Have You or Someone Else Sub-Primed Your Genealogy?

The 2007 buzz word, which will now appear in all the dictionary new word lists, is sub-prime(d).   Markets have downturned.  Sectors are losing expectations.  Consumers will pay higher interest for less value.  Lenders are discounting losses on their balance sheets.  All sub-primed!

Well meaning government clerks, book and index editors, and genealogists combine evidence in separate documents for persons of similar and “soundexed” names—creating a sub-primed genealogy.  Genealogy ghosts–that’s what they are.  And we innocently grab these ghosts in both original and transcribed records.  Then we blissfully build new pedigrees that have no basis in reality.  They simply appear real.

Let me give you some examples from my research experience these past few weeks:

  1. Duncan/Dungan.  These are both separate surnames found in the same legal documents in Southwestern Pennsylvania.  A well-meaning editor combined them into one index–which is rather common as genealogy indexes go.  The index was a product of his combining the will of John Dungan with the probate accounts of the estate of John Duncan.  So John Dungan, an unmarried man who leaves extensive real estate in PA and KY to his brother Joseph Dungan and “compensation” undefined to a relative Levi Dungan for taking care of John in his final illness–the real man, becomes a married man with a wife and seven children–a ghost.  And John Duncan, whose administration is accounted for, is lost forever.  UNLESS you read the original documents and keep them separate in your own genealogy.    
  2. Kelley/Kettey.  The Bishop’s Transcripts include a Lawley-Kettey marriage entry.  The typed transcript of the parish register entry includes a Lawley-Kelley marriage.  These are both copies made from the original register.  It would seem an easy task to locate and read the original to see how the clerk wrote the entry.  The original register is not at the FHL.  It could be in the local Museum or in the archives of the nearby technical College or preserved in the county Record Office or still among the records in the parish itself.  Doable, rather than easy.  We will request a photocopy or photograph of the original entry so we can study it.  Just to complicate the problem a little:  the first clerk, who copied the Bishop’s Transcripts of the register in the late 1500’s, crossed double ll’s in each name.  The next clerk self-crossed each t.  The third clerk drew a line through double tt’s.   We know how the Bishop’s Transcripts are written.  We need the original document.
  3. Pool(e)/Pettypool.  The county recorder indexed the Pools, Pooles, P’pools, and the Pettypools all together.  Deeds.  Marriages.  Wills.  I read and copied the index entries.  Then I went to the original documents to separate them out so I could study each entry and match them for fit.  Are the Pools and the Pettypools the same family?   In the printed Pettypool Genealogy, marriages were given in an alpha list in the Appendix.  There were marriages there, that do not appear in the county records.  WOW!  What to do?  Took me a long time to find those marriages.  They were recorded in the Dinwoodey Distillery Accounts–a business ledger now available at the Virginia Library.  Question:  Why were they recorded in such a strange source?  Answer:  Business accounts are legal documents admissable in a court of law should there be any need to verify a date.  Today they are related by both blood and marriage.  Then the Pool family members were transplants into that county, they did not originate there nor were they related to the Pettypools.  Soundexes are designed to find these anomalies by mixing the variants together, not to prove they are the same families.  Do not mix them together.

Sub-primed! Each of these examples are not meant to mislead or to build a pedigree ghost.  The creators of the misread and merged ancestors were trying to make genealogy faster and easier.

Remember, my biggest and best genealogy research strategy–search the indexed, usually printed, records first.  The strategy is still a good one–as a first step!  Next, read the original documents.  And keep them separate.  Do not mix them as you go along in your research. 

Evaluate your documents.  Carefully.  What fits?  What doesn’t fit?  What internal clues lie in the documents that you can follow up?

The index, the printed record, the compiled genealogy–is a tool.  You will never live long enough to work your way through hundreds of rolls of microfilm–and neither will I, if you hire me to do the searching.

Use all the tools available to you.  But check the documents.  Also read the prefaces and introductions to each tool.  Is it a work in progress?  Were the index entries computer-input or digitized and edited by someone who speaks the language of the records?  Or who has been trained to read the old handwritings?

Documents require research just as the ancestors named in them do.  I personally like to make a physical copy, on paper, of each document so I can study and compare each against other records.  I can write on the document.  I can do the math right on the document.  I can pose questions right on the document.  That is my preference and I create massive paper files.  I do not mix the documents.

You can also digitize or scan your documents onto a disc, or computer hard drive, or flash drive.  Then study them on your computer screen.  Your notes are more efficient when they are attached to the document.   So I recommend that you enter each document into your genealogy program separately–do not mix them.

Create a summary as your genealogy.  It too is separate. 

Your favorite genealogy evidence guru, Arlene Eakle.  http://www.arleneeakle.com

PS I speak in San Diego on 12 Jan 2008 all day.  One of my topics is Genealogy Evidence.  I will demonstrate why I have a 96% success rate in tracing hard-to-find ancestors. 
Why not register to come and see how I research, collect, and evaluate the evidence for each ancestor?  Check my speaking schedule for details.

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