Beware of Vivid


I was recently contacted by a visitor to our website. He had in the past posted a query and was notifying me that it could be removed. Although he had found the answers to the query; his main reason for asking for it's removal wasn't because it was satisfied. It was because every bit of data that he had posted in the query was in error.

Unfortunately, this researcher wasn't able to find out about the errors until after wasting a few years running down the leads in the information that he had. Sadder still was that this information wasn't provided by another remote researcher or from data he acquired off on the internet. This was data that was provided to him through a family member.

It is not thought that this family member was intentionally leading him down the wrong roads, but instead that her "facts" were derived more from her imagination then from recorded data. She truly believed the information that she was providing.

The researcher that contacted me didn't say it straight out, but I would imagine that this particular family member was also passing along this same data to other family members. You see, she was also "doing the family research".This is actually scary to think about as many of the recipients might not be as lucky as the man who contacted me. In not knowing the "truth" in the records, someone might take what is provided to them as being of a factual nature. They, of course, later pass it along to someone else.

It is true that it is always best to begin your genealogical journey by questioning the older members of the family for what they know.As with exchanging data with anyone else, the researcher must be able to later document what is told to them by family members and not simply accept it as a definitive family account.

When speaking to family members, everyone must remember that there are several different types within the family.

1) The storytellers; God knows, I LOVE the storytellers. In many ways, these people are just the very best resource for information. Why? Because in addition to just the names and dates; they provide the "gossip" and the meat on the bones of the ancestors. They provide you with a better view of your ancestor instead of just "well, they were born and they died". You must still be able to verify what they have told you to an extent.

2) The Peter Pans: These are people in your family that although they will willingly talk for hours about family members, they choose to remember them as it is convenient for them. By this I mean that if something unpleasant took place, they might just "overlook" that small detail. They are really nice people to talk to, but as far as your genealogy goes, well.. you might wish to just "overlook" their information. If by chance, one of these types gives you something you simply cannot overlook, you might "test" them by asking for a story about something that you KNOW you can verify with someone else. In hearing their viewpoint and making comparisons, you should be able to determine just how far off their stories wander and use them accordingly. These people don't intentionally mean any harm, but might enjoy "spinning a yarn" for someone who hasn't heard their stories before.

3) The Bulls: These are the people in your family that have preconceived notions of the facts and it really won't matter just how much data you have to prove them wrong, they will stick to their stories. For example: If your source tells you about a death date of an ancestor, showing them the gravestone won't really matter. These particular people are good to listen to though as sometimes their stubbornness will pay off in being correct. A word of caution though, even if you KNOW that they are wrong, don't argue with them or they may never discuss family history with you again.

Remember to pick your battles carefully. Know what is worth arguing over and what is not.

Once you have retrieved information from a family member, place no less importance on verifying it then you would anything else that you have come across.

When you are dealing with elderly family members, it should also be remembered that memories fade.Also, in dealing with these elderly family members make certain that if they use terminology that you are unfamiliar with that you ask for a definition. A word or phrase that may have been commonly used during the main part of their lives might have a different meaning today. Most importantly, never question elderly family members until the time that they are so tired of discussing it that they run when they see you coming.

There might come a time when you REALLY need the answer to a question that only they can answer. Try also not to fire your questions at them like a cannon. If it turns out that they can relate a story to you about your grandfather's childhood, then forfeit asking any more questions about births and deaths and LISTEN to the story. You will need to listen to it if you intend to verify it.