Blogger hasn't been sending notifications for the better part of a year, and just the other day I noticed that there were about a dozen unapproved comments. Thank you to all who have left questions and comments.
It is surprising to see that this blog is approaching half a million page views. I started it back in September 2007 when my youngest was at home full-time with a serious medical condition and I needed a project. My first efforts mostly consisted of sharing short biographies written by deceased family members, plus a few of my own preliminary efforts. Some of my earlier forays into biography are cringe-worthy, but given some time, practice, education, expert mentorship, and an audience, I've learned about things like how to read and assess a family history and other valuable skills for doing biography.
So, how do you assess the reliability of a family history? It's fairly straightforward.
Ask: Who wrote the biography or family history? What personal connection did the author have to the subject (time, sources, etc.)? Did the author know the subject of a biography personally? What resources did the author have available when he or she wrote the history? Are sources listed? Did the author silently edit family accounts?
And then source check every detail that can be checked in the history. Are names, dates, places, and events, reasonably correct? Are historical movements and themes correct? The project I'm currently finishing is on slavery in the American West and most later family histories left by descendants of slaveowners compromise themselves through a woeful misunderstanding of what was happening in America. These histories also tried to reconstruct events and people about a century after the original events and I cannot recall that a single one said: Here's what we can remember, but it was all so long ago, so please forgive any errors that have crept into the narrative. That's a lesson to learn from the Book of Mormon, which specifically does that ... on the title page.
So, looking back at a decade of content (including a trailing off in the last few years as I've been busy with another project) this has been a labor of love, my best efforts, and the best part of all has been the new and strengthened relationships as parts of the project became collaborative, as cousins sent materials, or began their own research into aspects of these family histories. What an adventure!