To use or not use a published family history?

My father-in-law gifted me with his copy of “The Ellerbe Family History” by Ronald William Ellerbe, published in 1986. [1] The book is “a compilation and interpretation of all of the discovered references to the Ellerbys/Ellerbes/Ellerbees in America.”[2]   References are listed at the end of the book.  Specific references are not tied to each fact or story.  I consider the information as assertions and seek to prove, or not prove, those assertions.  In this post, I present background information and describe my research approach for the Ellerbee family tree.  Future blog posts will report selected findings related to specific people and families.

family history book image

The work of others is useful in genealogy.  The Board for Certification of Genealogists addresses the issue [3]:

“Genealogists ethically, lawfully, prudently, and respectfully use other’s information and products. . . . Their data collection includes (a) providing full attribution to the originator, (b) accurately representing the originator’s information, and (c) honestly assessing the information’s nature and significance.”

Another relevant concept is evidence correlation.  Compare and contrast items to “discover parallels, patterns, and inconsistencies, including points at which evidence items agree, conflict, or both.” [4]

Chapter 14 of the Ellerbe book outlines our branch of the family, i.e. those who spell the surname ELLERBEE. The book’s author believes that we descend from a John Ellerby, “who died in Anson County, North Carolina, in 1752.”[5]  Although not the author’s primary line, I commend his extensive reporting.  He described four branches of the Ellerbee family:  Upson County, Georgia; Bulloch County, Georgia; Burke County, Georgia; and Tishomingo County, Mississippi. [6] My husband’s specific branch appears to be the Burke County, Georgia, branch with the patriarch being John Ellerbee (1808-1884).

When I started working on the Ellerbee family tree, I relied heavily on the Ellerbe book.  Specifically, I copied names and dates.  Then, I hunted for sources.  Whenever possible, I linked sources to copied information.  I can verify much of the information reported by Mr. Ellerbe.  I added 30+ years of updated information to my personal family tree.  I remain impressed by the amount of work that went into this book, especially since the work predates the internet!

Now, as I begin to clean-up my Ellerbee family tree, I have decided to step back. Instead of using the book as ‘fact’ and attempting to prove those facts, I temporarily put that information aside.  Previously, I asked “Does this information fit what’s in the book?”  This may not be the best approach.  I need to look more critically at each piece of information.  A new set of questions emerge:

  • Does this piece of information fit other information ?
  • If so, how?
  • If not, what are the differences? Can I explain those differences?

After answering those questions, then compare information to what is in the book.

Pretend that I am the subject of a genealogy television show. Typing my father-in-law’s name (Jerry D. Ellerbee), birth year (1938) and birthplace (Texas) in a online genealogy database reveals:

  • Texas Birth Index for Jerry Donald Ellerbee[7]: born 16 January 1938 in Jefferson County.  Parents: James Dreebon Ellerbee and Clara Doris Simmons.
  • 1940 Census[8]: 2-year-old Jerry D. Ellerbee , grandson, and 25-year-old Doris Ellerbee living with head of household,   Walter Ellerbee, age 67, and  wife, Katherine D. Ellerbee, age 60.

Generation 2 & 3:  James Dreebon Ellerbee. Name from Texas Birth Index and interview with Jerry Donald Ellerbee.

  • Texas Death Certificate for James Drebon Ellerbee[9]. Born 30 March 1915 in Texas. Died 29 April 1973 in Lufkin, Angelina county, Texas. Parents: James Walter Ellerbee and Katherine Powell.
  • 1920 Census (closest to James Drebon’s birth year)[10]: Dreebon Ellerbee, son, age 4, born Texas, in Cherokee county, Texas with J.W. Ellerbee, head, 48, born Georgia; wife, Kate, 40, born Texas; 4 siblings and Wright R. Ellerbee, 44, brother of J.W. Ellerbee.
  • Texas Death Certificate for J.W. Ellerbee.[11] Died 9 September 1942. Born 7 December 1872, Georgia. Father: Jim Ellerbee. Mother: Elizabeth Hayes.

Generation 3 & 4:  Click on J. W. Ellerbee in 1920 census to find record closest to his birth year of 1872:

  • 1880 census[12]: 7-year-old James W. Eleby, son, born  Georgia, living in Damascus, Georgia, with Elizabeth A. Eleby, age 33, head, widowed, born Alabama plus 5 siblings and 67-year-old Moses Hayes (female), mother [of head of household, Elizabeth], born Georgia.  Suggests that  Elizabeth’s husband, Jim Ellerbee, died before 1880.

Generation 4:  Click on Elizabeth A. Eleby for next census record.

  • 1870 census[13]: Miller county, Georgia. John J. Eleby, age 31, born  Georgia; Elizabeth , age 27, born Georgia;  5 presumed children, ages 4 months to 11 years.

Clicking on John J. Eleby and Elizabeth Eleby yields no immediate hints.  Clicking on oldest presumed children, Sarah E. Eleby, age 11, and William G. Eleby, age 9, also yields no quick hints except to other online family trees. My initial quick search ends here.  Information gleaned from this quick search:

  • Jerry Donald Ellerbee. Born 16 January 1938 in Jefferson county, Texas. Parents: James Dreebon Ellerbee and Clara Doris Simmons.
  • James Dreebon Ellerbee. Born 30 March 1915 in Texas. Died 29 April 1973 in Lufkin, Angelina county, Texas. Parents: James Walter Ellerbee and Katherine Powell.
  • James Walter Ellerbee. Born 7 December 1872 in Georgia. Died 9 September 1942 in Wells, Cherokee county, Texas.  Parents Jim Ellerbee and Elizabeth Hayes.
  • Jim Ellerbee (a.k.a. John J. Ellerbee, possibly John James or James John), born about 1839 in Georgia. Wife, Elizabeth Hayes, born about 1843.
    • Ages of children in 1870 were 4 months, 2 years, 3 years, 9 years and 11 years. Possible explanation for gap of 6 years (about 1861 to about 1867) is Jim’s absence during Civil War.
    • Alternative explanation for gap: Elizabeth was Jim’s 2nd

With this information in hand, return to Ellerbe book, pages 14-41 to 14-45:

  • _____ Jerry Donald Ellerbee not mentioned.
  • 7977 Dreebon Ellerbee.  [Son of]
  • 7945  James Walter Ellerbee (1872 -1942) and
    • 7970 Kate _____________.
    • [James Walter son noof ]
  • 7917 James John Ellerbee (1836-1877) and
    • Elizabeth Hayes (2nd wife). Married 2nd November 9, 1865, Georgia. *New information suspected but not confirmed during quick record search.
    • 1st wife: Sarah Bailey, married 1858, Calhoun County, Georgia. Died ca. 1863. *New information not found during quick record search. To be confirmed.
    • [James John Ellerbee son of]
  • 7910 John Ellerbee (1808 – 1885) and
    • 7911 Martha ________, 1st wife
    • 7912 Elizabeth _______, 2nd wife
    • * Information about John Ellerbee and his wives did not pop up during my initial quick online search on one website.

Quick online search of first four generations followed same basic lineage as Ellerbe book.  Kate’s maiden name of Powell was added.  The rest of the information requires more research and sources.  I now have confidence in at least some information in the Ellerbe book.

For more information:

Published Family Histories: An Under-Tapped Resource by Susan Kriete, April 26, 2018.

Finding and Using Published Genealogies by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack, CG, No date.

Using Published Genealogies by David A. Fryxell, August 2, 2011. Published in November 2011 issue of Family Tree Magazine.


I have encountered multiple published and private family histories. I approach each with some skepticism.  Sometimes, I work from the published history and attempt to connect my family to it. The desired connection isn’t always there.  I now try to look at each data set independently as I look for consistent and inconsistent information. Am I duplicating the works of others? Probably.  But, in the long run, I can identify consistencies and differences. Hopefully, my blog posts have enough detail so future researchers do not need to search for the same records.

What I learned:  Different approaches to work done by others.

What helped:  Ready access to online genealogy databases and a print copy of family history.

What didn’t help:  Trying to clear my mind and temporarily “forget” what is in the Ellerbe book.

TO-DO:  Continue critical examination of information related to this family in print sources.


[1] Ronald William Ellerbe, The Ellerbe Family History (Baltimore, Maryland: Gateway Press, Inc., 1986).

[2]  Ellerbe, The Ellerbe Family History, p. i.

[3] Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy standards, 2nd ed. (Washington, D.C.:, 2019), p. 16.

[4] Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy standards, p. 27.

[5] Ellerbe, The Ellerbe Family History, p. 14-1.

[6] Ellerbe, The Ellerbe Family History, p.  14-2.

[7] Texas Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, “1938 Births,” digital index, Ancestry (  : viewed, downloaded, printed 15 July 2019), p. 561. entry for Ellerbee, Jerry Donald.

[8] 1940 U.S. Census, Cherokee County, Texas, pop. sch., , enumeration district (ED) 37-31, p. 14B, family #258, Jerry D. Ellerbee; digital images, Ancestry  (  : accessed & printed 15 July 2019); National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. Roll T627_4005.

[9] “Texas, Death Certificates, 1903-1982,” digital images, Ancestry   : downloaded & printed 15 July 2019), entry for James Drebon Ellerbee; citing Texas Department of Health, Austin, TX.

[10] 1920 U.S. Census, Cherokee County, Texas, pop. sch., Justice Precinct 8, enumeration district (ED) 35, p. 14A, family #253, Dreebon Ellerbee; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed & printed 15 July 2019); National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. Roll: T625_1787.

[11] Texas Death Certificates, 1903-1982, digital images, Ancestry (   : downloaded & printed 15 July  2019, entry for  J. W. Ellerbee, citing Texas Department of Health, Austin, TX.

[12] 1880 U.S. Census, Early Co, Georgia, pop. sch., Damascus, enumeration district (ED) 026, p. 214A, family # 242, James W. Eleby [Ellerbee]; digital images, Ancestry  ( : accessed, downloaded, printed 15 July 2019); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. , microfilm publication T9, Roll 144.

[13] 1870 U.S. Census, Miller County, Georgia, population schedule, p. 15 (ink pen), family #120, John J. Eleby; digital images, (  : accessed, viewed, downloaded 25 July 2019); National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.  microfilm publication M593_165.

© Susan Posten Ellerbee and Posting Family Roots blog, 2019

3 thoughts on “To use or not use a published family history?

  1. I love published family histories, especially those from the 1800s. While some are not well sourced, they are terrific for clues and often include info on branches otherwise lost to time.


    • Thanks for your comment. I agree. The Ellerbe book has some stories that I believe he got from older family members. Those stories give clues to names and events. I have also used county histories published in late 1800s and early 1900s. Those often provide brief biographies of persons and families that you can’t find elsewhere. Susan


  2. Pingback: Friday's Family History Finds | Empty Branches on the Family Tree

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