Archive for the ‘Research Skills’ Category

Source Citations: Getting it “Right,” part one

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

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

This format contains several parts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more:

Source Citations: Why Form Matters, part three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BEST – Evidence Explained to the letter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are my sources original? Who cares?

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

So what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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?

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.

Concept Map for Genealogical Research

I haven’t forgotten my promise to include my review of the Ancestry.com webinar on African-American research.  Been so busy lately.  My own course on African-American genealogical research is now available at GenClass.  Take a look if you are interested in this subject at all.  The first session will begin April 1.
I really wanted to mention & post a link to a great video that Dan Lawyer created for his blog, Taking Genealogy to the Common Person.  It is a quick and simple “concept map” view of genealogy — its goals & methods.  Very nice!
I know this is a short entry — is Twitter shortening my attention span?

Charting Social Relationships

Though every genealogy lecturer and “how to” book now espouses cluster genealogy — that is, of course, the extension of your research into the associates of your ancestors — no one seems to have come up with a good way to keep track of this.  The most important tools of the genealogist, i. e. the pedigree chart and the family group record, in fact, seem to tell us the opposite:  that the only “important” people are our direct ancestors, and possibly their siblings.  Why hasn’t anyone come up with an easy way to chart the social relationships so vital to cluster genealogy?
There are a few tools that can help us.  My personal choice in genealogy software, The Master Genealogist (now in version 7), seems best suited for this among the various software brands.  Most reviewers and users shy away from TMG due to what they call “a steep learning curve”, but in my opinion, once you figure it out, this is the most powerful and flexible program.  The large manual helps a lot, and I have personally called the author of the program and received step-by-step instructions for how to do a task I was having trouble with.  The feature of this software that is relevant to our current discussion is the “WITNESSES” tag, which allows you to connect indirect parties to any event.  These events will then display in the timeline view of both the direct parties and the witnesses.  Another feature that is new to version 7 is the “ASSOCIATES” view window.  This window can display on your screen alongside the timeline of events and family group windows, and lists the other parties to your ancestor’s events.
But these features, though a huge step in the right direction, still far short of allowing one to view the social dynamics of our ancestor’s world — the true goal of cluster genealogy.
Another development — believe it or not — came not from the mind of a genealogist, but a psychologist!  Genograms were developed by family therapists as a way of charting family relationships.  These genograms share the basic form of a descendant chart for three generations (children, parents, and grandparents), but also allow for additional connections to be made with non-relatives.  Each link is coded according to the type of emotional relationship; for example, “close”, “friends”, “estranged”, “bitter”, etc.  While this can help in providing context when discernible, it will be difficult for the genealogist to take full advantage of this aspect of the process.  However, the allowance to attach additional associates and connections is a strength that should be pursued further.  The software GenoPro is designed to closely follow the genogram process, and has an extremely graphical interface, but falls short in its power as a pure genealogy program.
Personally, I have tried several other options.  MS PowerPoint has an organization chart template that works relatively well, but the limitation to the size of the “slide” will not work when attempting to chart a relatively large social group.  I have had better success using MS Word, with its WordArt functions, to draw circles and lines.  The text and page size can be adjusted as needed, but it is also a very time-consuming process.
I have found a potential solution in — once again — another field.  The mindmapping software CAYRA (www.cayra.net) was designed for “mindmapping”-style brainstorming and note-taking, but appears to be almost perfectly suited for the task at hand.  A little bit of tweaking, and I think it would be perfect.  I recommend all who are interested to download the free software and use it, at least for its intended purpose for which it is quite useful.
There is to my knowledge no other solution to this problem, but there is a demand for the solution!  Software programmers — if you are reading this — what are you waiting for?

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