Archive for the ‘Research Skills’ Category

How Not to Become Certified, part one

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for more…

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


The top 5 books on my bookshelf

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

Here are my five, in ascending order:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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