Sunday, February 16, 2014

My Pet Peeves About Genealogy

Like any other pursuit, there are some things about genealogy that bug me. Some call these things "pet peeves". They're not enough to discourage me from my efforts. But, like some flying insects hovering around the backyard patio in the summer, they are annoying.

To begin with, allow me to complain about published genealogies. Don't get me wrong, I take advantage of whatever resources I can. I don't mind that they often contain errors. After all, I'll still double check the information by searching for the original source documents at But some things still irk me. For example, when a published genealogy uses the married name for women. Sure, many women adopt their husband's name on marriage. However, it makes searching for people that much more difficult. It's also confusing since you can never really be sure if it's a birth name or married name.

Another thing that bugs me is lack of citations in many published genealogies. Most of the time, the information is enough for me to locate the relevant documents. However, as you go further back through time, and the information in the registries become skimpier and skimpier, it becomes more and more important to document how a particular conclusion was reached. For example, if only a year is given for a particular event, you know that the year is just an educated guess at best, unless there's some other document that supports the fact.

Death/burial records in Dutch church registries bug the heck out of me. First, for children, they rarely list the name of the child. Normally, they just list the name of the father. In past centuries, couples often had lots of children, many of whom would die in infancy. And so figuring out an exact date of death for many children is an impossible task. Often, the best you can do is narrow down the date to a couple of possibilities. Take the family of Willem Moll and Dirkje Goetinks as an example. They had five children born in Arnhem between 1785 and 1796. However, when Dirkje died in 1800, the burial record noted that she had no children, which meant that all her children died in infancy. The burial registry for Arnhem lists deaths for three unnamed children of Willem Moll. The only definitive conclusion I can make for all five children is that they died before 1800. There's not enough information to be any more specific.

Second, why are the burial records so hard to read? Marriage and baptism records seem much more easier to deal with. But for some reason, it often seems like the worst scribes possible were assigned to record deaths and burials. Perhaps that's understandable, considering the nature of the task.

Finally, consider this scenario: You're up late searching through various web sites, you're tired, and you want to go to bed. You decide to visit just one more page. Bingo! You come across some previously undiscovered ancestors. What do you do? Do you bookmark the site and add it to your to do list? Or, excited about your new find, do you keep going? Do you enter the data into your database knowing full well that you're too tired to do so without risking the introduction of errors into your database?

These are some of my pet peeves. What are yours?