We depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about our pasts.
Yet sometimes records have anomalies.
Some are amusing or humorous.
Some are interesting or weird.
Some are peculiar or suspicious.
Some are infuriating, even downright laughable.
Yes, “Records are the Darnedest Things.”
Records Are the Darnedest Things: Physicality and Organization
Failing to recognize the context within which a record exists is a common mistake made by record publishers and new genealogists. Because microfilm and digital images keep us at arm’s length from the actual record, we must make special efforts to understand its physicality and organization. A single image may look like this:
To understand a record’s physicality and organization, as a minimum you will want to view a couple of the images beforehand and a couple afterwards. If possible, you should also check front matter, the spine, and front and back covers.
I say “if possible” because record publishers don’t understand the importance of presenting records in context. It is rare to find accessible, legible images of covers, spine, front matter, and pages without names.
I remember an experience at Ancestry.com that illustrates the point (although I don’t remember all the specifics). Someone (marketing perhaps) published something (the website pictured to the right, perhaps) about the U.S. Immigration Collection. When a company genealogist asked about it, the someone was amazed to learn that passenger lists commonly have second pages with lots of juicy information.
For the marketing website pictured to the right, knowing about second pages may not have made a difference. Keeping the handwriting large prevents showing all the columns of one page, let alone two. But I digress…
To understand a record, you must understand its physicality and organization.
Yes, records are the darnedest things...