Using Off-beat Record Sources in Genealogy

One of the points the National Genealogical Society makes in its “Standards for Sound Genealogical Research” publication is to:

“seek original records, or reproduced images of them when there is reasonable assurance they have not been altered, as the basis for their research conclusions”.

is a good one. One of the major sources of genealogical information is They offer a huge amount “reproduced images” of “original records.” The images however, have sometimes been altered to show ownership of that record. This is an improper practice given that the original has been modified in ways that sometimes cut their validity and use as primary sources of information.

Notwithstanding the policy of Ancestry, Inc. to give accurate records, they are claiming ownership of materials that are in the public domain and/or not eligible for copyright protection. These records have become compilations, according to the NGS’s standards.

“use compilations, communications and published works, whether paper or electronic, primarily for their value as guides to locating the original records … ”.

By citing directly to the record compilation as provided by, one is effectively using a secondary source. Even though Ancestry does offer a clue about the original source, it remains a fact that their records are only “guides to locating the original records”.

Many genealogists find that the records provided by to be enough for their purposes. This is unfortunate, however, as using this record group is only one step in the research process. Finding the record closest to the original is the next step.

Using the census as an example, one would best go to the nearest National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) facility to view the record on microfilm. This is what I do for my research and I cite the record as such. I also do this research professionally for those researchers who prefer the best sources available.

The records from are useful only as “contributions to the critical analysis of the evidence discussed in them”. This analysis aspect is good for all records found online as the majority of records we use as genealogists are not found online. The originals are found in repositories such as the NARA facility in Seattle, Washington where I do my research.

As a genealogist for hire, I find an obligation to do this type of research not only for myself, but also for others. It is one way to give back to the community. Although I do ask that my expenses be covered, as a professional ought to, it is a business transaction of the simplest sort. You can contact me and arrange for lookups in a number of primary records available through NARA or another repository in the Pacific Northwest region.


© 2012 N. P. Maling — Sea Genes Family History & Genealogy Research


Is Genealogy Romancing the Bloodlines?


This piece comes with a semi-humorous bent, so be forewarned. 🙂

I read an article a while ago about Icelandic dating. While that article had a different idea in mind, it sparked some interesting questions for me. Where does interest in genealogy come from? What does romance have to do with genealogy in the first place?

Well, thinking about genealogy in terms of ancestry, family history, and genealogy research, I’d rank genealogy as the romance level, ancestry research at the puppy love level, and family history research at the infatuation level.

I looked at some statistics from Google, and of the three terms, family history had the highest-ranking spot, ancestry was in second place, and genealogy third place. If family history research is the most common, it must be socializing, ancestry casual dating, and genealogy serious romance. Ancestry research is the information gathering necessary to get a good start on genealogy. Genealogy research is heavy-duty work compared to the simple practice of name collecting.

Name collectors are just name dropping their ancestry, like some folks who claim they are descended from Jesus. People engaged in family history research are building relationships where they have more than just names, and are getting to know the stories behind their ancestors. Ancestry researchers have a stronger interest and decide whether they have the stamina to build strong relationships. Genealogists, on the other hand, become wed to the subject and explore everything they can get their hands on.

Admission: I’m sort of in the middle group at the moment, making a stronger commitment to better genealogy.

Ruminations on Genealogy: Part Two

English: National Archives and Records Adminis...

NARA record

This is a continuation of the post referenced in the title “Ruminations on Genealogy,” that I put up a few weeks ago. Parts of the “essay” that I mentioned follow.

Genealogy is non-denominational; it is not a cultish thing. Genealogy is a global pastime for all who are interested in their ancestry, family history, and the works of their forebears. Genealogy goes beyond the simple ancestry charts, pedigree lists, and data tables. It encompasses history: itself, legal, medical, and family, to place individuals in their context of time and space.

Genealogy’s sources are diverse. Some of them include the items above: ancestry charts, pedigree lists, and so on. However, some such as those on the major data providers’ websites can only be classified as derivative. These data providers may, and often do, present images of the originals, but they also present images that have been manipulated. The changes made can only make one wonder what else the provider has changed.

Like all original sources, there is only one copy, and at most a few copies of that. The images often found on a providers’ website technically belong to them; the original, however, doesn’t. This is why you need to examine and cite to, the original and not the derivative on some website.

The best way to get an accurate, complete, and as close to possible, original, is to go to the archive where the best provenanced copies are kept. In the case of census records, this means going to a National Archives and Records Administration site and looking at their microfilm copies. Using a NARA-provided image is getting as close to the original as most people can, so it is the best available source. Use it, and cite to it, rather than a manipulated copy from or, or wherever.

To be continued.


© 2012 N. P. Maling — Sea Genes – Family History & Genealogy Research