Text Only Documents in Your Family Tree

In 2010, I began researching my Aldous ancestors. Many were born in the county of Suffolk, England. As I built my tree “back into time,” I noticed there were few records for people living in the 18th century.

James Aldous was born in 1710 in Fressingfield, Suffolk, England. The document that I found on Ancestry.com is a text-only record. This means that I cannot view the original document to verify its accuracy.

The people transcribing these records are volunteer members of Ancestry.com. And, as such, there is room for mistakes. With ineligible handwriting and faded documents, the transcriptionists typed what they “saw”. They may have interpreted the name Daniel as David and typed it so. It’s easy to do.

With text-only records, you need to trust in the accuracy of the transcriptionist. I would suggest using your “gut instinct.” Use your best judgment to decide if it could be an incorrect transcription or not.

When I pulled up James’ profile in 2019, I noticed that I had attached an incorrect marriage record. It was for a John Aldous and Mary James. I had left no notes or comments on his profile page.

Did I add this record because the marriage occurred in Fressingfield, Suffolk, England? Did I add this record because I thought the transcriptionist typed John instead of James? I do not remember. That was my mistake for not making a note.

I knew James married a woman named Mary. Both names appear on the children’s baptism records. So I decided to perform another search of the Suffolk marriage records. After several hours of searching, I had no luck.

The issue becomes one of proof. If James and Mary wed outside of Fressingfield, there is no way to verify it is their marriage record. These text-only records list only their names. They do not list their fathers’ names or the parishes in which they lived.

Another problem is that the original document may be somewhat obscured or unreadable. Erosion from mold and dampness may have disintegrated the paper. In that case, the transcriptionist would not have typed an entry.

But, the fact remains that unless I can view the actual document, I cannot determine that this is the cause. James and Mary’s record could be there but not transcribed. Ancestry.com should allow us to view the actual records in these text-only databases.

So, back to James’ profile. I removed the incorrect marriage record from their profiles. I deleted Mary’s surname and the marriage date.

James died in 1785 and the burial was in Denham, near Eye, Suffolk, England.

Yet, the probate record references Hoxne, Suffolk, England. I do not know if they are alluding to Hoxne, the parish, or Hoxne, the registration district. Both Fressingfield and Denham fall under the Hoxne registration district.

All the documents attached to Jame Aldous’ profile are text-only records. I am unable to verify the authenticity of the transcribed words. I have to rely on their interpretations of the written documents.

As I noted above, it is easy to perceive one word for another. Daniel could look like David. The only way to prove that the word is Daniel would be to see it for yourself.

I have a World Explore membership on Ancestry.com. It states that I have “unlimited access to all 20 billion records.” In this case, I would expect that to include the ability to view the original documents.

That is where social media comes in handy. Ancestry.com has a Facebook page, so I sent an inquiry through messenger. I should get a response back within a few days. You never know, if they get enough people asking, they may make these records available.