Monday, February 20, 2012

Don't be a surname searcher, be a thorough researcher!

Here's the situation: You're going through probate packets and come across two receipts signed by someone named Delinda Christian

Receipt One

Receipt Two

Now, setting aside an assessment of the varying handwriting styles, if it had already been established that the decedent left behind a widow named Delinda Christian and you see this name appearing on receipts you might be willing to say that they're all receipts for the same person, especially if all you're looking at are the names on the pages. That name isn't very common, it must be receipts for amounts due to the widow by the estate, right? Here's the valuable info you would miss out on by being merely a name scanner

Receipt One

Receipt Two

You have now learned that the decedent, John Christian, had two Delinda Christians in his life; his wife and his daughter. This is also pre-1850 information which means if you were to go to the 1840 census looking for John, all you would find for his household are tick marks so you would have no idea what the names of his family members would have been. Not only is this a great example of the importance of probate papers in reconstructing families, but it's also a great reason to go beyond being just a name scanner. The first step is actually reading the information and understanding it in context. Then you also need to understand why the document was created and what else might be available to you that would help you to build your case. For these other two points, the how and why of the sources you're using and how to become aware of all of your sources, a couple of excellent articles have recently been posted online so check them out for more information on how to make the most of the information you're given in those sources. Don't be one of those people who just pick up books and turn immediately to the index, look up a name and then close the book and move on to something else. Dig deeper!

Footnote on my Footnotes

Search for Sources, Not Just Surnames

Thanks to Michael Hait for pointing out these excellent blog posts!

1 comment:

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