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Do you remember playing telephone? The same happens sometimes to the documents we access!
If you have ever done research in multiple places for the “same” document or reference, it’s not unusual to stumble across different versions of the same thing. How did those differences come about? Which is more accurate? Where’s the original?
It’s kind of like when we played telephone as a kid (*). Remember how we would all laugh at how garbled the initial message became as it passed lips to ears down the line?
Well, the same happens to documents, a lot! Unfortunately, in this case, we don’t laugh when we realize what’s happened. We are often frustrated by the inaccuracies that have crept in. As a result, we need to continue to strive to acquire original documents identified in subsequently discovered derivative resources.
See the BCG Skillbuilding: Guidelines for Evaluating Genealogical Resources for a great overview of sources, information, and evidence, and the evaluation of such. Whenever we are using an index, abstract, transcription, or other forms of a document, you are now accessing something that is derivative. Just as when we played telephone, errors can creep in with each iteration (or generation) of what is supposedly based on the original document.
A recent post on The Ancestry Insider, Life of a Record from the Barbour Collection, is a MUST read. You are taken through the life of a record to illustrate that the copy of a record from this collection that you can access on Ancestry is a 7th generation copy and each generation changed the information, sometimes slightly and sometimes by introducing gross errors.
As stated in the article and which this blog has stated many many times – always pursue the original, if that is not possible (unfortunately, not all originals are extant), do acquire the earliest possible (hopefully 1st) copy (2nd generation) of the record of interest.
On a similar note, do also read The Ancestry Insider companion post, Take Time to Understand Online Records. It is critical that you understand what you are actually accessing online – where it came from, how/why it was created, when it was created, etc. These details are very important. How close to the original document housed in its original collection are you?
What is the worst version of a derivative document you have come across in your research?
(*) I had to laugh that I didn’t initially read the entire article that I reference in this post until I was wrapping up writing the post – I just focused on the 7 generations and skipped the conclusion. Well, the conclusion, which I’ve just read, states “Just like the children’s game, Telephone or Gossip …” It’s nice when independently two writers both come up with the same analogy. That said, I did come up with it independently and no intellectual property was usurped in the creation of this blog post.
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