Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Two Golden Rules of Researching Documents

I have been re-reading a great resource, a book by Ottawa's own Althea Douglas, called Time Traveller's Handbook: A Guide to the Past.

In Chapter 2, "Dealing with Documents", she has two rules of research. The first one is -

"Never trust a transcript made by someone else. Wherever you can, check the original document."

I once came across a census return which said that the person I was researching was born in Canada, and his marriage certificate (which took place in Canada) said that he was born in Ireland.  

Which is true? The same person – but two different countries. What was I to do? It was important to determine that I find the correct country in which he was born because the immigration date of the family depends on it.

Possible Solution: I have decided to visit a nearby genealogical society later this summer to see if they have any primary evidence which can support the proof I need to show one country or the other.  

Conclusion: I guess I could say that I have the very beginnings of a "brick wall". Gosh, I hope not – but I have a "feeling", since the immigration took place in the middle 1800s ... 

The second rule is -

"Always remember that clerks and clergymen, census takers and directory compilers, write down what they heard – what people said to them".

And isn't this statement true! 

Once again, in researching my own family (Haley) that went from Nova Scotia to California in the 1870s, I was confused by the different names of the places where they lived (or didn't live) – Centerville, Newark, Fremont, Washington Township, etc.  

I knew that these places were in Alameda County, across he bay from San Francisco – but were they the same place?

Possible Solution: I never have really answered the question. I have looked at many maps of the area, newspapers, and land records to get a good understanding of the area, but I am in somewhat of a quandary.

Conclusion: I have decided that the lived in Centerville (later known as Newark) in Washington County, California.

The book lists the following chapters -

Chapter 1 – A Time Traveller's Frame of Reference

Chapter 2 – Dealing with Documents

Chapter 3 – Dealing with Family Tradition

Chapter 4 – What Every Schoolchild Used to Know

Chapter 5 – Money

Chapter 6 – The Value of Money: It's Not What it Used to Be

Chapter 7 – Travel in the Past

Chapter 8 – Trades and Their Tools

Chapter 9 – Work Away From Home

Chapter 10 – Family and Connections

Chapter 11 – Home Sweet Home

Chapter 12 – How We Lived Then

Chapter 13 – Health in the Past

Chapter 14 – Our Heritage

Chapter 15 – Our VIP Heritage

Chapter 16 – Our Seafaring and Military Heritage

There is an Appendix (Date of Historical Events), Notes, a Bibliography, and an Index.

In case you are interested in the book, it is available from the Ontario Genealogical Society's e-Bookstore on their website at www.ogs.on.ca.