Friday, November 15, 2013

Why you need to really “know” the location

Yesterday I posted a Lamar County, Mississippi marriage license and the day before I posted a Lamar County death certificate.  I know a lot about Lamar County (and its parent county Marion).  I know the geography and the history.  I know about the businesses, churches and the schools.  I know who the movers and shakers were in the history of the county.  Because I am so well-acquainted with Lamar County I can understand and interpret things on Lamar County documents better than someone who has never done research in Lamar County before.  In the last two days I noted some of these interpretations on the list of information extracted from the documents.  Contrast that with the post I did on 12 Sep 2013 where I extracted the data from Charles Henry Simmons’ death certificate.  Everything I extracted was pretty generic because this was a random death certificate on a random person in a random state. I chose someone I didn’t know on purpose to show you how to extract information.  I did this to show that you can extract information from any document, even one that you have no clue about.   I was still able to extract a lot of information but without any background knowledge my analysis/interpretation of this evidence is limited. 

The point is, the better you know a location and its people, the better you will understand the records and there will be less of a chance that you will make false assumptions.  At the very least, you should be reading local history books whenever you are working in a new county.  The older the books, the better.  Older books are a good thing anyway because they are out of copyright and available for free online.  Why older? Simply because they will have been written closer to the time you are studying so they should be more accurate (though older accounts of events tend to be embellished a bit).  Old genealogies are great too.  Even if they aren’t sourced they can be fairly accurate because the people interviewed by the author are more likely to have had first hand knowledge.  Church histories are great.  Knowing who founded the church, who the original members were and who donated the land is very helpful.  Know a little bit about the local businesses.  When and by whom were they founded.  Contemporary local history books often contain church and business histories. 

Communities change names over time and that is another thing you will pick up on in local histories.  For example, the county next door to Lamar is Forrest.  There is a community there named Carnes.  It used to be called Helena way back when and you will see references to Helena in old documents and in newspaper accounts.  That is something that you just need to know if you want to know where, geographically, something occurred.  Cemeteries like to change names too.  I am dealing with that right now.  An entire branch of my family is buried in the Grantham Cemetery in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana.  Apparently this used to be known as the Purvis Cemetery because the land was owned by the Purvis family.  Over time, as more and more Granthams were buried here, it became known as the Grantham Cemetery.  Churches are notorious for changing names.  In Lamar County you have Burnt Bridge Baptist Church.  It’s real name is Mt. Zion but no one ever calls it that.  Many years ago the wagon bridge leading over to the church was burnt and thus the name change.  Right here in the county where I live (Columbia County, Georgia) there is a church named Lewis Memorial United Methodist Church.  If you didn’t know the history of the area and found that your relative was buried at Sardis Methodist would you know it was the same place?  Ellis Lewis donated land and money to the church years ago and they changed the name of the church.  As a matter of fact, the entire Sardis community is now know as Lewiston. 

This is the sort of information you need to know to be able to properly evaluate and interpret evidence that you find on documents.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. I read and appreciate your posts all the time - just wanted to say how much I appreciate this one - thank you for all the help you give to all of us!!

  2. Thanks so much, Anita, for your very kind comments :)

  3. Hi Michele
    A great suggestion! I know you use Legacy, also my software of choice.

    I know that different people enter certain information differently. There has been a lot of debate over the last year about using the Genealogical Proof Standard. Where in the software would you record conflicting information, sources analysed and a conclusion for a fact?

    It is always interesting to see how someone else does things (I learned a lot from the Legacy Unlocked book.


  4. I answered this on your other comment but I will copy and paste my answer here too. I will tell you that Version 8 will make it a little easier because there will be a built in "Analyze Source Quality" feature when you add a source. You will be able to specify the source as original, derivative, authored or I don't know. You can specify the information as primary, secondary or I don't know and you can specify the evidence as direct, indirect, negative or I don't know. This is patterned after the GPS model. As far as how I record conflicting evidence, some people like to create a conflicting birth (or whatever) event. I don't do it this way because I think it clutters up the timeline (just me). I keep all of this information in the research notes section. I have proof statements and mini proof arguments in my notes. If I do a full blown case study I write it up in Word, save it as a pdf, and then attach it to the person in Legacy so that is always right there.