Know Your Record Set: Does It Exist & Has It Been Indexed?

I have mentioned knowing your record set in the past, but there is a new tip I’d like to share today.

Many researchers believe that if the record set they need exists, then it is digitally available online AND it has also been fully indexed. Many don’t take the time to drill down into primary records when a search doesn’t bring up the image needed.

That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. It also doesn’t mean if it does exist, it has been indexed (correctly or with errors/omissions).

Here is an example from my own research:

Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850 have been compiled for most early Massachusetts towns. This is a well-known standard reference for anyone who has early New England roots. FamilySearch and Ancestry have this record set, as does American Ancestors.

It is so common and widely available (known as the Tan Books in pre-internet days) that I would certainly expect AmericanAncestors, Ancestry and FamilySearch to have this record set available online – and they do – SORT OF!

I was researching one of my Massachusetts families in the 1700s. Rebecca Blackman, daughter of Benjamin Blackman and Abigail Spur,  was born on 8 February 1737/38 in Stoughton, Norfolk, Massachusetts. Eventually, I found this record:

Birth Records of Stoughton, MA

First, I searched AmericanAncestors:

Hmmm. No record found. That surprised me because their Massachusetts Vital Records collection is extensive. Stoughton is an early New England town, too.

Next, Ancestry:

Hmmm. No record found there, either.

On to FamilySearch:

FamilySearch has an entry that matches the birth date I have for Rebecca, but no image is available. It is part of the Massachusetts Births and Christenings, 1639-1915 collection.

Why is there no image?

Hmmm. Items in this collection come from data collected by the Genealogical Society of Utah. That means it might be off old pedigree charts or in the old IGI or from actual government vital records.

Back to Square 1 and I looked at the database collection of AmericanAncestors for Stoughton:

Wow! NO databases found for Stoughton in AmericanAncestors!!! Their digital vital record collection for Massachusetts isn’t complete!

As for Ancestry, the catalog does show that Stoughton vital records are in their collection and are searchable. What happened when I searched for Blackman in 1737 +/- 2 years?

I didn’t even enter Rebecca (Rebackah), just the surname and no hits came up. So, Ancestry HAS the collection, but either it isn’t fully indexed or there has been an error in indexing.

Lastly, I went to FamilySearch, used the catalog and pulled up digital images of the book of Stoughton vital records.

I then clicked, went to Norfolk County, then Stoughton and went through the book page by page until I found the entry I sought.

The lesson here is, once again, DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH. If what you are searching for doesn’t magically appear in digital format online, take the time to seek out the original record set.

Not only did I find the birth record for my Rebecca Blackman, there were several other records in this collection that allowed me to piece together the Blackman family and extend the line back several more generations to the immigrant.

In my case, the record IS online, but not accessible through an online index.

What you think is a brick wall, might not be at all!

Ethical Dilemmas in Genealogy: Book Review

I first heard about Ethical Dilemmas in Genealogy by Penny Walters on one of the many webinars, talks and meetings I follow online. I think it was during a Mondays with Myrt session where this book was discussed.

Ethics is a relatively new topic connected to genealogy. Back in the “olden days”, not only pre-internet but decades before, there wasn’t much attention paid to the ethical side of sharing family information in publications, whether it be in books, magazines or the local newspaper. Even the advent of the internet didn’t give most people pause to think about what information they were sharing online.

DNA testing cracked the door open a bit wider, but as individual testing gained in popularity, protecting one’s privacy was lost and not noticed until too late – like the proverbial horse that got out of the barn.

Ethics really moved to the forefront of the news when it was revealed that police agencies were using what had been seen as genealogical databases for a very different purpose –  to identify and arrest criminals in cold cases.

With this background setting, a book on genealogical ethics was timely and a topic that greatly interested me; I purchased a copy from everyone’s favorite online resource.

Ethical Dilemmas in Genealogy was published (in the USA) on 9 May 2020 in San Bernardino, California. No publisher is cited in the book.  Penny Walters, PhD, is a college lecturer in Psychology and Business Studies in the U.K. and it seems the book was first published there in May 2019.

Due to the pandemic, I had to wait several weeks for the book to arrive and, when it did, I excitedly delved into the reading.

Before getting into the review, two thoughts need to be shared:

1. While I am certainly not a trained expert in genealogical ethics, I make it a point to take advantage of learning opportunities that appear so I think I have a fair amount of foundational knowledge.

2. Likewise, I have no formal training as an editor, but taught English/Language Arts for most of my career.

I am mentioning these points because this book review is quite different than most reviews I write.

The book contains six chapters in 140 pages:

1. What are ethical dilemmas?
2. Ethical dilemmas in genealogy
3. DNA testing
4. Adoption
5. Ethnicity and identity
6. Potted history and potential future of genealogy

On the positive side – The author covers just about every ethical scenario that could occur during genealogical research. There are many many examples (perhaps too many) of dilemmas that may appear when researching, paired with a variety of responses that may be made to each situation.

Another positive point is that there are 771 footnotes cited to support information presented in the book.

Unfortunately, there end the positive notes.

I have to admit that I was quite elated to discover that page 140 was the end of the book; all the remaining pages were dedicated to reviews and footnotes. 140 pages is more the size of a handbook, but I felt like I had read all 1, 225 pages of War and Peace.

Why did I feel that way with so much good information in the book?

I mentioned that no publisher was cited in this book and that is a shame because it would be much more readable with considerable editing and revision. What this book is lacking is a good editor.

Chapter 1 has so much extraneous detail in it that takes away from the rest of the book. A definition of an ethical dilemma could be covered in one paragraph in an Introduction.

Next, each chapter has way too many sub-topics in it; some are off topic (see page 79 – Interesting Books with short synopses of subject matter) and should be in a separate appendix in the back of the book.

Third, I would actually advocate for more than six chapters, although they would be shorter, to give the reader a mental break before moving on to a different subject. For example, there were 20 sub-topics in Chapter 4 – Adoption, which was just 18 pages long. The chapters are too chopped up with too much going on.

There was one detail that, for whatever reason, was really annoying to me – Each chapter ends with a totally unnecessary separate sentence detailing what the next chapter covers. Given that each chapter has a title, those sentences are redundant and all to be struck from the text.

I have to admit I’ve never written a book review that had its main focus on the structure and format of its information. Because of the choppiness of the presentation, I didn’t enjoy reading this book, which is a shame because Ethical Dilemmas in Genealogy covers pertinent topics on a very timely issue in the genealogy world. I was definitely looking forward to the book’s arrival in the mail.

I’ve looked at other online reviews of this book and most readers, like me, agree that there is good information in the book. Only one other person commented on the format of the book, alluding to the opening being more like a dissertation.

I noted in the beginning of this review that no publisher was cited. A publisher would have sent the draft to an editor, which, in my opinion,  is what is needed.

If I wrote just a single sentence summary of this book, it would be that I felt like the book rambled on. . . and on. . .  and on. . . . .

If I had had the chance to peruse this book in person before purchasing, the format would have been a turnoff for me and it’s not likely I would have bought it. I have to repeat that that’s a shame because the author has covered her topic well.










Friday’s Family History Finds

The best Family History Finds this week:

Family Stories

Why Our Ancestors Marched Hours-Old Babies into Town by DiAnn Iamarino on Fortify Your Family Tree

A Moon River Mercer by Jacqi Stevens on A Family Tapestry

Third Great-Grandmother’s Photo in a Museum by Elizabeth Handler on From Maine to Kentucky

Digging for Victory: Sepia Saturday by ScotSue on Family History Fun

Research Resources

Around the Island: A Tour of Ireland in Photographs by John D. Reid on Canada’s Anglo-Celtic Connections

DPLA, Free Ebooks Online for Everyone by James Tanner on Genealogy’s Star

Top 10 Dutch Genealogy Websites by Yvette Hoitink on Dutch Genealogy

A Quick List of French Military Websites for Your Lockdown Research by Anne Morddel on French Genealogy Blog

Can’t Find the Family Bible? 10 Places You May Not Have Looked by Lisa on Are You My Cousin?

Affadavits for Genealogy by Amie Bowser Tennant on The Genealogy Reporter

Ancestors in 18th Century Mortality Schedules by Marian B. Wood on Climbing My Family Tree

Tech News


Genetic Genealogy

What Dutch DNA Looks Like – 2020 Edition by Yvette Hoitink on Dutch Genealogy

Improving the Odds on The DNA Geek

Some Fine DNA by Lara Diamond on Lara’s Jewnealogy

Genetic Affairs: AutoPedigree Combines AutoTree with WATO to Identify Your Potential Tree Locations by Roberta Estes on DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy


Peeling Back the Layers: Online Source Citations Part I by Diana Elder on Family Locket

How to Join a Lineage Society + 6 Tips for a Successful Application by Elizabeth O’Neal on Heart of the Family

Did Sarah Giberson Marry Two Different Seaver Men? – Part III by Randy Seaver on Genea-Musings

Point and Click Oversights by Michael John Neill on Rootdig

Loyalist William How(e) of Kingston. . .Who Are Your Parents? By Ken McKinlay on Family Tree Knots

Education Is for Everyone

The Benefits of Working on Family History Projects by Clemence Scouten on Organizing Photos

The Grim Reaper by Alicia Crane Williams on Vita Brevis

Keeping Up with the Times

Joel Weintraub Has Videos About 1950 U.S. Census Locational Tools by Randy Seaver on Genea-Musings

Beware Coronavirus-Themed Malware Disguised as Excel Spreadsheets by Brendan Hesse on Lifehacker

A Possible Silver Lining to the COVID Pandemic: Can a 20th Century Cultural Phenomenon Make a Comeback for Us and Our Descendants? by John Tew on Filiopietism Prism