Genealogy Tip for Today: Caveat Emptor or don’t believe everything you read
I know this tip seems mundane and perhaps unnecessary, but I came across something that made me think about the old adage of Caveat Emptor translated to English as ‘buyer beware’ – and I will add ‘especially in genealogy!’
Certainly everyone knows the perils in believing what you see and read in far too many of the online family trees on the Internet, especially those that lack any documentation. In my early days as a newbie genealogy fan I wasted far too many hours trying to figure out supposed relationships listed on many of these trees. Then I moved on to being concerned with how to get the more egregious errors corrected. Then I got smart and quit worrying about other folks’ work and just focused on making my own the best it could be. It was a wonderfully liberating moment I should add. Now I only worry about any errors I might find only if they are in a database such as those stored by Ancestry.com, Fold3.com, MyHeritage.com, etc.
But my most recent experience didn’t happen due to some online genealogy mishmash. Rather it was in a book that I had heard quite a few accolade about while working on my Czech (Bohemian) genealogy.
I will add here that I am a lover of older books and having them physically present on my genealogy bookshelves is a delight. So it is that when I come across older reference works applicable to my Czech and Cornish genealogy or my wife’s Italian ancestry I love to treat myself and get a copy if I can. Some of these are real prizes such as my complete set of Sir John Maclean’s History of the Deanery of Trigg Minor Cornwall. Quite a few are esoteric but hold good information and most are long out of print, but again contain some great tidbits and insights about genealogy and family history from pre-Internet days.
Some are clunkers though and the one I just added is a super clunker. Thankfully I found a copy for under $1.00. It may be worth the buck for some of the pictures, but not much more.
The title is The Czech Americans. Written by Stephanie Saxon-Ford in 1989 it is part of the educational series for youth published by Chelsea House and is one in their ‘The Peoples of North America’ series.
It is sad indeed to see a book, hopefully not used by students these days, filled with so many errors and misrepresentations of Czech-Americans and our Bohemian immigrant ancestors.
When opened the book and turned the first page I was hopeful that it would be a well done work. Listed immediately was the Senior Consulting Editor, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and four Consulting Editors; one each from Harvard, The Balch Institute of Ethnic Studies, New York University, and City College of New York. In Senator Moynihan’s defense it seems all he did was write a generic essay on diversity for the opening of this book that is perhaps in and unchanged in every other book in this series. I am guessing here, but the more I read this book the more I came to believe the four Consulting Editors hopefully were simply lending their names and organizations to ‘The Peoples of North America’ series, rather than actually acting as editors of The Czech Americans.
Why do I think this? Because right away, on the very first page about Czechs come sweeping generalizations in support of old and erroneous stereotypes coupled with factual errors. It was very sad to this see in a work designed for students!
Contrary to the author’s assertion not all Czechs who settled in ‘urban enclaves’ were cigar makers or garment workers. So now all the students who read this think Czechs only made cigars or were tailors?
Then within a few sentences the author misspells (in a textbook yet) the Minnesota town of Litomysl as Litomysy. I can just imagine the students trying to find a town that never existed for some book report.
In the next paragraph the author maintains Czech immigrants did not join Sokols until the 20th Century. I wonder what my ancestors were doing in their Sokols in the middle 1800s in Cleveland?
Remember so far we are only into the second page of this 112 page book and this is the third mistake. Seemed to me to be quite sad for a book that sold itself as a textbook for youth to learn about Czech Americans.
Discouraged, I decided I should learn more about the author, Ms. Saxon-Ford. A good, old Google® search only came up with no more than the single reference for The Czech Americans. The only biography I could find for her was the one on the last page of The Czech Americans. It seems Ms. Saxon-Ford earned an M.A. in philosophy from the University of Hawaii (nothing wrong with that), edits for a ‘New York publisher’, and “Her grandfather was from Czechoslovakia.” That’s it. That’s all. As the old saying goes: “Things that make you go hmmmm?”
I could go on with other errors I have found, but I think you get the idea or rather the moral of my short story here…caveat emptor and do NOT believe everything you read!
So if you come across The Czech Americans in the library or at a garage sale…save your dollar. It isn’t worth it!