Starting Over! Am I Crazy?

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?

Attending N.I.G.S.

At long last, I can finally say that I am attending N.I.G.S. – The National Institute for Genealogical Studies, affiliated with the Continuing Education Division of the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto. I have chosen to work towards a Canadian Records certification as most of the ancestors I am researching spent at least a good part of their lives in Canada. N.I.G.S. offers certificate programs in six countries (United States, Canada, Australia, Scotland, Ireland, England and Germany) and the program of study allows me to take courses specific to those country’s records in addition to the Canadian records on which I will have a special focus.

I have written previously (“My Continuing Genealogy Education” – July 2010 and “Ontario Genealogical Society Conference 2010” – May 2010) that podcaster extraordinaire, Lisa Louise Cooke of the Genealogy Gems podcast recommended that as genealogists, we should be spending thirty percent of our time furthering our genealogy education. I noted that Lisa has updated this recommendation at the recent Rootstech 2012 conference to twenty percent! (Oh, what shall I do with all the free time that provides me?) In past, I have used podcasts, webinars and the occasional conference as much of the source of my genealogy education. These helped me learn knew techniques and approaches in addition to helping me stay current with the genealogy industry. But as I approach retirement and the additional time it affords, I needed to decide to stop talking about genealogy education and ‘jump in.’
I chose N.I.G.S. for a few reasons. One reason is personal – I am a graduate of the University of Toronto so I already have a soft spot in my heart for the institution. Sentiment aside, I like the flexibility in the program that allows you to take courses at your own pace and the fact that it is online make the courses very accessible. N.I.G.S. also has an impressive list of instructors such as Kory Meyerink, Gena Philibert-Ortega, George G. Morgan, Lisa Alzo, and Michael Hait to name a few. My one reservation was not knowing if the program would meet my learning expectations after thirty plus years of doing genealogy research.
I’m happy to say that although I have to this point been only completing the required basic level mandatory courses in Canadian records, I am learning – and that is what it is all about! The basic level courses have thus far been easy for me but I know that as I progress the courses will become more challenging and I will learn more. I have been very impressed with the quality of the course materials. For example, the course materials for Canadian Vital Statistics Records – Part 1 is 189 pages long. That is a lot of great information about the history and one component of the records of Canada.
The point of this is to echo Lisa Louise Cooke’s education recommendation. Find a program that works for you, that meets your time and funding availability and pursue it! The option is learning by osmosis which will work but will likely take much longer.