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Proformat News
No: 92
October 2013
October seminars
9: Introduction to family history, WEA Centre Adelaide 8:00 to 9:30pm over 7 weeks
25: Researching your English ancestors, WEA Centre Adelaide 6:30 to 9:30pm

November seminars
Adelaide SE corner heritage walk, Friends of SA Archives 2:00 to 4:00pm Information and bookings <>
10: Coming to grips with the new FamilySearch, WEA Centre Adelaide 10:00 to 1:00pm

See the seminar program for more details and bookings.

A cautionary tale
Do you ever harvest data from online family trees published by FamilySearch, Ancestry and others? Hopefully you check every piece of data you extract by locating the primary sources for the information. As reported elsewhere recently, research on family trees mentioning Queen Mary (who succeeded Henry VIII) suggest she died in the following places—Westminster Municipality in Colorado as 32 Ancestry users assert in their public trees, or in Westminster a town Massachusetts as a further 99 claim. Not a bad effort considering the Queen died in 1558 and the town was established in 1737! In fact you can also find hundreds of researchers who have managed to trace their ancestry right back to the biblical Adam and Eve!

Such fanciful family histories are not new and indeed have been a part of the topic for a very long time but the difference now is that such rubbish is more readily accessed! The intuitive nature of some modern software does not help either. I suspect that in some of the above incidents a person typed in Westminster and their computer software helpfully added the rest!

In this issue:
October seminars
November seminars

Feature article
A cautionary tale


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Hopefully no reader of this newsletter has fallen into these traps but remember the above example is just an obvious one. Anyone who downloads unsourced material and does not confirm the facts with research is open to the same problems. Indeed even if the data is sourced a wise researcher will check it out! Unfortunately in my work I come across these problems all the time.

Some researchers have researched wrong lines simply because they have ignored an important gap in the ancestral chain or failed to validate a record with an official document!

Consider the following scenario:

A John Puttick records his birth place in the 1851 census as Tillington SSX and his age indicates this took place between April 1809 and April 1810. In the Tillington SSX baptism registers we find:
   • 15 Nov 1809 John s/o Thomas farmer and Jane
   • 27 Nov 1809 John s/o Thomas & Jane of Long farm

How can one tell which one was their ancestor?

There are a number of basic research principles one should observe:

• Always work from the known into the unknown
• Never assume anything
• Be objective and do not let emotions and preconceived values get in the way
• Be organised and systematic
• Develop a planned research strategy
• Maintain a set of research log books to manage your research program
• Plan visits to repositories thoroughly
• Seek out and accept good advice
• Widely advertise your research interests amongst appropriate target groups
• Be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of primary and secondary resources
• Use indexes appropriately
• Understand the need to corroborate facts with at least two independent sources if possible
• Record your sources clearly and concisely
• Evaluate your findings in the light of the reliability of the source

There are a number of issues shaped by human frailties that a researcher needs to consider, not necessarily because they may be influenced by them but because their ancestors or the record may have been skewed as a result.

• Memory is not a reliable feature in human beings
• The desire to retain some respectability
• The yearning by some to remain youthful
• Traditions or myths passed down through the years
• A yearning to be associated with the famous
• A lack of understanding of historical context

Miss Marple would make a good genealogist—she never takes anything at face value!
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