Archive for May, 2011

Source Citations: Why Form Matters, part three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BEST – Evidence Explained to the letter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Are my sources original? Who cares?

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

So what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source Citations: Why Form Matters, part two

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

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

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

Source citations are important. I believe this.

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

Now, why would that be a good thing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This discussion will be continued…

“Rocking” as a genealogy lecturer

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

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

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

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

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

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

BCG Application Guide now available for free download

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A suggestion for FamilySearch…

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

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

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

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

“Maryland Probate Records,” database, ”FamilySearch” ([]); 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 ( 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 ( accessed March 25, 2011, entry for James C Allen, 2 April 1969; citing Wills Books, Prince George’s, Index to Wills and Administrations, 1698-1978, A-D. Image 15; Prince George’s County Courthouse, Landover, Maryland.

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

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

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

So, FamilySearch, are you listening?

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

Recent Family History survey results, part three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional survey results will be reviewed in future posts.

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