Tips from the Pros: More or Less Than What It Says, from Michael John Neill

Genealogists are told to read the preface or introduction to any reference book they are using. Prefaces can contain information about the records used to compile the reference, including gaps in records, difficulties in reading records, etc. The same is true for those who use online genealogical databases. Read the introductions and the “more about” sections of the website for the database you are searching. If you don’t know what you are searching, you may create additional brick walls for yourself because you may not be searching as many records as you think you are.
Sometimes it works the other way. A database or source may contain more than the title indicates. Ancestry recently released Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans, 1879-1903. The title is the same title the National Archives gave to this series of records. Ancestry’s description and the description on the National Archives website indicate that the database includes a few veterans from wars besides the Civil War.

It would have been reasonable to assume the database and the original microfilm of the cards only includes Civil War Era veterans. The majority of stones were provided for Civil War veterans, but a handful of veterans from other wars had stones appear in this record series.
This is an excellent case of an instance in which–if I had only read the title–I might have missed something. In this case, had I not searched the database I would have missed the entry for James Kile, who died on 31 March 1852. I was looking for other Kiles and the James reference struck my interest. I originally thought the reference was for an “unknown” or unrelated Kile. But, as it turned out, it was for an ancestor of my wife, one who no longer even has a tombstone.
Read the description. The database or publication may contain more or less than you think.

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3 thoughts on “Tips from the Pros: More or Less Than What It Says, from Michael John Neill

  1. This is a great tip. Be especially alert if you are using the online version of the American Genealogical-Biographical Index (AGBI). Recently a friend told me she had found information about a Samson Polley of Boston that we were researching. She said that the AGBI reported he was born in Massachusetts in 1750, based on the “Heads of Households” compilation of the 1790 census. I knew that didn’t make sense, because the 1790 census didn’t report age or birthplace. I checked the print version of AGBI, which said that all heads of household in the 1790 census were listed with birthdate “175?.” In the on-line version, “175?” has been changed to “1750” and the state of the census has been entered in the “Birthplace” field. So both pieces of information are potentially misleading. Watch out!

  2. This is great advice for any novice researcher or any advance researcher. We have to know how to use the records we are reseaching in and those instructions are usually in the introduction or more about pages. Thanks for this article.

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