What Is Genealogy
Why Study Genealogy?
How Far Can You Go?
3rd Party Stories
Cite Your Sources
3rd Party Stories
How much do any of us really know about any of our families? How much of what we think we know is accurate? People's testimony about their parents and brothers and sisters is usually fairly reliable because they were eyewitnesses to much of what has happened in their lives. However, most of our recollections about more distant relatives and previous generations such as grandparents are likely to be less accurate, because in these cases we are usually simply repeating stories which we have been told.
This is summarized by an obvious but important rule in genealogy: although all statements should be documented, the greater the separation in time and place between a researcher and an ancestor, the more necessary it is to corroborate personal testimony with supporting information from other sources.
For example, let's imagine that your mother claims that her maternal great-grandfather and great-grandmother were Josiah Dearborn and Sarah Ann Wells, who were married in Wood County, Texas. You may have heard many times the colorful tale behind this marriage. Your great-great-grandfather, the son of a Yankee farmer living in Effingham, New Hampshire, ran off as a young man to the California gold fields in 1849. Later, he moved to Texas, where he practiced law. There he met a beautiful southern belle, Sarah Ann Wells, a young widow. He and Sarah Ann were eventually married in Wood County, Texas. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he was forced to join the Confederate cavalry, but later he deserted to the Union forces. After the war, he returned to Texas to find that his wife had died, leaving their little daughter behind. Met with an inhospitable reception in Texas, he moved with his daughter to Shawnee County, Kansas, where he lived thereafter.
As a family historian, you could have at least two reactions to this story, which has been repeated by four generations.
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