Friday, August 27, 2010

Confessions of a Name Collector - English Sources

I started out in genealogy being a "name collector" in 1988. I totally relied on the published work of other researchers to provide information about many of my ancestors - from books, periodicals, the LDS International Genealogical Index (IGI) and the LDS Ancestral File. I wrote it down, put it in my research notebooks, and added it to my genealogy database on Personal Ancestral File (without source citations).

I think that most of us start out this way, once we get past the family sources and obtaining vital records for our 20th century families. Eventually, we understand that in order to find those elusive ancestors - the ones that aren't in books, periodicals or the IGI - and substantiate the assertions made in those derivative sources, that we need original source material with direct evidence to support our "facts" - names, dates, places and events. When we find them, they are usually in church, military, town, tax, court, land and probate records.

Fast forward 22 years, and aging Randy has over 39,000 persons in his genealogy database in Family Tree Maker (and other programs, but I still use FTM 16 for my database add/edit/delete functions). Some of them have a birth or baptism, marriage, and death or burial date, and those often have a place associated with the date. Over time, I added shorthand source citations to the place name (e.g., Westminster, Worcester, MA (VR, 197) - denoting Westminster MA Vital Records, page 197). I am still finding and correcting these "errors of judgment" from years ago - putting the source and citation in my source field and deleting it from the place field. In addition, I had plenty places denoting (gravestone), (will proved), (admin filed), etc. Most of these source citations are now nearly correct, except I don't have page numbers for many of them. That's one of the next tasks to do... after I finish the Data Error resolutions.

One large set of source citations is a major challenge: English church parish records. I am blessed with a large number of early American colonial ancestors, many of these lines stretch back into England in the 1500 to 1650 time frame. During the name collecting phase, I took as fact those baptisms, marriages and burials that I found in the derivative sources - my thinking was "somebody smarter than me found these records and I'm glad they wrote them down."

My guess is that almost all of the names, dates and places are correct, but who knows? I haven't verified them for myself, but they're in my database and I'll be darned if I'm going to take them out. Rather than cite the actual work where I found them (the surname book, the journal article, the LDS IGI, etc.), I have, over the years, put a source in my database titled something like "Bury. St. Edmunds, Suffolk Parish Registers." I know, that's a mistake. But how do I fix it?

Trying to correct my genealogy database for "posterity" I have the problem of "How do I cite those sources well and accurately?" For the English parish records, my choices seem to be:

* Cite the derivative source work - surname book, journal article. After all, that's where I found the information, and those sources can be found by another researcher. But the data is in about 30 linear feet of notebooks stuffed with paper (plus the "to be filed" pile). Big job.

* Order the FHL microfilms for each set of church parish records and search them for the entries that may or may not be there, and cite the microfilm and original record if found. This would be the best "original source" material available (short of going to each record office in England....). This is the "right" thing to do, but may take more than my lifetime to finish. I have at least 400 "master sources" of the English parish records. Bigger job! Boring and expensive too...

* Cite the entries from the LDS IGI - almost all of them are in the IGI, whether extracted or submitted - and let others follow the trail if they care to. A manageable job, but not something to be proud of!

* Keep the "master source" entries as I have them, but add the comment "consult the LDS IGI for the extracted record, and consult the microfilm from which it was extracted to see the actual record" to each "master source" entry. This is easier to do, but not something to be proud of.

* Don't worry about it, and WGASA (anybody know what this means? I'll tell you in comments later!). This method conveys the messages "It's my imperfect database, and people who use it can figure it out" and "There's no such thing as a useless database, it can always be used as a bad example!" This is the easiest choice of all!

The exception to all of this is the English parish records that I have actually searched on microfilm at the Family History Center and in several County Record Offices in England. For those, I can cite the actual records from the original source microfilm images that I consulted. If I can find them.

How have you sourced English parish records? What would you do in my situation?

13 comments:

Genealogy Blogger said...

Hi Randy, I have searched hundreds if not thousands of English parish registers and other sources. Some I sourced quite properly, others that I found when I was a newcomer, not so much.

Here's what I would do in your situation:

Don't change your original method of sourcing! If you change all of them to an IGI source that isn't true (if I understand your post). You didn't get all those records from the IGI, you got them from a variety of places.

Stay as accurate as you can by leaving in your original "source" notation. Add a comment that says interested descendants will want to find the ORIGINAL SOURCE FOR THEMSELVES. There's nothing wrong with doing this.

Yes, if only we had hindsight. If only we'd sourced accurately and appropriately when we started. But remember, we started with zero knowledge! We were beginners!

So I always ask myself - do I want to spend what time I have left here on this earth correcting or attempting to correct sourcing goofs I made 40 years ago? Or do I want to spend that time finding NEW sources and NEW information, which of course I'll cite correctly this time :-)

Genealogy Blogger said...

PS to my original comment - I would try to correct the original sources by looking through those Parish films.

But I'd do it slowly, over time and not feeling that it had to take over my life. As long as I have the CAVEAT added, my descendants (aka posterity?) can do the leg work themselves for any I don't get done.

kern said...

I agree with the first commenter, do what you can.

I did my mother's family by starting with research done by her first cousin in the 1940's or 50's. There were no sources listed, but everything has proven to be 99.9% correct.

She had notes for the cousins like 'married a woman named Edith', etc., which were invaluable in locating information on my own second cousins. (and a note that said 'Willie Joe's grandfather' -- I'm still looking for Willie Joe.)

David Newton said...

The best way to cite English parish registers I have found is to have the repository as the relevant diocesan record office (almost always a county record office or a unitary authority record office) and then to cite it based on the catalogue call number there and then the page number and entry number in the register if possible (ie post 1812 in most cases). If dealing with earlier registers then the call number in the record office is just as valid and then cite the date in the register if that is the only distinguishing thing.

The key thing with citations (as you know) is guiding someone to exactly where you found the information so that they can check it themselves. For example if I were to cite a parish register from my family in the London Metropolitan Archives as digitised by Ancestry recently I would put the LMA call number, eg P72/BAT/004 and then the fact that it is entry number 432 on page 54. That is the christening of my great-great grandfather in Bethnal Green in 1866. By contrast were I to go for the christening of his grandfather Edward Lepley in 1811 I would again quote the LMA call number P93/DUN/6 and then the date of the christening as there is no page number or item number in this older register.

In my database I have master sources for each type of register at each diocesan record office. Consequently I have banns, marriage, christening and burial register master sources for those registers in the London Metropolitan Archives and also in the Cheshire Records Office and the Warwickshire County Records Office, each of which I have entries for.

With respect to tracking down images of the originals, I would say the best bet is to wait until the LDS parish register transcription project is complete for an area you are after. So far they have done Cheshire (although they have removed the scans of the original registers citing "contractual" reasons) and they have images for Norfolk and Cornwall online with significant data for Durham as well. At the moment Warwickshire, Essex, Bristol and Manchester are going through the transcription process.

That project should be complete within the reasonable near future (probably five years) and for the first time ever there will comprehensive databases of all English parishes with surviving registers for vital records.

Martin said...

My rule of thumb is: who is the audience? Is it just you? Is your grandkids? Is the public?

I put such articles as the Bennet Hodsoll article (hey--we're cousins again) in the research field. This is where this information comes from. If I were to do additional research I would cite to the primary sources I found.

That said, I have to disagree with your commenter about the county archives citations. That would work if you were in England with a largely British audience. But if you are here, with an American audience, a footnote should be to where the reader can most likely find the source. Therefore it should be to the Family History Library Film # (and of course, the page number within the work filmed).

I don't see anything wrong with cited to a scholarly article and saying, "and the sources cited therein."

Quiltin' LibraryLady said...

I guess I'm a name collector too. My family is all German and a distant cousin shared information with me. Some of the research he did himself on trips to Germany and other information was shared with him by German researchers who had spent many years going through original church records. It's as good as I'm going to get.

Same deal with my husbands family. After making all the connections in the last 3-4 generations that I can, I have relied on the research of others. And if they list sources I feel fairly secure that the information is correct, making allowances for typos, human error, etc. We're not famous people so what I put together is just for family and there aren't to many of them that are interested at all.

We do the best we can with the resources (time, money) we have and if those that follow us want to do better after we're gone they're welcome to the job.

David Newton said...

My point about the diocesan record offices was that they are the original places for the documentation. Look on the LDS record transcription site and the call numbers you will see are for the relevant diocesan record office. In the same vein I would say that the correct way to cite a census of England and Wales is to cite the National Archives of the UK reference and to completely ignore the FHC microfilm reference.

If the microfilm reference is quoted then it should always be quoted as a secondary reference. The primary reference should always be to the original document.

I would expect anyone beyond the most basic, beginner genealogist to be able to find microfilm of the event at a Family History Centre themselves. If someone is a basic, beginner genealogist then it behooves them to learn about resources like the LDS from more experienced colleagues or via courses or via general background research on sources. I would also point out that the microfilm will be irrelevant within a few years. All of it will be digitised so specifying a film number will be redundant and possibly misleading.

I know it is a lot of work to sort out sources in a database. I lifted a lot of material from someone else's tree a few years ago concerning my paternal grandmother's tree and one of the tasks I have been engaged in for the past couple of years is properly documenting what I can of that information. I have largely found the structure of the tree to be reliable but there are problems. The main issue is, like Randy Seaver, going back into the parish register era as the tree I have goes back to the 16th century. So far I have verified things back to the late 18th century and found supporting information for earlier conclusions but not what I would regard as full verification of those conclusions.

I thus understand where this is coming from and am simply giving the reasons for my opinion on what should be the master source for parish registers.

Christine Read said...

Hallo Randy, Just a thought and not sure if it is quite what you want, why not ask the Record Office of the county of where your UK ancestors were if they will take a copy of the page or couple of pages in the parish register, be it Baptism, Marriage or Burial, for the dates you require.

That way you can be sure that any dates/info found on the IGI, or from the internet or from other sources that weren't a primary source are correct or not.

I have started to build up a collection of not only photocopies from the actual registers but also the Bishop's Transcripts for the same dates too. This sometimes shows up differences - then you have the problem as to which is the correct entry!!

It also helps if there is a query to a name that a transcriber has shown in any Indexes you consult. I have an ancestor whose name is Johntininay Read! This was taken from someone's transcript of a register and placed in an Index. I spent many a long year thinking he was Jonathan or just John with some other error added. Finally I obtained a copy of the page in the register, from a very kind lady on the Oxfordshire Mailing List and although not completely clear, after blowing it up on the computer it could be seen that his name was really John Tinney Read. There is no capital letter for Tinney but this was a gem of a find as it links to something I was already guessing at and is also some proof of a family connection, which I also proved more from a Tinney Will.

It might help if you take up this suggestion as you not only have a copy from the actual register which was written at the time, but is also a copy of your source rather than info from a transcript.

Hope it helps. If you need any help with English things, let me know and if I can help I will.

Kind regards,

Christine (rootsresearcher) in the UK.

David Newton said...

If you have the original parish copy saying one thing and the bishop's transcript saying another then the original parish copy must take precedence in reliability terms. The original copy was made (or should have been) at the time of the christening and the transcript later.

Eileen said...

I really feel for you on this one since I can be overwhelemed with trying to correct the data on my own much smaller database.

I think the "do what you can" approach suggested by others is excellant advice.

Lean toward doing it the right way (FHL films). Maybe when you come across one of these items you could tag it as "Not Proven/Place Name". Then when you want to tackle it, you could pull a report by place name of your not provens and order that particular film. This could help to break it down into manageable chuncks.

That's the secret--many small jobs instead of one huge overwhelming job.

Best wishes in oyur pursuit!

Apple said...

"but they're in my database and I'll be darned if I'm going to take them out" is the way I feel too. I have a source for almost everything in my file but very few "proper" source citations. Some are simply LDS-IGI and others, usually indexes of vital records are LDS batch XXXXX. I also have some sources that are simply a name. I trusted that source but I guess I should go back and write why and who they were. I also have sources from the tree of Bob smith @ancestry. Is it a good source? Nope, but at least anyone looking at my tree can evaluate the information for themselves. If I go back and properly source everything genealogy will stop being an enjoyable hobby and become a chore - and I always avoid chores if I can!

What good are sources anyway?

GordSK said...

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=wgasa

Randy Seaver said...

WGASA - commenter GordSK was right, but the back story, at least for San Diego area folks, is at http://www.snopes.com/business/names/wgasa.asp