One of the greatest gifts to the genealogical world comes from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which microfilmed thousands of local and state records it loans out to research centers around the world.
Other tools available from the church Web site, www.familysearch.org, are worth using, but researchers must approach with caution and closely scrutinize what they find.
From the home page, select "Search Records" in the menu bar. From the pull-down menu, select "Advanced Search." This reveals a data request form. Filling all the blanks will result in a narrow search. Entering just first and last names will return more possibilities. My test name for these records is "Margaret Stalcup."
Most search results will be appear under three different headings: Ancestral File, International Genealogical Index and Pedigree Resource File.
Under Ancestral File, the first hit tells me that Margaret was born March 19, 1843, in Macon County, N.C., and that she died Nov. 11, 1922, in Gainesville, Ga., where she is buried. Her parents are listed as William Stalcup and Evalina Killian, and her husband (whom she married on Oct. 7, 1860, in Fort Hembree, N.C.) was Alfred James.
These details lead to questions
What exciting information! But is any of it true? Where did that information come from?
Be sure to read everything on the page to answer those questions. In doing that, I learned the Ancestral Files are collections of information from pedigree charts and family group sheets submitted to the church since 1978. And I found this important disclaimer: "The information has not been verified against any official records."
That line strongly directs the next step a researcher must take. In Margaret's case, the Ancestral File points to two locations for further research: Macon County, N.C., in the mid-1800s to seek records on William and Evalina Killian Stalcup; and early 20th-century Hall County, Ga., for records of Alfred and Margaret Stalcup James.
Users know the International Genealogical Index as the IGI. Under this section, the evidence indicates there was more than one Margaret Stalcup in the same North Carolina area.
One record shows Margaret as the daughter of William H. Stalcup and Evalina Killian, but it says she was born in March 1843 in Lincoln County, N.C. Now I have conflicting information about her birthplace. I cannot simply close my eyes and choose one through eeny-meeny-miney-mo. Instead, my research now expands to Lincoln County to see if I find William and Evalina there in 1843, rather than in Macon County.
It's time to find the source
To help in my evaluation of this information I must know its source. The IGI says simply, "Record submitted after 1991 by a member of the LDS Church. No additional information is available." With such a vague source, I know I cannot accept the finding as "fact."
The next category is the Pedigree Resource File. It's important to remember anyone can contribute this material, with or without confirming it. The files also do not include the contributor's sources, so I must use the information, once again, as a tool.
This section sometimes lists the name and address of the person who submitted the information. That presents another avenue of research - an opportunity to ask the person where he got his information.
I didn't find a pedigree chart submission for my Margaret. By expanding my research I did find one for her purported father, William H. Stalcup, and I found a contributor's name and address.
I went to whitepages.com and entered his name to confirm he still lives at the same address. Rather than call and catch him off-guard, I'll send him an old-fashioned postal letter. I'm especially intrigued that he listed Margaret's father as William Harve Stalcup. Wonder how he knew the middle name? He also listed William's father as William "Billy" Stalcup. Sounds like he has access to original family records, and I can hardly wait to hear back from him.
The church Web site offers free online classes and its free Family History Lesson Series in printable PDF files. Researchers will also find the "Help" button on the menu bar is filled with useful information. Take time and explore it.
Sharon Tate Moody is a board-certified genealogist. Send your genealogy questions and event announcements to her in care of Getaway, The Tampa Tribune, 200 S. Parker St., Tampa, FL 33606 or stmoody0720@mac