Nov 4 2012
Trace your Sources? I’ve heard about tracing your ancestors, but how do you trace “sources”?
Genealogists work 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, such as derivatives and transcriptions. A good researcher makes use of all of these in their research, giving each source the credibility it deserves.
Recording the actual source used allows careful researchers to verify research for themselves. Sometimes, derivative sources point to primary sources. The sourcing tells the researcher where to look for the original. Other times they simply point to more derivatives. Verifying the accuracy of these requires you to trace them back, step by step. This may take several steps to complete, but the journey is well worth it.
Start – Derivative Source – Website
Recently, I ran across information on-line that gave the 1711 baptismal date of one of my ancestors, Johannes van Beverhoudt from the island of St. Thomas in the Danish West Indies, later to become the U.S. Virgin Islands.
On the website Early New Netherland Settlers, site author Robert Gordon Clarke listed the following:
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]
Clarke listed the source of the information he used, an issue of The Genealogist. At this point, I could only list the website as my source. I could do better if I went to his source.
Step 2 – Derivative Source – The Genealogist
I obtained a copy of The Genealogist Volume 4. Pages 4 and 6 were from 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 van Beverhoudt was baptized in St Thomas on 9 Feb 1711.
The note in the article, note 59, read:
59. Witnesses: Catharina de Wint, wife of Christian Seeberg, Christian Seeberg; Johanna Beverhoudt (also in Gullach-Jensen, supra note 4 pg 259).
The citation referenced in parentheses is listed fully in note 4:
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.
So, while I could cite The Genealogist, I could do better by finding Gullach-Jensen.
Step 3 – Derivative Source – Personalhistorisk Tidsskrift
Personalhistorisk Tidsskrift is a Danish Genealogy Journal, 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, so the language wasn’t much of a barrier. These entries 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 read “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 grandparents, Claudi Beverhoudt and Elizabeth de Windt.
This is pretty convincing 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 even further.
Step 4 – Primary Source – Lutheran Churchbook 1711
The articles in Gullach-Jensen 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 doesn’t cite each fact separately, but indicates that much of the article comes from “Kirkeb. fra St. Th”, which is short for Kirkebøg fra St. Thomas, or Churchbook of St. Thomas. This is on microfilm at the FHL. I ordered the film and was 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. Note, I still cite the film (which I viewed), and not the book (which I didn’t). Since microfilms are accepted as primary sources if legible, the search is done.
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 researcher cited their source, so each step contained sufficient information for me to trace my sources back all the way to the original, and thus verify that the information contained in the website was accurate.
So, make full use of the work of other genealogists. Many of them are well researched and carefully sourced. Both professionals and amateurs have left breadcrumbs for us to follow in reconstructing our families. You may use them with confidence.
As long as you Trace your Sources.