How Were the Records Made?

Research is not just trolling for images of records and information. That’s gathering or harvesting.

Winnie trusts her humans to only give her food safe for consumption. Genealogists will have to analyze what they find before they consume it. There’s no one to guarantee its “safety” for them.

Research is sort of like cooking after the items have been gathered. Vegetables may be peeled, bad spots may be cut off, rotten items may be tossed, etc. Not everything ends up being used and things need to simmer, cook, and sometimes “set” before they are actually ready for consumption.

It probably is not the best metaphor and may just be a mediocre metaphor, but it reminds us that research is more than simply gathering.

A reader recently remarked that he had the signature of his ancestor and was understandably excited that he had located it. I asked where the signature had been obtained. He told me that he had a deed signed by his ancestor.

At that point, I had a good hunch what he actually had, but I asked him where he obtained the signature. At the courthouse was his response. At that point I knew what he had.

He had a copy of the deed record book’s copy of the deed from the early 1830s. He did not have an image of his ancestor’s signature, he had a reproduction of the clerk’s handwritten transcription of his ancestor’s signature. That’s not his ancestor’s signature.

When we understand the records we are using we are better able to interpret them and draw reasonable conclusions from them. I’ve know about record copies of deeds for some time and I gently pointed this out to my correspondent.

But I remember them every time I encounter a record that is new to me as a way to remind myself that I need to learn about every record I encounter so that I understand what I am looking at as best as I can.

Just like I should know what I am eating before I eat it.


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