Speaking at the monthly meeting of the Ontario Genealogical Society – Essex Branch (EssexOGS) in November, Vicki Mckay provided the following summary of the talk for those individuals that were unable to attend. It is our understanding that Vicki will be speaking at future OGS events – we recommend making time to attend her excellent presentation.
The “Sorting Fact From Fiction… and lessons learned along the way” presentation given by Vicki McKay focused on reasons behind misinformation in all forms of records, the importance of gathering ALL the records, tactics for finding those records and how to assess them.
Vicki talked about how it’s important to listen and record the details of family stories, but then to search the available records for proof to substantiate the oral history. However, just as it’s important to back up family stories with facts, it is essential that we not assume that official documents contain only correct information. There are many reasons why the information that our ancestors and relatives, as well as the official documents, provide us may be less than accurate. Even multiple records may, at times, be misleading. The people providing the information may not have known the facts even if the information pertains to them, they may have chosen to provide incorrect information or they may have altered the information for a variety of reasons. For that reason, it’s valuable to dig deep and collect as many records related to each particular event in a relative’s history as can be obtained. It’s also important that you don’t make assumptions from the records, but recognize exactly what information each record does and does not provide you with. For example, early English census records document people in a household, but NOT their relationship to one another. As such, it can be easy to assume that a child in a household is the offspring of the adults in the same household. However, this is not always the case.
In finding the records, searching for surname and given name variants is extremely helpful, and often essential if you are to find the information that you are looking for. When one person can’t be located, searching for other members of the family or family groups can be the key needed to open the door to continued research. Searching for a known address can also be useful when records have been poorly recorded and/or transcribed. In addition, both narrow searches, including as much detail as possible, and wide searches (looking in larger geographic areas than you expect your family to be found in) can be valuable in moving your research forward.
Most importantly, learn to look at any record that seems close to what you are looking for, even if some of the details don’t exactly meet your expectations. More often than not, these “close” records turn out to be what you are looking for. As you assess the records that you have amassed, pay particular attention to the smallest of details – people’s ages (and based on that, when they were born), the addresses where people were living, their occupation and who they were living with, who their identified relatives were as well as who witnessed the event, where they lived and what their occupations were. Recognize that a relationship may have to be proven through linkages across multiple documents rather than directly from one record to the next. Lastly, consider keeping an “Unrelated?” file; that is a file of records that you have found, and particularly those that you paid money and ordered, but didn’t pan out. Review this file every few months and you’ll be amazed that a few of those “unrelated” individuals will begin to fit into your tree. Most of all, as you work to break down the brick walls in your research, keep an open mind and have fun!
Vicki McKay UE, Leamington, ON, Canada