Modern Eyes, Old Records

We’ve all heard the expression that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Viewers bring their individual interpretations and ideas to what they see. The phenomenon extends into everything that people look at, including historical documents used in genealogical research. Genealogists looking at sources created decades or centuries ago bring a modern-day point of view—and if those researchers are not careful, those views could result in misinterpretations and unrecognized clues.

Genealogical standards demand that researchers understand the meaning of “words, phrases, and statements in the sources they consult,” and that includes “the meaning for the source’s time and place.”[1] Why wouldn’t researchers want to understand their sources and correctly interpret words, phrases, and abbreviations they find in historic documents? Understanding the true meanings can put genealogists on the path towards a solution, while misinterpretations and overlooked clues can lead them astray.

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