by: Julie Theobald of the Huntington City-Township Public Library’s Indiana Room. This article appeared in Volume 14, Issue 1 of Family Trails, the Huntington County Genealogical Society’s quarterly newsletter.
Where does your information come from? – Can you verify it? – Is it true?
Consider the source: As with anything in life, the internet should be “taken with a grain of salt”. The information you receive is only as accurate as the person inputting the data. Always check the facts and verify the information with a primary source whenever possible. Don’t take everything you see on “the net” as gospel.
Find A Grave: If there is a tombstone picture, compare the date on the stone with the date that is typed on the left-hand side of the page. The volunteer who typed the information is only human. He/she may make an honest mistake. The numbers on a stone can be misread or the digits transposed. Any biographical information given should be verified by you. Don’t assume the information is correct.
Tombstones: Not only can the internet be incorrect — the actual tombstone itself can be incorrect. In my own family, my grandfather’s tombstone has his name misspelled. Since tombstones were/are so expensive (and it has been incorrect since 1945), I would hazard a guess that the mistake will remain carved in stone forever.
Obituaries: Another cautionary note: just because it is in print doesn’t mean that it is factual. Obituaries can be horribly wrong — from listing incorrect birth and marriage dates and places to omitting family members — living or predeceasing the dearly departed. In my family, we have experienced some of these examples more than once. Another inaccuracy I came across in a current obituary listed people as siblings who were not actually siblings – they may have been raised together but were not siblings. Watch out for inaccurate or incomplete information.
Ancestry.com: One common problem found on this website – people tend to copy someone else’s work without first checking the veracity of the details given. For instance, I have found a woman giving birth to a child while in her sixties (if you believe everything you read) or a child being born years after the father died or a family having a first child in Pennsylvania – a second in Ohio – a third in Pennsylvania and so on.
Vital records: A death certificate can be a valuable tool in proving ancestry. I had a great-grandmother pass away in 1917. I was hoping to prove that her father was my link to a D.A.R. patriot. What I found was: the person giving the information listed her mother-in-law and father-in-law as her parents. Believe me when I say I was very disappointed.
Family Stories: For whatever reason, family stories can carry misinformation down through generations. Just because Grandma or Grandpa said it happened, doesn’t mean it did. You still need to verify family “facts” to make sure it was so. Inaccuracies could be due to unreliable memories. So, don’t be too hard on Grams or Gramps; cut them some slack, but don’t pass on untruths either.