I have long suffered (and have posted about) what I refer to as the ‘sins of my genealogy youth.’ Specifically my lack of source citations for all of the ‘facts’ I had gathered over thirty plus years of research.
When I began researching my family’s history, source citation was something I had done in university but my family history was different – it was for me. In the early 1980’s there was a collaborative approach taken to genealogy but that usually meant having a query posted in a society newsletter and then waiting, hoping that one day something would appear in the mailbox (as in ‘snail mail’ box). With computers and the Internet, genealogy database programs, however rudimentary, helped keep my information organized and made finding fact tidbits a bit easier through posted indexes. The digital age has ever increasingly allowed me to gobble up large numbers of records, as well as digitize and share large quantities of family photos and documents, and connect more easily with family members and researchers, close and distant.
But I always came to the same spot. When asked what I had used as a source for a fact or event, I was usually left having to search through pages of notes or hundreds (thousands?) of scanned images in the hope that I would find the information source.
My first effort to tame this merciless dragon was to begin wading through the 12,500 plus individuals in my database and one by one, add source citations to the facts and events that I had recorded for them. I made the effort but was not satisfied with the results. It just didn’t feel, for me, that I was really advancing. It felt like I was trying to get somewhere by running on a treadmill – you put out the effort but at the end you’re still in the same space.
As I posted previously I began formal genealogy study through the National Institute for Genealogical Studies some months ago and I know as a result, my research habits and practices have improved. Ultimately, this lead me to the conclusion that I needed to start over again.
So I have created what I refer to as my family ‘master’ file. Nothing, no name or fact, is allowed into this master file without a well composed source citation supporting it. I am using Elizabeth Shown Mills “Evidence Explained” as my source citation ‘bible‘ which is always open on my desktop as I research. As a back-up, I have Elizabeth Shown Mills’ book “Evidence! Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian” close by my side.
So the big question for me was “Has this helped? Is my ‘new’ database any better?” I think so and can offer two quick examples: in my original database I had six sources cited for the birth of my second great grandfather Lewis Fitzgerald but now in my ‘master’ database, I have fifteen sources for his birth. Similarly, in my original database I had four sources for the birth of my great grandfather John Foley whereas I now have thirteen sources cited for the same event in the new ‘master’ database.
I’m not trying to suggest that he/she who has the most sources for an event wins but rather doing it right has great merit. What do you think?