Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Correcting Mistakes

NOTE: The podcast version of this blog entry appears at DearMYRTLE's podcast area.

A compiled genealogy is never done, as additional information will most assuredly come to light.

This blog entry is not only about "correcting mistakes" but about "strange coincidences".

At the NGS Conference last May in Kansas City, Ol' Myrt here picked up a book & CD with nearly a thousand cutsie Victorian clip art designs. That's where I found the drawing of this eraser -- the upgrade version of the 3" x 1" pink one I used in elementary school. When I began writing book reports using a manual typewriter in middle school, they hadn't yet invented "White Out" to cover up our mistakes.

So in those "olden days" we used what I thought of as a snazzy full-function eraser with the little whisking brush, illustrated at left. I guess the theory was to whisk away the eraser residue so as to avoid clogging up our Remington's inner workings. (Imagine, no word processors, and having to press hard on each key as we typed, so the resulting imprint on the page would be strong and easily readable!)

SO, last spring, after unpacking my treasure trove of finds at the NGS vendors' hall, I set to work copying & pasting said Victorian artistic symbols (all royalty free, of course!) into my Outlook 2007 calendar. The idea was to begin this new series of blog entries starting this fall after a full summer of traveling abroad, etc.

INNOCENTLY ENOUGH, this morning I got up early, and tackled the postings on the APG (Association of Professional Genealogists) Mailing List -- something I had missed for the past three days due to other assignments. Most topics centered around:

Ol' Myrt here had JUST finished reading [APG] Problems when your corrections are accepted by Judy Newman, when UP POPPED the automatic reminder from my calendar program reminding me that today's topic would be "CORRECTING MISTAKES." That is the "strange coincidence".

HOW ON EARTH DID MYRT'S RANDOM PLACEMENT OF GRAPHICS AND FUTURE BLOG TITLES (4 months ago) just happen to coincide with the series of postings Ol' Myrt was reading at the very moment my calendar pop-up reminded me of the day's topic? I guess in the cosmic
scheme of things it really must be time to start cleaning up our databases and correcting mistakes.

In her APG posting, Judy wrote "...A distant cousin has an online web page for her family. We share 4th great grandparents. When I learned about her web site I wrote her with some corrections and some death dates. She added the death dates but did nothing about the corrections. She added my name to the web site as the only source other than herself and it now looks as though I could be responsible for the serious misinformation..."

Judy's posting bring up two important points:
  • Just because it's on the web (on in a printed book) doesn't mean it is the gospel truth.
  • Your best defense is to put up your own website, with the truth as you know it. Then keep things up to date.

All too often beginning genealogists merely cull ancestral info from the net, and place it, clearly without much thought, in their personal genealogical databases. Claims of 20,000+ names in a database don't impress anyone who understands that each family relationship must be substantiated by surviving documents from the places where your ancestors once lived.

The drawback about putting things up on the web means that if you DO happen to post an innocent mistake in lineage assumptions, even when you DO post corrections, there is no way to contact the thousands of people who may have copied & pasted the erroneous info BEFORE you made your change. (Great run-on sentence, eh?)

But without making postings on surname message boards, or creating your own genealogy website, you are doomed to remain OUT of the conversation about your ancestor's history. You've got to communicate with other genealogists. Some of them may know more about your ancestor than you do at this point in time.

Since the study of one's roots is a growing, ever-changing process -- we'll probably always be peeling back the layers on the blinders that prevent us from viewing the lives of our ancestors in true historical context. Finding additional, even obscure record groups mentioning our progenitors will certainly be part of the equation. Clues about familial relationships are often derived from indirect sources, requiring logical deductive reasoning. But as new documents come to light, we must revisit our declarations of just "who is who", to be sure we're not grafting a line of someone else's ancestors into our own family tree.

SINCE WE CANNOT USE "WHITE OUT" to cover up our mistakes, just what DO we use? Your genealogy management software will help you with some practical aspects of removing people, looking for disconnected people (separate trees), merging duplicates, checking spelling, etc.

SO, MY DEAR, DearREADERs, please don't give up. None of us is perfect. We're going to make mistakes no matter how hard we try. But the thing that will make the difference is adhering to this policy: as soon as we discover our mistakes, let's correct them. No dragging ourselves across hot coals or harboring feelings of inadequacy because of those mistakes.

Ol' Myrt here firmly believes we're making our best judgments as we compile our family history based on the information at hand. As we grow our research skills, take additional "how-to" courses on and off the web, converse with other researchers, and continue to scour each ancestor's hometown records, we will undoubtedly unearth new information that must fit in with the documents we've already collected.

Whether the newly discovered document proves existing ancestral theories, or produces wrinkles in the over-all picture -- WE CAN HANDLE IT.

When a document provides more questions than answers, don't be afraid to discuss your challenge in your genealogy database notes for that individual. Just type it in there like you are describing it to your best friend. Sometime in the future, when you revisit the challenge, other information may have come into your possession that will clarify matters.

This is all part of the process. Just keep going, gang! We can do it.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)
Your friend in genealogy.


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© 2008 Pat Richley All Rights Reserved. This and previous blog entries are fully searchable by going to
http://blog.dearmyrtle.com/. Myrt welcomes queries and research challenges, but regrets she is unable to answer each personally.