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

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Information or data? Facts or Evidence?

The terms "information," "data," "facts" and "evidence" often get used indiscriminately. This is particularly true of the words "data" and "information." But if information is properly defined, there is a clear progression from information to data to facts and finally to evidence. In order to progress past the gathering stage of genealogy, a researcher needs to move through this hierarchy either consciously or unconsciously. The difficulty comes from the situation where the "researcher" accepts information, data or facts as evidence without any applied process of evaluation or organization.

Unfortunately, the two terms, data and information, are exchanged in different disciplines. In an educational context, the term "information" is used in the progression of information to knowledge to understanding to insight to wisdom. See Wikipedia: Information ladder. In this context the term "data" is used as the source for information. However, if you move back down this progression to the data level, you will find that the definition of data includes the input from what I am calling "information" or I could use the term sensory perception. My background is in linguistics, history and languages and I view the mind as accumulating information through external perception of events. In this sense, I am a realist. Without getting into a long philosophical discussion, this means essentially that I believe we learn from an external objective reality and that we learn by perceiving the reality. (If you are interested, I agree with the mathematician Kurt Godel).

No matter what you call it, what we acquire from the external world is a stream of sensory impressions. I also prefer to use the information theory approach to the use of the terms.

In genealogy, we are often completely unaware of the background information we possess. I will refer to this background as our world view, that is the sum of our perceptions and our internal informational structure. We belong to a kinship system of which we may only be vaguely aware. We also live in a culture that we take for granted without reflection or critical thinking. To get beyond mere name gathering, we have to begin to understand both our own relationship to our cultural and kinship systems as well as the differences between our present perceived reality and that of our ancestors. We must also actively begin to organize and evaluate the information we accumulate about our family into a structure that will allow us to continue to progress towards proof.

In its most simple form, genealogical research is nothing more than a search and find activity.
Doe becomes interested in finding his family. He looks through a pile of old documents he has accumulated and finds the names of his grandparents. He writes down the names on a piece of paper.
We all have to start somewhere and this is generally how we get started. But, sometimes, the process gets bogged down at this level and never progresses any further. We continue to search, accumulate and write down but never move up the progression towards evidence and ultimately proof. One of the reasons is that much of what we accumulate initially is so obvious. There is no incentive to organize the information pile because we haven't learned anything consequential. I understand that some people have a tremendous research challenge in identifying their own parents, but no matter where the "research" starts whether it is at the first or fifteenth generation, that is where there must be a transition from information gathering to evaluation and organization. 

I hesitate to call this a series, since I doubt there will be a perceived progression from one post to another.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Nutrioso and the Wallow Fire

Some of my ancestors lived in the very small town in the extreme eastern part of Arizona, just a few miles from the New Mexico border. The town is called Nutrioso from the Spanish nutria or beaver and oso or bear. It is about 7500 feet or so above sea level and is partially forested. Arizona has just suffered the worst fire in history, the Wallow fire, which has destroyed over 500,000 acres. Nutrioso was at the northern edge of the fire. On 28 June 2011, I traveled to Nutrioso to survey the damage. The news was good and bad. Some trees were lost but by and large Nutrioso is intact. However, I intended to show the fire damage over the next few days in my photo blog, I will be spending time also putting together 360 degree panoramas of the some of the burn damage. I will get back to my discussion of evidence shortly, but have to take this break for a while.

If you want to see some of my panoramas please see my panorama blog

Monday, June 27, 2011

What I forgot about evidence in the last post

What I forgot to mention in my last post about evidence was what is in about the other Mayflower passenger, Richard Warren. Please take a second to read the quote about Richard Warren in the last post. OK, if that is too much of a bother let me summarize. After about 300 years of research, in 2002, researcher Edward Davies found the will of Richard Warren's wife's father where Richard Warren's name is mentioned. That's it folks. No one yet knows the name of Richard's father.

But all those countless Mayflower genealogists have just been given their walking papers. All they really had to do was look in Not only do they have Richard Warren's parents but the line goes back 39 generations. Yes, you read correctly, 39 more generations to Mr. and Mrs. Fornjotur in 0135 in Finland. Oh, there is an alternate wife, he could have been married to Gonnor Gorrettsdotter. King Fornjotur was the first Kvenland king born in 160 and died in 250. Oh, well what are a few years off in the dates when you can go all the way back to the first king of Kvenland which I suppose is really Finland in its older form.

All of this without one shred of evidence. Not even so much as a passing nod to evidence. Perhaps if the people who have submitted this lengthy ancestry for Richard Warren had bothered with the first element of the Genealogical Proof Standard, they would have stopped and not spent all that time copying out old Finnish kings.

Now, we have quite a bit of information in New FamilySearch but not a lot of evidence. By the way, I am not picking on New FamilySearch, there is nothing wrong with the program that dumping all the bad data wouldn't solve. By the way, in the interest of fairness and equal time, there are literally hundreds of Public Member Family Trees in with Richard Warren and his wife Elizabeth Walker that do not show any parents for Richard Warren. But, they have their share showing generations of ancestors for Richard Warren, but what do you expect?

Now, we get to the second element of the Genealogical Proof Standard, complete and accurate citation of sources. The Family Trees are notable for the preponderance of trees completely lacking in any sources at all. But the underlying question is more important than a simple lack of sources, even if there are sources cited, are the sources evidence for the facts they supposedly support? I am sure that there are sources for the Finnish Kings line, but just because there is a source (i.e. a set of data or facts) does not mean that the data or facts are evidence for the claims being made.

Let me jump back to the chain of research or proof; information to data to facts to evidence to proof. Moving up the line is not an automatic proposition. Information only becomes data under certain stringent circumstances and the same thing can be said about each step. The lowest level of the legal standard of proof is a preponderance of the evidence so that supposes that there is evidence to have a preponderance of. (Ignore my bad grammar please). Likewise, evidence is made up of relevant and probative facts, neither or which are automatic attributes of facts themselves.

So what is lacking in the family trees? Facts. Evidence and of course, proof. Why is there so little proof of the family trees? Stay tuned for another exciting episode.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

What Me Worry? Who needs evidence?

One of my friends came to me with a photocopy of sheet he got from his sister. The sheet showed an ancestral line going back to two of the passengers on the Mayflower. He wanted to know about the line and so we looked at what was on Let's just say that was not a positive experience. One of the first things we ran into was the common problem of showing a child in the family of a grandparent. In other words, skipping a generation. I could go on with a tirade about the Mayflower descendants but that should probably be saved for another time when I am not worked up on the subject.

I also have a Mayflower line and that was one of the very early issues that I dealt with when I was just beginning genealogy. I have a lot of company, I commonly read that somewhere around 10% of the entire population of U.S. can trace one or more lines back to the Mayflower passengers. Now what about going back further? Let me give you an example. My ancestor, Francis Cooke. This is the simple statement about his own ancestral line: "Francis Cooke was born about 1583.  His origins have not been discovered, but it is probable he was born in England, perhaps from the Canterbury or Norwich areas." See for Francis Cooke. OK, then what about another of my Mayflower ancestors, Richard Warren from the same website:
Richard Warren's English origins and ancestry have been the subject of much speculation, and countless different ancestries have been published for him, without a shred of evidence to support them.  Luckily in December 2002, Edward Davies discovered the missing piece of the puzzle.  Researchers had long known of the marriage of Richard Warren to Elizabeth Walker on 14 April 1610 at Great Amwell, Hertford.  Since we know the Mayflower passenger had a wife named Elizabeth, and a first child born about 1610, this was a promising record.  But no children were found for this couple in the parish registers, and no further evidence beyond the names and timing, until the will of Augustine Walker was discovered.  In the will of Augustine Walker, dated April 1613, he mentions "my daughter Elizabeth Warren wife of Richard Warren", and "her three children Mary, Ann and Sarah."  We know that the Mayflower passenger's first three children were named Mary, Ann, and Sarah (in that birth order).  See Richard Warren.
As a matter of fact, very few of the Mayflower passengers have verified ancestry. So, what does this have to do with evidence? Let's go to the Genealogical Proof Standard. The very first element is that of a reasonably exhaustive search. I think that means that you should look around and see if there is anything out there about your family before you come to a conclusion. The explanatory note for this element assumes an examination of a wide range of high quality sources."

Now, I could go out and take a survey of a few dozen or so genealogists and see if they agree that you should look at "a wide range of high quality sources" but I really don't need to do that. People, even genealogists, vote with their feet. In other words, their work is an indication of both their beliefs and understanding about the need to search before coming to a conclusion. OK, I did a search on the Internet about my ancestors Richard Warren and Francis Cooke. What now? I am going to look at a random sample of people who have "researched" those same individuals. Guess where I am going to look? Yes, you guessed it. where all of my combined relatives have their efforts open to at least a small part of the world, to see.

Hmm. Let's see, I go back through my Tanner line to the Tefts, then to the Brownells, Tabers and finally Cookes. John Cooke married Sarah Warren, so I am related to both Francis Cooke and Richard Warren. Wait! There is an arrow pointing out beyond Francis Cooke! Can it be that the combined research of the professional genealogists for the past 300 years have wasted their time? All they really needed to do was go on New FamilySearch!!!!

There are parents for both Francis Cooke and his wife Hester Le Mahieu and the line goes on. In fact, the line goes on for about 18 more generations. What a gold mine. Just think of all the time those Mayflower genealogists have wasted.  Oh, no. There is a warning sign in New FamilySearch, after going back almost 30 generations, I see that the program says: "Duplication found in the pedigree." The program won't let me go back any further. Too bad there wasn't a warning message clear back there with Francis Cooke saying anything beyond this point is pure speculation and probably false.

By the way, the line ends with Lord Pagunus De Villiers Pain I but the date on the entry in NFS is off by about 100 years, so who cares anyway, What Me Worry? Who needs evidence?

I will keep on with evidence in the future since I didn't make much headway in this post.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

From Information to Data to Facts to Evidence to Proof

A classic example in today's world of gathering information is watching the stream of consciousness flow by on Facebook. Although, you may be fascinated by the flow (or addicted to it) what you are seeing is pure information. I would not even classify it as data since the organization imposed by Facebook doesn't lend itself to any further use or analysis. Researching in genealogy should be the antithesis of watching information flow by on Facebook.

Unfortunately, too many researchers using the Internet to try and find their family members, do just that. They watch the stream of information and impose only a minimal amount of organization. Information becomes data when it is organized, categorized and made accessible. Organization itself does not make the data useful. Even hoarders have an organization to their hoarding.

Computers give us all a marvelous tools for organizing, categorizing and making our data available to us in form that can be used in the future to construct facts and ultimately evidence for extending our research. So how do I move from gathering information to creating a database? That is relatively simple to answer, save your gathered information into a program that will impose an organization on it. Use any one (or more) of the generally available genealogical database programs. The program will do a number of things to your information that will turn it into data. First, it will impose a strict organization by family name and individual name. Even if you use the note function of the program to gather information, the notes are usually attached to an individual or even to a specific event. This automatically, almost, gives the information status as data. At least it will if the information is even remote relevant to the individual or event where it is stored.

Attaching the information to an individual or event (some programs call them facts) requires you to do at least a preliminary analysis of the relevance and appropriateness of the information. You must also categorize the information and will certainly be accessible. I still meet a significant number of people who are taking all their notes by hand on paper. The danger of doing this is that the information loses its character as data unless it is organized, categorized and can be accessed without major difficulty. Few paper genealogists have the organizational skills to do this consistently. My Great-grandmother, who researched her family and my Great-grandfather's family for thirty years, repeated her research at least three or four times, due to her inability to keep track of the huge amount of information she had generated and keep it in a format the made it readily accessible. I can't help but believe that she would have embraced computers and quickly recognized the utility of being able to avoid duplication of effort.

Now how does data (organized, etc.) make its transition to facts? That is a very difficult question to answer because facts are so event and individual related. You probably guessed by now, that I would end up with this discussion referring to the Genealogical Proof Standard. Yes, I am back to that. In law, there is an inherent standard of proof. But in law we refer to it as the burden of proof or sometimes the burden of persuasion. Many non-lawyers automatically association the burden of proof with criminal law but it applies just as appropriately to civil or non-criminal cases. Just so as to avoid any misconceptions, law is basically divided into two large divisions Criminal law or law dealing with acts that are punishable by fines, imprisonment or even death, and the civil law which deals with everything else. An easy way to see the distinction is that all criminal cases in the United States are brought by some division of the local, state or federal government. An individual or entity other than the government body, cannot bring or even file a criminal lawsuit.

So what are the levels of proof in the legal context: they can be listed as follows from the lowest to the highest level of proof:
  • Preponderance of the evidence
  • Clear and convincing evidence
  • Beyond a reasonable doubt (used more frequently in criminal cases)
  • To a moral certainty (not required in very many cases)
  • Absolute certainty (not used at all by any court)
Next time I come back to this subject, I will expand on the similarities and the differences between the civil/criminal standard of proof and the genealogical proof standard. They are related but address completely different issues and are used for divergent purposes.

Friday, June 24, 2011

I Move Exhibit Three Into Evidence, Your Honor.

Court trials can sometimes be tedious due to the large number of exhibits. I once spent three days sitting in a trial where the lead attorney repeatedly moved hundreds of documents, one by one, into evidence. Almost every juror in that case went to sleep at some point in the presentation. As genealogists we are mostly worried about having too little evidence, the problem of too much evidence doesn't seem to come up too often. The question in the lengthy jury trial was whether or not it was really necessary to go through each item of evidence? You will have to take my word for it, it was necessary. But in doing research we often intentionally or unintentionally ask the same question over and over. Is it really necessary to gather even more evidence about any one ancestor?

This question goes to the heart of the issue of what is evidence and when is enough, enough? In one of my last posts, I wrote about the difference between information, data and facts. Following that line a little further, I will discuss how information, data and then facts become evidence. In order to have evidence you must have something to prove. That may sound tautological, but in the legal world and in research you are usually setting out to prove a point. In law, every cause of action has its elements. Part of becoming a lawyer is learning about the elements of the hundreds and hundreds of different causes of action and what elements of proof are necessary for each one. You don't memorize all the causes, you learn how to find out what they are and how to apply facts to prove them.

Unfortunately, there are no real simple examples of the elements necessary to prove a case. Each case has its own unique facts and although the facts fall into patterns and categories, you can't really generalize. When you study law, you read thousands of cases. By reading and studying the cases, you slowly learn how to apply the law to other cases that may be similar. By force of necessity, most attorneys specialize in certain particular areas, because it is impossible to learn all about everything in enough detail to be proficient. In most cases, attorneys take only certain types of cases.

Now, as a genealogist, you have a similar learning curve. You have to learn about the multitude of records that may be available to research to give you facts that might be the evidence you are seeking to prove a relationship. So when does a fact become evidence? As simply as I can possibly explain, facts become evidence when they are relevant to establishing the proof of a research question or in law, relevant to the proof of an element of a case.

So what do I mean by relevant? Relevancy is another deep and lengthy question. In a legal context, attorneys can argue endlessly about the relevancy of any particular fact. Relevant facts are those that will ultimately lead to establishing a conclusion about the validity of any research objective or will, in the realm of law, prove the case.

I will try a couple of examples. Let's say you are looking for the marriage of your grandparents. Your first job is to find out as much about them as you can from a variety of sources. If you immediately focus on trying to find just that one fact, the date of their marriage, you will ultimately be very frustrated. On the other hand, you may find that information quickly, in which case, you can move on to another fact. If you find one fact, are you finished with your search? No. You have just found one fact, that is all. Ultimately, you want to be able to know more about your grandparents, and find enough facts to move back another generation. So what kind of documents would be relevant to finding a marriage date? There are a lot of obvious choices, such as a marriage certificate or license, but the further back you go in time, the facts you gather have to be more diverse.

But even if a fact is relevant, it may not be probative. Not all relevant facts prove the object of the search. For example, you may find a tax roll listing both your grandparents as married. The tax roll is certainly relevant, but not probative of the marriage. Over time, many people have lived together as husband and wife and never been formally married. A probative fact would be one that indicated the place or date or both of the marriage.

So you move from information, to data, to facts, to relevant facts, to probative facts. In both the genealogical and legal sense, both probative facts and relevant facts are "evidence." Information, data and simple facts could become evidence but only if the facts turn out to be either probative and/or relevant.

On to more of this discussion, next time.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Digging into evidence

In one of my recent posts I discussed the difference between information, data and facts. From my perspective as a trial attorney, facts are that part of the information and data I can use at trial to prove my case. Facts can either be probative or non-probative. Some facts are important to set the scene and introduce the parties, these would be non-probative facts. Probative facts support the client's claims either as proof of the claim or defense against the claim of another. Depending on the questions presented by the case, the facts necessary to prove the case may change.

Here is an example. Let's suppose that you are trying to prove ownership of a parcel of real estate. Since ownership is the issue, any facts about the claimant would likely be non-probative. Here is a hypothetical situation:
Doe lives in a house in a rural subdivision with a barn and horse pasture. There is a fence between his property and that of his neighbor, Roe. One day Roe approaches Doe and says that he believes the fence line is not really the property line, and that his property includes twenty feet past the fence line onto Doe's property. Doe obtains a survey and finds that Roe is correct, the actual boundary line of the property is 20 inside the fence and cuts right through Doe's barn.
Doe comes to me with the situation and asks what he can do about keeping his barn and what he thought was his property. Do I have enough information to answer Doe's questions? If you were an attorney, you would say, obviously not. What questions would you like to ask Doe? Obviously, nothing like this would ever happen to you or me, we would have checked the boundaries of our property before we purchased?

I would ask, at least, the following:
  • When did he buy the property?
  • How long has the fence been on the property?
  • When was the barn constructed?
  • How does Doe use the property and what has he done to maintain the fence?

You can see what kinds of information I need to advise Doe of his legal rights. Let's say I ask the questions and Doe says the following:
"I was born in Michigan in 1956, I am married with six children and work as an insurance salesman for a major insurance company." Doe also tells me the ages of each of the children and how they are doing in school.
Is the information I got from Doe probative of his claim to the property and the barn? Did he answer my questions? Do you think I get this kind of information all the time that isn't even vaguely related to the issues? To provide the answers, no, the information is not probative. No, he did not answer the questions. Yes, I get that kind of information all the time, usually in a long narrative format.

Now, how does this example relate to genealogy? I find exactly the same type of situations that I encountered every day in law practice. I help people with a particular question about an ancestor. They may have a lot of information but none of the information they have either answers the question or provides a way to discover the answer. In the case of Doe, the information about his family, occupation and birth are helpful, perhaps interesting and certainly useful for other purposes, but they do not address the problem I am trying to solve. In the case of Doe and the property line, I would just keep asking questions until I got the answers. In the case of genealogy I would just keep asking questions and doing research until I got the answers.

What would I need to prove Doe's claim to the property. First, you might want to know that there is a statutory claim for adverse possession. That means that if you have open and notorious use of a piece of property, with a claim of right, for the statutory period to the exclusion of others, you may obtain ownership of the property by adverse possession, in which case you would now have a good idea of which facts you would have to have to prove your client's case. You might want to know one more crucial detail, the length of time Doe has used the property. In Arizona, for example, the length of time it takes to obtain an interest in real property by adverse possession is ten years. It may be longer or shorter in other jurisdictions.

Answering genealogical questions is very similar. Before you can come to a conclusion as to the "facts" of your ancestor's relationship to you, you have to know what the questions are and also what is needed to "prove" the relationship. Just as with the law where I need to know the legal context i.e. the elements of a claim for adverse possession, in genealogy I need to know the historical context.

 What documentary evidence would you need from Doe? Which of the facts would get reclassified as "evidence" of Doe's claim to the twenty-foot strip?

This will obviously keep going for a while, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Leveraging the Power of "We" a webinar

Michael Ritchey of FamilySearch is presenting a webinar called Leveraging the Power of "We": a Watershed Event in Discovering Where to Find Your Ancestors. Quoting from the description of the webinar:
Today we're experiencing a watershed event in genealogy: the rapid publication of our ancestors' original records online. The pace of digitization and the number of organizations doing it is constantly increasing. That presents a challenge. As genealogists, it is very difficult for us to keep up with all the new records being made available online. We need some way to keep up with the availability of new records so that we can be constantly aware of the best sources to use and how to use them. That need is sparking another watershed event: a movement to leverage the Power of We. All of us learn new things about record availability and methodology. Why not share this knowledge with others who need it? This webinar is about how we as a genealogical community can join forces, leverage the Power of We, and use the Wiki and Forums at as tools to provide the research guidance all of us need.
Michael is easily one of the most knowledgeable and vocal advocates of the FamilySearch Research Wiki and can give meaningful insights into this vast resource. His webinar is presented by Geoff Rasmussen of Millennia Software, the developers of the Legacy Family Tree program. Check out the link above for more information but the webinar will be held on Wednesday, July 6, 2011 at 2:00 PM Eastern (U.S.) 1:00 PM Central, 12:00 PM Mountain, 11:00 AM Pacific/Arizona, 6:00 PM, GMT.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What you really want to know about evidence

Judge: Proceed with your case Mr. Attorney.
Attorney #1: Thank you, your Honor, I would like to call Mr. Doe as my first witness...

This scene is repeated thousands of times a day across the United States. An trial is being held in a courtroom and one of the parties is beginning to present his or her case to the court or to a jury. Underneath this common exterior, portrayed in countless TV shows and movies, is a complex world of evidence and proof. As genealogists we are also intimately involved in the process of either presenting or reviewing evidence and vitally interested in the concept of proof, whether we know it or not.

The fact that we are unaware of either the process of proving a proposition or theory or the evidence involved in the process does not excuse us from participating, it only means that we do so ignorantly. Every day we do research or examine our files, we are presented with information, data and maybe, just maybe, some evidence.

Many, many times over the past years, I have had clients come in with a huge pile of paper, sometimes banker boxes overflowing. After explaining their claims, they have pointed to the boxes and said something to the effect, that there is all my evidence, as if the weight of the boxes would convince me that they were right and their opponents were wrong. It is a long process, but I have to begin explaining to the client that what they have is a pile of paper, not evidence. It is sort of like counting everyone who comes into a store as a "customer" but really only those who spend money are customers. Usually, very little of what the client has in the box is really evidence of their claim.

As genealogists we face the same challenge. We have huge piles of paper (or the corresponding computer files) but how much of it is really evidence for any of the claims we are making? But to even begin to talk about the subject of evidence we need some basic definitions.

First we need to talk about information. This can be a technical term, but normally the word "information" is used in so many contexts as to be mostly meaningless in the context of evidence and proof. From my standpoint, information is the stream of experiences both physical and mental we receive from the world outside of ourselves. As long as we are alive (and afterwards too) we continue to receive a stream of information. In order to function, we have to organize and select only a tiny portion of the stream of information we receive each day.

So, when you go online to look for information about your family, you are bombarded with huge amounts of extraneous material. By focusing on your specific goals and/or questions, you automatically limit and filter what you are looking for and try to avoid distractions. Information, as such, doesn't really help me much. Going back to the client situation, I usually listen to what they have to say which contains a lot of information, but isn't much use to me. After listening for a while, I begin to ask questions. This begins the process of sorting out the information into something more useful.

Once we begin the process of sorting out what part of the information stream we are interested in learning about, we begin to collect data. Data is factual information that can be used as a basis for reasoning, discussion or research. As an attorney, I take all the information my client has supplied and start selecting out those things that interest me and may help with the client's claim.  For a genealogical example, I may stumble upon a book about one of my ancestors. That book is information. In going through the book, there may be certain facts that I can use in my research. I now have some data. Information is nice, but mostly useless. Facts are nice and sometimes useful. But you will notice, we have yet to get to any evidence. Don't start making the assumption that you have evidence when what you have is a lot of information and some data.

Now what is a fact? A fact is a filtered, selected and most of all useful piece of data. Facts can usually be stated in clear, relatively simple, declarative sentences, such as Doe was born on 21 June 1833. Although, we may have a selection of "facts" we may or may not yet have any evidence and we certainly do not have any proof. To get passed the issue of facts we need some deductive reasoning. This is sometimes called the scientific method, but it is really not just the way scientists operate, it is the way all researchers, whether in law, history, genealogy or whatever have to operate in order to progress in accumulating evidence.

Well, time to take a break and continue again in the next installment.

Monday, June 20, 2011

What is evidence? What is proof?

I have been very circumspect in writing about legal matters, primarily because I was still actively practicing law. But, I am almost completely retired from the law practice and do not have to be so concerned about writing on one side or another of a topic that might impinge on one of my legal cases.  This is the case because I have only two matters left to resolve before I formally retire.

In almost 37 years of legal practice as a trial attorney (less a few years running a computer retail store) it was always painfully apparent to me that outside of the legal profession, almost none of the clients I was representing understood the concept of evidence or proof. This was very understandable given the pain and suffering I went through in law school to learn about those subjects. However, this lack of understanding is also widely apparent in the genealogical community. Now that I am free to write without the concern that my opinions might be used in a legal case against the interests of my clients, I will spend so considerable time exploring the legal and genealogical concepts of evidence and proof.

I will begin with an example. When the genealogical community uses the terms "primary evidence," "secondary evidence," "direct," and "indirect" those terms are being borrowed, in part, from the practice of law. This is understandable because the foundation for modern genealogy in the United States originates with Donald Lines Jacobus (1887-1970), widely known as the "dean of American genealogy" during his lifetime and was the first person elected to the National Genealogy Hall of Fame. He was the author of the influential book,

Jacobus, Donald Lines. Genealogy As Pastime and Profession. New Haven, Conn: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor Co, 1930

which borrows heavily from the legal concepts of evidence and proof. This relationship to the legal realm is further noted by Elizabeth Shown Mills in the book,

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Baltimore, Md: Genealogical Pub. Co, 2007 at page 18.

I do not mean to infer that genealogy is based entirely on the concepts and ideas of the legal profession, to the contrary, genealogy is more of a social science and belongs firmly in the general area of history. Although, as I have noted in the past, genealogy is not fully accepted as a scholarly pursuit, especially by the academic historians. I could at this point begin yet another discussion of the reasons for the lack of respect accorded genealogy by the purely academic world of university professors, but suffice it to say that pedigrees going back to Adam are not helping the acceptance of genealogy as a valid academic pursuit. I would also credit the more inclusive and democratic atmosphere of the genealogical community, which to some extent is the antithesis of the exclusive and rigorous academic community.

To the extent that genealogy borrows the trappings of the law, it is important to understand not only the concepts as they are used in the legal world, but how those concepts apply both in a theoretical and practical sense to the pursuit of genealogical research. I fully realize that writing about the topic of evidence and proof may in no way influence even the most minute portion of those practicing in the field of genealogy, but rather than neglect the subject altogether simply because of lack of interest, I feel compelled by my background to try to put the relationship of genealogy and law into a workable perspective. So to the title of this post. When is something considered to be evidence? When is a "fact" proven? What do we mean by the concept of evidence? How does evidence relate to proof? and so forth.

In my discussion of the legal concepts of evidence and proof, I will rely on court decisions, including where appropriate, those of the United States Supreme Court. Please understand, I am very much aware that there are substantial differences between the legal systems of various countries. Although the U.S. legal system derives in large part from English Common Law, the law of England and the United States has diverged on many even basic issues. It also is important to note that U.S. law is more than substantially different from that of Latin countries and many other legal traditions throughout the world. But, obviously, I am constrained by my background and experience to write entirely from and perspective of the law in the United States. Perhaps, those who are reading this in other countries of the world could comment on some of the differences.

Well, it looks like I am well into my introduction. I suppose I will have to keep going in subsequent posts, with appropriate breaks for any news of the day or issues that might arise. I hate to characterize this post as the beginning of a series, because I do not intend, at this time, to write sequentially. I will be exploring topics as I come upon them, just as I would do in the practice of law.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Monthly Update on FamilySearch Online

About a month ago I did a post on the status of the FamilySearch online websites. I got some interesting reaction, including comments about the "exclusive" nature of the FamilySearch sites. Just to be absolutely clear, the only website not currently open and free to the general public is the website which is still in Beta testing and being opened to the general public in stages. All of the other sites are open, free and extremely useful. It is probably time, given the number of changes, to review where we are with each of the major websites: (not

This huge website now incorporates the FamilySearch Research Wiki, the FamilySearch Indexing project, the Historical Record Collections, the Family History Library Catalog, the Family History Archive of scanned books, the Research Courses, FamilySearch TechTips and a whole lot more.

There have been notable increases in the number of records in the Historical Record Collections with millions and millions of new records being added almost daily. There are, as of the writing of this post, 638 collections with new records being added from Florida, Hawaii, New York, Tennessee, Wales, England, Iowa, Massachusetts, Norway, Sweden, Canada, Indiana and many other locations and that is just in the last week or so. Also a reminder of the Civil War Records collection featured on the startup page.

The FamilySearch Research Wiki climbed to 59,276 articles. About a month ago when I last wrote about this topic, there were 58,768. It is my impression that the number of contributions has dropped, perhaps because of the summer vacations, but there is still significant growth in the content of this resource. You are missing one of the most valuable resources available today on the Internet for genealogy if you haven't looked at the Research Wiki. One of the notable projects going on is for Illinois and you might want to check out the progress by looking at the pages and content being added.

The Family History Archives has still stalled and does not seem to have much going on in the way of scanned books being added to the collection, but this may be an illusion, hopefully more work is going on in the background?

The Family History Library Catalog is undergoing a subtle change. You might not have noticed but the entries are all marked for availability. Those marked Family History Library are only available in the the Library in Salt Lake City. However, many of the entries and all of those with microfilm or online, are marked with the availability as Family History Centers. This means that the item is available for loan to the various Family History Centers around the world. Also, if items have been digitized and are available online, the Catalog now reflects the online availability.

FamilySearch Indexing of the records being digitized and made available in the Historical Record Collections continues at an increasing rate. has had few changes since February. I have noticed that the past changes to the program have begun to minimize concerns about the content of the database. My impression is presently that most people who have significant numbers of ancestors in the file have essentially abandoned even looking at the file and are waiting for some significant changes that will allow extensive editing of the entries. If that never comes, then use of the program by those with established genealogical records will continue to decrease other than for approving names for ordinance work.

FamilySearch TechTips has continued to add content.  There are a number of new contributors and the quality of the articles being submitted by the new authors is outstanding. Some of the new contributors include Dick Eastman, Barry Ewell, A.C. Ivory, Lisa Louise Cooke and of course I keep writing new stuff every week also.

Overall, the links between different parts of the websites have improved. The emphasis lately seems to be on content rather than continued expansion of the sites. Content is what it is all about and the increase in the number of digitized records is beginning to make a significant difference in the availability of online primary sources. Even though all of the websites, with the exception of, are available through the main website by links, that links are sometimes less than obvious. I suggest looking around the site, especially at the bottom of the pages for more content.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Is there life (or research) after

During the last couple of posts I have been exploring the resources available on to extend my family lines beyond the current end-of-lines (EOLs). I do have some more admissions to make. I really didn't think would have any documents, other than user family trees, that would provide primary source documents for my chosen target relative. So far I haven't been disappointed. In the last two posts, I never got to the target relative because supporting documentation for more recent relatives was unavailable in that particular venue.

Specifically, there were no documents showing my Great-great-grandfather Sidney Tanner's parents other than unspecified secondary narrative documents. So, I had decided to commit the ultimate research no-no and jump a generation. The danger of jumping generations is that you may jump right out of reality into never, never land and lose the line entirely. This is available to me, because I already "know" a lot about Sidney Tanner from a variety of sources. And I don't plan on using the research for any purpose other than the illustration for this inquiry.

Searching in is more productive if you search individual databases or collections in the program. But if I knew which database had the information I was looking for, I wouldn't need to look. A general search returned over 109,000 results, even using all of the information from my Family Tree. I did find Sidney in the 1852 California State Census. Unfortunately, I was still missing a primary source that showed Sidney Tanner as a child of John Tanner. Now we get to the part of the story where you ask, why do you care? You know when Sidney was born. You know who his parents were. What difference does it make?

If I just skate over Sidney Tanner on my way to trying to push back the line on another, more remote, ancestor, then how do I know the traditional story is correct? I have already found some major discrepancies between my researched and sourced pedigree and the more traditional family stories, so why should I believe what I myself have doubted? I can't use my normal way of searching for additional information in, because I have already opted to include all of the information that I usually add to do research in a database, because already uses all the information I have entered into my database. I decide to search in Google for Sidney and find pages and pages of either my own contributions or the Sidney Tanner book.

Now, let me give a reality check. The information I am seeking is located in various archives, including the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. Note that I said the Church Library, this is the new library and has most of the historical archive information rather than genealogical information except when they are the same thing. Do I really doubt that Sidney Tanner was John Tanner's son or that he was born in Greenwich, Washington, New York on 1 April 1809. Not in the least. My exercise here was to investigate the limits of online searches using the largest of all possible databases.

What about Nothing to speak of there either except the 1889 U.S. Census for Beaver, Utah.

OK, so what is the point? Even though most or nearly all of the attention lately has been on the vast increase in online sources, they are not nearly complete and certainly not infallible. You may still have to get in your car or on a plane and go somewhere to actually do research on any given ancestor. This may seem so obvious that I was wasting my time to make the inquiry in the first place, but it never hurts to check now and again to see if the online sources have made any progress in your area of interest.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Moving on down the trail with

In my last post, I began an experiment to see if I could use to find information about one of my end-of-line (EOL) ancestors. The try was inconclusive as far as I went because I never got to the target ancestor. I got bogged down trying to find some evidence along the way. Just to clarify, here is the series of ancestors I am working on, starting with my Great-grandfather Henry Martin Tanner:
  • Henry Martin Tanner, whose father was
  • Sidney Tanner, whose father was
  • John Tanner, whose wife was
  • Lydia Stewart, whose father was
  • William Stewart, born abt 1751, perhaps in Bolton, Warren, New York
William Stewart and his wife Amy Hulton (Hutton) are my current EOL couple. Just to give some perspective, John Tanner probably appears in thousands of people's pedigrees. A Google search on "John Tanner" + new york + genealogy returns 178,000 results. There are, of course, several different John Tanners. I did a post a year or so ago on Finding John Tanner which will also give you some perspective.

Enough introduction, let's just say I didn't choose the most obscure family in the world to test online searches. I told how I got to Sidney Tanner and did not find any primary source records in Well, I decided to check that out again and do a further search. I entered Sidney Tanner into the search and immediately got him identified and the program automatically entered all of his information into the search fields. I expanded the search to include historical records, stories and publications, family trees, and photos and maps.

I immediately found a picture of Sidney's headstone, which was nice, but I had already gone to Beaver, Utah and taken my own picture years ago. I also found someone's Society of Mayflower Descendants decendancy line through John Tanner, which I discovered about 30 years ago. I even found a copy of a photo of Sidney Tanner's house, taken by my sister, which I posted online years ago. Another discovery was an English Royal Line Ancestors for the Tanner Family. I could go on and on, literally, there were 109,891 returns. I thought I had better limit my search, after all I was looking for documentation of Sidney Tanner's parents.

I took out the photos and maps since they were beginning to get very repetitious. I found a nice short history of Sidney written by my first cousin Pearl Tanner Jacobson for the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers. I realize that most people who were looking for an ancestor would be turning cartwheels by this time, but this was almost all very predictable copied information. For example, here is the book about him:
De Brouwer, Elizabeth. Sidney Tanner, His Ancestors and Descendants: Pioneer Freighter of the West, 1809-1895. Salt Lake City, Utah (4545 S. 2760 E., Salt Lake City 84117): S. Tanner Family Organization, 1982.

Everything, so far, was simply copied from that or other books about Sidney Tanner or his family. Nice books but almost devoid of source documentation. For example, the Sidney Tanner book copies verbatim the history contained in the previously printed John Tanner Family book:
Tanner, Maurice, and George C. Tanner. Descendants of John Tanner; Born August 15, 1778, at Hopkintown, R.I., Died April 15, 1850, at South Cottonwood, Salt Lake County, Utah. 1923.
And so forth and so forth.

So perhaps you can see why I chose to do my experiment with the Tanner family line. You just might expect that with all of's 30,000 plus databases, one of them might have given a little bit more source information beyond the plethora of printed copied sources. In all those sources, by the way, there does not seem to be even the slightest interest expressed in Sidney's mother's line.

OK, this could go on forever and simply talk about copied and re-copied information. I went back to now. Further searches could not penetrate the haze of copies. I could not find even one primary source record showing Sidney Tanner's parents. Everyone knows that Sidney's parents were John Tanner and Lydia Stewart, but no one has apparently bothered to show a contemporary source.  Does such a record exist? Can I trace my genealogy in a credible, acceptable manner back to the Stewarts? Am I just a cranky old codger out here muttering about sources?

For now, I will have to give up trying to find some source information, I am going to do what I have told hundreds of people not to do, that is jump some generations back to the Stewarts. Maybe, just maybe can help me with his family if I skip all the copies in the Tanner line?

But I have to stop for today and work on my post for TechTips. See you in the next installment.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Can go further than I can with my file?

The thought occurred to me to see if's automatic look-up features could extend any one of the end-of-line ancestors in my genealogy file? In short, could I find anyone further back than the current end-of-line individuals I have been stuck on for years? I realize that several user generated family trees claim to go back further, but the none of those extensions were at all supported by sources and therefore were likely pure fabrication. In my file, I am not talking about people who are at all easy to find, many of the end-of-line individuals lived far enough in the past that there was virtually no chance of finding more records.

So here I go. The first step was to identify an end-of-line (EOL) individual who should be the first candidate. My earliest EOL was in England at six to seven generations back. I know that there has been a huge effort made over years to try and find more information about his family. So, I decided I would look elsewhere. I found that my sixth-great grandfather's wife's line ended with her parents, seven generations back. This was a good candidate for an extension because the information I had showed that the family came from New York. So how to best proceed? I decided that since I had the file in Family Tree Maker for the Mac, I could use that program to do the "research" in Hmm. I should have thought about this before I started, I only had four generations in Family Tree Maker. So I decided that I would use the resources of the program to extend the line to the target ancestor and see what happened.

My, sixth Great-grandmother was Lydia Stewart, wife of John Tanner. In my file, I had her parents identified as William Stewart (abt 1751) and Amy Hulton or Hutton (abt 1766). I decided at the onset that I probably had neglected this line and could probably have found more information had I spent some time at the Family History Library or searching online. As a check, I looked at the book, Tanner, Maurice. Descendants of John Tanner. 1942. I had already entered all of the information from this book into my file. No, I do not just copy information from surname books. In this case, the information in the Tanner book was used years ago as the starting point for some of my Tanner research. I spent time finding the original birth records for John Tanner, for example, which I had never found cited previously. 

Task No. 1: Using just's Family Tree Maker, extend the family line step-by-step from my Great-grandfather back to my target seventh Great-grandfather. This turns out to be more difficult than I expected. Just to establish a base line here, I already have all of these individuals back to William Stewart documented with sources. This exercise is to test what information might actually be available in that I have already run across in my research so far, i.e. can I use to do line extending research? What happens with my Great-grandfather? I can't find any records in showing his parents. I decide at this point, to take a different path. It is relatively easy just to copy user submitted family trees, but this is information I already have and few, if any of these trees have any sources attached.

I decide to try and use the online Family Trees in directly rather than use the Family Tree Maker program. My online tree already had my 2nd Great-grandfather so I was on my way to searching for more information. Although I had only a few members of my line in's online family tree, several of the individuals have the little green leaf showing hints from Hmm, my 2nd Great-grandfather, Sidney Tanner, doesn't have any hints. So now what? Interestingly, I have 8 source citations for Sidney listed but in looking at them, most are duplicative.

At this point a little disclosure is necessary. John Tanner, my sixth great-grandfather is a semi-famous historical figure who has a prominent place the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In fact, a very popular movie was made recently about some of his life experiences. So researching John Tanner's in-laws seems like a no brainer, right? Wrong. Very little about him or his life has been actually documented. Almost all of the information about the Tanner family has been passed down in narrative form and very few documentary sources have ever been cited. 

So what does really have for Sidney Tanner? Remember, my goal was to find information on Sidney's maternal grandparents. Although, the timeline shows 8 sources, in reality, there are only 4 records:
  • 1880 U.S. Federal Census
  • Ancestry Family Trees
  • Pioneer Immigrants to Utah Territory (a compiled database)
  • Utah Cemetery Inventory
At this point, I am going to entirely discount the Family Trees. But, I will come back to them later. The only record that lists Sidney Tanner's parents is the Pioneer Immigrants to Utah Territory. Here is what has to say about that database:
An excellent collection of more than 1,700 migration records for Utah, Pioneer Immigrants to Utah Territory is an index of six maroon binders that contain questionnaires completed by members of the National Society of the Sons of the Utah Pioneers (SUP). These binders are housed at the Sons of the Utah Pioneers Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. Forms contain 32 questions that provide vital information and other data of interest about specific Utah pioneers. For additional information, visit the Sons of the Utah Pioneers in Salt Lake City at 3301 East 2920 South.
 This is obviously a secondary source and would have to be investigated further. So I decided to take a detour and see what I can find about Sidney's parents and this questionnaire. The first thing I find is that online references to the Pioneer Immigrants to Utah Territory are mostly circular. That is, the reference goes right back to Limiting a Google search to "Pioneer Immigrants to Utah Territory" there are 13,500 results! I am not going to look at over 13,000 references, but looking through the list for a ways, shows that almost all (all?) of the entries are merely citations to the source. I wonder if anyone has actually looked at this record in its six maroon binders?

Who asked the questions? Who wrote them down? Who compiled the binders? Where did the information on Sidney Tanner come from?

I never imagined that this rather simple idea of looking to could become so complicated. (Actually, that is not correct, I am being sarcastic, I had a pretty good idea that did not have any original source material about the Tanners). So do I have to go to the Family Trees to get past Sidney Tanner? Tune in for the next exciting installment. Using can I get genealogical information past Sidney Tanner, a well known Utah pioneer?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Citations pro and con

I will apologize in advance for this post. It is not meant to be critical in any way of anyone. As genealogists I assume everyone is doing the best they can with the tools and information they have available. You may have a completely different opinion than I do on the following subject and I respect you for that opinion. 

It hadn't occurred to me that some researchers would consciously avoid providing citations to their online trees for the purpose of preventing others from "stealing" (my word) their work, until I heard exactly that sentiment. That caused me to question what percentage of genealogists have stripped down, or dumbed down online trees? The motivation apparently is to prevent plagiarism. In other words, I took the time to find that death certificate and no one else is going to benefit from my hard work unless I think they deserve it and certainly, all those other people online don't deserve it.

This issue goes to the heart of the reason for citing your work. From my point of view, research without citations is not research at all. If I claim that my relative was born on a date or in a place different than that of all other references made by other researchers, I would assume that I better be in a position to prove my point. If I publish a fact that is contrary to what is generally accepted with no citation, how can anyone tell that I know what I am talking about? Why wouldn't the "new" or "different" information just be dismissed as another poorly equipped researcher's muddled effort?

If I find a link past a brick wall relative, why wouldn't I cackle like a hen that just laid an egg? Oh no, I don't want someone else to take credit for finding the link. I want all the credit for this momentous discovery so I am going to be very, very careful who I tell about my new information. The effect is going to be that other researchers will continue to look for the information and will probably find it. How much fame do I get by saying, I knew that all along but was afraid to share it with others.

I have been doing genealogical research now for about 30 years and I can count on one hand the number of times any of my close relatives have come to me and asked for information I had in my file. Not infrequently, a distant relative will ask if I have information about a particular individual they find on the Ancestral File or New FamilySearch, but almost no one is interested in my huge file with its multitude of citations. Frequently over the years I have been unable to even give away my research because of lack of interest. So who am I trying to impress with citations? When it comes down to it, none of the people who would benefit from the extensive research are even interested enough to look at it.

Here is the simple answer. I do not do research and cite sources to please anyone but myself. If anything is worth doing, it is worth doing right and I don't have to have an audience for anything I do. I don't need positive reinforcement, I don't need a pat on the back, because the work itself is the reward. I know I did it correctly and that is all that matters. Genealogy is not a spectator sport (I have said that before).

I will not only put all my sources online, I will intentionally put all my sources online so that some day, some where, some one might benefit from my research and then the sum total of knowledge in the world will be increased. I can't and won't own my work product. Now, what if I write a book? Of course, I will copyright the book, especially if that is what I do for living. But for that same reason, I will not likely publish a book about my own genealogy.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

To Cite or not to Cite, That is the Question

My apologies to Shakespeare, but citation is a real issue for the entire genealogical community. There is a vast gulf between the knowledgeable academic genealogical scholars and the run-of-the-mill family researcher. One example of the difference can be seen from a cursory examination of Public Member Trees on To quote from, "This database contains family trees submitted to Ancestry by users who have indicated that their tree can be viewed by all Ancestry members. These trees can change over time as users edit, remove, or otherwise modify the data in their trees. You can contact the owner of the tree to get more information."

Rather than use an ancestor's name that I know has dozens of submitted trees, I searched the Public Member Trees for less popular names. My first search was for my maternal grandfather, Harold Morgan. I immediately found 10 member submitted trees listing Harold Morgan including one submitted by my daughter. One of the many helpful features of is the fact that they list the number of attached records, sources and photos to each entry, so it is a simple process to see whether or not any sources have been attached or not. Looking down this short list, I find the following:
  • 10 sources
  • 11 sources
  • 7 sources
  • Unsourced
  • Unsourced
  • 1 source
  • 1 source
  • 1 source
  • 2 sources
  • 3 sources
Here is the interesting thing about this list. makes it exceedingly easy to find new sources in their data base and add them to your tree. The program even flags the readily available sources with the little green leaf. It is apparent that people will not add sources even if the source and its entire citation will practically fall in their lap. My daughter was the one, by the way, with the 11 sources. I wondered how long it would take to add those sources to my newly added grandfather?

I have to admit at this point, that I have not put a lot of my genealogy online in publicly available family tree programs and no reflection on, but I am putting some information into I do have a limited family tree in for my Tanner family, but had not added any of my maternal relatives. So I decided to see exactly how much time it would take to add sources for Harold Morgan.

I added my mother and her father Harold Morgan in about 30 seconds. Immediately, came up with the little green leafs that show documentation is available. They showed Harold Morgan with nine matching public member trees (what I had already found) but also a list of other available records. Within another few minutes I found the following with documentation:

1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930 U.S. Census Record which included all of the family members living at home at that time.
Salt Lake City, Utah Cemetery Records
Utah Cemetery Inventory
World War I Draft Registration Card
4 Public Member Family Trees

That took me less than 10 minutes. So in about 15 minutes I added 8 source citations. At this point, I decided not to add any more duplicative family trees, so I ended up with fewer citations than my daughter.

What is the point? The point is simple, going back to the opening statement of this post, there is a vast gulf between the knowledgeable genealogists and the public interested in family. Even when citations are readily available, the time to add them is trivial and you don't have to worry about format or anything else, some people will still not add any sources. So whatever we are doing as genealogists, we are not communicating well with the general public about the need for citations. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Some more thoughts on citations in genealogy

In teaching the old Personal Ancestral File (PAF) program the subject of sources was hardly ever discussed. If it was, it was always as an afterthought. In my experience, many, if not most of the PAF users kept any source information in the notes, just as I did for years. In the later versions of the program there were little "s" marks to the side of the place fields. It was not obvious, but if you clicked on the "s" you got a form for entering source information. Here is a screen shot of the fields on the Add Individual screen:

The arrow points to the "s" link. If you clicked on the link, you got a list of all of your sources, like this example showing some of the sources I had entered into program before I moved on to other programs:

There was no concept of a "master source" as opposed to details of a master source, likely because that was not a developed idea back when the program was written.  If you wanted a new source, you clicked on the new button and this is what you got, one size fits all:

It worked OK for books, but became more and more difficult to use as sources became a hot topic and more source citation forms became necessary. Let's just say, given the sensibilities of the times, PAF was a perfectly suitable program and actually a little ahead of its time. You can note that there was also a provision for adding an image to a source. All in all, if the PAF user was diligent and used this function, the information they had in their program was very useful.  But, as I noted, very few PAF users were even aware of the little "s" and fewer still used them to enter sources.

So what happens to the average PAF user when they move to a more recent program? They are still unaware of the need for sources even though most of the newer (almost all really) have pretty developed routines for adding both a master source and details to an existing master source. Now, that brings up another problem. How many PAF users even know about the difference between a master source and a detail? As I teach a variety of programs, I find that very few people understand this concept at all.

Just in case you don't, a master source is one that will be used more than once or for more than one individual. You create a master source and then reuse the source each time it is cited, but add in details for the particular individual fact or event your are citing. For example, the U.S. Census for 1930 might be a master source. You create the Census as a source one time and then each time you find someone in the Census, you use that master source and add in the particular details and include a scanned image of the Census with each detailed source.

The problem is that millions of people are still using a program that does not have any provision for expanding the source citations beyond a simple book entry form. Talking about forms of citation is entirely lost on these folks because the program will not allow them enter anything but rudimentary information. Try entering Death Certificate information into PAF for example. Who is the "author?" What is the call number?

But the problem doesn't stop there. I may be concerned about the choice of using Turabian or MLA style, but my software program either doesn't specify the format or provides fields that don't correspond to the standard styles at all. Do you know what style is used by your particular genealogy program? Can you change the style if you want to? For example, can you specify Harvard rather than Chicago?

I suggest that much, maybe most, of the problems associated with citations is actually a reflection of the development of the software programs. Until the programs stop handling sources like they were an ugly necessity, there won't be much progress in getting the general genealogical population to add sources. How about a program that won't let you enter information unless you add a source? What a novel idea. Afterthought, how about that for New FamilySearch?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Citations unveiled

Just in case you are wondering what all the hullabaloo is about, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about citation forms. Just so you can begin to understand the difference or maybe, just so you know there is a difference. First, where did all this citation stuff come from anyway? (First violation, avoid rhetorical questions). Manuals of style evolved in response to issues with plagiarism. Failing to cite your sources was seen as academically dishonest and source citations were and are seen as a way to minimize that insidious form of dishonesty. 

However, due to the fact that most academic disciplines barely acknowledge others' existence, basically, every academic discipline has its own forms and style requirements. Citations are only a part of the overall drive for consistency in every type of professional writing from technical and scientific writing to newspapers, there are specific guidelines, some of which have been in usage for more than a 150 years. There are lists of some of the types of style guides available such as Wikipedia: List of style guides.

Genealogy, as a historical discipline, and as such, is considered to belong to the Humanities. There are a number of styles that are used by different branches of the Humanities.  There is quite a long list. As an example, these are some of the most recognized formats in the United States: (See Wikipedia: Citation)
  • Chicago Style
  • Turabian
  • Columbia Style
  • Mils Style (as in Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace by Elizabeth Shown Mills)
  • Harvard referencing
  • MLA Style (Modern Language Association)
  • MHRA Style (Modern Humanities Research Association)
  • APA Style (American Psychological Association)
  • ASA Style (American Sociological Association)
There are many more for scientific, legal and other disciplines. Also, Canada, England, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and other predominantly English speaking countries have their own styles and style organizations. In addition, of course you already know, that the content of a citation varies with the type of source and will be different for books, online sources, newspapers, magazines and everything else. That is essentially why the Mills book has more than 800 pages.

Historians generally follow the Chicago Manual of Style which is very close to the Turabian style.  But, with the publication of Mills' book, we can assume that particular style will predominate in the area of genealogy.

To make matters more complicated, styles can vary from one professional journal to the next within the same discipline. Even though a particular publication adheres to a style does not mean that it will not have its own internal rules. Most publications will provide a "style sheet" showing their particular brand of style and citation.

So when someone tells you to "cite your sources" that can mean a lot of different things. Here are some examples of the same genealogy book cited in different styles:

APA (6th ed.) Tanner, G. C. (1910). William Tanner, Sr. of South Kingstown, Rhode Island and his descendants: In four parts. Faribault, Minn: G.C. Tanner.

Chicago (Author-Date, 15th ed.) Tanner, George C. 1910. William Tanner, Sr. of South Kingstown, Rhode Island and his descendants: in four parts. Faribault, Minn: G.C. Tanner.

Harvard (18th ed.) TANNER, G. C. (1910). William Tanner, Sr. of South Kingstown, Rhode Island and his descendants: in four parts. Faribault, Minn, G.C. Tanner.

MLA (7th ed.) Tanner, George C. William Tanner, Sr. of South Kingstown, Rhode Island and His Descendants: In Four Parts. Faribault, Minn: G.C. Tanner, 1910. Print.

Turabian (6th ed.) Tanner, George C. William Tanner, Sr. of South Kingstown, Rhode Island and His Descendants: In Four Parts. Faribault, Minn: G.C. Tanner, 1910.

For my part, I am entirely adaptable. I will use whatever is required for the circumstances. That is why they invented computers. But, if left up to me, I will always use Turabian. Mainly because, to me, it is the most logical and conveys the information without some gimmick. (Yes, I am ready to duel to the death to defend my position).

So who cares? I could go on for a lot longer explaining why I think citing sources is absolutely necessary, but I can go on for just as long arguing that the style requirements of each academic discipline are not designed to enhance the communication process but are merely another way of making it hard to conform to their standards and thereby enhance their academic standing. If you are familiar with the process you have to go through to get a doctoral degree, you know exactly what I am talking about. When in Rome, do as the Romans do applies to all academic pursuits. See Wikipedia: when in Rome, do as the Romans do. (There is a citation for everything). Guess what? It also applies to genealogy.

Friday, June 10, 2011

No man is an island, but genealogy programs are

One of the uncomfortable truths about current lineage-linked commercial genealogy programs is the unavailability of a common method to transfer data between programs. Even if you purchase two programs from the same developer, such as the Mac version of Family Tree Maker and the PC version of the same program, they still don't talk to each other completely. There are a few bridges between programs that do a credible job of accepting the data, but I have yet to find a program that did not make hash out of some part of the data or another. Here is an example. Suppose I have been doing genealogy for some time on my trusty old PC and using the venerable Personal Ancestral File (PAF). You would think with its millions of users, that every program by now would read and completely import a file from PAF, wouldn't you?

Guess what? Even different versions of PAF when transferred by GEDCOM will create a List file of stuff left over from the transfer. The people at the Build a BetterGEDCOM Project are on the quest to create a more complete and modernized version of GEDCOM, but they haven't reached a consensus yet. If you would like to see what is wrong with the current version of GEDCOM look at the compilation "What's Wrong With GEDCOM?"

The problem is fairly simple and straightforward, the solution is complex and obscure. The problem is that each software developer has no interest whatsoever in making their program "compatible" with any other program. To do so would be first, admitting that your program was, in fact, no better than the other program and second, opening up an easy way for your competitor to steal customers. So every software developer in the world has to think of some unique way to handle the data and then tweak it in a way that makes it impossible or difficult to copy. If I am developing a program and I figure out a way to animate all the data and make it dance in a circle, do you think I want everyone in the genealogy software world to immediately be able to take advantage of my clear superiority and import all of my fancy work into their program? Not on your life!

Back to my example of PAF. Here you have a rather simple program by today's standard and one that has been openly abandoned by the owner FamilySearch, who has stated that the program will not be updated. Yet, you still have arguably millions of users of the program all over the world. You would think that everyone developing software for genealogy would come up with a way to import a file from PAF without losing one iota of data. In actuality, only a very few, a mere handful, of programs will recognize and import a PAF file. I am not talking about a GEDCOM file, I am talking about a .paf file. But we still have a problem here, most PAF users kept their source information, if they kept it at all, in their notes. Sure, we can open a PAF file, but all of the sources are still in the notes. Wasn't it terrible that all those people who used PAF didn't know any better?

So some very inventive programmer figures out a way to translate PAF note sources and convert them into usable separated field sources. Then these translated sources would all be locked up in the new program and unavailable to any other program. Before I get comments about how great an individual program will import PAF files, like Ancestral Quest, for example, that only moves the issue down the table to the next program, now my data is locked up in Ancestral Quest.

I think about this problem frequently because I teach a variety of computer programs on a rotating basis. I am constantly asked which of the programs is "best." I usually say something like, "All of them are really good and choosing a program is a matter of personal preference." What that really translates into is that I am still looking for the perfect program. But even if I found the perfect program, I would then be locked into its data structure because all of the other imperfect programs wouldn't read its files or transfer them without data loss.

I am coming close to a resolution of this problem and the answer may not be what you would think. First, I keep my data in a variety of programs. Some have functions I like better than others and I kind of spread the data around to make sure I can go any direction I want at any time. Second, I am leaning more and more towards putting my data online in a Wiki. Not just any Wiki, I have to look around for a while and decide the best route to take with a Wiki. Why a Wiki? Two words. Open source.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Starving in the midst of plenty

The level of general geographic knowledge in the U.S. is abysmally low. It probably ranks below history as a subject that is least emphasized and taught in school. One survey, done in 2006, by National Geographic found the following:

  • Only 37% of young Americans can find Iraq on a map—though U.S. troops have been there since 2003.
  • 6 in 10 young Americans don't speak a foreign language fluently.
  • 20% of young Americans think Sudan is in Asia. (It's the largest country in Africa.)
  • 48% of young Americans believe the majority population in India is Muslim. (It's Hindu—by a landslide.)
  • Half of young Americans can't find New York on a map.
My own experience is that most adults would have the same difficulties. For genealogists this translates into an abysmal lack of knowledge of how to use geographic tools to find and identify locations. On the other hand, never in the history of the world has geographic knowledge been so readily available.

I commonly find, even among experienced genealogists, that there is little or no awareness of the geographic resources available online. For researchers, this situation is literally akin to starving to death in the midst of plenty.

Here is the problem in part, the people who would be online and reading this blog post comprise an extremely small percentage of the total population interested in and doing genealogical research. So in effect, I am preaching to the choir. But even among those reading this post, I would guess that some of their most perplexing genealogical problems could be solved by simply going to the maps either on paper or online and looking at spatial relationships.

In one recent post, I showed how to find photographs of locations using Wikipedia and a location's coordinates. I think I need to get a little more basic than that and go to the maps themselves and the kind of information available about historical locations. In many classes I teach, the issue comes up about recording locations. Here is the rule:

The location of any genealogical event is to be recorded as it existed at the time the event occurred.

This seems pretty non-controversial, but in practice, it is often observed more in the breach than in fact. Fundamental to this rule is the idea that you may need to identify the geographical location of an event, i.e. by latitude and longitude, to accurately assess the event's location. OK, I am not saying that if your ancestors came from "New York" that you put the coordinates for New York in your database. What I am saying is that you should be aware of the exact location of an event to the extent possible to avoid making unsupported conclusions about the location of supporting records.

In all genealogical research, this issue involves identifying the political, religious, or cultural jurisdiction associated with a given location. I find a significant number of "brick wall" issues can be resolved with more accurate assessments of the geographic location and the identification of the jurisdiction.  So how do I start?

In almost all cases, when I am asked to help someone with finding an ancestor, the first question that I ask is where did the events occur. Automatically, I go to a map and look at the location on a map. I cannot tell you haw many times when I do that, that the person is surprised and has no idea why I am searching on a map for their ancestor's birthplace or whatever.

I guess I am working on a sort-of general series of posts on maps and online resources. If this series progressing like others, I will probably have a few interruptions.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

New Name, Old Site, FamilySearch TechTips Officially begins

Here is a press release we got today from FamilySearch:

New Website Brings Together Genealogy and Technology


Genealogy has been a popular hobby for over a century, but the pursuit of one’s ancestors is now a decidedly technology-intensive endeavor. To help family historians take advantage of the latest technology, FamilySearch has launched a new section on its website called FamilySearch TechTips.

The goal of TechTips is to continue building a bridge between the developing worlds of technology and genealogy, according to FamilySearch product marketing manager Jim Ericson.

“For someone who is already excited about family history, FamilySearch TechTips can introduce them to technologies that will help them climb their family tree,” Ericson said. “Those who may not be familiar with genealogy, but are technology enthusiasts, can learn how products can be applied to family history.”

Ericson said visitors to FamilySearch TechTips can read about a variety of subjects, such as how to store photographs for the long term, what mobile applications are available for family historians, how to share files and how to scan images. The site also contains step-by-step guides to help users accomplish a technology-related task, like how to join an online research community and why.

FamilySearch TechTips is a community effort that is a cross between a blog and an online technology magazine. Anyone can contribute articles and share their personal experiences. The TechTips articles don’t endorse specific products, although they may mention what is available in the marketplace. There will also be content on new technology or trends that impact the world of genealogy.

“People can learn where genealogy technology is headed and how technology may evolve in the future to make life easier for family historians,” Ericson said.

Here's a link:

I might mention that I am a significant contributor to this newer site. Please take time to take a look.

Where would you like to go? What would you like to see? Part One

There is a treasure chest full of photos on the Internet of all of the places you would like to go and see, whether it be an ancestral home in Europe or your old homestead in the Midwestern U.S. Of course, you can do a photo search on Google, but you may get a lot of images you really don't care to see. Fortunately, there is a backdoor to many of the photos for very, very specific locations, including links to some of the most fabulous 360 degree panoramas you have ever seen.

To get to this treasure trove of photos, you need to use a couple of tools from the Web. First is the old standby Wikipedia. You may not know, but many locations throughout the world are now populating the pages of Wikipedia. Let me start with an example of my own town, Mesa, Arizona. Here is the Wikipedia page for Mesa:

You can click on the image to get a larger view. All you have to do to find all of these places is to type in the name of the location and the word "wikipedia" when you do a Google search. Now focus on the arrow. It is pointing to the coordinates for the location, in this case, Mesa, Arizona. When you click on the coordinates, you get a screen listing all of the places on the Internet where that location appears. Really, there is a huge list of websites. Here is a screen shot of what happens when you click on the coordinates for Mesa, Arizona:

Bear in mind, this is only a small part of the page. This is called the GeoHack for the location. You will see categories like Global services, Wikipedia articles, and guess what Photos. These are links to photos of that particular geographical location. Here is another screen shot of the same page, but showing the links to the photos:

Now what happens if I click on one of the listed sources? Obviously, I go to the site listed but I am directed to photos of the location I chose. Usually, the link takes you to a map of the location with photos either listed or marked on the map. Here is a screen shot of what I get when I click on link for the Commons:

Just when you thought you had a handle on the Web, I come along and show you, you haven't even started yet. OK, I don't feel bad about it at all. I will delve a little further into this vast resource in the next few posts. Meanwhile, if you would like to see some of my recent photos, click on the link to 360Cities for Mesa or Scottsdale or Phoenix.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Heritage Lost

The last few days have been busier than usual as we watch the Wallow Fire in Eastern Arizona move through the White Mountains. Much of my time as a child, youth, and adult has been spent in the small mountain communities. I remember one Scout outing that I convinced the leaders to take the time to drive to Big Lake and camp. One of the leaders got out of his car and just stood there in the campground looking for a long time and finally said, "This is the most beautiful place I have ever been."

This is also the area where my grandparents, my great-grandparents and some of my great-great-grandparents lived, worked, died and are buried. This beautiful valley, shown above, was the home of my Great-great-grandparents. Almost everything you see above has now been burned in one of the largest fires in the history of Arizona. All we have now are memories.

I won't say that all of my experiences have been positive. Some of the hardest and most difficult times of my life have also been spent in Eastern Arizona and with the people living there. I always like to say that the national sport of Apache County is suing people, but despite the contention, I do love the places. Although, I have lived most of my life in the Arizona Sonora Desert, I feel most at home in the wide open spaces of the Springerville Volcanic District.

I hope we all take time to enjoy those places that mean the most to us. Although we will all pass from this earth eventually, we don't always realize that the earth itself is fragile and can be lost.

What if genealogists were like some of the other professionals?

Receptionist: Hello, Dewey, Searchum and Find, professional genealogists, may I help you?
Client: Hello, my name is James and I am looking for a genealogist to help me with a small research problem.
Receptionist: Thank you let me transfer you to Ms. Find's assistant, please hold.
[Music and advertisements play]
Assistant: Hello, this is Julie, I am Ms. Find's assistant can I help you?
Client: (repeating) Hello, my name is James and I am looking for a genealogist to help me with a small research problem.
Assistant: What is the nature of the problem? Ms. Find's practice is limited to Pennsylvania in the 18th Century and parts of New Jersey.
Client: Well, then I may have to call someone else, my question involves finding my great-grandfather in New York State in the late 1800s.
Assistant: I can transfer you to Mr. Searchum's assistant, he may be able to help you with New York.
[Music and advertisements play]
2nd Assistant:  Hello, this is Mark, I am Mr. Searchum's assistant can I help you?
Client (repeating again):  Hello, my name is James and I am looking for a genealogist to help me with a small research problem.
2nd Assistant: What is the nature of the problem?
Client:  My question involves finding my great-grandfather in New York State in the late 1800s.
Assistant: Do you happen to know the county? 
Client: Actually, no. That is the reason I am calling to talk to a genealogist. I thought I might get some help in finding my ancestor.
2nd Assistant: Yes, yes, of course. Mr. Searchum is very well acquainted with New York in the 1800s and he will certainly be able to help you. Would you like to make an appointment?
Client: Um, can I talk to him on the phone for a few minutes to find out if he can help me?
2nd Assistant: Are you an existing client or new to our office?
Client: Well, I was referred to you by another genealogist who said that they only worked on land cases and she couldn't take the case.
2nd Assistant: We will need to have you fill out our new client profile information sheet first when you come in for an appointment, as a rule Mr. Searchum does not do telephone consultations. You should also be aware that there is a non-refundable $300 consultation fee for the first hour and that Mr. Searchum bills by the hour for any additional time spent. Would you like to make an appointment?
Client: Do you mean I have to pay $300 just to find out if Mr. Searchum can help me with my problem?
2nd Assistant: Mr. Searchum is a highly sought after professional and his time is very valuable. I think that you will find that most professional genealogists are charging the same or higher fees. Would you like to make an appointment?
Client: Well, he does come recommended, I guess I can give it try. When is your first opening?
2nd Assistant: Mr. Searchum's first opening is on August 15th  at 2:00 pm. Would you like to come in then?
Client: That's two months away, do you have anything sooner?
2nd Assistant: I'm afraid not. I could put you on our cancellation list and we would call you if we have an emergency opening. 
Client: How many clients are on that list?
2nd Assistant: I would think there would be about twenty, that is the usual amount. 
Client: OK, put me down for Monday, the 15th of August at 2:00 pm.

[Time passes it is now August 15th]

Client (arriving at office): Hello, I am here to see Mr. Searchum. 
Receptionist: Do you have an appointment?
Client: Yes, I have an appointment at 2:00. 
Receptionist: Please take this clipboard and fill out the form on both sides and sign it at the bottom. Also I need two forms of identification. I will also collect your consultation fee at this time, thank you.

[Time in the office passes, it is now 2:35]

Client: Excuse me, my name is James and I came in about an hour ago for an appointment with Mr. Searchum, is there some problem.
Receptionist: No, not at all, Mr. Searchum is running a little late with other clients. He will be with you shortly.

[More time passes, it is now 3:10]

Client: Look, I have been waiting here for over an hour, do you have any idea when I will get in to see Mr. Searchum?
Receptionist: Let me check, (on telephone), Mr. Searchum is just finishing his last appointment and should be any time now.

[Much more time passes, it is now 3:30]

2nd Assistant at the door to the inner office: Mr. Searchum will see you now. 
Client: Thanks, I was certainly getting tired of those endless commercials, can't you get any other station on your reception area TV? 
2nd Assistant: I'm sorry but that is a recorded message. Here is Mr. Searchum's conference room.

[Client sits in conference room waiting for Mr. Searchum. Time passes it is now 4:00]

Mr. Searchum: (entering room carrying a stack of papers) I see from your client information sheet that you had a previous consultation with my colleague Ms. Longtime. 
Client: Yes, she referred me to you.
Mr. Searchum: Did you discuss the research with Mr. Longtime?
Client: Well, of course I did. That was my reason for going to see her. She said she couldn't help me. 
Mr. Searchum: Oh, I am so sorry, but I believe I have a conflict of interest. I am on a another 
case with Ms. Longtime and we can't take matters that the other has reviewed.
Client: Why did she refer me to you then? 
Mr. Searchum: I have no idea. But I cannot take your case. I really appreciate your dropping by today however.

Did the client still have to pay the consultation fee? Did he ever find a genealogist to help his with his problem? Did he die first?

I would hope that those genealogists who aspire to be professionals do not take a page from some of the other "professionals" I have visited as a client or patient. Any resemblance between this scenario and actual events is purely intentional. Maybe we don't want to be quite so professional after all?