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Overheard in GenForum: LDS Information
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

October 11, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: How accurate is the information one receives from the familysearch.org website? I have found some of my ancestors but do not know how to verify or trust the information? If it is accurate can I use that as a source for the information? Thanks for all the help! -- Julie

A: Like many other resources at our disposal, the data found in the various computerized databases of the FamilySearch.org Web site come from a variety of places and have been compiled through varying degrees of experience. Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind about the FamilySearch databases is the fact that they are all secondary sources.

With computers, we have lulled ourselves into a false sense of security, at least where the records are concerned. We allow ourselves to be swayed by the technology, forgetting sometimes that there is more than what the computerized database tells us.

All secondary sources should be verified.

Where Did It Come From?

A lot depends on where you locate the information. For instance, if the information is found in Ancestral File, then you may never know where it came from. Unfortunately, Ancestral File has never included source citations. Unless you can contact the person, through regular postal mail, you may never know where they found the information. The International Genealogical Index, on the other hand, does offer some identifying clue as to where the information came from.

Most people know that entries to the IGI come from two programs - Patron Submission and Extraction. In the Extraction program, volunteers extracted birth and marriage information from original vital records and church records. There were various checks and balances in an attempt to make these entries as accurate as possible. In the online version, you will find at the bottom of each entry you have the Batch number and the film number. Extraction entries have batch numbers that begin with either an M or a C. The film number will correspond to marriage records, or birth or christening records.

Most people ignore the microfilms for the other entries in the IGI. While they are patron submissions, which means they are either patron submission forms or family group sheets, I have found them to be useful in many instances. There is no guarantee that you will find out more when ordering the films of patron submissions, but if you have never done so, you may not want to discard them so quickly.

Patron Submissions

Patron submissions are on either special patron submission forms or family group sheets. Regardless of what form was used, it was necessary for the submitter to include sources that were used. Now, there were some instances where the evidence is "family knowledge" and that does not help you at all.

Other times though you will find that the sources listed are quite useful. Some submissions have included family histories that you may have been unaware of. Other forms may list vital records or probate packets including the microfilm number, thus leading you right to the source needed to verify the information.

Even if there are no sources beyond the family knowledge, you may discover additional family names listed on subsequent forms. Perhaps in verifying the information from one of these, you will glean additional family information.

Verifying the Information

If sources have been cited on the submission form, then you will want to begin with those. If they are original records, it is very possible that you will find them available on microfilm, therefore you can order them through your local Family History Center. Some of the published family histories are also available on microfilm.

If the forms do not supply you with source citations, you can still turn to original, primary documents to verify the information. This may require that you spend some time studying the resources for a given locality or period in time. Also, some of the records you may need to use may not be available on microfilm.

When the records are not available on microfilm, you may need to plan a research trip to the repository. If you cannot go in person, you may need to look into hiring a professional researcher in the area.

In Conclusion

Like all secondary sources, the information found in the FamilySearch databases needs to be verified. In some instances that verification is made easier by the inclusion of film numbers in the entry. In other instances, it may require your knowledge of the locality and record sources.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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