27 April 2012

Yes, But.......How Do You Know?

Boy, Fridays are really starting to creep up on me. I have for some time been working on a post about citing sources properly. I was considering how to boil it down to the basics for the everyday family historian and then provide the sources I've used so you could get a deeper understanding on the subject. The problem was, I couldn't seem to get a good post without it being very lengthy (and honestly, come very close to being plagiarism). I didn't want to drown you in information, but I wanted you to understand the importance of citation and how to make it work for you. And then I got lost in my family research in a forest of unsourced trees and decided to change this from a post of "How To" to a post of "Please Do".

My own tree has been growing, and as I've stated in other posts, I'm currently rechecking my facts and merging several trees into one. That can take a minute. Well, I admit I got bored working on family lines I already had on maternal cousins and decided to set the big project aside and try my father's paternal line. For those of you who don't know me from Ancestry's Facebook page or the many genealogy forums I visit, my father didn't have much information for me when I approached him on grandpa's line. He couldn't remember dates, and barely remembered names (some not in the right order). For months I was stalled due to privacy laws in Kentucky. I couldn't order his birth certificate without parents' full names. I could order his Social Security application, but they'd black out his parents' names due to a recent change in federal law. Through sheer luck, I connected to a third cousin on Ancestry who had a Facebook page dedicated to my grandfather's paternal and maternal lines. She had photos, stories, some dates and proper names. I was even invited as a guest to the family tree.

So for the last two weeks, I've been looking at her family tree and the family's Facebook page for information. I had earlier noted that her tree was new and some censuses she had linked to may be incorrect. So while I used her tree as a jumping off point, I checked for records myself. I took the tree straight up as far as records would support. Every generation brought me new member connections, but I wasn't looking at what they claimed, I was looking for what I could support with documents from Ancestry's search. I started my log with my great grandfather Kemp Gibson. My cousins had photos of him and his father, Marcus. They even had Marcus' marriage record that had his parents' names. Good so far. Marcus lived to 1950, so many living relatives remembered him. The next generations were going to need a skeptic's eye as information was about to start coming second hand. As I said, I had Marcus' parents' names. He had lived with a brother in the 1900 census, so I was able to use their names and ages to determine the correct 1880 census. The hard part was getting over the missing 1890 census (for those who don't know), but thankfully Marcus was the youngest and living in 1880. I was able to follow his father James backwards to 1850 living with his parents, Joel and Frances. I was able to take Joel and wife to 1860 with their young children, but couldn't find them in 1870. The adult children had younger siblings living with them, so I could assume that the parents were dead. I turned to going backwards on Joel, but before 1850, censuses only listed head of household, so I found myself looking for other records. Birth, Marriage and Death are usually my next step, but Kentucky didn't regulate vital records until 1911. It's still possible to find them, but I'd most likely be looking at contacting a local courthouse, historical society or church for records. I was finding a Joel Gibson in a general Ancestry search, but he was in the Revolutionary War and died in 1850. Could he be related? After a very thorough search of Ancestry's categories on newspapers, periodicals, and military records, I decided to turn to the family trees and see what they had.

And what they had was a father named Bailey and his grandfather was the revolutionary Joel. What they didn't have was SOURCES. I had no idea how they made the jump from Joel to Bailey to Joel. Then a dear friend hit me upside the head and reminded me that Joel Jr. would possibly be listed in the DAR or SAR applications connected to Joel Sr. as an ancestor. Sure enough, she found it straight away. Only one revolutionary Joel Gibson and someone had applied using his son Bailey as an ancestor. I was able to order the application for $10, but not see the documents they used. Didn't matter, though, since a quick search of Ancestry showed that most of the sources they listed were now online! Using the DAR application as a secondary source, I used it to find the primary sources and confirm Joel Jr. to Joel Sr. via Bailey.

Then came Joel's parents. Ugh. I had his pension file and now several SAR/DAR applications, but no birth record. I was able to find his grave marker on FindAGrave.com, and a book about Henderson, Kentucky listed him (found via Google). I had a statement from his son Bailey confirming his death and the names of some of his children. Nothing about his parents. And what about family trees? Oh, I found several hundred trees. Some said his father's name was John; others Andrew; still others liked Thomas or William. His father was born in Virginia, or Scotland, or England. The only thing all these trees had in common? Not a single source proving their "facts". Through another Google search, I found another book done by a distant relative that traced his family back to Bailey's younger brother, Berryman. He had a whole appendix about who Joel's father was. Turns out, he didn't know either. The theory was it could be John or Andrew as there was some confusion and few records to disprove either one. There's a John Gibson with a will that lists his wife Mary, but doesn't name his children. Andrew had left land to Mary and her children.  Andrew could just as easily be John's father and John died first, leaving John's wife as the beneficiary in Andrew's will. Mary's will lists her as John's wife (assuming we have the right Mary), but there is evidence that she remarried to a John Cooper, so that could be in reference to him. There is a document (according to the sources in the book; I've not seen it yet) that states the marriage of John Cooper to Mary Gibson wouldn't affect her childrens' inheritance from their father. A website built by another family member put to it that Andrew was Joel's father based on a witness that showed up in the wills and land deeds often and thus tied them together. But again, could be that John Gibson died early and left his family in his father's care. I don't know because no one has a source proving any concrete fact! It's all "maybe" and "probably". And until I find a birth/death record, baptismal record, or some contemporary reference to the facts of the case, this is as far back as I'll take it. Those other trees? Well, some have gone all the way back to the 1500's! Not a dang source to be found for any generation above Joel Sr. How the hell do they know??????

And that's what it boils down to: How do you know? Where did you find the information, what did it say, and how reliable was the source? That's what citations tell us. Every fact on your tree (Name, birth/ death/ marriage dates, residences, military history, etc.) should have at least one source that can help the next researcher follow your lead. I've gotten a lot of help via member connect when there are sources. Saves me time on a search. If it's correct. I can't tell you the number of times that a source isn't for the right person, but may have a similar name. But even that helps me. If I can't figure out how you decided who their father was and your only source is for a census two states over for someone with the same name, but nothing else matches, then I know you are probably wrong about his parentage. And here's something people don't think about, but can help: when looking at a source that is actually an excerpt of another source, knowing where that information was taken from can help me find the initial document. On a friend's family line, I found an abstract of a will in a book. It listed the names of the family, named the witnesses and mentioned that the will divided the property to the children mentioned. I went looking for the will itself; and when I found it, the will happened to name the slaves that were part of the divided "property". Actual names! For someone researching a slave ancestry, they'd not find that will easily as the names aren't listed on the abstract. Making it even more interesting, one of the slaves named was living with the family and counted as a "freedman" on the next census! The census after he was their neighbor with his own family. If I had stopped at the abstract, I wouldn't have this information. The will isn't to be found on Ancestry, just the index. So I added the will (with a transcription of the whole document including the slave names) as another source next to the abstract. That way, the next researcher sees how we got from point A to point C.

So I'll end with this: Please source your facts! The last post I did was about logging your search, and that log should include your source citations. Any unsourced facts in someones tree shouldn't be taken as gospel, so when you know you have the fact right, show me how you got there! There are several books, videos, blogs and wikis on how to source. You can choose any way you like as long as you use that format consistently and it includes enough information to help others find exactly what you found. There is a book, Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills, that is a very detailed and wonderful book on how to cite sources for genealogy. It includes an explanation of the different sources and how each can be cited clearly. It even has a Facebook page now. I have also found an online citation generator and a quick page that is printed out and clipped to my note board above my desk. I source as I go, confident that anyone picking up my research will know exactly how to reproduce my research and confirm my conclusions. Can you say the same?

Leave me some bread crumbs, Hansel, so I can follow you home again!

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