Friday, July 19, 2013

Understanding Records

It's really important to understand what a record is and where it's come from before attaching it to your tree. Take, for example,'s collection called "U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560-1900". We all know that information from other genealogist's tree can be inaccurate and that is essentially where this collection comes from. Always be sure to read the collection's description, in this case it says the following:
Original data: This unique collection of records was extracted from a variety of sources including family group sheets and electronic databases. Originally, the information was derived from an array of materials including pedigree charts, family history articles, querie.
All of these sources must be taken with a grain of salt because they are not actual historical records, despite the title of the collection. If you wouldn't trust data from someone else's tree unless it had the records to support it, you shouldn't trust this collection either.

Case in point, the following marriage listing for William H. Wood from this collection:
Name: William H Wood
Gender: Male
Birth Place: AL
Spouse Name: Jane D Bradley
Spouse Birth Year: 1822
Marriage Year: 1853
Number Pages: 1
This is incorrect because William's marriage record from is dated to January 3, 1839, which makes much more sense considering the 1850 census shows him already married to Jane and with several children, all born after 1839. Note that the description of this record collection from details that it's an index of church records and civil registrations, both reliable sources, although potential indexing errors must be taken into consideration, it is more reliable than a record collected from pedigrees and family group sheets. You'll also note that the indexing batch number on the record refers to an IGI batch number which also tells you about the source of the collection by what letter/number it begins with and provides instructions on how to find the original document.

William's death, confused with his marriage year in another
I believe the incorrect marriage year as 1853 has gotten mixed up with William's death year, since his death record has him dying August 23, 1853 of a congestive chill (shown right). Obviously, somewhere in the process of compiling the data for this "U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560-1900" collection, William's death year has been confused with his marriage year. This is a prime example of why I stopped adding "records" from this collection to my tree, I don't consider it an reliable source. And this is why it's so important to understand what a record is and where it's come from. Before you add it to your tree, always read the description of the collection and judge it's reliability.

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