Archive for June, 2011

What Exactly Do I Research?

This post is inspired by the post, “What Exactly Do I Research?” by Marian Pierre-Louis in her blog, Marian’s Roots & Rambles (18 June 2011). In this post, Marian describes her research interests. I enjoyed this post quite a bit, and have decided to emulate Marian here. Some of you may think you know what I research, and some of you may not have the slightest idea. So consider this an introduction to my research. …

My main interest is in writing, but my main income comes through client research projects. There are several kinds of projects that I work on:

  • Document retrievals. If someone just needs records from Maryland or Delaware, and lives too far to obtain them for themselves, they will hire me to do so.
  • Lineage research. The vast majority of my research projects are for clients who simply want to trace their lineage, but either do not have the time, knowledge, or access to records, to do so for themselves.
  • Brickwall research. In many cases, clients have worked on a problem for years, and finally decide to hire someone to help them with breaking through the brick wall. This is my favorite kind of project. Sometimes I cannot break through the brickwall, but I do have a high rate of success.

I have conducted research throughout every county in Maryland, though I have the most experience in Prince George’s, Anne Arundel, and Baltimore counties, and Baltimore city. Recent projects have been located in Frederick, Charles, St. Mary’s, and Dorchester counties, in Maryland, and New Castle and Sussex counties, in Delaware.

However, I have also researched African American families around the country, including Texas (click here for an ongoing Texas case study), Louisiana, Mississippi, and Virginia. My own family (not African American) comes primarily from New York, Connecticut, Virginia, and North Carolina, and my wife’s family is primarily from Tennessee, Mississippi, and South Dakota.

Aside from my clients (and my own family, if I ever had time to research them anymore!), I have several research interests of my own.

My primary interests are in African American genealogy and the U. S. Civil War and “Reconstruction” eras. As much progress as has been made on all of these fronts, there are still so many unknown or little-known resources yet to be tapped. Tying into these interests are several other projects:

  • Record groups nationwide, no matter how large or small their focus, that provide direct evidence connecting slaves or former slaves with their slave owners. Beyond the use of these records that provide direct evidence, I am also working on a guide to using indirect evidence to identify the slave owners of former slaves.
  • Compensated emancipation in the border states. Especially the records of the Slave Claims Commissions, which were active in Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, and West Virginia, during and immediately following the U. S. Civil War.
  • Slavery in southern Maryland. For nearly five years, I have been collecting records concerning enslaved families in Prince George’s County, Maryland. This project has included Civil War service and pension records, probate records, bills of sale, runaway slave advertisements, vital records, federal census records, tax lists, and several other record groups concerning slaves and their owners. Some of these families will be the subjects of research case studies, and transcriptions / abstracts / indexes of some of the records will begin to be published later this year. Other segments of this research project will be appearing in magazine and journal articles, and presentations/webinars.

Another of my research interests is network theory. A multi-faceted and multidisciplinary study of how networks develop, network theory can be applied to the study of communities. The study of our ancestral communities has already been proven to aid our genealogical research, but I believe that network theory and its application to the development of these communities can take our field to a whole new level. A brief article that I wrote on the subject–though barely scratching the surface of the potential application of network theory–was published in the article “Small Worlds: Researching Social Networks,” published in the Sept/Oct 2009 issue of Family Chronicle magazine. These theories are also being applied in the above long-term project on the enslaved families of Prince George’s County.

Now you know a little more about me and my research.

For more information, you can visit my website, particularly the “Publications” page. Or use the links below for more on my recent books:

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “What Exactly Do I Research?,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 28 Jun 2011 ( : 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 ( : accessed [access date]).

SpeakerWiki is now SpeakerMix

On 10 May 2011, I posted an article entitled, “SpeakerWiki: What it is, and how you can use it.”

I just discovered that SpeakerWiki has now been renamed SpeakerMix. Neither the FAQ nor the Blog describes why this change was made. However, all of the information previously available on SpeakerWiki has been transferred to this new site. The old URL redirects to the new URL

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: If you do not have a paid subscription to, you can sign up for a free 7-day trial to view this image. The image is also available on The free index entry on (while not the image) is available using the following short link:

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, ( : 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, 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, ( : 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.


[1] The Chicago Manual of Style Online ( : 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: If you do not have a paid subscription to, you can sign up for a free 7-day trial to view this image. The image is also available on The free index entry on (while not the image) is available using the following short link:

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.

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