There’s a very important story behind each one of your genealogy records. In this video and article we discuss why it’s critically important to understand the provenance of each record. We also talk about specific things to look for as you analyze their meaning. Great genealogy research requires a great understanding of the story behind your genealogy records! Keep reading for the show notes that accompany this video.
The story behind your records includes many important areas to be considered:
Provenance / History
The reason for the record
Information source (primary vs. secondary)
Motivating factors of the informants
Let’s take a look at each of these.
In the art world, knowing the provenance of a piece is crucial to understanding its value.
Provenance looks at an object’s origins, history, and ownership. Investigating and analyzing the provenance of a piece can shed light on:
whether the piece is authentic,
whether it truly was created by the attributed artist in the stated timeframe,
What the value of the item might be.
Elevenses with Lisa Episode 37
The principle of provenance is true for genealogical sources, too.
The Story Behind the Records
Provenance is important because it helps us determine how much weight to give the information provided by the genealogical record.
We need to ask When and where was the record created? We are looking for:
Records created closest to the time of an event
Documents created in places associated with your relatives
Documents created by people who knew them or were authorities
Review the Record’s Source Information
It’s important to take the time to review the available source citation information for each record we use. Fortunately, many genealogy websites that provide access to the records of our ancestors also provide critical background information about that record. This can help us find the answers to our questions and help us evaluate how much credence to give the information.
Scroll down and click through to get the rest of the record’s story.
Sometimes it just takes a little digging to uncover the backstory on a record. For example, the census enumerators received detailed written instructions before being sent out into our ancestors’ neighborhoods to collect data. You can review digitized copies (or transcriptions) of those instructions at the United States Census Bureau website for all years of the decennial census except 1800 through 1840.
1860 Census Enumerator Instructions
Whether you’re researching at home or in an archive, look for or ask for the finding aid or reference guide for the collection you are using.
A finding aid may include the following sections:
how the materials were used
contents / physical characteristics
restrictions on use
scope and contents note, summary and evaluation
box or file list
Learn more about Finding Aids in Elevenses with Lisa episode 31 featuring the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center. It includes a discussion of finding aids.
Whenever possible, consider a source as a whole. It’s tempting to want to zero in on the paragraphs or photos that interest you most, but you may miss out on important information that changes what this source has to tell you. For example, the specific placement of a photo in an album can be as significant as the printed photographic image. A photo’s position can indicate the relationship of the people in the photo to others on the same page, or the timeline of events.
Does the record appear complete?
Take note if any part of the source appears to be missing or illegible, especially if it appears that some of it has been deliberately removed, erased, or crossed out.
You may be able to make more sense of the partial information—or take a guess at why it was removed—as you learn more about the family. There may be a perfectly innocent reason for the change. But you may also be seeing evidence that someone who wanted to erase unpleasant memories or conceal a scandal.
Where has the item been over the years?
Where the source has been kept over time and who possessed it is an important part of provenance. Try as best you can to reconstruct and document the chain of custody of the item.
Resource: Heirloom Tracking Template My Heirloom tracking page helps you document the complete story behind your precious family heirlooms. Premium Members can download the template from Elevenses with Lisaepisode 6.
Is the record the original?
Whenever possible, consult the original version of a genealogical record. Indexes, typed-up copies, or abstracts may not be as complete or accurate. Remember, handwritten or typed copies of older originals may have been made in the days before photocopying technology.
The Story Behind the Document: Motivating Factors
Another important question to ask about a record is Why was the record created? Understanding the motivation of the person, organization or governmental agency creating the document can help you anticipate their possible bias. It can also provide clues regarding information that you would expect or hope to find, but don’t. While the information may seem important, it may not have fallen within the scope of the original intent. Therefore, you may need to look for additional records that can help fill in the gaps.
Tax lists provide an excellent example of why we need to understand the motives and scope of the records we use. When reviewing a tax list, we need to determine if the government was taxing real or personal property and if it was including every head of household or just adult males.
Why was the information provided?
The original purpose of a source is highly relevant to how much faith you put in its contents. Here are a few examples of why the information provided might not be totally accurate:
A woman might have altered her testimony in divorce proceedings in an effort to minimize damage to her own reputation and future.
Newspaper articles may be filled with a variety of biases by the author, publisher, or those being interviewed.
A man may have lied about his age or citizenship on a draft card, either to avoid military service or in order to be included despite being underage.
Comparing the record with similar records can help reveal where the truth lies.
Who was the informant?
The information on a record is the person who supplied the information. Sometimes this is the same person who created the record, such as the writer of a diary. In the case of a U.S. census, the informant is the person in a household who told the census enumerator about the people who lived there. In many cases, it’s impossible to know who the informant was. Thankfully in 1940, census enumerators were instructed to mark the informant with a circled “X,” as shown in these two households. This is just another example of the value of doing
Reliability of Informants
A source may have multiple informants. Each may have had unique knowledge of the situation. For example, on a death certificate a relative may provide the personal information while a physician provides the death-related information.
If the informant shares the deceased’s last name they:
likely are a relative
likely had first-hand knowledge of the deceased’s marital status, spouse’s name, and occupation.
(if father or brother) likely have provided primary information relating to the deceased’s birth, and parents’ names.
Even when a relative is close, we need to stop and think about whether they knew the information because they experienced it first-hand or were told about it. For example, if the informant was the deceased’s father, the information about the deceased’s mother (his wife) such as birthplace would actually be secondary since he presumably wasn’t present when she was born! And that leads us to understanding the difference between primary and secondary sources and information.
Primary & Secondary Information
Historical evidence can either be considered primary or secondary information. Genealogical scholar Thomas W. Jones defines these terms in his book, Mastering Genealogical Proof:
“Primary information is that reported by an eyewitness. Primary information often was recorded soon after the event, but it may be reported or recorded years or decades later.
Secondary information is reported by someone who obtained it from someone else. It is hearsay.”
Interestingly, the same document can include both primary and secondary information. It helps to think in terms of primary and secondary information instead of striving to designate the source document as primary and secondary.
How do all these clues add up?
It’s clear that as genealogists our goal is not only to evaluate each family history source, but also each piece of information it provides. Asking the right questions helps us ultimately answer the all-important question: how much do you trust what this record is telling you?
Answers to Live Chat Questions
One of the advantages of tuning into the live broadcast of each Elevenses with Lisa show is participating in the Live Chat and asking your questions.
From Debra L.: Is the book (A Cup of Christmas Tea) good to give to 12 year old tea lover? From Lisa: It has a wonderful message for any age of caring for others in the family, especially older relatives. (It’s not really about the tea 😊)
From Mary P.: As custodian of my parents’ life memorabilia I need help with the 5ish address books. Can you suggest an attack plan to glean information, what to store/record\research online etc. ? I’m overwhelmed. From Lisa: It’s really a matter of how much time you have. I would lean toward transcribing them into Excel spreadsheets that can then be searched and sorted, including a column to indicate the relationship (friend, co-worker, relative, etc.) Store the books in an archival-safe box like this one.
From Mary P.: I’m back, can you help with this project? My grandfather built two houses in Garwood, NJ about 1920. I’d like to find information on their construction and owners/renters over time. From Lisa: Elevenses with Lisa episode 20 & episode 28 have everything you need!
Are you ready to start a genealogy blog (or improve one you already write)? Here’s a quick Q&A for you, prompted by questions by Genealogy Gems Premium member Kevin:
Q: “I am ready to start writing a blog but my typing is slow. Is there a dictation app (iOS) or software (Windows) that I could use to dictate my first drafts of my blog posts?
A: If you go to www.genealogygems.comand scroll down and enter “Dragon software” into the Amazon box and click “Go” it will pull up a great dictation program that might be just what you are looking for. (Using our Amazon box supports the free podcast – thank you!)
Q: Which blog site do you use and why did you select it?
A: I use Word Press for my website and blog. They have a free version at wordpress.com. Google also has Blogger which is free. I have a free series of videos on the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel about how to set it up. They are a few years old, but will give you the basic idea.
Q: Do you compose your blog posts directly on your site or do you type them in Word or some other word processing program then cut and paste them into your blog?
A: It’s best to compose them directly into a new post on Word Press or Blogger. Cutting and pasting out of Word will likely carry over unwanted formatting which can cause headaches.
Listen to the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke. It’s a great series for learning the research ropes and well as refreshing your skills.
Ready to get inspired and tutored on genealogy blogging? Check out my FREE podcast series on how to start a genealogy blog. Click here to reach my Family History Made Easy podcast landing page, then start with episode 38 and continue through episode 42. You’ll learn step-by-step how-tos and you’ll be introduced to some inspiring blogs that WORK. We often hear about success stories from listeners who started a blog after hearing these episodes. (We’d love to hear YOUR success story, too!)
In honor of our Genealogy Gems Book Club featured author Sarah Chrisman, and her book This Victorian Life, we are publishing a number of Victorian inspired delectable recipes and other sumptuous ideas. This Victorian Thanksgiving turkey recipe celebrates how the holiday came into its own during the Victorian era, complete with a rich, moist roast turkey at the center of the table.
Thanksgiving became a national holiday in the U.S. in 1863, during the Civil War. Over the next few decades, festive cooks dressed up the Thanksgiving turkey with whatever flavors were available to them in season, such as chestnuts, sausage, dried cranberries or other fruits and even oysters!
This recipe for roast turkey with chestnut stuffing is edited slightly from the Fannie Farmer 1896 Cookbook, which you can read on Google Books (click here for more Google Books search tips). We’ve tweaked the wording slightly, separated the instructions into numbered steps and added the modern ingredient list to make it an easier read for the modern cook.
Victorian Thanksgiving Turkey with Chestnut Stuffing and Gravy
1/3 cup butter and 1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
2 1/2 cups boiling water, divided
Parsley or celery tips (for garnish)
1. Dress, clean, stuff and truss a ten-pound turkey. (See quick how-to video tutorial below.) Place on its side on rack in a dripping-pan.
2. Rub entire surface with salt, and spread breast, legs, and wings with 1/3 cup butter, rubbed until creamy and mixed with flour.
3. Place in a hot oven, and when flour on turkey begins to brown, reduce heat, baste with fat in pan, and add boiling water.
4. Continue basting every 15 minutes until turkey is cooked, which will require about 3 hours. For basting, use 1/2 cup butter buy medication in turkey melted in 1/2 cup boiling water, and after this is used, baste with fat in pan.
5. During cooking turn turkey frequently, that it may brown evenly. If turkey is browning too fast, cover with buttered paper [aluminum foil] to prevent burning.
6. Remove strings and skewers before serving. Garnish with parsley or celery tips.
3 cups French chestnuts
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/4 cup cream
1 cup cracker crumbs
1. Shell and blanch chestnuts.
2. Cook in boiling salted water until soft.
3. Drain and mash, using a potato ricer [masher].
4. Add 1/2 the butter, salt, pepper and cream.
5. Melt remaining butter, mix with cracker crumbs, then combine mixtures.
6 Tbsp flour
3 cups turkey stock
salt and pepper to taste
optional: finely-chopped giblets or 3/4 cup cooked and mashed chestnuts
1. Pour off liquid in pan in which turkey has been roasted.
2. From liquid, skim off 6 Tbsp fat. Return to pan and brown with flour.
3. Gradually add stock, in which the giblets, neck and tips of wings have been cooked, or use liquor [liquid] left in pan.
4. Cook 5 minutes, season with salt and pepper; and strain.
5. For giblet gravy, add to the above giblets (heart, liver, and gizzard) finely chopped. For chestnut gravy, add chestnuts to 2 cups thin turkey gravy.
This year I’m offering three great Holiday Bundles, available for 4 days only–through Cyber Monday (12/2/2013). Check out these extra-special genealogy gift ideas–for yourself, a loved one, or as separate gifts for more loved ones.
The eBook Bundle.Get a copy of each of my books in e-book format: How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, Turn Your iPad into a Genealogy Powerhouse, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox and Genealogy Gems: Ultimate Research Strategies. Bundle price of $29.95 Over 40% off the retail price of $50.80!
The Print Book Bundle.Prefer print? Get all 4 of my books in paperback instead of ebook format: How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, Turn Your iPad into a Genealogy Powerhouse, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox and Genealogy Gems: Ultimate Research Strategies. Bundle Price: $49.95
Over 40% off the retail price of $84.80!
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Premium members get so much more than most people realize!
The 1 year subscription provides access to:
Over 100 exclusive Genealogy Gems Premium podcast episodes!
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Genealogy Gems Newsletter Archive full of tips!
A bargain at $29.95. But this special also gives you a special FREE BONUS Gift:Lisa Louise Cooke’s 67 Best Tips, Tricks and Tools from Family Tree Magazine ebook (Retail value: $15.97)
Are you currently a Member? You can still take advantage of this offer– theextra year will be added to the end of your current membership, extending your expiration date by one year. You won’t miss a day’s worth!
This EXCLUSIVE ebook is a compilation of Lisa’s most popular articles from the pages of Family Tree Magazine. It’s 23 pages filled with innovative, usable ideas to help your research:
Family History Freebies – 41 Genealogy Goodies
On Assignment – How to conduct an effective family interview
Undercover Genealogy– 10 investigative strategies to locate living relatives
Using the David Rumsey Map Collection – How to access over 45,000 free digitized maps!
Finding Newspapers Through Journalism’s Voyage West – A step-by-step guide.
Organizing Your Hard Drive – Seven steps to organizing your computer files.
Happy shopping! And don’t delay – this sale ends on Cyber Monday December 2, 2013 at midnight PST.
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!
Extra, extra! Thousands of pages of US and UK newspapers are newly online for your genealogy research. Also new this week are birth, marriage, death, and parish records for England and the United States, a large historic Irish photo collection and a unique family history research aid for Iceland.
Feature Photo: Newspapers
UK Newspapers, Parish Records and More
England: Parish records and newspapers
Ancestry.com got a big update recently to their English records! The following collections have been added for Derbyshire, England:
Originals of these documents come from Derbyshire Church of England Parish Registers, and dozens of parishes are included. You can narrow your results by parish by selecting from the drop-down menu in the Browse this Collection box (shown here) on the right side of the page.
Also brand new this week are several newspapers for England, hosted by the British Newspaper Archive:
You can search the British Newspaper Archive for free, and they’ve recently created a brand new package: Save 31% with their 3 Month package for just £25.90! You’ll get access to over 22 million newspaper pages across Britain and Ireland, with more added every day.
Scotland: Parish records & newspapers
A new collection of Scottish parish records is now available at Ancestry.com: Extracted Parish Records, 1571-1997. The records in this collection include baptisms/christenings, burials, marriages, tombstone inscriptions, obituaries, tax lists, wills, and other miscellaneous types of records. For copies of the originals, “the microfilm number of pertinent corroborating records can often be found on the LDS Church’s FamilySearch site (www.familysearch.org) in the Family History Library Catalog.”
Also new for Scotland, the Paisley & Renfrewshire Gazette newspaper is available at the British Newspaper Archive. Years span 1875-1908 (except 1877) and it was published by Newsquest in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland. 1,722 issues comprised of 14,000 pages are now available to view online.
Historic Irish photos & newspapers
More than 10,000 historic pictures from have been added to a folklore website, duchas.ie. A recent article announcing the launch stated that “the Collection contains photographs taken by professional photographers and by collectors working with the National Folklore Commission, amongst others, and are classified under 14 different topics including: festivals; holy wells; settlement; folklore collection; and games and pastimes.” A large number of the photographs date from the early 20th century.
The British Newspaper Archive has added a new newspaper title from Antrim, Northern Ireland: Carrickfergus Advertiser 1884-1895, 1897-1910. Nearly 1,400 issues and over 5,000 pages are included in this new digitized collection.
Iceland: New language resource
If you have ancestors from Iceland, this unique resource is for you! A new website has made Icelandic spelling, declension, and etymology dictionaries now free online. From Iceland Magazine: “In an effort to protect the Icelandic language in a time of smartphones and computers, The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies at the University of Iceland has opened a website which offers free access to the institute’s large catalogue of dictionaries, including etymology- and spelling dictionaries and the institute’s declension database for the Icelandic language.” Here’s a tip: The site is in Icelandic, but use Google Translate to navigate in English! Plus check out our favorite resources for pronunciation help.
United States: Vital records & more
California.County Birth, Marriage, and Death Records, 1849-1980 are new online at Ancestry.com. This collection contains records from various counties throughout California, and you can use the drop-down table to search by the county, record type, and year range of your ancestor’s life events.
Connecticut. New records are available online at Findmypast for Connecticut baptisms, church records, and burials from the 1600s-1800s. These records cover various towns and have been transcribed from public domain records.
Georgia. New from the Georgia Archives: Colonial Conveyances. This collection contains 11 volumes of property transactions between private citizens in the Colony of Georgia from 1750-1804. Each book contains a grantor index at the end of the volume.
Maryland.The University of Maryland Student Newspapers Database has recently launched. From the press release: “[This collection] provides keyword and date access to issues of The Diamondback and its seven predecessor newspapers from 1910 to October 1971. Users can search names and topics across all the issues, as well as focusing in on a particular day, month, or year of publication or publication title.”
Want more help with newspapers, Google Translate, and more? Genealogy Gems Premium Members can watch full-length video classes by Lisa Louise Cooke on those topics and more! Sign up today
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!