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Genealogy: Cite and verify every source

By Barry Ewell

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Aug. 3 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Always verify. There is never a time when you should not verify information you have received. You can go to almost any Internet search engine today and within a few minutes find hundreds of questionable "facts." I've seen the same birth recorded as happening in Florida in the 1600s and in Utah in the early 1800s. I've seen records of mothers who supposedly gave birth to children at the age of 5, as well as 22-year-old grandfathers. It's frustrating, to say the least.

Through the years, I have found critical errors in information I downloaded. It often appears that genealogists wanted so desperately to extend the line or make a connection that they jumped to conclusions in their research, which caused other genealogists to research someone else's family lines. Often the answers they were looking for were right before their eyes. The following are a few examples of experiences that other genealogists shared with me about the value of verifying information:

"I verify everything for myself. I once used someone else's info and there was a huge mistake that cost me about a year of work."

"Great-granddad's marriage certificate had wrong occupation details on it, which caused me no end of problems with my searching."

"Family myths are just that, myths, unless you check and double-check. I was led to believe that my father's family was from Suffolk County in England. Everyone swore that this was right. It took me five years and a trip to Utah to find out that they were not right. In fact, the family was from the county of Essex."

"I do not automatically accept a version of ancestry from another person — I check everything out, because people sometimes will create their ancestries to fit their own conceptions. When creating a family history, make it a masterpiece of accuracy. Inaccurate information will lead you away from where you want to go."

"Make no assumptions. The family has always stated that my mother's family was from Germany because of the heavy accent. However, in North Carolina, an Irish or Scottish accent could also have been considered 'heavy,' as could Welsh. Don't discount anything until you've proved it can't be."

"I learned some time ago after receiving a family CD from a genealogy company that the information was incorrect on the family line. I called the company and found that they never asked the person if all their information was documented. Today, the new genealogist seems to rely on information over the Internet."

"Do not assume something is correct. This is a real time waster. I spent a lot of time seeking my great-grandfather who supposedly died in South Africa, when in reality he died at his home in Scotland. I have many examples of wasting time — now I'm almost too skeptical. Nothing should be taken at face value. Humans make errors."

"Don't believe everything you read; adopt a 'show-me' attitude. I'd heard for years that there was a fire in the Martin County (N.C.) Courthouse and all records were destroyed. I visited the courthouse and was informed that wasn't the case. Yes, there had been a small fire that damaged a few land records, but that was it."

Searching online presents many of the most challenging issues when it comes to verifying sources. The following are a few of the lessons I have learned from searching online:

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