By Daniel Hubbard | October 25, 2009
When questioning your documents, there are more questions to ask than just if your Aunt Maude might have “corrected” a few things in the family Bible.
- Who created it?
Did the author have any first hand knowledge? Did the author have any reason for bias?
- When was it created?
Calendar changes and different ways of recording dates can make this a trickier question than you think.
- Was it added to over time?
Family Bibles, baptismal registers, etc. work this way. The order and appearance of those entries can give you clues about when the entries were made.
- Why was it created?
Were their legal maneuverings? Did anyone have anything out of the ordinary to gain or lose by its creation?
- Is it the first time that the information was put in this form?
Perhaps it is a photographic or digitized version, a handwritten or typed copy (transcript), a summary of the original (an abstract), or just a select part of the original (an extract)? Don’t think that just because you are looking at a microfilm of obviously old records that they are as old as they seem. If documents were aging, a clerk may have copied them by hand. Did he get everything right?
- Does the document refer to an earlier document?
Note that in truly garbled documents, it is possible to find references to documents or occurrences from after the supposed date of the document. Take that as a very good clue that you are dealing with a document with a questionable history.
- Were the author the informant the same person?
If not, then one person needed to write down correctly what someone else was saying—every step in the process of creating a document is a place where errors can occur.
- Was the informant literate?
Only a literate informant could have looked at the finished document and detected errors.
Those were a few ideas for what you might want to know about a document. You can probably come up with further questions, some general and some specific to the document you happen to be staring at. The answers to the questions may not come easily and part of the art of family history is deciding which questions to ask, when you know enough to ask them and what the answers mean to your investigation.Twitter It!