Archive for May, 2011

“Rocking” as a genealogy lecturer

Genealogy blogger Dee wrote an interesting post in her “Ancestrally Challenged” blog on Tuesday, 17 May 2011, entitled, “How to Rock as a Genealogy Lecturer.” This post is written from the perspective of a member of the audience of genealogy lectures, and tells exactly what she wants and expects from lecturers.

I would recommend that all genealogy lecturers read this post fully several times, take it to heart, and adjust your presentations. Dee’s post is typical of comments I have heard from other audience members at genealogy meetings and conferences, as well as meetings and conferences in other industries. I worked in the audio-visual field in Washington, D. C., for ten years, specifically in the field of conferences, and have had opportunity to participate behind the scenes in many conferences at the Convention Center, large conference hotels, and the National Press Club. No matter the industry or subject matter, how presenters present is crucial to the success of their mission, whether sales, persuasion, or education.

Dee’s suggestions can be summed up by her headings:

  1. Know Your Stuff
  2. Give Me What I Came For
  3. Keep Your Promises
  4. Don’t Read from the Syllabus
  5. Strike a Balance
  6. Make Time for Questions

I would recommend that all lecturers, myself included, make the conscious effort to heed these suggestions. By doing so, we will provide our audiences with exactly what they want. This will benefit both the lecturer–a good reputation is crucial to being offered more and better-paying speaking jobs–and the audience–who will be better educated by having higher quality lecturers available.

After all, as professionals, it is not our job to tell the customers what they want, but to listen to them, understand what they want, and provide it.

BCG Application Guide now available for free download

The revised 2011 edition of the BCG Application Guide from the Board for the Certification of Genealogists, as well as the revised Preliminary Application, are both now available for free download from the BCG website.

The Board for the Certification of Genealogists was created in 1964. According to the History published on the website:

BCG has its roots in the American Society of Genealogists, an elected organization of highly respected practitioners of genealogy. ASG sprang from academia. It was established in 1940 to, in part, “elevate the profession of genealogy to the same literary and scientific level enjoyed by history.” By 1963 the fellows — members of ASG — had become concerned that there was no organization that set scholarship standards for professional genealogists. Such an organization was necessary, they felt, if genealogy were to be treated as a serious research discipline.

Several ASG members initiated talks with leaders of the National Genealogical Society and with librarians. By February 1964, plans for the Board of Genealogical Certification had been finalized. The first trustees represented different groups. Among the names are a veritable who’s who of genealogy: Dr. Jean Stephenson, John Frederick Dorman, Walter Lee Sheppard Jr., and Milton Rubicam from ASG; Colonel Carleton E. Fisher, Mary Givens Bryan, and O. Kenneth Baker from NGS; and Dr. Roy F. Nichols, Dr. Walter Muir Whitehill, and Mary Lucy Kellogg representing historians, archivists, and/or librarians. The remaining trustees were Cameron Allen, Meredith B. Colket Jr., Kate F. Maver, Isabeth E. Myrth, Herbert F. Seversmith, and Kenn Stryker-Rodda. The first board meeting was held in April 1964.

Since that time, BCG certification (designated by the postnomial “CG”) has grown into one of genealogy’s highest honors. Becoming a Certified Genealogist involves proving your research and documentation skills through the creation of several of genealogy’s most common work products, including transcriptions, abstracts, a case study, and a compiled genealogy or compiled pedigree. These products undergo an intensive peer review process by other certified genealogists, who judge your work against a set of rubrics based on The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual.

Among many other accomplishments, Certified Genealogists were instrumental in the creation of the Genealogical Proof Standard.

For a more detailed look at the certification process, Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, and Dr. Thomas W. Jones, CG, present a certification seminar at various national and regional genealogy conferences. This seminar has also been video-taped, and can be viewed on the BCG website as well.

A suggestion for FamilySearch…

FamilySearch has been busy lately. During the NGS Conference last week, two announcements were made for recenly digitized Civil War records and South Carolina records. But many other records have come online in the past few months.

I was excited to learn of two new databases for Maryland: “Maryland, Probate Estate and Guardianship Files, 1796-1940″ and “Maryland, Register of Wills Books, 1792-1983.” Though I frequently work with these record groups in their original form at the Maryland State Archives, the convenience of online access is still much-desired and much-appreciated.

However, I would like to make a suggestion to FamilySearch: Please identify the records correctly.

For the “Maryland, Register of Wills Books, 1792-1983,” for example, the search page provides the following “Source Information”:

“Maryland Probate Records,” database, ”FamilySearch” ([https://www.familysearch.org https://www.familysearch.org]); from various county clerk offices throughout Maryland.

I’m not sure which edition of Lackey’s Cite Your Sources or Mills’s Evidence! or Evidence Explained you are using, but this is not a source citation for the records in this collection.

The actual images of records included in this collection, furthermore, are not even all records from the Register of Wills. In Prince George’s County, for example, more than half of the records are actually records of the Circuit Court. This includes, but is not limited to, the record group identified on the website as “Circuit Court of Prince Georges County, 1841-1881.” There is no other identification as to what this collection actually contains.

In another example from Prince George’s County, the collection “Wills on Deposit, 1866-1958, A.H.L. No. 1″ does not contain any wills, but is actually a will index. The title of the collection is misleading.

Where did these records come from? Are they digitized microfilm from the Family History Library collections, as are most of the FamilySearch collections? The website does not say.

The FamilySearch Wiki page for these collections offers no other explanation of the collection. Instead it offers basic information about probate records in general. The “Record Description” reads,

Probate records were court documents and may have included both loose papers and bound volumes. The loose records were generally known as a case file or a probate packet. These files normally included wills, settlement papers, inventories, receipts, and other records pertaining to the estates.

Some probate records were recorded in books that may have been labeled with such titles as accounts, administrations, appraisals, minutes, petitions, guardianships, inventories, or settlements.

The wiki page contains the following information for “Citing FamilySearch Historical Collections”:

When you copy information from a record, you should also list where you found the information. This will help you or others to find the record again. It is also good to keep track of records where you did not find information, including the names of the people you looked for in the records.

A suggested format for keeping track of records that you have searched is found in the Wiki Article: How to Cite FamilySearch Collections

Examples of Source Citations for a Record

  • “Maryland, Probate Estate and Guardianship Files, 1796-1940.” index and images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org): accessed 25 March 2011. entry for Emma Maude Carter, filed 1930; citing Probate Files; digital folder 4,103,819; Cecil County Courthouse, Elkton, Maryland
  • “Maryland, Register of Wills Books, 1792-1983.” index and images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org): accessed March 25, 2011, entry for James C Allen, 2 April 1969; citing Wills Books, Prince George’s, Index to Wills and Administrations, 1698-1978, A-D. Image 15; Prince George’s County Courthouse, Landover, Maryland.

This citation does not fit the standard format as defined by Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills, though it comes close. But more importantly, the county seat of Prince George’s County (and Circuit Court) is in Upper Marlboro, not Landover. The county seat has been in Upper Marlboro since 1792, precisely the date of creation of the cited records. I am not sure where exactly in Landover these records would have originated.

I find it extremely problematic that the wiki page instructs users of the importance of citing sources, then does not heed its own advice. I have been unable to identify any reliable source information for the records in these collections anywhere on either the FamilySearch collection pages or the FamilySearch Wiki site.

I have not checked any of the other collections, but I would assume similar difficulties must exist elsewhere on the site.

So, FamilySearch, are you listening?

Please provide us with the actual sources for the records that you are digitizing. I want to know the real, actual source and provenance of any records that I use on your site.

Recent Family History survey results, part three

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.

Question 12 in the family history survey asks, “Where do you go to do your family history research?” The question allowed for multiple answers (“Check all that apply”), so the percentage of respondents selecting each option must be examined individually, rather than as a percentage of the whole.

The following options were selected by those identifying themselves as amateurs and professionals:

  • “I stay at home.”
    • Amateurs: 91.4%
    • Professionals: 79.6%
  • “In public libraries.”
    • Amateurs: 70.3%
    • Professionals: 80.5%
  • “At the facilities of genealogical societies.”
    • Amateurs: 45.8%
    • Professionals: 79.6%
  • “In an LDS/Mormon Family History Center.”
    • Amateurs: 48.1%
    • Professionals: 69.9%
  • “On site where original records are kept.”
    • Amateurs: 57.3%
    • Professionals: 92.9%

This survey shows significant difference in a few of the repositories being used.

There is a slightly higher percentage of amateur genealogists that conduct research “at home,” presumably online. But this is not surprising.

In similar manner, there is a slightly higher percentage of professional genealogists that research at public libraries. I am curious about this statistic, specifically because there are at least two independent reasons to research at a public library. The first is for Internet access. There are still quite a few people out there who do not have home Internet access, and use this service at the public library. Or alternatively, use Ancestry Library Edition rather than paying the annual subscription fee. The second reason to research at public libraries are for the local history collections that many public library systems hold. These collections often include microfilm (or originals) of local newspapers, and unpublished manuscripts or low-print-run local history books. I wonder if the percentages would have been different had these two independent reasons to use the public library been broken out into separate options.

The next three responses show far greater disparities between amateurs and professionals.

Almost 80% of professionals, while less than 50% of amateurs claimed to research “at the facilities of genealogical societies.” Genealogical (and historical) society libraries often hold original material unavailable elsewhere, including surname files, manuscript collections, and even original government records. In some states, the historical society functions as the official state archives.

But I think that this statistic is even more telling of a phenomenon about which I have heard quite a few genealogical societies complain. In the 21st century, online communities have blossomed while membership in many local genealogical societies has stagnated. While professional genealogists may be more knowledgeable about some of the resources that are available in genealogical societies, many amateur genealogists simply are not aware of either the record resources or the immaterial resources (such as the knowledge of older society members) that genealogical societies provide.

The survey also recorded a great difference in those who researched “in an LDS/Mormon Family History Center.” Once again, less than 50% of amateur genealogists selected this option, while just under 70% of professional genealogists selected it. This was quite surprising to me. Amateur genealogists, that is, those who research their own families have a much greater need to research at Family History Centers. Very few families stayed in one place for very long, so tracing a single family back will generally involve the need to access records from several different locales. Furthermore, amateur genealogists are not limited by the time constraints that often face professional genealogists. Waiting for microfilm to be delivered to a local Family History Center is far less of a problem for amateur genealogists.

Finally, the survey reports that 57.3% of the amateur genealogists, and 92.9% of the professional genealogists research “on site where original records are kept.”

Researching in original records is vital to genealogy research. As a professional genealogist, many of my clients hire me to help them move past persistent brick walls. In my estimate, close to 80% of all of these problems are solved using records that are only available in their original paper form. They have not been digitized, nor even microfilmed. In many cases, these records have never even been indexed, transcribed, or abstracted. Instead, the research involves hours of page-by-page searching through unindexed original records, a tedious process to be sure, but the reward is great!

Additional survey results will be reviewed in future posts.

Do you have a genealogy project?

The most immediate reason that brings all of us into genealogy is, of course, a desire to learn more about our own families. Even professional genealogists like myself started by researching our own families. I had been researching my own family history off and on for almost twenty years, and intensively for almost ten years, before I even considered becoming a professional.

Before I come back to this, I would like to recommend a website I recently discovered: “1698 Southold LI Census: A Study of Identities, Town of Southold, Suffolk County, Long Island, New York,” by Norris M. Taylor, Jr.

On this website, Mr. Taylor has started with a single record set at the core, the 1698 census of Southold, New York, and explored the community represented within these records by comparing the information with that held by other contemporary records. In conducting this intensive research, and compiling this information, Mr. Taylor has succeeded in two accomplishments. First, he has created a resource that anyone with roots in 1698 Southold (including this author) can use with their own research. Second, and more importantly, Mr. Taylor has combined the methods of genealogical research with the methods of historical research, and produced a deep exploration of an entire community.

I conducted a similar project several years ago, using a community of Palatine Germans who settled in Schoharie County, New York in the early 18th century–a community of which quite a few of my direct ancestors (and of course their families) were a part. My project has unfortunately had to sit on the shelf for a few years as other opportunities have come up, and limitations in my access to certain records have crept in.

However, I am currently about four years into a separate project, one where the access to records is much better, exploring a community of slaves and slave owners in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The fruits of this project will hopefully begin to see the light of day over the next several months.

I would like to ask other researchers: do you have a genealogy project?

Even as we explore our own direct ancestors, we must remember that these individuals did not live on islands by themselves. They were parts of communities. By fully exploring the family and other relationships within a single community, we are able to gain insight into that community, and our ancestor’s relative place within it. But more importantly, it is through broad community projects of this nature that we are able to break down even the toughest brick walls.

It is not at all uncommon to find exactly this type of community work in historical literature. Academic history, however, is interested more in generalities than in specific individuals, so the relationships are not often the focus. Just a few of hundreds of articles that I have collected over the years:

  • Thomas, William G., III, and Edward L. Ayers. “An Overview: The Differences Slavery Made: A Close Analysis of Two American Communities.”  The American Historical Review, Vol. 108 (2003), pp. 1299-1307.
  • Kenzer, Robert C. “The Black Businessman in the Postwar South: North Carolina, 1865-1880.”  The Business History Review, Vol. 63 (1989), pp. 61-87.
  • Cody, Cheryll Ann. “Kin and Community among the Good Hope People after Emancipation.” Ethnohistory, Vol. 41 (1993), pp. 25-72.
  • Steffen, Charles G. “The Rise of the Independent Merchant in the Chesapeake: Baltimore County, 1660-1769.” The Journal of American History, Vol. 76 (1989), pp. 9-33.
  • Baptist, Edward E. “The Migration of Planters to Antebellum Florida: Kinship and Power.” The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 62 (1996), pp. 527-554

Each of these journal articles is extremely useful contextual information for those who have ancestry within these geographic or demographic areas.

The difference between these projects and those that I would recommend genealogists conduct are several. Many of these historical works will focus only on a single record set or a limited number of additional records, but fail to explore other record groups. In other words, they fail to meet the Genealogical Proof Standard, in many cases. The historians have not completed a “reasonably exhaustive search” for all relevant records, not evaluated and correlated the evidence, and not reconciled contradictory evidence. This certainly limits the reliability of their conclusions with regard to individual family relationships. They can be excused because these individual relationships are not usually the focus of their research. For genealogists, these relationships would be the focus.

Here are some links to other broad genealogical projects I have come across over the years:

Shouldn’t we all be “Primary Care Genealogists”?

Last week, DearMYRTLE wrote about a concept that was brought up in the chat for her ProGen Study Group: “Primary Care Genealogists.”  This is how she described it in her blog:

Professional genealogists are quite capable in specific areas of expertise. Certification from BCG and/or accreditation from ICapGen reflect one’s focus. But if you take that genealogy professional and put him in a new locality, he becomes a newbie all over again.

The same is true in other fields, and Cheryl was spot-on when considering highly competent, educated and well-trained medical professionals. I wouldn’t think of going to a gynecologist if my heart needed a triple bypass.

So, in the world of genealogy shouldn’t we recognize “primary care genealogists” who can oversee the general health of your compiled family history and point to weaknesses in supporting documents, providing suggestions for further research? Just as my “primary care physician” refers me to a specialist for my heart, so too, can “primary care genealogists” refer us to specialists in the field.

This is an interesting concept, but I would take this quite a bit further. Professional genealogists, like all genealogists, of course have their own geographic (or other) areas of greatest experience. But this should not be a limitation. In my opinion, all genealogists should study at least two subjects: their specialty, and genealogy research.

Let me explain in a little more depth.

Suppose you specialize in New York German genealogy. You have been researching the area for 20+ years. You know about all of the available records. You are familiar with the families, the laws, the local history, etc. You become an “expert” in this area.

But you have a project that takes you out of that comfort zone, let’s say to a Norwegian immigrant family in South Dakota, or an enslaved African-American family in Mississippi. Do you throw your hands in the air and stomp off frustrated? Not if you have been studying genealogy research as well. You will understand the importance of how to conduct research.

Whether you are researching New York Germans, South Dakota Norwegians, or Mississippi slaves, the research methodology is the same. The applicable records, laws, history, culture, etc., may be entirely different, but that is all that has changed. Researching the area enough to discover the differences is relatively easy compared to the process of really learning to research.

Consider, for example, the following:

  • Land records. Whether you are dealing with “state land” or “federal land,” colonial patents, military bounty land, or late 19th century homesteads, or even non-landowners, how you use land records (and other property records) to discover genealogical evidence remains a general principle applicable to all. Only the specifics change.
  • Tax records. Depending on what state and what era you are researching, tax laws may be quite different. What items were taxed, who was taxed, and how the tax lists appear may vary greatly. But again, the general principles are the same, and it is only the specifics that change.
  • Probate records. The probate process, and how each step was recorded, can be radically different from state to state and time period to time period. Whenever you are researching a new area, you will have to familiarize yourself with this information. But if you truly understand the general principles surrounding these records, and how to use them, you will not have to completely “start from scratch.”
  • Associates. Checking the close associates and neighbors of our ancestors is another general principle that carries over, across geographic and chronological boundaries. Precisely who these associates and neighbors were will change, but the idea that you will have to research in this direction stays the same.

Learning how to research is therefore as important, if not more important, than learning about your specialty. This includes learning how to search for information, how to find records, how to identify the information held within individual records, how to evaluate the reliability of information, how to reconcile contradictory information, and how to create a proof argument from the sum total of the evidence. Learning these principles is so much more useful than learning everything there is to know about just one area of research. These principles will carry over from one state or country to another.

So in this sense, shouldn’t all genealogists be “primary care genealogists,” first and foremost? And specialists only afterwards?

More tweets from #ngs2011

Earlier today, I posted about what I have been doing while everyone else was in Charleston, S. C., for the 2011 National Genealogical Society Conference. I included several of my favorite “tweets” from those in attendance.

Of course, this did not include the others that have come in today. So here are more of my favorite tweets from the National Genealogical Society Conference. Please note, this is not all of them. Just my favorites from today.

  • Mark Lowe – gcah.org for a brief guide to researching your Methodist ancestors.  #ngs2011 (via @genealogypa)
  • BVL [Barbara Vines Little -ed.]:  the sum of the evidence must bring you to your conclusions #ngs2011 (via @genealogypa)
  • Organizing pieces of evidence and writing a proof statement helps us spot our missing pieces.  – BV Little #ngs2011 (via @genealogypa)
  • (Live #NGS2011) American Religious Data Archive – Great history and statistics   www.thearda.com/ (via @JLowe615)
  • (Live #NGS2011) Documenting the American South – Religion docsouth.unc.edu/church/texts.html (via @JLowe615)

Once again, to read all of the tweets from the NGS conference that were properly tagged, run a search for “#NGS2011″ (without the quotes) on the Twitter homepage.

What I have been doing while the rest of the world is at NGS 2011

One of the drawbacks of being a self-employed, full-time progessional genealogist, is that “discretionary” money is often short. There is simply not enough to travel around the country and attend every conference and institute that I would like. This year, I have chosen to attend the Institute of Genealogical and Historical Research (IGHR) at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. So I am forced to miss out on the National Genealogical Society’s annual conference, being held this week in Charleston, South Carolina.

So, while everyone else has been out there, what have I been doing?

1. Client research: This is the bread and butter of my income, so it might go unstated that I have been doing research for clients and writing research reports. This has been most of my week, like most weeks.

2. Preparing new lectures: I will be delivering a lecture at the Prince George’s County Genealogical Society’s Spring Seminar tomorrow, so I have been putting the touches on this new lecture. Called “Branching Out Your Family Tree,” the lecture will discuss how you can connect with other people through genealogy, and how this can help your research. I have also been working on a more advanced lecture about the development of neighborhoods and communities through association.

3. Blogging: I decided last week to repurpose this blog (let me know how you like it!), and have been actively posting all week. This is a new kind of genealogy blog, discussing most often issues related to professional genealogy and the transition into it, though I will also discuss methodology and available resources as well.

4. Following the conference on Twitter: Just because I’m not there, doesn’t mean that I can’t follow along. Attendees at the conference have been tweeting news throughout the sessions, using the hashtag #ngs2011 . You can follow along by typing this hashtag into the Search box on the Twitter.com homepage, or by clicking here. Here are some of my favorite tweets:

  • Genealogical proof is not a vote. The most censuses in agreement do not win…workshop w Thomas W. Jones. So true! #ngs2011 #genealogy (via @marygenealogy79)
  • Barbara Vines Little suggests mining church records not just for vital statistics, but colorful background details.   #ngs2011 (via @genealogypa)
  • She reminds us to always read your local, county and church histories.  #ngs2011 (via @genealogypa)
  • Curt Witcher says check back issues of genie society periodicals for unique and forgotten research sources.   #ngs2011 (via @genealogypa)
  • CW suggests searching the public library catalogs in the counties you’re researching to find unique local publications.   #ngs2011 (via @genealogypa)
  • CW suggests checking end notes in hist society pubs to see if they reference articles covering the time/place you’re researching.#ngs2011 (via @genealogypa)
  • (Live from NGS Lecture) Use STATE NAME and SESSION LAWS to find legislative acts on www.books.google.com #NGS2011 (via @JLowe615)
  • Pamela Boyer Sayre says investigate your unknown ancestors as perpetrators.  Take good notes, collect evidence, interview.   #ngs2011  (via @genealogypa)
  • Helen Leary  has inspired (& continues to inspire)  a generation of genealogists. She has more knowledge in her little finger… #NGS2011 (via @JLowe615)
  • The genealogical proof standard does not require direct evidence. A case can be built with indirect evidence using the GPS. #ngs2011 (via @ngsgenealogy)
  • Conflicting evidence is incompatible with a conclusion — Tom Jones quoting Helen Leary. #ngs2011 (via @ngsgenealogy)
  • To understand our ancestors we have to linger in the time & place in which they lived, per Alice Hare..rock on, historical context! #ngs2011 (via @marygenealogy79)

Source Citations: Why Form Matters, part one

Earlier this year, several bloggers discussed the importance of citing your sources. While I have not taken the time to compile a full list of these blog entries (though I may still do so), I wanted to respond to some of the comments.

But first I would like to discuss where the conversation started and where it went. Especially since I believe that the blog posts were a response to comments that I made on a genealogy mailing list. On 6 Feb 2011, a researcher posted a question asking for help with a tricky citation. A handful of people, including myself, offered assistance. Two of us then had a brief debate about whether a comma or a semicolon was appropriate in a given position in this citation.

You can read this entire exchange in the archives of the Transitional Genealogists Forum on Rootsweb.com. But if you are going to read it, please read the entire exchange. It may bore the pants off of you, but it is important for the context. It is also important to note that this debate occurred on the “Transitional Genealogists Forum” mailing list. This is by no means a beginners’ mailing list. The list is described on the Rootsweb site as, “a mailing list for anyone who is on the road to becoming a professional Genealogist. It is a place to share experiences, problems, obstacles, downfalls and triumphs… [emphasis added].” In other words, if there is going to be a place for discussion of punctuation in a source citation, this would be the place to have it.

What Came Next?

On 11 February 2011, the post “I Don’t Care Where You Put the Comma” appeared on Amy’s Genealogy, etc. Blog. Is it a mere coincidence that this post appeared mere days after a debate over the placement of a comma? Not too likely. But I don’t mind. It is important to have open discourse over issues within genealogy, just as in any other field. Without open discourse, progress is not made.

The post read, in part,

During one of the [Rootstech] sessions, a person on Twitter commented that there were people who thought traditional (read “scholarly”) source citations were too hard and cumbersome. They wanted to enter one line and be done. A short discussion followed on Twitter about why this is and don’t people want to have good research.

Let’s stop for a moment and consider the two purposes of a source citation:

  1. To allow the researcher and others to find the source of the information being reported.
  2. To aid the researcher and others in evaluating that source.

To those ends, I say: I don’t care where you put the comma. Just tell me where you got the information. …

I believe that we as genealogical professionals are being counterproductive when we push so hard for what we call a “good” citation. Let’s not forget that for most people, genealogy is a hobby — a serious hobby, but it’s still supposed to be enjoyable. Scholarly source citations probably brings back nightmares of late-night term paper writing in high school and college.

Wouldn’t the field be better off if instead of harping on “good” citations — what you italicize, what you put in quotation marks, where you put the comma — we focus our efforts on getting researchers simply to have source citations? Wouldn’t we be better off if someone had “Graham’s History of Fairfield and Perry Counties, Ohio, (pub. 1883), page 452″ instead of nothing? That citation is far from perfect — it’s missing some key publishing information and doesn’t follow any established style — but I maintain that it is much better than nothing.

 This post was followed by a long list of “Amen” and “Halleluia” comments. Until you get to the comment I left:

What you are dealing with here are three levels of researcher, I think.

First are those who don’t cite sources at all. We can preach CITE, CITE, CITE to them all day until they get it. From what I can tell, this is the main audience who will benefit from your article.

Second are those who understand the need to cite, but aren’t quite sure how to do it. This group will also benefit from your article as it may get them over the hump–the fear of “not getting it right”–that at times stifles their whole-hearted desire to properly cite their sources.

The last group are those who understand the need to cite, but also understand the purpose of using a specific, consistent format. Those in this last group will disagree to some extent with your article.

When I first started writing years ago, one of the most consistent pieces of advice I heard from other writers, read in writers magazines and books on writing, was “Just write. You can edit it later.” This is a good attitude to have toward source citation. However, merely having all of the elements is not the finished product of a source citation. You have to format them in a clear, consistent manner. Where you put a comma or a semi-colon is as important in a citation as it is in any other sentence. You may simply pour your thoughts out onto paper in the text of your family history, but you will be sure to hit the spell-check and fix grammar mistakes before too long. Why do source citations not deserve the same treatment?

Furthermore, by using a consistent format, any readers–either intentional, such as writing for a journal or magazine, or unintentional, such as your own children or grandchildren who may come across your notes years from now–will be able to follow the citation. As a professional genealogist who has worked on hundreds of client projects, I have seen many “research reports” that the clients prepare to summarize their research. Many of these reports cite sources for all of their information. Unfortunately, they do not follow a consistent format, and in many cases, these citations take quite a bit of time to decipher in order to discover what source was actually used. In quite a few cases, the “citation” was so undecipherable as to almost defeat the purpose of including a citation: “To allow the researcher and others to find the source of the information being reported” and “To aid the researcher and others in evaluating that source.”

If the elements of a citation do not follow a consistent format, how can anyone know for sure, for example, which element is which. For books and other published material, such as the examples you gave, it is fairly easy to decipher, but what about a specific item in a file that is part of a specific record group as part of a larger collection? Even if all of these elements are present, what order are they in? What punctuation separates the various elements, some of which may be rather complex and contain punctuation of their own?

The other consideration, aside from later reading of the citation by yourself or others, is the process of writing the citation itself. If you consistently follow a specific format, then creating citations in this format becomes second nature. Then, you won’t have to run to your favorite citation guide to look up every new record group or record format to come up with exactly how to write this citation. It will become habit.

This comment sums up how I feel about the whole “comma” issue, but I want to take the time to respond more fully (even though it has been a few months). Read the next few posts over the next few days for more on this subject.

The Master Genealogist v8 Public Beta now available

I spent quite a bit of time over the past few years trying to select the perfect genealogy program. I used the free FamilySearch PAF software, Legacy Family Tree Maker, Family Tree Maker (2005 version, and later 2009 version), GenBox, GenoPro, RootsMagic (4), TNG: The Next Generation, and The Master Genealogist. For the past few years, I have exclusively used The Master Genealogist. In my opinion, it is the only software with the flexibility that I need.

I am excited to learn that — after waiting at least two or three years since The Master Genealogist version 7 was released — the public beta for version 8 has now been announced. According to the Wholly Genes website,

TMG v8 is now available in the form of a free public beta that will expire in 30 days.

TMG v8 is in the final stages of testing and we believe it to be stable and functional in all of its major features.

Some minor issues remain, however, and by releasing this public beta we hope to accomplish two things:

  1. Make reporting functions available to all those for whom v7 reports have become non-functional because of an upgrade to a 64-bit operating system.
  2. Enlist your help in identifying and fixing any remaining issues before the full public release.

For full information on the updated features, and to participate in this 30-day public beta, visit the TMGv8 page on Wholly Genes’ website.

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