When the Site Dishes Up Results, You Must Determine If It is Mystery Meat or Fine Cuisine

A search for a relative on a “big” genealogy website may search records from a wide variety of sources and instantly pull up an image with the name of interest. Before you assume you’ve hit the genealogy jackpot there are some warnings:

  • The image may not refer to your relative. The image may come up because the name is “close,” the location is “close,” or someone else thought the record was about your ancestor. The name may not really be the same, the location may be too far off, or that other person may be incorrect. If the search parameters were set too loosely, the “match” may make absolutely no sense. Search results are not divinely inspired.
  • The transcription may not be correct. The original may be difficult to read or the transcriber may have made a mistake. Transcriptions made on Ancestry, FamilySearch, etc. are not officially sanctioned transcriptions. They are not gospel. Do not treat them as if they are. Read the document yourself. Ask someone for assistance on one of the many genealogy groups online (Facebook, etc.).

When viewing any image of a record, ask yourself the following questions:

  • what record did this image come from?
  • is there more to this record?
  • what was the purpose of this record?
  • am I using an image of the original record or a transcription of the original record?
  • who originally created this record and where are those originals?

If you don’t know what on earth you are looking at, how on earth are you going to understand and analyze it?

Don’t just ask those questions and ignore them. Get the actual answers. If you do, you are likely to:

  • make fewer mistakes
  • save yourself time
  • discover even more information

[In reference to the title of this post, I realize that some readers are vegan. If so, replace “mystery meat” with “plant of unknown origin.]

For a somewhat lengthy example of this analysis, view a post on our sister site, Rootdig.

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