Sunday, January 26, 2020

Is That The Best Available Version of That Record?

As family historians, we put a lot of thoughtful effort into piecing together our ancestors' lives.

Genealogy can be a painstakingly difficult hobby. The fewer complications in the process, the better.

Last week, I wrote a life portrait of my second great-grandmother Bessie (Bair) Benedick. Her first documented appearance would have been in the 1890 US Federal Census, but that was destroyed in a fire 99 years ago this month.

That made Bessie's first surviving record appearance the 1895 census enumeration for the state of Kansas.

My go-to online genealogy site, for which I pay a hefty annual subscription, had a digitized copy of that census.

1895 Kansas Census featuring Bessie Bair

Unfortunately, the document was grainy and faint. It was difficult to make out the text and many of the names were illegible. Initially, I was just grateful that the record was digitized and available to view from the comfort of my home. Perhaps the 125-year-old document was showing its age and the poor quality was reflective of the record's current state.

But then I had an idea.

I searched FamilySearch, which is hurriedly scanning its many reels of microfilmed-records. Sure enough, I found a scan of the exact same census page.

1895 Kansas Census featuring Bessie Bair

Clearly one of these is not like the other!

It was like swapping my old black and white television set for one projecting in vivid color. Sadly, the crisp version was free and I paid for the poorly scanned duplicate.

There's a lesson for family historians: don't rely on one source even for the same document, and don't settle for poor quality.

If the copy you're working with is illegible, make sure there isn't a better one available to you. That may mean searching at FamilySearch or another online provider. It may also mean that you reach out to the courthouse or local archive to see if they can help you obtain a clearer copy.

Bottom line, your research and family's story are too important to work with anything less than the best. When compiling history for posterity, build with the finest quality available that will ensure your family's story endures time.