Sunday, August 5, 2012

Questions About Vital Records, Hearsay, Errors in Online Trees and Computer Programs

Question from Bob:
How do you know when a state started recording births, deaths and marriages? Is there an easy way to check?

There isn't one single clearinghouse for every jurisdiction and every type of record. You can check when a state officially started recording births and deaths by going to the state level department of health website [easy internet search] but sometimes they were recording these things earlier at the county level. Marriages are almost always at the county level and they were almost always recorded much earlier than birth and deaths were. This is one of those times when you really need to understand the jurisdiction where you are researching. As I find this information I record it in my Research Binder. There is a big variation depending on what part of the country you are researching. New England is famous for its records. They liked to record everything at the town level and some of those records go way back. Before civil records, many of the vital type records were recorded at the local church. There just isn't one single place you can check that will give you everything you need to know for your location. There are a couple of resources that will give you a good overview of what is available; however, you will still need to check with each individual jurisdiction.

Question from Helena:
What is the right way to record your source when you were just told this information by someone else?

First you need to decide what type of correspondence this was. Did you speak to the person in person, on the telephone, in an email? You also need to record WHY you think this information is credible. Was this first hand knowledge of the person you talked with? Did they hear it from someone else? Not only are you recording where you got the information, you want to also record why you believe it to be true. You can add information at the end of your citation to clarify this. Here are a couple of examples from my own file. The examples show how the citation would appear in my footnotes:

  • Marie Knight Simmons (Slidell, LA), telephone interview by Michele Simmons Lewis, 1997 [Ms. Simmons was Maude (Swilley) Simmons’ daughter-in-law].
  • Leonard Slade (Purvis, MS), personal interview by Michele Simmons Lewis. 2000 [Mr. Slade was the president of the Lamar County Historical Society and curator of the museum at the time of this interview. The author of this report viewed the photograph in the museum but was also unable to identify Jim and Eliza Jane Simmons].
  • William Houston Simmons (Purvis, MS, deceased), personal interview by Michele Simmons Lewis, 1976 [Houston stated this was told to him by his father, James “El” Simmons who was Silas’ grandson. He did have some personal knowledge as well. “Back in the 50s [1950s] they threw away all of the stuff Silas had made. I can’t remember who it was that died but that person had Silas’ furniture. The children threw it all away saying it was old junk and they were going to buy new stuff.”].
  • Elizabeth Simmons Grimes (Jonesboro, GA), telephone interview by Michele Simmons Lewis, 1992 [Elizabeth was told by her grandfather, John Cole Simmons, that John J. Simmons’ son Napoleon Bonapart Simmons was a “woods colt” meaning he was born out of wedlock. It is unknown who Napoleon’s mother was but John Cole Simmons stated that it was not Sarah Elizabeth Garraway whom John later married. John Cole Simmons’ grandfather was John Colon Simmons, first born son of John J. Simmons and Sarah Elizabeth Garraway].
  • Howard Simmons (Columbia, MS, deceased), telephone interview by Michele Simmons Lewis, 1992 [Howard visited the cemetery in 1937 and again in 1946 with George Simmons [grandson of Silas Simmons, son of Benjamin Franklin Simmons]. George told Howard that is where Silas Simmons, his wife Janet and their son Thomas were buried. There is a stack of fieldstones still there. George would have certainly known where Silas and Janet were buried since his father would have shown him].
Elizabeth Shown Mills is considered the expert on how to cite your sources in genealogical research. The first book is the one I like to recommend to beginning genealogists. The citations are a little less complicated. Elizabeth's second book is expanded and updated and it includes many more examples of the types of documents you will come across. This book can be a bit daunting to beginners but it is excellent.

Question from Lois:
Do you think I should contact people when I see mistakes in their online trees? Someone has my great-grandmother married to her brother-in-law instead of her real husband.

When I see a glaring error, I do try to contact the person that submitted the online tree. When I do, I try to be very nice and I always back up what I say with the evidence I have. Having said that, sometimes I don't contact the person because the error is in many trees and I just can't take the time. The problem with online trees is people copy the information to their own files (errors and all) without checking the sources themselves. You might want to stick around for tomorrow's blog post. I go a little more into detail and I will be telling you about a change of attitude I have had regarding this situation.

Question from Anonymous:
What is the best computer program to use for genealogy?

There is no best program. Everyone has their own opinion. I use Legacy Family Tree. The only other program I have personally used is Family Tree Maker. I like Legacy better but that is just me. Here are a few of the other top programs:

There are a lot of people that don't use a genealogy database program on their computer but rather they keep all of their data online. I personally wouldn't do this but again, that is just my opinion. There is also a large group of people that love Personal Ancestral File (PAF) which is free from the Family History Library. It has been around forever. The bad news is, there were be no more updated versions though you can still download and use the last version. FamilySearch now has online trees so PAF will be phased out. It is a good program though and I know that many people plan to continue using it. There are also people that have more than one program on their computer because they like certain features of one and other features of another. That would be way too confusing for me! Read the program websites and talk with people who actually use these programs. Some of these programs come with trial versions so that you can try it out yourself before making a decision.

Question from Morris:
Do you scan all of your documents into the computer and then add them to your Legacy file?

Do I have to answer this one? I have more than 20 years worth of documents that aren't scanned. They are in 15 three-inch binders. When I get a new document I sometimes scan it and sometimes I don't. When I get 20 marriage records from a courthouse at one time chances are I am not going to scan them. I have maybe 80ish total records scanned into my computer. If I find an online image of a document then yes, I save it to my hard drive because it is easy to do. However, I have never done this with census records because it takes too long and I can always go back and look at them online. Yes, I know I am not a good example. I should go back and scan everything that I already have and scan everything new that comes in. The problem with not having all of this on your computer is that it makes it harder to share things with other researchers and you can't take all of your research with you when you travel. The documents that I do have on my computer are not attached to my Legacy file. I love Legacy but I am not a big fan of how it handles documents. I have them saved in a system of file folders so I can find whatever I need in a flash.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

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