Over the last 15 years we've seen huge changes in the way we conduct genealogy research. I remember jumping on the bus in suburban Detroit, taking the ride down Woodward Ave to the massive Detroit Public Library to go through the thousand of documents, books, records they had stored at the historical building itself. At that time, the idea of sitting at home and doing any genealogy research in your family room on the home computer was unthinkable. Even all off ur pedigrees and family group records were on paper and carried everything in a heavy brief case to the library or where ever I went to do any type of research. Indexes were massive books we pulled from the shelves of the library to look up which films of the Federal Census records we would need to go see at the National Archives. Nothing moved fast with doing genealogy research back then.
Technology has done wonderful things in helping the entire genealogy culture and research process. However, we need to be very careful of what is out there and how to use it. Genealogy Standards exist for a reason, and we need to ensure that not only our work is exemplary, but that the resources that are being published and represented as "official" are accurate. Unfortunately that has not been the case. The mad rush to index everything we can get our hands on to enable the cyber-swift speeds being demanded to do our genealogical research has created index after index frought with errors leading many to assume the needed records dont exist.
The great effort for indexing across multiple platforms have helped in many ways. We now go into many websites and and just taping a name and it brings forth lists of matches for us to review. These lists are nothing more than matches based on the indexes created from people reading and transcribing the names, dates, and places into the system that is maintaining these indexes. As helpful as they can be, the number of errors are increasing and we need to be prepared to watch for them. I remember being told many years ago when I started researching, to look for possible spelling errors and and variations of the name your searching due to the "human errors" we all see in the records. This however, is a complete misrepresentation of the actual data on the record, and if we're not careful, we'll miss finding these records.
Below is a good example, in Ancestry.com, the Missouri Birth Records of 1851-1910 are available for search. In searching for the birth record of a child of C.M. Fletcher and his wife Lucille, we find the record below.
The search brought up a record for a Merth G Fletcher, the problem is the record is not of Merth G Fletcher. If one carefully looks at the handwriting, compares the letters to others on the page, its obvious that the name on this record is Mertle G Fletcher. Simply look above at the handwriting of the surname Fletcher on the same line or of Chas a few lines above and you can see how this person writes the letter "h" compared to the letter "l". Of course, the spelling of Myrtle is not the issue here, the human error needs to be indexed and documented as recorded. The issue is the child's name is this record is not Merth.
If we were only searching on the name, this might not have been retrieved based on this error. This example may seem small, but I've seen many other, more crucial errors to the names, dates, and places being recorded in the indexes which I have managed to find only by being very creative in my online searching. Until these online companies clean up these indexes and ensure better transcription moving forward, we need to find ways to search for the records to find our families. Next week, I'll address some tips and ideas for searching online knowing that these indexing issues exist.