Archive for July, 2011

Five things you have to know about every record

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

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

1. Why was the record created?

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

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

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

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

2. Who created the record?

Specifically, what agency or official?

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

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

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

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

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

All of these can affect the reliability of the record.

3. Who provided the information?

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

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

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

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

4. How did you get the record?

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

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

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

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

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

5. What are the alternatives?

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

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

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

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

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


A Friend of Friends Friday: Manumissions of Sam Snowden’s family, District of Columbia

This post is written as part of the weekly “A Friend of Friends Friday” genealogy blogging meme. Visit the GeneaBloggers shared Google Reader list for additional entries from this and other blogs.

In 1829, two records appear in the manumission register of Anne Arundel County, Maryland:

To all whom it may concern, Be it known, that I Thomas Snowden of Anne Arundel County in the State of Maryland, for divers good causes and considerations me thereunto moving, and also in further consideration of One dollar current money of the United States in hand paid, have released from slavery, liberated, manumitted & set free, & by these presents do hereby release from slavery, liberate, manumit & set free, my negro woman Viney, being of the age of [___] years, the wife of negro Samuel, commonly known by the name of Sam Snowden, of George Town in the District of Columbia, which said negro woman is able to work & gain a sufficient livelihood & maintenance and the aforesaid negro Viney I do hereby declare to be henceforth free, manumitted & discharge from all manner of servitude to me, my executors, administrators or assigns forever. In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand & seal this ninth day of June 1829.

Thomas Snowden

Signed, Sealed and delivered in presence of Stephen Beard [,] W H Woodfield

On the back of the aforegoing was thus endoresed, to wit:

Received on the day of the date herein before mentioned the sum of one dollar, it being the consideration in full above mentioned.

Thomas Snowden

Witness. Nicholas Dorsey of Lloyd.

Maryland Sct. Anne Arundel County to wit

On the twenty first day of September 1829 personally appeared Thomas Snowden part to the within deed of manumission, before me the subscriber a Justice of the peace for the County aforesaid, and acknowledged the same to be his act & deed for the purpose therein mentioned, and the said negro within named, to be henceforth manumitted and discharged from all services to him, or to any claiming under him, and to be free & manumitted according to the act of assembly in such case made and provided.

Acknowledged before Nicholas Dorsey of Lloyd.

Record the 15th day of October 1829[1]

Followed by this deed:

Whereas I Thomas Snowden of Anne Arundel County in the State of Maryland did heretofore promise & agree to, & with, Saml. Snowden a free black man (the husband of my slave Viney) of George Town in the District of Columbia, to set free & manumit the following Children of the said Saml. and his wife (who I have this day & year hereinafter mentioned, manumitted & set free) To wit, one Girl named Ellen aged about thirteen years one named Pricilla aged about ten years & one Boy named Peter aged about 14 months. In consideration that the said father had ever since their respective births been at the sole expence of supporting, maintaining, & clothing them. And whereas the said Children, by reason of their minority cannot at this time be manumitted, I have agreed with the said Samuel, in order to carry into affect my said agreement as far as in my power to execute these presents. Now know all men by these presents that I the said Thos. Snowden in consideration of the aforesaid premises, and also in further consideration of the sum of five dollars (money of the United States) to me in hand paid by the said Samuel, at & before the sealing and delivering of these presents, the receipt wherof I do hereby acknowledge and also upon the further considerations herein after specified, have granted, bargained & sold, and by these presents do grant, bargain & sell unto the said Samuel his executors, administrators & assigns his said three Children untill the said Girls shall each attain the full age of Sixteen (16) years and untill the said Boy shall attain the age of twenty one (21) years, when they & each of them may be able to work and gain a livelihood and maintenance; at which said respective times it is hereby understood & agreed that the said three Children are to be free and manumitted & discharged from all manner of servitude to the said Thomas & Samuel or either of them or their securities, administrators or assigns – and also this further condition that the said Samuel his executors, administrators or assigns shall during the said respective terms of servitude of the said Children find them comfortable maintenance & clothing – and that the said Samuel may with approbation of the Orphans Court of Washington County of said District of Columbia bind them out to some usefull trade, or occupation for any time not longer than till full age, that is to say the Said Girls to Sixteen (16) years of age, & the Boy to twenty one (21). And also on this further consideration that the said Samuel his securities administrators or assigns shall not send or carry the said Children or either of them out of the County & District aforesaid; And also on this further condition that immediately on the arrival of the said Girls at the said ages of sixteen years, and the Boy at the age of twent yone they & each of them are to be & are hereby released, & liberated, manumitted and set free from all manner of slavery & servitude whatsoever, to the said Thomas & Samuel or either of them, or their securities, administrators or assigns forever. And the said Thomas Snowden for himself his securities & administrators doth hereby further covenant & agree to & with the said Samuel Snowden his securities administrators & assigns, and each of them, that he the said Thomas Snowden, his executors & administrators or any of them shall and will at all times hereafter at the request of the said Samuel Snowden his executors administrators or assigns, at his or their cost & charge make execute or cause to be made executed, delivered & acknowledged all and every such further and other act, deed or assurance, for the better & more perfect conveying and transferring the service of the said three Children during the said term herein before expressed and for the more effectual manumission of the said three Children at the several and respective ages herein before mentioned as the said Samuel Snowden his executors, administrators or assigns shall direct or require for the more effectual transfering and making over the service of the three Children during the several and respective term of years herein before mentioned, and for the manumission of them, & each of them at their arrival at the ages herein before mentioned. In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand & seal this ninth day of June 1829.

Thomas Snowden

Signed, Sealed and delivered in the presence of Stephen Beard[,] W H Woodfield

On the back of the aforegoing was thus written to wit:

Received on the day of the date above mentioned of the said Samuel Snowden the sum of five dollars being the consideration in full as above mentioned.

Thomas Snowden

Witness. Stephen Beard[,] W H Woodfield

Maryland Sct. Anne Arundel County to wit

On this ninth day of June 1829 personally appeared Thomas Snowden the party to the aforesaid deed, before the subscriber a Justice of the peace for the County aforesaid, and acknowledges the same to be his act and deed for the purposes therein mentioned and intended and that the said three negro Children therein named and thereby bargained and sold for the said terms of years and thereafter to be freed and discharged from all services to him or to any claiming under him according to the act of assembly in such case made & provided.

Acknowledged before

Stephen Beard

Recorded the 16th day of October 1829[2]

These two records provide wonderful insight into this family.

It records a marriage of a free black man with an enslaved woman. This caused great difficulty for their children, as the second record expresses. Though their father was free, the children of enslaved mothers bore the status of their mother, and were thus born into slavery. Furthermore, unlike their mother, the children could not be manumitted as minors. Therefore, in order that Sam Snowden (who the deed notes was financially responsible for their care from the time of their birth) could have legal custody of his children, their owner Thomas Snowden had to sell them to their father under terms of service until they each reached legal adulthood, then to be manumitted. This had to have been belittling.

On the other hand, Thomas Snowden, the owner of Viney and the Snowden children, was not required by law to do such. In fact, during this time the interstate slave trade (the “Second Middle Passage”) witnessed hundreds of thousands of slaves being sold from the Upper South, especially Maryland and Virginia, to the developing “Cotton Belt” states like Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. Thomas Snowden could have legally sold Samuel’s family to the Deep South to never be seen again. That he did not do this, but actually released Viney and the children into Samuel’s care for barely more than the required clerk’s fees ($1 and $5 for the two deeds, respectively), is almost a credit to Thomas.

Of course, though the 1830 U. S. Census no longer remains extant for Anne Arundel County, the 1840 U. S. Census credits Thomas Snowden of Anne Arundel County, Maryland, as the owner of fourteen (14) slaves. These fourteen people were not as fortunate as the Snowden family. [3]

Samuel Snowden appears in the 1830 U. S. Census living in Georgetown, in the District of Columbia, about a year after these deeds were recorded. In his household were the following:

  • 1 “free colored” male, aged under 10 years
  • 1 “free colored” male, aged 55 to 100 years
  • 2 “free colored” females, aged 10 to 24 years
  • 1 “free colored” female, aged 36 to 55 years[4]

This is exactly the composition of this family as recorded in the above deeds.

Moving backward, we find that Samuel Snowden is also enumerated in Georgetown in the 1820 U. S. Census. This year, the following people resided in his household:

  • 2 female slaves, aged under 14 years
  • 1 female slave, aged 26 to 45 years
  • 1 “free colored” male, aged 26 to 45 years[5]

This shows that, even though his wife and daughters were still enslaved at this point, they indeed lived in his household, rather than that of their legal owner, Thomas Snowden. This was extremely rare during this early time period.

Unfortunately, the family has not been located in any subsequent deeds, so the later lives of Samuel and Viney Snowden and their children are unknown.


[1] Anne Arundel County, Maryland, Manumission Record, Book C 3, pp. 440-441; Maryland State Archives microfilm no. CR 79178.

[2] Anne Arundel County Manumission Record, C 3: 441-444.

[3] 1840 U. S. Census, Anne Arundel County, Maryland, folio 208, line 13, Thomas Snowden household; digital images, ( : accessed 29 July 2011); citing NARA microfilm publication M704, roll 157, FHL microfilm no. 13,182.

[4] 1830 U. S. Census, District of Columbia, folio 182, line 6, Samuel Snowden household; digital images, ( : accessed 29 July 2011); citing NARA microfilm publication M19, roll 14, FHL microfilm no. 6,699.

[5] 1820 U. S. Census, District of Columbia, page 27, line 11, Samuel Snowden household; digital images, ( : accessed 29 July 2011); citing NARA microfilm publication M33, roll 5.

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “A Friend of Friends Friday: Manumissions of Sam Snowden’s family, District of Columbia,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 23 Jul 2011 ( : accessed [access date]).

Every minute on the web…

Earlier this month, a very interesting post appeared in Velvet Chainsaw’s Midcourse Corrections entitled, “Every 60 Seconds These 21 Things Happen On the Internet.” It is pretty short, but includes a beautiful infographic from Shanghai Web Designers.

For copyright interests, I will not reprint the entire 21-point list here, but I invite you all to read the post using the link above.

Several of these items are particularly interesting as an Internet genealogist in general but also as a self-employed small business owner and as a professional researcher.

    • The search engine Google serves more than 694,445 queries

How often do you repeat your genealogy-related Google searches? The way that Google’s search algorithm works (at least the last time I read on the subject — it may have changed, so if someone knows better, please correct me), the more hits a site gets, the higher its search ranking.

With well over a half-million searches every single minute, it is possible that a site that did not show up (or showed up too far down the list for you to find) could find its search ranking improved and move up the search results. This means that a site that was barely visible before could now be made visible.

    • 70 new domains are registered

Do you plan on creating a website? If so, you’d better check on the availability of your ideal domain name and reserve it, before it’s too late! ; )

    • 1,600+ reads are made on Scribd

Are you familiar with Scribd — a great platform for creating and publishing ebooks?

  • As a researcher, I found on Scribd a published transcription of a young woman’s diary from the small town of Lynn Haven, Florida — a diary that just happened to have been written by a young friend of my great-grandfather (who also appears to have had a crush on his younger brother). Reading this was wonderful!
  • I always upload flyers for the genealogy events where I will be appearing, as well as other local events where I will not be speaking, to Scribd. From there I can tweet and post the link on Facebook, etc., to share with others.
  • As an author, I use Scribd to sell electronic copies of all of my books.
  • As a publisher, I use Scribd to distribute copies of all of the 1867 Texas voter registration lists that I have published as PDF “e-books.”

If you are not already using Scribd, please take a look. And be sure to run a search for some of your surnames. You may be surprised at what you find, just like I was!

Also take a look at the remaining items on this list of what happens online in a single minute. I would love to hear your thoughts on these, as both Internet users and as online genealogists. Could any of these statistics change the way you leverage your Internet use?

SOURCE: Hurt, Jeff. “Every 60 Seconds These 21 Things Happen On the Internet.” Velvet Chainsaw’s Midcourse Corrections. Posted 11 Jul 2011. : 2011.

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “Every minute on the web…,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 29 Jul 2011 ( : accessed [access date]).

A Friend of Friends Friday: James Aldridge of Prince George’s County, Maryland

I generally do not participate in many of the common genealogy blogging prompts. However, I recently discovered that several other bloggers had started the new “A Friend of Friends” theme. This theme provides information on former African American slaves, as reported in the records of slave holders.

Last year, the website A Friend of Friends debuted with exactly this goal. I was an active contributor to this site, providing transcriptions of several records related to slaves:

Unfortunately, due to health problems in the family of the administrator, this website has not been updated since 19 April 2010. I am thrilled to discover that other bloggers have picked up this torch and continued the “Friend of Friends” tradition.

As my first contribution, I would like to offer a transcription of the will and codicil of James Aldridge, of Prince George’s County, Maryland, dated 12 April 1833 and 16 April 1833, respectively:


I James Aldridge of Prince George county, in the state of Maryland, being in good health of body, and of sound and disposing mind, and Memory; but at the same time, aware of the uncertainty of Life, and the certainty of Death; and desirous of making all needful preparations for its approach whenever it shall please my Heavenly Father to call me out of this Life, Do therefore make, declare, and publish this my last will and testament, in the Manner, and form following, that is to say,

First, with an humble reliance upon the Mercy of God through my blessed Redeemer I resign my soul to his disposal whenever it shall be his will to take me hence, and also my frail body to the Earth to be interred decently at the discretion and under the Direction of my Executor herein after named.

Item. It is my will, and desire that the plantation whereon I now live, part of “Tuckers Cultivation, and all my real Estate, shall be sold by my Executor immediately after my Decease, or as soon as may be done with convenience, and the monies and proceeds […] arising from the sales thereof shall be equally divided amongst the children of my deceased brother Jacob Aldridge, and my deceased sister Elizabeth Jones: and my sister Eleanor Belt if living at the time of my Death; if not, her children shall receive what was intended for her, and here to prevent any mistake, or misunderstanding in the Construction of this Clause of my will, I declare it to be my will, and intention that one third of the monies, and proceeds of my plantation aforesaid and of real Estate herein directed to be sold by my Exe cutor; shall be given to the Children of my deceased brother Jacob Aldridge; on third to the children of my deceased sister Elizabeth Jones; and the remaining third to my sister Eleanor Belt if she survive me; if not, then to her children; to be divided equally amongst them, share and share alike

Item. It is my will, and desire that all my personal Estate except my Slaves, shall also be sold by my Executor, and after all my just debts, and funeral expences shall have been paid, the proceeds, and monies arising from the sale of my personal estate directed to be sold, shall likewise be divided amongst the Children of my deceased brother Jacob Aldridge, and the children of my deceased sister Elizabeth Jones, and my sister Eleanor Belt if living at the time of my Death – if not, then her share to be equally divided amongst her children, and this clause of my will, is to be understood, and administered and executed in the manner provided for, and directed for the division of the proceeds of the Real Estate – that is to say, it my will and intention that one third of the monies, and proceeds of the Sales of the personal Estate shall be given to the children of my deceased brother Jacob Aldridge one third to the Children of my deceased sister Elizabeth Jones; and one third to my sister Eleanor Belt, if she survive me – if not, then to her children; to be equally divided amongst them, share, and share alike.

Item. It is my will and desire, and I do, by this my last Will and testament emancipate and set free all my Slaves in as full and ample a manner as I legally may; and my Executor is hereby required to discharge all of the said slaves immediately after my decease. And finally, I appoint my brother Andrew Aldridge and Dr. Henry Culver the Executors of this my last will testament. In witness in hereof I have hereunto set my Hand and affixed my seal the twelvth day of April in the year of our Lord 1833.

James Aldridg [seal]

Signed and sealed in presence of

J. C. Herbert

John Cool

Wm. Jones


April 16th 1833

when I had my will rote I for got some things that I wish to put in the will that is I wish to left marien bels childre fifty dollar a peace nex is to lef an old woman lyd five dollars a year as long as she lived in money or cloas next is to left all my wuoman over fifteen years twenty dollars a peace to be paid to them buy my exequter or adminasrater when they are dis starege this I wish to be to be put in the will when recorded givein under my hand and [it is my wish it cant be left out]

James Aldridge [seal]

[SOURCE: Prince George’s County, Maryland, Estate Papers, James Aldridge file, original will & codicil (1833); MSA C2119-1-7, MdHR 50,822; Maryland State Archives, Annapolis, Maryland. Transcribed by Michael Hait on 24 March 2009. Emphasis added.]

The estate file that holds the above original will and codicil contains several additional records that detail the administration of the estate. Several of these records specifically relate to the slaves named (and unnamed) in the will and codicil. Rather than transcribing all of them, the information has been abstracted here:

  • 1834 Jun 5. Letter from A. Aldridge to Dr. H. Culver: “Dear Sir, I recd, your letter of 2 Inst. with a copy of my Brother James will. I see he has named me as one of his executors & you the other. It will be out of my power to act therefore I relinquish my Right to you & hope you will take out letters of administration, as I am sure the heirs will be pleased. I have made the enquiry respecting the slaves they are free. There is not law preventing a person from setting his slaves free. The Sheriff of the county may if he chooses send them out of the state, but it never has been done as yet & perhaps never will. The negros perhaps will be compelled to get permission every 6 months from one of the Judges of the County Court to remain in state & even that will not be attended to or looked after by any one. You may depend on this as being correct. Very Respectfully, Your &c., A. Aldridge”
  • 1834 Aug 12. Receipt. To Thomas F. Bowie, for “my opinion on relation to the codicil to the last will & Testament of said Aldridge.”
  • 1836 Apr 27. First additional account of Henry Culver executor of James Aldridge late of sd county decd. Cash recd for interest on debts collected. Payments & disbursements to Lidy Gibson for annuity for one year, ditto for 1835 & part of 1836, to Hagar Crutches, Sarah Hepburn, Rebecca Herbert, & Julia Ford, in full for specific legacy to them; to P. Chew, Regr of Wills. Recorded PC 2:189.
  • 1835 Aug 8. Receipt. To Lidia Gibson [her mark], for pension or annual allowance “left me by said James Aldridge my late master for the past year”. Witn. C. H. Brashears.
  • 1836 Feb 15. Receipt. To Liddy Gibson [her mark], for annuity bequeathed. Test. Joseph I. Jones.
  • 1835 May 13. Receipt. To Hagar Crutches [her mark], Sarah Hepburn [her mark], Rebecca Herbert [her mark], Julia Ford [her mark], “for a legacy bequeathed each of us by the said James Aldridge (our late Master)”. Witn. Joseph I. Jones.
  • 1836 Sep 13. Final account of Henry Culver, Executor of James Aldridge late of said county deceased. Interest recd. of Francis King, Thos. Merson, Elizabeth Snowden, Jos. I. Jones, John Merson, Homara Donaldson, R. B. Mulliken, Mark Duvall, Wm. Jones. Cash recd. of Thos. McAbee & James Owens, Elijah Donaldson. Interest “on this accountants note, due the deceased from 13th day of February 1834 to 13 Sep 1835.” Payments & disbursements to Sheriff for fees, Philemon Chew, retained by accountant to pay annuity to negro, John B Brooke Esq. Distribution: To Mary Ellen Beall, daughter of Maria Beall, legacy. To Richard Beall, son of Maria Beall, legacy. To children of Jacob Aldridge, one-third part, vizt. Ann J. Aldridge, Caroline Aldridge, Washington Aldridge, Martha J. Aldridge, Christy Trunnel. To children of Elizabeth Jones, one-third part, vizt. William Jones, Matilda Mitchell, Samuel A. Jones, Pamela A. Culver. To Eleanor Belt, wife of Richard W. Belt, one-third part. Test. P. Chew Regr. [[obliterated:] repeats above, but states “Christa Trunnel wife of Wm. Trunnel”] Recorded PC 2:213-214.

James Aldridge’s estate inventory does not identify any slaves. After all, James manumitted them all with his will. They would therefore not be appraised as part of his estate after their manumission. Neither does James’s will identify any slaves (other than “old woman lyd”) by name.

This file is a perfect illustration of why researchers must review all documents relevant to the slave owners, not just the will and inventory/appraisement. The receipts held within this file and the account of the administration of the estate both identify at least five women formerly owned as a slave by James Aldridge: Lidia/Liddy Gibson, Hagar Crutches, Sarah Hepburn, Rebecca Herbert, and Julia Ford. These five women’s lives might have completely disappeared were it not for the papers of this estate.

For other “A Friend of Friends Friday” posts, visit the GeneaBloggers shared Google Reader list.

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “A Friend of Friends Friday: James Aldridge of Prince George’s County, Maryland,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 23 Jul 2011 ( : accessed [access date]).

Source Citations: Why Form Matters, part four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No other style does it better.

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


[1] “What Is MLA Style?,” Modern Language Association ( : accessed 20 July 2011).

[2] American Psychological Association, “About APA Style,” APA Style ( : accessed 20 July 2011).

[3] American Psychological Association, “Why is there a specific APA Style?,” APA Style ( : accessed 20 July 2011).

[4] “Why Are There Different Citation Styles?,” Yale College Writing Center ( : accessed 20 July 2011).

[5] “Article Submission Guidelines,” Journal of American History ( : accessed 20 July 2011).

So, are you ready for certification?

I have been absolutely amazed at the responses to my last two posts. My intention was to give people a glimpse “behind the curtain,” to see the actual judging process for themselves, as well as raise awareness of some common mistakes. If you have not yet read them, you can read part one here and part two here.

I just want to also remind people that this was an unsuccessful application. My recent successful application is much different.

So, after reading these posts, do you feel ready for certification?

The Board for the Certification of Genealogists offers a short checklist on its website, entitled, “Are You Ready for Certification?” I would recommend that everyone interested in becoming certified go through this checklist to test your readiness. Be honest with yourself though. If you exaggerate your qualifications, you are only hurting yourself.

The BCG also offers other resources to help you in your goal. You should definitely take advantage of all of these as learning opportunities.

1. Read the Application Guide thorougly. Be sure that you understand all of the requirements. Practice them. For example, take a handful of records from your private collection and transcribe them, abstract them, and perform the other “Document Work” requirements. Use a wide variety of record types — deeds, wills, tax lists, census records, etc. If you are not currently conducting client research, take a few of you own research problems and write them up as if you were conducting the research for a client. The BCG also provides two practice records on their website, with the Document work completed. The full Application Guide is available online here.

2. Study the Judging Rubrics. If you have practiced parts of your application on your own, try honestly evaluating these parts according to the rubrics. The best part of the rubrics (in my opinion) is that they state plainly which of the BCG Standards are applicable to each evaluation. You can read the rubrics online here.

3. Read and understand the BCG Standards Manual. A very active and enlightening discussion took place on the Transitional Genealogists Forum mailing list beginning in January 2010. This discussion went through the BCG Standards one by one, with discussion from many Board-certified genealogists, professional genealogists, and “transitional” genealogists. You can see the start of this discussion here. A new thread was started for each individual standard following this one, so you may have to go back to the list archives index to find them all. However, I would credit this discussion with some of the understandings of the standards that I have come to. You can purchase The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual on, or purchase it directly from the BCG.

4. Read the books and articles suggested on the BCG’s “Supplemental Study List.” This list is available on the BCG’s website here. Several of these books were also mentioned in my blog post “The top 5 books on my bookshelf.” Of particular importance, in my opinion, are Elizabeth Shown Mills’s Evidence!, Christine Rose’s The Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case, and Numbering Your Genealogy: Basic Systems, Complex Families, and International Kin, by Joan F. Curran, Madilyn Coen Crane, and John H. Wray. This last book, published by the National Genealogical Society, will help you tremendously when writing your Kinship Determination Project. If you are a member of the National Genealogical Society, you will also want to be sure to read the special issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly dealing with evidence. This issue was published in September 1999 (vol. 87, no. 3), and can be read online by NGS members.

5. Consider a formal education program. The BCG has compiled a list of educational programs, including university-sponsored programs, institutes, major conferences, and independent study courses. This list can be read here.

6. Read the “Skillbuilding” articles. These articles provide some great tips for using specific record groups in great depth, tips for methodology, and other articles that will help to prepare you for the depth of research expected of Board-certified genealogists. These articles, originally printed in OnBoard, can be found on the BCG website here. Of particular interest to the readers of this series of posts is “Skillbuilding: A Judge’s Notes From an Application for CG,” which provides similar information from the perspective of a BCG judge.

7. Read the “Ten Tips for Success” article. This article shares some common elements with this blog post. It can be read here.

8. Study the Work Samples. Several examples of case studies, proof arguments, compiled genealogies, narrative lineages, and research reports have been posted on the BCG website here. Read them and study them. Compare them to the rubrics and standards, to see how they meet each one. And then apply the lessons you have learned to your own work.

9. Watch the seminar video. Thomas Jones, CG, and Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, present a seminar on becoming certified at various national conferences and institutes. If you have not attended the seminar in person, you can still benefit by watching the video. This video can be viewed on the BCG website here.

10. Read the “Application Strategies.” Five articles, originally published in the BCG’s OnBoard journal, have been reprinted on the BCG website. These articles specifically deal with the application process, from details on putting together the physical portfolio to a survey of a group of successful applicants. You can read these articles here.

In addition to all of the above resources provided by the Board itself, I would also make the following recommendations:

11. Join the Transitional Genealogists Forum mailing list. This list often has some great discussions, as noted above on the BCG Standards, and as noted before when discussing citations in my post “Source Citations: Why Form Matters, part one.” The list is extremely welcoming of genealogists of all levels, and is frequented by many professional and Board-certified genealogists, including Elizabeth Shown Mills, Elissa Scalise Powell, Thomas Jones, and others! The Archives of the mailing list comprise another great source for information, as we discuss issues relevant to conducting professional-level genealogical research. Details of this Rootsweb-hosted mailing list can be seen here.

12. Join a study group. The ProGen Study Group is great for those aspiring professional genealogists who are considering certification. This 18-month program take an in-depth look at the book Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians, edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills. Each month studies an individual chapter with a practical assignment for each, including several that will help you with the basics of establishing a business. Other assignments help with evidence analysis and writing a proof argument. A second useful study group meets monthly to discuss a selected article from the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. This group picks apart the article and discusses what went right, what went wrong, what could have been explained better, etc. There is not currently a website, but you can obtain more information by sending an email to the coordinator, Sheri Fenley.

There is, of course, no amount of education and practice than can guarantee success. Some people may be able to succeed without all of the preparatory steps I note above. Others may be able to perform all of these tasks and not succeed the first time. But stick with it if you are interested. The judges comments are a great learning experience in and of themselves, as noted in the previous post.

If you think you are ready to begin certification, go ahead and submit your Preliminary Application. You have a full year to complete the portfolio, and during that time you will have access to the BCG-ACTION mailing list for help on preparing the application itself, as well as a complimentary subscription to OnBoard. If you are not ready after the first year, you can always request an extension, at the cost of $50 per year. It is better to pay $50 for the extension and succeed, than to pay $220 to fail.

So, are you ready for certification?

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “So, are you ready for certification?,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 17 Jul 2011 ( : accessed [access date]).

How Not to Become Certified, part two

I promised in my post “How Not to Become Certified, part one,” to share some of the judge’s comments from my unsuccessful 2007 application to the Board for the Certification of Genealogists. I feel that this can be a valuable learning experience for those planning their own application for certification. Read the first post for my own opinions as to why that portfolio was unsuccessful.

Please note that the judging system in use at that time is no longer used by the BCG. However, the judge’s comments are still appropriate. To learn about the current BCG judging process, read “The Judging Process” on the BCG website, and review the current evaluation rubrics.

This application received a mixed decision: one judge approved the application, two judges disapproved it. The BCG regulations require all mixed decisions to be reviewed by a fourth judge, whose decision is final. Below are comments from all four judges, both positive and negative, that address common problems that researchers have. I will not add my own commentary but allow the judge’s words to speak for themselves.

[Regarding “Understanding & use of contradictory evidence”] “While noted as contradictory, no resolution was offered…”

“Did not apply the Genealogical Proof Standard.”

“An efficient research plan would call for identifying the location prior to searching for a document.”

“The abstract has entirely too many abbreviations, and the style changes from naming the devisee first, to naming the property first.”

“The outline form for results works well.”

“The applicant consistently referred to the typescript extract of a letter as a transcript. As he demonstrated with the document work, a transcript is a full, word for word, copy of a document. These few lines, taken out of a letter, are not a transcript.”

“A lot of interesting information is still in the footnotes. Moving information from footnotes into the text would create a more interesting story.”

“The text hinted at discrepancies, but did not develop the proof.”

“It is disappointing ot read between the lines and see a competent genealogist, yet realize that the work presented in this portfolio does  not meet the BCG Standards for Certification. The problems with the Case Study and report could be rectified with experience and attention to detail. However, due to the fact there was no attempt to apply the Genealogical Proof Standard or write a proof summary in any part of the portfolio, this judge is unable to recommend approval.”

“Use a wide range of sources per standard 19.”

“Heavy reliance on derivative sources.”

“Some kinship proof weak, see standard 50.”

“Proof summary inadequate, insufficient discussion, see standard 41.”

“Need a wider range of sources, see standard 19.”

“[T]he applicatioin guide states that applicants should show which of the three formats they chose for the case study. This was not done and therefore creates another area of uncertainty for judges.”

“Judges do expect more biographical data and historical or cultural context in the Kinship-Determination report and the portfolio was weak in these areas.”

“Footnote 5 might also be a possibility [for creating a proof summary] as it summarizes indirect evidence for the parents of Mary Lusby, but it wasn’t developed into a proof summary.”

“The Kinship-Determination project was the weakest part of the portfolio. There was very little biographical information, the format was not a recommended style, and it lacked the required two proof summaries. Without demonstrations of proof summaries this portfolio cannot be approved.”

“It is unfortunate that although Mr. Hait has satisfactorily met many of the standards, several major ones are unmet and they are so serious that certification cannot be recommended. However, Mr. Hait is encouraged to learn from the judges’ comments, correct the noted deficiencies and omissions, and later apply with a new portfolio that demonstrates what he has learned.”

And I did just that.

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “How Not to Become Certified, part two,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 16 Jul 2011 ( : accessed [access date]).

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