Archive for May, 2011

Source Citations: Getting it “Right,” part two

In the first part of this series of posts, “Source Citations: Getting it ‘Right,’ part one,” we reviewed the format for source citations for books. However, books are not the only kinds of publications. There are magazines and journals, of course, but webpages are also considered publications. In terms of resources available for genealogical research, websites may have overtaken even books as the most popular. In general, citing a webpage follows many of the same principles discussed in the last  post, for publications. Please read this earlier post prior to reading this one.

As noted in the first part, publication citations contain the following elements:

  • Creator
  • Title
  • Publication Place
  • Publisher
  • Publication Date

The format puts these elements in the following order, for use in a “Source List” or “Bibliography”:

Author (last name first). Title. Publication Place: Publisher, Publication Date.

A web page would be cited in a similar manner, with one exception. The author and publisher are likely the same, so they do not need to be noted separately. In some cases, the author name and title of the website are the same, and these can also be combined, such as in Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org.

Here is an example of a website citation:

Genealogy Trails. http://www.genealogytrails.com : 2011.

Only rarely, however, do we have need to cite an entire website, in the manner shown above. In most cases, we are citing a single part of the website, such as an online article, database, or digital image. The individual item that we are citing would also have to be cited, just as we would cite an article in a magazine, or a chapter in a book. In a Sources Used list or bibliography, this would appear as follows:

“Documents Regarding Slavery.” Washington D. C. Genealogy Trails. http://genealogytrails.com/washdc/slaverydocuments/documents_regarding_slavery.html : 2011.

We will most often create citations for specific facts, using footnotes or endnotes (whether in a narrative or in a genealogy software program). The format for notes differs slightly from the format for a bibliography, most notably by requiring much more specific information, similar to a page number in a book:

John G. Sharp, “Certificate Of Freedom, William Winters, August 7, 1816,” online article and transcription, Washington D. C. Genealogy Trails (http://genealogytrails.com/washdc/cof_winters_w.html : accessed 30 May 2011).

The various parts of this citation might need to be explained:

  • Once again, it is important to remember that we are citing the author of the resource first. On this particular page, the author is identified. In some cases the author of a website may not be identified, just as the author of a book might not be known.
  • The next item that would be cited is the title of the article. This is cited in the same way that a magazine article would be cited, using quotation marks.
  • We also need to note the type of material that this. Is this a digital image, an abstract, a transcription, a database of extracted information? All of these carry their own unique qualities, that can only be recorded and conveyed by noting the type of resource you used.
  • This one article is not the entire publication–the Washington D. C. Genealogy Trails website, with all of the various sub-pages, is the name of the publication. Like all proper titles, italics are used to designate the titles of websites.
  • Of course we need to provide more information, akin to the publication place, company, and date of a book. Websites, of course, are not physical objects that you would locate in a library or bookstore. On the other hand, you can locate them in a very specific online place–the URL. For this reason, the URL serves the purpose of the publication place. Websites are also extremely mutable. They can be changed at any time of any day. Rather than citing the date of original publication (which we often are not able to discern anyway), it is more important to note the date on which we accessed the information. Using tools like the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, we can actually visit many websites on a specific date in the past. These details qualify the title of the website, so they follow the title within parentheses.

There are other variations on websites, depending on the type of material being presented.

So far, this series has focused on two relatively simple types of citations. Of course, they can get far more complex. We will continue to look at other citation models, as well as the reasoning behind them.

Read more:

Source Citations: Getting it “Right,” part one

As discussed in my recent series on “Why Form Matters,” many of the issues that genealogists have in writing source citations stem from the pressure to “get it right.” I described in that series why the form of the citation is important, but that there is a learning curve involved in creating accurate source citations. As a means of trying to help any genealogists out there who are struggling with “getting it right,” I will present a series of articles discussing the basics of the source citation format commonly accepted in genealogy. Hopefully, you will find this useful.

The most basic format to use is the publication format. This is pretty easy to learn and actually forms the basis of many of the citations that we create as genealogists.

This format contains several parts:

  • Creator
  • Title
  • Publication Place
  • Publisher
  • Publication Date

The format puts these elements in the following order, for use in a “Source List” or “Bibliography”:

Author (last name first). Title. Publication Place: Publisher, Publication Date.

To give you an example, this is how I would cite my most recent book:

Hait, Michael. Records of the Slave Claims Commissions, 1864-1867, Volume Three: Journal of the First Maryland Commission. Harrington, Delaware: Hait Family History Publications, 2011.

One important aspect to note, especially when dealing with self-published books, including many nineteenth-century books that were published prior to many of the large publishing houses, is that the Publisher is not the same as the Printer. For example, I use Lulu.com as my printer. However, I could just as easily take the same content to any printer. The Publisher would be my own publishing imprint. Self-publishing is popular with genealogy resource books (derivative sources), so be sure that you are citing the author’s imprint, not the name of the printer.

When writing a footnote, a key point to remember is that the footnote is in the format of a sentence, and should follow the same rules of punctuation. Citing the same book above, in the form of a footnote:

Michael Hait, Records of the Slave Claims Commissions, 1864-1867, Volume Three: Journal of the First Maryland Commission (Harrington, Del.: Hait Family History Publications, 2011), pg. 23.

Just as in any sentence, there is only a single period, at the end. The other elements are separated by commas. The publication information appears within parentheses, with no comma between the publication information and the title. After all, the publication information refers to the specific publication being cited. Finally, you would cite the page number after the publication, again separated with a comma. Some people do not include the word “pg.” or “page” to specify the page number. I choose to, simply for clarity’s sake.

Part of understanding how to form a source citation is understanding what you are citing. Using this simplest of formats as an example, here is the thought process behind the formation of this citation:

  1. In your text, whether a compiled genealogy, a case study or article, or a research report, you state a fact.
  2. You are citing the source of this fact. This would be in the form of either a footnote or an endnote. This way, anyone reading the text would know that this specific fact came from this specific source.
  3. Ultimately, the source of the fact is the author of the book being cited. So this element, the author, comes first.
  4. Now you have to explain where the author provided the information being cited. In this case, it is a book, so you provide the title of the book.
  5. For clarification about the specific book, you will provide the publication information. This is important in case there are multiple editions, which may contain slightly different layouts, etc.
  6. Within the book itself, you must then cite the page on which the information appears.

The same principles will apply to all forms, though there are distinct differences.

Read more:

Recent Family History survey results, part four

I started reviewing the recent family history survey conducted by Myles Proudfoot in two earlier posts. This post continues the comparison of results among respondents identifying themselves as amateur genealogists vs. those identifying themselves as professional genealogists.

The next group of questions that I will focus on involve genealogical education. Question 22 of the family history survey asks,”How likely would you be to use any of the following ways to improve your family history research skills?” The response allowed a sliding scale from “Very Unlikely” to “Very Likely,” but the published results only show the percentage of respondents answering either of the two extremes. This will obviously introduce a significant margin of error into this discussion.

The first option was “Online video courses.” Of the Amateur genealogists, 22.5% responded “Very Likely,” and 11.7% responded “Very Unlikely.” Of the Professional genealogists, 49.5% responded “Very Likely,” and 4.7% responded “Very Unlikely.”

The second option was “Podcasts.” Amateur genealogists responded “Very Likely” and “Very Unlikely” in equal numbers: 18.8% chose each of these two extremes. Of Professional genealogists, 40.6% selected “Very Likely,” and just 6.6% responded “Very Unlikely.”

The third option was “Wikis.” Of the Amateur genealogists, 15.4% answered “Very Unlikely” while only 13.9% responded “Very Likely.” Of Professional genealogists, 33.6% selected “Very Likely,” the lowest percentage yet, while 5.6% responded “Very Unlikely.”

The fourth option was “Family History conferences.” Nearly a quarter of the Amateur genealogists (23.1%) responded “Very Likely,” and 8.6% answered “Very Unlikely.” The highest percentage of Professional genealogists selected “Very Likely” on this option (67.1%), and only 3.7% responded “Very Unlikely.”

The fifth option was “One-on-one instruction.” Both Amateurs and Professionals responded relatively unfavorably to this option, as only 9.8% of Amateurs and only 21.4% of Professionals reponded “Very Likely.” This option also found 18.0% of Amateurs and 10.7% of Professionals choosing “Very Unlikely,” the highest percentage of Professionals responding in this way of all available options.

“Books,” which I presumed would be the most popular, was the sixth option. Of the Amateur genealogists responding, 46.9% selected “Very Likely,” and only 3.1% chose “Very Unlikely.” Of the Professional genealogists, 63.6% selected “Very Likely,” and less than one percent (0.9%) selected “Very Unlikely.”

The seventh option was “Classroom Course.” Sixteen percent (16.0%) of the Amateur genealogists selected “Very Likely,” and 11.7% selected “Very Unlikely.” Thirty-nine percent (39.0%) of the Professional genealogists chose “Very Likely,” and only 4.8% responded “Very Unlikely.”

“Blogs,” the eighth option, was another popular choice. Just over one-third (33.9%) of all Amateur genealogists selected “Very Likely,” but 9.4% responded “Very Unlikely.” Of the Professional genealogists, 56.2% responded “Very Likely,” and less than two percent (1.9%) answered “Very Unlikely.”

The ninth and final option was “Television Programs.” Of the Amateur genealogists, 8.5% chose “Very Unlikely” and 26.5% responded “Very Likely.” Of the Professional genealogists, 3.8% chose “Very Unlikely,” and 38.5%–ten times as many–chose “Very Likely.”

Looking at this question as a whole, I noticed a somewhat disturbing trend.

Incorporating all nine options, the average percentage of Amateur genealogists choosing “Very Likely” was only 23.46%, while the average percentage responding “Very Unlikely” was 11.69%. The option that the highest percentage of Amateur genealogists considered “Very Likely” was “Books,” with just under half of all respondents (49.5%). The lowest percentage of Amateur genealogists responded that they would be “Very Likely” to learn through “One on one instruction.” The least popular option–that with the highest percentage of Amateur genealogists selecting “Very Unlikely”–was “Podcasts.” “Books” also had the lowest percentage of Amateurs selecting “Very Unlikely,” with just 3.1%.

There was a much wider margin between “Very Likely” and “Very Unlikely” for the Professional genealogists. Across all of the options, the average percentage responding “Very Likely” was 45.49%, while the average responding “Very Unlikely” was 4.74%. The most popular option–the one with the highest percentage responding “Very Likely”–was “Family history conferences” with 67.0%, while “Books” came in a close second with 63.6%. The option with the lowest percentage responding “Very Likely” was “One-on-one instruction” with only 21.4%. The least popular option–the highest response of “Very Unlikely”–was also “One-on-one instruction” with 10.7%. The lowest response of “Very Unlikely,” was “Books,” with a mere 0.9%.

Overall, “One-on-one instruction” was the least popular option, with a relatively low percentage of both groups responding “Very Likely,” and a relatively high percentage of both groups responding “Very Unlikely.” Considering both groups, “Books” was one of the more popular choices, with a relatively high percentage responding “Very Likely” and a relatively low percentage responding “Very Unlikely.”

What bothered me the most, however, was that, in general, Amateur genealogists responded that they were far less likely to pursue educational opportunities beyond reading books. In each option, there was a much smaller percentage of “Very Likely” responses, and a far higher percentage of “Very Unlikely” responses, than within those of the Professional genealogists. Does this mean that Amateurs are less interested in learning about researching, or simply that Professionals are more interested? (Is there a difference?)

I will finish with a funny story. When I was working at the National Capital Area Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists’ booth at the National Archives’s Annual Genealogy Fair in April, a woman approached the booth. She asked, “How long does it take, and how much does it cost to become a professional genealogist?” I told her, “It takes the rest of your life, and all of your money,” with a smile on my face. Of course I explained further. I literally spend several thousand dollars each year on educational opportunities, and I could easily spend many thousands more if I attended all of the Institutes (I only attend one each year) and both of the national conferences (I have attended neither yet). This includes membership in several genealogical societies, subscriptions to genealogical magazines and journals, and the purchase of genealogy books. Even as my business grows and I become more and more experienced, I expect the amount of money I spend on education to grow as well, rather than slowing down as it does in some other professions.

Every penny spent on education is a penny invested in the success of my business, in my opinion.

But even if you are not in it for the money, so to speak, even if you only research your own family as a hobby, education is still a vital part of your success. While it may not affect your financial health, it will certainly help you learn about new resources and new methodologies that you may not be familiar with. And of course this will affect the health of your family tree.

How do people learn, and how should we teach?

As genealogical lecturers, we should be aware of two factors: what our audience wants, and what our audience needs.

In order to understand what our audience wants, all we have to do is ask them, and listen to what they tell us.

However, to understand what our audience needs, it is important to understand a little bit about how people learn. This is a relatively new field of research, employing both brain biologists and psychologists. There are numerous theories about how the brain works, and researchers still openly admit how little is actually known. Yet strides are being made.

Dr. John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and research consultant affiliate with the University of Washington School of Medicine and the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University, published the New York Times bestseller, Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School in 2008. This book outlines 12 “Brain Rules” that discuss various aspects of the brain that are currently known, and how these can be applied to our daily lives.

These twelve rules are summarized on the Brain Rules website:

  • EXERCISE – Rule #1: Exercise boosts brain power.
  • SURVIVAL – Rule #2: The human brain evolved, too.
  • WIRING – Rule #3: Every brain is wired differently.
  • ATTENTION – Rule #4: We don’t pay attention to boring things.
  • SHORT-TERM MEMORY – Rule #5: Repeat to remember.
  • LONG-TERM MEMORY – Rule #6: Remember to repeat.
  • SLEEP – Rule #7: Sleep well, think well.
  • STRESS – Rule #8: Stressed brains don’t learn the same way.
  • SENSORY INTEGRATION – Rule #9: Stimulate more of the senses.
  • VISION – Rule #10: Vision trumps all other senses.
  • GENDER – Rule #11: Male and female brains are different.
  • EXPLORATION – Rule #12: We are powerful and natural explorers.

The Brain Rules website contains quite a bit of information, including the Introduction to the book, Chapter Summaries, References, a blog, and several supplemental videos and SlideShare presentations. All of the information can help to inform us both on how we ourselves learn, and how we can teach others effectively.

There is even one presentation included on the site that is specifically designed for this purpose: “Brain Rules for PowerPoint presenters.” The presentation carries the additional credibility of being designed by presentation expert Garr Reynolds, author of the absolutely essential book, Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery. Garr’s philosophies on presentation use much of what Dr. Medina espouses, and the presentations are highly effective.

In other words,

Understanding how the brain works –> understanding how our audiences (and ourselves!) learn –> providing what our audiences need –> effective presentations

Comparative research standards: National Park Service Cultural Resource Management

Two sets of standards have been defined in genealogical literature: the Genealogical Proof Standard and the BCG (Board for the Certification of Genealogists) Standards. Both standards have been defined and delineated by the Board for the Certification of Genealogists. The Genealogical Proof Standard is designed to be applied to one’s research conclusions, as a means of verifying the validity of these conclusions. The BCG Standards have a much wider application, and outline standards to be applied to one’s research process as well as several genealogical work products, including reports, narrative genealogies, etc.

However, in order to further understand and augment these two sets of genealogical standards, I will periodically review standards defined by other historical fields. The process of reviewing related sets of standards should hopefully present an opportunity to widen our perspective on scholarly research.

The first subject will be the Research Standards defined in Chapter 2 of NPS-28: Cultural Resource Management Guideline, as published by the National Park Service. The introductory paragraph to this chapter outlines the purposes of its cultural resource research:

According to the NPS Management Policies, “The National Park Service will conduct a coordinated program of basic and applied research to support planning for and management of park cultural resources.” Such mission-related research can identify and evaluate historic properties, advance knowledge of ethnographic resources and their importance to Native Americans, provide background data on park issues, contribute to interpretive programs, help avoid adverse impacts, and develop technologies for treating, monitoring, and protecting cultural resources. Research will be accomplished with the participation and review of professionals in all disciplines concerned with its subject.

These standards, like genealogical standards, address interdisciplinary and multipurposed research. This similarity makes these standards particularly apt to this comparison.

The standards are broken into nine sections. These nine sections are defined as:

  • Research Methodology
  • Resource Identification, Evaluation, and Registration
  • Service-wide Inventories of Cultural Resources
  • Procedures for Established Areas
  • Baseline Research Reports
  • Abbreviated and Specific Resource Studies
  • Physical Documentation and Material Analysis
  • Qualifications of Researchers
  • Funding and Staffing

Only the first section, “Research Methodology” will be addressed in this comparison. The remaining sections deal with internal procedural and project management directives.

The first point under “Research Methodology,” addresses the “Task Directive”:

The first step in developing a research strategy is the task directive, which serves as the contract between management and the researcher(s). To ensure that the research will be mission-related, the task directive clearly states its purpose and scope and spells out issues to be resolved. It identifies the research team and its consultants. It outlines the specific steps to be taken and products to be prepared. It defines the level of investigation (see next page). It sets time limits and projects a research budget required to deliver specified product(s).

This directive finds its most direct equivalent in professional genealogy in particular, but also in any genealogical research project. A task directive, as defined here, is precisely how genealogists should begin each new project: by defining your problem and outlining a specific research plan. The second subsection, “Research Design,” addresses several of these same concepts as well: “The research design states the goals, methodology, and explicit assumptions of the researcher(s). It can be incorporated into the task directive or prepared separately. It should briefly summarize existing knowledge of the topic, identify research questions, and discuss the rationale for addressing them. It should provide for interdisciplinary study where appropriate, clearly defining relationships between disciplines. It should delineate the physical extent of the area to be investigated and the amount of information to be gathered. The methods to be used, such as documentary research, oral history, field investigation, excavation, destructive investigation, and anthropological fieldwork, should be discussed, and the expected results should be presented.”

When beginning any genealogy project, it will be found quite helpful to plan fully for the research that you will be conducting, in as great detail as possible, just as is prescribed in this passage.

The first section also defines three separate “Levels of Investigation”: “Exhaustive Investigation,” “Thorough Investigation,” and “Limited Investigation.”

  • Exhaustive Investigation is defined thus: “For historical studies this means employing all published and documentary sources of known or presumed relevance,interviewing all knowledgeable persons regardless of location, and thoroughly analyzing and presenting findings from all data of direct and indirect relevance. For archeological studies sufficient data are collected and analyzed to determine location, characteristics, and scientific values of archeological resources through systematic intensive surveys. Techniques include surface collection, subsurface testing, remote sensing, excavation, and thorough analysis of recovered materials. For architectural and landscape studies it means investigating all features, with destructive investigation asnecessary, to establish as exactly as possible all recoverable detail (usually in response to a restoration or reconstruction management objective). For museum objects it means exhausting all original documentary sources, making physical comparisons with similar objects,and sampling and testing fabric for identification, dating, and circumstantial evidence. For ethnographic studies it means collecting empirical data by observation, interviews, and censusing and reviewing and analyzing accessible archival and documentary materials, requiring at least a year of full-time work and a team approach.”
  • Thorough Investigation is defined, in part, thus: “For historical studies this means research in selected published and documentary sources of known or presumed relevance that are readily accessible without extensive travel and that promise expeditious extraction of relevant data, interviewing all knowledgeable persons who are readily available, and presenting findings in no greater detail than required by the task directive. …”
  • Limited Investigation is defined, in part, in this way: For historical studies this means research in available published sources, usually of a secondary character; research in documentary sources if easily accessible and known to be of high yield; brief interviews of readily available persons to answer specific questions; and a report in no greater detail than directly required by the task directive. …”

Only the Exhaustive Investigation definition was reprinted here in full. This should ultimately be the goal of all genealogical research projects, as outlined in the Genealogical Proof Standard’s first requirement of conducting a reasonably exhaustive search for all relevant records. However, the definition of Exhaustive Investigation provides a far more detailed review of just exactly what this type of research entails. Many genealogists struggle with the concept of “a reasonably exhaustive search”–what it means, how to accomplish it, and how you will know it has been completed. Reading the definition of an Exhaustive Investigation in several related fields of study may provide insight into the full scope of this concept.

Yet I also include here partial definitions of the Thorough Investigation and Limited Investigation concepts. These two concepts also have a place in genealogical research. In some cases, a full investigation may not be necessary to disprove a certain hypothesis or working theory. In these cases, one need not conduct “a reasonably exhaustive search” for all pertinent records, but only those records necessary to decide whether an Exhaustive Investigation should be conducted or not.

The fifth point under the “Research Methodology” section covers the “Report.” This point states, in part, that, “[o]nce the documentary research and field investigation (including physical examination) are completed, the photographs, drawings, material samples, field notes, data files, and construction files are analyzed and interpreted in preparation of the final report.” As I have stated repeatedly, identifying, locating, and collecting relevant records is only a small part of the research process. Far more important is the analysis of each individual record on its own, and the development of the combined evidence into a valid conclusion. It would seem that the NPS agrees.

Other Standards defined in this first section include the following:

  • Outside consultation and peer review provide opportunitiesfor other professionals and interested parties to comment.
  • Final reports concerning history, historic structures, cultural landscapes, and museum objects generally conform in punctuation, footnote and bibliographic form, and other stylistic matters to the latest edition of A Manual of Style by the University of Chicago Press. (Footnotes are preferred, but endnotes are permissible.) Final reports in archeology are consistent with the style prescribed by the Society for American Archaeology. Formal reports in ethnography and cultural anthropology conform to the style prescribed by the American Anthropological Association.

These two standards have been extracted specifically because they apply equally to genealogical research. The first of these two standards requires the submission and review of research by other researchers. Periodic peer review, when submitting case studies to journals or submitting work products to the Board for the Certification of Genealogists, is vital to maintaining your own standards. It allows other skilled researchers to provide input and advise into the research that you are conducting, providing a unique learning experience. The second of these standards demands a consistent, industry-accepted format for all reporting and documentation. This has been addressed within this column previously in parts one, two, and three of “Source Citations: Why Form Matters.”

For further reference, read:

National Park Service. NPS- 28: Cultural Resource Management Guideline. Electronic publication. http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/nps28/28contents.htm : 1998.

Chapter Two: Research. http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/nps28/28chap2.htm

Two new genealogy writing opportunities

Two announcements have gone out about some writing opportunities for genealogists.

First, the genealogy website Archives.com is looking for new writers. Their announcement reads,

The Expert Series is a collection of articles from top genealogists around the country. Every week we feature a new article aimed to help beginning and advanced genealogists alike solve common research problems, break-through brick walls, and learn how to improve their research techniques. It’s a phenomenal, free resource for all and we’d like you to be a part of it!

We compensate our writers for the hours they spend writing on researching and give them a complimentary membership to our website, Archives.com.

What we look for in a writer:

  • Author must be a professional or extremely experienced in their field
  • Author must have excellent writing skills
  • Sign a standard contract and W9 form

Please contact Ayme Alvarez at ayme@inflection.com if interested in writing for the Expert Series.

The second announcement comes from Michael John Neill, author of the very popular Casefile Clues newsletter:

Based upon reader surveys, we’re going to start a “beginner” version of Casefile Clues on a trial basis–seeing if there really is enough interest and demand. I am looking for other writers who would be interested in contributing pieces to this version.

Anyone who is interested in writing for a beginning genealogist audience can email me at beginners@casefileclues.com and I’ll send specifics and additional information when I return from Utah later in the week. I can’t promise high wages at this point, but a tagline and website for each author will be included.

If you are interested in writing genealogical articles, these two new opportunities may be just what you are looking for.

Writing a genealogical case study–Sell the research!

It’s funny how, if you try hard enough, you can apply almost anything to genealogical research.

For example, I recently read an old post on the Final Draft Communications’ Put Your Best Word Forward blog, entitled, “Write a Case Study to Show How You Shine.” Final Draft Communications “is a copywriting and grant writing agency that has provided writing, editing, and messaging services to a wide range of clients in Northern Colorado and beyond since 2001.” In discussing case studies, FDC is speaking to using case studies for marketing. In this blog post, a case study is intended as an extended testimonial from a client.

Karen Marcus, the Head Copywriter for FDC and the author of this blog post, writes,

A case study, also known as a success story, is a great way to show that people are saying nice things about you in a more concrete and relatable way. A case study tells the detailed story of one customer’s experience with your products or services. With a story format, readers become more invested and can imagine themselves in the place of your featured customer. In other words, they can begin to imagine doing business with you.

In genealogy, we read case studies quite often. The premier genealogical journals, The National Genealogical Society Quarterly, The American Genealogist, and The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, all feature genealogical case studies in every issue. Indeed, case studies constitute the core of these journals’ publishing efforts. Many other journals from state and county genealogical societies also feature case studies, as occasionally do the mass market genealogy magazines.

Genealogical case studies explore a research problem and how it has been solved. This may seem quite different from a sales case study. But can we apply Ms. Marcus’s tips on sales case studies to our own genealogical case studies?

The tips Ms. Marcus outlines are, of course, applied directly to sales copywriting. Let’s take a look at these, however, and see if they apply to a genealogical case study:

1. Present the Problem. “Open your case study with an introduction to the customer: who they are, what they do, and why they needed your products or services. Remember, you are trying to create a picture that readers can make themselves a part of, so be specific in terms of industry, size, customers, and competition. Then, present the problem that they were trying to solve when they found you.” Well, of course, we would not open a genealogical case study with an introduction to a former customer, but we would definitely “present the problem that [we] were trying to solve.”

2. Outline the Choices. “Chances are, when your case study customer was looking for your products or services, they found others who could provide them as well. Mention who those ‘others’ were, what they had (and didn’t have) to offer and why your customer chose you.” Again, we are not concerned with a customer, but in Ms. Marcus’s description, she describes previous research. To apply this to a genealogical case study, we should describe our own previous research (the starting point) as well as our beginning research plan.

3. Show the Solution. “Describe how your products or services solved your customer’s problem. Here’s your chance to really show how you shine: mention product names, service packages, or special implementations….” As genealogists, our “products or services” would be the research we conducted and the records we located. Ms. Marcus even advises us to add full source citations (“product names”)!

4. Quote the Customer. “A good case study will have plenty of direct quotes from the customer. … Let them tell the story of how you helped them in their own words, then use those words to help you relate that story to your prospects. (By the way, it’s always a good idea to let your customer review a case study before you publish it.)” A good genealogical case study will have plenty of direct quotes from the records. And of course the best genealogical journals will have a good editorial board that will review your case study before they publish it.

5. Reveal the Results. “Here’s a great place to use facts and figures to help you tell the story. Did your product help the customer increase profits by 50%? Mention it! Did your service allow the customer to generate 100 additional leads per month? State it! You might want to use charts or graphs here to illustrate your points.” Did you solve your genealogical research problem? State it! You might want to reiterate your proof argument by detailing each piece of supporting evidence.

Source Citations: Why Form Matters, part three

In recent posts I have been discussing other bloggers’ comments about source citations, and generally why I disagree with some of them. In this post, I want to go in another direction, and discuss two recent blog posts about source citations that I agree with to some extent.

The first is the post “Genealogy Citations: Good, Better, Best,” in the Luxegen Genealogy and Family History, posted on 6 March 2011. Joan writes,

As I mentioned in my comments on a couple of blogs, my philosophy is good, better, best.

We all strive to do our best but start out as ‘good’ and become ‘better’ along the way to ‘best’.

I feel the genealogical community can put a positive spin on the citation issue by helping newbies grow.

Most newbies (or casual hobbyists) simply don’t know how to do it better because they haven’t been exposed to better or best yet.

A kind, gentle approach to educating them is the key.

I suggest using a toastmasters approach which is sharing what they are doing well, offering constructive suggestions for improvement and leaving them hopeful and wanting to help build the best research possible. We can offer suggestions that provide concrete examples for others to follow.

Contrast this with slamming them for what they don’t know they are doing wrong now, and you can see why issues don’t improve.

Perhaps, if we do this in a kind, humane fashion, the casual genealogists will buy into being part of a community that is striving for the good of all. Being part of a community can be a big draw. …

My suggestions are to create a Good, Better, Best Genealogy Approach

GOOD might be – copy the link to where you got the source into the notes section of your genealogy software program

BETTER- photocopy or scan all pertinent identifying documents (title page of the book flap, ISBN number, publisher, page numbers, etc).  Have a log book of that microfilm record; copy the pension record source down, etc etc.  (insert myriad of examples here).   We would also need examples of organization systems to keep track of the information.

BEST – Evidence Explained to the letter

I agree with Joan’s assessment that part of the problem is a lack of education on the part of the beginning genealogist. I also agree that learning to cite your sources properly involves a steep learning curve. Joan offers a productive level-based philosophy toward improving source citation skills.

This also brings to mind the “Genealogical Maturity Model” developed by the Ancestry Insider last year. You can view his GMM levels in the post, “Rate Your Genealogical Maturity,” posted on 6 March 2010. The levels he defines for Source Citations are as follows:

  • Entry: “Captures URLs for online sources and citations for published sources.”
  • Emerging: “Increasingly captures necessary information for manuscript sources.”
  • Practicing: “Typically produces complete source citations.”
  • Proficient: “Gives complete and accurate source citations including provenance and quality assessment.”
  • Stellar: “Overcomes limitations of genealogical software to create well organized, industry standard reference notes and source lists.”

Personally, I would actually reverse the positions of “Proficient” and “Stellar.” I don’t use genealogy software for any of my client research projects, and I believe that this is the case for many professional genealogists. The use of genealogical software is completely unrelated to source citation skills. But this is beside the point.

Both of these posts display the development of the skill of source citation. It is important to note that genealogical skills, like all skills, do take practice to develop into proficiency.

On the other hand, I also believe that some might be settling a little short of the end goal.

When you are learning to drive, parallel parking might take a lot of practice before you can do it well. But you don’t really have the option of saying, “It’s too hard,” or “This is good enough.” You have to keep practicing until you get it right.

This is how source citation should be treated. It is a vital part of the genealogy research process. Not only for the end result of the finished citation, but the actual process of creating the citation. The citation-creation process involves a level of awareness about the record you are using that makes the process itself extremely valuable.

The second post I wanted to mention, “Is Mills Style Necessary?,”  is part of a series of posts on the subject of source citation also written by the Ancestry Insider. I would recommend that anyone conducting genealogical research read the entire series. I actually agree with almost everything that he has written in this series, so there is no need to comment further here.

In the three parts of “Source Citations: Why Form Matters,” I have discussed why a consistent format for source citations is necessary. I am sure that not everyone agrees with me, especially among some beginning hobbyists that are only researching their own families for their own entertainment. The points that I hope that everyone comes away with is that (1) source citation is necessary, (2) a consistent format for source citation is necessary for purposes of clarity, even if you will be the only person who ever looks at your research, and (3) the skill of developing proper, consistent source citations is achieved through practice.

We are extremely fortunate that Elizabeth Shown Mills took the time and energy to adapt the Chicago Manual of Style citation format to address the citation needs of genealogists. Just a generation ago, there was no commonly accepted, consistent format for genealogical source citations. This caused confusion, which is exactly why Ms. Mills wrote first Evidence! and later Evidence Explained.

Are my sources original? Who cares?

Many genealogists conduct all of their research using digitized and microfilmed records.

So what?

Ancestry, Footnote, GenealogyBank, the Internet Archive, USGenWeb, and other genealogy websites provide access to indexes, abstracts, transcriptions, and digital images of a large number of records. And their offerings are literally growing every day. The Family History Library holds microfilm of deed books, church records, will books, vital records, county histories, landowner maps, tax lists, and all of the other important record groups from around the world. These can be ordered through our local Family History Centers and provide access to the local records we need.

Here is the problem: these are not all of the records that you will need to use.

I use digitized records. See my recent “online case study” in which I attempt to research the family history of a freed slave in Texas using exclusively records held online. I have subscriptions to Ancestry, Footnote, and GenealogyBank, and have even compiled and published an e-book containing over 2,000 records available online on non-genealogy websites.

I also use microfilmed records. Sometimes from the Family History Library, and sometimes at other repositories such as state archives.

But I also use many original records directly at the repositories that hold them. By original records, here I mean those records available exclusively on paper. Records that have never been digitized and never been microfilmed. Often these records have not even been indexed, and the only way to research within the records is to conduct a page-by-page search.

In many cases, my success at locating the necessary records to prove a link or move beyond a brick wall was founded entirely on my use of these original, undigitized, unmicrofilmed records.

The Genealogical Proof Standard is a five-part checklist that allows one to verify, to a certain extent, the validity of one’s genealogical conclusions. The first requirement is that we conduct a “reasonably exhaustive search” for all records relevant to our research problem.

This does not read “all digitized records” or “all microfilmed records”; it reads “all relevant records,” and should without a doubt be taken to include those records that are not digitized or microfilmed. Take the following cases as examples:

1. Goal: identify the former owner of a freedwoman born enslaved in Maryland. How original records helped: In 1852, some Maryland counties recorded the names and ages of slaves owned, on the tax assessment records. These slave assessment rolls have never been digitized, microfilmed, or indexed. A page-by-page search through hundreds of pages, encompassing four separate election districts, finally revealed a household assessed for slaves with the names of the mother and child of the appropriate ages. Why digitized or microfilmed records would not have worked: The only other source that would have provided the names and ages of slaves during this time period would have been the estate inventory of the slave owner. In this particular case, the slave owner identified died in 1848, but the child was not identified by name in his inventory. These slaves did not bear the surname of the slave owner, and without having even a small “cluster” of people to look for, it would not have been possible to identify the family.

2. Goal: Identify the family of a man born ca. 1800 with a surname common to the area. How original records helped: The county in which this man lived his entire life had a courthouse fire that destroyed all of the probate records prior to 1852. A microfilmed land record was found in which the father sold land to the son, but this deed did not identify them as father and son. However, a case file in the state’s Chancery Court recorded the distribution of land owned by an unmarried brother among his siblings, as fellow “heirs at law” of their father (from whom the brother had inherited the land). This case file, while indexed, has not been digitized, microfilmed, or abstracted. It provided further support by proving that the land was originally owned by the father and distributed among his children. Why digitized or microfilmed records would not have worked: As noted, a single deed in which the father sold land to his son (the subject of research) was located, but no family relationships were noted within the deed. There were also no other tell-tale signs that this was a family deed, such as a low consideration amount, etc. The surname is relatively common within this specific county, so the deed alone does not prove a filial relationship. No other records containing specific relationship information about this family appears in the surviving county records. Only the undigitized, unmicrofilmed court case file provides the list of all surviving heirs at law that was vital to truly proving the relationships.

There are many other cases that can be used as examples, but these are two of the most recent cases that I have worked on. In both cases, there is simply no way that the digitized and microfilmed records would have provided the evidence needed to form a valid and reliable conclusion. Only the original, paper records, held by the State Archives, provided this evidence.

Source Citations: Why Form Matters, part two

In an earlier post, I mentioned a discussion on the Transitional Genealogists Forum mailing list regarding a comma vs. a semicolon within a source citation. This discussion was followed, apparently coincidentally, by several blog posts related to the importance of form in source citations. (I originally, mistakenly, believed that this was not a coincidence at all, but was corrected by the author of the first such blog post.)

Two related blog posts appeared in other blogs shortly after the first.

On 16 February 2011, Kerry wrote in the post “Source Citations in Genealogy: Church or Cult?,” in her Clue Wagon blog,

Source citations are important. I believe this.

What I don’t believe in is the Cult of Citations. The Cult is different from the Church. The Cult is so intense that it freaks people out. It accepts no compromise, no continuum, no baby steps. It will say in public that people who don’t agree are wrong wrong WRONG. Nobody wants to join a cult, and when people see members of the Cult, they run. They run far and fast, so that the cult can’t catch them. The problem is that when they run, the Church can’t catch them either. So they remain unsaved heathens who don’t cite their sources.

Now, why would that be a good thing?

And the thing is, the members of the Cult of Citations are right. They’ve worked hard for the past 30 years to clean up the field, and they’ve done an admirable job (truly). They’re upset that there’s still so much crap out there. They’re upset that after all that work, the internet has allowed the pile of crap to grow exponentially. They’re upset that people are poo-pooing the idea that nobody can appreciate your hard work on your tree if they can’t evaluate where the information came from. They’re right when they say that we all need to cite sources in the same standard way, with the stuff in the same order, so that it’s not a big sloppy mess. Cult members: You’re right. You’re right on every point. I’m not arguing with you.

But when you are condescending, people run away. When you express your frustration with the nonbelievers in public, people run away. When you say, “The comma goes here, not THERE. That was 1972,” people run away. When you imply that every source must be in the perfect Evidence Explained format from the get-go, people run away. And when they run away, they don’t come back. We lose them. And then we have crap trees with no sources, and it’s our own fault. People who aren’t yet saved see that gleam in your eyes, and they become hypersensitive to what you say. They know you’re trying to convert them, and they don’t like it (even though they really do need converting). They think you’re making things hard. They don’t understand your zeal. …

See, when I talk to people about why they hate citations, I find that it’s not the gathering of the citation information they hate. It’s the formatting. People find that getting it in the right format is hard, and they don’t want to do it. We need to make it abundantly clear that it’s okay to sin in your own files in terms of the formatting. It’s okay if the page number and the publisher date are reversed, as long as you have the citation information. The goal is to be able to find the stuff again…not to be a formatting saint. It would be delightful if everyone’s files had perfect citations in them, but they don’t, and by implying that that’s even an appropriate goal, we’re losing people. It’s not working.

The other thing I think we need to stop doing is talking about the mechanics of citations on all of the well-known public listservs. Way, WAY more people read those than I ever imagined (far more that the subscriber numbers would indicate, I believe). When they see the dialog about citations and semicolon placement, they get the idea that that’s all the glitterati cares about. They see people rigorously debating how a citation would appear, and even when the people involved know each other and are fine with the tenor of the dialog, to an outsider, it can appear contentious. I know that that’s not always true, but the perception is definitely out there. Beginning and intermediate genealogists see those discussions, and they’re intimidated. They turn away. It’s not working. If I were crowned queen, I’d create a list just for source citation questions. That way, the semicolon placement specialists could parse their brains out, and we could all benefit from their wisdom…without having a disproportionate emphasis on the mechanics of source citations on the professional lists. People who truly need help could get it, and we could make sure that we aren’t overwhelming people who aren’t yet members of the Church (and in fact, I think most real churches keep their doctrine discussions fairly private for that very reason).

Later, on 17 March 2011, The Ginger Jewish Genealogist posted “Jewish Genealogy – The Anti-Cult?” In this post, she wrote,

Go to an IAJGS conference (International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies) and you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who has heard of Evidence Explained or knows what the Genealogical Proof Standard is. Sure, there are a few that do; those who have been in professional genealogy for a long time, the rare certified or accredited genealogist in the crowd, or someone from outside the Jewish genealogy world who’s “visiting” us that year. There might even be a vendor selling copies of EE. But the general population of attendees has no idea. …

Clients don’t care about source citations. I have never had a client ask me where I found a record, or where I searched and didn’t find a record. Of course, this information is already in their client reports. With the exception of the one company that requested EE-type citations (and they completed them for me), other genealogists I’ve worked for also seem to be unconcerned with detailed source citations. The most I’ve been asked (only once) was, “On what film did you find the record?”, to which I replied, “It’s in the file name.” Ever since NGS, I have added that information to all my scanned file names and been a little more specific with my sources, but still not remotely up to EE standards.

I am obsessive about keeping track of my sources for my own research and my clients. If I add a person or an event to my own database, there is a source for it. Just like everyone else, some of my earlier work had no sources, but everything was eventually given a source in one of my revisions.

While some genealogists may freak out when they read that I don’t follow these rules, I hope they realize that I do have citations for everything, just not in their style. If it wasn’t important enough to mention at the IAJGS conferences, I didn’t much pay attention even if I saw it online, and I just haven’t switched over. That doesn’t make me a bad genealogist, it just means I don’t follow all the “rules”. I can check any information in my database to find the source, whether it was from a primary document, a census, or from a relative, to compare with any new information and determine what source should be more trusted.

Will I ever change my source citations to the EE-style? Possibly. But not today.

I’m not sure that I like the analogy of a cult vs. a church. Because I may be considered part of the cult. I admit that I will (and have, as the TGF discussion proves) debate the placement of a comma or period or semicolon, whether something should be capitalized or italicized, or placed in quotation marks or parentheses. In my experience, these issues are far more important than some might realize.

The difference comes in experience, I believe. Not the number of years of experience per se, but the variety of records with which one has experience researching and citing. If you are citing a journal article or a book, the citation can seem plain and straightforward. It is not difficult to tell which element is which, and any old citation will allow the article or book to be located. For many amateur genealogists, most of their research is conducted in articles and books, so this will do. There is simply no need to learn how to develop proper citations when you only use a few types of sources. To these genealogists, the placement of a comma or semicolon is indeed tedious.

Once you start using microfilmed or online digitized records, the citations become a little more complex, but the format still does not seem all that important. As long as the reel number or the website URL are included, the source can be found, so it appears sufficient.

The problem starts to arise when you begin dealing with original records, which may be parts of multiple sub-groups as parts of larger collections of records held under an even larger record group. There is no easy author/title, microfilm reel number, or URL that can easily identify this record. So how do you accurately and fully identify this record?

You can “wing it,” of course. Just make up your own format on the spot, and record your improvised citation.

Now imagine that twenty years have passed, and you decide to go back and check your own work. Can you make sense of your own citation? Unless you have an impeccable memory, the answer will probably be no.

Or suppose you get stuck at a brick wall and decide to hire a professional. How is that professional to be expected to identify the source that you used? Will you be able (and have the time) to explain to the professional your makeshift citation format?

Wouldn’t it be easier and more efficient in the long run to simply take the time to learn a consistent format for source citations that everyone can understand?

This discussion will be continued…

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