Can I use a county history for a lineage society application?

We’ve all seen them in our research – the beautifully compiled 19th century family history that includes profiles of prominent people in the community. They list our ancestor’s parents, grandparents, and more. Can we use them as a source for a lineage society application? Not alone.

There are a few questions we need to ask when we’re considering the use of a source for an application.

  1. Where did the information come from? Was it from the child, who was likely to know the names of their parents, or the neighbor, who did not? For most county histories, we don’t know.
  2. What purpose does this document/source serve? Remember “Who’s Who”? The county histories are often called “brag books” for a reason. The profiles were added to make the subjects look good. What does that mean for their accuracy?
  3. Is there someone or something verifying their accuracy? If an ancestor lied on a pension application, they may end up losing their pension. Was there any consequence for lying here?

In looking at these questions, we have a source with information of uncertain origin, which may or may not be accurate, and which was likely shaped to make our ancestors look good. Without even looking at the contents of the text, do you think the county history is as a source is reliable as a source?

The short answer: it might be. Your ancestor may actually have the history being represented in the “brag book.” But there’s an equally good chance he or she lied about their past, hid something untoward, or just didn’t share the whole story. Check – and be prepared to use the county history only with a second source.

Published by Bryna O'Sullivan

Proprietor of Charter Oak Genealogy, Bryna O'Sullivan specializes in assisting clients with lineage society applications and with French to English genealogical translations.

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