The Price We Pay For Sloppy Record Keeping

Elsewhere on the site, we’ve discussed relying on well-sourced genealogy records in your family tree hunt. Because we want reliable sources, it’s even more important to make sure our own sources are well documented. This article discusses what I’ve learned about documentation and offers some helpful tips based on my own experiences.

After using several different genealogy programs over the years, exporting and importing my own data into gedcoms each time, and just “dabbling” with these lines of research, I found I had over 6,000 individuals, 26 generations of information, 1241 different surnames, and very little of it still had the sources listed! Don’t get me wrong, I had sources – 103 of them to be exact. But compare that to my “main” database that I’ve worked with almost daily during the same time period – 489 sources for 8500 names. To a lot of researchers in this day and age, that’s considered a small database. However, that is 8500 names relating to ONE surname and that breaks out to an average of one source per every 17 names as compared to my poor, pathetic database of 6,000 individuals, which has one source per every 59 names. The most terrible thing was that on my computer, I HAD scanned copies of many of the sources; I had just never gotten around to entering them properly.

Let’s look at a specific example, shall we? When my daughter was preparing for college and we were lining up all the financial information, I told her that this was a case where my genealogy would come in handy. There are $2,000 scholarships available through the Daughters of American Revolution organization. One of my genealogy friends mentioned this to me two years earlier. I told her I would be able to pull that information together in a snap because my database had several direct ancestors who had fought in the American Revolution. KNOWING it is one thing – PROVING it is an entirely different matter. Benjamin Newton, my great-great-great-great-grandfather, was one of the Patriots. I went to look at the database and my notes said, “fought in the American Revolution.” That was it! Bonnie was a baby when I was working on those lines. I had another half-dozen generations of Newtons traced further back than Benjamin. So what did I have listed for sources – nothing! What did I have on my computer? A document written and signed by Benjamin supporting a claim for a pension by his friend, Isaac Brewer.

Benjamin Newton signature
My evidence that Benjamin fought in the Revolution

What records did I have to support my lineage to Benjamin? What primary documentation did I have to show I was even related to my own grandfather? NONE! It was time to get my record keeping in order! I’ve always been a big fan of printing out or making copies of each source as I run across it, along with the title page. I just needed to get better organized about entering those sources into my database. Tedious work but necessary if I was to prove what I claimed about my ancestors, not only for a college scholarship but for my family and descendants who will be learning about their ancestry through my research.

An important thing that a lot of researchers forget to do when gathering sources is to collect the ones that relate to themselves and their parents as well as their ancestors. Obtaining copies of our own birth certificates and those of our parents is sometimes so easy that we put it off. If you like to keep a scanned version of your sources, scan a copy and put in that electronic file. If you like having hard copies, then make a copy and put with your genealogy. I don’t recall any researcher ever complaining of having too much documentation!

Lessons Learned:

  • Start Out (or start from here on out) to enter those sources when you enter those ancestors.
  • If you’ve printed out these sources, put them in binders or files where you can lay your hands on them easily – don’t let the papers overrun your workspace!
  • If you switch programs, look RIGHT THEN to see if your sources attached to your data.
  • Write dates and locations on those hardcopies so you’ll know if you found them in the library, online, or in your Aunt Millie’s attic!

Do a job that you will be proud to hand down to your own descendants!

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