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j0440428 You want to take all the joy out of a genealogist’s day, just bring up the subject of source citations. I have seen faces go from glitter to gloom when you bring it up…LOL. Nevertheless, it’s one of my 10 Key Genealogical Principles, and sooner or later, if you want any of your research to be taken seriously, you’ll have to get around to doing it.

I speak from experience, as I spent the first few years of my genealogical journey happily having no knowledge or understanding of this concept. And today, because if that, I have some very critical pieces of my research that I have no idea where I got them from. You kinda think that’s never gonna happen to you.  Ahh, such sweet deception.

The uptick is, it’s not at all as difficult as it appears and once you get the swing of it, it becomes 2nd nature. You become a stronger researcher because you tend to zoom in on source citations for everything you read.   I thought I’d at least point you to a few resources online on this subject you don’t want to miss:

  • 1. Of course, Elizabeth Shown Mills is the recognized genealogy goddess in this area and her colossus Evidence Explained! is a must have for all genealogists, period. I also recommend purchasing the PDF file of this book –it is immensely useful when you are on the road and trying to reduce weight. You can get it here from Legacy or from Footnote.com. Let me note that Ms. Mills has excellent explanations for each type of source and you should take some time to actually read the sections of this book (over time of course!).
  • 2. The Board for Certification website has some of Ms. Mills articles which succinctly explain why we need to all be correctly and diligently citing our sources. No one explains it better than she does. Click on the left link marked “Skillbuilding” to access the other articles.
  • 3. All of the major genealogy software packages do source citations now. I’m a Rootsmagic fan, so of course I’ll say I like theirs the best. They incorporate all of the templates from Evidence Explained!. There are also lots of good websites that will do automatic source citations for you. I like EasyBib-it will freely create MLA style citations. Citation Machine is useful too. A good list of citation software can be found here.
  • 4. My favorite free online citation guides are the Quick Reference Card Thomas MacEntee created at Geneabloggers and the website over at Progenealogists.
  • 5.  Other nifty stuff: I like the “Cite Your Sources” sticky notes available from Fun Stuff for Genealogists. You slap one on a copy you’ve made, and it’s got all the data you need to remember to fill in for the citation. They also have “Cite Your Sources” stamps.
  • 6. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point you to Mark Tucker’s excellent video post on “A Better Way to Cite Online Sources” over at ThinkGenealogy. Check it out.

I usually pick a day where I devote a few hours to updating my source citations, either in my genealogy software or in my notebooks. I have white 3-ring binders for each family line & most of my sources (census, vitals, deeds, etc.) are printed out in each binder. Then I buy those neon-colored envelope labels, type up a page at a time and put a colored label on each source in the binder containing the correct source citation. It may sound like a lot of work, but  consider that the great bulk of your citations are the same 4 or 5 times, be they census, vitals, deeds, probate, social security, world war I drafts, etc. Then you pretty much ‘cut and paste” and change the specifics.

Here’s hoping you are all remembering to cite your sources, and that some of the points above have contribute to making that a little easier. Please chime in via comments any tips and tricks you use for source citation.

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When I teach my classes, I start with the following list of what I call my “10 Key Genealogy Principles“. I have garnered these from the best & the brightest and take no credit for any of them.  These are the most useful techniques and methodologies I have learned in my years of research that I keep coming back to again & again. I hear one or more of these principles taught at every conference and in every article I read, even if they are called different things, and utilizing one or more of these has been responsible for every breakthrough I’ve ever had.

So, I share them here with you, my family–they are in no particularly order. And, I’d love to hear what principles you’d add to this list?

Robyn’s 10 Key Genealogical Principles:

  • 1. Proof is Not A Document
  • 2. Always Seek Original Sources
  • 3. Always Cite Your Sources
  • 4. Any Source Can Be Wrong
  • 5. Search Broadly and Deeply (Use Multiple Locations, Types of Records & Generations)
  • 6. Research to Uncover Identities (Not Names)
  • 7. Rebuild Communities (Don’t Collect Individuals)
  • 8. Use Evidence to Build A Case
  • 9. Watch Your Assumptions (And Revisit them Often)
  • 10. Don’t Isolate Records (View them in Context)

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j0439485The best way for me to interpret and analyze any sort of data has always been to represent that data as a drawing, picture, tables or a chart. Even in engineering school, I could never solve those advanced mathematical problems if I couldn’t visualize it. We all have different learning styles and types of intelligence and its been a natural progression for me to apply this knowledge to my genealogy. I recently shared this with my class and thought it would be a good topic to blog about. Of course, the core documents for genealogy are charts—descendant and ancestor charts and family grouping sheets. You’ll also notice that many NGS Quarterly articles include the use of charts—I think it greatly helps to organize your research with regard to clarity if you are publishing.

The third step in the Genealogical Proof Standard involves analysis and correlation of your data. I find that tables are perfect for helping to do this. Most of the time I find it easiest to create a table in Microsoft Word, although sometimes I will use Microsoft Excel.

Here are some of the custom tables and charts I have created in my own research. Most of us are familiar with census tracking charts and timelines, so I’ll omit those, and most of these are several pages long so I’ll just show the first page. The possibilities are endless and only limited by your imagination:

  • Birthplace Tracking Chart: I’ll organize birthplaces from a set of census records (say 1870-1930) in order to figure the most likely place of birth:
    Birthplace Tracking Scan
  • Birthdate Tracking Chart: Using a set of census records to estimate a birthdate range for individuals
  • 1870 Neighbor Chart: Because analyzing the neighbors in 1870 is especially crucial for African-American research, I have a chart where I track them. I also use the Formatting options to shade and color certain cells. Here, my family is shaded yellow and a potential slaveowner is blue:Neighbor Chart Scan
  • Tax Tracking Chart: Self-explanatory.  On this chart, the index listings are yellow and my primary families of interest are blue:
    Tax Tracking Scan
  • Land Records Chart: I saw this in Emily Croom’s book Unpuzzling Your Past. She made a chart where she traced each piece of land for an ancestor, but also recorded where that land went (i.e., showing the person selling the land, and showing who bought or inherited that same piece of land). I do charts like these for all the members of a particular family, for example. Here’s Emily’s example in the book:
    Land Scan
  • Slaveholder Tracking: I do lots of different slaveholder tracking. I have charts of “potential” slaveholders, showing their slaveholdings from census records. I have charts of their family structures, their deed transactions involving slaves, and of their entire probate processes. Here are 2 examples:
    Slaveowner Tracking Scan1
    Slaveowner Tracking Scan Probate
  • Slave Charts: This is related to the slaveholder charts, but once I amass enough information on a group of slaves, I will typically chart those separately.
  • FHC Film Charts: I chart all the films I order from the FHC. Over the years, I’d forget what I’ve already viewed if I didn’t:
    FHC Film Scan

On all these, I usually include the FHC film number (if that’s what I used), book numbers (if applicable), the dates I did the research, the location if it’s done at a repository, microfilm information, page numbers, and any special notes or comments.

Of course, there are plenty of good websites online with blank charts of all types to use for your genealogical research. Cyndi’s List has a category for Supplies, Charts, Forms, also Ancestry, Family Tree Magazine , and Rootsweb have assorted charts and forms. My favorite census forms are Gary Minder’s at the Census Tools website. He’s also got plenty of other useful forms. There are also a wide array of private vendors who offer these sorts of products, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my buddy Michael Hait again and his terrific disk called Family History Research Toolkit, available from the Genealogical Publishing Company.

If you haven’t expanded beyond the basic genealogy charts, I encourage you to take a look at some of these downloadable charts and also don’t be afraid to create your own. You may see something in a new way or notice something you’ve never seen before. In the comments to this post, please feel free to make any other chart suggestions that you utilize or any other websites you know about that have unique forms.

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Saturday Night Genealogy Fun

Randy Seaver over at Genea-Musings always has such terrific Saturday night fun, and I finally have a chance to participate. He asked us to recall one of our favorite memories growing up.

I came of age in the 1980s, and I was shaped by the music and culture of that time. But one of my favorite memories–group of memories, really–are the times I shared with my childhood best friend Brandon growing up in Prince George’s County, Maryland in a sprawling apartment complex on Branch Avenue. Brandon looms very large in my memory, because we were two highly adventurous children who were really artists in our hearts.

We spent most of our time dancing, drawing, acting, singing, making books, creating “shows” we would put on for our friends and parents, and generally inhabiting a play-world all our own. We had clubhouses in the woods. We climbed trees and roller-skated. We watched every episode of “Dynasty” and “Knots Landing”. We got in trouble together. We’d get teased for being best friends (as a boy & girl) but we didn’t care and thankfully neither did our parents. We were two little dreamers and the apartments where we lived served as the perfect backdrop for our escapades, with its large pool, rec center, and tennis courts. I’ll never forget all the good times we had from about the age of 9-10 until we graduated high school.

Brandon moved to New York where he later became a professional dancer with the Alvin Ailey School of Dance. We’re still great friends and often wonder how in the heck we got to be 40 years old. Recently on a visit, Brandon and I went back to that apartment complex of our childhood, and walked around with a video camera, reminiscing (oh the genealogist in me never quits;)). My childhood is the bright & shining color of yellow because of Brandon. In my mind’s eye, we’ll always be those two oddball kids, ready to take on the world.

robbran

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I just started a new sister blog today called Giving Back to Kin. The purpose is to have a place to upload all of the data I’ve gathered over the years and continue to gather in my genealogy research to share with others. I’m excited about it and enjoy the opportunity to perhaps help others as I have been the recipient of endless generosity during my journey. I figure if I’m going to spend 1-2 hours looking a roll of microfilm, why not copy information others can use as well?

I will mainly post data from my primary areas of research, Tennessee and Maryland, but now and then I have other areas from doing research for other people. My inaugural edition today contains:

  • an index to court records for Hardin County, TN for Book I: 1869-1875
  • tax releasements for the year 1888 in Hardin County, TN
  • Freedmen’s Bureau marriages from Hempstead County, Arkansas
  • Labor Contracts from Freedmen’s Bureau records in Rocky Mount, NC.

They are all downloadable PDF documents. I hope you’ll visit from time to time, and let me know if I post something that helped you.

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After 12 years of genealogy, I am constantly amazed that I still have a very long list of things I need to do. Things I needed to do yesterday. Things I understand the importance of, but am usually too embarrassed in polite company to admit I haven’t done them yet. I am painfully reminded of this every time I attend a genealogy conference, especially FGS and NGS. I wish there was some magical Time Fairy who could add more hours to each day with a flick of her fairy-dust wrist.

Here’s what’s on my “Needed To Do Yesterday” list for the 2009-2010 Genealogy Year:

  • Maps. I still haven’t utilized maps to their full extent, though I’ve taken umpteen classes and KNOW this is a serious untapped resource for me. Maps have lived very much on the periphery of my research. Ditto for platting out land.
  • Timelines. Sad to say it, I have probably done exactly one timeline. I have a folder marked “Timelines”. I know they can help point out holes and put some order to the thought processes. I have grand and glorious plans to exploit timelines, but haven’t yet. ARGHH.
  • Me. One of the cardinal rules in genealogy is to start with yourself and I have tried to start writing about MY life many times and gotten sidetracked at the archives or the courthouse or whatever ancient record has cast its spell over me. I did spend one afternoon in my old neighborhood taking pictures & videos of my schools & homes & old jobs, but other than that, I still haven’t adequately written about my life thus far. ARGHH.
  • Organization. I’m not sure—see, I’m about to tell a lie—I’m SURE I don’t have a workable system of organization. It’s sort of cobbled together over the years & marked by fits of fear  & backing up marathons. I can pretty much find things when I need them but I still have many moments where my mind says : Is this backed up? Is it properly sourced? What if my computer crashes? Where are my pictures? I do backup to external hard drives & DVDs but somehow I’m still not at peace with my process.

That’s enough for tonight. I might have well have streaked naked across the internet, the way I’ve bared my genealogical embarrassments, LOL. But I thought I’d share this in the hopes that you could make your own “Shoulda Been Done This” list. And pledge, alongside with me, to get a movin’.

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Michael Jackson’s untimely demise has got me ruminating on the meaning of music. I got so emotional about his death and wondered why? One reason is truly that so much of his music plays in the background of my life. I started to think about this from the perspective of a genealogist. We’re so used to recording the facts of a person’s life…..shouldn’t we also include the music that defined that person? Doesn’t that give you some insight into that person? When I do video interviews, I always ask about what music, what movies, what tv shows that person listened to or watched. The cultural zeitgeist of the times we live in inevitably define us in numerous ways. So I became intrigued with this concept and thought I’d list a little “discography”, if you will, of my life so far.

My very earliest memories of childhood Christmases was the Jackson 5 Christmas Album. My brother and I couldn’t wait to hear it every year, so much so, that at some point, the 8-track tape (am I dating myself?) actually broke! We got another copy pretty soon, and even today I know every song by heart. On I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, I used to love to hear Michael say, “I’m gonna tell…I’m gonna tell my daddy!;)

I was a child during the 70s, when as a young girl I recall my mother constantly playing R&B and soul albums. It’s funny how in my memory, that period is defined by whatever albums my mom owned and played at the time. My most vivid recollections are of Natalie Cole, the Commodores, Minnie Riperton, and the Stylistics. My aunt Denise had some jeans where she’d written “Brick House” down one pants leg with a magic marker. I had no idea what that was, but I wanted to be a Brick House too.

70s

The 80s, I maintain, was a good decade musically, but an awful decade fashionwise to “come of age”.All those MC-hammer pants, and shoulder pads, loud colors, big gold jewelry…..think Dynasty meets Fresh Prince. Oh, the horror of it all…LOL. As a teenager, I had the biggest hair you’ve ever seen in your life! But I digress. This was a wonderful era for music, and of course Thriller was sort of a bookend for the decade coming out in 1982. These were big albums in my memory:

80s1

prince

soul

We bought Michael Jackson and Prince buttons to wear on our jean jackets. And Hall and Oates, oh my goodness. Culture Club. Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?…..We listened to bands like Duran, Duran and Journey too. I remember Air Supply. Madonna ruled the 80s. Anita Baker and Luther remind me of my first boyfriend who broke my heart, and I used to walk around crying singing those songs convinced I would never love again. And Keith Sweat, who could forget him? HAHAHA.

I would be remiss without mentioning the fact that my generation saw the birth of hip-hop music, which was a thing of beauty in the 80s (no cursing and misogyny back then). I will enjoy telling my kids about the birth of that style of music, just as I can imagine the previous eras that saw the birth of the blues, rock and roll, bebop and other truly American art forms. I still have an autograph from L.L. Cool J I got when I was 14 years old when he came to the local music store on my street. I thought I was just going to DIE from the giggles.

hiphopMy best friend and I wanted to BE Salt n’Pepa, and we would frantically dance around the living room trying to look cool. My first concerts were to go see these hip-hop artists at the Capitol Center in Maryland. What terrific memories those years are for me. Wow. We used to rewind and listen to the songs so we could memorize the raps. I also listened to alot of go-go music, being from the D.C. area, which is sort of our homegrown local music.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point I’m making about the place of music in our lives and our ancestor’s lives. Certain artists and songs just bring back all sorts of memories. I got happy just writing this post, remembering all this stuff. The last 10 years or so have seen my tastes veer distinctively towards classic jazz and old school R&B (classic sign of getting old, right…LOL). So, think about what songs would be in your life’s playlist, and write them down. And write down why. Ask your parents and grandparents. Years from now, this’ll be great conversation for your descendants. If they don’t know the artist, it may prompt them to look them up, and say to themselves….who was this James Brown person anyway?

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