WHEN THE SOURCES ARE WRONG!
By Henry Z Jones, Jr.
Fellow, American Society of Genealogists
Post Office Box 261388
San Diego, California 92196-1388
A. The will of William Shakespeare and its
relevance to genealogical sources.
B. Genealogy is a testament not only to the strengths, but also to the fallibility of man.
C. Erroneous sources are "part of the game."
II. SECONDARY GENEALOGICAL SOURCES IN GENERAL.
A. Inherent risks in using them.
The kids' game of "Telephone" and its importance.
B. "Record Source Failure: Some Implications For Analysis," by Dean L. McLeod, in Genealogical Journal, June 1978.
1. The "Hearth Tax Act" in England in 1662.
2. Classic example of potential for error.
3. Published version 5th in descent from the original!
C. Errors in some specific secondary printed sources.
1. "Mug Books" of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
2. Questioning the motivation for inclusion of certain genealogical data in old volumes such as these.
3. Census publications and the fine work of John P. Dern, David Kendall Martin, Richard Saldana, and Barbara Mathews.
4. Older family histories and genealogical scholarship.
5. Gustav Anjou and his ilk.
6. "Genealogists Who Made a Difference," by Walter Lee Sheppard, Jr., and Dr. David L. Greene, 1988 FGS Conference Tape, Boston, MA.
D. Examples of errors in basic printed "Palatine" sources.
1. Rotterdam Embarkation Lists of 1709.
2. London Census of Palatines in 1709.
3. West Camp Census of 1710/11
4. The sad case of Philip Kilmer!
5. Simmendinger Register of 1716/17.
6. Rupp's Pennsylvania book as it refers to New York.
III. ORIGINAL, PRIMARY SOURCES CONTEMPORARY WITH THE EVENT.
A. Churchbooks and their organization: wonderful
examples to be found in
Kenneth Smith's German Churchbooks: Beyond the Basics.
1. Baptismal section of the Red Hook Lutheran Churchbook.
2. Rothenberg/Odenwald Churchbook.
B. Bringing a 20th century mind to an 18th century problem.
1. Children with the same exact name surviving to have
issue: examples in the Häner, Kolb, and Sayn families.
2. Naming patterns among Germans of the 18th century.
C. McLeod's examples of non-registration and under-registration as to completeness and accuracy.
1. P. E. Razzell and his study of English parish registers
as to completeness and accuracy of population registration.
2. Crossmatching the English 1851 Census with the registers of 45 English parishes and the surprising results.
D. Original sources that are just, plain wrong!
1. Spelling and phonetic errors.
2. Death certificates (Fonda Baselt's "The Sunny Side of Genealogy")
3. Wrong ancestral locales of origin in Pastor Joshua Kocherthal's registers at West Camp, Ulster Co., NY: "Georg Teder, son of the late Johann Teder of Lehnberg in Württemberg, md. 26 April 1715 to Anna Maria, daughter of Johann Friederich Meyer." What went wrong?
4. Myrtle Stevens Hyde's example of the Aldous family: "Samuel Aldous, a blacksmith at Fressingfield in Suffolk, died 28 Feb 1771, aged 67, and the Stephen=William Aldous puzzle."
5. Robert Charles Anderson's example of the Morse family: "Thomas2 Morse of Dedham, MA who did not exist: the Thomas=Samuel Morse puzzle and its implications."
6. The importance of studying all similarly-named individuals in community at a specific time to discover the real truth.
7.Civil records concerning the Palatines that are wrong.
IV. WHAT THE GENEALOGIST SHOULD KEEP IN MIND.
A. Remaining alert to the possibility of altered sources.
1. Our antennae must be outstretched at all times.
2. Wilkie Collins and The Woman In White.
B. The sources may be "right": our
perception of them may be "wrong!"
Milton Rubincam's wonderful examples in Pitfalls in Genealogical Research.
C. Under what conditions was the record made?
1. Who was doing the writing?
2. Were the principals involved of the same ethnic background?
D. The possibility that an ancestor didn't know his own vital statistics.
E. Gravestone errors.
1. The stonecarvers mistakes, or are they ours?
2. Acid rain and its genealogical impact.
F. Each of us will be "A Source" someday!
1. Suggestions for the preservation of our genealogical
papers to ensure the survival of all our hard work.
2. Suggestions for separating our considered opinions about family connectives from documented facts.
G. The humanity of ourselves and our ancestors.
1. Honoring genealogists of the past and appreciating how
well they did, considering the tools and sources they had to work with.
2. Shoving down the ego and its importance in making us better genealogists.
3. Upwards and Onwards!
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