Genealogists need to be very patient people. The task of tracing a family back through history is a time consuming one IF it is done right. True research must always contain the element of proof. Think of a genealogist (amateur or professional) as a sort of history CSI (for all you non-TV watchers, that’s a Crime Scene Investigator.) A CSI must provide irrefutable evidence to be used in court to prove a crime was committed and who did it. These investigators don’t take someone’s word for it that something happened. Imagine trying to use that piece of information in a court room!
If you truly want to do quality research of your family tree, you must think of yourself as a CSI. Prove each and every relationship in the family line you are working on. Always ask yourself, “How do I know that?” “What proof do I have?” There will be times when all you have is circumstantial evidence. Its OK to take note of it. But, be sure you note that it is not ‘proven’ as of yet so that others will know that it isn’t proven yet. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought that circumstances proved something and then find out years later that I was off base. Believe me, you don’t want to get one generation wrong and then spend years investigating the wrong family line back through history!!
So, how do I get “proof?” Official documents and records that prove the fact you are looking for are the holy grail. They don’t always exist, but they are your primary target. Some ‘not so official’ documents also provide proof. Letters written by the subject that refer to places, people and relationships can be very good sources. There are lots of books written on ways to document your proof. So, I won’t go into that here. But, I do want to comment on the process and the dangers of research on the Internet.
The documents that prove relationships, residence, birth and death used to be very hard to come across. Finding them meant trips to dusty courthouse records rooms in out of the way little towns. You were lucky if you got to do this because that meant that the courthouse didn’t burn down years ago without your knowledge! Hours in libraries (I can smell those musty books now) and days of waiting for a response to snail mail inquiries to a county, state or federal government office made genealogy a very slow moving hobby or profession.
Today we have the Internet. Wow!! There are so many resourcs out there and so many people doing research. Someone may even be researching your same family line! Picture a giant yellow Caution Sign here! So many people have decided to trace their families without training and without sensitivity to the golden rule of proof that much of the data, family websites and discussions are fraught with errors.
Why is there so much erroneous data out there? Many amateur researchers are assuming that if the data is on the Internet, published in a book or in the format of a family tree that it is true. One person publishes erroneous information and then 10 people build their trees on it. You can see how the problem of bad information spreads like wildfire! Some unproven facts become sort of an ‘urban legend’ and are assumed as fact throughout the internet community.
Doing research by copying information from others on the internet that have not noted their resource documentation isn’t research. It lacks the golden rule of proof. Too many people are taking the internet data as gospel and are destroying the accuracy of their own family research by doing so.
Don’t get me wrong. Sharing is a great thing! Amateur Genealogists love to share their findings. The group of genealogy enthusiasts on the internet is a friendly and open group that loves to share what they’ve learned. You just have to practice safe research. Don’t adopt information without proof.
Remember the CSI has to prove his or her case. So do you!
Repeat after me, “What proof do I have that this is true?”