Can you believe we have already made it to week 5 of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge? This week's prompt is "Oops."
This is such a good reminder for everyone exploring their genealogy, whether on their own or with a professional. This is a journey which could include countless "Oops!" moments.
As I've mentioned in previous posts, genealogy can lead to surprising and even unsettling discoveries. It's advised that you have a fully open mindset before beginning.
Think of the game “telephone.” Every time a story is retold it is a slightly different version. Sometimes the original story is significantly different from the story heard many retellings later. This is true of family lore but is also found more simply on documents such as vital, military, and census records where information wasn't always accurately relayed by the informant or accurately recorded by the person completing the paperwork. Moreover, when a set of records was transcribed by or for another entity, for example, town records being copied (not by a Xerox machine!) and sent to the state, they could lend themselves to more inaccuracies in this metaphorical game of "telephone."
Any one of these singular stories or documents could create an "Oops!" moment. One small, incorrect detail could lead us in an entirely wrong direction in our research. As genealogists, we are obligated to conduct reasonably exhaustive research. We must examine the quality of each source and the information it contains. We must consider the informant and whether or not they had firsthand knowledge of the information they are providing. We must analyze and correlate all evidence, and work to resolve any conflicts. Imagine the amount of potential misinformation, if we skipped any one of these steps.
On my grandmother's birth certificate, her mother is identified as "Ruth Hart." In reality, her mother's name was "Ruth Rosenstrauch." The story goes that Ruth purposefully used an assumed name to prevent possible mistreatment or neglect for being Jewish. Hart was a familiar name, the surname of Ruth's brother-in-law. The story makes sense. While I may never be able to verify the "why," I have spent a significant amount of time recording Ruth's true surname to prevent an "Oops!" for any fellow or future family historians.
Just imagine, you find yourself researching my grandmother. You locate her birth certificate. Surely the information on this document regarding her mother must be true! Can you imagine spending hours, weeks, months, or even years, researching a Ruth Hart instead of a Ruth Rosenstrauch?! What a mess.
Fortunately, there is other documentation, aside from my personal knowledge, to help correct this "Oops!" My grandmother's own death certificate properly identifies her mother. The marriage certificate for my grandmother's parents also correctly identifies the bride as Ruth Rosenstrauch. Obituaries for both mother and daughter, along with extended family members, also help to clarify the names and relationships between the Rosenstrauchs and the Harts.
Genealogical research is often so much more than just following the details of the first or easiest record to obtain. If you did so, you may one day find yourself saying, "Oops!"
Disclaimer: Each blog post is created and presented for marketing and entertainment purposes only but are based on larger research which adheres to the standards of The Board of Certification of Genealogists® as set forth in Genealogical Standards (Nashville, Tenn.: Ancestry Imprint, Turner Publishing, 2014).