Sources Establish Facts by Jeannette Holland Austin

The success of any genealogy is the sources discovered by the researcher because they help to establish facts. But all sources are not equal. Births, deaths and marriages recorded inside a family bible are my first choice in accuracy. Parents are not going to err concerning the births, marriages and deaths of their children! However, we do need to be aware of different handwriting entries because this alerts us that another person has possession of the bible; probably a child in the direct line. The second is tombstones and death certificates. The reason for the second choice is that relatives provide names and dates to undertakers who then take that information and order the death certificate and marker. Census records, especially after 1880 record the month and year of birth. This information should be compared to cemetery records and other information gleaned. Data provided in war pensions by the soldier requesting a pension is only as accurate as his memory. His widow comes along later and requests a pension for her husband's service and records somewhat different information. I always take the marriage dates and check them against the county records. Which one will you accept? County marriage records have two parts. One is the application, and the other is the actual date of ceremony. Genealogists frequently mix up these dates so the only sure way is to go to the court house, look up the marriage, and be certain to note the date of the ceremony. Abstracted marriage records also contain these errors. A christenng or baptism record may not occur anywhere close to the actual birth date. Sometimes parents christening two or more of their children on the same date. Books and manuscripts frequently contain complete dates. This makes you wonder where they got them. A good bibliography in the back of the book will list all of the sources. We look for legitimate sources, but without thorough references, we do not know. Family histories written in book and manuscript formats cite other books. These older written genealogies have been out of print for many years. Frequently, just a few copies were printed for the relatives. Someone may have donated one to a library. Perhaps the cited older books have more specific sources to our liking. I have friends who passed up purchasing a book of their family history because it only contained collateral lines. Oh me, oh my! In later years when they had traced further along and realized their families intertwine or come from the same area of those in the book, they were horrified to discover that it was out of print and could not find it anywhere. A few bucks for a person's lifetime research on a family tree is more than a bargain rather than years and even more dollars chasing the same information. Some sources are highly problematical. DAR applications contain multiple errors and originated because a person wanted to belong to that organization. What I am saying here is that those sources listed on the application as well as each generation listed should be verified. Some applications are conspicuously absent credible sources. One of my distant cousins before my time applied for membership under Christopher Chambliss without finding his estate records or tracking his movements through Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia. A birthdate of 1747 was given and place of birth as Rockbridge County, Virginia. Where that came from I never discovered, as no member of that family ever lived in Rockbridge County, etc. However, the records did disclose him elsewhere in Virginia, proven by deeds, wills, marriages, etc. His actual birthdate was established from the 1820 and 1830 census which provided a range being no earlier than 1760. Another record which lacks accuracy is the Ancestral File found online at These are family group sheets and charts sent into the church by individuals who seldom list the sources. Then, the computer adds the names of other children to that same record. In other words, you might have a Mary Smith born 1760 and one born 1765. The computer, in comparing other records for the same ancestor, adds both Mary's because the dates are not exact. I use these as worksheets to discover facts in cited states and counties. All in all, our task is difficult, but rewarding. Once we establish our own facts we are ready to meet the challenges from other researchers who question our findings. Once I have gone the route and exhausted every possible record, the only thing which will make me change a fact is if the challenging researcher has a family bible or cemetery record.

Jeannette Holland Austin, Georgia Author of Genealogy Books

Georgia County Records (digital images) wills, estates, marriages

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