Thursday, July 7, 2011

how history is made

Yesterday, as we visited, my niece Hillary asked, "Why are you going to BYU this afternoon?"
I told her we were donating some materials to Special Collections.
"What kinds of things?" she asked.
I said, "Class materials from the 1950s. They are interested in all BYU materials, in LDS mission materials, in Utah documents, etc."
Since she is brilliant, of course, she said, "Oh, that's how history is made. The primary documents are saved in some library some place. Then some historian comes along and uses that material along with items saved from other people to write the histories."

"You got it!" I exclaimed, then added, "So history is always skewed because it is dependent on what has been saved and made available to historians."

That could not be more true than in the case of our early Sherrill ancestry. The records including them tended to be court and land records. For the Sherrills that is both good and bad, for they were in court many times. Consequently, we know quite a bit about some of them, though it may not be the things we want to know about them. But as we write the history, remember we can only include those actions that are recorded and saved somewhere by someone.

So you will find Sherrills involved or accused of criminal activites, of abuse, of not submitting births and marriages to the Anglican vestry records, for defaulting on land records, horse and mule stealing, robbery, etc. But these were the kinds of records kept in the 1600s and early 1700s. What a great thing that our Sherrills were included. Just remember there was more to their lives than what has been recorded, but we historians cannot invent the other sides to their stories. All we can do is give you the stories substantiated by primary documents. So be prepared for a great read.

This actually worries me. Virtually ALL older histories and biographies start out with phrases like this: "family legends say we are descended from [name a famous person]" or "our great grandmother said we descend from the Earl of____[name any title]" or "our family owned the most land in _____." I daresay every person on earth is descended from royalty somewhere along the line, but for us, it is not through the colonial Sherrills, Perkins or Frees. Still, because we have a plethora of court records on the Sherrills, we can write a most interesting tale. In fact, the Perkins and Frees are tame by comparison.

One of the most important rules of genealogical research is this: Accept what you find to be true. The corollary is: Don't try to excuse, modify, downplay or alter what you discover to be true. In the case of the Sherrills, I would add, enjoy it as well. It's a fabulous story.

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