by Juliana Smith
Last week I got an e-mail from a conservation group that regularly sends me alerts and newsletters. The headline, â€œCPR Can Save Wildlife,â€ caught my attention, and when I looked at the photograph of grizzly bears next to it, I really did a double take. Were they suggesting that people should perform CPR on grizzly bears? Sounds kind of risky to me! As I read on, I realized that by CPR they meant the Canadian Pacific Railway and that made a bit more sense.
How often in our genealogy research do we run into similar problems? Maybe more often than we realize.
Itâ€™s important to remember that geographic abbreviations havenâ€™t remained static over the years. Ia., commonly thought of as the abbreviation of Iowa, was at one time commonly used as the abbreviation for Indiana. NB may have meant New Brunswick or Nebraska.
When we think of the Northwest, we might think of the Pacific Northwest (such as is represented in the map of The Northwest, 1865-90), but a couple hundred years ago, the Northwest Territory was actually the area which now comprises Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota. (As shown in this map of The United States, 1783-1802)
Last week, George gave us a great reminder in the Tips from the Pros regarding how we record locations. Not only should we take care in how we interpret the way a geographic location is listed in a record, we also need to take care in how we cite it in our family history, both for ourselves and for those we intend to share our family history with.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
Sometimes in our joy at finding a new record, we may misinterpret a date as well, or perhaps jump to an incorrect conclusion. Those of you who have read some of my previous columns have probably heard me mention â€œBishop Loughlinâ€™s Dispensations, Diocese of Brooklyn, 1859-66, Volume I,â€ by Joseph Silinonte. The book covers dispensations to marry that were granted by Bishop Loughlin of Brooklyn, New York, for couples who had some type of impediment to being married in the church. The book lists the brideâ€™s name, groomâ€™s name, place of nativity, residence, names of parents, a date and church code, and for some, a number representing comments listed in another part of the book that list other important information, mostly the names of deceased husbands of widowed prospective brides.
Since these are marriage banns, one might jump to the conclusion that the date provided is the marriage date, but in fact the introduction tells us that, â€œFrom reading over 5200 marriage Dispensations it does not appear to be the date of the marriage, though it could be. It most likely is the date Bishop Loughlin entered the information or request into his records.â€ Without reading the foreword it would be easy for a researcher to jump to the conclusion that the date was a marriage date, while the actual date might be months off.
Other more common cases where we may find dates being confused include births and baptisms, and deaths and burials. Once I caught myself grabbing the date a doctor began treating the deceased on a death certificate, rather than the date of death. If weâ€™re not careful, these are easy mistakes to make, and that is why it is so important to see documentation for data obtained from other people, whether through them sharing it or by obtaining it yourself. Even if the date is off only by a small amount of time, it can make a huge difference if we are using that date to request other records.
To be clear on what is meant in records, databases, print publications, or any other genealogical source, we often need to look beyond the actual record itself. Look at the purpose of the record. Might an ancestor have lied about his age on a military record to get into (or out of) the service? Look at who created the record or provided the information. Did a nephew, cousin, friend, or neighbor provide information for a death certificate or obituary–someone who really might not have the correct date or place of birth? Or perhaps the funeral home got it wrong. The funeral card for my great-grandfather lists 1879 as his date of birth. Fortunately for us, one of the surviving cards has, in my grandmotherâ€™s handwriting, â€œDate is wrong. Dad was born in 1869.â€
If youâ€™re using a publication, database, index, or some other compilation, read introductory materials. For census records, check out the instructions given the enumerators.Â This information is critical to your analysis of your findings and can make the difference between taking the right path or the wrong path.
Look at your interpretations–do an audit of your records and see if perhaps in the midst of a little happy dance, maybe you grabbed the wrong date, or even mistyped it. And when youâ€™re looking to incorporate someone elseâ€™s family history into yours, use the same standards you use in your own research. Make sure youâ€™re clear on the facts, sources, abbreviations, and anything else that could be confused. The consequences wonâ€™t be as dire as giving CPR to a grizzly, but doing so will help you keep your family history on the right path.Â
Juliana Smith has been the editor of Ancestry.com newsletters for more than eight years and is author of The Ancestry Family Historian’s Address Book. She has written for Ancestry Magazine and wrote the “Computers and Technology” chapter in The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, rev. 3rd edition. Juliana can be reached by e-mail at Juliana@Ancestry.com, but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.
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