Tuesday, April 24, 2007

It helps to be lucky

The old saying is "I'd rather be lucky than good." My version of it is that "I'd rather be lucky AND good." You get the best of both that way!

I went to the Family History Center today - they called on Monday and said my film (number 0,945,382) of "Portsmouth (RI) Town Records (1638-1850)" had come in (it took 8 weeks for some reason).

When I started reviewing it, the pages were handwritten in that Secretary hand from the 1600's. To make matters worse, the first 25 pages or so were just fragments - one side or the other, for the first years of the town records. Oh no, bad luck! But I found the wills of Anthony Paine and Adam Mott on later pages that were not damaged, but the writing was still cramped and hard to read.

I was ready to take it off the reader and go to the Scanner computer system, but I noticed my page for the record from the FHLC said "Item 3 is a transcript of town meeting records 1638-1697." Well, I thought, I might as well take a look at that.

Am I glad that I did! The whole handwritten volume had been transcribed (including the fragments of pages) back around 1900, and printed in a book titled "The Early Records of the Town of Portsmouth" by The Librarian of the Rhode Island Historical Society, published in 1901. By the way, the book even has an index! Wow - all of that terrible handwriting has been read and interpreted and transcribed by an expert. Thank you, RIHS! My good luck!

It was a lot easier to read the transcription, and I found many of my ancestors in the land transactions, town office appointments, ear mark records and the probate records. I copied the handwritten probates, the front material of the book, and the land records and probate records from the book transcription. I saved them on my flash drive and will print them out at home.

So now I can easily read the records I copied and can enter them into my database program. I will explain that the transcription book is my source. Can I trust the transcription book? I am very sure that RIHS did a much better job of transcribing it than I could ever do.

I will compare the handwritten work against the transcription, but more for my own benefit of learning how to read the paleography of the handwritten work - I won't be this lucky every time, or maybe ever again!

I realized that I had not checked to see if this book, or others for Portsmouth and other RI towns, has been digitized and is available on Ancestry, HQO, Google Books, or other web sites. I found it on HQO but not on Ancestry or Google Books. So I wasted $6 on that film, it turns out! Not lucky - just dumb!

So my lessons learned today are:

1) Make sure you search all of the Items on an FHL microfilm - it may be you will get lucky and find a transcription or another pertinent source.

2) Before you order an out-of-copyright book or manuscript, see if they are available on Ancestry, HQO, Google Books, or another online book source.

While browsing in the online book databases, I saw several surname books for my families from Portsmouth. I will have to check and see if I have copied pages from these books in my earlier research. If not, then I don't have to order them at the FHC, I can read (and download) the pages at home.

I will probably post a few excerpts from these records for my ancestors - there are some interesting items that will liven up my ancestral biographies.

It was a lucky genealogy day.

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