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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Accuracy is Paramount

I will be the first to admit that I'm a sloppy researcher and very impatient when on the hunt for a particular tidbit of information.  However, in the long run, accuracy is extremely important in doing this research.

We find ourselves looking for a piece of information to fill a gap.  We find something that seems to be it.  We're excited.  We jump on it and insert it into the puzzle.

That's a mistake.  One I've made many times.

It's important to stop.  Make a copy of whatever you can and record the source (something else I often don't do) so you can come back to it.  Look for another source of the same information before you decide that what you just found is correct.

We tend to be in a hurry to move on to the next step that this little smidgen allows us go to.  It's OK to take that next step but keep in mind that the information just collected might not be accurate.  You might have to backtrack to make a correction.

Here's why:

There are tons of people with the same name.  You might have the wrong person.

There's a pattern and logical chronology of most people's lives.  The information you just found, particularly if you didn't check the date, might not fit into the person's life pattern.  (more on this later.)

There are errors in documents, in official documents, don't accept everything you read.

Here's an example, one that's been bugging me a little lately.

My great great grandfather was known as James.  Everyone in the family, in the large extended family knows him as, thinks of him, as James.  It was probably how he preferred to be called.

I have his death certificate.  His name was Thomas James.  I just now found an additional document confirming that he was T. J., Thomas James.  

Many people use their middle name as the name they want to be known as, for various reasons.  It's not really important why, it's how they want to be known.  

It's one thing to record Thomas James as James since that's how he was known and probably wanted to be known.  It's quite another, after someone has found an official document citing his name as Thomas James, to record his name as James Thomas. It's worse than inaccurate, it's arrogant and irresponsible.  There I've said it.  Someone, more than one person, has recorded and disseminated that information that's going to lead someone else  to look for more information on James and they'll be looking for the wrong person.  There are other James with the same surname.

I've recently seen MY great great grandfather's name recorded as James Thomas, which it was NOT.  I've seen it twice.  It makes me angry.

More important, it's important to be accurate, for your own sake as well as for others.  If you jump to conclusions, make assumptions, you end up following a path that's going in the wrong direction and you'll be wasting your own time.

My recommendation is to look for at 2 to 3 records with the same information.  It's like looking for socks in a drawer in the dark.  If there are only 2 colors, you'll have to pull out 3 to be sure you have a matching pair.  If there are more variations, you'll have to keeping trying to match but unless you have a match, someone's eventually going to notice that you've made a mistake.

One more pet peeve:  my families aren't just MY families; my families, all my ancestors, all my relatives are the ancestors and relatives of everyone else in the families.  All the research I'm doing is really important to me but I share. I share information; I share charts; I share my database; I share copies of photos.  Every once in a while, I encounter individuals who don't share.  I don't like it.  There isn't anything I can do about it except stop sharing with that individual but I don't like it.  It's unlikable.

When I share, I do so with the understanding that what I share will, in turn, be shared with still others.

I'm not the only person researching my families.  I respect the work other people are doing.  I respect the privacy and ownership of information and materials of other people researching our families.  I expect my work, my information and my property to be respected.  I've been researching ALL my families for over 35 years.  I often forget who has given me a photograph or some piece of information.  I'll try to improve on that.  It's about being disorganized and sloppy, not because I want to take credit for anything.  

I know some of the individuals who are also researching the same families.  I know who I can ask about some parts of the family.  I sometimes feel insulted when members of our families don't ask me about certain information and then record or post inaccurate information.  Again, not because I want credit but because I want to ensure that there's accuracy.  Being insulted is my problem but I am concerned about those who insist on reinventing the wheel when so much work has already been done by me and by others.

The menu on the right includes a list of family groups I've formed at Yahoo.  Membership is free but is by approval - by me.  I intend only for family members to be members.  The group sites allow researchers to exchange information, documents and photos in a relatively safe environment and to get to know each other and communicate with each other.

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