Copyright, plagiarism, and citing your sources

UPDATE 13 March 2014: Apparently the posts referenced (and linked) in the SlideShare presentation bleow have been removed. Though the offending party has started a new blog, it does not appear that the posts based on my content have also been migrated to the new site (yet). MH

The Code of Ethics of the Association of Professional Genealogists contains two similar statements:

[I therefore agree to:]

2. . . . fully and accurately cite references. . . .

4. . . . refrain from knowingly violating or encouraging others to violate laws and regulations concerning copyright. . . .[1]

At first glance these two issues seem to say more or less the same thing. “Cite your sources”—a refrain I have often repeated in this blog and elsewhere.

There are, however, two separate issues at play here: one of documentation, the other of attribution.

Documentation is ultimately a good research practice, but not necessarily an ethical issue. Is it unwise to jot down that birth date on your family group sheet without noting the death certificate making the claim? Of course it is. One will quickly regret not citing the sources for information. Is it unethical not to cite that death certificate? I’m not so sure that it is.

Violating copyright laws, on the other hand, is definitely unethical (and illegal). Plagiarizing someone else’s work is unethical. Quoting someone else’s work without attribution is unethical. Even copying large portions of someone else’s work with attribution is unethical. For those of us who make a living from our intellectual property, plagiarism and copyright violation quite literally constitute theft.

There simply is no legal or ethical way to copy someone else’s intellectual property. “Fair use” does not allow wholesale copying, despite what one might think–even with a citation of the source. Without attribution, any copying whatsoever  is unacceptable.

Copyright violation and plagiarism have been discussed quite a bit among genealogists lately. Rather than repeat all of the information, I will simply provide this list of recent articles on the subject, most by authors far more knowledgeable on the subject than myself. If you write content for a blog or website or society newsletter or anywhere else as part of your genealogical career, please take the time to educate yourself on this subject.

The following posts all involve recent cases alleging copyright:

Edited to add the following two additional links:


[1] “Code of Ethics,” Association of Professional Genealogists ( : accessed 6 July 2013).

Historical writing and when to use present tense

As a professional genealogist, much of what I do on a daily basis consists of writing. From client research reports to case studies to instructional articles or blog posts or even books, I probably write on average a half-dozen pages a day, every day. (Aside: in today’s digital world, is it still appropriate to discuss writing in terms of pages? It almost seems a bit like giving directions in terms of time, like “go down that road for seven minutes, then turn left.) This, of course, does not include the volumes of emails I compose and send every day, to clients and colleagues.

Recently Ben Yagoda, a professor of English and journalism at the University of Delaware, posted “Ben Yagoda Gets Sick of the Historical Present” on the Lingua Franca blog—an excellent blog for anyone interested in writing and editing. Mr. Yagoda gives several examples of the historical present tense, a history of its use in various genres of writing, and an exploration of why it might be so popular. He concludes that the tense is “essentially a novelty item. It’s tacky. Give it a rest.” The comments to this post are also quite informative, as a debate arises over the use of the historic present in discussing literature.[1]

There are two basic conventions for use of past and present tense in genealogical writing:

1. When discussing people or events of the past, use the past tense, e.g. “On 9 June 1827 Victoire sold L’Hermitage to John Brien.”

2. When discussing specific documents or records, use the present tense, e.g. “Baptismal records describe Caroline’s children as illegitimate” or “No Joseph Ridgely appears as a Maryland household head in 1820 or 1830 [referring to the federal census].”

The use of the historical present tense in these situations stems from the same logic as the use of the tense when discussing literature. Records exist in the present time. What they say (or don’t say) is said in the present time, when a modern reader reads it. So it would be proper to state that Victoire sold land in 1827, and that the deed describes the property in a certain way. When I look at the deed in 2013 (hypothetically) it says the same thing that it said in 1827.

Other genres tend to use the historical present to describe a past event. As historical writers, however, we should be careful to follow the two conventions mentioned above. Not only does this limit the possibility of confusion, following grammatical conventions simply makes our writing more professional.


[1] Ben Yagoda, “Ben Yagoda Gets Sick of the Historical Present,” Lingua Franca blog, posted 23 April 2013 ( : accessed 28 April 2013).

A case for the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine

For many genealogical writers, the “top of the food chain” is to be published in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

Other journals carry the same weight in the genealogy world: The Genealogist (published by the American Society of Genealogists) and The American Genealogist (founded by Donald Lines Jacobus, published independently) among them. Most genealogists include the New England Historical and Genealogical Register and the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record in the same category.

Then there is the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine.

The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine was first published in January 1895 as Publications of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania, Volume I, No. 1. This early date of publication makes PGM the third longest-running genealogical journal in continuous publication, after the Register (1847) and the Record (1870).[1]

This first issue contained the following message to members of the Society, from the Committee on Publication—L. Taylor Dickson, P. S. P. Conner, and Thomas Allen Glenn:

The Board of Directors of the Society has long thought it desirable to place before you some part of the valuable papers from time to time received, and which, if bound up in the regular manuscript volumes of our collections, might not be so available or interesting as if published. Lack of sufficient funds for such a purpose has prevented printing until the present month, when the following pages are issued at a trifling cost, and will, if approved, be continued periodically.[2]

The second issue under the same Committee on Publication was released in July 1896; the delay was certainly due to the continued “[l]ack of sufficient funds.” It contained forty-five pages of abstracts of seventeenth-century Philadelphia wills, followed by lists of the Society’s officers and members, and the Third and Fourth Annual Reports.[3]

The last issue of the Publications of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania was released in the Spring of 1947. That last issue is a milestone for several reasons.

Firstly, in a “Statement of Policy Concerning Future Publications,” the Committee on Publications submitted nine recommendations, among them that the title of the journal be changed to Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and that “lists of tombstone inscriptions, pastoral lists of baptisms, marriages, and burials, and similar data be allotted a much smaller space in future numbers of the Magazine than has been accorded them in the past.”[4]

Secondly, the newly-appointed editor, John Goodwin Herndon, described the new mission of the journal on “The Editor’s Page”:

Readers will notice in the current number two departures from previous practices. . . . The second change which our readers will have noticed is the inclusion herein of certain family studies. . . . We hope that all readers who have interesting and carefully prepared articles ready for publication, which relate to Pennsylvanians or their families, will submit them to the editor, so that out of a rich stock of genealogical manuscripts, a fine choice may be made for inclusion in our new Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine.[5]

It is worth noting that Mr. Herndon was elected to the American Society of Genealogists in 1945.[6] It is also worth noting that one of those first two “family studies” was “The Stauffer–Stouffer (Stover) Family of Pennsylvania,” written by Meredith B. Colket, Jr., M.A., F.A.S.G.[7] On his “Editor’s Page,” Mr. Herndon recited Mr. Colket’s qualifications:

Mr. Colket is the associate editor of The American Genealogist, secretary and Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists, governor of the Mayflower Society in the District of Columbia, member of the Pennsylvania Society of the Order of Founders and Patriots of America, and on the staff of the National Archives, Washington, D. C.[8]

Mr. Colket was also elected the National Genealogical Society’s Genealogy Hall of Fame in 1992, the seventh overall inductee.[9]

Thirdly (and finally), this last issue under the Publications title published an address to the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania at its Fifty-fifth Annual Meeting, held on 3 March 1947. This address—entitled “The American Society of Genealogists”—was delivered by John Goodwin Herndon, Ph.D., F.A.S.G.[10] The many significant passages in this published address included:

  • “The American Society of Genealogists was formed in 1940. From then until now its president has been Dr. Arthur Adams, of Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, known to many in this room. Originally there were twelve Fellows. In 1942, the number was increased to 36. The following year the number was constitutionally fixed at 50. All nominations and elections necessary to complete the membership were filled by the summer of 1944. . . . On 30 March 1946 the Society was incorporated under the laws of the District of Columbia. As stated in its charter, its purposes include ‘the association of genealogists for their pleasure and benefit; the encouragement of genealogical research and the publications of the results; and in general the securing for genealogy recognition as a serious scientific subject of research in the historical and the social fields of learning.'” [page 164]
  • “The two most important committees thus far appointed are those on Publications and on Standards in the Genealogical Profession. . . . The responsibility of the latter is to recommend the steps which it believes should be taken to insure to the employing public a guarantee of the capacity and integrity of a certified genealogist.” [page 166]
  • “I said a few minutes ago that the second part of the Society’s program bears upon the establishment of standards in the genealogical profession. The time has come, I am sure most of you believe, when official or other protection should be extended to the practicing genealogist in the same way as standards are set by the American Bar Association for lawyer’s [sic], the American Medical Association for physicians and surgeons, and so on for other professional men and women. Thus we have certifying boards for accountants, architects, engineers, nurses. . . . Such steps were not taken in order to deny freedom of choice of occupation to individuals but to protect the public from misrepresentation and various corrupt practices.” [pages 167–168]

Here in 1947, we see the first stirrings of the creation of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, which would not be established until 1964.[11] Mr. Herndon even used the term “certified genealogist”!

The next issue, that of October 1948, was the first published under the name Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, Volume XVI. That issue contained research articles from Robert M. Torrence, Howard T. Dimick, John Goodwin Herndon, F.A.S.G., and Meredith B. Colket Jr., F.A.S.G.[12]

Volume XVII in 1949 further upheld the new ideals. The June issue included articles by Lewis D. Cook (elected to the American Society of Genealogists in 1949), Milton Rubincam (a founding trustee of both ASG and BCG, elected to the Genealogy Hall of Fame in 2003), and William J. Hoffman, F.A.S.G. The December issue included articles from George V. Massey II (elected to the American Society of Genealogists in 1950); and Walter Lee Sheppard, Jr., F.A.S.G. (elected to the Genealogy Hall of Fame in 2007), and Lewis D. Cook, F.A.S.G.[13]

The following Volume XVIII (1950–1951) included articles by John G. Herndon, F.A.S.G. and Walter L. Sheppard, Jr., and Lewis D. Cook, in the December 1950 issue; and Rosalie F. Bailey, F.A.S.G. (elected to the Genealogy Hall of Fame in 2010), in the September 1951 issue.[14]

Volume XVIII (1950–1951) was co-edited by John Goodwin Herndon and Lewis D. Cook, both Fellows of the American Society of Genealogists. They continued this relationship through Volume XIX, issue 3 (September 1954), when Lewis D. Cook became the sole editor.

With Volume XXIV (1965–1966) the editorship of the Magazine was taken up by Mrs. Hannah Benner Roach, elected to the American Society of Genealogists in 1961 and the Genealogy Hall of Fame in 2002. She served in this role until 1972.

Other members of the Publications Committee during this era included John Insley Coddington, F. A.S.G.,  and Walter Lee Sheppard, Jr. Mr. Coddington was also a former editor of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly and was elected to the Genealogy Hall of Fame in 1997.[15]

Most recently, in 2001, Patricia Law Hatcher, F.A.S.G. (elected to A.S.G. in 2000), served as editor of the Magazine. She was joined by co-editor Aaron Goodwin in 2011, who became the sole (and current) editor the following year when Ms. Hatcher retired.

With such a long and illustrious history of publishing quality genealogical research, I must ask: shouldn’t the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine be included among the “top tier” of genealogy journals?

For more information on the Magazine, see also Aaron Goodwin, “The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine Now Online,” online reprint, Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania ( : accessed  19 April 2013); originally published in American Ancestors, Spring 2011, 18–22.


Note: Digital images of all issues of the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine (and the preceding Publications of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania) cited below have been viewed in the Members-Only section of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania website ( : accessed 19 Apr 2013).

[1] New England Historic Genealogical Society, “The New England Historical & Genealogical Register,” American Ancestors ( : accessed 19 Apr 2013). “The Record Online,” New York Genealogical and Biographical Society ( : accessed 19 Apr 2013).

[2] Committee on Publication, “To the Members of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania,” Publications of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania 1 (1895): 5.

[3] Publications of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania 1 (1896), no. 2.

[4] “Statement of Policy Concerning Future Publications,” Publications of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania 15 (Spring 1947): 277.

[5] John Goodwin Herndon (uncredited), “The Editor’s Page,” Publications 15: 278.

[6] “Roll of All Fellows,” The American Society of Genealogists ( : accessed 19 Apr 2013).

[7] Meredith B. Colket, Jr., M.A., F.A.S.G., “The Stauffer–Stouffer (Stover) Family of Pennsylvania,” Publications 15: 216–258.

[8] Herndon, “The Editor’s Page,” Publications 15: 278.

[9] “NGS Genealogy Hall of Fame Members,” National Genealogical Society ( : accessed 19 Apr 2013).

[10] John Goodwin Herndon, Ph.D., F.A.S.G, “The American Society of Genealogists,” Publications 15: 161–169.

[11] Kay Haviland Freilich, CG, “BCG History,” Board for Certification of Genealogists ( : accessed 19 Apr 2013); originally published in OnBoard, Volume 7, Number 1, January 2001.

[12] Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine 16 (1948).

[13] Cook, “Commodore Thomas Truxton, U.S.N., and His Descendants,” Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine 17 (June 1949): 3–32. Rubincam, “The Lure and Value of Genealogy,” PGM 17: 33–44. Hoffman, “Jan Willemsz Boekenoogen: An Early Settler of Germantown,” PGM 17: 45–55. Massey, “The Simpsons of Paxtang and Sunbury, Pennsylvania,” PGM 17 (December 1949): 59–68. Sheppard & Cook, “Harris of Cumberland County, New Jersey,” PGM 17: 79–109.

[14] Herndon, “Wiltbanck–Wiltbank Family of Sussex County, Delaware, and Philadelphia,” PGM 18 (December 1950): 3–72. Sheppard & Cook, “Harris of Cumberland County, New Jersey: Supplementary Notes,” PGM 18: 81–83. Bailey, “The Foos Family of Pennsylvania and Ohio,” PGM 18 (September 1951): 87–114; and “Griffith Families of Eastern Pennsylvania Using the Name Joseph,” PGM 18: 115–117.

[15] “NGS Genealogy Hall of Fame Members,” National Genealogical Society.

If you would like to cite this post:

Michael Hait, CG, “A case for the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine,”Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 20 April 2013 ( : 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.]

Writing the Ridgelys

On 11 August 2010 National Park Service archaeologists at Monocacy National Battlefield announced that, using clues from the historical record, they had discovered the remains of several slave cabins dating from ca. 1794–1827.[1] I remember reading the Washington Post report on the discovery, and thinking I would love to research the families that lived there.

Within two months, I received an interesting telephone call from the owner of African American genealogy website Afrigeneas. They had been contacted by Essence Magazine for a feature piece, and needed someone with experience researching slaves in Maryland. With the deadline looming I was able to identify one of the slaves owned by the Vincendiere family and trace his descendants down to a journalist in Pittsburgh. His obituary named his ex-wife and a daughter, both still living. The piece, “A Legacy of Love and Pride,” by Robin D. Stone, appeared in the February 2011 issue of Essence.[2]

I decided to follow this with an article discussing some of the research I had done—the methodology, not just the results. On 21 February 2011 I published “Researching the descendants of the Vincendiere slaves, part one” in the African American Genealogy column I wrote on[3] I originally intended this short piece as part of a series describing the research I had conducted on the family. The first part garnered some attention from the right people. Within another few weeks I received an email—and then a phone call—from the Cultural Resources Program Manager of Monocacy Battlefield, Joy Beasley. We met for lunch and discussed a potential project.

To make a long story short, the National Park Service hired me to research the lives and descendants of all of the slaves living in the slave village—all of the slaves owned by the Vincendiere family. When all was said and done, several months later, I delivered a report over 900 pages in total length, including document images. I had discovered the identities of slaves and their descendants not only in Maryland, but also in Louisiana. One of these families was the Ridgely family.

The Ridgely family—including mother Caroline Ridgely, her children, and their descendants—fascinated me. Their stories were remarkable. All of them had been freed by 1860. Caroline’s son Cornelius Ridgely served in the U. S. Navy during the Civil War. A number of the descendants graduated from various universities. Several became doctors or dentists in Baltimore and Washington, D. C. One descendant worked for the National Park Service during the 1930s before serving in World War II, and later became principal of a Washington, D. C., high school not far from where I worked in Washington. The family story seemed perfect for a three- or four-generation family history narrative. The story wrote itself.

Writing a family history narrative uses different skills than does writing a proof argument or a case study. The one piece of advice I would give anyone attempting to write such a piece is to identify a common theme that holds the story together. This technique produces a compelling narrative.

After I had finished it, I spent about a month editing it. Reading it and re-reading it. Making sure the sentences were concise and the paragraphs were topical. Finally, just a few days before the deadline, I mailed copies to the National Genealogical Society, for its annual Family History Writing Contest.

Several months passed. Finally I received a response. I had won First Place. The prize was an all-expenses-paid trip to the NGS Conference and possible publication in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. As I was already speaking at the 2012 Conference just a month or so later, I was given the option of attending the 2013 Conference in Las Vegas.

For publication in the Quarterly, more work still needed to be done. The Contest judges had provided me with comments for improving the article. Taking these into consideration, I went into another round of editing and rewriting. Finally I submitted the product to Thomas W. Jones and Melinde Lutz Byrne, the editors of the Quarterly.

A short while later, the editors came back to me with more edits and a few items that needed follow-up. Another round and I resubmitted the article.

After all was said and done, the editors sent me a final draft. This draft was in the familiar format of the Quarterly—the fonts, the spacing, the header and footer. It was a very exciting day for me. Having an article published in the preeminent genealogical journal in the United States had been a long-term goal of mine. I was finally at the last step.

Of course, the rest of the issue had to be laid out. It had to go to the printer. I had to wait for the issue to be completed.

About two weeks ago, my two-and-a-half-year journey had reached a new milestone. I received my copies of the December 2012 issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. My article, “In the Shadow of Rebellions: Maryland Ridgelys in Slavery and Freedom,” was the first in the issue.[4]

This research has not yet reached its final conclusion. Who knows where it may take me next?


[1] “Slave Village Discovered in Maryland,” press release, 11 August 2010, National Park Service, Monocacy National Battlefield, Maryland ( : accessed 16 February 2013).

[2] Robin D. Stone, “A Legacy of Love and Pride,” Essence Magazine, February 2011, 122–127.

[3] Michael Hait, “Researching the descendants of the Vincendiere slaves, part one,” posted 21 February 2011, in “National African American Genealogy” column, ( : accessed 16 February 2013).

[4] Michael Hait, CG, “In the Shadow of Rebellions: Maryland Ridgelys in Slavery and Freedom,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Volume 100 (Dec 2012): 245–266.

Canadian genealogical society journals

Last year, Harold Henderson and I compiled “State & Regional Genealogical Society Journals,” a directory of the journals of societies around the United States.

M. Diane Rogers, editor of the British Columbia Genealogical Society’s journal (British Columbia Genealogist), has compiled and published a similar list for Canadian genealogical societies: “Canadian Provincial Genealogical Publications.”

If you are conducting research in Canada, please consider submitting your research to the appropriate journal.

Participating in a genealogy writers’ group

Writers in all genres traditionally use writers’ groups to help them become stronger writers. Writers’ groups can take many forms, from those that meet strictly online to those that meet in person and read their writing out loud. Whether you write short articles or novels, science fiction or poetry, a writers’ group offers support, criticism, and motivation to working writers.

Genealogists produce a lot of writing. Research reports. Narrative genealogies. “How-to” articles. Book reviews. Case studies. Blog posts. The list goes on. No matter what kind of writing you are working on, a writers group can offer the same support, criticism, and motivation to genealogists that it would offer to a science fiction novelist.

So how do you join a writers’ group?

The easiest way is to check your local genealogical society. Many active societies have special interest groups (SIGs) that focus on writing. Take a look at the following examples:

Does your genealogical society have a writers’ group or writing special interest group? If not, why not see if other members are interested in starting one?

Online writers’ groups are another option. Do you have a group of fellow genealogists that you correspond with on a regular basis? Whose opinions you respect? Even if you live on opposite sides of the country, you can still form a writers’ group.

When forming your own writers’ group, you will want to consider the following factors:

1. Who should you invite to join?

Writers’ groups, by definition, should be able to both offer and accept constructive criticism of their work.

If any member gets offended by constructive criticism, no one will be able to be honest, and the group as a whole will suffer. On the other hand, if any member is unwilling to give a “brutally honest” critique, then what you have is a cheerleading squad, not a writers’ group.

For this reason, it is very important that you have a good relationship with everyone in your group. No one can allow their feelings to get hurt. At its best, a writers’ group should offer the same level of criticism as the editor who makes the decision whether or not to publish your article when you submit it. Believe me, they do not care whether they hurt your feelings. Editors just want to publish the best writing possible.

And of course, how many members will you have? Will you accept new members if they come along? What are the limits? You have to establish this up front, or you could easily find yourself spending all your time critiquing others’ work, and no time doing your own writing.

2. How will you meet and offer feedback?

If you can’t meet in person, how will you share submissions? By email, with a dedicated shared DropBox folder, or another option?

Will you use Facebook? Twitter? Windows Live chat? Skype? Google+ Hangouts? A private mailing list?

Will you meet monthly for an hour? More than an hour? Less often or more often? Do you even need to all meet at the same time, or can members just post their writing and critiques online whenever they are ready?

Will you have a moderator or coordinator? Will you have set deadlines for submissions and critiques?

In other words, if you are setting up a writers’ group online, you have to consider the logistics. Not just those dealing with the schedules of the individual members, but also those dealing with the technology that you will use to facilitate the group.

3. What are your writing goals?

Do you want help writing a narrative family history that you will self-publish for your family? Or do you write numerous articles for magazines? It is important that you establish your own writing goals before endeavoring to join or start your own writers’ group.

Writers’ groups will help you with the moral support that you need to keep yourself motivated, to improve the quality of your writing, and to reach your writing goals. But that can only happen if you know what your goals are.

These are just a few tips for those among us who write about genealogy.

For more information on writers’ groups, from writers in other genres, read the following articles:

Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen, “7 Tips for Starting a Writers’ Group – Writing Alone, Writing Together,” Quips and Tips for Successful Writers blog, posted 14 May 2009 ( : accessed 21 January 2012).

Seth M. Baker, “How NOT to Start a Writers’ Group,” HappenChance blog, post not dated ( : accessed 21 January 2012).

Lisa Gates, “How to Start a Writing Critique Group,” Stepcase Lifehack blog, posted 4 March 2009[?] ( : accessed 21 January 2012).

Chuck Sambuchino, “7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting A Writers Group,” Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents Blog, in Writers Digest, posted 16 July 2010 ( : accessed 21 January 2012).

Kristen Lamb, “Can Critique Groups Do More Harm than Good?,” Kristen Lamb’s Blog, posted 16 January 2012 ( : accessed 21 January 2012).

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “Participating in a genealogy writers’ group,”Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 24 January 2012 ( : 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.]

Publishing: Why Typography Matters

I will admit that I am only a recent convert to typographic concerns. Until the middle of last year, I was content with everything being Times New Roman, size 12, single-spaced in Microsoft Word. It took constant prodding from a good friend of mine, a fellow professional genealogist, who also has a background in design, to make me see the light.

Readers don’t notice design. They don’t notice typography. But if it is bad, they won’t read. And what is the point of spending the time to write a book or an article or a blog or a webpage, if no one wants to read it?

As I have noted before when discussing presentations, design can have a direct effect on learning. People are less likely to learn from a poorly-designed medium. This is no less true for a family history book, society newsletter, or blog than it is for a PowerPoint presentation. It just seems to be discussed less by those of us self-publishing, whether it be a society publication, a family history for a private audience, or a book of abstracts.

The image on this blog post coins an adage: “Good typography is invisible. Bad typography is everywhere.”

Of course, there is also an opposing viewpoint. In a 2010 study Princeton University researchers conclude that learning in a print medium may actually benefit from horrible typography. The theory is that print material set in ugly typefaces force readers to concentrate harder to read the material, and therefore they retain more of the information. Read “Hideous fonts may boost reading comprehension,” for more information.

Regardless of your opinion on the subject, one thing is certain: typography matters. Pay attention the next time you read a book, journal, or newsletter. What do you think of the font, line spacing, character spacing, etc.? Does the typography add to or detract from the readability of the material? Does it add to or detract from your ability to understand the material you are reading?


Adam Christopher, “9th February, 2011: Typography matters,” blog, posted 9 February 2011 ( : accessed 14 January 2012).

C. Diemand-Yauman, et al., “Fortune favors the Bold (and the Italicized): Effects of disfluency on educational outcomes,” Cognition (2010); ( : accessed 14 January 2012).

Laura Miller, “Hideous fonts may boost reading comprehension,” Salon web magazine, posted 18 January 2011, under topic “Readers and Reading” ( : accessed 14 January 2012).

Now available – “Library Edition” of “Online State Resources for Genealogy”

Many public libraries now offer e-books to their patrons. For self-published authors such as myself, this causes a bit of a dilemma. Do we forego the library market altogether, or risk the loss of income from library patrons who copy the book file to their own computers? (This is, of course, a violation of copyright.)

Adobe, who really helped to usher in the e-book revolution with the development of its Portable Document Format (PDF), also offers a solution for Digital Rights Management. These files are read with the free Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) software rather than the standard Adobe Reader. Adobe Digital Editions can be downloaded from According to the Adobe website, Digital Editions “works in conjunction with Adobe Digital Experience Protection Technology (ADEPT), a hosted service that provides publishers with copy protection in both retail and library environments.”

Online State Resources for Genealogy (currently #36 on’s all-time best-selling e-books) has now been converted to a “Library Edition.” This new edition utilizes the Adobe PDF format with Digital Editions in order to provide a version of this e-book that can be safely offered by libraries to their patrons.

For more details, including purchasing information, visit—library-edition/18777978.

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!

5 Ways to Manage Your Blog (or Blogs)

Since this is National Blog Posting Month, I thought it might be a good time to discuss managing a blog.

As a full-time professional genealogist, time for my blog is often limited. I do not always have the ability to write every day. Occasionally I do have a great idea, or an issue arises, that I simply feel compelled to write, right at that moment.

More often, though, I find myself without the time to write. Or worse, I have an hour or so to write, but my mind draws a blank. What should I write about?

This month, I have challenged myself to post a new article every day. To three separate blogs. That comes to 90 articles that I will have to write and post over the next 30 days. I tried this in 2009 with one column, and managed to post about 2/3 of the required 30 articles. I tried again in 2010 with two columns, and only managed to post about 1/2 of the required 60 articles. So what makes me think I will succeed this year, with 90 articles needed?

This year, I am managing my blogs a little better. For me, the most difficult part of managing a blog is coming up with fresh and interesting content every day. Here are a few ideas that might help you:

1. Brainstorm post ideas. In an earlier post I mentioned one of my favorite blogs, Litemind. One of the posts on this site describes the “List of 100” brainstorming method. I have done this quite a few times, for numerous brainstorming sessions: potential articles, potential books, potential lectures, etc. Generally speaking, in a list of 100 you will find a bunch of ho-hum ideas, a bunch of repeats, a few ridiculous ideas, and several gems. By creating such a long list, you force your brain to move outside the box–past the everyday, ho-hum ideas; past the just plain silly; and into the best ideas. You may find only 15 great ideas in that list of 100. With 90 articles needed, I will probably have to post a few ho-hum ideas, but hopefully there will be some great ones too!

2. Read other blogs. What are other bloggers talking about? Many of my blog ideas start as responses, or “my perspective,” on things that other bloggers have said. Sometimes it is a response to a blog post as a whole–sometimes it’s just a single sentence that inspires an entire post. Sometimes just the act of reading gets your creative juices flowing enough that you come up with an idea of your own. If you want to see the best genealogy blogs, I would recommend Randy Seaver’s weekly “Best of the Genea-Blogs” posts, posted every Sunday on his Genea-Musings blog. Randy reads a lot of blogs, and manages to find the best of the best every week. Read these, and you will be forced to kick it up a notch.

3. Keep a list of blog ideas. Many of the best ideas come when you are busy with something else. For example, I often come up with an idea for a blog post while I am working on a client report. There is simply no way that I should stop what I am doing to write that blog post at that time. I could wait–and risk forgetting about the idea before I do find the time to write it. Or I could keep a list of ideas, so that when I have time to write, all I have to do is look at my list, pick a topic, and write. I keep two lists: one on paper for those times when I am not near a computer, the other as a text file on my desktop. That list is definitely going to come in handy this month.

4. Create a blog calendar. Once you have a list of ideas–from brainstorming, reading other blogs, and recording ideas when they come to you–you should schedule out your posts in advance. Since I am scheduling ideas for three separate blogs/columns, I created a table with four columns. The first column is for the days, 1 through 30. Each one of the other three columns is for one of my blogs. Then I just write the topics for each day into the calendar.

5. Participate in a few memes (but not all of them). There are several blogging memes available every day for genealogy bloggers. If you wanted to, you could easily post every day just by following a different meme every day. I wouldn’t recommend it, though. Before I ever started writing a blog, I was a blog reader. Memes lose their attraction pretty quickly. If you are not providing good, quality content every day, you may lose some readers. And if you don’t have any readers, is there really any reason to write? Instead, pick one or two of your favorite memes, but no more than one or two days a week. Personally, I love “Follow Friday” and “A Friend of Friends Friday.” Both of these are on Friday, so I have to alternate or use different blogs to participate. In my blog calendar, I can mark off every Friday to participate in one (or both) of these memes. This saves a little time in trying to come up with a unique topic for these days. But it still leaves me with six days of content that is not attached to a meme.

And here’s a bonus tip:

6. Write your posts in advance. Some blogging platforms, like WordPress, allow you to draft your posts in advance and schedule them for publication later. Take advantage of this when you have time to write. Instead of just writing one post and publishing it immediately, write two or three (or however many you have time to write), and schedule them for later publication.

Do you have any other ideas for managing multiple blogs?