It's In The Book

by Ruby Coleman

With a budding interest in genealogy, a woman well versed in genealogical research and history took me under her tutelage. Those were the days before we had access to a good deal of microfilm and also Internet. Communication was by postal letter ... writing to courthouses, family members, and other genealogists. Time was also spent in libraries with genealogical collections. This was good, but with limitations.

After establishing and recording names of ancestors on a Pedigree Chart, my mentor told me to avoid duplicating research already done. This would be through publications and the research of other genealogists. The family history was and still is significant, but also with limitations.

Early in my research, I purchased the book, George Michael Eller and Descendants of His in America, written by the late James W. Hook in 1957. A classic reference for the Eller and connecting families, I read the book cover to cover. Hook acknowledged his sources primarily as records of family members and added United States census in many instances. In addition he used Bible records, some wills and old letters. This is a good collection of records ... with limitations.

While the book has retained the interest of Eller researchers through the years, it also contains Hook's theories which can now be proven either correct or wrong. In 1957 Hook did not have access to the United States census records that are available today. For some individuals he made a decision they had died, whereas they had simply migrated to another state. Very few references are found to land records. Even though he lived in a city in Connecticut, it appears he did not have access to the LDS microfilm that we have available today through Family History Centers or a trip to Salt Lake City. Unfortunately it is difficult to determine what information came from relatives and what was actually substantiated through actual documents.

This is true of many family histories. It became popular, particularly in the late 1800s, to publish family histories. Always check the year of publication, but keep in mind not only the quality of documentation and context, but also the records that were available to the researcher. Many family histories are available in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and a substantial number are on microfilm available on loan. Another excellent source for family histories is the DAR Library in Washington, DC. You can check out their catalog at http://www.dar.org. The Library of Congress has many family histories that can also be checked online at http://loc.gov.

Among family histories you will also find fraudulent genealogies. One of the noted fabricators of genealogies was Gustave Anjou. In the late 1800s and early 1900s he produced hundreds of genealogies for large sums of money. Unfortunately Anjou falsified lineages of over 2,000 common surnames. Those are still appearing in genealogies today!

Within the walls of many genealogy libraries you will find the multi-volume collection edited by Frederick A. Virkus. Much of the information came from subscribers who may not have their lineages correct or saw this as an opportunity to glorify their family background. Use these publications as clues and proceed with your genealogy to prove any of the data in them. To learn more about fraudulent lineages, check out http://www.linkline.com/personal/xymox/fraud/fraud223.htm.

Locate what has been published, determine the sources used, compare what was available when the book was written to what is now available and use the information with caution until you are confident that it is correct.

[Editor's Note: Genealogy Today sells a collection of over 6,000 self-published genealogies. Click to search for your surnames]

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