film & videos

  food & wine
  italian american

  free email
  link directory

new york
events, links, forum

events, links, forum

events, links, forum

events, links, forum

san francisco
events, links, forum

los angeles
events, links, forum

about us

you can help us!
We're an all volunteer website and need your help to keep going. Here are five ways you can contribute:
1 Donate
2 Buy something
3 Submit a story
4 Volunteer
5 Advertise

get in gear!
New in the gift shop, logo wear and use items!
  PLEASE NOTE: We are experiencing unexpected technical difficulties caused by our web host. We apologize for the inconvenience. During your visit you may experience service and page interruptions - we are in the process of fixing everything and hope to be fully back on our feet soon.

just the facts
the importance of checking them

by Deborah K. Millemaci
(return to genealogy)

While sitting here doing an internet search it occurred to me how important it is to check and recheck all the facts you collect when researching your family history.

The information we gather in our research comes from a variety of sources: personal accounts from family members, birth, death, land, and military records to name a few. One thing I have noticed lately, especially with online researching are the number of people who may be researching the same ancestors as you, yet some of the information they have collected differs from yours. It is important to remember that even �offical documents" such as birth and death records may have errors - this is not meant to discourage you, but it is something of which you should be aware.

I have been corresponding with a couple people online recently who, in one way or another, are related to a couple of my ancestors through a sibling, aunt, etc. We have discovered that through our correspondence some of the information we have gathered is �questionable.� Case in point, we are trying to determine the dates of birth, death, and marriage of my great-great-grandparents. I was provided with my information through a cousin in Kentucky - who has documentation to back up his research- and has been collecting information on our family for many years. I also have copies of death certificates to substantiate this information. That is not to say that legal documents cannot contain errors, even one spelling mistake on a name can change everything. The people I am in contact with online also have have documentation for their information and our facts conflict - see the problem? How does one determine what is authentic and what isn�t ?

Watch out for tall tales
One of your best sources can be the interviews you have with elder relatives. Many older family members like to talk about the �old days� - we just need to make the time to listen! It is important to note though that as information is passed down thru the generations it may be �altered slightly� - a piece of information that may seem insignificant to one person may be vital to another and may be unintentionally left out. Also, sometimes people have a tendency to �add� a little more to the story - to make it more interesting to the listener.

I have spent most of the morning talking to relatives via telephone and one conversation in particular is one I would like to share with you.

Mistakes common in "official" records
While we were discussing my great great grandfather, who fought in the Civil War, my cousin in Kentucky mentioned to me �very often children were raised by other family members and it wasn�t uncommon that these children took the name of the people they were raised by.� To me this is very important information - especially when researching census records. This might explain why we would see names of people who may be unfamiliar to us as descendants. As a matter of fact, I recall seeing an example of this on census records for my great great grandparents. Speaking of census records, it was also a common practice for census takers not to visit every house especially in rural areas where it might be miles between families. You could say that the census takers relied on �heresay� from the families they did visit, and this often lead to incomplete or erroneous information.

Carefully record names and dates
We would all like to believe that with the hours we spend researching the information, once we find it, its correct; but, this is not always the case. It is very easy to unconsciously transpose a date or a letter in someone�s name. Unfortunately, mistakes result in more work for the family historian. In going over some information on one of my ancestors I noticed that the year of birth for two siblings were the same, and they were not twins! It is possibility that the extra ancestor was the child of another relative - that would certainly clear up the confusion!

It is extremely important you be as thorough as possible when recording names, dates, and other pertinent information - it can mean the difference in locating your ancestor. Online researching is wonderful and it can definitely put you in touch with lost relatives. But, is important to remember that even if you have the �facts� (to the best of your knowledge), those facts have to be constantly proven and checked, which is no easy task! Family research is an ongoing process and our documentation of the events, dates, etc. in our ancestor�s lives are an integral part of that.

The "non-existent" record
Another pitfall is the �non-existent� record - one that we know or �hope� exists, but cannot be located. I have been trying for months to locate a death record for my great-uncle but to no avail. What makes this so perplexing is the fact we have a copy of the will he wrote and when it was presented for probate. There is a 15-day lapse between that time, yet we have been unable to establish exactly when he died. He died in 1918 so we believe an account of his death is available, but we are wondering if the possibility exists his name or other vital information that would identify him as my great-uncle was mis-recorded. (I will keep you posted on how this plays out)

Note your sources
Noting your sources, whether it be a family member, �official� documention, etc. is extremely important. Keep a log of your sources making sure you include the date when you received this information, and from whom/where it was obtained -- this information may prove valuable. Remember, in order to have a complete and credible family history, you have to have your facts right. In order to accomplish this it will take many hours of checking and re-checking the information you have compiled, but trust me it will be definitely worth it!

Think ahead
One more thing I thought I would pass along is something I saw on one of my mailing lists, which I think is a wonderful idea! This is not meant to be morbid, but I believe it is something we as family historians should think about. If something happens to you or to me, who will be the �Keeper of Our Family History� ? We spent years and endless hours of research to give something valuable to our children something they can pass down to future generations, but how do we do that...? We can accomplish this by adding what is known as a �Codicil� to our will that stipulates the family member we have entrusted to make our ancestral history available to our families. An example of this will be found in our Italian Genealogy Forum on this website.

got an italian genealogy question?

ask a question...

©Deborah K. Millemaci - March 2004
No part of this article may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the author.


© 1998-2005 by unless otherwise noted