and unfortunately, much of our genealogical research is done with compiled
sources. It is fortunate that so many useful and easily accessible
resources are out there, and unfortunate that we often do not have access
to the original documents (primary sources). Compiled sources are
collections of information brought together in one place -- usually in
some form of a book and are often broken down into seven major categories.
Family histories and genealogies
Compiled lists (genealogical dictionaries,
directories, registers, etc.)
Genealogical and historical periodicals
Special manuscript collections
Compiled sources are always considered secondary
records (not original) and are the result of someone's research.
Secondary does not mean the source is inferior -- if it is well documented
(sources cited) it is invaluable but the original sources cited should
be consulted whenever possible to rule out errors or misinterpretations.
Following are brief discussions of these various sources:
FAMILY HISTORIES AND GENEALOGIES
This is by far the largest and fastest growing category of compiled sources.
The error rate in these printed genealogies is extremely large -- depending
on the thoroughness of the compiler. The major reasons for this high
error rate are: Laziness of the compiler by guessing at facts and relationships
instead of laboring over many sources and paying attention to detail. Ignorance
of the fact that many documentary archival sources are available to use
instead of relying on previously printed secondary sources. The expense
involved in doing documentary research from primary sources can be overwhelming
to some. It should be remembered that something that is worthwhile
doing is worth doing well. The fascination of some who would
rather accept a line of descent that sounds or appears better than to prove
that it might be incorrect. When evaluating family genealogies and
family histories, an educated guess to their reliability can usually be
made by asking: Are the sources well documented? Are the sources primary
or secondary? Are genealogical problems thoroughly discussed so the reader
can see the basis of their acceptance or even research the problem on their
own? There are bibliographical sources that can be consulted for
determining whether or not a genealogy exists about a family that you are
researching such as the book Genealogies in the Library of Congress which
covers up to 1976 and the various supplements that have followed. The card
catalogue of the Mormon Church, catalogues from larger book dealers, and
book reviews in periodicals are a few examples.
Most areas of the United States have had local histories written about
them -- many done in the late 1800's and others done in more contemporary
times. These, like family genealogies vary greatly in style and accuracy
and the many of the same guidelines should be used in evaluating them.
There are several bibliographies of available histories to be consulted
but when in doubt one might consult a local historian or genealogical society.
Munsell's Index has been one of the most widely used for finding buried
genealogies contained in local histories but it only covers only those
printed up to 1909. Sinclair's recent index to New Jersey biographies
and Copely's index to 3 or more generations of genealogy in New Hampshire
town histories are great examples. These can be found in many genealogical
Many times your ancestor may be too obscure to have a history or biography
included in a local history, but you might come across a valuable clue
by his or her casual mention in someone else's biography. Some local
histories contain valuable biographical sketches throughout the text and
others have separate biographical sketches. Fortunately many of the
older histories are being indexed by local groups or individuals to make
your research easier but some indexes are incomplete.
Several genealogical dictionaries have been compiled through the years.
Some of the most prominent are Savage's Dictionary, the Genealogical Dictionary
of Maine and New Hampshire, the Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island,
and the Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army. These
usually have sources cited so that researcher can do further investigation
of the facts.
An example of a local dictionaries for our area would be Pioneers
of Orange County. Other compilers have
done these massive compilations of mini genealogies (sometimes called registers)
for specific localities.
Local directories (similar to today's
phone books) are a very valuable genealogical source as you can track families
in specific towns for years. Sometimes notations are made to advise
you that a person has removed to another locality. They can often
help you pinpoint a death if the listing changes from Mr. to Mrs. or disappears
completely when it is known that the person did not remove to another location.
Biographical works usually deal with persons who have achieved some prominence
but they many times mention not so prominent persons affiliated or related
to those persons. There are many of these compilations and the most
famous are of a national scope such as the Cyclopedia of American Biography.
Their intentions are simply biographical and not genealogical. Most
are of relatively recent information, contemporary to the time of publication
which is the major difference separating them
from the compiled lists mentioned previously.
Some local biographical works are available for many parts of the country
and they vary greatly in form. One of the most popular done in the
very late 1800's were the Commemorative Biographical Records. These
are also known as "Mug Books" (as were some of the more "biographical"
county histories). Persons usually paid to have their family and
personal information printed in these books. Though much of the information
was given directly from the families, a certain amount of exaggeration
occurred and one must evaluate the more illustrious
statements. Much valuable information
and many clues can be found in these local biographical works and again
we are fortunate that many are being indexed.
GENEALOGICAL AND HISTORICAL PERIODICALS
his is by far one of the most useful sources for solving genealogical problems.
These vary greatly from the scholarly journals of the
New England Historical and Genealogical Society
and the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society to mimeographed
newsletters of local groups. They contain a wealth of genealogical
information such as:
Genealogies and family histories
Family and biographical sketches
Indexes to otherwise un-indexed records
Information from valuable unpublished private
Copies of lost records
Genealogical queries, book reviews
Much valuable local information
How to" and new useful tips
Most of the information in the smaller periodical
lies buried and untapped but some indexes are available to guide you to
this information such as:
Jacobus' Index to Genealogical Periodicals
Genealogical Periodical Annual Index
Munsell's Index to American Genealogies
Self-contained indexes to major genealogical
Compendium genealogies are similar to genealogical dictionaries except
that the thoroughness of research is usually much less. Compendiums
are mass gatherings of sketches usually put together from other secondary
sources or family information. These should always be used with caution
and documented whenever possible from primary or well documented secondary
sources. A couple of major examples would be:
The Compendium of American Genealogy by Virkus
Colonial Families of the United States of
America by Mackenzie
American Ancestry by Munsell
SPECIAL MANUSCRIPT COLLECTIONS
Many people spend years compiling genealogical information that never gets
published. These end up in trunks up in the attic, donated to libraries
and genealogical societies and worst of all destroyed by uninterested family
members. When researching in a specific locality, ask around about
manuscript collections and if they have any kind of index. These
are very difficult to locate, even if you know they exist for the can change
hands unnoticed. When citing a manuscript as a source it is very
important to note its location and the date so that future researchers
have a better chance of tracking it down.
OTHER COMPILED SOURCES
Other compiled sources that are very important
to genealogical research are:
Transcribed census records -- when found you
should always consult the originals.
Transcribed church records -- these can
save you hours of thumbing you way through disorganized church registers
but again it is useful whenever possible to consult originals
Military records are sometimes organized and
put together by interested persons and can be a great source of genealogical
Newspapers, though not actually compiled, are a great genealogical source.
One can find obituaries, marriage and engagement announcements and stories,
birth announcements, legal notices, notices of thanks and news items about
families. It should be remembered that getting the facts exact was
not the priority of older newspapers. Weekly newspapers, as a general
rule, contained more genealogical information than the dailies.
Bibliographies of newspapers can be found in
History and Bibliography of American Newspapers,
1690 - 1820 (2 Vols.) by Clarence Saunders Brigham, 1962
American Newspapers, 1821 - 1936 by Winifred
Gregory (editor), 1937
The Ayer Directory of Newspapers and Periodicals
(An Annual publication of present newspapers)
Note: In many older newspapers, the following
words occur when dates are mentioned and they are defined as follows:
Of or occurring in the present or current month. Sometimes abbreviated
Of or occurring in the month preceding the present. Sometimes abbreviated
Speaking of newspapers, an ad in a local newspaper
where your ancestors used to live might bring unexpected results.
An interesting letter to a small town local paper might even get you an
article with even better returns.
LIMITATIONS OF COMPILED SOURCES
Though compiled sources have many problems, errors, and limitations --
one should not be discouraged from using them for all their good points.
Some of the limitations are as follows:
Accessibility and availability -- lack of indexes,
no knowledge of existence, and inability to find.
Reliability -- Lack of documentation, guesswork,
typographical errors, and carelessness are frequent problems but there
are a lot of good works out there.
Completeness -- Many genealogies are far from
complete with large gaps omitted because enough research has not been done.
Many times the information that is given is incomplete.
Documentation -- If documentation cannot lead
you to the primary source, the possibility of error is more likely.
Too often, mistaken information is copied over and over again from one
compiler to the next.
The Dilemma -- If our research begins and ends
in the library we may be missing out on many of the real facts and passing
that misinformation on to others. Try to find the original