07 January 2015

Wisdom Wednesday - Getting Over Source Snobbery

I am eating my words. I am noshing on them like they are an incredible delicacy. I had been a source snob (a nod to Dr. Thomas Jones for providing me with that phrase) ever since I started my own "do-over" about three years ago. I refused to acknowledge anything that didn't have a source attached to it, including my own 'newbie' research that I started in 1996. Today, to prove just how right Dr. Jones is (as if any proof is needed) I'm saying "Thank you, Ancestry.com, for providing a place for people to input the information they know about their family history and to upload documents and photographs that they have of their family." Because I just found a mother-lode.

In December of 2011, at the invitation of my second cousin Bill Strubbe and his wife Kim, I took my first trip to Cincinnati. I had never met them; Kim and I connected through Ancestry and after just a few short weeks they offered for me to come to stay with them a few days to discuss our shared family history and for me to do some on-site research in and around Cincinnati. 

'Selfie' by Bill Strubbe with Laura Cosgrove Lorenzana 2011
We really hit the jackpot when Bill invited our third cousin, Nancy Wersel Rybolt, for a casual dinner to introduce us and discuss what Nancy knew about our family. It was Nancy’s father, Robert Wersel, who I’d first written to in 1996 to get information about our Wersel family. I nearly lost my mind when Mr. Wersel told me that he had documents from the 1820s – 1850s!! In our correspondence, he promised that he’d locate the documents, since he’d given them to his daughter for safe keeping. Fast forward back to 2011, and on that fateful evening, Nancy showed up with a shopping bag (yes, a ratty old shopping bag) FULL of pre-1880 documents and papers! Some of them had been encased in cellophane and were virtually impossible to read; most were not in English. 

As I stood looking at them in utter disbelief, the discussion around me was what a shame that no one knew what they were or how to read them. I remember thinking how lucky I was that I'd spent the time to learn French and German as I discovered documents in German, Dutch, French and Portuguese. I was able to assess most of them on the spot; but after a short while we decided that I should scan what I could (I was scheduled to leave in the next morning) and I would transcribe and translate the scanned images. Right before Nancy left for the evening, she turned to me and said that she’d decided I should bring the documents home with me to properly stabilize and archive them and that I could bring them back “the next time you’re in Cincinnati.” Of course, you know I didn’t turn her down!

The document that caused me the most concern was what I believed to be a letter, which clearly was from 1851. Here’s what it looked like the first time I saw it:

After conservation (being removed from the cellophane and humidified to remove the wrinkles), it looks like this and is much more legible:

The letter is signed “Nicholas Ravold” a name I’d never seen before. Recently, with a few hours on my hands for research, and armed with my more open mind about sources, I decided to see what I could find on the Ravold line.  Right there, on Ancestry.com, is a tree that has PHOTOGRAPHS of Nicholas Ravold, his wife, Elizabeth Hensgen, and most of their children and children's children. Stunning! Is all the research sourced and accurate? No, it's not. But, it's a fabulous start and with this letter and another one written in 1864, I'm able to connect other research with what I have. I asked permission from the owner of the tree to use the pictures, which was granted without limit (I’m not sure she completely appreciates that scope…lol).

Nicolas Ravold (b 1799) Elisabeth Hensgen Ravold (b 1803)

So, once again, I have primary documentation (an original letter) to help support the research I have on this family. All because of collateral lines and “bad genealogy” from Ancestry.com.  MMMMMM…nom, nom, nom…


  1. Happy, happy, HAPPY genealogy dance :-D I've recently had an offer of help to ID some of the people in my Great Granny's photo albums. The "cousin" is in Canada and googled his father's name and found my blog. So pleased for you!

    1. Thanks!! Aren't blogs great cousin bait? SO happy to hear you get pics too...the sharing's what it's all about!

  2. I love this post -- and, of course, the Cincinnati connection. I also love the reference to "source snob."

    1. I read Dr. Jones "Mastering the Genealogical Proof Standard" and nearly fell over when I saw that! Here I thought I'd been doing it 'right' by turning my nose up to compiled genealogies, and there he was saying I should be using them. As clues. Along with the other aspects of the GPS. Hoping to get to Cincy again...soon!

  3. Laura,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2015/01/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-january-9.html

    Have a great weekend!


Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment on my blog!