AJC file photo

Don’t make assumptions when researching your family history

People make assumptions when it comes to genealogy.

One of the most prevalent is that a family’s surname has always been the same, always spelled the same way, and so forth.

Spelling was never a sure bet in the old days, and many names got abbreviated for convenience. But taking a DNA test is a good way to see the different ways a particular surname is spelled among the direct male descendants who take the Y-DNA test at FamilyTreeDNA.com.

Another assumption is that if something is in print, it must be true. Many early genealogists published books to tout their lofty heritage, sometimes with no documentation or any real research. Always double check anything that was published before the 1960s to see if the book has any sources. I wrongly assumed an author I had met knew what she was doing until I decided I had better go back and examine her information more closely. She was accurate to a point, but got the wives mixed up, and thus I had to chop a whole branch off that family tree.

Then there are the oft-repeated stories that make their way into many families’ oral histories, like the one about the “Three Brothers.” It always starts with three brothers immigrated, one went north, one west and one south. Even that early into the story, it’s suspect. It rarely happened that three brothers split up and went in different directions. Most likely, it became useful to folks who just wanted to tell their children something about their heritage when they really knew nothing concrete. So if you encounter such tales, think twice about repeating them.

“Native Decatur” author to speak at DeKalb Lunch and Learn

Mark Pifer, author of “Native Decatur,” will speak on September 18, at the DeKalb History Center Lunch and Learn program. His book traces the origins of the place that became Decatur, including what went on in various eras and the circumstances leading to the city’s settlement. He will address who was the first European to set foot in Decatur. The event is free, but bring your own lunch. At the Old Courthouse on the Square in Decatur. For further information, check dekalbhistory.org or call 404-373-1088, ext. 23.

TOPIC: Gold Star Mothers

The Gold Star Mothers program, started after World War I, is featured in the National Genealogical Society’ NGS Magazine (April-June 2018). It links to records about the program found at the National Archives, on Google Books, as well as to the ongoing goldstarmoms.com.

Contact Kenneth H. Thomas Jr., P. O.Box 901, Decatur, GA 30031 or gagensociety.org.