Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Wedding Wednesday - Consider your source!

I attended a great lecture last week on Pennsylvania research at the Heritage Quest Research Library. I have three families (incidentally, all German) that lived in Pennsylvania between 1850-1950 - the Zitzmann/Sitzman family from Bohemia; the Waechter/Wachter family from Alsace-Lorraine; and the Beilstein family from Hessen-Darmstadt. One of the resources the speaker mentioned was US GenWeb, a resource I admit to using far less often than I should (though it's been a long time since I've been in a real research mode). I thought I'd try putting it to the test, and went looking for anything I could find on these three families.

Marriage index for Allegheny County

I didn't find anything for the Zitzmanns or the Beilsteins, but I did find one thing for the Waechters - an announcement for a marriage license for my third-great-granduncle, George Waechter and his wife, Mary Owens. According to the Allegheny County marriage index, George and Mary's wedding license was announced on 30 June 1889 in the Pittsburgh Dispatch. The old me would have taken that info, entered and sourced it into my database, and moved on. But I decided to go one step further, and see if I couldn't find the original newspaper article.

I first went to Newspaper Archive (which I have free access to, thanks to my King County Library System membership) to see if they had the Pittsburgh Dispatch. Sadly, they did not. So I trucked on over to the Chronicling America website and looked there. Bingo! I sifted through the pages until, on page 5, I found the article. The title of the article stood out right away - Marriage Licenses Granted Yesterday. The actual date of the license was 29 June 1889, a difference of a whole day. You may be thinking, ok, so one day off, not a big deal, right? Well, imagine if the article had been reporting marriage licenses from the last week or two, or in another area. These are details I would never have found had I not gone beyond the index.

I'm not saying indexes are bad - far from it, I would never have found this article if not for the index. What I am saying is something I've been hearing for years, and now know from firsthand experience - don't stop with the index! Use it as a springboard to the original document. You never know what you'll find, or what you might miss otherwise.

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