I am an historian for our family. I love history. It was a natural fit. However, I want to caution those of you doing your family history to a few facts that are essential to being accurately represented in history.
Fact 1: You only put the facts.
Just because someone in your family wants to put their spin on the family, such as hiding an illegitimate birth, it does not make it real. I know, it happens and all that. However, even if the child is adopted by another man, if should be recorded as being adopted. It may not make you popular, but you are not doing this to put a spin on the truth. You should put the truth. Likewise, if you are the step parent of a child and you raised that child, you still need to be honest. Especially if you did not adopt the child. While you may be the child’s “father of the heart”, you are not the biological parent so be honest. If you put these items in your family tree, it muddies the truth and makes it much harder to future generations in their search. To do genealogy, historical accuracy must be maintained.
Fact 2: Cite your sources.
Sources are where you get the information you add to your tree. Typically, sources are things like census records, city directories, court records, death records, birth records, etc. It is vitally important to use your sources in your research. If you add something to your tree, without a source, you could find that you were wrong and it obliterates the whole line you have researched for years. When you put your source, it shows those coming behind you that you did your research in an approved manner, and that what you have in your tree is not fantasy. I know it sounds like it is not important, but it is. Also, if the person you add is still living, please research by adding their facts. If you put what you think from memory, it becomes distorted at times and can truly lead off into the wrong path. How do I know? Because I have seen it done. Trust me, it cannot be factual if it is not found in sources. I mean, it might be factual for you, but not historically, unless it is a source that can be cited.
Fact 3: Be flexible on dates
When you are researching a person in your tree, remember that int he past, people may not have known the true dates of things. For example, if my grandfather was born on say, December 1, 1890 and I know that is true because I have his birth certificate, yet in researching I find a census that says his birthday was December 31, 1889, is it the same person? It is important to check other facts before you add this source, since I have found that sometimes it is the same person, yet other times it is not. This is especially true if you have a common surname like Jones. Try to be as diligent in your fact checking to ensure you do not add someone who is not your ancestor.
Fact 4: Be flexible on names.
My family surname is quite unique and as such, pretty easy to trace. However, you can find that even if your name is unique, it may be spelled differently on some records. For example, my maiden is is Pieratt, pronounced pier at. On researching my family, I have found it written as Perat, Pratt, Perret, etc. In historical records, many times the person writing the record, be it a clerk or census taker, may write the name phonetically. Sometimes this occurred because the family member being interviewed is illiterate and does not know how to read or write, thus, the name is spelled by the record taker. So, think of your surname, and how it could be spelled differently and expand your search. You might be surprised at what you find.
Fact 5: Keep good records.
I have records in my home of birth certificates, death certificate, and census records of my family. I also have pictures. It is easier these days to get these records. When I started gathering information, it was much harder. You had to go to the places and states. Today, a lot of states have added their records to a database that can be accessed quite easily via the internet. Your tree records can still be stored as sources online in your tree. It is fascinating to see these records and it shows those following your tree that you did your research.
That is it for now, but if you start looking into your family history, just try to follow these five things. You can have the journey of a lifetime and learn so many things about your family. I hope you enjoy you path and find interesting characters in your tree branches!