Another genealogy tragedy averted.
While I am deeply thankful for published genealogies and compiled online family trees, I am also thankful for my knowledge of and application of the these five elements of the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) (from Genealogy Standards):
- We conduct a reasonably exhaustive search for all information that is or may be pertinent to the identity, relationship, event, or situation in question;
- We collect and include in our compilation a complete, accurate citation to the source or sources of each item of information we use;
- We analyze and correlate the collected information to assess its quality as evidence;
- We resolve any conflicts caused by items of evidence that contradict each other or are contrary to a proposed (hypothetical) solution to the question; and
- We arrive at a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.
This week as I applied these elements to the research of my Swedish ancestor, Eric Ersson, I avoided the genealogy tragedy associated with the I-found-it-online-and-quickly-added-it-to-my-own-tree-as-truth mistake.
My 15-year-old son asked the perfect question, and I was so thankful for what happened next. While introducing him to the basics of Swedish research we reviewed what was published in FamilySearch's Family Tree about our Eric Ersson.
I then recommended that we continue to search for and document his life using the original vital and census records as found at ArkivDigital. As we began to search for and cite our findings he asked,
"Dad, shouldn't we just use what's at FamilySearch?"
I understood where he was coming from. FamilySearch already had the exact dates and places for Eric's birth, marriage, and death events. We then had a discussion about the value of a "reasonably exhaustive search". As we continued searching Sweden's household records (a year-by-year census of the family - wow!) we were surprised when Eric appeared in the records - alive - even after he was supposed to have died in 1866.
Here he is, accounted for in 1866, 1867, 1868, 1869, and 1870.
And again in 1871, 1872, 1873, 1874, and 1875.
He's there even in the 1901-1912 register where it finally listed his death as March 5, 1909.
Because these Swedish household records listed the exact date and place of each person's birth, it was clear that we had the right Eric Ersson. This Eric's birth was consistently listed as 19 May 1821 in Norrby parish.
Since FamilySearch had a death date of 26 May 1866, we took a look at its original record. Sure enough, an Eric Ersson died on this date in Norrby parish.
But was it my Eric Ersson, who was born on 19 May 1821? This death record shows that this Eric Ersson died at the age of 45 years, 7 months, and 14 days. Using Legacy Family Tree's Date Calculator (View > Calendar), we plugged in the information.
And pressed the Calculate button. Legacy calculated this Eric Ersson's birth date to be 12 Oct 1820 which was different than our Eric Ersson's birth date of 19 May 1821.
To further clarify, we searched for and located the birth record of this Eric. The Eric Ersson who died on 26 May 1866, and who was born on 12 Oct 1820 was the son of Eric Ersson and Anna Ersdotter.
Our Eric Ersson was born on 19 May 1821 to Eric Ersson and Brita Andersdotter.
And so without a reasonably exhaustive search it is easy to see how these same names were mixed up by a previous researcher. But a consequence to publishing information that hasn't been thoroughly researched is that others can mistakenly accept the errors as truth. Thankfully FamilySearch permits us to correct the inaccurate information, and add the citation and even the digitized records to the individuals. The next step I'll take is to do this for both Eric Erssons.
So, should we continue to use these online compiled genealogies? Absolutely! They may have missing pieces to our puzzles, but we must apply the genealogical proof standard to make sure we are working with the right puzzle.
Genealogical Proof Standard Resources
Genealogy Standards: 50th Anniversary Edition by the Board for Certification of Genealogists
Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case by Christine Rose
Webinar - What is a Reasonably Exhaustive Search?