The Good the Bad and the Ugly of Printed Sources


During the episode Sleuthing Compiled and Printed Sources, James M. Beidler and Michael John Neill both shared tips and strategies for using resources for genealogy research. Not only did we talk about the sources themselves, but also how to take advantage of the notes and references, as well as the best methodology for capturing those sources for your personal archive.

The Good

There are so many good things to be said about these printed and compiled sources. A dedicated person or a group of people came together to do the work to create these beautiful texts to help other researchers. Because of their dedicated work, we now have what Michael calls a wonderful finding aid to help us find more about our ancestors.

The Bad

The bad part about printed and compiled sources is that sometimes we “overemphasize them,” Jim warned. We use them as sources on our family tree when we should really cite the original document, if it exists. The bad can also happen when we do not fully understand the purpose of the text and what was included. This may cause us to prematurely make assumptions based on what we do not find in the text.

The Ugly

This is where the ugly comes in. While researching at the Library of Congress I came across a book of marriages in Barbour County, Alabama. I did not spend much time reading the forward or introduction as Jim and Michael suggested. I dove right in. Fortunately, I found some ancestors. Unfortunately, I did not find others. This is when I thought that the missing ones did not get married.

Hathaway, Warrine Sheppard, Barbour County, Alabama marriages 1838-1930. 1995

Thank goodness I knew to go to the original source. When I looked at the original marriage register I noticed a column to the far left. On some rows, there was the letter “c” in that column. This stood for colored. None of the people with the c were included in the marriage book. (Cs Matter) Fortunately, some of my family didn’t have c’s next to them so they were included in the book anyway.

Barbour County (Alabama). Judge of Probate; Alabama. County Court (Barbour County), Marriage records, 1838-1928

The moral to this story is, that compiled and printed sources are wonderful finding aids to the original records, if they exist. Use them but not exclusively. They are just one part of the chain of sources that can provide you with information that can provide evidence for the answer you seek.

Watch the episode

Sleuthing Compiled and Printed Sources, James M. Beidler and Michael John Neill

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