Monday, May 6, 2013

Originals vs. Abstracts

If you are attending the NGS conference in Las Vegas this week, you will no doubt hear in at least one session, how you should always seek out the original record rather than rely on transcriptions or abstracts of the record. The reasoning being that people make mistakes when transcribing. I agree. If possible always get a look at the original. As they say, "To err is human."

However, I would like to suggest another reason for seeking out the original records. If you are lucky personalities show through, and you get a wonderful glimpse into a long dead ancestor's character. I've been doing some research in Lincoln County, Tennessee. I found a book on abstracts of the county wills. The information seemed fairly good based on what I already knew about the people I was researching. My next step was to search out the originals.

The first will I pulled was for Nancy Jobe. It is 1 1/2 pages long. The abstract is 4 1/2 lines. Quite a difference. While the abstract captured the essential facts well, what it didn't reflect was the emotion. Nancy had a son that was "simple." Her concern for his welfare after she departed this Earth was prevalent throughout the will. She set up several fail safes within the will should one scenario or another not work out. Nancy made sure her son would always have a place to live, land to call his own, people to care for him, and he would not go hungry or destitute. As a mother myself, I was deeply touched by this. I can only imagine the anxiety she must have felt, especially in a time when the care was deplorable or nonexistent for a person who was not neurotypical.

The next will I pulled was for Samuel Gleghorn who was Nancy's father. The abstract was about 6 lines and the will was 3 pages, which the abstract did make note of in parentheses. As it turns out Samuel had a big interest in his grandchildren's education. He stated a few different terms of monetary distribution in regards to education and what would happen to this money should said children decide to pursue education or not. Given how the will is worded and that Samuel signed the document rather than leave his mark, indicates that he was an educated man. Also, this wasn't just a clerk writing up a document, clearly Samuel had some knowledge of the law and how it worked.

Based on Samuel's will, I reflected a little more on Nancy's will. This was a woman with property that she inherited from her father, that was hers outright. Nancy wrote her own will and signed it with her signature. She was educated and also aware of how the legal system worked. Clearly Samuel encouraged, maybe even demanded, his own children to be educated.

These are insights and conclusions that I could never have gotten from abstracts. After studying these wills, I realized something else. I liked this family group. They cared about each other and had genuine concern for each other's welfare. If I had just relied on the abstracts, I would not have had the same connection.

So search out the originals. You might just walk away surprised at what you find out.


  1. Thank you for some excellent examples of why we should obtain original records and not abstracts or extracts. The fastest way to get original records is to send lookup requests to our professional researchers at the FHL. Th first request is always free.

  2. I totally agree. Original documents are always preferable over abstracts. It sounds like Nancy was a loving mother to her son.