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

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

How to Analyze Genealogical Sources: Part Four

Courtroom in the Charles E. Simons Jr. Federal Court House, named for District Court Judge Charles Earl Simons Jr. in 1986, located in Aiken, South Carolina

Jargon is defined as the use of special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand. Some jargon, such as that used by lawyers and doctors is almost impenetrable without formal training. Genealogists have their own form of jargon that is only moderately difficult to learn. However, over the years, primarily because of a few attorneys who were also genealogists, some legal jargon has found its way into the genealogical community. Unfortunately, this borrowed jargon deals primarily with the analysis of records and documents. Here is a sample of some of the borrowed terms.
  • evidence
  • facts
  • burden of proof
  • beyond a reasonable doubt
  • proof
  • clear and convincing evidence
  • a preponderance of the evidence
As is the case with most jargon, some of these terms have become so common the fact that they are derived from the legal profession has been lost. The concept of "proof" implies that there is a judge who will decide if your argument is true or false. However, there are no genealogical judges whose decision is binding on the genealogical community no matter how much we wish there were such a person. The idea of proof also assumes that there are people who need to be convinced that you have the "truth" or "true facts" and that someone else's version is not true (false).

In a court of law, all legal actions are adversarial. There are always at least two versions of the facts. But in the absence of a judge and/or jury, the only person that needs to be persuaded is the individual researcher. As you investigate your ancestry, you are the only person that needs to be convinced of the truth or falsity of the "evidence."

It seems to be convenient to speak of the information in historical (genealogically significant) documents as "evidence" or "facts" For many years, genealogical research has been compared to detective work. Researchers and detectives share some methodologies but ultimately the goals of the two pursuits are fundamentally different. The whole idea that genealogical research involves discovering evidence and then proving a case ignores the main issue with historical documents: they are never conclusive. This means that when you are doing genealogical research the next document you find may entirely contradict everything you have concluded to that point in your investigations. All you can legitimately claim is that you have formed an opinion based on the information you have seen up to the time you formed your opinion. If you are a lawyer (attorney) you discover the evidence supporting your client's claims and then you put your conclusions (arguments) in a legal brief. Some genealogists follow this pattern and create a "proof statement" setting forth the "facts" and showing how those "facts" support the conclusion or prove the conclusion.

The fact that you call your opinion a "proof" does not change or enhance its veracity. Let's suppose that you are looking for the birth date of an ancestor. Let's further suppose that you find several documents that give different birth dates. You look at all the documents and conclude that one date is more likely than any of the others. You then write up your conclusion following some formal methodology (just like writing a legal brief). Is your conclusion correct? Does writing up your conclusion in a formal manner make it more correct? I was a trial attorney for 39 years and participated in thousands of legal disputes. It would have been really convenient for me if when I wrote my "legal brief" (motion for summary judgment or trial brief) and expressed my opinion that someone would have concluded, Hey, this legal brief is perfectly written therefore it must be correct. What would be missing? An adversary writing his or her brief contradicting everything I said and pointing out why I was wrong. Oh, but you say, this happens in the genealogical community also. Yes, very occasionally but who ultimately decides who is right and who is wrong? No one. As I already wrote above: there are no genealogical judges.

Now, what does this mean to those of us that need to analyze genealogical documents and records? It means that we need to be willing to listen to what others say or write about our family. If we are convinced we are right and the rest of the world is wrong, we need to have a large measure of humility and accept the fact that almost anything we conclude may change with the next DNA test or the next document.

If you want your opinion to be given any credence, I suggest you may want to learn enough to be cogent and persuasive. If you get in an argument over some ancestor or another, you just might want to back off and re-assess all of the information you have. If you are basing your conclusions on a single document, you are walking on thin ice and may find that your conclusions are not correct. What is even more, if you are basing your opinion on research done by your grandmother or aunt or whomever, I suggest you may want to refrain from making any opinions at all until you have personally verified that the information you inherited is correct.

Stay tuned for more.

For the previous parts of this series see the following:

Part One:
Part Two:
Part Three:

Saturday, April 25, 2020

A Modern Myth: My Genealogy is Complete and Accurate

For the past 38 years, I have been examining hundreds of thousands of names in pedigrees compiled by thousands of people acting as genealogists and researchers. I have yet to ever find even one completely accurate and consistently source supported family tree. Period. Even heavily documented family trees or pedigrees generally focus on a few selected lines and most are missing documentation for the female lines. For example, my Tanner line has been overwhelmingly documented back to the first direct-line ancestor to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, John Tanner, b. 1778, d. 1850. John Tanner had three wives, one after another. I am descended from his second wife, Lydia Stewart, b. 1783, d. 1825. Here is all that is known today about Lydia Stewart's family;

Although there are a few entries on family trees that extend this line another generation or so, there is no documentation provided for the extension. This type of entry is commonly referred to as a "brick wall" but it is better denominated an end-of-line.

Lately, some of my grandchildren have kept themselves entertained by searching back through online pedigrees until then reach entries for Adam and Eve. One grandchild found further entries for Neanderthals. When confronted with this kind of idle speculation and myth, I can only shake my head and wonder how many people actually believe that they have documented their pedigree back that far. Once again, these lines ignore women and focus on a single ancestral line.

When someone claims that their genealogy is "complete," they usually mean that they have lost interest in doing any more research and/or are not interested in working on any additional family lines. Making the "complete" statement also indicates that the person is not interested in the descendants of his or her ancestors. Although I am not a fan of fan charts, looking at a fan chart view of your complete family will give you a perspective about how many of your family lines are incomplete.

In making these observations, I am not excluding my own family lines. As I illustrated above, I have lines that end in time periods and places where the information should have been available. I am very much aware of many of my own end-of-line issues.

Why is this believing that your genealogy is complete a problem? Who cares if you believe you have finished your genealogical work? The real issue here is that this belief in the finality of genealogical work influences family members to ignore or lose interest in finding out about their family. I am guessing but for every person who is handed a family surname book who then is inspired to learn more about his or her family, I am certain there are hundreds who simply conclude that the work has all been done and this is despite the low batting average for accuracy in some of these books.

There is a pervasive assumption in the overall genealogical community that providing stories about our ancestors will somehow inspire upcoming generations to do their own family research. On the other hand, I look around me at the number of people who have hefty family history books full of stories who do not have enough interest to even read the books they have on their shelves. Of course, there are a huge number of people who have ancestors who are written about in extensive books and do not know the books exist.

I hope that the next time you pat yourself on the back and think that your genealogy is complete and accurate that you will take another look and decide to do some work on those lines you have been ignoring for years.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Free Yearbook Collection through May 23, 2020

Quoting from and email from,
Drawing on the overwhelming positive response to MyHeritage In Color™, we’ve taken this feature one step further and colorized our entire collection of U.S. yearbooks. In addition, we’ve opened up access to our yearbook collections for FREE, through May 23, 2020!
MyHeritage has an enormous yearbook collection with 290 million names in 36 million pages, from yearbooks across the U.S. from 1890 until 1979. 
Take this opportunity to reminisce about your own high school years or search for your loved ones in the collection. Sharing your discoveries is a great way to reconnect with former classmates and stay in touch with relatives both near and far. 
Found a fascinating picture of yourself or a loved one? We’ve added a new option to make it easy to share on social media. Anyone who shares a yearbook page on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram with the hashtags #LookingGood and #FreeYearbooks and tags @MyHeritage will enter a draw. Each week we’ll select one lucky winner who will receive a free MyHeritage Complete subscription! 
The original black and white yearbook pages remain unchanged, and you can easily toggle between the black and white and colorized versions. Read more about the free colorized yearbooks on our blog post
You can search the Yearbooks by clicking here.

How can I refine “personal knowledge/contact" as a source?

The answer to the question in the title of this post requires some basic genealogical definitions. First, the term "source" is used to refer to the place where the information used to establish the existence of an event in an ancestor's or relative's life is located or available. Here is an example of this definition. 

My Grandfather was born on 12 January 1895. Now, I am asserting that the event of his birth took place on that particular day in 1895. Where did that information come from? Where would I go to verify that someone copied the information correctly or that there is some reasonable basis for believing that the date is correct? 

Back in 1895, there were no birth certificates in Arizona where he was born but in 1942, my Grandfather filled out a World War II Draft Registration card and entered his birth date. Here is the card. 

Where can this card be found other than adding a copy of the card to my record in my own pedigree? Here is the citation to the location of the card online:

Arizona, military records : World War II 4th draft registration cards, 1942
United States. Selective Service System (Main Author)
National Personnel Records Center (St. Louis, Missouri) (Repository)
Manuscript/Manuscript on Digital Images
Salt Lake City, Utah : Genealogical Society of Utah, 2015

The "citation" is the written description of the location. By the way, there is a huge genealogical culture of having the "correct" form of citations. 

So, when we talk about adding sources to your own genealogical records, what we really mean is: tell us where you got the information. 

Now, suppose your "source" is you personal information. That is the source. But in real life "personal information" is not usually reliable or accurate.  So, we would like to have more than just what you think is correct or what you were told by your family members or others. The simplest way to "refine" your personal knowledge as a source is to do some research and find a record or other written document that collaborates your personal knowledge. 

The process is pretty straight forward. You look for records or documents that contain information about your ancestors and then you use the information you find to make entries in your family tree at the same time recording the location where you found the information. No information = No entry. In this, saying that you "know" the information is correct is unacceptable. Without some substantiating document or record you do not know anything and without telling the rest of us where you found the information, we are very unlikely to believe that your information is correct. 

That's why we need a source for every piece of information in the anyone's family tree. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Where can you find my blog posts?

I  get over 50,000 views of my blog posts on presently trending at over 60,000. This is by far the largest viewing platform. I have three blogs: Genealogy's Star, Rejoice, and be exceeding glad..., and Walking Arizona. I post all three to Pinterest. Here is my page. is not the easiest venue to navigate. But I do post all the blogs on Pinterest. Another venue is You can find me on Twitter from my name, James Tanner and @Genealogysstar.

One more place to see all the posts is on See

You might be aware that some time ago, my Rejoice blog was blocked by But it is still alive and well and you can find it on the other venues.

Here is the link to my Facebook page for the other two blog posts.

Online Family Trees do not cause bad genealogy

One of the most frequent, if not the most frequent genealogical rants that I hear and read involves frustration and sometimes real anger at online family trees. Usually, the person expressing the extreme emotions blames a lot of the problems they identify on the Family Tree. I have a one-sentence response to all of these rants:

The FamilySearch Family Tree is not the problem, it is the solution. 

Here is a one-sentence excerpt from a recent comment:
The LDS It might be merely a huge database of information of interest to genealogical researchers, but it is fraught with problems and beset at many turns by bad genealogy or, if you prefer, bad family tree gatherers.
The comment goes on to explain a major issue with a person from the 17th Century.

When I began my genealogical research in 1982. I was as unlearned and naive as any of the current contributors we find online today. It took years of research, formal classes, books, and conventions to "educate" me about adding sources, correcting entries, and looking for inconsistencies. Now, going back to that time when there were no computers, no online family trees, no massive digitized databases of information, and no people making comments about my lack of sources or accuracy, I can now look back and I realize that I found just exactly the same types of errors being complained about today on paper family group records from the early 1900s.

Let me be as clear as possible. There is no connection between bad genealogy and online family trees. The family trees, including the Family Tree, are not the problem. Even if there were some kind of internet disaster and all the family trees disappeared, all of the errors, duplicates, and date issues would still exist on the individual family trees of all those who submitted the information in the first instance.

Here is an example of a problem record submitted in 1960 to the predecessor of

I have cut down the image to just the pertinent information. All of the dates on this sheet are calculated from a U.S. Census Record from Newton County, Mississippi according to the notation showing where the information for this record was obtained. The problem is simple, from a search in the catalog, there are over 1000 records for people born about that time named Margaret Lane. The interesting thing about this record is that is supposedly has a source showing that this family was found in the 1860 Census. If I search in the Family Tree for George Lane married to Martha and with a daughter named Margaret,  I find that there 501,876 results and none of them, until I ran out of patience, matched this family exactly.

Hmm. I could look through the pages of the Newton County, Mississippi 1860 Federal Census records and see if this person exists.

Do you see the problem? This old family group record was supposedly created by this person from an actual record. I do not want to take the time to find the original record. I started through the county page by page but gave up with 160 pages to go. What if this family group record was in the pile of genealogy you got from your relative? What would you do to verify the information? Would you copy this person into an online family tree?

All of my time searching could be avoided if the person had been more specific in identifying the source and/or provided a copy of the original source record. This is just bad genealogy. It is an example of the type of work done over the past 100+ years that creates what we now have online. Stop blaming the programs. All that the Family Tree does is make all these types of issues visible. If you go into "genealogical isolation" you will just prolong and add to the problems that already exist.

Reclaim The Records wins the Missouri Sunshine Law case!

New from,
We filed a Missouri Sunshine Law suit against the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) in Cole County, Missouri on November 23, 2016. We submitted our Motion for Summary Judgment papers in late May 2019 (and you can read them here, here, here, and here). And on April 15, 2020 we won the records, we won attorneys fees, and we even won fines against the agency!
You can read the Judge's Order by clicking on the caption to this copy of the order below. The Judge's long order is a classic detailed explanation of exactly what is going on in the states that refuse to provide access to public records and do so basically to extract high fees from researchers.
This is not an isolated incident. You can find this sort of action by state and municipal governments all over the country. Please give a shout out to Reclaim the Records.

Monday, April 20, 2020

How to Analyze Genealogical Sources: Part Three

It has been a while since I started out with a pancake illustration. This is the best example of what is involved with the levels of jurisdiction in geographical naming conventions. There is a legal definition of the term "jurisdiction" that refers to the legal authority of a particular court to act, but according to a more common usage, the term can also refer to a geographic area that is subject to a particular government or private entity. For example, the jurisdiction of the State of Arizona extends to its geographically designated boundaries. The idea from a genealogical standpoint is, as I have written previously, that genealogically pertinent records are usually associated with the various government and social entities surrounding the place where a recordable event occurred.

What this means for genealogical researchers is that the records created are not duplicative, in most cases, and searches are necessary at every level and in every possible recordset. It is convenient to use the term "jurisdiction" to sort out the levels of documentation.

Let me explain this more clearly. Let's suppose that a baby is born in Fredonia, Arizona. That birth will be most likely recorded (if at all) in the State of Arizona. But if the baby happened to be born about six miles or so north across the state line, the baby's birth record, if any, would more likely have been found in the State of Utah. For the time being, I am ignoring questions of citizenship about babies born on airplanes or whatever.

Here is how the "jurisdictions" stack up on a single location going from the smallest geographical level to the most expansive similar to the pancakes shown above.

The example is a very small town in Arizona; Joseph City, Navajo, Arizona

1. Joseph City, an incorporated community
2. School Districts, Church Subdivisions, and other local organizations
3. Power district, irrigation districts, hospital districts,
4. Navajo County
5. State of Arizona
6. United States of America

There may be other pertinent jurisdictional levels so my list is open ended.

Why the pancake analogy is helpful is that each level (pancake) is separate but all the records pile up so you have to search the location of any of the records separately as I explained above. So let's go back and look at the U.S. Census record I previously used as an example.

How many different jurisdictions does this particular U.S. Census sheet refer to directly or indirectly? Here is the list of what I found:

United States of America
Supervisor's District
Enumeration District
Foreign countries listed as birthplaces
States other than Utah listed
Manufacturing organizations or companies

When we view this list in the context of people living in the year 1880, there may also be other sets of records from other jurisdictional entities.

Now, think about this. How much of this information is incorporated in a usable manner by the fields you fill out in your genealogical database program. More coming.

For the previous parts of this series see the following:

Part One:
Part Two:

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Where is the United Kingdom? More about standardized place names

By the way, the above map is both inaccurate and misleading. This is a sort-of series about standardization for place names. What I mean by a "sort-of series" is that I have no intention of maintaining a series of articles that specifically relate to each other. this sort-of series is more eclectic and less focused.

In my first post on the subject, I brought up the issue of the use of British Colonial America, a designation for early European colonies in America that seems to be gaining popularity as a location used in the Family Tree. The Family Tree is the only large online consolidated or unified family tree that specifically suggests a wide variety of place names as "standard." Most recently the Family Tree has also incorporated time-specific entries to enhance the places. Here is an example of a suggested place name:

Let's assume that this person was actually born in the geographic location known as Albany, New York. Here is a Google Maps screenshot showing where this place is currently located.

Here is a quote from Wikipedia to get us started learning about Albany, New York.
Albany is one of the oldest surviving European settlements from the original thirteen colonies and the longest continuously chartered city in the United States.
OK, now it gets complicated. I am going to summarize this city's very long history. The location of the city was first claimed by Henry Hudson, the English explorer, for the Dutch East India Company in about 1609. The land was claimed for the United Netherlands. Of course, the European explorers ignored any land claims made by the original inhabitants. In 1614, Hendrick Christiaensen built Fort Nassau, a fur-trading post and the first documented European structure in present-day Albany.

You might notice that so far, the dates haven't quite made it up those on the Family Tree. More history passed and Fort Nassau became Fort Orange. I am wondering is there were any babies born in either fort? In 1652, the forts were incorporated into a village named Beverwijck (Beaverwick).

Hmm. The name of the place was changed from Beverwijck to Albany when the English captured New Netherland. In 1673, the Dutch regained the city and renamed it Willemstadt. However, the English took it back in 1674 and here is a further quote from the Wikipedia article about Albany, New York.
On November 1, 1683, the Province of New York was split into counties, with Albany County being the largest. At that time the county included all of present New York State north of Dutchess and Ulster Counties in addition to present-day Bennington County, Vermont, theoretically stretching west to the Pacific Ocean; Albany became the county seat. Albany was formally chartered as a municipality by provincial Governor Thomas Dongan on July 22, 1686. The Dongan Charter was virtually identical in content to the charter awarded to the city of New York three months earlier. Dongan created Albany as a strip of land 1 mile (1.6 km) wide and 16 miles (26 km) long. Over the years Albany would lose much of the land to the west and annex land to the north and south. At this point, Albany had a population of about 500 people.
So, it would appear that the two dates shown above from the Family Tree standardized selection are really for two different entities: Albany County and Albany city as a part of Albany County. How much of this history is pertinent to your genealogical research and how accurate do you have to be to adequately indicate where and when the events in your ancestors' past are documented?

By the way, where or what is British Colonial America? The term was not entirely made up by FamilySearch. Here is a link to a reference to a "Timeline: British colonial America." But is the name a specific geographic location or an expedient? Why do we ignore the earlier Dutch colony? Let's look at another standardized place name list from the Family Tree.

I didn't just choose this example randomly. The European occupation of what is now Arizona began in 1539 with the arrival of the Spanish Priest Marcos de Niza. The European settlement of the state began in around 1700 and the city of Tucson was established in 1775. So where is Spanish Colonial America? There are what were originally Spanish settlements in both what is now Arizona and New Mexico that date back into the 1700s. By the way, the first English speaking settlers in St. Joseph/Joseph City arrived in 1876 when the location was in Yavapai County. The settlers lived in Yavapai County for about 19 years before Navajo County was created.

What is the point? You have to know the history of the area and do a detailed timeline. If the issue is finding records that pertain to the place your ancestors lived, there are three main factors: the jurisdictional changes, the exact geographic location of the events in your family's life, and the changes in the jurisdictions over time.

Now, what about the United Kingdom? Here is the explanation of the origin of the name "United Kingdom" from Wikipedia: United Kingdom.
The 1707 Acts of Union declared that the kingdoms of England and Scotland were "United into One Kingdom by the Name of Great Britain". The term "United Kingdom" has occasionally been used as a description for the former kingdom of Great Britain, although its official name from 1707 to 1800 was simply "Great Britain"

The use of the designation "United Kingdom" is similar to the use of British Colonial America. The terminology has been used but the designation refers to a concept and not a strick geographic location. Here is a further quote from the same Wikipedia article.
The Acts of Union 1800 united the kingdom of Great Britain and the kingdom of Ireland in 1801, forming the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Following the partition of Ireland and the independence of the Irish Free State in 1922, which left Northern Ireland as the only part of the island of Ireland within the United Kingdom, the name was changed to the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland".
If you look at the standardized entry above, you will see a date of 1801. Farcet parish was established in 1851. This screenshot was taken from an entry for a person who was born in 1830, so is this designation correct?

Stay tuned, next time I will focus on whether or not it is even possible to establish standard (arbitrary) place designations. 

Friday, April 17, 2020

How to Analyze Genealogical Sources: Part Two

The most effective way to learn how to analyze any subject is through the "case method." This is used almost exclusively in law schools to teach people how to be lawyers although the use of the case method does spill over into other disciplines and professions. In law schools, the case method has evolved because of the complex and extensive nature of the world's legal systems. Learning through the case method is extremely time-consuming and challenging.

Becoming a good genealogist is very similar to becoming a good lawyer (attorney). Both law and genealogy take a significant amount of time and effort. Essentially, the case method of teaching law involves studying thousands of legal cases using a structured series of questions. Learning by the case method in genealogy involves looking a hundreds of thousands of records and applying the information gleaned from those records to thousands of individuals and families. In this blog post series, I am not going to look at thousands of documents and cases, but I will look at enough to give you an idea of the structure of the questions and how the answers to those questions as they are applied to individual classes of records and documents help you to evaluate the resultant information.

Here we go with the first "case" or record. This is a copy of a page from the 1880 U.S. Federal Census. Usually, I am searching census records for information about specific individuals and families. However, for the purpose of illustrating how to begin to analyze this and other records, I do not yet need to focus on any specific individual or family. I can analyze the record without extracting any particular information. Here is the record.

I chose to start with a US Federal Census record because census records will likely be the most familiar to anyone in any level of expertise. Here are the first two of many questions.

What is the geographic location of this record? What was the Census date of this record? Here is a screenshot of the pertinent part of the record.

Note: You can click on any image to see an enlarged version.

You can answer both questions by looking at the information indicated by the 5 arrows. It may seem like a good idea just to dive into the record and start copying out the information but, in the case of U.S. Federal Census records, it is a really good idea to make sure you understand the content and history of census records before you make assumptions about the information that may or may not be valid. When I first started researching, almost 40 years ago, I had only some very vague knowledge about the U.S. Census records. At that time, the records were only available in a few locations on microfilm and the main index to the records was the Soundex system of indexing. The ease of searching and extracting information from those same online census records today obscures the need to understand the records.

I would start by reading and studying the extensive explanation and history of the U.S. Census on the National Archives website. See Census Records. One note about the comments made by the U.S. Census records as presented on the National Archives website is that the National Archives fails to tell you about important online sources where the Census records are available for free. For example, they mention their "digitization partners" and ( is owned by but they do not point out that ( is a subscription website and that is free. They also fail to mention that a free copy of the entire census is also available on the Internet Archive or

It may seem obvious but before you can analyze a document or record, you need to be able to access the record.

You can find a step-by-step tutorial about the U.S. Census in The Family History Guide. See Census Records.  Here are some additional books and publications that will help with understanding the U.S. Census records. (Firm), and D.C.) Board for Certification of Genealogists (Washington. Genealogy Standards, 2019.
Dunn, Michael. A Beginner’s Guide to Online Genealogy: Learn How to Trace Your Family History and Discover Your Roots, 2015.
Eakle, Arlene H, and Johni Cerny. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry Publishing Company, 1984. (Many later editions)
Foy, Karen. Family History for Beginners. History Press: Stroud, Gloucestershire [England, 2011.
Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, 2017.
Meyerink, Kory L. U.S. Federal Census Records. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Pub Co., 2012.
Thorvaldsen, Gunnar. Censuses and Census Takers: A Global History, 2018.

Now, back to the particular census record shown above. The location information is specific as to the town and county of residence of the people on this page but as we shall see, the location information is even more specific. But look at the date. Does this mean that the census enumerator counted these people on the 7th day of June of 1880? Here is an explanation from about the date of the 1880 Census:
The 1880 census began on 1 June 1880 for the general population of the United States. The enumeration was to be completed within thirty days, or two weeks for communities with populations of 10,000 or fewer. Regardless of when an individual was contacted, all responses were to reflect the status of the individual as of 1 June 1880, the official Census Day.
So, what does it mean when the record shows that the date was June 7, 1880? this is the type of question that needs asking but is only pertinent if one or more of the people enumerated had birthdays after June1st because the age information given by the census was recorded as of June 1.

This is only a very basic example of the way I will proceed to analyze these documents so stay tuned. 

For the first part of this series see the following:

Part One:

Monday, April 6, 2020

How to Analyze Genealogical Sources: Part One

It has been some time since I wrote about analyzing genealogical sources and so I am once again addressing this topic in a series of posts. First a bit of background.

To start out, I would strongly recommend that anyone who is interested in becoming a proficient genealogist read about the history of genealogy in America. This book is one of the very few that deal with this important subject. If you do not know the history of genealogy, you have no idea of the pitfalls and problems we are currently trying to resolve. Here is the book.

Weil, François. Family Trees: A History of Genealogy in America. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2013.

Now to begin.

Many fields of study have a very specialized set of terms usually referred to as "jargon. My own profession, the legal profession is known for its arcane and almost impenetrable jargon but that is also the case with medicine and many other specialized professions. Genealogists also have a certain amount of jargon but it is certainly not as specialized or arcane as law or medicine.

As I have written about previously, over the years, genealogists have adopted and tried to adapt, mostly unsuccessfully, some of the more common legal terms particularly those dealing with the legal Rules of Evidence. I say unsuccessfully because only a very small number of genealogists understand or correctly use the evidentiary terms. The rest of the genealogical "jargon" is pretty mundane, not too specialized and hardly impenetrable. Unfortunately, the particular part of genealogy that has adopted the most "jargon" is that part having to do with "evidence." The most complete list of genealogical terms I am aware of is the following:

FitzHugh, Terrick F.H, and Susan Lumas. The Dictionary of Genealogy. London: A & C, 1998.

The prevalence of legal jargon in genealogy is due, in part, to the fact that some earlier prominent genealogists were lawyers and they automatically applied their own legal methodology to their genealogical research. The current basic concepts of genealogical evidence and proof are found in the writings of Elizabeth Shown Mills. Here are her two most important books.

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence!: Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian. Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co., 1997.
———. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Pub. Co., 2007.

Another book that was influential in teaching a whole generation of genealogists is this one by Derek Harland.

Harland, Derek. Genealogical Research Standards: Instruction to Help Beginners in Genealogical Research. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Genealogical Society, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1975.

There are, of course, many other books. However, genealogy books are not easily found. The best source is to find a new or used copy, if available, on Amazon and buy the book. I have been collecting genealogy books for years from library discards and used book stores. 

Even though I have an extensive legal background, I have tried to employ a genealogical methodology that is not primarily based on legal jargon and words that have a strict legal meaning. The issue of maintaining a "genealogical" and historical research methodology and not overly infusing that methodology with legal terms is more difficult than it would appear. Because legal terminology has become part of our world culture due in large part because of the prevalence of law-related movies and TV series such as Agatha Christie's The Witness for the Prosecution and Perry Mason and their successors. Hence, a legion of genealogists has set out to "prove" their ancestry. 

The concept of having genealogical standards has been extensively codified by the Board for Certification of Genealogists or BCG. A substantial portion of those standards deals with evidence evaluation. The latest edition of these standards is contained in the following book. (Firm), and D.C.) Board for Certification of Genealogists (Washington. Genealogy Standards, 2019.

You can also see links and articles about the standards on the BCG website. There are very specific standards for researching, documenting, writing, and educators.

Now, the issue of analyzing a historical (genealogically significant) document is fairly complicated. The information contained on the document or record may be correct or not. It is entirely up to the researcher to evaluate the information and then form an opinion about its veracity. It is fairly common to find contradictory information in different records or documents. Copying information from an inaccurate document,  a book or other derivative records may result in perpetuating false information. This series of posts will not answer every question but it will, hopefully, provide you with a lot of questions and increase your ability to form more educated conclusions about the available historical records and documents.

Stay tuned

Saturday, April 4, 2020

New Home School Resources pages on The Family History Guide
The Family History Guide continues to expand its resources to include direct links to pages that are helpful for those families that are involved in homeschooling. This page, as shown above, helps you get started with four main sections of The Family History Guide website that are ideal for providing a great at-home experience in family history. We hope you enjoy your home-schooling experience with The Family History Guide!

As always, The Family History Guide is your free, structured, and sequenced resource for teaching and learning all things about family history and genealogy.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Where is British Colonial America? Can we standardize place names?

Chart of the World on Mercator's Projection with the most recent Discoveries. Published by W. Faden. January 1821. Palmer Sculp. (to accompany) Atlas minimus universalis, or, A geographical abridgement ancient and modern of the several parts of the earth ... Second edition. Jan 1, 1821.

From a genealogical standpoint, the idea of "geographic location" involves two distinct systems. The first can be summarized as a global positioning system (GPS) that can identify the exact location anyplace on the surface of the earth. The second, completely different system, involves identifying the location of an event in relation to its geopolitical location over time. For example, if I were to state the location where my father was born, I could say he was born in St. Johns, Apache, Arizona, United States (or USA) or I could also say he was born at 34.507118, -109.363181. 

In the first instance, the geopolitical location, the "location" would have changed over time. Each of the designated locations would have been different at different times. St. Johns was first used anciently as a crossing of the Little Colorado River as was called Tsézhin Deezʼáhí in Navajo. Later, it was called El Vadito in Spanish. The next name for the town was also in Spanish, "San Juan." The first building, a stone house, was built in 1874. Another small town was built beginning in about 1879 named Salem. Eventually, the entire community became known as Saint Johns or St. Johns (with an "s"). The two ways of spelling the name of the town are somewhat arbitrarily used depending on the context. The official website of the location uses the spelling, "St. Johns."

The town is also presently located in Apache County. However, when the first settlement was made about 1874, Arizona had been a territory of the United States of America since Monday, February 23, 1863. At that time there were no counties. The first county that contained what would become St. Johns, was Yavapai County formed on Wednesday, November 9, 1864. The townsite became part of Apache County on Thursday, February 13, 1879. So, technically, the first house was built in Yavapai County. Arizona became a state on February 14, 1912. So, depending on my father's birthdate, he could have been born in Arizona Territory or the State of Arizona. But in either case, the location of his birth by geocoordinates would not have changed. 

What has all this got to do with British Colonial America? Well, genealogists have for some time now had a rule that the place of an event in a person's life should be recorded as it was designated at the time of the event. As you can see from this very short example, place names change over time as do the jurisdictions to which any particular locations belongs. This is the case because of the simple fact that genealogically significant records are created at or near the place that an event occurs and recorded either by someone who witnesses the event or has some duty to report the event. So depending on the place and the time period, a genealogist would start looking for significant records from the jurisdictions in force at the time the events occurred. 

Of course, genealogically significant records can move around (not by themselves but by those who claim ownership or whatever to the records). In many cases, notwithstanding the movement of records, the identity of a person can only be known by establishing the EXACT location of an event in the person's life. 

So what about using the designation of "British Colonial America?" First of all, there is no such place and secondly, there is no firm time period for the non-existent entity existence. Here is one almost definition from Wikipedia: British America.
British America refers to the British Empire's colonial territories in America from 1607 to 1783. These colonies were formally known as British America and the British West Indies before the Thirteen Colonies declared their independence in the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783) and formed the United States of America.
When did the United States of America officially become an independent country? Certainly not in 1776. How about 1783? How about 1789? By the way, Canada was a British Colony and arguably part of British Colonial America ( What is America anyway? Does America include Hawaii?) and Canada was a British Colony until when? Canadian history is even more complicated than some of the history of the United States of America and what if you were born in North Carolina in 1863?

Let's just say that deciding on a particular name for a country can be more complicated than most can imagine. Most politically inspired names of locations are somewhat slippery. There are some genealogists who routinely use "British Colonial America" for any event that occurred in one or more of the colonies up until 1776. On the other hand, there are those who resent that usage and have their own designation.

I have long been an advocate of using geographic coordinates to identify exact locations and then using historical narrative, like my discussion above about St. Johns, to identify the possible location of records assuming the researcher can identify the time period in question.

More about this as time goes on.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Now over 2,000,000 words

I began using consistently back on October 8, 2017. That is about 30 months ago. Since that date, the Grammarly program has logged all of the words I have written using the program (primarily as a spell checker). Accordingly, as of the date of this blog post, I have written 2,004,441 words. Of course, I have written many more than that because the program did not and does not work with a lot of the other programs I use such as Microsoft Word (this week announced support for Microsoft Word). By the way, Microsoft is coming out with an app that will work with the Microsoft Office 365 program (soon to be Microsoft 365) that will have similar features called Microsoft Editor which will be available on April 21, 2020. See "Introducing Microsoft 365."

As I may have written previously, I seem to have traded off talking for writing. When I was younger, I talked a lot but as I grew older, I started to write more and talk less, although now I sometimes talk to myself.

Obviously, you can take classes on learning how to write. Perhaps my writing would have been better over the years if I had actually taken classes in writing. But somehow, I think that writing over 2 million words is probably a good way to learn how to write. Depending on the complexity of the subject matter, I can spend quite a bit of time re-reading and revising what I write, but usually, I do the revisions as I write so I can write more. It does take time and a lot of thought to write but once I have a subject, I can usually just explain what I have in my head. However, I often need to do a lot of research both before I start and while I am writing.

I think that my first "serious" writing began when I was in my late teens and early twenties. My first attempts were writing poetry and I ended up studying the History of the English Language as a second major to my degree in Linguistics so I did take a few English classes. I was also employed on a National Science Foundation project to develop a sequenced instructional program for teaching poetry to Middle School students. I wrote a lot of poetry but then just stopped. Subsequently, I began to dream of writing novels, mostly science fiction. I did write a few but never pursued trying to get any of them published. Meanwhile, I started writing and technically publishing a huge amount of legal stuff while in law school and afterward while working as an attorney. The blogs came about as a development of my legal writing. Here is a link to the first "Genealogy's Star" blog post I wrote back on November 21, 2008. Check out the FamilySearch Wiki. You can see that I have come a long way from those early attempts.

Now, I am at blog post number 5,718 just from those blog posts for Genealogy's Star. My other passion is photography. I have gotten to the point of publishing books, I think I am author and co-author on about 25 or so books and I do publish my photos on Adobe Stock and sell a few from time to time. I think a lot of authors and photographers assume that "selling" their work is a validation of its worth. Since there are probably billions of photographers now and maybe just about as many authors, I am not deluded enough to think that I could ever make any serious money from writing or photography although that might have been the case if I had decided to focus on writing or photography much earlier in my life.

I guess I will end this blog with a photo I took recently.

This seems appropriate for the time being. See