Genealogy Cornerstone: A Reasonably Exhaustive Search and the Case of Augustin Heřman
Every single one of us who has undertaken their genealogy knows the phrase and the need to conduct ‘A reasonably exhaustive search’ when working on your family history. These words come from the Genealogical Proof Standard. This Standard has as one of its key tenets the need to conduct a ‘reasonably exhaustive search’ when searching for and about our ancestors. While it is certainly not the easiest path to follow when undertaking your genealogy and family history, it is the only way to go. After all, we all know that genealogy without proof is simply myth.
You might be asking why there is such a focus on conducting such a search. Among other things it means you will need to do your own research and this factor is crucial. Again you might ask why? Let me give you a case that illustrates this need very well.
The Case of Augustin Heřman
Here are Onward To Our Past® Genealogy Services we have been working on our project to identify the first Bohemian (Czech) immigrant settlers across America. Naturally this led us to Augustin Heřman, the first documented Bohemian-American to establish himself and his family in what would become the United States of America.
It turns out that while there are reams of information on Augustin and his life in the future States of New York, Delaware, Virginia, and Maryland, there are some serious mysteries about this great Bohemian-American. However, these mysteries are not always evident when a search on Augustin is undertaken – and if you believe what you run the high risk of perpetrating myths and conjecture about him rather than facts.
First there is his Find A Grave listing. With no disrespect to the person who listed this memorial it is filled with some very strange and erroneous information that many who come across this listing might accept as fact. I will ignore the issue of the posting Wikipedia as a source. However, no one has ever determined or found documentation as to the parents, birthplace, nor birth date of Augustin Heřman, even though two different birth dates are given on this entry. The next item we noted was his date of death. Again, there is no documentation as to the date of Augustin’s death, but here it is listed as a date specific. Additionally he is listed as being buried in a cemetery to which there is no documentation that he was ever actually buried there. Then there are the supposed parents of Augustin. Even if you chose to believe that Augustin was the son of the two people listed, the death location for his ‘father’ is impossible. It is listed as “1619 in the Bohemia Manor, Cecil, Maryland.” The problem? Bohemia Manor did not even come into existence for more than 60 years after that date.
Additionally, there are some issues with the house in the photo that is attached to this memorial. Nice picture and yes, it was on the land at Bohemia Manor, however it was built after 1820 when the original Manor house burned to the ground. As such, while it is on the same land, the house shown has no actual connection to Augustin.
Looking farther, we discovered an entry in the multi-volume set of books titled “Biographical Dictionary of American Business Leaders” by John N. Ingham, published in 1983. Now at the hefty price of $682.95 the set you might expect it to be accurate. While it might be accurate for every other entry, it certainly is not for Augustin (listed under one of the common variant spellings as Augustine Herrman). Once again when reading this reference work, the genealogist will again encounter conjecture listed as fact. This author picked one date of birth and a date of death that are both unconfirmed. It continues with the choice of one set of potential parents again as fact. While not necessarily of note for genealogical purposes we also noted the fact that several of the given dates and progressions in his career and life are a mishmash of mistaken dates and erroneous statements. Personally, I would hope that for $682.95 you’d at least get accurate information, but evidently not in the case of Agustin.
In this day and age of online family trees one of the major drawbacks to this type of erroneous information is that there are now a multitude of family trees online that are all simply mimicking this erroneous information.
Our communications with both of these individuals have resulted in no responses as of this time.
The Value to You in Doing Your ‘Responsibly Exhaustive Search’
Certainly we all want the most information we can find for our genealogy. We want our genealogy to be as complete as possible also, but what we should want most of all is for the depiction of our ancestors to be accurate and true. This means as genealogy and family history fans, must be ready and willing to undertake that all important ‘Reasonably Exhaustive Search’ and seek out those primary documents to ‘prove’ our genealogical information. We must not be drawn into the ease of such secondary or tertiary sources as undocumented online trees, Wikis, and many of the biographies that are available.
In the case of Augustin Heřman, there are some facts that remain elusive for those of us trying to compile his full and complete history. But it is far better to have a missing fact than to fill in that blank with something that is nothing more than conjecture.
Personally in our family tree my great grandfather, in 1910 and at the age of only 48, disappears from all records. While this missing data is a continued source of frustration I believe it is far better to maintain those years as a blank slate in our family tree than to simply manufacture something for him, or worse, pick one of the dates that others have variously placed in their online family trees as a date of death for him. One tree on Ancestry.com has his date of death as 1910. When I asked the tree’s owner about that their response was ‘well, he is not in the 1910 US Census so he must be dead then.” Beyond not having any death certificate, there is only one additional problem with that supposition and it is my grandmother personally telling me how my great grandfather would come visiting the family in the dead of night several times after that 1910 date.
While it may not be the most satisfying of outcomes, sometimes we simply have to accept that portions of our genealogy and family trees will remain mysteries. But then again that is why we keep on having all the fun of searching!