Friday, September 24, 2010

What about Those County Histories!

Have you searched for and found ancestors in county histories?

When I first began my genealogy searches I found a county history for Butler County, Pennsylvania, in which one of my gggg-grandfathers was mentioned. It was a multiple page biography and contained lots of information for a family historian. Wow, I thought, it's almost like the family is famous!

Early in my research efforts I searched for other family surnames in county histories but I never found family except for that one instance. Considering that I have several ancestors who were somewhat well-known in their communities at the time, I wondered why they weren't included.

Fast forward to a week ago. I had recently received the Pennsylvania death certificate of my great-great-grandmother. The informant was her son and he gave her father's name. It's always exciting to find a grandparent's name. So I began searching. I searched for census records at FamilySearch and found the family I believe is his in one census (though the family should be in several more). Where else to look?

It was late and I wasn't quite ready for bed. On a whim I decided to do a google search using my g-g-grandmother's father's name. Whoa! What was that? There was his name in a Google Books link to an entry in A Twentieth Century History of Mercer County, Pennsylvania. The entry was for a man with the same surname. The father's name appeared partway through the biography. As I read the article, I found that my great-great-grandmother and her deceased husband were also named.

Did I hit a goldmine or not?

Well, it's too soon to say. I always hope that everything printed in books is accurate but after querying some other family historians, I've learned that the biographies in the county histories are often, probably usually, paid content. When the individual submitted his information for inclusion, he paid for it and could have printed nearly anything he chose. You would think if a person were going to write a biography and pay to have it included, he'd be particularly accurate, but that may not always have been the case. No doubt some people puffed up the information to look better on paper. Others just may not have had accurate information about the ancestors. ("Didn't Gram say her brother's name was Jack? Or was it Jake? And wasn't her maiden name Seebert? Or maybe it was Seefert?) One person reported that two ancestors who were related both submitted biographies with very different family histories. They disagreed on exactly how the ancestors lined up.

I'm taking the information from this particular county history at face value (free) and using it to continue my search until I can find other sources to substantiate relationships or contradict the information. I'll post a transcription of the entry soon, and eventually my findings.

What experiences have you had with county histories? Accurate, partially accurate, or inaccurate?

1 comment:

  1. I have some experience with two different types of county histories - those done many years ago, where the articles were submitted by ancestors writing about themselves and their families, and more recent ones, where the articles are usually written by descendants of ancestors. I guess the quality and accuracy can vary. I try to compare them with other information. I even wrote a couple of articles for a recent one, and already I could add major supplements to both articles.


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