Genealogy standards and repositories (Priority Reset, Part 2)

The article that I submitted for consideration to a genealogic journal was not accepted. The editor gave lots of feedback with clear directions on how to proceed. In my last post, I reported how and why my genealogy goals for this year have changed. In this post, I outline specific ways in which I plan to revise this article. 

Here’s my new goal: Using the editor’s suggestions as base, revise article about Maurer family. If I follow her suggestions, I will better meet Genealogical Standards[1]. To review, genealogical standards include five criteria:

  1. Reasonably exhaustive research-“emphasizing original records. . . . “[2]
  2. Complete, accurate citation of sources
  3. Tests of evidence by analyzing and correlating data
  4. Resolution of conflicts among evidence
  5. Written conclusion that is reasonable and coherent

Specifically, I did not completely meet the first criteria about original records. I possess, and cited, many  original certificates and/or copies of the originals.  I purchased certificates directly from state, county and local offices. Relatives sent me photo or digital copies. Some records were available online. However, I frequently cited online indexes as sources.

Indexes are not original records!  As the editor pointed out, indexes should primarily be used as a finding aid for the original document. Indexes are transcriptions of original material and, therefore, subject to error. How many times have you found an ancestor’s name misspelled on an index?   Contact the agency or group that holds the original record, i.e. the repository.  Often, you pay a fee for a copy of the record from an agency or group.  Citation of only an index does not meet the genealogical standard.

The original record may be available online. One example is a link to a newspaper article. The article has been indexed on a database; clicking on the link sends you to a digital image of the newspaper. In the example below, the newspaper (Tyler Morning Telegraph, published in Tyler, Texas) is the repository. The obituary was accessed through two database indexes-  Ancestry and Newspapers.com.  Citation of either index without actually finding the article is not enough.  

Is an index ever appropriate as a primary source? I’m not sure and will leave that debate to the genealogy professionals. When you find an index entry for your ancestor, you are definitely one step closer to that missing puzzle piece. Keep good notes and cite the index appropriately in your research log.

For more information: Genealogy 101: Indexes, an Important Part of Genealogy Research

You may not be able to obtain a copy of more recent records. Agencies set criteria for what records are public domain and what records have restricted access. I have seen 75-100- year limits on birth certificates becoming public domain and 25, 50 or even 75- year limits for death certificates. In one jurisdiction, only parents and the actual person can obtain a copy of an original birth certificate, unless the person has been dead for at least 50 years. You may still be able to get a transcript of the certificate. Proof of direct descent sometimes eases restrictions. This can be frustrating for genealogists. However, I respect these agencies for making an effort to limit identity theft.

Remember that online databases such as Ancestry, Find My Past, My Heritage and Family Search are NOT the repositories of most records. These online services are the intermediary between repositories and the public. Example – the repository for most U.S. census records is the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, D.C. State health departments are often the repositories for birth and death certificates issued since about 1910.

Back to my original goal of revising my article.  Related to the first genealogical standard, my specific objectives are:

  1. Identify all citations with the word “index.”
  2. Detect indexes that may have a digital copy of the original records. When found, go to the original source. Cite the original source including URL.
  3. If original record is not available online, contact agency that holds the original record. Submit request forms and fees as needed. Wait for responses.
  4. Recognize that this process may take months and be costly.

Ultimately, I will produce a better, more complete, family history. What if none of these efforts work? That’s a question I will pose to the editor after I have exhausted all other resources.

The editor also suggested that I consult a broader range of sources such as land records and court proceedings. That will be a topic for another post! 

My article is a work in progress. I have to consider possible copyright issues and, therefore, cannot reveal more to you at this time. I have multiple stories about how I discovered information. I hope to share some of those research notes with you later.   

© Susan Posten Ellerbee and Posting Family Roots blog, 2021


SOURCES:

[1] Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, 2ND edition (Washington, D.C.: Turner Publishing Co., 2019).

[2] Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, page 1.