Genealogy Sources

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Ben Carpenter

Verbal sources and written sources are the two types that we use in genealogy and family history research. Remember the old saying “Consider the Source”? Sourcing requires us to verify our family’s historical information. In the easiest of terms, genealogy sourcing is the proper notation of who, where and when the information was gathered and proved by and/or what document proved the information to be correct. Please remember to always track your sources in your Genealogy computer program or your paperwork. Doing so will decrease the chance of you duplicating your work.

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The verbal “Sourcing” of family history and genealogy are verbal conversations and interviews with living relatives or friends that have a recollection of your family’s history. This is called an “Oral History Interview” and is definitely the way to go. There are some things for you to consider when you interview someone. One of the most important things that I have learned, from personal experience, if at all possible, please try to record the interview. You can use audio and/or video.  It is a lot easier to interview a person if you don’t have to worry about writing everything down. Plus, don’t forget to charge your recording device and/or bring your back-up batteries!

It’s also very important for you to remember that you are there to interview them. Encourage them to talk as much as possible so that you’ll get great information. Put on your “listening ears”. Whether the interview is over a phone call, in person, or through an online video platform, please instigate better answers by asking open-ended questions, such as: Will you please describe the sense of humor that your Mother had? What were a few of the talents that your Father was blessed with and/or cultivated? These will prompt them to give a more lengthy description and may even lead to other topics that you can get more details on.

Yes and No questions are considered closed-ended. Sometimes they are necessary but should be kept to a minimum. The more details that they can give, all the better. A great source for questions to ask for an “Oral History Interview” can be found at http://www.jewishgen.org/infofiles/Quest.html. These questions and “Mind Joggers” are wonderful. There are many resources for Oral History Interview questions online. Just use your favorite browser and search for “Oral History Interview Questions”. The results contain many resources and then you can custom compile a list of questions that will fit your interview candidate. In addition, please sit down and try to think up a few custom questions of your own. Often, there are ethnic, religious, business, and many other questions that you can add into the mix that will help.

Please set up an appointment to interview them.  Make sure that neither you nor they will not be in a hurry. Timing is very important.  Make the interview as relaxing as possible too. Often people mirror your mood so it’s important that you are feeling calm and settled when you do your interview.  Also, consider the time of day and the schedule of the person that you are going to interview, as well as your schedule.  There is nothing worse than being rushed when you are interviewing someone. Remember too, you can always visit or call at a later time or date.

Consider what the relationship was like between this living person and the deceased person that you are asking for information about? Were they close? Did they get along? If they were close and got along well, then people have a greater tendency to remember information about another person. If they didn’t get along well or were not close to each other prior to death, there could be a chance that the information that you receive may not be correct.

As a rule of thumb, I always try to find a paper document or written source that will corroborate with what the living person told me. Please DO NOT argue with a living person or tell them that they are wrong. They may sincerely believe that they are correct and very well might be with certain parts of the information. It’s much better to listen to all of what they have to say, record it and then sort it out later. In the end, you may make or publish a book about your family and they can read the verified truth about the person. It’s always best to take the high road and keep the conversation on a very kind and friendly level.

What is the health of the relative or friend that you are interviewing? Sometimes, the person that you’re interviewing might remember information because they were close in age to the deceased relative. If so, that means that they may be suffering from the normal maladies of old age. So, they might have good days and bad days. Sometimes it’s better to interview an elderly person right before lunchtime.  Avoiding times that are after meals is a good idea.  A full stomach often makes all of us sleepy!  The more alert they are, the better. Keep in mind the time of day and the location of the interview. If the person is elderly and lives in a nursing home, they might not have a private room. Some people are more comfortable talking in private or outside if it’s a warm, nice day.

Once you have completed the interview, it’s a must to send a thank you note to the person that you interviewed. I also promise to give them a copy of the genealogy that I put together when I’m done. They usually appreciate that.

When you have used a person as a verbal source, it’s up to you whether or not you want to reflect that in your writing. If the information was correct, after using a document/paper source to verify, then it’s proper to give credit where credit is due.

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Written Sources for Family History and Genealogy is a very necessary part of your genealogy research. I, as a standard for my work, verify all Verbal Sourcing with a written document, if at all possible. Often, the only way that you can move forward with your family history and genealogy is to use the many written sources that are available. Anyone that is planning on breaking through those walls that we hit when we are researching our ancestors will need to diligently, carefully, and intelligently locate and utilize the written sources that are available. Written sources can be found on the internet, in books, in newspapers, on microfilm, on microfiche, on tombstones, in family history’s, in bible records, and on maps. Here is a list of the most common sources that can be used:

  • Census Sound Indexes and Census Records
  • Vital Statistics – Birth, Death and Marriages
  • Newspapers – Obituaries, Marriages, Births, & Community Involvements/Events
  • County Histories – Biographies
  • Cemeteries – Tombstones & Burial Records
  • Atlas – Maps, City Directories
  • Libraries – Local, Genealogical, Historical, Public
  • Church/ Temple Records – Membership, Christening, Baptism, Confirmation, Bat/Bar Mitzvah, Marriage & Death
  • Computer Postings – that can be verified w/documents.
  • Adjutant General – Grave Registration, Military Records
  • Wills and other Probate Records – guardianship, Divorce
  • Deeds – Grantor, Grantee Indexes – Land Grants
  • Pensions
  • National Archives

If you are diligent with doing your verbal and/or written sources, your family history and genealogy will come together nicely. You will find information about your ancestors that you never knew before. Finding new documents and pulling small pieces of information out of them will magnify the lines of any family.