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from the Ancestry Daily News
Analyzing Before Life and After Death Experiences?Note: This is one time the surnames and a few details have been tweaked so the actual families discussed in these stories cannot be identified.
I remember reading it in the family history as if it were yesterday.
"George Douglas, our immigrant ancestor, sailed for the Americas with the famous revolutionary Lafayette. George originally settled in Baltimore County, Maryland, where he married and where his children were born beginning in the 1710s; their births are noted in the church parish registers. He later moved to Virginia where he died in 1745."
Sounds all nice and good on the surface huh? Our family has a connection to a famous figure in American history. I was wondering about Lafayette though. George's dates did not seem consistent with having interacted with Lafayette, or else Lafayette was older than I thought.
The part about my ancestor (sans the Lafayette material) was pretty much cited in the book with references from a variety of contemporary records that I was easily able to locate. That part about Lafayette? Well that is another story--literally. A little research revealed that Lafayette was born in 1757 and made his original trip to America in 1777. Either my ancestor was having post-death experiences or the story is incorrect. If my ancestor is still having post-death experiences, I certainly wish he would return and answer a few questions for me. I'll be working on my list.
"John Thomas was born 1657 in England and died in Maryland in 1732. He came on the 'Ark' and the 'Dove' with Lord Baltimore's Catholic group, but was not listed on the ship papers because he was Protestant."
Again another connection with a famous incident -- this time in Maryland. John Thomas is not listed on the ship's list because he was he was not living when the "Ark" and the "Dove" arrived in the New World several decades before John's 1657 birth. Minor detail -- being alive in order to be on a passenger list. The dead may still vote in Chicago, but the yet to be born are rarely listed on passenger lists.
In this case, the author noticed John's omission from the list and tried to explain it away. While the reason given was plausible, the fact remains that John could not sail on the boat before he was born.
Of course, a significant part of proving any series of statements in a family history involves checking the facts as much as possible. Before that is done however, there are some things one can do to determine the reasonableness of the information in the first place.
Check the Dates
For my stories, simply validating the dates of the more famous part of the story (Lafayette and the landing of the "Ark" and the "Dove") allowed me to see that something was askew. In both these cases, the dates were simply too far off for the ancestor to be reasonably involved with the famous figure or event. While in some situations there may have been a family connection, it cannot be with the family members originally mentioned in these stories. And there may be absolutely no connection at all.
Put it in a Chronology
Do all the dates and events fit within a reasonable time frame? Or would your ancestors have had to travel 100 miles an hour in the 1850s to accomplish everything they supposedly did? Not only are chronologies excellent ways to present information, they can also be used to help see if something is out of sync with the information presented.
Check the Geography
Check the story against what is known about the residences of the people involved and the distance and type of geographic features between them. There may be cases where the timeline works, but the distances or travel difficulties involved do not.
Check Out the Remaining Details
Confirming the information the family history provides about your ancestor is also an integral part of checking the entire story. These details may fit together the best (since they just involve your ancestor) and may seem the most logical. And maybe they are. However, until actual records are accessed, it is impossible to know if the details of your ancestor (sans the famous connection) are true or not. In my story of George Douglas, the details of his children's birth and his death in Virginia were all documented by available records.
Where Do I Start?
A lady once showed me a five hundred-page history of her family and asked me, "Where do I start with it?" "Page one," came to mind, but instead I asked her, "Who is your closest relative in the book?" She indicated she herself was mentioned. I told her that the book may be correct in virtually every detail, or it may contain numerous errors. I could not just glance at the book and instantly determine whether it was of the first or second variety. I suggested that she use the book as a reference point in locating census, local courthouse type materials, cemetery and other records in an attempt to verify the information in the book involving her direct ancestors, one generation at a time. I was left with the impression that she didn't want to do any checking and that she simply wanted to copy the information down for her own files.
Personally, I use published books to help me build a research scaffold. I'll copy relevant pages and make a variety of notes regarding sources I should utilize in order to double-check material located in the original published reference.
Sketching out a few family group charts or short pedigree charts also helps to provide some additional perspective. However, I try to avoid the temptation to draw out fifteen-generation charts based upon what's in the book. There's no way I'm going to document fifteen generations in one afternoon and it is usually advised to work on one generation at a time, beginning with the more recent and working back. And so far I have not made my way back to THAT Adam and Eve, no matter what some of my family histories might say. (I am related to Adam and Eve, but that's another story!
Michael John Neill, is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him or visit his website at: www.rootdig.com/, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.
Copyright 2003, MyFamily.com Inc.
Articles by Michael John Neill
---type in your surname or county and state in the search box that comes up on the left hand side of your screen. I've found and purchased several books this way!