Original Records: Uncovering Truth and Destroying Brick Walls
What are we missing if we don't view the original record? Anything? Is it ok to use the information we find in indexes, summaries, and transcriptions? Exactly how important is it?
The truth is that if we are not utilizing the original records (or at least an exact image copy), we may very well completely miss clues that will solve our toughest brick wall problems. Here are three reasons original records surpass copies and abstracts.
1. Original records, such as birth certificates and marriage licenses, are typically created near the time of the event by officials and are thought to be less susceptible to error. Transcripts and abstracts that are made later and based on observations and interpretations of originals may contain errors or omissions. (No finger-pointing here! We all make those types of errors.)
2. Original records sometimes contain additional details or marginal notes that are not carried over into copies. For example, details about a person's occupation, place of birth, and children may appear in a pension file. Perhaps the abstractor only captured the information about the pensioner’s service. Their purpose may not have been genealogical and so they did not note all the other details in the file. If we rely on that abstraction, we will miss pieces of the puzzle we need.
3. Each original record is one-of-a-kind. You can glean information that cannot be found in any substitute. For example, originals often provide insights into historical and social contexts. Handwriting, spelling, language, and terminology used at the time of the record's creation are all valuable to build a deeper understanding of the deeper history of your family's community. Anytime you learn about an ancestor's community, you are learning about them as an individual, too.
Online family trees, books, abstracts, and databases can be useful, no doubt. They can serve as guides and hints. But they should not be relied upon as the sole source of information for your family research. To build a more accurate, detailed, and trustworthy family tree, check out those original (and unique) records.