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The Importance of Records

Wherever possible, you should try to make copies of records when researching your ancestry. Not only does this help you verfy information, but records like yearbooks, citizenship declarations, diaries, incorporation records and other forms of documentation also contain other sorts of information that can be of infinite value in helping you bring your ancestors to life.

More than just collecting a string of names and dates, you will begin to create a history of people, YOUR history and the history of your family.

More than just knowing your great-grandmother was Molly Adler, it makes it more interesting to know that in her high school year book it was said of her, "She is dark with excessive light. Wouldn't the honor roll be lonesome without Molly's name on it? .... The charm of her presense is felt wherever she goes". Having a print out of that page to go in your personal genealogy is even more worthwhile, since future generations will have the actual document rather than having to "take your word for it".

Fully documented genealogies are also more authoritative and generally command higher respect than non-documented ones. This is especially useful if one offers a genealogy as evidence in a court proceeding, either civil or religious. Documented genealogies can be very useful in determining one's Jewish bona fides if the question should arise as well as determining who are a particular person's heirs at law.

Family History Research is more than genealogy data keeping. To make ancestors more real, you could describe the setting of the ancestor's culture by placing them in history using a time line and explanations of their community. Explain any significant events that shaped their destiny such as a war, the consequences of religious values, illness, or tragedy. See if you can tell of the character of the ancestor that would reflect their tastes and feelings about events and the setting of the story of their life. Most localities have written local histories and public documents. Some family members as well got the "good stuff" in photographs, journals and other "old papers". Trust no data without checking it out.

One of the biggest challenges of family history research is to conduct it in such a way that collection, analysis, and interpretation of information is carried out with maximum objectivity. This means that any conditions which might introduce bias or prejudice must be avoided if at all possible. Any conclusions should be written in such a way that a skeptical or interested investigator has enough information to be able to repeat the research and either confirm or invalidate the reported results.

Documentation refers to that part of a report which arranges and acknowledges the sources used.

Documentation allows:

  • evaluation of the reliability of the information. Knowing a source can help you identify information that you may want to verify with other types of records and check for errors and prevents others from having to redo completed searches.
  • replication - provision of enough information so that another person could easily obtain a copy of the record.
  • tracking of your research as you work so you do not forget. Record research efforts that reveal no information. It saves later repeated effort.
  • citation of all researchers' contributions, including your own. Use your name, not the word "I" or "me", when referring to yourself.
  • Ask yourself, "Where did I get that piece of information?" Every item in your database has a source. You will not always be able to return to or remember where you got information.

When misinformation is entered into our databases we can create many problems. For example:

  • Many hours of time can be wasted searching in the wrong places.
  • Locating the correct ancestral information will take much longer.
  • Family history will become unsubstantiated family lore.
  • Records submitted to other databases promulgate bad information worldwide.
  • Anyone trying to validate your work will be unable to find your sources.
  • You become guilty of JUNK GENEALOGY.

When is my Documentation enough?

In the scientific world, the documentation process depends on the purpose for which the material is being prepared. A research claim involving a medical treatment certainly should be well enough documented to allow others to repeat experiments and confirm conclusions. "What claim is being made?" "Is it possible that some person has biased the data?" Good research should be objective, orderly and repeatable. If a person is gathering genealogical data for personal amusement, we would assume their research methods might not be as exacting as the methods used by one who intends to publish. If you are doing genealogical research to pass on to your children or others or you intend to publish, then you should be as accurate as possible. It would be irresponsible to claim information that has no source documentation.

Since we are limited by our resources, however, we often must rely upon the work done by others and make judgments that a source is accurate enough to be relied upon without our having to search out the original record. We may have to accept a census record as a substitute for a will when we can't find one. When you find some data, it doesn't mean that you should stop research, it means that you have a lead and depending on whether or not you are able and have the time and the records available, you will still work at confirming the accuracy of data. If no more authoritative information turns up, your effort will have to suffice. Sometimes it takes much effort and the locating of new sources before more accurate conclusions are possible. Therefore, there is no rule which says how much documentation you need. Just do not fail to cite your sources. A reader will someday recognize that further substantiation is necessary.