Genealogy Do-Over – Month 6 – June 2016

The Genealogy Do-Over - Month 6 Topics: 1) Evaluating Evidence and 2) Reviewing Online Education Options

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

Topics: 1) Evaluating Evidence and 2) Reviewing Online Education Options

For Month 6 of The Genealogy Do-Over we turn to one the most important, and often neglected areas of genealogical research: Evidence Evaluation. As I’ve stated in the past, not determining whether a source was credible, would often come back to haunt me in later research. I’ve admitted this shortcoming and now I’m resolved to do something about it!

In addition, we begin to look at different types of educational opportunities available for genealogists. This month, the focus is on those offerings online, both free and fee-based. Ongoing education is a crucial part of not only becoming a good genealogist, but keeping your current skills finely honed and acquiring new skills!

Evaluating Evidence

Once I’ve gathered various bits of evidence for a proof point, such as my own birth date, and I’ve entered them in my research log, the next task: evaluating the evidence to determine whether my birth date can be proven or not.

In the past my evaluation of evidence consisted of saying to myself, “Well, if it is in a book it must be true!” or “If it is on someone’s tree, why would they lie?” Then I would enter the data in my genealogy database program and go on my merry way.

Now, I’m using a process to really look at the evidence I’ve found and to “rank” it based on certain elements. The evaluation elements that I use are from an article entitled Guidelines for Evaluating Genealogical Resources by Linda Woodward Geiger. You can find this article, and many more, in the Skillbuilding section of the Board for Certification of Genealogists’ website here.

I’ve included the basic evaluation information in a separate tab of my Genealogy Research Log so I can refer to it when evaluating a line entry in the research log. I also make notes in the Analysis column to support my theory as to proving or disproving my birth date.

Here’s an example using a certified copy of my birth certificate that I have in my possession:

  • Source Type: Derivative. It is a copy of the original record at the repository, in this case the New York State Department of Health, Vital Records. Some would argue that an official copy could still be called an Original instead of a Derivative, but for the standards I am using, I feel comfortable using Derivative.
  • Clarity: Clear. I can read the text, it is typewritten or printed, and I don’t need to guess at words.
  • Information: Primary. Although this is a copy, the original birth certificate was filed soon after my birth and is very close in time to the birth event. It was also filed with an official government agency required to keep an accurate record of such events.
  • Evidence Type: Direct. My birth date, location and other information is explicitly stated on the record; the information does not need to be inferred.

So, my birth certificate is “Derivative, Clear, Primary and Direct” as I call it. It would rank higher as a reliable record than say a birth announcement in the newspaper (not knowing who the informant was) or a Delayed Birth Certificate that is filed years later and based on one or more sworn affidavits by myself and/or others.

Finally, another valuable resource for learning more about evidence evaluation is QuickLesson 17: The Evidence Analysis Process Map at the Evidence Explained website.

Reviewing Online Education Options

Starting this month, The Genealogy Do-Over asks participants to starting reviewing options for genealogy education and the focus is online resources (we look for “offline” resources next month!).

As you can imagine, I’m a big proponent of not just genealogy education, but online genealogy education as well. Webinars are a big part of my own genealogy business and over the past five years, the genealogy industry has seen explosive growth in “distance education.”

So why do we pursue genealogy education? Not only to become better genealogists, but also because new record sets come online or are available at repositories and we want to use them as efficiently as possible. In addition, we may discover an ancestor from a new location and we’re not familiar with research in that area.

Here is a resource listing for free online genealogy education resources: RESOURCES Free Online Genealogy Educational Resources (opens in PDF). As you can see, there are some gaps especially in the area of Canadian, UK and Australian resources.

Month 6 To Do List – Full Do-Over Participants

  • Evaluating Evidence: Consider following my example of implementing evidence evaluation into your genealogy research process. Yes, it can be time consuming, but just like citing sources, once you’ve gotten into the habit, it becomes easier and you feel more confident in completing the task.
  • Reviewing Online Education Options: Review the RESOURCES Free Online Genealogy Educational Resources (opens in PDF) and consider creating an Education Plan. Start with small goals for 2016 and then look for webinars, videos and other online resources that can help you achieve those goals.

Month 6 To Do List – Review or “Go-Over” Participants

  • Evaluating Evidence: If you are reviewing your existing research, it may be difficult to evaluate evidence if you haven’t cited sources. In addition, some genealogy database software programs don’t make it easy to evaluate evidence. Determine the best method for your current data; it may actually help to use a program such as Evidentia, Clooz or one of the other evidence evaluation software packages.
  • Reviewing Online Education Options: There isn’t much different for the “go-over” or “review” participants – we all need genealogy education whether we are doing a complete “do-over” or not. See the plans above and determine what is a good fit for your learning style and the gaps in your genealogy skills.

©2016, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

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 ( 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.