[This article is by Diana Crisman Smith for Research Write Connect]
There is DEFINITELY more to vital events than dates! When I first started in genealogy (more than 50 years ago), I received a document with the names, relationships, and dates of birth and death for the descendants of my 2nd great-grandparents on my paternal grandfather’s paternal side. I also had the opportunity to interview my paternal grandfather’s mother to get the same information on her descendants. WOW! What a start. Then I obtained similar information from my maternal grandparents on their parents’ families. By the time I was 12 I had the descendants of ALL my genetic and “bonus” great-grandparents.
However, there was not a single place included in the documents I was given and NO sources. The interviews were primarily names and relationships, with a few dates or places, but it was a starting place. All these years later, I’m still trying to prove a few of the dates, but I’m close. I occasionally still get a surprise as I’m adding documentation to a date - for instance, this week I discovered that my maternal grandparents (who divorced when she was 7 and remarried to others shortly thereafter) BOTH went out of state for their marriages - both lived in Iowa before and after, but one couple married in Missouri, the other in Minnesota. Now I have another puzzle to figure out the WHY.
So what is the importance of vital events? In order to determine what our ancestors did, we need to have a timeframe for them. Those vital events also define how they lived and died. Marriages aid in placing children. It’s all a part of the outline.
I also believe that it is important to fill in the “meat and bones” of the lives between those dates. What were these people about? What was important to them? What did they enjoy? I refer to this as “filling in behind the dash” - in other words, what happened between birth and death?
I enjoy this course - it starts with the basics of birth, death, and marriage by looking at the WHAT, WHY, and HOW of these events. There are four modules: birth; marriage; death; and putting them together. We’ll look at what was documented for the event in various times and places; why is the event important; and how to find the proof for your records. Each module has a text lesson, a short, close-captioned video (usually a case study), an exercise to try out what you’ve learned (using your own records), and access to a private Facebook Group to discuss questions, eurekas, and observations with other students and the instructor.
As I said earlier, I am still trying to prove some of the information I received those many years ago. It’s not always easy; the clues are not always accurate; the records may not exist where we expect (Minnesota - really?). But it IS possible to find nearly everything with patience, perseverance, and a PLAN. Finding vital events is often a process. Follow the steps given in the lesson from the obvious to the obscure. If the record isn’t where you expect, look at your data again to be sure you’re looking for the right person, in the right time, in the right place. Then try again. Not finding the record where expected is NOT failure - it’s just another opportunity to try something else - and maybe learn something new as you’re searching. So, the lesson will give you hints of less obvious places to look for a record. You are also encouraged to use your knowledge and creativity to explore other resources (and share your success with other students, please). The process may take a while (as I said, I have been working on some of my family for decades). Remember that records may become newly available long after they were created; for example, Ancestry, FindMyPast, FamilySearch, and other sites announce newly-released records regularly!
Once your search effort seems successful, there are still more steps. First, documenting your source(s)! You may need to repeat that process for another person, so having that documented will help you. When you share with your family, you need to have the source available if anyone wants to retrace your steps. Note, I don’t consider that request insulting - it means that they are interested enough to try to learn from you, so encourage them! Next, carefully analyze what you have found. Does it clearly resolve the issue you wanted? Does it raise new questions? Have you found clues that you can follow to find other information? And so on. Repeat as needed.
The other step to take is to preserve what you have found in a form it will be easy to reference. Yes, you may have found it on Ancestry - but will you always have access to it? Will others have access? If you have the document in your paper files, will you be able to find it quickly? Will you be able to share it?
I really look forward to you joining me on this course - every student will bring different experience and research goals. The questions raised by these various goals will help us all expand our vision of how and where to search, how to interpret various records, and new ways of looking at the world over time.
Join me at ResearchWriteConnect Academy for my new course Vital Events 101: The What, Why, and How.
This course is designed for 4 weeks, but you are free to take as much time as you need to complete it.
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Diana Crisman Smith and Lisa Alzo for Research Write Connect