Why can't we just take someone's word for what they've read or found in their genealogical quests?
Even the best researchers have bad days and make mistakes. Then there are those who think they're researching but don't really know what they're looking for or what they've found. So what they report to others usually is hopelessly mangled.
The bottom line is that we trust no one, not even well-respected genealogists, to tell us what an original document holds.
On my bookshelf is a copy of "Wills and Administrations of Isle of Wight County, Virginia 1647-1800." For this book, Blanche Adams Chapman abstracted all of the county's wills for that period. I've used her book so much, the pages are falling out of it.
I do appreciate her hard work, but (there's always a "but" in genealogical research) I would not be a responsible researcher if I assumed everything she wrote was 100 percent accurate.
A good example is on page 141, the 1741 recorded will of Henry Applewhaite. Chapman recorded that Henry left to his "daughter Sarah the land on Nottoway River on which the widow Mary Applewhaite now lives."
On a trip to Virginia I copied the original will. That's when I learned that Henry actually left to his son Arthur "that slip of land which lyeth along the Cedar Swamp joining upon the plantation of the going over to that plantation whereon the widow Mary Applewhaite now dwells."
In Chapman's abstract, Henry owned the land where the widow Mary lived and was giving it to his daughter Sarah. A look at the recorded will shows Henry didn't own the land where Mary lived, but rather was giving Arthur an adjacent parcel. This seemingly small fact was actually very important to my research.
In Volume II of his book "Free African Americans of North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina," author Paul Heinegg misplaced one word that would have changed my family tree had I not sought out the original records.
On page 990, he wrote that Hardy Richardson's children Dorcas and Harriett each were to receive 25 acres of land from their brother, Mason, upon Hardy's death.
But when I read the will recorded at the Halifax County, N.C., courthouse, it said Hardy loaned his son Mason 5 acres and that at his death it was to be equally divided between Mason's two daughters, Dorcas and Harriett.
Another minor error in Heinegg's book gave the birth date of Asa James as Feb. 22, 1805. Heinegg wrote that the date was found in Asa's mother's Revolutionary War widow's pension file.
At that time I was trying to identify the parents of my third great-grandfather Asa James, who was born Feb. 22, 1806. What were the odds of there being two Asa James in the same county born exactly one year apart?
I obtained the pension application file for Asa's mother, Rebecca James, and discovered the date recorded there actually was 1806, not 1805 as Heinegg had abstracted.
This may sound like genealogical nitpicking but it is a wise researcher who remembers the devil is in the details.
Those who haven't been able to afford a subscription to Footnote will be happy to learn it is now available through the Hillsborough County library system. You can access it from home online with a library card number.
Go to www.hcplc.org and click on "Databases & Websites." Under Subject Guides, select "Genealogy." Click on the "Footnote" hyperlink and a screen will open to allow you to enter your library card number. One more click on the "sign on" button and you'll be on the Footnote Web site.
The site contains more than 59 million digital images of original documents, from Revolutionary War military records to Confederate amnesty papers to states' vital records. It's an excellent resource for locating ancestors in the paperwork they left behind.