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APerson

Member Since 13 Dec 2009
Offline Last Active Aug 14 2013 12:24 AM
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About Me

Okay, so I'm a genealogy buff - I've been working on my family history since the 1970's (I don't remember when I first started). Genealogy is a fascinating hobby and I especially enjoy finding the "juicy stuff." Over the years, I've found a lot - both good and bad. I've got bootleggers, relatives locked away in insane asylums, and even a case of fratricide (in one of my direct lines, no less)! Of course, I also have brilliant scholars, academics, and a lot of artists and other very creative people. Such stories not only make history come alive but also make the pursuit of one's genealogy a challenging pursuit that is filled with many surprises.

My American Revolutionary Ancestor


I had long hoped to find an ancestor in one of my direct lines who served in the American Revolutionary War. Given that I'm fully 1/2 Sicilian (on my father's side) with all my paternal lines coming to the United States around 1900, and most of my maternal lines either disappearing into the ether during the late 1800s or tracing back to Ireland around 1830, I never thought I'd be successful. (BTW, Sicilian/Irish is not a good combination - God help those who cross me! :rolleyes: ) About two years ago, I broke through one of my most difficult brick walls and realized that I have one line that appeared to have promise! Specifically, it appeared as if Simon Riegel (who was of German descent) was my fifth great-grandfather and that he served with the Pennsylvania Militia where he guarded those pesky Redcoats! I began to experience genealogical nirvana. Fortunately, that condition isn't fatal.

Of course, that was only the beginning as I quickly hit many other roadblocks as I tried to prove my ancestry (I wanted to join the Sons of the American Revolution). The biggest challenge was making a solid connection between my patriot ancestor's son, Johann George Riegel (later spelled Riegle) and his daughter, Margaret (Riegel) Steigerwalt. Proving all of the other relationships in my direct line to Simon was very simple. The problem was that there appear to be no records, of any kind, that directly connect George to Margaret. I also could not connect Margaret to any of her siblings, some of whom I can connect to George. After nearly two years of work, I hit endless new challenges - for the first time ever, I even consulted with a professional genealogist without success. (FYI, my research skills are quite good - I'm currently completing a Ph.D.) In addition to the fact that the records simply aren't there to prove that George was Margaret's father, the Internet and other sources are filled with massive heaps of the bane of real family historians - junk genealogy! This is compounded by the fact that Germans are simply unable to spell :P - there must be 100 gabazillion spellings of the surname, "Riegel" and easily three times that for "Steigerwalt!" When large online services such as Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org are thrown into the mix, the errors become so great that fact is often replaced with urban myth. For example, several million people currently claim to be researching Margaret (Reigel) Steigerwalt and yet it is nearly impossible to find anyone who correctly lists her name. Nearly everyone (millions of them) list her name as "Margaret Peggy Riegle [or Reigle, Reigel, Rigle, etc., etc.] and yet not a single primary source exists, anywhere, where her middle name appears as "Peggy." The problem (which is extremely obvious) is that "Peggy" is simply a nickname for Margaret! Records do exist that list her name as Peggy (Riegel) Steigerwalt, while others correctly list it as Margaret (Riegel) Steigerwalt. Geez! :blink:


The Perpetration of Junk Genealogy

As if things aren't bad enough, junk genealogy is then published in shoddy family histories. The mere fact that something appears in print seems to instantly elevate nonsense into the realm of "authenticated fact" (at least in the eyes of many). Without question, the most nightmarish problem for me as I tried to trace my lineage to Simon Riegel, was the book, "Riegell to Riggle: Mattheis Riegell of Bad Munster, his German Ancestry and American Descendants, 1390-1995" by Carl Robert Riegel and James Earl Reigle. The book merely spews "facts" (e.g., false information) without any reference to supporting documentation. I can't express enough contempt for the endless days/weeks/months I spent trying to verify some of the information contained in that book without success. The fact that countless others now copy that information and post it in so many other places on the 'net has only compounded an already nightmarish situation. :angry: Many SAR and DAR applications also include the book as a source but, it's never accepted as evidence! (Why bother even trying?)

So, despite all of the challenges, I was able to prove my descendent from Simon Riegel and was accepted into the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) during November 2012! This was no easy task as I had to submit a "preponderance of evidence" letter to SAR's genealogists in which I argued that Margaret had to be George's daughter based upon approximately 60 years (1820 to 1880) of records that documented that Margaret and George lived in the vast metropolis of Tymochtee, Wyandot County. Margaret's husband Joseph Steigerwalt Jr. and his father also lived there during that same period. Ergo, no other conclusion can be drawn. I can't express how thrilled I was when SAR accepted my application!


Document, Document, Document

By now, it should be painfully obvious that there is only one thing that holds any family history together: the need to DOCUMENT YOUR SOURCES - all the time and every time! This requirement (and it is a requirement) lead me to develop my own citation system that I've used for the past few years. The problem with maintaining a good family history is that there are currently no standards for citing sources. Arguably, the best book on the topic is "Cite Your Sources: A Manual for Documenting Family Histories and Genealogical Records" by Richard Lackey.

Another recent attempt to standardize source citations appears in Elizabeth Shown Mills' voluminous book, "Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace." Unfortunately her efforts are beset with numerous fatal flaws: her citations are extremely inconsistent and she argues that citations should be used for analysis. These features make her approach unusable: citations should be highly consistent and they are used for just one purpose: to give others a reasonable chance to find the source again. That way, others may verify and analyze the information within the source (not the citation). To argue otherwise is simply nonsense as that leads to junk genealogy. (A prime example is the "Riegell to Riggle" book mentioned above. The authors of that book "analyzed" their data, failed to site their sources, and now untold multitudes rely on the book as "fact." One can "analyze" the citation for the book until the cows come home but that doesn't prove anything. Indeed, while numerous others have tried to use the book as "evidence" for proving their descent from Simon Riegel, neither SAR nor the Daughters of the American Revolution accept it as "evidence."

How to cite your sources

To overcome the problems with documenting my evidence, I developed "Simple Citations: Making Life Easier for Family Historians." This approach has worked very well for me and I've now used it extensively for the past few years. It is fully described at:
http://www.simplecitations.com/

When I get some time, I may turn my ideas of citing sources into a book (I'm too busy dissertating at the moment).

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