Genealogy Do-Over – Month 5 – May 2016

The Genealogy Do-Over - Month 5 Topics: 1) Building a Research Toolbox an 2) Citing Sources.

Click here for a list of ALL The Genealogy Do-Over Topics for 2016.

Topics: 1) Citing Sources and 2) Building a Research Toolbox

Here we are in Month 5 of The Genealogy Do-Over and this month’s focus is all about tools: finding and curating online tools to assist with your genealogy research AND understanding the basis of citing sources as a tool to document your research.

Building a Research Toolbox

For several years I’ve been advocating the following concept: every genealogist should create a consolidated research toolbox filled with various tools such as historical value of money calculators, links to historical newspaper sites, etc.

The reason? Efficiency and increased productivity. Think of how much time you spend looking for a link to a site you saved a week or a month ago? Wouldn’t you rather spend that time looking for ancestors? On the other hand, when you need to calculate something – like how much $1 in 1910 would be worth in today’s money, you spend time out on the Web searching for a site to do the calculation. Don’t forget that each time you wander out to the Internet, you are at risk of being attracted by those BSOs (“bright and shiny objects”) and time is wasted!

A genealogy research toolbox can take many forms: a blog, a website, an Excel spreadsheet or even a cleaned-up and organized list of bookmarks:

A genealogy research toolbox can take many forms: a blog, a website, an Excel spreadsheet or even a cleaned-up and organized list of bookmarks.

BONUS: Building a Research Toolbox video from RootsTech 2015

This past February, I was honored to present a live-streamed session entitled Building a Research Toolbox (you can watch the video below or click here to view). In front of a full house of over 800 participants and with thousands watching live on the Internet, I explain the concept of a research toolbox and how it has helped my genealogy research. And click here to download the Building a Research Toolbox syllabus for free!

BONUS: Tools to Get You Started

Here are some tools that I recently located while preparing for a recent online webinar. They are so useful that I can’t see doing without them . . . so why not have them ready to access in a toolbox?

Citing Sources

True confession: Like many beginning genealogists, I did not always cite my sources during research. I was a name collector. I’ve evolved as my research skills improved and as I took advantage of educational resources. For me, citing sources is not about impressing other researchers or meeting any standards established by others. I cite sources so I can go back and find the original information. Plain and simple. Source citations are the equivalent of a trail of breadcrumbs along my genealogy journey.

So, why do we use source citations?

There are many reasons why a genealogist might want to cite sources while researching ancestors.

  • Establish Proof. Cited material gives credibility to a fact or relationship while proving a connection.
  • Determine Reliability of Evidence. Some sources are more reliable and make a stronger proof. Compare points of evidence based on their source.
  • Track Records and Resources. Easily go back and locate records and their repositories. This is effective when the original record or a copy is lost.
  • Expand Research. When encountering a difficult area of research, look for sources that were successful in making a proof and check them again for further information.
  • Discover Conflicts. Locate contradictions in existing research or when new evidence is found.
  • Understand the Research Process. When using another researcher’s work, sources can give a glimpse at how that research was developed.
  • Placeholders. Pick up a research project where you left off by looking at source citations.

How do I create a basic source citation?

A basic source citation has the following components:

Author, Title, Publisher, Locator

For the book Evidence Explained, here is a basic citation:

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Pub Co, 2007, p. 103.

  • Author: Format can be “First Name Last Name” or “Last Name, First Name.”
  • Title: Format can be Title (italics) or Title (underline). In addition, article titles may precede publication title.
  • Publisher: Format often includes publisher location, name and year published and sometimes appears in parentheses.
  • Locator: Usually a page number or range of page numbers depending upon the source type.

In addition, for online sources you may need:

  • Accessed: List date when source located as in “accessed on March 29, 2009” since online sites are known to disappear.
  • Examined: List search criteria as in “examined for any reference to ‘xyz’.”

Following the Basic Source Citation format above, you will want to add more “locator” information when using records such as census pages, death certificates, etc. and also specify the name of the person(s) listed in the record.

1850 U.S. Federal Census, Lewis County, New York, population schedule, Leyden, p. 84, dwelling 1254, family 1282, line 36, Clarinda PARSONS, digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 16 October 2011); from National Archives microfilm publication M432, roll 523, image 168.

How can I access the citation format templates?

While I have added the source citation templates to the Genealogy Research Log (on the Citation Formats tab), click here to access a list of common citation formats in a Microsoft Word document.

Month 5 To Do List – Full Do-Over Participants

  • Citing Sources: If you own a copy of Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace (either hard copy or digital), read Chapters 1 and 2. Doing so will help you understand how source citations are constructed and why they are so important to genealogy research.

Month 5 To Do List – Review or “Go-Over” Participants

  • Citing Sources: If you have cited sources for your previous research, review the cites and check them for formatting and accuracy. If you don’t have a cheat sheet or template to help speed up the process, consider creating a way to use pre-set source citation templates.
  • Building a Research Toolbox: Consider creating a research toolbox, especially if your current toolbox consists of tons of bookmarks or favorites that are not very well-organized.

©2016, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

Genealogy Do-Over – Month 4 – April 2016

The Genealogy Do-Over - Month 4 Topics: 1) Tracking Research and 2) Conducting Research

Click here for a list of ALL The Genealogy Do-Over Topics for 2016.

Topics: 1) Tracking Research and 2) Conducting Research

With Month 4 of The Genealogy Do-Over, this is where, as genealogists, we “come home” to our favorite place: research. We get to actually take the information from our self-interviews and family group sheets and use it to find evidence to prove or disprove relationships and what I call “data points.”

Do you remember returning home for the first time after a long absence, such as your first semester of college or on your first military leave? Things changed, didn’t they? Maybe your mother converted your room into a sewing room or your father claimed it as his den or “man cave?” I hate to tell you this . . . but with The Genealogy Do-Over, coming back to research will never be the same. Now you will be asked to set up a To Do List (your research goals), track your research, and more. There will be data to enter, items to transcribe and eventually, thinking and analysis required!

This is how genealogy success is made. Most of you are part of The Genealogy Do-Over to change old research habits and to improve skills. What was is gone; long live the new research methods. And long live success!

Besides, haven’t you heard that you can never go home again?

Tracking Research

One of the main issues I had with my OLD genealogy research method: I would not track data when I found it. I would simply enter it in my database, perhaps mark it as UNSOURCED and then tell myself I would clean it up later.

NO MORE! With The Genealogy Do-Over, the goal is to track your goals, what you want to prove and then – after collecting as much related evidence as possible – evaluate that evidence and prove a fact. Once proven, then it is entered into a genealogy database software program or an online tree. Solid information with solid source citations make for solid trees that don’t fall over.

Genealogy Research Log

I have a genealogy research log that I use and that I recommend. It is a multi-sheet Excel file that can be imported into Google Drive as well as Numbers for Mac users. Past participants in The Genealogy Do-Over have stated that the file converts cleanly in many programs, even Open Office.

Some genealogists have asked if I could create a similar research log in another program such as Microsoft Word since some people find spreadsheets difficult to use. Due to the nature of tracking information and the need for a very wide table, Word just doesn’t lend itself to a good genealogy research log format. Another option is to place all the fields in a “fillable form;” however, you would then have to create a new document for each record located. And then, how can you quickly see what you’ve found? Open and close a series of documents?

What you decide to use for a genealogy research log is up to you. If you’ve been opposed to using spreadsheets in the past, I just ask you to give the research log above a try.

Conducting Research

Once you have your research goals and a way to track them, then you are ready to research. This means both offline research at archives, libraries and repositories as well as online using various free and fee-based resources.

I continue to track down documents and evidence for each proof point on my To Do List. Right now the focus is on gathering the information, making sure I can remember where it came from and working on source citations and evidence evaluation at a later time.

Month 4 To Do List – Full Do-Over Participants

  • Tracking Research: Review the research log above including all the worksheet tabs. Decide if you want to use this research log format or create your own. If using your own, include the fields you think are most important to track when doing genealogy research.
  • Conducting Research: Using whatever tracking form you’ve selected, make sure you enter your research goals. Then start your research (with yourself and your birth date, birth location, etc.) and for each record found, make sure each one is entered and tracked. Copy a link to the record if it is online – you will want an easy way of returning to the record without having to do a search again. Make sure you extract as much information as possible from the record.

Month 4 To Do List – Review or “Go-Over” Participants

  • Tracking Research: If you have never used a research log before, consider using the format above or creating your own. Another option is to see if your preferred genealogy database software has a way of tracking research; some have a To Do List option, others have something similar to a Research Log.
  • Conducting Research: With your current research, start with yourself. Check to see that all information is accurate, based on your self interview, and make sure each point of data can be tied to at least one record. If something is missing a corresponding record – like a birth location – then mark it as “unsourced” and add it to your To Do List for further research.

©2016, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

Genealogy Do-Over – Month 3 – March 2016

The Genealogy Do-Over - Month 3 Topics: 1) Conducting Self Interview and 2) Conducting Family Interviews

Click here for a list of ALL The Genealogy Do-Over Topics for 2016.

Topics: 1) Conducting Self Interview and 2) Conducting Family Interviews

Conducting Self-Interview

There are many different formats to use for your personal interview including a simple written narrative, a bullet point list of dates and places, or a family group sheet. Make sure you take your time and record the important data related to:

  • Birth
  • Marriage(s) and Divorce(s)
  • Religious events including bar/bat mitzvahs, baptisms, confirmations, etc.
  • Children

An additional option is to actually write out your own mini-biography in your own “voice.” You can then extract the data (next month) for your research log and you will have a nice memento to pass on to your family.

For my own Do-Over, I created both a personal interview and a family group sheet for my parents and myself. The interview is important; it is a “brain dump” of what I know in terms of dates, places etc.

Conducting Family Interviews

Once your interview is done, create a list of aunts, uncles, cousins and other relations who would have information about your parents, grandparents and other extended family members. Again, the format and method of interviewing is up to you. Some options:

  • Family Group Sheet: If you have a fillable form (print or online) have your family members complete as much information as possible about their own immediate families.
  • Record an Interview: With today’s technology, it is easier than ever to record an interview. Consider using Skype and one of the several Skype recording programs. Alternatively, download an app for your iPhone or Android device. Yes, you will have to transcribe or record the information, but what can compare to preserving the voice of a family member as they describe their family’s history?

Month 3 To Do List – Full Do-Over Participants

  • Conducting Self-Interview: Select an interview format that works for you and enables you to extract the necessary information to launch your initial research next month.
  • Conducting Family Interviews: Create a family group sheet for your parents and your siblings. One way to source these data points is to record an interview with each person and then complete the sheet, or have the interview subject complete the sheet and return it to you.

Month 3 To Do List – Review or “Go-Over” Participants

  • Conducting Self-Interview: Consider conducting an interview of yourself based on your memories of important life events.
  • Conducting Family Interviews: Review any copies of family group sheets in your files and check them for accuracy.

©2016, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.