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Troubleshooting Genealogy

This is a transcription of a video that can be found in the Multimedia Section

In genealogy, the focus of the research is on the most important sources which are the primary sources, those records that were recorded contemporaneously with the events that they record.  These include normally birth, marriage and death records or baptism, marriage and burial records.  

And to a certain extent, in certain ways, the census records are also primary sources.  These are better sources of information than other records that may have been made afterwards.  The longer it took for someone to write down a piece of information the greater the likelihood of the chance for some kind of error introduced into the recording.  

Even gravestones which are normally not put up right away can have information that's erroneous. And then there is the whole collection of family records.  The recollections of the family often contain exaggerations or minimization or various sorts of minor or perhaps sometime important errors depending on the ability of people to pass on the oral information.

Now the records generally tell us the relationships, the records that we are interested in for genealogy, tells us the relationship of the people in the family and give us dates of the events; the births and the marriages and the deaths and other family matters and eventually they can provide us the material from which we can recreate the family's story. 

Census and civil records give the parents names and ages or dates, date of birth and they can provide us, censuses particularly provide us a view to the family at a particular point in time.  And the church records provide the same sort of information as the vital statistics which are essential for building up the family's history.

Knowing what is in each type or category of these records can be very important for the researcher because knowing what to expect permits the researcher to plan the steps of the research that he or she wishes to undertake. And planning can be very important particularly where one goes to the archives or libraries or various other places where materials of interests may be kept because obviously the access one has is limited and one can make the best use of one's time if the research is planned in advanced.

Now the records don't always give us everything we would like to have.  Some records, for example, don't even survive. There are great number of records that haven't been kept in our history. They have been lost through fires or other disasters and through the wars and other sorts of calamities.  

Some records indeed were never even kept.  One might suppose for example that one could find out all the information on all the families in New Brunswick in the civil records, but the civil records only start in this province in 1888.  Censuses have been taken every 10 years in Canada since the creation of confederation. The first census was in 1871 but only the censuses down to 1911 are currently available for research

Now the records were kept to varying standards.  For example prior to 1888 in New Brunswick there were records made of marriages.  There are a series of civil records for the marriages of the people in the province.  but those marriage records don't tells us the names of the marriage of the couples.

And in terms of the church records, in many instances burial records were not kept.  They were not actually considered to be obligatory.  The priests did keep then in general, but often, and in certain instances, they didn't. Especially in the case of small children; they often left out the burials of small children.

In terms of First Nation peoples, we have other sorts of other complications in the fact that the families often moved and unfortunately, in the records that we have, the censuses and so forth, no forwarding addresses are offered so it's hard to tell sometime where the families went to in the next time period.  And there are spelling changes or spelling variations and name changes that come up and can make the research complicated.

This is the first rule in genealogical research:  keep track of one's sources.  And as I mentioned it is advisable to consult all the sources that one can find.  Sometime there are unsuspected bonuses in the records.

For example, in the censuses sometimes one finds not just the immediate family, but also collateral relatives in the same household.  These additional or extra people , can help us learn about relationships that one might not otherwise have found.  

And in the church records, the Catholic Church records for example, sometimes, some of the priests indicated the relationships between the godparents or the witnesses at marriages or at burials and the principals in the records.  And these mentions of relationship can be very helpful.  And sometimes the records will provide us with a more specific place of origin than one would expect to find.

Now a days everyone goes to the internet and looks for information on the websites.  One has to keep in mind though, that the records that are on the internet are by and large all transcribed and whenever there is a transcription there is the possibility of a transcriptional error.  And also, the information has been collected without much critical review of its validity.  

More and more though, one finds digitized copies of the original records and these are just as good, just as valid as the primary sources because, indeed ,they are reproductions of the primary sources themselves. That is if they are in fact copies of the original.  One must be cautious because sometimes what appears on the internet as an original, digitized piece of material is in fact a copy of another transcription.  And sources again are the whole crux of the research and when one consults the internet one must look to see what the sources of the websites are.  

Many websites unfortunately don't tell us what they are and therefore they really don't count for very much for sources of information.

Inevitably one finds gaps in the research.  There are generations that are hard to establish; there are relationships that are hard to find.  In order to fill these in, one has to have recourse to a certain amount of formulation of hypotheses.  This is totally legitimate in genealogical research provided that one very carefully labels; keeps track of which are the hypothesis and which are the actual facts.  To formulate hypotheses, in formulating hypothesis one uses various sorts of basis.  

There is for example, the situation where one has circumstantial evidence.  That is that one may find that there are witnesses mentioned in records or godparents who come from a certain particular family which would give rise to the presumption that the person in the couple, the father or the mother who has that same family name, did belong to the same family.  

And one can look at the census records, if one hasn't found the marriage record or the marriage record does not provide the necessary information, one can look at census records before the marriage and after the marriage.  Before the marriage one might find the person with their parents and than after the marriage one might find them with their spouse; and it would be possible by comparing the ages to conclude that it is the same person.

It's necessary in treating the genealogy of the First Nations to familiarize oneself with the history of the First Nations people to understand exactly how the population developed and how it lived and that helps one to determine where to find the best information.  And another situation that comes up, particularly with First Nations, we have with the First Nations people and the colonist in New Brunswick, whether they be the French colonists and later the English colonists, we have a confrontation of civilizations and cultures and languages and with the multiplicity of languages one gets very complicated situations sometimes with respect to family names and the whole practice of passing on family names.  

Initially, it appears that the Catholic priests, for example, discouraged the use of the original family names of the First Nations people in the records; and often one finds simply first names for people married and for couples who had children and so on; and it becomes quite complicated to trace these couples with only first names, from record to record.  It also became a practice later on to know the children by the first name of the father.  And in subsequent generations the family name could be changed as the family names of the father changed.  

So all these things must be kept in mind if one is to succeed in tracing ones First Nation ancestry.