Saturday, October 27, 2012

Questions About Hearsay Evidence, Analyzing the Data, Land Descriptions and Mistakes in Documents

Public Service Announcement: There are only 5 more FREE Legacy Family Tree Webinars left in 2012. The 2013 schedule isn't out yet. They are: Researching Your Canadian Ancestors - An Overview by Claire V. Brisson-Banks, Genealogy for Novices: Where Do We Begin? by Linda Geiger, The Big 4 U.S. Record Sources by Mary Hill, 10 Ideas for Great Gifts Using Your Family Photos by Thomas MacEntee and Researching Your Irish Ancestors: Beyond the Basics by Judith Eccles Wight.

Mark asks:
"About the letter you mentioned in your Unusual Sources post, could you even use that as a source? It isn't really any sort of official document. Wouldn't that be hearsay evidence?"

The letter would be a source for the death/burial of the man mentioned. The lady that wrote the letter was the man's daughter and the letter was written shortly after his death (she was announcing the death to the extended family). I consider this a very credible source. This would be no different than using a family Bible as a source. You need to ask yourself was the person that wrote the information in a position to have first hand knowledge. If I wrote a letter to a friend of mine telling her all about when my daughter Kelly was born that would be considered credible since I am in a position to know when and where Kelly was born. Genealogists use personal letters, diaries, and journals all the time as sources. You just need to evaluate how credible you think the information is. You also do this with official documents. Many times the information contained in "official" documents is in incorrect. Think of all of the errors on census records. I have a marriage record of one of my relatives where he stated it was his first marriage when it was really his 3rd. EVERY piece must be evaluated no matter where it came from.

Question from Darren:
"When you are "analyzing the data" [see Analyzing the Data and More Analyzing the Data] do you enter your theories into your file or do you put all this information into the notes area?"

It depends. Date estimations go right into the file as do places guesses. I can use qualifiers for both such as "about 1843," "before 1900," "after 1702," "between 06 Feb 1806 and 1808" etc. and "of North Carolina," "Marion County, Mississippi (probable)," "Choctaw County, Alabama (most likely)" etc. I do explain how I came up with these approximations in my notes. Things more involved than dates and places go in the notes such as theories on who a person's spouse was and theories on who the most likely parents are. As soon as I have my circumstantial case written up then I can add things like that to the actual database.

Question from Kathy:
"Have you ever found a land description that you couldn't draw out?"

Public Land Survey System (PLSS), no.
Metes and Bounds, yes.

T. J. asks:
"What do you do when you see something on a census record that you know isn't right? The 1930 census has my grandfather's name and age wrong but it is definitely him."

You record ALL information that you find, even if it conflicts with the other data that you have. All of the genealogy programs have the capability to record alternate names and conflicting information. In Legacy (the computer program that I use), I would enter the name as an AKA with the census as a source. I would enter the birth year in as a conflicting birth date event with the census as the source. In the notes area of the event I would explain why I think the date to be incorrect. You need to do this so that you can show that you checked the 1930 census and that you are aware of the conflicting data that it contains. What you don't want to do is ignore it, or worse, change the data to what you think it should be.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. I've found a few Public Land Survey System descriptions that gave me difficulty because they were not written correctly in the deed books. Very frustrating!

  2. Arg! The only thing you can do in that case is follow the piece of land back in time to the previous sale and see how the land was described there.