Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, June 29, 2015

Comments on Becoming an Excellent Genealogist -- Chapter Eighteen

This is an ongoing series of chapter by chapter comments on the book,

Meyerink, Kory L., Tristan Tolman, and Linda K. Gulbrandsen. Becoming an Excellent Genealogist: Essays on Professional Research Skills. [Salt Lake City, Utah]: ICAPGen, 2012.

I am now commenting on Chapter 18: "Documentation and Source Citation" by Amy Harris, PhD., AG.

If you have been reading my blog lately, you probably realize that I have lot to say about this chapter's subject. Here is a quote that sets the tone of my discussions as well as this particular chapter:
In many ways, it is not whether one receives payment or not that sets apart the amateur from the professional genealogical scholar but rather the standard of documentation that one adheres to in one's work.
I am not sure that the dichotomy between "amateur" and "professional" holds up in the context of historical (i.e. genealogical) research and reporting. Failing to cite sources does not make one an "amateur." Also, the term "amateur" does not automatically imply poor or sloppy work. There is a much deeper issue here and that is the need to analyze and properly incorporate sources as well as cite them. As I have pointed out many times previously there is a tendency in certain levels of genealogical inquiry to exalt form over substance.

No matter what your position with regard to the need for formality in citations, there is a absolute need to identify your sources with enough particularity that subsequent researchers can duplicate your searches and verify your conclusions.

This particular chapter has some rather lengthy and numerous footnotes. I might note that very few of the other articles in the book have comparably long and involved notation. Perhaps the author was making a point in including long and overly explanatory footnotes? It is my own style to include all references within the text of my posts (if you haven't noticed). I try to consistently make reference to any source that I utilize, no matter how obscure. Of course, I have no expectation that anything I write in this fashion will be published in a prestigious journal, but I think that footnotes interrupt the flow of the text in some cases and including the sources with the quote or idea is less intrusive.

The author does not discuss other ways of inserting citations. Many currently popular journals require citations to be inserted into the text. Footnotes, as such, are also liable to be put at the end of chapters or the entire document, i.e. endnotes. I think that the way the document incorporates notes and the content of those notes, quickly influence whether or not a reader is willing to plough through the document at all. I am also not particularly a fan of writing the paper in the footnotes. Reading such a paper is like listening to more than one conversation at the same time.

To repeat, I certainly agree that citing sources is necessary. I am currently faced with more than one surname book containing information that cannot be verified due to the lack of citations. I would be grateful for any attempt at telling me where the authors got their information, irrespective of the formality or lack thereof.

You may wish to review some of the preceding chapters:

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Elements of Research -- Part Twenty-five: The not-so-final conclusion

All things, both good and bad, come to an end sometime and this series is no exception. I guess, what it boils down to is that genealogical research is a rather complex activity and encompasses a huge spectrum of individual interests and goals. On the one hand, there are those who are satisfied in copying a few names into an online family tree. At the other end of the spectrum, there are professional genealogists who adhere to a complex system of proof statements and citations with the aim to publish their conclusions in journals and other publications. Some of those at the professional level also provide genealogical research services to clients for pay.

Due to this dichotomy within the genealogical community, we find several areas of tension, with substantial pulls from all the views of how genealogical research should be done. The overriding issue is accuracy and consistency. No matter how the process is characterized, it is essential that the conclusions reflect the broadest possible selection of historical documents and records. It is also extremely important that each and every record or document consulted by recorded so that the researcher and any subsequent researchers, can reproduce, if necessary, the method by which the conclusions were derived.

The main activity of genealogists (family historians or whatever) involves identifying, locating and searching historical records of all kinds for information about their (or their clients') ancestry. Once those documents are searched, any pertinent information is recorded with a citation to its exact location. As the researchers assembles the information, he or she begins the process of evaluation and interpretation. In some cases, it may be helpful to future investigators for the researcher to record their thought processes, but always recognizing that the discovery of additional documents or records or a re-interpretation of the existing records can completely change or modify any previously made conclusions. All genealogical conclusions are always open to modification and abandonment.

Complex issues of copyright law and plagiarism have influenced genealogical research for decades. For a variety of reasons, researchers have come to believe that they own their historical discoveries and conclusions. This attitude manifests itself in a variety of ways from the publication of research findings with claims of copyright protection to the hoarding of information with a refusal to share that information even with close family members. Whether this protective attitude originates with the hoarding compulsion or from an expectation that the researcher will be compensated by recognition or monetary gain, the results of these claims acts as smothering blanket on the entire research process. As a result, each generation of researchers has been forced to redo much of the work done by previous researchers. This is especially true when the previous research efforts were lacking in source citations.

Any genealogical conclusions that lack adequate documentation of both the source of the information and the thought process of the researcher, will always require duplication of effort.

Genealogical research is essentially a process that includes both methodology and theory. The methodology can vary and the theory has been sadly neglected over the years. As with most aspects of our modern society, technology has had a significant impact on the entire genealogical research process. The availability of online, digitized copies of a substantial number of historical records and documents will continue to change the way research is conducted, i.e. the methodology, but will have little impact on the theory. The difficulty is that the theory of how and why genealogical research is conducted is far from fully developed. It is very difficult to talk about genealogy or family history, as such, without encountering such a wide response to make communication almost impossible.

Part of this difficulty has come from the incorporation of inappropriate terminology, borrowed from other activities, that impedes the process of understanding and applying effective research activities. This spectrum of terminology and jargon was recently epitomized by the recent trends to make genealogy "entertaining." This particular trend obscures or completely abandons the core activities and motivation and the need to adequately research and identify ancestors. This is being advocated at the expense of attracting people to "family history" at a casual and unstructured level.

Previous installments of this series include:

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Elements of Research -- Part Twenty-four: More about Daniel Boone

The family tradition and the extended line for the Morgan family I discussed in the last installment, would lead you to believe that my Morgan ancestors were related to Daniel Boone's mother, Sarah Morgan Boone. As I have already shown, this is highly unlikely since the there are inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the data many generations and many states away from the Boone family. The examination of the recorded, individual events in the last blog post illustrates the basic concept of research; that is, the direct relationship between searching historical records for information concerning individual ancestors and their families and the accuracy of the information recorded.

This post and the one following will summarize and conclude this rather lengthy series, but these posts will by no means conclude all that I have to say on the subject of research. Genealogy is entirely a research oriented activity and it is tragic how few of the adherents spend the time and energy necessary to adequately explore and document their ancestry. The issues I pointed out in the previous post may seem trivial, but they illustrate real issues of accuracy and consistency that question the entire structure of conclusions made about this particular family by genealogists stretching back over 150 years.

Here is a brief summary of the ancestral line I am examining:
My mother
My mother's father, Harold Morgan, b. 1892, d. 1963
John Hamilton Morgan, b. 1842, d. 1894
Garrard Morgan, III, b. 1806, d. 1889

In that relatively short time, the accuracy of the information about Garrard Morgan is called into question. By the way, as far as I can determine, the addition of the middle name "Hamilton" to my Great-grandfather, John Morgan, was done by the genealogists after his death, he did not use that name during his lifetime. Likewise, the designation "III" of Garrard Morgan is also a genealogical addition.

The goal of genealogical research is demonstrating valid conclusions supported by the examination of historical records and documents. The individual researcher must come to his or her own conclusions. The source of the information that influenced the formation of those conclusions must be recorded or the conclusions must be considered tentative and unreliable. Notwithstanding the need to derive valid conclusions, to some degree, all genealogical conclusions are basically incomplete and tentative because the discovery of additional historical records or documents may change those conclusions at any time. Each step or generation backward into the past must be supported by some validly derived conclusion (no matter how it is designated) in order to justify adding another generation. If the motivation of the researcher is other than deriving supported conclusions (i.e. trying to connect to royalty or whatever) then every conclusion is suspect.

Two major distractions in the present genealogical research community consist of ignoring the tentative nature of all historical research and constantly focusing on the formal presentation of the conclusions. I certainly agree with the need to carefully document each conclusion. It also helps, in some limited cases, to explain your conclusions, but, as I have previously stated, using the Chicago Manual of Style does not necessarily validate your conclusions.

Back to my illustration. For reference, here is the screenshot of the existing record for Garrard Morgan, III on the Family Tree:

Here is a list of the present sources for Garrard Morgan, III:

The information about Garrard Morgan, III is very limited in the John Morgan book. To me, the recorded research is very superficial, especially for a person who lived his entire life in the 19th Century. Of course, there may be many researchers out there that have extensive information about this individual, but how do I go about finding them? The whole point of the Family Tree is to create a unified family tree, one place where all of the information known about individuals and their families can be gathered and compared. If there are knowledgeable researchers with additional information who are failing to consider putting their information in the Family Tree, for whatever reason, they are impeding the research process and not helping to correct published information.

The first listed source is a death record for Leon Morgan, who died when he was 76 years old in Chicago, Cook, Illinois. His birth date is listed as 28 April 1847 in Greensburg, Indiana. His parents are listed as Garrard Morgan and Eliza Hamilton. What is in the Family Tree presently? Here is the entry for Leonidas McConnell Morgan:

Now, without spending more than a few minutes, I find a discrepancy between the birth date and place recorded in the death record and the date in the Family Tree. Now we go on to the sources recorded for Leonidas McConnell Morgan:

As you can guess at this point, this whole process is ongoing and endless. The compilers and writers of the John Morgan book incorrectly assumed that everything was "settled" and presented his descendants with a beautiful, hard-bound book full of wonderful stories. Unfortunately, they failed to adequately document his ancestry. It is interesting to point out that John Morgan is listed in the 1850 U.S. Federal Census as "John W." In examining the sources recorded for Leonidas, I find even more discrepancies and inconsistencies. This is certainly a fertile field for accurate research.

Other than illustrating the sorry state of the research on this particular family, what is the point? The answer to this question is contained in the 23 previous posts I have written on this subject. Stay tuned for further conclusions.

Previous installments of this series include:

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Elements of Research -- Part Twenty-three: Am I related to Daniel Boone?

One of my family's persistent traditions is an alleged relationship to the famous American, Daniel Boone. Year's ago, I disproved that tradition with some brief research in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. Now the tradition has emerged again in the form of entries in the Family Tree. Since I have been writing this seemingly endless series on research, I have become more focused on my "Morgan line" of research. I have decided that it is time to use this family to illustrate some of the basic concepts I am trying to convey with this series.

The very first examination I would make is the extent to which this particular line has been "sourced." As I go back on this line on the Family Tree, I find some documentation for several of my ancestors, but as the generations fade back into the past, the source citations diminish rapidly and finally disappear. As I go further back through the entries in the Family Tree, I ask the following questions:
  • Is the name of the ancestor accurately recorded with a supporting source?
  • Are the dates and places accurately recorded and supported by sources? 
  • Did the towns, cities, counties or even countries exist at the time of the event? 
  • Do the dates and places need to be standardized? 
  • Are the dates recorded consistent with reality? 
  • Where was each child born? 
  • Do the birth dates of each child make sense and are they realistic? 
  • Are there any sources? 
If there is any question about the answers to any of these questions, it is time to take the next step; identify documents or records that might answer the questions. Depending on your degree of experience and comfort, you may wish to do a physical checklist of issues. Here is the ancestor I started examining:

There are, at least, six immediately evident issues with the information here in the program. My next step after conducting this review is to compare this information in the Family Tree with what I have already recorded about this ancestor, assuming, of course, that I have already done some research about this particular person. In this case, these appear to be the issues:

1. I need to check whether or not the city and county were in existence at the time of the ancestor's birth. My records record the birthplace as "near Carlisle, Nicholas, Kentucky, United States." The source for the birth information is apparently taken from the following book:

Richardson, Arthur M, and Nicholas G Morgan. The Life and Ministry of John Morgan: For a Wise and Glorious Purpose. [Place of publication not identified]: N.G. Morgan, 1965.
Unfortunately, the book provides few sources and none for the information concerning Garrard Morgan III. 

2. Both the place and the date need to be verified. You must take the time to verify each individual, particularly before moving on to the next generation. The fact that this information "came from a book" carries no weight at all. 

3. If there is a burial date, there should also be a burial place. 

4. This "extra" Birth Name is extraneous. 

5. Same problem with extra, extraneous information. 

6. The marriage date is obviously wrong since it is many years after the birth of the children and when the mother was 68 years old. 

These are just a few of the initial problems and questions those problems create. With all these issues, there is no way that any information concerning subsequent generations is believable at this point. Even it this record has sources, it is apparent that the sources are not sufficient to establish the the dates and places in the information provided so far. 

I will continue the analysis of this entry in my next post and discuss how to determine what kinds of records would assist in correcting and expanding the information about this person. At this point the question in the title to this post about a relationship to Daniel Boone cannot be answered. Obviously, the basic information in the file would not allow such a conclusion to be reached.

Previous installments of this series include:

The First Virtual Family History Expo

For the past ten years or so, has been traveling the United States and providing a high quality, local family history conference experience for thousands of attendees. Now it is time to focus that previous experience in a slightly different direction. is now producing a monthly learning opportunity in Salt Lake City, Utah at the world famous Family History Library. Quoting from a recent blog post:
Family History Expos is presenting a series of monthly retreats and learning experiences—every month in 2015, we teach you how to find those difficult ancestors in the classroom—with handouts, slide shows, and expert instruction. And we take you by the hand into the FamilySearch Library—the largest genealogy library in the world. We help you with research, reading documents, copying records and sources onto your flash-drive, evaluating evidence—so you can take new information and newly documented ancestors home with you. 
Oh, let’s be clear about this—you do the work under our careful eye and with our expert help. You will wow your genealogy cousins with the problems you solve, along with your greater understanding of research and how to find and document ancestors that belong to you.
As indicated in the screenshot above, for July, 2015, FamilyHistoryExpos will be presenting a mentored, week long study session with classes and hands-one experience at the Family History Library on "Tracing a Southern Pedigree." Here is the quote:

Southern States Virtual Expo

For those of you who just can't make it to Salt Lake City in July, please join us virtually from your personal computer. You can participate with us live, ask questions, and enjoy the handouts. Much like attending a Family History Expo except you get more classes spread over 5 days. With time to relax in-between class sessions.

Click here to register

The Elements of Research -- Part Twenty-two: Who needs codification?

Codification is the the act, process, or result of arranging in a systematic form or code. In genealogy, this can take various forms. Genealogists use a variety of computer programs as well as informal (paper and pencils) and more formal methods to record (codify) the results of their research. Within the overall genealogical community, there are factions that advocate their own form of codification and actively promote their way of recording genealogical information as the "only" way it can properly be recorded. In addition, there is also a substantial majority of the genealogical adherents that choose codification by default. They allow whatever structure they encounter to dictate how they record their data. The two extremes in the genealogical community can be characterized, at one extreme, as name grabbers who simply populate an online family tree and think they are doing genealogical research and at the other end of the extreme, those who are convinced that only those who adhere to their particular view of codification are truly genealogists and the rest are beneath notice. Most of us fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

Do you regularly use the word "ain't?" Such as in the phrase, "I ain't going to the store?" Or perhaps, "We ain't going to the store?" In fact, if "ain't" is part of your common vocabulary you probably use it as follows:

I ain't
he/she ain't
they ain't
we ain't

Probably since pre-historic times, there have been self-appointed prescriptive linguistic grammarians, that is, people who speak a certain way and look down on anyone who does not conform to their standard language pattern. In many European countries, there are national language institutes that work diligently to make sure that the population uses the accepted and "pure" language. My introduction to this was a book I purchased in Argentina:

Ragucci, Rodolfo M. El habla de mi tierra: lecciones prácticas de lengua española ... Buenos Aires: Editorial Don Bosco, 1963.

This rather sizable book proscribed which types of phrases were "acceptable" Argentine Spanish and which were unacceptable. Your use or not of the word "ain't" is a perfect example of a regular contraction used by the English language that has become unacceptable due to social grammarians efforts to eradicate the usage of the word. Your use of language has become a classic class-marker as illustrated by George Bernard Shaw's Play, Pygmalion. Here is a Wikipedia comment on "ain't."
The usage of ain't is a perennial subject of controversy in English. Ain't is commonly used by many speakers in oral or informal settings, especially in certain regions and dialects. Its usage is often highly stigmatized, and it may be used as a marker of socio-economic or regional status or education level. Its use is generally considered non-standard by dictionaries and style guides except when used for rhetorical effect, and it is rarely found in formal written works.
We have exactly the same type of social stratification in genealogy only rather than focusing on the way we talk, the stratification is based on our personal method of recording our research, that is, our methods of codification. If you put all your family history on a publicly available family tree with no sources, you are definitely in a different category than if you publish your research findings in an accepted and revered genealogical journal. The difference is essentially in the level of codification you choose to learn and employ. The stratification comes from attaching value judgments to these two activities. On the one hand, those who fail to add sources or citations to their work are considered plebeians, while the "upper crust" uses the proper and highly structured formalities associated with their class status. In fact, many genealogist expend a huge amount of effort simply learning what is and what is not acceptable by the patricians. Do you worry about how you are recording your research? Think about it.

For more than forty years I operated within a highly codified structure known as the U.S. legal system. Many years ago, I began the move sideways into an equally codified structure, genealogical research. In essence, I trade one structure for another. Personally, I think it was a good trade-off. But as with nearly all human activities, we have a tendency to codify our social rules and mores and separate into classes and I had to learn and adapt to the new paradigm of codification in my avocation of genealogy.

Why has how we record our research become the chief indicator of class division among genealogists? My opinion is that there is very little else we can use to distinguish what I do from what you do and we have fastened our attention on one very obvious indicator. I could use a few other examples, but they would only make me even less popular than I probably already am in some circles.

But there is a basic issue that transcends class distinctions. That is the need to accurately record our research efforts. Whether or not I use a "standard" citation method is vastly overshadowed by the need to record where I obtained the information I record. For example, this past week, I have been using a family from the Family Tree in my classes at the Brigham Young University Family History Library. The Family Tree records the family as General James Edward Morgan and his wife, Margaret Elizabeth Jarman. During the time I have been teaching this series of classes, someone has made some significant changes to this particular family line without recording any sources. In fact, I used this same family for examples in my blog posts recently. In one case, the person making the changes, changed a birth date for the wife that was listed as being more than a 150 years after the death of her husband. The husband was listed as being born in the 1600s and the wife in the 1800s, an obvious error. That particular couple also has 17 listed children. The husband is listed as having three different wives with 25 children listed for the second wife and 2 for the third "unknown" wife. The sources listed include three published genealogies from the 1800s and early 1900s. However, no source was listed for "correcting" the wife's birthdate. The husband was supposedly born in 1670 and married in 1679, no wonder he had so many children.

It is abundantly clear that this family is a mess from a genealogical standpoint. What is even more interesting about this entry is that the three "sources" obviously do not refer to the named individual in the entry. The person named is identified as "General James Edward Morgan, (b. 1670, Bala, Merionethshire, Wales, d. 20 April 1736,  Gwynedd, Montgomery, Pennsylvania, United States). The person changing the wife's birth date without citing a source, has apparently ignored the fact that the rest of the entries are ridiculous. What is interesting is that the probable Edward Morgan was not a General and is claimed to be the grandfather of Daniel Boone. Although this family appears in my line on the Family Tree, I have long ago disproved any connection with this family and my own. As I pointed out, the three "sources" do not refer to the same three families and none of the sources refer to the family recorded in the Family Tree.

Am I going to worry about the formalities of my citations when there are much more serious issues? As a matter of note, I am not going to untangle this family because my line actually ends three or four generations before I get to these illustrated problems.

This series will keep going.

Previous installments of this series include:

Back to the radical change in the Blogs and Social Networking

I backed off from reviewing my reader list for an entire day. Normally, that would be a recipe for disaster, with hundreds of posts to review. But I wanted to get a longer and more inclusive list of blog posts to use as an indicator of the trends in genealogy blogging. I opened the list this morning to 147 posts, a respectable number for the middle of a hot Summer. I decided to divide the list into several categories as follows:

  • Those blogs from commercial enterprises, societies etc., i.e. etc.
  • Blog posts from established and regular bloggers who have businesses to promote
  • Blog posts from established bloggers who are not promoting anything in particular
  • Posts from individual bloggers who are relatively new
  • Non-genealogy blogs which should not really be included
  • Family and other personal blogs

What did I find? Here is a summary with some commentary:

My first comment is that my categories didn't work very well. I have some categories with no blog posts. Of course, with what I have been counting lately, I really do not have any numbers that indicate a trend, but the distribution of the blog posts is very interesting and, at least today, the numbers support my non-scientific, very opinionated observations. The numbers adds up to 145, so I probably missed counting two posts.

The largest category of postings was 46 posts from commercial bloggers who are promoting their businesses. This number was followed very closely by 43 posts from individual bloggers who also have a business agenda, such as selling books or other items. A sizable number were from the non-genealogy related blogs, with 30 posts. I only have a very small handful of non-genealogy blogs represented by this number, so the number is very large compared to the number of blogs in this category. There were 15 posts from regular, established bloggers who are not particularly commercially oriented and only 10 from newer bloggers that I do not recognize as posting regularly. Today, there was only one post from my family.

Now, think about this. Even though this is a random sample from only one day's worth of blog post accumulations, the numbers exactly support my observations. Genealogy blog postings have gone very decidedly commercial and the total numbers postings are dropping like a rock. 89 out of the 145 posts were blog posts from commercially promoted blogs. Only 25 posts came from less commercially motivated genealogy sources. Even though I subscribe to only a handful of non-genealogy related blogs, they represented 30 of the 145 posts counted. The one post from my family is definitely in keeping with my own observations, since I have about 14 Instagram posts from my family in the last couple of days. I also have a solid stream of posts from my family on Facebook.

After discussing this with my very astute and technology oriented family members, we all agree that there is a marked move from blogs to more immediate social networking. One daughter observed that the availability of movies probably cut into the blogging time also. This one-day count supports my observations that the online genealogy community has become very heavily commercialized. Overall, the number of blog posts is declining and a significant number of readers are moving to other online outlets such as Facebook.