Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tracing Your Sources

Trace your Sources?  I’ve heard about tracing your ancestors, but how do you trace “sources”? 

While researching my family I worked with many sources of information.  Sometimes, the sources are freely available, other times they can be quite tough to find.  In addition to primary original sources, such as certificates and registers, there are loads of secondary sources as well as derivatives and transcriptions.  A good researcher makes use of all of them in their research, giving each source the credibility it deserves.  It also allows careful researchers to verify your research for themselves.  Sometimes, derivative sources point to primary sources but other times they simply point to more derivatives.  Then you need to trace them back, step by step.  I had to do this recently myself.

A tenet of good research is to cite the source you actually use in your research.  This is especially true if you are using a derivative that contains pointers to the original source.  As an example, Maria van Beverhoudt of New York married James Barclay and had several children.  Maria recorded each child’s birth in her bible.  The bible still exists.  The bible was transcribed and published in a book called The Colonial Dames of the State of New York, Genealogical Records, Manuscript entries of Births, Deaths, and Marriages, taken from Family Bibles 1581-1917.  Excerpts from this book are available on the web at  The van Beverhoudt inscription is here.

I have recorded information from this inscription in my tree.  In sourcing it, however, I cannot source the bible directly:

van Beverhoudt, Maria “van Beverhoudt Family Bible”, ca. 1774-1778, privately held

Since I didn’t see the actual bible I would have to source the transcript:

Jeannie F J Robison, Henrietta C. Bartlett, Genealogical Records:  Manuscript entries of Births, Deaths, and Marriages,taken from Family Bibles 1581-1917 (New York:  The Colonial Dames of the State of New York, 1942), p 247-248.  Online.

Or even the website.  This way I would be citing the actual source I used.

Recently, I discovered some valuable information about one of my ancestors on a website by Robert Gordon Clarke called Early New Netherland Settlers.  On the site he lists information about Johannes Claudizoon van Beverhoudt:

Johannes <Claude> Van Beverhout

Baptized on 09 February 1711. Religion 1 - Lutheran Church, Saint Thomas, West Indies. First Residence - Saint Thomas, West Indies. Second Residence - New York City. Source [The Genealogist: Spring 1983 Volume 4 Number 1 page 4, 6]

imageWhile this is sufficiently sourced (if not properly formatted), I wasn’t satisfied that it was reliable.  To verify, I obtained a copy of The Genealogist Volume 4 and looked it up.  The journal contained an article, “De Windt Families Part 2:  Descendants of Pieter of St. Thomas.”  

The article, written by Henry Hoff and F. Kenneth Barta did indeed state that Johannes Claudizoon van Beverhoudt was baptized in St Thomas on 9 Feb 1711. 

The note in the article, note 95, read:

59. Witnesses: Catharina de Wint, wife of Christian Seeberg, Christian Seeberg; Johanna Beverhoudt (also in Gullach-Jensen, supra note 4 pg 259).

So apart from adding details about witnesses, this reference refers the reader to note 4 for the full reference to Gullach-Jensen and states that the baptismal fact would be found on pg 259 of that work.  Note 4 says:

4. E. Gullach-Jensen, “Bidrag til de dansk-vestindiske Øers Personhistorie. 1ste Afsnit: St. Thomas 1671-1733”, Personalhistorisk Tidsskrift (7th ser.) 1:247-38, 315-25 at 264 (1916). The article was never continued and Gullach-Jensen’s notes have not been found.

imagePersonalhistorisk Tidsskrift is a Danish Genealogy Journal, that is still in publication.  Unfortunately, the edition I needed was published in 1916 and is not available as a back issue.  Also, it is entirely in Danish. Through contacts in Denmark, I managed to acquire a copy of the necessary pages from Gullach-Jensen’s articles, namely pages 247-238 and 315-325. 

Fortunately, the article consists mostly of register transcriptions. These consisted primarily of names and dates, with easy to understand formatting of parents, wives, etc.  The only Danish I needed was an understanding of abbreviations.  A typical entry might contain “f. 22/4” which means fødte (born) 22 April.  Not too difficult.

Looking at page 259 I found the reference I needed, under the year 1711 I found my 6th great grandfather, and the names of my 7th great grand parents, Claudi and Elizabeth.







This is pretty confirming information, so one might think that I was done.  I could confidently cite:

E. Gullach-Jensen, "Bidrag til de dansk-vestindiske Øers Personhistorie", Personalhistorisk Tidsskrift 7 Rk 1 Bd (1916), p. 259.

and move on with looking for more ancestors.  But I looked further.  The articles in the journal are mostly transcriptions from original records.  The article is broken up into several sections, this section being “Fødsel og Daab paa St. Thomas 1691-1733”, or Births and Baptisms on St. Thomas 1691-1733.  Gullach-Jensen cites his source for most of this as “Kirkeb. fra St. Th”, which is short for Kirkebøg fra St. Thomas, or Churchbook of St. Thomas.  I ordered the film of the book from the FHL and was finally able to see the original primary record of Johannes’ baptism:



Now, I can cite:

St. Thomas Lutheran Church (Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas), Churchbook v1-2 1691-1795, 1711, Entry 5, Baptism of Johannes van Beverhoudt; FHL 38857.

as a primary source.

While this was interesting as a multi-step story of discovery, it also shows the value of citing sources.  My path took me from website to 1983 journal to 1916 journal to microfilm of the original 1711 entry.  Each step contained sufficient information for me to trace my source back all the way to the original, and thus verify the information contained in the website.  Which ultimately proved accurate.

The process of walking back through the sources was valuable in another way.  It turned out that I ended up buying Vols 1-10 of The Genealogist (they were having a sale) and found a total of 6 articles by Hoff and Barta on branches of the De Windt family covering several hundred individuals.  The De Windts married the van Beverhoudts a few times and, as shown above, I descend from one of these families.  Also, Hoff and Barta reference Gullach-Jensen quite a bit, so I knew there would be more information in those articles.  I found over 100 entries in my family in his articles.  Finally, the pages of the microfilm are quite difficult to read (the page above is unusually clear).  Gullach-Jensen’s transcriptions provide a wonderful index to the contents of this film up to 1733.  I have been able to locate register entries by using Gullach-Jensen as a reference for the smudgier ones.

So, I certainly don’t scoff at the work of other genealogists.  Both professionals and amateurs have left breadcrumbs for us to follow in reconstructing our families.  As long as you Trace your Sources.

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