Source Materials- Microfilm Tips & Warnings

For those of you who have not used genealogical source data before, I can assure you this is an adventure. In most ways, my experiences have been very positive as well as curious. I should also admit that almost all source material I have used has been either German or French Canadian. I have never either needed or used US English materials beyond that which is available in an online, computer accessible format for my research.

Whether your source materials are online or microfilmed they often provide many of the same challenges:

  • Script is often old and presented in unfamiliar styles ie. Fracteur or Gothic for German, Latin or Latinate for Roman Catholic, etc.
  • Oddly enough most of the original authors had no idea you would be attempting to read their writing some 100 or more years after it was written. As a result, it is often scribbled in a ‘short handed’ or abbreviated manner. This is especially the case for French Canadian records.
  • Frequently their quills were tired or their ink was weak. As a consequence, you get a lot of practice squinting and attempting to see things that are barely visible.
  • Some of the authors suffered maladies that made their writing difficult to decipher/ read. For example, I have had to plow through church records where the pastor obviously had Parkinson’s disease or a similar affliction.

I guess the bottom line is to be prepared. The joy of discovery can be extraordinary when working with original source documents but the work may be difficult and challenging. But as with most things in life, anything worth having is worth working for…