Blog Entries: 1 to 5 of 5
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.
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.
Organizing Your Research
While researching your family it’s important that you come up with a plan to organize and document your research. It is very easy to start looking up someone on the internet (or elsewhere), locate something interesting and then forget where you found it. This is especially common when you first begin researching a new surname, family or individual. While searching the internet you will probably be inundated with links, investigate them and possibly spy one or two links of interest. At this point be sure to document where these tidbits were found so you don’t have to go thru a tedious search again.
Although this scattergun technique may yield results, your research will probably be more productive by approaching it systematically. If you have already put together some form of pedigree chart and family group listing, you have a good start on organizing your research.
Many genealogy sites suggest using research plans. A plan will define steps like setting a goal to locate certain information, determining likely sources to find that information, search for the information, copy the information, document where it came from, store a copy, see if this is actually what you set out trying to find/prove, etc.
The purpose of a plan, whether written down or just an informal mental process, should be to help you focus your research. Rather than jumping around looking for information on everyone at once, you should select an individual and work on finding information on that person before moving on to someone else. (In another note I'll discuss formulating research questions to help you in collecting this information and trying to optimize it's accuracy). When searching for information it can be helpful to have a template/check list to track information that you already have or that you still want to collect or review. Some examples of this type of checklist are here, here and here. Many genealogy programs also have built in check/fact lists to assist with this tracking.
Finally, once information has been found you will need to determine how best to store it. If you are starting from scratch (not taking over research done by someone else) you will probably use your genealogical program as your information repository. These programs have become quite sophisticated and can organize your research quite efficiently.
As a caution, before getting to committed to these programs you should become familiar with their capabilities as well as their limitations by going through the documentation and tutorials. Similarly, if you are taking over someone elses research you should become familiar with their organizational structure before trying to make changes to their structure.
Family Group/Individual Data Sheets
In a previous note I described using a Pedigree Chart to set up the backbone of your ancestral family tree. The Pedigree Chart will list your direct ancestors (Father, Mother, Grandfather, Grandmother, etc.) The Pedigree Chart does not provide details on your siblings, aunts, uncles, etc. This is where the Family Group Sheet comes to your aid.
Each family in the Pedigree Chart will be represented by a spousal pair (Father/Mother, Grandfather/Grandmother, etc.) You will want to create one Family Group Sheet for each of these couples. The Family Group Sheet should have an area to define each couple and all of their children (not just the one that is your direct ancestor). Once these are done you should create a Family Group Sheet for each one of the children that are married, followed by any of the married children’s children etc. At that point you should have an inventory of all the families in your ancestral tree.
Various forms of the Family Group Sheet
may have space for different amounts of information. You can find a Family Group Sheet
with a minimum amount of data here.
A more detailed Family Group Sheet
can be found here.
In any case you should at least have the following information in the Family Group Sheet.
You will probably have other information on each of the individuals in the Family Groups. You could just add more fields to the Family Group Sheet
to accommodate them, however it will probably get a bit unwieldy. This is where I prefer to add an Individual Data Sheet.
By doing this you can add lots of extra fields without expanding the Family Group Sheet.
The Individual Data Sheet
can also help define details on unmarried children. A example Individual Data Sheet
can be seen here.
Getting Started - Pedigree Chart
When getting started with your family tree it can be tempting to get a genealogy program and just start loading names into it. This may work for a couple of generations; however, as you delve deeper into your family tree you are likely to get lost in the branches. You begin to ask yourself questions like , “Is this Hans the son of Fritz and Catherina, the son of Franz and Augusta or the grandson of Hans and Willhamina?”.
There are several aids that can help you get your ancestral tree organized without getting lost in the details. Three useful aids include the Pedigree Chart, the Family Group Sheet and the Individual Information Sheet. Each of these will help you structure and fill in details on your ancestors.
The Pedigree Chart will provide you with a backbone for your tree. This chart is actually a tree with you at the bottom (or left end) and going up (or toward the right) through your direct ancestors (parents, grandparents, etc.).
Each node (father, mother, grandfather, etc.) has a date/location entry for each individuals birth, marriage and death. Each generation doubles the number of nodes from the previous generation. When running off the end of the chart you may add a connector to the next chart and continue on.
The Pedigree Chart gives you a listing of your direct ancestors (Father, Mother, Grandfather, Grandmother, etc) but it does not show siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. Once you have a Pedigree Chart you can take each family (Father/Mother, Grandmother/Grandfather, etc.) and fill out a Family Group Sheet to add details of siblings in each family group.
An example of a fillable PDF blank chart is available by clicking here.