Monday, April 11, 2016

Transcription vs. Original

Why do you not depend on the index or transcription to a record even if the listing contains all the information? Or rather, why shouldn’t you depend on it?

Often times in a search you will find a transcribed record that is typed rather than the hard to read handwriting of the original document. An index can often have very detailed information within it. In fact sometimes on Ancestry or Family Search databases you can’t see a facsimile of the original document.

Although these records are easier to read and to take information from, we are cautioned not to depend on them. The experts that are writing books or teaching us will warn about mistakes being made. If you have done genealogy for very long yourself, you have probably encountered a few of these differences yourself and know the wisdom of looking towards that original source. However, often we tend to forget or want to opt for the easy way out. I was once again reminded to be careful.

Today I was looking at some records of a family that I became interested in researching over the weekend. Originally I was helping my niece to research some of her ancestors and push back into New England on the line where she had some unsubstantiated information. A paper read at a reunion of the family in the early 1900s hinted at Rhode Island roots for the family, but had no evidence beyond the recollections of a granddaughter who had written the paper.

With my experience in early New York State and Rhode Island families I was able to find some starting points for her and she is now well on her way to establishing that one of the lines mentioned is from Westerly, Rhode Island.

Meanwhile, I started following some of the children to see what might be found there. I came across a couple brothers and at least one sister who became involved with the LDS (Mormon) church early in its history. Palmyra, New York is, as many know, where the Mormon Church began. What I have found interesting is the number of people several counties east of there in the Mohawk Valley that were early followers and move west with them.

Screenshot from Family Search

That is the long version of how I came to be looking at this census record for Alfonso Green in the 1870 census[1].  Looking at the transcription in the clip, you can see that he is mulatto. Or is he? I had no indication of a mixed race in this family. The mother’s line goes back to those in early Rhode Island mentioned above and all seemed to be white. If you look at the actual census, however, you can see that in the race column is a hastily written letter that could be either a “m” or a “w”.  All before and after are listed as white, and unless I find further information, I would read this one as that as well. Sometimes what you think of as a simple fact can be muddled in a transcription!

[1] "United States Census, 1870," database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 11 April 2016), Alfonso Green, Utah, United States; citing p. 29, family 209, NARA microfilm publication M593 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 553,111.

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