We are continuing to share some of Val Greenwood’s time-tested advice from the new 4th edition of his Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy. Following are Greenwood’s suggestions concerning the nature of genealogical sources.
“We may read printed or published genealogies and family histories, and we may find pedigrees on the Internet—as well we should. However, the notion that when we are copying the results of someone else’s work we are doing family history research/genealogy is a misconception. Published and compiled works—whether in books or on the Internet—are, after all, only the report of someone else’s research. Without further investigation, we do not know whether that research was good or bad. Yes, it is important that we find what information is out there about our families—to know what others have already done—but we cannot take the results of their research at face value.” (Chap. 1, p. 5)
“When you find information about an ancestor or an ancestral family on the Internet, you need to make sure you understand the exact nature of what you have found. That is, you must distinguish clearly between the results of other people’s research on one hand and the information found in original documents on the other hand.” (Chap. 10, p. 209)
“As you encounter information provided by others, take note of how well documented it is. You want to know the sources of their information. And you want to know how well reasoned their conclusions are. Also, when their information comes from original documents, you must determine whether the evidence provided is primary or secondary and whether it is direct or indirect (circumstantial). Likewise, when there are discrepancies between the information found in different sources, you must determine the proper value and weight to give each piece of conflicting information in an effort to resolve those discrepancies.” (Chap.10 , p. 209)
“ [I]n most cases, as you do research relating to your ancestors, it is important that you gather all information relating to all persons of the surname(s) of interest in your locality of interest. If you do not do it, you will someday be sorry and will find yourself coming back to search the same records again. And it will likely be sooner than you think. You may not be able to tell who all of these people are at the outset, but when you begin to synthesize your findings and put them into families, many pieces will fall into place. In fact, the information you find about “unknown” persons often provides some of the evidence needed to extend your pedigree.”
(Chap. 3, pp. 68-69)
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