Brookings Area Genealogical Society
Medary Monument

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September 21, 2020 By: BAGS Board
Documenting and Citing Your Research
One of the more important (and seemingly laborious) tasks in genealogy is citing your research.  The purpose of a citation is to document the connection between an information source and a particular fact you have found or conclusion you have come to while researching.  The citation should contain enough details so that you, or someone else, could find the same information at a future time. 
Something equally important is the ability to look back and evaluate the accuracy of the sources you have found.  As an example, let’s say you are trying to document the birth year for your Great Uncle John Edward Smith who was married to Sally Susan Jones.   You could come to a conclusion about his birth year from a census record , a marriage record, a church record, a military record, a death record, an SSN record, a birth certificate, etc. etc.    As you collect information to determine your Great Uncle John Edward Smith’s year of birth you should be creating a citation for each of the sources in which you have found a birth year  (or been able to calculate a birth year from a listed age and  date a source document was created).  You may find a half dozen citations for your uncles age/year of birth.  Looking through these you will want to come to a conclusion about which one is likely to be most accurate.
After remembering what we said about primary and secondary sources, you would probably assume the most accurate date would be that found on the birth certificate.  Although this is likely the case, you should still check the other sources to see if they agree.  Suppose John’s age on his marriage record  seems to be off by several years.  Then you notice his age on the death certificate matches his age on the marriage certificate.  What could be wrong with the birth certificate?  Although it could be something like illegible handwriting, it is more likely that you have found the birth certificate for another John Edward Smith.   You should never rely on the accuracy of a single source (even a primary one).  In my family I have had to sort out enough ancestors named Hans or Fritz  to staff a beer hall during Octoberfest.  It often takes  many sources to unscramble each of them!
One last note on the use of citations.  When you have found sources for one of your ancestors, it is likely the same sources may be of use in finding information on other ancestors.  If a source like a church record has information about an ancestor, the same church will likely have information on other ancestors.   Use the sources you find to provide hints to further your research.  
August 6, 2020 By: BAGS Board
Forming a Genealogical Question
A common problem in genealogy comes from loading an inaccurate piece of information into your tree and having it lead you down an entirely wrong family lineage.  I can give an example from my own family.  Many years ago my grandfather wrote to the pastor of the ancestral family church in Germany.  The pastor searched the church records and sent back the results.  Several years later another family member happened to be visiting that area and found a distant relative that had an ancestral chart for the family.  From that it was obvious that the church pastor had taken a wrong turn.  If you have ever tried to read old church records you can empathize with the pastor.
 The ease of searching for genealogical information on the internet leads to many of the same problems.  I have looked at several publicly accessible ancestral charts for my family and have found numerous errors in them.  Often these errors have been propagated from one online tree to another.
 To avoid bringing in inaccurate information it is important that you cross check/verify information before entering it into your tree.  To do this it is important that when searching for new information that you start from some information that you know is correct.  You should start building your ancestral tree from yourself and work toward your ancestors instead of starting from a supposed distant ancestor and trying to connect them to your family.
There are three basic types of information (events, relationships and biographical information) you will want to collect.  For events (births, marriages, etc.) you will want to know the what, when and where for the event.  For relationships you are looking for who is connected to who.  For biographical data you are looking for occupations, residences etc.
When you decide on an ancestor to research you should try to phrase your searches as questions.  The question should be very specific.  A question like “Where in Colorado did my Uncle Jack Smith live in 1920?” will be unlikely to help you find your Uncle Jack Smith.   However, phrasing the question as “Where in Colorado did my Uncle Jack Smith;  who was married to Sally Hinklebottom in 1915 and whose  children were John, Augusta, Hans and Karl; live in 1920?”  is more likely to help you sort out the correct Jack Smith.  This question states the information you are looking for as well as something that you already know to help verify you have the correct Jack Smith.   The more verification information you have (i.e. things you already know) the more likely you are to get the answer you want.
Recently I researched a married couple referenced in this article.   Various searches yielded the information in this partial listing.  To verify connection of this information to the couple in question, I asked questions that moved from verified information to unverified information.  An example of this type of question might be:  "Where did Charles Killen; who was born in Nevada, Story, Iowa, who was  Mayor of San Fernando, California, who lived at 623 Chatsworth Drive, San Fernando, California and who was married to the former Mina Ring; reside before he moved to California?" One thing you will notice in this worksheet is the variations in ages, dates, birth locations, etc. that need to be checked out.   In the future I may discuss some of the reasons, that in genealogical records, so many  pieces of information seem to be at odds with one another.