Golden Rules of Genealogy

If you are familiar with the world of Social Media, then you know there are various avenues in which to share ideas with the world.  One of these venues is Pintrest.  Simply speaking, it is a virtual bulletin board that you can pin recipes, ideas, quotes, and pictures to for a later date.  While perusing my account the other night, I came across this “Pin”, which was posted by a friend of mine.  It is from a website called: gotgenealogy.com, based out of Oakland, California.  My additions are italicized.  Just a little rules to remember.

Golden Rules of Genealogy

In no particular order

1.  Spelling Doesn’t Count – Back in the day folks couldn’t spell and many could barely write, so how a name sounds is more important than how it’s spelled.  Use wild card or Soundex Searches to help find variant spellings of names.  Remember…when researching in Berks County there is the added variant of multiple spellings of an ancestor’s name in German and how English speakers heard and spelled those German names.

 2.  Assume Nothing – Check all your facts, don’t assume that any particular document is right or wrong, and always try to find other independent sources to corroborate your facts as much as possible.  Verify, verify, verify.  For instance don’t assume that:

  1. your ancestors were married
  2. census information is accurate
  3. vital (or other) records were correct
  4. your ancestor’s life events were recorded
  5. ancestors had the same name as their enslaver
  6. that official documents (i.e. birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates) have always been in existence
  7. that our ancestors recorded the same kind of information we do today
  8. that life events and customs we celebrate today, were as important to our ancestors

3.  Use Discretion – NEVER LIE in your genealogy reports, but use discretion when reporting family information, especially when it involves living relatives.

4.  Always Document Your Sources, No Matter How Much They Contradict One Another – Over time, you will compile more data and those once seemingly contradictory pieces of evidence may prove to be just the pieces of the puzzle you need to prove or disprove your theory.  Be consistent as you cite your sources.  There are standard citation formats, but even if you just make up your own format for listing your sources, be consistent with it.  You want your descendants to be able to retrace your steps, so you always cite your sources.

5.  Most Dates Are Approximate – It’s okay to state that someone was born “abt. 1845,” or died “May 1915” if you don’t have an exact date or where various documents have different dates.  Which date is correct?”  They all are.

6.  If Unsure, Say So – Future researchers will thank you for being honest if you simply say that you cannot prove a specific fact, yet you “suspect” such and such is true.  Don’t fudge the facts.  EVER.

7.  You CANNOT Do it All Online – Yes, we love doing research online and there’s nothing better than using the computer to find new sources, view digital images of original documents and even connect with relatives.  For genealogists, the internet will never replace the wonderful work of libraries, county courthouses, archives, and historical societies.  Do as much as you can online, then turn off your computer and hit the bricks!  And, if you think it is so cool seeing that digital image of an original document, imagine what it would be like to hold it in your hands!

8.  Just Because It’s Online Doesn’t Mean It’s True – The internet is a wonderful thing but it’s filled with oodles of bad information.  Don’t make the mistake of believing anything you find online at face value.  Verify against other sources, even if you paid for the information you found online.  Consult the original source whenever possible.  This includes Ancestry.com.  They are an excellent place to start, but there is a lot of bad information floating around.  Never trust a source that doesn’t provide their citations.  If you can’t go back to the original, don’t believe the information.

9.  Pass Along Your Research – No matter how many decades you spend researching your family, your research will never be done.  Plan on passing along your research to the next generation of researchers.  Leave excellent notes, cite all your sources, explain your shorthand…in essence, leave your research the way you’d have liked to have found it.  Try not to abbreviate.  If you do abbreviate, write down the code and leave it where it can be found by researchers.  Abbreviations used today, did not mean the same today as they did in the past and vice versa; and they will not mean the same in 50 years.  Taking the time to write something completely, than abbreviating, will save future generations time in trying to decipher your work.

10.  Don’t Die With Your Stories Still In You – Diving credit to Dr. Wayne Dyer for his “Don’t die with your music still in you,” we want to remind you to tell the stories as completely and as accurately as possible.  Genealogy isn’t about just doing research.  Genealogy is about telling the stories and ensuring that your ancestor’s legacies live on for generations to come.  Without the stories, the research won’t do anyone much good.  The legacy of your ancestors rests in your capable hands.  Doing the research is fine, but always remember that you have been chosen to tell their stories.

11.  DNA Is Not A Trump Card – DNA is just one of many possible sources of information you can use to verify of deny a relationship.  Human error occurs when the results are transcribed, thereby providing false information.  DNA results should always be used in concert with other sources.

12.  Anything You Post Online Will Be “Borrowed” – You need to accept the fact that any family information you post online will be “borrowed” or outright stolen, and you will probably not get credit for all your hard work.  This is the nature of the beast…the internet.  Get over it.

13.  Don’t Assume Research is Free – Research takes time and money.  It is an investment, just like any hobby.  When contacting research institutions, don’t assume they will provide you with all the information you want for free.  These institutions have research fees.  These fees are used to keep the collections safe, the lights on and the doors open.  If you don’t want to pay the fees, visit the institution.  Most institutions have websites and research fees will be posted.  DO NOT mail in a request, without appropriate fees.

14.  Be As Specific As Possible – Know what you are searching for before calling or visiting a research institution.  Libraries, courthouses, archives and historical societies are keepers of original documents.  They provide these documents to assist with your research.  If your questions are too vague, information cannot be found or will be overlooked.  Also, remember to provide the research institution with the variation of spellings your ancestors used to help locate all appropriate information.

Voted Most Smartest

December is almost over and I am sitting here surrounded by a mound of collections that I would love to finish before January 2nd, but realistically will not have finished until the end of next year.  I am a little nostalgic this year, because of everything that has happened, and because I just finished the most awesome collection that can be found in almost every historical society across the country.  This collection is the most under-utilized and never thought of primary resource.  Do I have your attention yet?  Are you wondering what collection could possibly be THAT interesting?

One of the most interesting primary resources that goes virtually unnoticed are yearbooks.  That’s right….yearbooks.  Now, in Berks County, we have a ton of schools, including the Boy’s High School, Girl’s High School and Standard Evening High School which all became Reading Senior High School.  Some Townships had their own, like Shillington and Sinking Spring, until they merged into Wilson.  Then, like in the case of Oley, after a while started printing separate yearbooks for their Elementary School and Middle School.  These are just a few examples.  I still wonder how they came up with their names like Colophon (Wyomissing High School) and Muhltohi (Muhlenberg Township High School).  Maybe if I had the opportunity to read the inside it would be explained.

PLEASE NOTE:  when requesting yearbooks in the HJL, researchers should request by Township, except for Reading.  We all know the Arxalma is for Reading High School.

Now, why are they over-looked as primary resources?  Go, grab your senior yearbook.  Go ahead.  Open it up.  Now, when your done laughing at your hairstyle, clothes or what your friend wrote over her picture, really take a look.  Yearbooks, especially a full run, whether it’s yours from Kindergarten till graduation, or a 50 year run for a school district are a treasure trove of information.  While they “attempt” to document a school year, they actually chronicle clothing and hair styles, changes in attitudes and societal influences.  Often, they document “current” events for a particular year all under the auspices of “Memories”. Best of all, they have photographs.  So, if you can remember your grandmother’s maiden name and what year she graduated, you can see a picture of her, when she was 16, 17 or 18 and just starting to make her way in the world.

While they are a reminder of your past and 18 years of your life that some people want to forget, or in my case can’t really remember, they document a society.  Currently, my yearbooks are at my parents house in New York.  But I did happen upon one or two while processing for 1995.  I am a graduate of Newfane Senior High, Class of 1995.  In looking through those yearbooks, they reminded me of mine.  Even though there is (what seems like) a gazillion miles distance between Berks County and Newfane, NY, we all had the same hair styles, clothes, and un-stylish glasses.  We all acted the same, thought about the same things; all had the same hopes and dreams that were rudely dashed upon entering college.  We all struck out into this world wanting to contribute and make something of ourselves, just like our parents (Class of 1960-something) and our grandparents (class of 1930-something).  And lets face it…we all thought we had style back then!

So, while your home visiting family this Holiday Season, break out those yearbooks.  Whether they are yours or your parents, take a look.  You might be surprised at what you’ll learn or uncover within those pages that can add to a family discussion, or your research!

From all of us at the Henry Janssen Library have a very MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY HANUKKAH and a very safe and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Awkward Middle School Years