Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

February 9, 2009

Genealogy, like politics, is local and is about “where”

By Paul Drake / Chronicle contributor

EVIDENCE and PROOF; What are those?

Before going further, you must be come to realize that many commonly used labels such as “hearsay,” “circumstantial,” “primary,” “secondary,” “direct,” “indirect,” “derivative,” etc., are next to useless; none of those tell any listener what you mean.

For you to be considered a thorough researcher, you must dump your pride and admit that you neither understand, nor can you give us a definition for any of those words. In fact, across now 50-plus years I have yet to hear or read a definition for any of those terms that will work for all occasions. Try it yourself.

One example will serve; you will hear that a cemetery is unreliable because it is “hearsay,” and in fact such stones are hearsay and in its most classical form. So do we ignore what is written there? Of course not; every single one tells us about something.

Cemetery headstones, even if you can’t read more than the family name, reveal that the dead person had SOME relationship — great or small — to that place. For a couple examples; folks buried there before about 1900 likely lived nearby since a horse drawn hearse with people moving at about the same speed traveled about 2.5 miles an hour.

Then too, the placement in the cemetery usually reveals that those buried nearby were known or related to the dead person.

That stone alone should send you to the cemetery, death, church, land and estate records for that “where” county. Start with finding the local genealogical/historical society, then a large source such as LDS records, then the local library, then any experienced researcher who lives there.

After that, search the state library and find a detailed map of land owners at that time. That person who tends or mows grass there has a phone; call and ask what he/she knows about your family and whether or not anyone has visited that part of the cemetery during the past few years. Remember too that the same fellow mowing (“Sexton,” ask who pays him?) The neighbors may know who the last preacher was, what members yet live nearby and where the church records were taken.

Then too, if the cemetery is in a rural area, those who live nearby usually will know a bit about that place. Such folks may know a lot about the place; most do. Ask, ask!

The facts you gain seeking your family must be the most reliable you can find, and you must identify those sources so that a stranger could go to that same reference without further direction from you.

Your statement, “I got this fact from my Aunt Jane’s Bible” simply won’t get the job done, ever, except for someone in the family who feels that Aunt Jane and her Bible are sufficient proof (few are).

However, by also being able to say such as, “Aunt Jane has the family Bible and a war discharge, and both carry some of the same information," those two items considered together may be very powerful evidence, yet, if viewed separately, those might not be so convincing.

In summary, we first learn the rules of whomever or what group will be judging our material and then we set out to comply with those rules by gathering the most reliable evidence we can find.

Next, our “judges” will decide if we have found enough reliable information to meet their standards, and it makes all but no difference what you and Aunt Jane think. If those examiners say “No,” we hunt for more sources, or we put it on the back burner. They make the rules; most set in concrete.

So, if you need to please your cousins, that’s fine (and easy), and if you must meet the higher “proof” rules of some club or group, that will require more than Aunt Jane would want, and finally, if you mean to join such as D.A.R., S.A.R. Colonial Dames, Daughters of 1812, or any other such group, remember that some have stiff requirements. You should plan on being required to have enough evidence to prove what you tell them about your ancestry. That may be very difficult and rarely do they make exceptions.

Next time; Evaluating Evidence