Archive for the ‘Research Standards’ Category

Free webinar tomorrow – “What is a ‘Reasonably Exhaustive Search’?”

There is still time to register for my webinar “What is a ‘Reasonably Exhaustive Search’?” Legacy Family Tree will be hosting this webinar, tomorrow (12 September 2012) at 2pm EDT.

The first requirement of the Genealogical Proof Standard is that we “complete a reasonably exhaustive search for all relevant records” related to our research objective. This presentation discusses what a “reasonably exhaustive search” entals, why this is necessary, and how to conduct a search. A case study explores how failing to identify all relevant records can lead to missing information and forming inaccurate conclusions about your ancestors’ lives.

To register visit http://www.legacyfamilytree.com/webinars.asp. You will receive a confirmation email after you complete the registration process.

Attendance at the webinar will be restricted to the first 1000 to sign in. There are already many more than this number registered, so it is important to sign in at least thirty (30) minutes early. If you are unable to attend the live webinar, the recording will be available to watch free on the Legacy Family Tree website for ten (10) days.

A more permanent copy of the lecture will be available for purchase on DVD directly from Legacy Family Tree here. Feel free to also pre-order the DVD  whether or not you can attend.

I look forward to seeing you there!

For more articles about conducting a “reasonably exhaustive search,” read:

You can also read any of the articles included in the category “Genealogical Proof Standard” on the right, for details about other very important research and analysis skills.

Those Genealogy Police are at it again!

Yesterday I received a horrible email from the Genealogy Police(tm).

Can you believe that they told me that I should use death certificates in my research? I don’t want to use death certificates! They are so gloomy. Genealogy is supposed to be fun!

And they said that court records would be a good source of information about my ancestors. If my ancestor was a criminal or was sued, well, I just don’t want to know about that.

The way that I do genealogy is perfectly fine. It makes for a great hobby! I can trace my family tree all the way back to Moses through Charlemagne, King Henry VIII, and I’m third cousins with Brad Pitt. (That explains my good looks.)

I don’t cite my sources for any of this because the “genealogy police” actually think that a citation should provide detail about my sources to an extent that would allow me or someone else to actually know what we had looked at. If I can’t do it their way, then I just won’t do it at all!

Besides, I’m just doing this for my kids anyway. I’m not a professional, and all I care about are the stories.

Now that I got all of that out of the way…

Obviously all of the above was written with tongue firmly in cheek. And I am sure that I have ticked a few people off. I apologize to all who are offended. But I felt that this was the only way to make my point.

Over the past two or three years I have read several blog posts that–believe it or not–are very similar to what I wrote above. These posts of course do not complain about someone telling them to use death certificates or court records (or any other record group). They complain that someone emailed them about a lack of documentation or faulty analysis or some other “standards” issue. Why is it that what I wrote above seems so over-the-top ridiculous, but these other posts get dozens of “likes” on Facebook and “attaboy” and “attagirl” comments? There is no difference.

When genealogists write about the need for standards in genealogy—yes, even for non-professionals—they are usually doing so to try to help.

Meeting standards does not suck the fun out of genealogy.

Meeting standards in your research—even if no one other than yourself ever knows it—increases your own personal confidence in the accuracy of your research. Whether you are in it as a professional or in it just for yourself (or your kids), you should care about the accuracy of your research. Do you want to research your family tree or someone else’s? Do you want to honor your ancestors or someone else’s?

Meeting standards in your research makes you a better researcher. The standards were written by professionals with decades of experience—those whose research skills have been repeatedly demonstrated and found to excel. Becoming a better researcher, in my opinion, makes genealogy even more fun. It opens doors. It breaks down brick walls. Becoming a better researcher allows you to identify with confidence far more ancestors than otherwise. These “new” ancestors all have their own lives and stories. If you love the stories (and who doesn’t), then more ancestors = more fun!

So who are the Genealogy Police anyway?

I’ve never seen them. I have been “doing genealogy” online since I was twenty years old. You can still find some of those old posts I wrote in 1997 or 1998 online. They don’t meet standards. I didn’t know there were standards. They don’t cite sources (though I sure wish they did so I could find some of that information now).

Despite all this, I have never been visited by the Genealogy Police. Never once have I been shot down by some genealogist with a pompous attitude telling me I was doing it wrong.

I have, on the other hand, received messages over the years from genealogists who helped me become the researcher I am today. They taught me about examining sources. They taught me about indirect evidence. They even taught me about citing sources.

But this may come down to perception. I wanted to learn. So I did not take criticism as negative, I took it constructively. I recognized my weaknesses and my mistakes, and I made the attempt to correct them.

I won’t say that there may not be some overzealous genealogists out there who attack people (always privately) about a comma or a semicolon or a faulty record or a disproven connection. They may exist. Luckily they have never emailed me.

So the next time the Genealogy Police visit you, please ask yourself: is this genealogist really attacking me, or are they trying to help?

The WikiTree Honor Code

My thanks to Dr. Bill Smith for bringing this to my attention by writing about the Code.[1]

I will admit that I rarely use collaborative genealogy sites. Nothing against the sites themselves–it just does  not often fit into my research plan. First, I have little time to research my own family and do not use online family trees for clients unless I am completely out of other options. Second, the online trees just don’t generally meet the standards of proof that I try to meet.

One of the leading collaborative sites in the market today–WikiTree–has recently instituted an “Honor Code.” This Honor Code is the first attempt of which I am aware that tries to bring research standards to online family trees. This nine-point Code addresses ethical concerns such as courtesy and privacy, and legal concerns such as copyright. In terms of research standards, it includes the following important point:

VIII. We cite sources. Without sources we can’t objectively resolve conflicting information.[2]

This one point in the WikiTree Honor Code actually addresses two of the five points of the Genealogical Proof Standard: that we cite our sources (obviously) and that we reconcile conflicting evidence caused by conflicting information.

I would like to commend the WikiTree team for making this first step in supporting genealogy research standards. I would also like to invite other collaborative genealogy sites to follow their lead to help make online genealogies more reliable in the future. This will do much to raise the overall quality of online genealogies.

SOURCES:

[1] Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith, “I support the WikiTree Wiki Genealogist Honor Code,” Springfield Genealogy Examiner, posted 29 June 2012 (http://www.examiner.com/article/i-support-the-wikitree-wiki-genealogist-honor-code : accessed 1 July 2012).

[2] “Wiki Genealogist Honor Code,” WikiTree (http://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Special:Honor_Code : accessed 1 July 2012).

Correlating information from multiple records

When trying to correlate information from multiple records to confirm the identity of the subject of the records, you will often find that the information does not agree completely. In these cases, the only way to identify the subjects as those you are researching may be to correlate all of the information contained in the two records, as a whole.

Consider the following case, for example:

In the 1880 U. S. federal census, the household of William Waters in Baltimore, Maryland, contains the following inhabitants:

  • Wm. Waters, black, age 40 years
  • Cornelia [Waters], black, age 39 years, wife
  • Caroline [Waters], black, age 20 years, daughter
  • Charles [Waters], black, age 16 years, son
  • Augustus [Waters], black, age 14 years, son
  • Nellie [Waters], black, age 12 years, daughter
  • Louis [Waters], black, age 10 years, son
  • Bessie [Waters], black, age 8 years, daughter
  • Frank [Waters], black, age 6 years, son
  • Virginia [Waters], black, age 4 years, daughter
  • Carrie [Waters], black, age 3 years, daughter
  • Adele [Waters], black, age 1 year, daughter
  • Augustus Ridgely, black, age 16 years, nephew
  • Gertrude [Ridgely], black, age 8 years, niece
  • Catharine Williams, black, age 34 years, boarder[1]

Compare this household with the following household in 1870:

  • Otho Hagan, white, age 35 years
  • Cornelia [Hagan], white, age 27 years
  • Caroline [Hagan], white, age 11 years
  • Charley [Hagan], white, age 5 years
  • Augustus [Hagan], white, age 4 years
  • Mary [Hagan], white, age 2 years
  • Catherine Williams, black, age 23 years[2]

The only similarity between these two records is the presence of a Catherine/Catharine Williams in both households. Yet these are the same family. How do we know? By analysis and correlation of the information.

Look at the two records side-by-side:

  • Cornelia Hagan, white, age 27 years (1870) = Cornelia Waters, black, age 39 years (1880)
  • Caroline Hagan, white, age 11 years (1870) = Caroline Waters, black, age 20 years (1880)
  • Charles Hagan, white, age 5 years (1870) = Charles Waters, black, age 16 years (1880)
  • Augustus Hagan, white, age 4 years (1870) = Augustus Waters, black, age 14 years (1880)

Is this enough to prove the identity of this family? Not by itself. But we must continue to search for other records.

The most revealing is in the Baltimore city marriage records:

  • On 12 December 1878, “Wm. Waters,” age 39 years, colored, widower, married “Cornelia Hagan,” age 36 years, colored, widow, in Baltimore.[3]

These three records clearly confirm the identities of these families. Often, it is only through the correlation of multiple records that the identities of the subjects of records can be known with certainty.

If you are interested in throwing more trouble into the mix, take a look at the following record, from the 1860 U. S. Census:

  • Caroline Ridgeley, mulatto, age 51 years
  • Augustus [Ridgeley], mulatto, age 29 years
  • Cornelius [Ridgeley], mulatto, age 28 years
  • Arthur Harkins, mulatto, age 25 years
  • Caroline [Harkins], mulatto, age 5 months
  • Cornelius [Harkins], mulatto, age 22 years[4]

In this record, “Arthur Harkins” is actually “Otho Hagan” and “Cornelius Harkins” is his wife “Cornelia Hagan.” Their daughter Caroline, the only one expected to be alive at this point, appears as the infant “Caroline Harkins.”

Caroline Ridgely was Cornelia’s mother. In 1844, Victoire Vincendiere of Frederick County, Maryland, manumitted her 39-year-old slave Caroline and her 5-year-old daughter Cornelia.[5] In Victoire’s 1854 will she refers to her slave “coloured slave Augustus (son of Carolina whom I have heretofore manumitted).” She bequeaths Augustus to her nephew Enoch Louis Lowe, who was Governor of the state of Maryland from 1851 to 1854.[6] On 16 June 1857 E. Louis Lowe manumitted “mulatto man Slave Augustus (commonly Known as Augustus Ridgely) son of Carolina a free mulatto Woman he being the Same who was bequeathed to me in and by the last will and testament of Victoire Vincendiere.”[7]

This series of records provides the surname “Ridgely” to the family of the slave Caroline, and provides relationships between Caroline, Augustus, and Cornelia. If each record were considered in isolation, the history of this family could not be determined. However, by correlating information from all of the records, the astute researcher now has a history of the early life of Cornelia (Ridgely) Hagan Waters.

SOURCES:

[1] 1880 U. S. Census, Baltimore City, Maryland, population schedule, Part of 2nd Precinct, 13th Ward, enumeration district 114, page 19, dwelling 164, family 218, Wm Waters household; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed Jul 2011); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 501, FHL microfilm no. 1,254,501.

[2] 1870 U. S. Census, Baltimore City, Maryland, population schedule, Tenth Ward, Baltimore City post office, page 205, dwelling 1077, family 2160, Otho Hagan household; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed May 2011); citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 575, FHL microfilm no. 552,074.

[3] Baltimore City Court of Common Pleas, Marriage Record IFR 6, ff. 552–553, Waters to Hagan (1878); MSA C214-6, MdHR 20,221-6; Maryland State Archives, Annapolis.

[4] 1860 U. S. Census, Baltimore City, Maryland, population schedule, 12th Ward, Baltimore City post office, page 27, dwelling 151, family 190, Caroline Ridgeley household; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed Jun 2011); citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 463.

[5] Frederick County Court, Land Record HS 21, ff. 523–524, Vincendiere to Caroline (1844); digital images, Maryland State Archives, MDLandRec.NET (http://www.mdlandrec.net : accessed Jun 2011).

[6] Frederick County Register of Wills, Original Wills, Victoire Vincendiere (1854); MSA C900-24, MdHR 11,532-964; Maryland State Archives, Annapolis.

[7] Frederick County, Maryland, Land Record ES 10, f. 411, Lowe to Ridgely (1857); digital images, Maryland State Archives, MDLandRec.NET (http://www.mdlandrec.net : accessed Jun 2011).

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “Correlating information from multiple records,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 30 Nov 2011 (https://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

Who is this? Confirming the identity of a record’s subject

One of the most important—and most overlooked—forms of analysis that genealogists must perform is confirming the identity of the subject of the record.

Much has been stated about the difficulty of researching common names like Johnson, Smith, Jones, etc. Researchers must be careful, though, not to assume that the unusual name of their ancestor was unique to them, however. Some surnames seem unique to us but were common in that time and place. Even a unique combination of given name and surname could be common within a certain generation, and not as unique as it might seem to us. So you must be careful to confirm the identity of the subject of every record you locate.

In some cases, you will not be able to tell by looking at the record by itself. This is what the Genealogical Proof Standard means when it requires “correlation” of information. We must compare the information in one record to the information in other records.

Federal census records comprise the most popular record group in use by genealogists. For an ancestor who lived 80 years, he may appear in seven, possibly eight, separate census records. Finding these records is important, but it is also important to recognize and confirm the identity of the families in each household.

Census records allow one of the most useful techniques for confirming identity: using relationships with other people. I discussed this in an article originally published in the “National African American Genealogy” column on Examiner.comon 11 August 2009, Using ‘clusters’ to track your ancestors through multiple census years (part one).”

But how do you confirm identity in other records?

Most records contain more than just our ancestors’ names. Records may contain ages, occupations, street addresses or neighboring farm owners, names of their fathers (as in “Henry son of Aaron” or simply “John of Thomas”). You can often compare these other details from record to record in order to confirm identity.

The more records (and information) you obtain, the easier it becomes to confirm identity, specifically because of these details.

Take the following death certificate, for example:

[You can click on the image to see a larger image.]

There are a few details on this death certificate that will be useful for identification of this John A. Meagher in other records: name (of course), age, and address of residence. The name of the cemetery also suggests additional records for research.

Using this information we can easily find this John A. Meagher in the 1900 U. S. Census, where his household also contains his wife Mary C., and several sons and daughters.[1] Taking this further, we can find him again in the 1880 U. S. Census, where his household contains the same wife and children.[2] By comparing and correlating the information relating to John’s age (and corresponding implicit date of birth) among these three records with his street address as reported in 1900, the names of his wife and children between the two census records, etc., we are able to confirm that all three records relate to the same man.

We can take this research further by comparing other details–like the street address in 1880, the date of marriage in 1900, the date of death, etc.–with the details provided by still more records. Marriage records, probate records, land records, pre-1880 federal census records, etc., could all be consulted to gain additional information about John A. Meagher’s family.

Each of these records may also provide more details that would lead to more records, each of which may contain more details, etc. The process of confirming identity requires attention to detail, which in turn allows us to create full (and accurate!) profiles of our ancestors’ lives.

Are you taking the time to confirm the identity of the subject of every record you consult?

SOURCES:

[photo] Baltimore City Health Department, Bureau of Vital Statistics, death certificate no. B-37632 (1901), John A. Meagher; Maryland State Archives microfilm no. CR 48116.

[1] 1900 U. S. Census, Baltimore City, Maryland, population schedule, Ward 17, enumeration district (ED) 222, sheet 1B, dwelling 12, family 15, John Meagher household; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed Mar 2011); citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 615.

[2] 1880 U. S. Census, Baltimore City, Maryland, population schedule, 1st precinct, 12th ward, enumeration district (ED) 104, page 21, dwelling 147, family 175, John Meagher household; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed Mar 2011); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 501, FHL microfilm no. 1,254,501.

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “Who is this? Confirming the identity of a record’s subject,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 30 Nov 2011 (https://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

Analysis of Evidence in the Genealogical Proof Standard

The third condition of the Genealogical Proof Standard is that we “analyze and correlate the collected information to assess its quality as evidence.” This topic is one of the most difficult to master. I will therefore address several different aspects of analysis and correlation in several coming posts.

First, however, I would like to address the issue of analysis itself.

When I first began researching I was on the lookout for one thing: a record that provided information. This information had to provide direct evidence answering my research questions.

The term analysis in genealogical research goes far beyond this.

The key to full analysis of a record is to ask the right questions.

  • Who provided the information on the record?
  • What knowledge did the informant have of the information being reported?
  • Did the informant have any reason (valid or not) to intentionally report inaccurate information?
  • Could the informant have unintentionally reported inaccurate information, for any reason?
  • Could the informant read and write, or was the information attributed to them written by a third party?
  • What specific information does the record report?
  • What information does the record not report? (For example, a marriage license does not indicate marriage. In a case I researched several years ago, a couple purchased a marriage license, then purchased a second marriage license over a year later. There is also often a few days between the date of the marriage license and the date of the actual marriage, in nearly every case I have researched.)
  • What specific terms are used in the record? What do these specific terms mean, in the language in use during this time period?
  • What information is implied by the record? (For example, if a person’s age is reported, what does this imply about his year of birth?)

This is just a short list of the types of questions I ask about the records I locate. But these are not the only forms of analysis that one should perform:

  • If you are working with a deed, have you platted the land description, and located the tract on a map?
  • If you are working with an estate inventory, what does ownership of certain items imply about the decedent? (For example, if he owned books, you can infer that he was literate. If he owned blacksmith tools, you may be able to infer that he was a blacksmith.)
  • If you are working with a tax record, have you looked up the tax rates for that year? These generally appear in a tax act in the public statutes for the year.
  • If you are working with a church record, are you truly familiar with the liturgical laws concerning the sacrament in question?

Of course, there are many more forms of analysis that can be added to this list, as well.

You also want to ask yourself: does the information in this record suggest additional records that may hold relevant information?

  • In the federal census from 1850 through 1870, and after 1900, questions relating to the ownership of land appear. These would suggest a search for land records.
  • Many death certificates report in which cemetery the person was buried. Not only does this suggest a photo of the headstone, if the cemetery is attached to a church then it would suggest that your ancestor may have attended this church.
  • There are many different kinds of probate record: testamentary/administration bonds, estate inventories, lists of debts, lists of sales, administration accounts, probate court proceedings, guardian bonds, guardian accounts… If you have one, do you have them all?

Finding multiple, independent sources for our information is the surest way to reach an accurate conclusion. This not only involves the “reasonably exhaustive search” previously discussed, but also full analysis of each piece of information contained in the record.

The next several posts will describe various aspects of analysis and correlation.

Writing an effective report of your research, to a client or yourself

When you research your family (or a client’s family, if you are a professional) how do you write up your research? Or do you write it up at all?

There are a many different formats that one can use in this process. But, regardless of format, your report should have the same parts to be most effective.

The first part is to define the scope of the report. Why are you researching? What are you looking for? If you have not defined a specific goal or a specific research question, how can you expect to find the answer–or know it when you do?

The next part is to identify and detail the relevant information you have already located. This is your starting point. You will want to note every piece of information or potential clue that you will follow in the course of this research.

The third part of your report should be the actual results of your research. This should be fully documented with full source citations of every record consulted. Including all negative searches. If you looked in Book A, Record Group B, and Microfilm X, then you need to note all of these sources with the information, if any, they contained. Be careful to also document exactly what you searched for. If you looked for specific names in an index, for example, record these names. You may have to go back to the same sources in the future to look for other names.

In this section you should also fully analyze and evaluate each source, correlating the information with the information found in other sources, noting and reconciling any conflicting evidence, etc. If you are able to reach any conclusions, you should write out a source-cited proof summary or proof argument.

It is also useful, at the end of your report, to create a list of Sources Used. I will admit, I do not always include a separate source list in every report, because all sources are cited independently in footnotes within the body of the research results. But it can be helpful to include a separate list that collects all of these sources into a single list that can be more quickly consulted.

The final part of a research report should be to make Suggestions for Further Research. If you have constructed a conclusion that meets the Genealogical Proof Standard, you may skip this part. However, if there are sources still left unsearched, or clues left unfollowed, or conflicts left unreconciled, this would be the section where you will note the research that still needs to be done to conclusively prove your case.

By following this practice, even genealogists by hobby rather than by trade can research more efficiently and more effectively. You will no longer search the same sources for the same names time after time (with the same results). You will no longer bounce around with no true purpose and no true conclusions. And best of all, in many cases, simple organization in this manner may be enough to allow you to identify the information you already have, and break through brick walls that didn’t really exist after all!

Does a “reasonably exhaustive search” include online family trees?

There is a lot of junk on the Internet.

More experienced genealogists, both professionals and hobbyists, know this. We repeat it in our blogs, in our research plans, in our conversations with other genealogists. We stay away from the Public Family Trees on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch‘s International Genealogical Index. After all, these all just have junk put online by those “shaky leaf” clickers, right?

One should by no means trust an online family tree.

But neither should one trust a death certificate or a 19th-century county history or a federal census record or an obituary.

Just because it’s online does not make it more or less garbage than any other source. You still should evaluate the information the same way you would in any other record. Identify the informant. Determine their involvement in the reported event or the source of their information (if secondary).

Two cases are perfect examples of this philosophy:

Almost fifteen years ago, when “Internet genealogy” barely had an existence, I came across a family tree that contained my then-earliest known ancestor in my male line: Myron Grant Hait, my great-great-grandfather. I contacted the owner, who turned out to be my grandfather’s first cousin. My great-grandfather, who lived in New York, was one of six brothers, all of whom lived in different and distant states: California, Montana, North Carolina, Louisiana, etc. In those pre-Facebook days, distant relatives did not always maintain close contact. When my grandfather moved to Washington, D. C., to work for the federal government, he had even less contact with the extended family. He knew his uncles, but did not know any of his cousins.

This cousin, Linda, just so happened to have quite a number of family records in her possession, including letters to and from my great-grandparents from back in the 1970s when she started researching, and a family history written by my great-great-grandmother in the 1930s. She also put me in touch with another cousin who had in her possession a copy of a family bible, several old family photos, and a collection of Civil War letters!

Of course not all of her research was completely accurate, but much of it was, and of course the original records in the possession of these long-lost (to me) branches of the family were indispensible. Had I ignored this online family tree, I would have never obtained many of these records.

The second case involves a family that I was working on for a client. While searching for records on Ancestry, I discovered a public family tree. Though not a single offline source was cited, the information was extremely specific. I jotted down a few notes from the tree for confirmation, but then went on along my merry research way.

The next day at the Maryland State Archives I happened to run into a friend of mine: also a professional genealogist, member of my APG chapter, and a fellow Certified Genealogist. I knew that she did a lot of research in this particular county, so I asked her if she was familiar with the families I was researching. To make a long story short, the owner of the Ancestry public family tree was her client, who had uploaded the results of her research to the site without any source citations. In other words, though it looked like “junk” because it did not have any sources cited for any of the information, the tree actually reflected the work of a Certified professional genealogist. As I continued to research the family, I was able to confirm all of the information that was in the public tree.

As the first example shows, online family trees are often a great way to identify other descendants of the families you are researching. Some of these distant cousins may have family records passed down in their lines that you do not have access to: items like family bibles, old family photos, etc.

The first condition of the Genealogical Proof Standard is that we conduct a reasonably exhaustive search for all records relevant to our research problem. If you have ignored the search for family records in other lines, have you met this requirement?

The blend of genealogy and history: the future of both?

Not too long ago I was reading the book The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925by Herbert Gutman (New York: Random House, 1976). This book is considered a standard in the field of the study of enslaved families, though it also has many opponents.

Reading the book through the eyes of a genealogist who specializes in the study of enslaved families, I was struck by a weakness in Gutman’s methodology. While he does indeed utilize a wide variety of record groups, making the greatest use of Freedmen’s Bureau records and manuscript plantation records, Gutman only uses a single record group for any individual slave or group of slaves. As a genealogist we know that we must examine all relevant records in order to come to a genealogical conclusion. Gutman’s conclusions about the families he discusses should have been bolstered through the use of federal census enumerations, tax lists, probate records, and the combination of deeds and maps. Yet he does not use these records and his identifications of enslaved families suffer because of this negligence.

But the bottom line for Gutman was not how specific slaves were related. His identification of the relationships between various slaves served only to demonstrate the truth of his conclusions. This is the difference between historians and genealogists. For the genealogist, the identification of an individual or specific relationships among various individuals are the conclusions we seek. For the historian, these identifications are the evidence upon which their conclusions are formed. The conclusions are much more generalized. Gutman believed that “enslaved families did this” while his detractors and opponents believe that “enslaved families did that.” Whether these conclusions are true for a specific family is beside the point.

I read quite a bit of historical research to improve my genealogical research. Books, journal articles, and dissertations all express the latest thoughts of this or that historian. I appreciate these perspectives because they help me blend my genealogical research methodologies with more generalized historical research methodologies.

Understanding the generalities can provide significant insight into the families I am researching. Did they behave in a manner common to others of their background in that location during that time period? Or were they “odd men out”? This may help to explain and identify their actions throughout their lives.

This is just a single example of how historical research can inform genealogical research.

I began this essay by speaking of the weaknesses of Gutman’s study. Had his conclusions been based on a more methodological–and genealogical–study of the relevant evidence, rather than a select group of records, his conclusions would have been far more, well, conclusive.

This is a single example of how genealogical research can inform historical research.

I recently became aware of the work of Mark Auslander. Dr. Auslander is an Associate Professor of Anthropology and the Director of the Museum of Culture and Environment at Central Washington University, in Ellensburg, Washington.

In an interview concerning his book, The Accidental Slaveowner: Revisiting a Myth of Race and Finding an American Family, Dr. Auslander described a research trail that will sound familiar to genealogists:

I had learned at the National Archives in Washington D.C. that Kitty’s second son was named Russell Nathan Boyd; might he have been named for his father I asked Tolstoy, who purred approvingly.  So I called up Freedman’s Savings Bank records on Ancestry.com, and lo and behold, there was a “Nathan Boyd,” opening a bank account in Atlanta in 1871, listing as his wife “Catherine, Dead” and as his eldest son, “Alfred Boyd.”  That led me and my wife to Keosauqua, Iowa, where Alfred had settled after the Civil War, and along the trail of African Methodist Episcopal churches he had pastored in the midwest, leading to the church in Rockford, Illinois where his great grandson Mr. Caldwell, an enormously kind man in his eighties, served as trustee.[1]

Dr. Auslander even used Ancestry.com!

In another post, on his blog Cultural Productions, Dr. Auslander illustrates his philosophies on blending historical and genealogical research:

My recently completed book manuscript (The Accidental Slaveowner: Revisiting a Myth of the American South) attempts to integrate restorative cemetery work and genealogical research–in a way that is linked to a single institution of higher learning, Emory University.[2]

I have not yet read The Accidental Slaveowner, but it has been placed at the top of my “to-read” list.

I would like to applaud Dr. Mark Auslander, and his recognition of the value that genealogical research can have for historians.

SOURCES:

[1] Derek Krisoff, “Mark Auslander interviewed about The Accidental Slave Owner,” in Mark Auslander’s The Accidental Slaveowner Blog, posted on 1 August 2011 (http://www.theaccidentalslaveowner.com/Mark_Auslander/Blog/Blog.html : accessed 27 Aug 2011).

[2] Mark Auslander, “Slavery and Academic Reparations,” Cultural Productions blog, posted 4 Sep 2010 (http://culturalproductions.blogspot.com/ : accessed 27 Aug 2011).

The 5 Most Misused Words and Phrases in Genealogy

Over the past quarter century, the field of genealogy has developed its own vocabulary to describe the evolving standards. Unfortunately, some of these terms are used in other fields with slightly different meanings. Here, in no particular order, are the top five most misused words and phrases in modern genealogy.

1. “Research”:

Especially to beginning genealogists, the term “research” is equivalent to “looking for records.” The more experience one gains, the more one becomes aware of how little of the research process is actually involved in physically looking for records. Far more research is conducted after a document has been located. Research also includes

  • learning more about the record itself–its creation, background, and purpose;
  • identifying the information the record holds;
  • determining how this information applies to our research problem;
  • assessing the reliability of the information;
  • correlating the information with that held in other records previously located;
  • and deducing what clues in the record point to potential sources for more information.

In all, I would estimate that about 20% of all research is actually conducted in the physical search for records. The remaining 80% involves the forming of conclusions based on the information turned up in that physical search.

2. “Primary” and “Secondary”:

You will often hear researchers in other fields refer to primary and secondary documents or records. In genealogy, we differentiate between original records and derivative records. These terms generally correspond with what other fields call primary (original) and secondary (derivative). Since many of us learned these terms in these other fields (or even in genealogy years ago, before the current definitions evolved), it is common to hear genealogists refer to “primary” and “secondary” records.

In current usage, reliable eyewitness testimony is considered primary, while information provided by someone who was not a witness or participant is considered secondary. Experienced genealogists, who always strive to review the original record rather than a derivative source, understand that any single record can contain information of different natures. A death certificate might provide both birth and death information, for example. In most cases, while the information about the death may be primary, the birth information is secondary. This is why we discuss primary and secondary information, as opposed to primary and secondary documents.

3. “Evidence”:

The term “evidence” refers to how we apply information to our research problem. There are two kinds of evidence, as defined in modern genealogy: direct and indirect.

Direct evidence refers to information that directly answers our research question. For example, if our research question asks, “when was John born?,” then a record containing the information, explicitly stated, that John was born on 4 July 1826, would be considered as containing direct evidence.

Indirect evidence refers to information that is relevant to our question but does not directly answer it. For example, using the same question about John’s birth, we examine a series of annual tax lists. John does not appear on any tax list until 1847. We then review the tax laws of that time period, and discover that men were required to pay taxes beginning at the age of 21. The tax records do not explicitly state John’s date of birth, but we can infer that he was at least 21 years of age at this time. This appearance on the tax lists therefore constitutes indirect evidence of his date of birth.

The term “evidence” is not synonymous with either the terms “information” or “proof,” but this is how it is most often used by many genealogists. Information is held by records. Evidence is how we apply this information to our research problem. And proof is …

4. “Proof”:

We often hear from other genealogists that a certain record proves a certain fact. This is a common misunderstanding of the concept of “proof.” No record contains proof. Records contain information.

As genealogists, we identify, evaluate, and correlate the information in these records, through which process we discern each piece of information’s individual value as evidence. Eventually, we hope to reach a soundly reasoned conclusion. “Proof” refers to the documented summary of the evidence that leads to our conclusion.

The Genealogical Proof Standard, itself an often-misunderstood concept, is the measure by which we judge our proof arguments. In its most common phrasing, the Standard contains five parts: conduct a reasonably exhaustive (or extensive) search for all relevant records, completely and accurately cite all sources used, correlate and evaluate all evidence, reconcile all contradictory evidence, and form a soundly reasoned, written conclusion. The extent to which each of these parts is demonstrated and documented in the written proof argument helps to determine the probable reliability of the conclusions.

Because it is most often phrased as five “parts,” many researchers begin to think of the Genealogical Proof Standard as a five-step process: first we do a search, then cite, then correlate, etc. On the contrary, in the course of our research, these “steps” are rarely completed in order. While searching for relevant records, we must cite and evaluate each individual record as we find it. Certainly, one begins by searching for relevant records and ends with the written conclusion, but the rest of the Standard is an ongoing process. How we define relevant itself evolves with each new record located.

As we begin to form conclusions, we should honestly assess our research against the Genealogical Proof Standard to determine whether or not our conclusion is warranted by our research.

5. “Report”:

This is a dangerously misused and misunderstood term for aspiring professional genealogists. Unfortunately, the misunderstanding stems most often from genealogical software programs, which are using the same term in a different context.

When one inputs one’s information and conclusions in a genealogy database program, it is common (and recommended) practice to periodically print out this information. In all database software, the output of data into a readable format based on specific parameters is called a report. Genealogy software most often includes the ability to print this data out into a rudimentary compiled genealogy in either NGSQ or Register formats, or compiled pedigree in Sosa-Stradonitz format. These are called, by the database, “reports.”

The research report provided by a professional genealogist–and even those reports one writes for one’s personal research files–are generally not in the form of a compiled genealogy or pedigree. A compiled genealogy or pedigree may be part of the research report, but not necessarily. In my reports, genealogies or pedigrees are most often used as a system of organization or summary of conclusions rather than the body of the report itself.

A professional research report, in general terms, is a detailed, documented report of the research conducted. This would include discussions of all of the processes described above under “Research,” as well as the formation of proof arguments and full conclusions. It also includes all negative searches conducted, that is, those indexes, databases, and record groups searched where no relevant results were located. All of these would be contained in the body of a report.

Professional genealogist’s research reports also contain other sections: a reiteration of the stated goals (both long-term and short-term, if applicable), a summary of all information provided or known at the beginning of the research, a brief summary of the conclusions reached within the report usually located before the main body, and suggestions for further research.

In other words, a research report simply does not resemble the reports printed by database software. The two terms are not synonymous at all–and given the very different contexts of their usage, should not be misunderstood to be so.

These are the words and phrases I see and hear misused most often by other genealogists. What are some other terms that are commonly misused?

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “The 5 Most Misused Words and Phrases in Genealogy,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 19 Aug 2011 (https://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,746 other followers

%d bloggers like this: