Archive for the ‘Research Skills’ Category

Five things you have to know about every record

Records are the foundation of our research. That much is indisputable. One of the most valuable lessons learned in genealogy, however, is that finding a record is only the first step of research. So much more research occurs after we locate any single record. We must thoroughly and completely analyze and evaluate that record, to identify the information it holds, assess the quality of the information, and apply this information to our research question.

For every record we find, there are five things that we must investigate:

1. Why was the record created?

By this I mean the whole record set out of which your record of interest was extracted. (Not, for example, that a death certificate was created because the person died.)

If you are looking at a government record, what law or set of laws required its creation? The law could potentially reveal qualifications that provide indirect evidence about the subject of the record. Here are a few examples:

  • Your ancestor appears on a tax list. The tax law at that time required a poll tax of all males over the age of 21 years. This provides indirect evidence that your ancestor was 21 years of age.
  • Your immigrant ancestor purchased federal land under the Homestead Act. The law stated that only citizens were eligible. This provides indirect evidence that your ancestor was a naturalized citizen.
  • Your ancestor inherited money from a previously unidentified person. The probate law specifically identifies who qualifies as an heir to intestate estates. This provides indirect evidence of the possible relationship between your ancestor and this other person.
  • Your ancestor applied for a pension for military service. The pension laws defined who was eligible for a pension. This provides indirect evidence that your ancestor met these qualifications (whether they concerned injury, service, or age).

Even non-government records are created for a reason. For church records, have you investigated the specifics of the sacraments of your ancestor’s religion. There are differences, for example, between the baptismal rites of a Roman Catholic and a Primitive Baptist. At what age was First Communion or Confirmation? What qualified someone to be a godfather or sponsor?

2. Who created the record?

Specifically, what agency or official?

Is this an official death certificate created by the Health Department? Is it a register copy of a deed, created by the Clerk of the county court?

Who was the enumerator of that census? I recently researched a family where the wife was the enumerator. Even if you are not that lucky, you can still determine whether the enumerator had a relationship with your ancestor.

Was this a form that was filled out by a clerk or one that was filled out by the informant? (And furthermore, was the informant even literate or did someone else have to fill it out for him anyway? Remember, signing her name does not necessarily mean that she could write anything else.)

Is that tombstone the original, 200 year old marker, or was it placed there 40 years ago by the Daughters of the American Revolution?

What were the political leanings of the newspaper that ran that obituary or news article?

All of these can affect the reliability of the record.

3. Who provided the information?

Some records, such as death certificates, explicitly identify the informant. Others, such as deeds, do not specifically identify the informant, but he can be reasonably assumed. Still other times, the informants will remain a complete mystery.

But how much do you know about the informant? What was his relationship to your subject?

More importantly, what was his knowledge of the information being reported? Was the informant a knowledgable, willing participant? Or did the informant only hear about the event from another? This does not necessarily mean that the information is less reliable. In some cases, a “secondary” informant may have a better memory of the events than someone directly involved.

While I know that none of us want to believe that our ancestors could have lied, we do also have to consider this possibility? Was there an underlying bias on the part of the informant, or any other reason that the informant would have provided inaccurate information? Pension records, for example, cannot always be considered reliable sources for age. When a person’s age was closely tied to their financial interests, that person may tend to exaggerate their age by a year or two. This is what we identify as bias.

4. How did you get the record?

That is, how did the record travel from the desk of its creator to your desk?

Most county government records are either still in the same courthouse where they were created or have been transferred from that courthouse directly to the county or state archives. Many church records are still in the same church where they were originally created. No problems here.

When you find records at the local or state historical society library or a university library, can you identify the donor? How did the donor obtain the record? You will want to back-track the possession of the record, where possible, to the creator. In many cases, the record stayed in the family’s possession, so it is important to investigate the family relationships.

During this analysis, you will of course also note that the deed book in the county courthouse was microfilmed by the Family History Library, and that this microfilm was abstracted by an author into the book that you read, if that was the case.

This analysis of its provenance can not only be useful for identifying the originator of a record, but also for emphasizing weaknesses in your own research. Your goal should always be to obtain a record as close to the desk of its creator as possible.

5. What are the alternatives?

Events in the lives of our ancestors often created more than a single record. You can’t rest your conclusions on the statements in a single record. Instead, compile a list of alternative sources for the same information, either direct or indirect.

For a death certificate, for example, look for a church burial register, the tombstone (and other records at the cemetery), records of the funeral home, probate records (both testate and intestate), a newspaper obituary, the federal census mortality schedule, and any other records that may have been created.

For a marriage certificate, consider the marriage license, the minister’s return, a church marriage record, a newspaper account, and a widow’s pension application file (if applicable). Don’t forget incidental sources of the same information as well. Like the 1900 U. S. federal census, which reported the number of years each couple was married.

You should perform these same assessments on every record you find. Some of them, for common record groups, will not have to be completely repeated for every individual record. Just keep a file with the information for these common record groups,  and review the information when you find a new record. Be sure to note when there are discrepancies or special exceptions to the rules.

All of these should be done even before you examine the information that the record holds. It will provide new context and insight into the information you read.

Source Citations: Why Form Matters, part four

I thought that I was finished with this series. But somehow, the concept of standardized source citations remains a bone of contention. To read the earlier posts in this series, use the following links for part one, part two, and part three.

This past Sunday, 17 July 2011, James Tanner posted “Looking towards a rational philosophy of citations,” in his Genealogy’s Star blog. In this post, Mr. Tanner describes a “broad spectrum of attitudes towards citations,” with one end being the casual researcher who is completely uninterested in the whole source citation issue, and the other end being the “super-professionals, journal editors, former or present academics” who cites everything in a “formal ‘acceptable’ manner.” Mr. Tanner identifies himself as being “firmly at the academic end of the spectrum.” Nonetheless, he concludes his post with the following passage,

So where does that leave us in the genealogical community. Here are some observations and suggestions:

1. We should be fully committed to the idea of citing sources. Most (all?) of the popular genealogical database programs have adequate to very good citation provisions. There is no real excuse for not having a citation to a source if you are using one of the newer programs. However, even PAF has an adequate source citation method.

2. When we write, speak or teach, we should always include a commercial announcement about citing your sources.

3. We should try hard to consistently cite sources in our own materials.

4. We should be charitable about others’ lack of source citations and remember that not everyone even knows that citations exist.

5. When we see a citation that is poorly written, contrary to our own version of a citation or otherwise bad, we simply ignore it and go on with our lives.

6. If we are in a position of deciding on the format and/or content of citations for a publication, online post or wiki or whatever, we try to be as liberal and inclusive as possible without undermining the integrity of the publication.

7. Let’s try not to argue too much about colons, commas, spacing and capitalization.

It is difficult for me to discern which of these are intended as observations, and which are intended as suggestions. As I read them, they appear to be a set of “best practices” regarding source citations.

I can absolutely agree with the first suggestion. We should all be committed to source citations. I would also add that we should be committed to educating others about source citations. However, the second suggestion is a little much, in my opinion. We do not need to have a “commercial announcement” about citing sources in every presentation or article. In these situations, we can teach by example. By properly citing all of our own sources in every instance, we can indirectly teach others to do the same.

Unfortunately, the remaining suggestions fall far short of what is intended by the Genealogical Proof Standard, in my eyes.

Regarding number three, it is not enough to “try hard” to consistently cite sources. We must do it. Furthermore, I have the sneaking suspicion that “consistent” as intended in this context does not refer to a consistent format, but only to a consistent presence.

As to number four, I agree that we should be charitable about others’ lack of citations. This is doubtless to ignorance about the importance of source citations, and we have all been there at some point in our careers. However, “charitable” stems from the word “charity,” that is, “giving.” We should use these opportunities to give these others a solid education about why source citations are important.

The fifth suggestion, in my opinion, is irresponsible. If we ignore others’ mistakes, without alerting them to the presence of these mistakes, then the mistake becomes perpetuated. This other genealogist, the author of “bad” source citations, may teach someone else to construct “bad” citations. However, if we show them how to create “good” and sufficient citations, then they can teach someone else to do the same.

Again, the sixth suggestion is irresponsible. Editors should not try to be as inclusive as possible. In no other academic field are editors inclusive. Take the time to look at the writers’ guidelines for academic journals in any discipline, whether a social science like history or a harder science like physics. Editors are extremely particular about the format of every aspect of an article, especially the source citations. If the editors of genealogical publications continue to be “liberal” and “inclusive,” those genealogists who have dedicated their lives to attaining the same level of respect given to other academic pursuits will continue to be lumped in together with those casual genealogists who “do” genealogy by clicking on shaking leaves, with no regard to citing sources.

And finally, we come to the last suggestion. The point is not to argue about punctuation.

When we were in elementary school and learning to read and write, our teacher taught us how to construct a sentence. We learned about the parts of speech, punctuation, capitalization, etc. To ignore this as an adult is unacceptable. We are expected in all segments of our life to follow these rules.

Source citation is the same. We do not live in those dark days 100 years ago when very few source citations appeared, and the few that did were not constructed in a consistent manner. Even if we did not have Evidence! or Evidence Explained, we still have the Chicago Manual of Style, which was used to create those EE citation styles. There are accepted standards of source citation.

Why do we use Evidence Explained, or even Chicago, as opposed to MLA or APA? What is the difference? Isn’t one as good as the next? Quite frankly, no. Let’s take a look at these styles, in the words of their creators:

  • Modern Language Association (MLA): “All fields of research agree on the need to document scholarly borrowings, but documentation conventions vary because of the different needs of scholarly disciplines. MLA style for documentation is widely used in the humanities, especially in writing on language and literature. Generally simpler and more concise than other styles, MLA style features brief parenthetical citations in the text keyed to an alphabetical list of works cited that appears at the end of the work.”[1]
  • American Psychological Association (APA): “The best scientific writing is spare and straightforward. It spotlights the ideas being presented, not the manner of presentation. Manuscript structure, word choice, punctuation, graphics, and references are all chosen to move the idea forward with a minimum of distraction and a maximum of precision.”[2] “Among the most helpful general guides to editorial style are Words into Type (Skillin & Gay, 1974) and the Chicago Manual of Style (University of Chicago Press, 2005).”[3] So even the APA recommends the Chicago Manual of Style.
  • Chicago Manual of Style:  According to a wonderful article by Yale University, that I will address separately, “Chicago style is especially popular in historical research. When developing a historical explanation from multiple primary sources, using footnotes instead of inserting parenthetical information allows the reader to focus on the evidence instead of being distracted by the publication information about that evidence.”[4] For an example of just how widespread this style is for historical research work, consider the following, from the writers’ guidelines of the Journal of American History, published by the Organization of American Historians: “All text, including quotations and footnotes, should be prepared in double-spaced typescript according to The Chicago Manual of Style (University of Chicago Press).”[5]

So why do we, as genealogists, use Evidence Explained and The Chicago Manual of Style?

Well, first of all, MLA is designed to primarily cite published work, especially for literary criticism and the language arts. We as genealogists are taught specifically not to rely on published work, but to review and cite the original record. So MLA Style is clearly insufficient for our needs.

APA Style is designed for scientific research, especially psychological and other behavioral sciences. They even refer their own readers to the Chicago Manual of Style, when the simplified APA Style does not address a specific issue! Again, this clearly does not fit our citation needs.

The Chicago Manual of Style, on the other hand, is the most popular style guide for postgraduate research, especially historical research. Unlike the other two styles, CMOS does provide citation styles for original records. This is what we need as genealogists. Unfortunately, the citation needs, in terms of the level of detail, of historians are much less specific than the needs of genealogists. This is why Elizabeth Shown Mills spent years compiling Evidence Explained: so that we could cite a specific original record (or multiple records) as our source(s) for the specific biographical details that we discover in the course of our research.

No other style does it better.

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “Source Citations: Why Form Matters, part four,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 21 Jul 2011 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]).

SOURCES:

[1] “What Is MLA Style?,” Modern Language Association (http://www.mla.org/style : accessed 20 July 2011).

[2] American Psychological Association, “About APA Style,” APA Style (http://www.apastyle.org/about-apa-style.aspx : accessed 20 July 2011).

[3] American Psychological Association, “Why is there a specific APA Style?,” APA Style (http://www.apastyle.org/learn/faqs/why-specific-apastyle.aspx : accessed 20 July 2011).

[4] “Why Are There Different Citation Styles?,” Yale College Writing Center (http://writing.yalecollege.yale.edu/why-are-there-different-citation-styles : accessed 20 July 2011).

[5] “Article Submission Guidelines,” Journal of American History (http://www.journalofamericanhistory.org/submit/articles.html : accessed 20 July 2011).

How Not to Become Certified, part one

First, I would like to thank all who have left me notes of congratulations here on my blog, Facebook, Twitter, and by email. Achieving the Certified Genealogist(sm) status has been a long process for me, involving a lot of work and continued education.

Many would be surprised to learn that I applied for certification once before, and failed, back in 2007. At that time, though I had years of experience researching my own family, I had only been conducting client work for about a year. For several reasons, I did not succeed. After receiving the notice of the disapproval of my portfolio, it took about two years before I could look back on that first application and understand what it had been missing. I would like to share these lessons with you.

1. I had no support structure behind the initial submission. As I stated above, in 2007, when I originally applied, I had only been conducting client research for a little over a year. I was unaware of the APG mailing list, and, though I was a member of several societies as well as the Association of Professional Genealogists, I had never attended a meeting. I had never attended even a local conference. At that point, I was completely self-educated and had relatively little professional experience (even though I had researched my own family for many years).

2. I did not understand the instructions for the kinship determination project (KDP). I had no clear definition of a “compiled, narrative” genealogy in my mind. What I submitted fell far short of what was expected because of this problem. The discussion of sources and evidence was done entirely in the footnotes, rather than in the text body, and much of the KDP included only sparse vital information on each individual. The research clearly did not meet what I now understand of the Genealogical Proof Standard.

3. I rushed through the final processes involved with the submission, because I did not want to file for an extension. As it was, I mailed the portfolio Priority Mail from a Washington, D. C., post office to the BCG’s Washington, D. C. post office box address, on the day prior to the due date. Had I simply paid the $50 (at the time) for the extension, I could have done a better job of editing, and could have included much more information in the body of the KDP, to better fit my own vision of what was expected.

4. I did not clearly separate and define the sections, leading at least one of the judges to mistake my case study as the client report.

5. My client report itself was poorly selected. I selected a project that I was personally proud of, as it involved the identification of the next of kin of a Korean War POW for the purposes of DNA testing of the newly-located remains. However, I failed to realize that this report was not much better than a document retrieval. While it did not receive too much negative criticism from any of the judges (other than the notice that it was ultimately a document retrieval), neither did it represent the best of the work that I was doing at the time.

These are not the judge’s actual comments and criticisms, of course. These are only my own reflections on why I failed. My continued education and experience, as well as discussions with other CGs has led me to these understandings. I will actually share some of the judge’s comments in a future post. This first application, however, was judged under a now-outdated evaluation form, prior to the creation and adoption of the current judging rubrics. The judge’s comments, however, will still prove valuable to those seeking certification.

Stay tuned for more…

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “How Not to Become Certified, part one,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 15 Jul 2011 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]).

The top 5 books on my bookshelf

Once again, I am taking a “page” out of Marian Pierre-Louis’s blog Marian’s Roots and Rambles; this time it is a different post, and I am not the first. Please take a look at Marian’s post, “The Top 5 Books on My Bookshelf,” and the post “My Top 5 Genealogy Research Books,” from Greta’s Genealogy Blog. These two posts–and hopefully others to come from other bloggers–provide recommendations for their 5 favorite genealogy books.

Here are my five, in ascending order:

5. Marsha Hoffman Rising, CG, The Family Tree Problem Solver: Proven Methods for Scaling the Inevitable Brick Wall (Cincinnati, OH : Family Tree Books, 2005): This book is the only standard methodological text that I consider absolutely necessary for every genealogical researcher. Ms. Rising goes through many different methods. There is also a newer book by the same author, entitled The Family Tree Problem Solver: Tried and True Tactics for Tracing Elusive Ancestors, published in 2011. I have not read this book yet, and do not know whether this is the same text or entirely new material. If it is new material, then I would once again have to recommend it.

4. The Board for the Certification of Genealogists, The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual (Orem, Utah : Ancestry Pub., 2000): The BCG standards require a high degree of thoroughness and accuracy in your research, but isn’t this what we all strive for? After all, who wouldn’t hate to discover that after years of research, you had been tracing someone else’s family? Many of the standards also deal with the work products of genealogical research, such as compiled genealogies and research reports.

3. Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, editor, Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2001):

2. Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, Evidence Explained:Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 2nd Edition (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2009):

I admit it–I cheated a little bit. There are really 6 books on my list, because I could not decide which of the next two books was more important. So first place is a tie between these two books.

If you have read these books, you will understand. If not, you must read them. Though I had years of research experience before I ever read them, these two books changed the way that I look at evidence and genealogical research in general. I am proud to say that I have now met both of these authors personally.

1. Christine Rose, CG, Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case, Third Edition (San Jose, Calif. : CR Publications, 2009): This is an updated third edition of the book, but I originally discovered the second edition several years ago. The small book uses examples to show how important it is to (1) conduct a search for all pertinent records related to your genealogical problem, (2) fully and accurately cite your sources, (3) analyze and correlate all relevant information, (4) reconcile all contradictory information, and (5) form a logical written conclusion based on the evidence.

1. Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1997): This book was the precursor to Evidence Explained (see above), written ten years previously. It discusses how researchers should evaluate their sources. It also contains the first citation models for commonly-used record types, though most of them have been adjusted in at least minor ways in EE. Both of these concepts were expanded in EE, but I actually prefer the discussion on evidence in this book.

You will notice one difference between my list and several of the others: I do not name any location-specific or record-specific books. These are important, and I would recommend that every researcher have them, but the best books in this category will vary from location to location. I have many in my library, mostly concerning Maryland, but also several related to Virginia, New York, Delaware, South Dakota, and other states. Your library’s needs in this area are up to you and what you research.

But the research skills that you will need are foundational. Research guides and finding aids will help you in a specific area, but your basic research skills will be the same whether you research in New Hampshire, Florida, Washington (state), or New Mexico, or even Saskatchewan, Galway, Istanbul, or Zimbabwe. For more on this, read my post “Shouldn’t we all be ‘Primary Care Genealogists’?

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “The top 5 books on my bookshelf,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 8 Jul 2011 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]).

I feel sorry for my descendants…

Sometimes when I research a family line, I am struck by just how often families stayed in the same county for generations, without straying far. Of course, the generations of the 21st century, with the ease of travel and with the Internet making the world so much smaller, do not seem to follow the same patterns.

I wonder sometimes what advice will be given to beginning genealogists in the 22nd century. How will the genealogists of the future find us?

My life, to use an example, might be unnecessarily difficult for my descendants to research, by today’s standards.

1. I was born in Washington, D. C., in 1976, as were both of my parents. I never actually lived in Washington.

2. In the 1980 census, I would probably show up in College Park, Prince George’s County, Maryland. This census, under the current laws, will be available to researchers in 2052.

3. In the 1990 census, I would show up in Laurel, Prince George’s County, Maryland. This census will be opened in 2062.

4. I may not show up at all in the 2000 census. I don’t remember filling out the form, and I moved in with family members around this time. At the time of the census, I was living in College Park. Guess I will know for sure in 2072.

5. I was married in 2005, in Howard County, Maryland. I never lived there either.

6. My daughter was born in Montgomery County, Maryland. Never lived there either.

7. In 2010, I lived in Laurel, Prince George’s County, at the time of the census, but moved to Harrington, Kent County, Delaware, in August of that year. Presumably, I will still be living in Delaware in 2020.

My parents won’t be much easier. As mentioned above, both were born in Washington, D. C., but never actually lived in the city. Both lived in Prince George’s County. My parents were legally separated (and later divorced) a year or two after the 1990 census.

In 2001, my mother moved to Euless, Tarrant County, Texas. In 2006, she moved to Littleton, Colorado, a Home Rule Municipality in Arapahoe, Douglas, and Jefferson counties. I am not sure which county her house falls in. But her entire life in Texas falls in between the 2000 and 2010 censuses. She had no family in Texas–she just fell in love with the area while on a 6-month work rotation there in 1999.

I know all of this history, but a researcher 100 or 200 years from now, will not have the knowledge that I do. Hopefully, the census databases that they use in the future will be much better indexed than the ones we use now.

The thought of this emphasizes the importance that genealogists write about their own personal histories, and record the lives of their living family as diligently as those who have already passed.

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “I feel sorry for my descendants…,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 27 Jun 2011 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]).

Source Citations: Getting it “Right,” part four

In the last post, part three of this series, we discussed the logic behind citing a census record. However, we only cited part of the record we used. As selected in the last post, we chose to use the following sample record:

So that you can all see what record I am citing, I have included a link to an image of the 1860 census page containing my 3 x great-grandfather, Calvin Hait: http://www.footnote.com/image/#87912598 If you do not have a paid subscription to Footnote.com, you can sign up for a free 7-day trial to view this image. The image is also available on Ancestry.com. The free index entry on FamilySearch.org (while not the image) is available using the following short link: http://bit.ly/muMV9U

The citation for this record as it stood at the conclusion of the last post is as follows:

1860 U. S. Census, Suffolk County, New York, population schedule, Town of Brookhaven, Patchogue post office, page 115, dwelling 877, family 920, Calvin Hait household …

So where do we go from here?

We have already cited the record itself–or more clearly stated, we have cited the census household. But we have not fully cited the actual source that we are using. In order to fully cite the source we are using, we have to specify what we are actually looking at.

For example, if you are looking at the actual original paper census record, you would cite this as such. For most of us, this is not the case.

My first exposure to census records came as a teenager at the National Archives in Washington, D. C. In those days, before any of the microfilm had been digitized, we would cite the microfilm. The National Archives microfilm publication for the 1860 U. S. Census is M653. So we would cite this as

NARA microfilm publication M653

As with the census itself, this is akin to a title, but is not a title, so it would not be italicized.

M653 consists of 1,438 rolls of microfilm. So, of course, it is necessary to indicate which roll of microfilm holds the record we are using. In this case it is roll number 865.

The full citation for this census record, as I read it on the National Archives microfilm years ago, would thus be:

1860 U. S. Census, Suffolk County, New York, population schedule, Town of Brookhaven, Patchogue post office, page 115, dwelling 877, family 920, Calvin Hait household; NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 865.

Of course, unless you lived near Washington, D. C., you probably did not view the original NARA microfilm. Most researchers were more likely to use the Family History Library microfilm, which would have been indicated by citing “… FHL microfilm no. 803,865.”

Today, few people actually still use the microfilm–either the NARA publication or FHL’s copy–to access federal census records. Instead, we use the digital images provided online by Ancestry, Footnote, HeritageQuest, etc. This is how we would cite these:

First we must specify that this was a digital image (as opposed to a transcription, database, or some other format). The easiest way to state this is plainly.

We previously discussed the elements to citing a website, in part two of this series. These are no different in this case than in any other.

In the case of a digital image of a census record appearing on a website, the website itself is the publication. Think of it like you would a book, with the census image being  an article or chapter within the book. Again, we must remember that the census record does not bear a title, so it would not be enclosed in quotation marks the way a traditional chapter would be.

Using the principles outlined in part two of this series, we would cite the creator, title, and publication information (URL and date accessed) of the website publication. In this case, the citation would appear as follows:

digital images, Footnote.com (http://www.footnote.com : accessed 25 June 2011)

In this case, in order to provide the most accurate information possible, we would also want to cite the source of the digital image, as cited by the website itself. This is indicated by the use of the word “citing.” Footnote includes the source information as seen here:

This information includes the microfilm publication number, but not the roll number. So in this case we would state exactly what Footnote cites:

citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll not identified.

Here we also get into proper use of punctuation. According to the Chicago Manual of Style Online (16th Edition), a semicolon is used for various reasons:

In regular prose, a semicolon is most commonly used between two independent clauses not joined by a conjunction to signal a closer connection between them than a period would.[1]

When items in a series themselves contain internal punctuation, separating the items with semicolons can aid clarity. If ambiguity seems unlikely, commas may be used instead.[2]

Both of these apply in this case (and many others). First, we are combining multiple clauses into the formation of the full citation.  The citation of the census household is one clause, the citation of the digital image is the second, and the citation provided by the website is a third. These multiple clauses should be separated by semicolons. The second reason cited above, for a series containing internal punctuation, also applies. The first two “clauses” both contain internal punctuation, and therefore must be separated by semicolons.

Evidence Explained, by Elizabeth Shown Mills, specifically addresses the use of semicolons in this context:

When we use a published source that cites its own source, our citation will focus upon the derivative that we actually used. However, it is good practice to record also where our source obtained his or her information. Depending upon the complexity of the situation, we may need to separate the two with a semicolon, … or we may separate them more simply with a comma ….[3]

Given all of this information, the full citation for the 1860 federal census record for Calvin Hait, as viewed on Footnote.com, would be as follows:

1860 U. S. Census, Suffolk County, New York, population schedule, Town of Brookhaven, Patchogue post office, page 115, dwelling 877, family 920, Calvin Hait household; digital images, Footnote.com (http://www.footnote.com : accessed 25 June 2011); citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll not identified.

Future posts in this series will discuss other common record groups and citation formats.

SOURCES:

[1] The Chicago Manual of Style Online (http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/home.html : accessed 25 June 2011), chapter 6.54, “Use of the semicolon.”

[2] The Chicago Manual of Style Online 6.58, “Semicolons in a complex series.”

[3] Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007), p. 88.

Read more:

Source Citations: Getting it “Right,” part three

In the first two parts of this series, we explored the logic behind citing a publication and a webpage. You can read these articles here:

Derivative sources such as books and webpages, however, are among the easiest citations to get “right.” Far more difficult are the original sources that make up the bulk of our research.

For this example, we will use a U. S. federal census record. After all, census records are often the most-used of all genealogical sources, as a general record group. So that you can all see what record I am citing, I have included a link to an image of the 1860 census page containing my 3 x great-grandfather, Calvin Hait: http://www.footnote.com/image/#87912598 If you do not have a paid subscription to Footnote.com, you can sign up for a free 7-day trial to view this image. The image is also available on Ancestry.com. The free index entry on FamilySearch.org (while not the image) is available using the following short link: http://bit.ly/muMV9U

In order to cite a record using the correct format, it is necessary to understand why the citation is organized in the manner in which it is organized.

If I am citing the 1860 census record for Calvin Hait, I must ask myself: what exactly am I citing?

  1. When citing a book, you are in actuality citing the book’s author, as published in the book. This does not apply to a manuscript record, which has no author. What you are citing is the record itself.
  2. In order to cite the federal census, you would start with the title, in precisely the same way that you would cite a book with no author. Unlike a book, which is known by a specific title, this record set does not bear a specific title, so you would not use italics. The title is a descriptive name for the record group.
  3. The 1860 U. S. Census, as microfilmed by the National Archives and Records Administration (microfilm publication M653), contains 1,438 rolls. Obviously, we need to be more specific in our citation than this. The key is to understand how the census is organized. As you can see by referring to the descriptive pamphlet for M653, available online at the NARA website, the 1860 U. S. Census is organized by county. So the next element that needs to be included is the county and state.
  4. Within each state, the census is further organized by schedule. For each state, the population schedule for each county appears first, followed by the slave schedule for each county. This manner of organization dictates the specification of the schedule next.
  5. What we have recorded to this point are the specifics to the record subset that we are using. We now have to get more specific as to the entry. In keeping with the general form of citations, proceeding from the largest group (i.e. the author) to the smallest group (i.e. the specific book, then the page number), we will proceed from the largest unit to the smallest unit, increasing in specificity as the citation continues.
  6. When you look at the specific page on which your record appears, you see a field at the top that provides the name of the town or municipality. This would be the next element in the citation. Following this would be the name of the post office, provided on the last line of the header.
  7. The 1860 census also includes a field for a specific page number, so you would include this page number as well. Then on the page, each household is identified by both a dwelling number and a family number. All of these would be included in your citation.
  8. Finally, for clarity’s sake, you will want to also specify the name(s) of the person or people that you are specifically examining. In most cases, this would be the entire household.

So, here is the first part of the citation for the 1860 census record for Calvin Hait:

1860 U. S. Census, Suffolk County, New York, population schedule, Town of Brookhaven, Patchogue post office, page 115, dwelling 877, family 920, Calvin Hait household …

This citation will be continued.

Read more:

Traditional vs. Scientific Genealogy, round two

After writing the post “Traditional vs. Scientific Genealogy?,” I discovered that Randy had posted another article in his blog, guest authored by Tamura Jones, entitled “Tamura Jones Guest Post: Scientific and Traditional Genealogy.” In this short article, Tamura attempted to clarify his statements. Among other statements, Tamura asserts,

Traditional genealogists treat official records as “proof” of “their genealogy”. That is wrong; official records do not prove biological relationships at all. That is a simple truth, and there is nothing wrong about acknowledging that truth. You still know who your official ancestors are. You still know who your legal ancestors are. Most importantly, you still know which family you are from, which family your legal parents are from, etcetera; you still know who your ancestral families are. You still know who you call mum or dad, and you are not going to stop doing that just because you became a scientific genealogist and do not have proof yet.

Unfortunately for Tamura, this is a straw man argument, based at least partially on a misunderstanding of what genealogical proof is. And unfortunately for more academic genealogists, many amateur genealogists share this misunderstanding. I will make my argument rather short and simple:

A record does not prove anything.

A genealogical source provides information. This information provides evidence when applied to a specific genealogical problem.

The Genealogical Proof Standard requires that all relevant records be collected and evaluated to form a logical conclusion. The process of collecting records/sources, identifying the information contained within these records/sources, evaluating the reliability of this information, judging the relevance of this information to your research problem, and using the combined evidence to form a conclusion is what proves a genealogical conclusion.

The process of proving relationships to which Tamura refers is actually a rather simplistic reliance on direct evidence. One does not have to have direct evidence to “prove” a relationship. This statement extends to both documentary evidence and biological evidence.

What Tamura claims as the basis of “traditional genealogist” is only the basis of beginning or amateur genealogy. This is not the opinion of the recognized leaders in our field.

Traditional vs. Scientific Genealogy?

Every Saturday night, Randy Seaver posts a “Saturday Night Genealogy Fun” assignment. I have participated in these from time to time (when I have the time), as can be seen in these posts–from its previous incarnation as “Tricks of the Tree”:

This past Saturday, 18 June 2011, Randy posted his weekly SNGF assignment, entitled “Saturday Night Genealogy Fun – Who is Your Most Recent Unknown Ancestor?” The assignment read,

1)  Determine who your most recent unknown ancestor is – the one that you don’t even know his or her name.

2)  Summarize what you know about his or her family, including resources that you have searched and the resources you should search but haven’t searched yet.

3)  Tell us about it in your own blog post, in a comment to this post, or in a status on Facebook.

What seems a rather simple task was challenged in the comments to the post by a blogger named Tamura Jones, who wrote,

I am disappointed that neither Randy nor any of his respondent gave the correct answer.
It is so hard to leave the dogmas and misconceptions of traditional genealogy behind and become a scientific genealogist?

The scientific genealogy truth is simple: for most of you, your most recent unknown ancestors are your parents.

Neither family stories nor vital records constitute any proof of a biological relationship.
Only if a DNA test confirmed who your biological parents are, does the MRU ["most recent unknown"] status move from your parents to your grandparents, etc.
It may be hard to face that fact, it may be an unpopular truth, but it is not less true because of that…

Tamura wrote on a similar subject in his own blog back on 21 March 2011, in “‘Start with what you know.’” [Please note, this site will not open using Internet Explorer 8 or lower.] In this post, he asserts that “Start with what you know,” often the first advice given to beginning genealogists, is inaccurate. He continues,

The first thing a beginning genealogists needs to be told isn’t to write down who their parents and grandparents are. The first thing a beginning genealogists needs to be told is that you have to question what you think you know. The first thing beginning genealogists need to be reminded of is that assumptions aren’t facts.

In today’s world, where few people have done DNA tests, that does not mean telling them to write down who their parents and grandparents are, it means explaining to them that they do know who their parents and grandparents are.

Despite the conviction with which Tamura states his opinions, they remain opinions. And where there are opinions, there are differences in opinion. Below I will describe my opinion.

There is a standard of proof in genealogy, aptly called the “Genealogical Proof Standard.” This standard, briefly stated, requires (1) the collection of evidence, (2) the analysis of evidence, and (3) the formation of a logical conclusion based on the evidence. The Standard does not require specifically biological (DNA) evidence in order to form a conclusion. It does not even require direct evidence. Published case studies provide numerous examples of logical conclusions based solely on indirect evidence.

To assert that DNA testing is the only way to “prove” parental connections may seem cutting-edge, but is in fact rather naive and, in my opinion, rather lazy. It is equivalent to those beginning genealogists who require direct evidence to “prove” a parental connection. Requiring DNA evidence takes this reliance on direct evidence to its strictest possible extreme. In my professional experience, I have worked on hundreds of different client research projects, and in every single one of them, there was at least one parental connection where direct evidence simply did not exist. This would be even more frequent if DNA evidence were required. If I were to guess, I believe that most ancestral lines simply have no DNA-testing option.

How can documentary evidence be as effective as biological (DNA) evidence?

Here is the documentary evidence that my parents are my parents:

1. My birth certificate names my parents as my parents. This is direct evidence created contemporaneously with the event by parties directly involved in the event (assuming my parents filled out the birth certificate themselves).

2. My parents have both independently, and on many separate occasions, told me directly that they are my parents and that I am their son. This is again primary information providing direct evidence.

3. Other witnesses, including my grandparents and my parents’ siblings, have independently, and on many separate occasions, told me directly that my parents are my parents. This is secondary information providing corroborating direct evidence.

4. I personally remember living with my parents as a child. This is primary information, though indirect evidence of who my parents are.

5. I bear a striking physical resemblance to my father. This may be an opinion, but is commonly shared by many independent observers. Even as recently as ten years ago, when I would walk down the street in my grandparents’ neighborhood, neighbors who knew my father recognized me as being his son.

6. No evidence that my parents are not my parents has ever been located. This provides negative evidence that my parents are my parents.

Of course, with all of the involved parties still living, evidence is available for this case that will not be available for many cases. But none of the evidence cited above involved swabbing my cheek or otherwise providing a DNA sample. Yet the assertion that my parents are my parents is a logical conclusion based on this evidence. I could make similar arguments for my relationships to my grandparents, and though the evidence changes with each generation, all of my “proven” ancestors.

How reliable is this documentary evidence? Well, it just so happens that I did take a Y-DNA test (37 markers) several years ago. All of my close DNA matches bore the surnames HOYT or HAIGHT, both “proven” variants of my surname HAIT. My closest DNA matches shared my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. DNA testing confirmed ten generations of my ancestry, previously proved with documentary evidence.

So if Tamura’s assertions were as “true” as he claims, I would not have been able to prove any of these generations with any certainty prior to taking the DNA test. Not having tested any of my other lines through DNA surrogates, I still feel confident in my conclusions.

There is, of course, one caveat that supports Tamura’s “scientific” opinion. Occasionally, DNA testing reveals what is called a “non-paternity event” (NPE). This is most often concluded when a Y-DNA test leads to a surname other than the one that the testing male bears. Though I do not have exact statistics, I believe that these are relatively rare when compared with the total number of testers.

Contradictory evidence is not a new concept, however. The Genealogical Proof Standard requires that researchers incorporate any newly-acquired evidence into each conclusion. A non-paternal event revealed by DNA testing is not the only evidence that one might discover that overturns one’s previous conclusions. It would be treated in the same way that any contradictory documentary evidence would be.

Genealogists must consider and evaluate all evidence when forming conclusions. DNA testing provides one form of evidence, but by no means the only reliable evidence. At least in my opinion, this is a fact.

Why I Never Rush a Research Job (and Neither Should You)

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the Final Draft Communications blog in my post, “Writing a genealogical case study–Sell the research!” Last week, on 12 June 2011, the post “Why I Never Rush a Writing Job (and Neither Should You)” appeared on the FDC blog.

In this blog post, professional copywriter Karen Marcus writes, “if you do have a choice, avoid rushing a writing job. If you don’t, your quality of work and quality of life will both decline.” Ms. Marcus continues, to address several reasons why:

  • Spotty Research. “Sometimes it takes awhile to get in touch with subject matter experts, to find just the right statistic online, or to receive pertinent reference materials from coworkers. When bombarding people with voice mails and e-mails doesn’t work, you end up developing your piece with missing information…”
  • Lackluster Drafts. “When you don’t have all the information you need, you don’t have much to base your writing job on, and your piece becomes lackluster, unconvincing, and useless to the target audience.”
  • Insufficient Reviews. “If you don’t run the document by everyone who needs to see it, you can bet those people will contribute edits…after the document is published.”
  • Loss of Incubation Time. “Incubation time is something writers and those who work with them don’t always consider, yet it is so important. Being able to look at a document with fresh eyes is critical for catching errors and inconsistencies.”
  • More Work Later. “I say, do it right the first time.”

The rush jobs that Ms. Marcus is really discussing in this post are writing jobs “that [need] to be done YESTERDAY!!!!!” But all of the same issues arise when a professional genealogist rushes through a research job.

Spotty research: The relevance of this should be obvious to all. Research is what we do. If we are rushing through a job, then chances are that we are doing the following:

  • Checking published and indexed sources only.
  • Limiting our search to direct evidence.
  • Not fully collecting, analyzing, and correlating all evidence to form complete conclusions.

A rush research job limits our ability to research thoroughly. According to the Board for the Certification of Genealogists, the Genealogical Proof Standard consists of five “elements”:

  • a reasonably exhaustive search;
  • complete and accurate source citations;
  • analysis and correlation of the collected information;
  • resolution of any conflicting evidence; and
  • a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.[1]

Checking only published and indexed sources, and limiting our searches to only direct evidence do not meet the first element: that of a “reasonably exhaustive search.” By not fully collecting, analyzing, and correlating all evidence, we will not meet the third and fourth elements.

If our research does not meet the Genealogical Proof Standard, then any conclusions that we form should be considered less reliable.

Lackluster Drafts: This goes hand-in-hand with Spotty Research. The fifth and final element of the GPS is to form a logically reasoned written conclusion. This usually comes in the form of a written proof summary (for those rare instances where we have direct evidence and no contradictory evidence) or a written proof argument (when more explanation is needed, as in cases where contradictory evidence must be explained, or cases built on the sum of all indirect evidence).

Rushing through the research usually means forming a conclusion, and writing a proof summary or argument, based on incomplete evidence. Such a conclusion would not be representative of our work, nor would it be able to be considered reliable.

Furthermore, if we rush to publish this research, our conclusions may be rightfully challenged and disproved, which may even damage our professional reputations.

Insufficient Reviews and Loss of Incubation Time: Writers are often told, when self-editing, to put your writing aside and look at it with fresh eyes later. I would give the same advise to genealogists:

Put your research aside, turn it sideways, and look at it later. Sometimes looking at the same documents with fresh and new eyes will allow you to see the same information in new ways. This may prove exactly what you need to solve even the toughest research problems.

Failure to take our time and look at things fully, to squeeze every bit of information we can, out of every record we find, is exactly how brickwalls are built.

More Work Later: “I say, do it right the first time.” No more needs to be said.

[1] “The Genealogical Proof Standard,” Board for Certification of Genealogists (http://www.bcgcertification.org/resources/standard.html : accessed 19 Jun 2011).

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