries. Surnames were often phonetically recorded until the introduction of more universal schooling in the mid-1800s and the more wide-spread publication and use of dictionaries. Even the names of early saints and villages have morphed over time to fit more modern usage. St. Wolfrim in one village may be St. Walfram in the next. Both are considered correct.
Last updated on 28-April-2006
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