It is always a waste of time to "reinvent the wheel." In genealogy we
do not want to spend the time and money to discover information that has
already been published. Genealogies already in print are a source of information
that should not be overlooked. Genealogy is an ancient custom and there
are genealogy charts that were created hundreds of years ago. However,
until recently, a family genealogy was found almost exclusively in upper
class families and its purpose was to show that they were a noble and
Genealogies of American families from the 19th and early 20th centuries
were produced for many families to prove descent from early founding fathers
(especially passengers on the Mayflower), ancestors who participated in
the Revolutionary War or descent from European nobility. If a black sheep
was discovered, his history might be improved upon to make fit reading
or his line might be dropped from the book.
Research during this time period (and up until about 20 years ago) was
much different than it is now. Amateur genealogists pursued their hobby
primarily by writing to other family members to see what they knew of
the family. Much of the information came from memory or perhaps one or
two documents. If the family had remained in an area for generations,
the researcher could pursue local records. Many records were kept at the
town level and there were few indexes. Indexes on a statewide level were
almost non-existent. Distant records or those in a foreign country would
have to be written for and record-keepers in those days were probably
just as reluctant to dig through old, stored records as they are now.
Most people were never able to take a trip to Europe, let alone one for
the purpose of doing genealogy research. Many genealogies from this period
did not have source citations. The family had discussed who was related
to whom amongst themselves and it was just common knowledge.
For these reasons, these genealogies may contain many errors. The censuses,
indexes, vital and church records simply were not available. However,
the information contained in these compilations is a good starting place.
Information supplied in 1920 could have come from a woman born in 1850.
Her great-grandparents could have been alive during the Revolution and
may have told their children of their experiences. One of their children
would have been this woman's grandparent who could have repeated these
stories when she was a child. Thus an oral history of an event 160 years
ago could have been passed on with only two tellings. There is often a
kernel of truth in family stories. The truth may be somewhat different,
but some part of it is probably true. (Although in one family I researched,
the family story was the man became a priest and immigrated to Australia
where he became a Bishop. It turned out he stayed in Ireland, married
and left descendants!)
Beware of Fraudulent Pedigrees
There were also professional genealogists who researched and published
books. While these may be more complete and more scholarly, they should
also be approached with caution even if they have source citations.
Genealogy was a source of income and it was almost impossible to verify
if the reports were true. One professional genealogist, Gustave Anjou
(1863-1942), who did work on many early American families, has been shown
to be a forger who created dozens of bogus genealogies. In the Genealogical
Journal of the Utah Genealogical Association (vol. 19, nos. 1&2, 1991)
there is a fascinating story of how he created genealogies for the unwary
and how his own life was a forgery. The easiest method to create a false
pedigree, used by Anjou and others, is to begin by doing meticulous research
with lots of documentation. A New England family might be researched back
to the immigrant. Then that surname would be located in an English parish
and traced through the records, again with many citations. Then a false
marriage record or will would be created to bridge the gap. Since all
the other research was so accurate, no one would question the one document.
The above-mentioned article contains a list of 109 genealogies in the
Family History Library in Salt Lake City that were done by Gustave Anjou.
Most have been cataloged under Anjou. Not only should these be approached
with caution, but any genealogy on these families should be given extra
scrutiny as it could be based on the Anjou manuscript.
According to American Genealogist (July 1976), the following "are
so unreliable that nothing they say should be accepted without clear and
unmistakable verification": Gustave Anjou, Charles H. Browning, C. A.
Hoppin, Orra E. Monnette, Horatio Gates Somerby, Frederick A. Virkus and
John S. Wurts.
Within the last few years it has become so much easier to do genealogy
research and to publish the results. With the availability of original
sources on microfilm, later genealogies should be much more accurate and
contain more citations. Unfortunately, since genealogy is now a popular
hobby, many more people are involved and some are less than careful in
their research. There are many people who want to plug into the Internet,
"do" their genealogy and move on to a new interest. It is very easy to
collect names, enter them into a program, print out a family history,
get a few copies made up at the local copy shop and distribute them. Unfortunately,
once misinformation is out there, it is very difficult to recall it.
When dealing with newer published genealogies, first look for source
citations. Then try to find out something about the author. Is he a member
of a genealogy or history society? How long has she been working on this
project. (If it was whipped up in six weeks for a family reunion and contains
a picture of the family crest and ancestral home in England, be a bit
wary!) Correspond with other family members who know the author. Is he
an open-minded person who will discuss other possible theories or do events
have to confirm to a preconceived version of the family history?
Use printed histories as you do FamilySearch and other genealogy databases,
county histories, biographies and all research done by others. They should
be considered as leads to be checked with an open mind. It is very possible
that you will come across information that the author didn't have which
would prove an entirely different interpretation of the data.
Where to Look for Books
Now that you know how to use these tools, where do you find them? Family
histories are often very limited editions and there is no one source for
all. Every library will have a different collection.
The Family History Library in Salt Lake City has a huge collection and,
of course, a list of all of these can be found in the library catalog
(surnames section) which is available on either microfiche or CD-ROM at
every Family History Center. This listing is especially useful because
each history will be indexed under several families surnames of
those who married into the family or descendants who carried other surnames.
Many of the books are available on microfilm, but even if the book you
want isn't, you will have the title, author and publisher. You can then
have your local library try to locate it through interlibrary loan. You
will probably get faster service on interlibrary loan if you locate the
lending institution yourself.
The National Genealogical Society
and the New England Historical Genealogical
Society both have large circulating collections that can be borrowed
through the mail. Members can obtain their catalogs for a fee. The Library
of Congress also has a large collection. Although it does not circulate,
you again will have a title to look for in other places. It has an on-line
catalog where you can search for titles and authors.
Some libraries publish a list of books they hold in their genealogy collection.
Although you probably will not see any new books of this type printed
because so many libraries are making their catalog available online, you
may find some older ones in reference libraries. Genealogical and Local
History Books in Print lists family histories in print. The current
volume has over 4,600 listings. This reference book should be available
in many libraries.
If your family lived many years in a particular area, especially if they
were prominent citizens, a local genealogical or historical society or
local library might have books or articles about the family.
Many library catalogs are available on the Internet, but many of these
are Telnet sites which require a special program to access. Others can
be accessed using a gopher server. Many libraries have their own system,
and you need to take some time to read the instructions on how to do searches.
There are online book services where you can search for books. Blair's
Book Service has an online search to locate genealogy books that you
can purchase. Many other genealogy booksellers such as Everton
Press, Genealogical Publishing
Company, HeritageQuest, and others have an on-line catalog.
With so many sources available on the Internet, it is very helpful to
download a list of places where you might want to start. Chris Gaunt has
compiled a large list of places on the Internet that are helpful to genealogists.
As it is formatted now, it takes 283 pages! You can reduce the size with
a smaller font or use your word processor to cut and paste and only print
those you need. The list gives addresses for many libraries and bookstores.
It is available in many locations, among them:
- CompuServe: Roots Forum, Text Library (6), filename RSRCES.INT or
- AOL: Genealogy Research Area, Genealogy File Libraries, General Genealogy
Libraries, Genealogy Tips and Resources, title "Internet Genealogy Sites"
Many genealogy societies publish journals with articles about local families.
These pedigrees will not be as extensive as books about one family, but
they will often provide corrections to errors that were published years
ago. You may find the answer to a long-disputed question about your early
American family. If you find a bound collection, check the back of each
volume as many journals are indexed on a yearly basis.
The most useful tool for locating articles in journals is PERSI (Periodical
Source Index) which indexes names and places in articles in over 2,000
genealogical periodicals. It has been published annually since 1986 by
County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. They are also working
on volumes to cover publications 1847-1985.
New England Historical Genealogical Society Register is now available
for 1847-1994 on CD-ROM. The 148 volumes have an every name index and
you can print out the pages that interest you. It is a great source for
people with New England ancestors.
Locating previously published material is always a challenge
since there are so many places where it might be found. It is always worth
pursuing since it may contain information that has since been lost.