The past few weeks, I have received messages from a woman who wanted me to post a photo of one of my great-grandfathers. She was working on her husband’s tree using the Ancestry.com, and had decided her husband was related to my great-grandfather. After much back and forth discussion, I decided she was mistaken. She continued to send me messages insisting she was right until I told her as nicely as I could I would not respond anymore whereupon she signed off.
After several years of running up and down blind alleys myself, I have discovered that many people (often retired baby boomers) want to create family trees. Too often these enthusiasts glom onto false information. Those little green leaves (hints) are merely that…not facts. Ancestry.com does a great job of selling their product by making it look easy, but genelogical research involves digging through old documents. So my first bit of advice is don’t automatically use information that pops up. Check it out.
Ancestry.com has done a great job of providing internet access to important archives like census records, but the individual user must obtain some knowledge of research methods and exercise discrimination. As one of my graduate history professors noted, “You can do much research at home in your bunny slippers, but don’t put a lot of ‘stuff’ in a paper and expect a good grade.”
An example from my work was the discovery of information concerning a great-grandmother named Hinderkein Klamer. Now you would think that is an unusual, perhaps even unique name, however, I found records for different people with the same first and last name. The trick was to find the real Hinderkein by cross-checking with other facts.
As a historian and retired Census Bureau demographer, I recognize there are often errors in historical documents. For example, many of my ancestors had non-English names but the government officials recording the information in vital (birth, death, marriage), immigration, or census records, often ‘Anglicized’ the spelling or ommitted other pertinent information. Thus, in census records the aformentioned Hinderkein became Henrietta, her husband Johnnes became John and her daughter Juntje became Jane. I found the actual spelling of their Dutch names in church vital records (United States Dutch Reformed Protestant Christian Church).
My Mom’s cousin Elaine was the genealogist for the Dutch Reformed Church in Grand Rapids MI. Elaine stayed with me several times when she visited the National Archives in Washington D.C. She also introduced me to cousin Anke in the Netherlands who helped Elaine and Aunt Audrey do primary research in archives in The Hague (Den Haag). I have paper copies of their records and I have been uploading this and other information to Ancestry.com for sharing with the extended family.
Dianne, Salem Massachusetts graveyard, 1986