Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Danger of Historical Books

So much is written about the value of reading and citing the information in historical books and print genealogies as opposed to finding data on your ancestors through the Internet. Certainly, the information in print is more reliable, especially if it is cited correctly so others can find it. The Internet with its Web pages, discussion boards, mailing lists, blogs, social networks and online photo sharing and of course, email bring those who crave information about their ancestors closer together to share, reflect upon and discuss the past. Today's genealogist must be capable of using all resources possible.

Upon the recommendation of a friend, I purchased a copy of Grace Denison Wheeler's 1903 book, "Old Homes of Stonington". What I didn't know is that the reprinting of this book has eliminated three chapters and a whole section with graveyard inscriptions! My copy purchased in 2006, from the bookseller, Alibris, a reputable, reliable and speedy delivery company does not contain the entire contents of the original volume. It is, however, cleanly and sturdily bound and can be carried easily on my travels from home to Stonington, CT with no problems. It cost $52.44 and was worth every penny. (or so I thought...)

It is a wonderful book, filled with photographs of homes of my ancestors and stories and is a great companion to fleshing out lives of the people. Grace was the town historian and daughter of Richard Wheeler whose book "History of Stonington" is an amazing work of its time. My copy is in use daily in my work for my own ancestors and in my work as assistant genealogist to the Denison Society.

Grace's work is vastly different from her father's approach and reflects the perspective of a female historian. Imagine my delight at finding her gravestone at Elm Grove Cemetery in Mystic, CT. I have printed it and use it as a bookmark in my book.

Last weekend, I was offered the opportunity to borrow an original edition from the Denison Society's library as long as I took good care of it and sent it back promptly (which I have done). It is fragile, yellowing and easily damaged just by reading never mind scanning or photocopying.

As I opened it, I discovered that there is a photograph of Grace on the first page! I gasped aloud; how could they leave that out? I carefully photocopied that page for my personal collection. Grace was single, so she has no direct descendants for me to contact.

Chapters eleven, twelve and thirteen are missing from my reprinted copy and both are of high interest to me. One is about Denisons, the second is written by a Chesebrough and the third is about the Rev. James Noyes. All of these surnames are prominent in my charts!

Most annoying is the many missing pages of gravestone transcriptions. Without this important information, many gravestones will be impossible to identify in the future. Some are hard to locate and read today.

The moral to this story is that even information in print can be deceptive. If I had investigated more closely in 2006, I would have found the correct edition available for purchase via The Stonington Historical Society. The cost is $35 with shipping. Notice it says "with missing chapters and gravestone inscriptions".

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