What Am I Looking At?

Part of the outer envelope of the compiled military service service record for Peter Belless, Company I, 18th Illinois Infantry, US Civil War. Cards containing information on Belless’ service were put in this envelope. There are thousands of these envelopes written on by a number of clerks–whose handwriting can easily be different.

One of the challenges researchers encounter with images of records is knowing just what they are looking at.

“Mega” genealogy sites include many images of records that can be sometimes easy to locate or stumble upon–but researchers may fail to review source information that accompanies the image. Sometimes that source information is not clear and sometimes the researcher may not be familiar with just really what the records are.

Google searches often locate images with nary a clue as to what was used to make the image.

Questions to ask yourself about any image (or record) you locate:

  • what was the purpose of this record?
  • who created this record?
  • was it a part of another record?
  • what is this record?

There are other questions about a document that need to be asked as well–but getting to the essence of “just what is this?” is an excellent way to start.


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