The other day I was taking an online survey for genealogists. Part way through the survey I came across a question that stopped me in my tracks. I thought I would share it with you and get your opinion.
The question started out simply enough. Check off the sources you have used from the following.
- Newspaper articles, announcements and advertisements
- Old atlases and maps
- Living relatives
- Court records
- Old photographs
- Family records and heirlooms, including a family bible
- Church records
- Family Search, International Genealogical Index or Ancestral file (LDS resources)
- Other online databases (Ancestry, FindMyPast, Scotland’s People)
- Professional Genealogists
- Land Records
- Military records
- Tax and Assessment Rolls
- Wills, Estates, Probate records
- Gravestones and cemetery records
- Local Histories
- Social Security Records
- Telephone books, city directories, provincial or state directories
- Funeral Home Records
- Government Vital Records – births, marriages, deaths
- Ships passenger’s lists
- Immigration Records
- Google maps, Google street view
Needless to say, I checked most all of them.....right....as any good genealogist would.
However, the next question left me a bit dazed and confused.
Of the above listed sources which were the most important and why?
Huh..... for a genealogist this is like asking a mother to choose which one of her babies, her precious children are her favourites. In fact they wanted me to pick my top three. I had to give this some thought, there were a few things I had to consider.
It depends on which one of my family surnames I would be taking into account. Each surname brings its own set of special challenges. As so each one of my children.
It depends on what point in my research I am referencing, some documents were more important in the early going as opposed to now. Do I choose based on now or way back at the beginning? We all know those babies were so cute in the early days, lest we forget the sleepless nights and diapers.
Then, I just can’t get past the fact that no document is an island. Any genealogist, worth their salt knows that it takes a combination of documents to tell the story. No document on its own can singularly take on the responsibility of your family history, just as it takes the unique personalities of my children to create our family.
Then I tried to think if I only had access to one document which one would that be? Again a tough call because each ancestor in my tree has revealed themselves through a variety of documents. Each one brings it strengths to the equation just like all my children. Each one has their own personality and although they all have their strengths and weaknesses, you love them all equally. How could I every choose.
For instance, I think most would say vital statistics are very important, however, I have found more information on census documents and in obits then in some birth certificates. However, without a vital record, it’s hard to know for sure your chasing the right person.
Then I could say passenger lists, because for some of my family, passenger lists and linking them to their homeland, and uncovering the story of their arrival has been an important part of my research.
How do I choose, and why should I have to? Well I did against my better judgement.
1. My first choice was passenger lists, I have found a couple that have really opened the door to a few of my ancestors and I am desperately looking for a couple more that I hope will do the same. I’m afraid they just simply don’t exist.
2. My second choice is vital statistics, as stated earlier; they really do help you to know if you’re following the right person. However, I have found a few birth certificates that frankly still left me wondering.
My third choice is census documents – let’s face it they really do contain a wealth of information, and by putting several of them together; you really begin to see a person’s life, an entire family and a community. Hmmm..... maybe census documents should have been first, now I’m rethinking this.
What do you think? If you had to rate your babies, your precious genealogy sources, what would be your top three?