Wednesday, January 12, 2022

SLIG 2022: Plenary Session Highlights

"If You Can't Find Your Own Family History, Steal Someone Else's"? 


Anyone familiar with Genealogy Standards published by the Board for Certification of Genealogists might question the sanity of that statement. 

Yet, F. Warren Bittner kicked off SLIG 2022 with a western-themed, historically-accurate case study demonstrating the need to do just that! 

Utilizing diaries, letters, journals, and documents taken from the lives of others, Warren fleshed out the details of the elusive life of Samuel Thompson, correcting a few "documented" inaccuracies along the way.

Samuel was born in Pomfret, New York in 1813 and died in Vernal, Utah in 1892. One of his earliest experiences as a fairly-new member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was participating in "Zions Camp" in 1834. Or was it? In spite of dozens of biographies stating otherwise, Warren demonstrates that Samuel was actually in Kirtland, Ohio building a temple at the time. 

Over a decade later, Samuel was at Sutter's mill when gold was discovered. Or was he? Turns out he was actually at Sutter's Fort, about 45 miles west.

That's just the tip of the iceberg, but you can quickly see where this is going. Warren researched his way through Samuel's published life sketch of migration, marriage, persecution, gold discoveries, and wars, to find a much more accurate history. And where actual records existed, but details lacked as is often the case, Warren utilized what he calls "stolen history" to weave together an accurate picture of Samuel's life.

The moral of the story? Don't steal someone else's history. Oh wait. Do steal someone else's history. Well, that's confusing! How about: don't inaccurately attribute historical events to someone's life, but once you have accurately documented events and no details to fill in the storyline, do "steal" from the diaries, letters, and documents of others to bring your ancestor's story to life.

Or something like that. 

Thanks, Warren, for a very informative evening!


F. Warren Bittner, MS (History), is a genealogical researcher, educator, and author. He is a Genealogical Researcher at AncestryProGenealogists, where he specializes in German and German Immigrant research. He is former owner of an independent research firm, and previously worked for the Family History Library as the German Collection Manager.

Warren has coordinated German research courses for the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG), the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR), and the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP). Known for his extensive research in German and US archives and repositories, Swiss records, and his expertise in late nineteenth-century New York City research, Warren has lectured widely at national conferences and society events. He is published in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, is a former trustee for the Board for Certification of Genealogists, and a former member of the board of directors for the Utah Genealogical Association.

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