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January 8, 2009

To Believe or Not To Believe, That is the Question

Today I worked on some queries for my new blog Ask Olive Tree. There are some very challenging and interesting questions coming my way! As I searched immigration records for one query, I came upon a fairly common problem that I realized probably stops many researchers in their tracks. So I thought an explanation of what I encountered and the steps I took to try to resolve the issue might be helpful.

In searching for an individual who was known to immigrate from a specific country in a narrow time frame, there were no hits on his name. Using wildcards did not help
nor did widening the search parameters. So I searched just under his surname and also using wildcards. There were several hits of males arriving from the right country, of the right age and in the right timeframe. One that kept jumping out at me was a man whose first name was indexed as JOHN. I wanted a man whose name was GUSTAV. There were several JOHN, JOHANNES and so on, but no GUSTAV or anything similar.

But one entry kept calling me back and I finally decided to check the image. That doesn't sound like a big deal but I'm on dialup with an average connection speed of 30kbps and loading images takes quite a long time. But I believe in hunches and I believe in serendipity so I had to check.

One look at the image convinced me that the first name was not JOHN. The first letter did not look like a J to me, even in old hard to read script. The image on the left is the name. Ignore the first little "slash" as it is the number 1.

This is where it is helpful to compare. Don't believe what the index said! The indexer was human just like you or me and the lists are hard to read. Compare names and words on the image that you CAN read! Look for the name JOHN (recongizable as John) or look for a word starting with G.

I was lucky because the word GERMANY was large and readable on the page. The upper case "G" was identical to the first letter of the individual's name. See how the G drops below the line? Also note the large beginning swirl which starts the letter G. It is not the same as the starting smaller swirl of J.

I found the name JOHN elsewhere on the list and the formation of the Upper Case "J" was not the same as the first letter in the individual's name that I was looking at. You can see that the J does not go below the line.

So I was able to determine that the individual I was interested in had a first name starting with "G". It appears to me that it could very well say "Gustav". He also had the right surname, right age, came from the right country and was arriving in America in the right time period to be the individual I wanted. Is it my man? I don't know. I cannot prove that he is. But the point is that I can prove that his first name is not JOHN and it does start with G. It could be Gustav. It's difficult to say with complete certainty from the handwriting.

Where would a researcher go from here? That's a question for my Ask Olive Tree blog. I just wanted to point out that researchers should be very open-minded when researching indexed data that is difficult to read. Remember that the index can be very wrong so always check the original image for yourself.


Brenda said...

Nice graphic lesson there, Lorine! My comment is merely: "GASP! You're on dial-up?!" I know, I know, you can't have chickens and animals in a high-speed place :-D It must take forever to download some things. All the more why we appreciate what you are doing.

Giselle said...

I read the graphic as 'Guste' - not exactly 'Gustav' but it could be a transcription error by an english-speaking person who had never come across the name 'Gustav' before and might have literally not heard the 'v' at the end. I would think that the result could be something like 'Gustah' or the 'Guste' that I think is written. Maybe it's problem solved!