Finding Reliable Genealogy Records

genealogy recordsThe Recipe for correct and truthful genealogy records are in the Details: Part 1 of 2

Mmm… Chocolate Cake. I love Chocolate Cake. Grandma used to make what was called “Wacky Cake” which was chocolate sheet cake with a moist rich chocolate center. It was to die for. German Chocolate Cake…”Yah.” Dark Triple Chocolate Cake… be still my heart. Even those little round cakettes (I suppose you could call them)… How does that song go? “Someday they’ll find me all stretched out on my bed, with a handful of Pringles potato chips, and a Ding Dong by my head.”

Yes, I do love chocolate cake; but I don’t know how to make it. Oh, I love to cook; but for some reason, (perhaps it was a natural survival instinct), I never learned to make cake. If I had, you could tip me over and roll me down the street.

But now you ask “What does this have to do with genealogy? With making a Record Worthy of All Acceptation?” Most people do genealogy like I might make chocolate cake. Let’s see, first I picture a chocolate cake in my mind. The initial ingredient… chocolate, of course. Probably lots of it. Some oil, some sugar, some flour. Salt? Do I need salt? I’m not sure, after all this is cake; why would I need salt? Eggs, what about eggs? Do I need one or ten? Do I need to separate them? You know, lay them out on the counter, two inches apart. Not too much butter, I don’t want to get fat. Let’s see… I’m forgetting something. Oh yes, liquid. Do I use water or milk? I’m experienced enough about cooking scrambled eggs to know you use water. But in cake??? Boy, doesn’t this sound delicious? And with records as with chocolate cake, the recipe is in the details.

Family genealogy is published today in a variety of media. It may be presented as a family history book, or presented on an Internet web-page; it can fill a space of data input as a pedigree, or appear as a lineage for a society or association.

Genealogy information may be the framework for legal or probate casework; and details about the origins of a family can be the foundation of medical and scientific discoveries. Genealogies are studied and reviewed by a vast number and variety of readers, be it for secular or religious reasons, all of whom are hoping to find correct and useful information.

A record worthy of all acceptation means a genealogy that presents a correct and truthful interpretation of family history as found in existing records. Unfortunately, due to poor record keeping systems, false information by nefarious individuals, or simply the inadequate skills and education of those collecting and recording data, the vast majority of genealogies fall short of the mark, resulting in a general loss of historical and family memory. Such a loss multiplies with each generation, and in just one or two generations the record of whole families can be lost to the memory of society.

Millions of family lines translate into billions of records. Yet there is only one rule that genealogy researchers need to remember as they gather the names of ancestors:
“Accurately identify and cite the sources for the information you record.”

There, class is over. That’s all you need to know. Yet somehow this message doesn’t often get across. Genealogy information passes from book to paper, or like from mouth to ear like a form of gossip; titillating to hear, but no one can quite remember where it came from. With each telling and each recording the story gets better; imaginary details are added, and the trail back to the source gets dimmer and dimmer. Many years ago I coined what I call “Petty’s Paradigm on Prevaricated Pedigrees.”

Simply put:
Petty’s Paradigm on Prevaricated Pedigrees©
If you have an idea, It’s a possibility;
If you write it down, It becomes a probability;
If published, It becomes a Fact;
And if quoted, It becomes Gospel Truth.

The practice of documenting research and citing resources, or “sourcing” as some prefer to call it, is a concept that has existed in scholarly research for centuries. Our eighth grade teachers tried to drill it into our minds as a “bibliography” when we first learned to write themes and research papers.

Today, genealogy events (names, dates, and places) should be documented and cited, so there is a specific description detailing the name of the record, the type of record it is, and where the record can be found with sufficient clarity that someone else can access it if need be. Documenting your genealogy makes it possible for those who come afterward to continue the research without having to start all over.

(Part 2 of this article will be posted tomorrow)

Looking for help with hard to find records or genealogical questions? Contact Heirlines Family History and Genealogy, breaking through family history walls for almost 40 years. We professionally identify and document ancestry and kinship relationships and verify and certify the family tree with Certified Family Trees™ and Certified Forensic Genealogy Solutions™. We’re ready when you’re ready!

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James W. Petty, AG, CG, is the Board-Certified and Accredited Professional Genealogist, “Climbing the Family Tree Professionally, Since 1969”. He is President of HEIRLINES Family History & Genealogy, Inc. (, the “Salt Lake City, Utah BBB Accredited Business” trusted professional genealogy research services firm, providing US and International genealogical and historical research for a world-wide clientele.