04 January 2015

Sentimental Sunday - The New Year Brings New Evidence

Happy New Year! I’ve been following a bit of Thomas MacEntee’s Genealogy Do-Over, and thought I’d take a few minutes to talk about what happens a bit down the road. I began my own ‘do-over’ about three years ago; I started a fresh database and began re-foldering all the research material that I wanted to keep. This also meant culling (that’s an Archives term for throwing stuff out) what was either duplicate material or unsourced material.  Anything that I could not identify a source for or all the pre-Ancestry/FamilySearch/HeritageQuest copies of Census records got tossed. Anything that was an original or that I’d purchased was put into archival acid-free folders, labeled in pencil and put into archival boxes to become the base for my ‘new’ research.

At the same time I was beginning my ‘do-over’, I was also learning about best practices in genealogical research (yes, Margaret, there are ‘best practices’). I learned about citations and, more importantly, started looking beyond the ‘regular’ record sets to find information about my ancestors. As a beginner, we tend to focus on the easily obtainable records such as online Census records and other compiled genealogies. We know to look for BMDs (birth, marriage and death records) but there is just so much MORE out there. Not just more records, but records with more high-quality evidence of our ancestors. And that brings me to the heart of this post: Civil War Pension Files. Not Service files, but Pension files, a completely different set of documents.

Disclosure: these documents are NOT cheap. As a matter of fact, they are heartstopping-ly expensive. The National Archives and Record Administration has a webpage that explains what records are available and their corresponding cost: here’s a link to that page. A pension file costs $80. You read that right. But, here’s why I ordered a copy of the file of my 2nd great grandfather, Daniel Beightler: in other personal material I’d received from a collateral relative, she noted that there was information about Daniel’s first wife, Amanda N. Barnes. The same Amanda Barnes who has eluded every family member I’ve ever talked to about her. One *tiny* thing caught my eye while looking at this document during my ‘do-over’: that there was an affidavit by Amanda’s BROTHER in Daniel’s pension file.

I’d recently connected Amanda to a set of probable parents through a DNA match to myself and my Dad, as well as a Census record with incorrect information provided (imagine that), but to have a notarized affidavit from her brother? I coughed up the $80 (this was my Christmas present from my husband.) When I got home yesterday, there was a package in the mailbox. I’d ordered the record on-line December 16th and it arrived on January 3rd! Unbelievable!! Granted, I had all the pertinent information requested on the online form, so there wasn’t a lot of research to do on NARA’s end, other than to digitize the file. But still, great job!!

What did I get for my $80? A treasure trove of information about my ancestor, the people he knew (affiants), the communities he lived in, and…an affidavit by Isaac H. Barnes who states, “…his first wife [Amanda Barnes] was my sister.” 

There are also two later affidavits from a niece and nephew of Amanda that provide additional information for me to research. There’s more…much, much more, which will take some gathering and analysis to determine the usefulness of it. But, had I not gotten this record set, I would not have this volume of excellent quality evidence to use.

Plus, I wouldn’t be using the sentence “I would not have this volume of excellent quality evidence to use.” had I not focused my ‘do-over’ on the quality of the information that I use to move my research forward. So, what's your first observation in your do-over? I also have seen lots of posts from people who think a do-over is unnecessary; do you find yourself going back to 'old' research and reviewing it?

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