Hello from St. Louis, Missouri, the home for fifty years of the St. Louis Genealogical Society, where we like to brag that we have members in all fifty states as well as several foreign countries. If you are a member, then thank you for your support, and we hope that you will take full advantage of your member benefits. Classes are free, there is a members’ only area on our website with information on thousands of St. Louisans, and members are encouraged to use the free Ask Louis service, plus so much more. Also, as a member, you know that you are supporting an all-volunteer organization dedicated to preserving and sharing documents and instruction in basic and special genealogy topics. Go to www.stlgs.org to keep up to date.
I have been quite busy lately, and genealogy has sort of taken a back seat to everyday life. Imagine that! I am trying to make shelf room for new items and, of course, that can be a dangerous mission, for each item on the shelves has to be evaluated and a decision made as to where it should be placed. Now this chore mandated going through some of the family papers, and, what can I say, I got waylaid. I simply ask you, how can we as researchers not stop and reread and reevaluate each piece of paper or publication? One of the notebooks contained a handwritten note from one of my maternal aunts who died quite a while ago. My aunt had listed the names of her siblings and their spouses that went back five generations. Now I had seen this before and know that we had researched and documented this information, but this time I stopped where she stated that the female progenitor of this line was a full blooded Cherokee Indian. As the saying goes, do I “ Believe It or Not”? We have not been able to find documentation to prove it and I have dabbled in this subject before, but my question to you is, if all the rest of the information on the page has been proved, then can this also be accepted as true? What do you think? In genealogy there are many instances when we are faced with that very question, "Believe It or Not"?
Another example, the death certificate of a relative gives the name of the mother of the deceased. So is that a fact that you can accept and not worry about further evidence? Who gives the information for a death certificate anyway? “Believe It or Not”? Third and last example, several publications state the name of a female/wife of an ancestor but none have any proof or references. The information is not documented, just repeated over and over. Does repetition make it fact? "Believe It or Not"?
The Genealogical Proof Standard states, “We conduct a reasonably exhaustive search in reliable sources for all information that is or may be pertinent to the identity, relationship, event, or situation in question.” What is a “reasonably exhaustive search”? “It is prerequisite––regardless of whether the problem is simple or complex, and includes appropriately broadening the search beyond the person, family event, or record of most-direct impact on the project. The search effort extends to discovery of information that does or might illuminate (or conflict with) the other items of collected data.”
There are many times when I feel like Sherlock Holmes, “Elementary, my dear Watson,” and others when I feel like I am playing a game of Blindman’s Bluff. Researching genealogy mandates investigation and proof. You take all the data collected and analyze the sources. You seek to find facts to support your hypothesis. You analyze and correlate your collected data and then find any conflicts in your data and then go back and start all over to resolve those conflicts. Wow! What work! Yes, it is! But when you have positive proof of your information and your ancestry you get to boast and to walk tall because you have proven your place and your ancestor’s place in the history of this grand, great world we live in. Too much?
We all started our research for a personal reason. When our oldest had to do the family tree for a school project, it suddenly made me aware of what we didn’t know about the family, and so it began. My two sisters soon caught the mania from me and off we went in every possible direction collecting papers and cheering ourselves with each new fact. We knew nothing about correct documentation or the standards of genealogical proof. It was only after I took a class through the St. Louis Genealogical Society that my eyes were opened to all that we had been missing. WOW, what a moment! Getting it right. Oh, I have gone off on many a flight of fancy since those early days but the difference is now I do a reasonably exhaustive search.
We all have the list of “can’t proves” and each time we review we hope to get a new perspective on how to proceed. It goes without saying that the earlier in history you are working, the less likely you are going to find say a birth record or a death record. And don’t get me started on the lack of records for women! These are some of our challenges and isn’t it wonderful?
I can claim no rank of expert when it comes to genealogy, but I can claim a dedication to serious, honest research. Would we like to forget some of the unsavory relatives that exist in the family line? Maybe, but at the same time it is fun to tell about those characters from the past and get a gasp of disbelief or a scowl of disapproval. After all, there are always a wart or two to be found and whatever else, you can always challenge others to “Believe It or Not!”
I had a few moments to share my thoughts with you on Memorial Day. Many of us have relatives who have served in the Armed Forces and I hope that you have a chance to say thank you to them. I like to think of myself as a “Yankee Doodle Gal” and it is with great pride and appreciation that I think of all those who have stood up for this country decade after decade after decade.
Well, off to the family gathering to open the summer season. Do love the BBQs and homemade specialty dishes and chatting that brings back memories of those who are no longer with us.
I hope you are enjoying yourself as you seek the facts of your family’s history. Happy hunting and visit us at www.stlgs.org or at the office. Fran