Wednesday, 1 August 2012

When in doubt...

In the past month I have been doing a lot of research for clients. The biggest lesson I have learned, is to double check all my findings with at least 3 corroborating pieces of evidence to prove what I've found is correct....or at least prove that I've exhausted as many sources of information to prove my theory that the evidence shows I'm most likely to be correct.

There are some amazing online databases that have given us digital images to view and indexes to check. Unfortunately, there are also family trees that have incorrect information posted on these databases that, if not double checked. can lead you totally in the wrong direction.

In one case in particular, a family tree online showed that their ancestors had been born, marriage and died in Burma. Since the ancestors were Scottish and this was in the 1700s, it would have been a fascinating reason for them to be there. They were either soldiers, merchants or rubber plantation owners/overseers. It turns out, after double checking the actual records in Scotland, that there is abolutely no truth to these facts. The first red flag should have been that there were no corroborating sources listed with the facts. My guess would be that this was either a family story passed down through the generations, or the person who posted the tree had inadvertantly researched the wrong ancestors previously and posted their findings.

I've also found that some of the data on these websites have been transcribed incorrectly. There are many cases of incorrect spellings of names and places. Double check the original image , if it exists, to make sure your facts are indeed correct.

Ancestry, Genes Reunited, FindmyPast, are all very very good online databases that are invaluable to researchers from afar. Just be warned...that not everything you read is correct. To save yourself heartache or embarrassment (if you are doing a report for others), make sure you check, re-check and confirm that what you are reporting are the true facts.

The next thing you should be careful about is assuming that the family story you've been given is true. A lot of family lore is more of a fairy tale. Your great great grandfather was a Captain of a ship and he came from a wealthy family but left them because he didn't want to be tied down.

Maybe he was a captain and may he did come from a wealthy family. However, upon double checking the facts, you might be surprised to find out that he left his wealthy family because of a family battle, or legal reasons (trouble with the law). He may have been transported to Australia and once there, become a captain of a ship. Or maybe he was only a skipper of a small trawler in a small town and never came from a wealthy family but emigrated and that was the story he told to his children and grandchildren.

In our own family, we had a great grandfather always say he came from a very important family and that they were connected to royalty. He was a roofer who emigrated to Canada. Upon doing the research, it turns out that he indeed was from a very important family! He was directly descended from the last Laird of Boisdale from Clanranald, BUT, his mother had had him after her husband died. Therefore, he was from a noble Scottish family but because of the circumstances of his birth and the fact that by this point his family line were no longer wealthy , he probably passed down the story his mother told him which was true.

Almost every family story has an element of truth to it. It's your job to filter out the fantasy and get to the true facts. Unfortunately, this may make the story complete fiction, but at least the truth will be there for future generations to know.