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23 Jan 2012

It's on the net, it must be wrong!

I often hear variations of the following warning: 'Do not add this to your tree until it has been verified by YOU.'

I am an impatient transcriber and thoroughly resenting going through centuries-old parchment for a location which ought to have been included in the catalogue.  I mournfully wound my way through the Ditcheat PRs in Taunton and it became obvious a much larger Scott family existed. It was frustrating not knowing if they were close relatives, and being boggled by the out-of-sequence names.

Now, thanks to the net, I've found my Scotts. With the glorious overview on findmypast and familysearch, I can see all the burials, marriages and baptisms that have been recorded.  I can make judgements and compare across the whole county, being cogniscent of gaps.  I found that several of the marriages of Scotts in Ditcheat had a corresponding baptism in another parish, at Chewton Mendip.  Wasn’t that something?
I did get waylaid by some bad cataloguing: Curry Rivel, the lead item on the microfilm, being listed in error for Ditcheat as the place of baptism.  But that was infinitely preferable to slogging down to the record office and failing to spot key entries in the register.   A computer is much better than my eyes at combing through large amounts of data.  Without this global knowledge one can comfortably assume the girl baptised in the parish must be the one married there: often wrong.  Again with comprehensive census and good burial records we can be disabused of this parochial guesswork.

The biggest skill of a family historian is not to check every wretched source, and presumably extract an oath from their custodians that they are valid; but to take data of varying quality from a range of sources and to sort them: what is likely to be correct, what is suspicious and what is possible but not proven.  If jurors on a strict diet of daytime soaps can do this, I'm sure I can.

One needs some understanding of the background to a source or place: that includes London street names, the rounding of ages in 1841, the fact names are correct in probate records but not often elsewhere, the fact that women in England change their names when they marry and previous married names should appear on their children’s civil birth records; that birth dates before 1837 are rarely recorded officially; that it was easier to get into the main town than it was to cross the hill into the next valley.

I would prefer to carry on seeing YOUR transcriptions, and for me to concentrate on the analysis, which will include considering whether your hardwork belongs on my tree or not.

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