Pirates of the Pedigree: An Update and A challenge

“Only a fool knows everything. A wise man knows how little he knows.”

Dear Myrtle (Pat Richley) gave the keynote presentation at the Logan Family History and Genealogy Jamboree. The theme of the program was Pirates of the Pedigree–complete with a short pirate movie and a 6-foot 6-inch pirate! She lovingly showed us the memory picture blanket which she made for her Dad, who is very elderly and unwell. A beautiful gift which touched us all.

Her own Pirates experience was a malfunctioning power-point presentation (don’t you know how just when you depend on technology, something goes awry.) And Myrt did a brilliant job of sharing all the pirates that steal the genuine treasure: no documentation, no reference to sources whatever, no title page or copyright information for printed data, repeating the errors of the past without attempting to find the truth, merging the evidence from conflicting data so the differences cannot be evaluated, and so on.

Then she shared the news that Ancestry.com would no longer be free at our local Family History Centers. And the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities will digitize and index all United States newspapers from 1690 (Boston Transcript) on and this glorious new database would be FREE at http://www.loc.gov. Sixteen states had already scanned their papers from 1900-1910.

And the students at Brigham Young University are scanning family histories–the computer compares frame by frame against the original books for accuracy. About 5,000 volumes are being completed each month. They have learned how to remove the black that always seems to border the pages! So we can print sharp, white, easy to read copies. This database will be part of http://www.familysearch.org.

Several years ago, my husband and I learned of a Johnston relative, who had visited Virginia in the 1880’s with a sketch book and a diary. He was just 16 years old and he planned to stay with his cousins all summer. He drew the houses he visited, the churches he attended, the cemetery where his ancestors were buried, the river that wound lazily past the old Johnston home. And in his diary he copied the tombstones and described the pretty girls he met. He travelled on the train to see his Uncle Hall and told us, to the mile, where this Uncle lived. So we knew exactly which Hall family he meant.

When he turned 100 years old, Lee Johnson, was the Grand Marshall of the parade honoring the town of Murtaugh ID where he lived. They were both 100 that day. When the parade was over, his family took him home to rest before the fireworks later that evening. Lee gathered up his belongings, built a large fire at the edge of the orchard, and began to dispose of “all his junk” so he could meet his Maker unfettered by this earth life.

Luckily for his descendants, including our genealogy, his son went home to check on him in time to save the sketch book and diary! When we got to Murtaugh that summer afternoon, we could copy those precious records.

I have just spent two whole days, long and a little depressing days getting ready to put Harry Hollingsworth’s research files into file drawers. As he prepared for the end of his life, Harry “thinned” his files so they would not take up so much room. On the folder he noted the date, the number of pages in the file, the number he destroyed, and the number remaining in each file. For some files, he made a descriptive list of the papers he destroyed–“her letters dated …” “new address and phone number …” “photostatic prints of Thomas Alden’s will …”

As I reflected on what if the things he destroyed contained essential facts, my mind’s eye brought into sharp focus my research trip to Little Falls MN and my experience in the Probate Office. My objective on that trip was to discover the place in Sweden where the Carlsson (Americanized to Carle) family originated. Consider my shock when I discovered that the probate files had been “thinned” so they did not take up so much space. George Carlsson’s file included the important notation that he had received a bequest from his grandfather in Sweden–BUT, only the amount showed on the account record. The name of the grandfather and the location in Sweden had been “thinned!”

“Oh! No!” I cried aloud. The probate clerk, was most sympathetic as she assured me that they had only “thinned” non-essential papers from the files. The law was very clear what papers had to be retained. The law did not recognize the cover letter from the legal office in Sweden as necessary!

A challenge to each reader of this Genealogy News Sheet: Protect your genealogy files. Do not “thin” them. As we age, importance ages too. We forget how hard we worked to find and document and prove ancestors. We forget that the very process of where we looked and did not find is as important to careful proof as where we did find the answer. And we forget the persons we looked at and eliminated are a part of the proof.

When I research a hard-to-find ancestor (you understand that I am only hired to solve the really hard-to-find, 20+-year-old genealogy research problems), I want to know where you looked and who you elminated from consideration. I also want to know who you looked for. Remember and realize that the information you take out of the records determines who you have as candidates for the ancestor. If there are three Matthews and you only extract the information for one of them–how do I know if you got the right one? how do you know if I got the right one?

These are real Pirates of the Pedigree –not enough data in the pool. If you must get rid of your files, send them to me. Just don’t thin them out, even if you give me a descriptive list of the stuff you cull. Your notes and your findings tell me how you arrived at your conclusions. If your research is faulty, I can see where you went astray. If your work is correct, I can see that too.

We both become April Fools when the Pirates of the Pedigree are abroad in the land. Your favorite genealogist–because I want it all. Arlene Eakle

P.S. We still have calendar issues to talk about. Do you know that the stars revolve more slowly around the sun and earth than the moon? And that ship’s logs, geared as they are to the stars, usually contain errors of date! You don’t want to miss the next post.



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