Welcome, Evidence Explained, 3rd edition!

Posted on: June 10th, 2015 by
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The third edition of Elizabeth Shown Mills’ Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace was released last month. Just as weighty as its predecessors, EE3 can be intimidating, particularly for those who are just beginning to work with source citation. It’s tempting to “grab and get out”–find the first index entry or QuickCheck model that more or less fits and slap down a citation. If you do this, though, you’ll miss a lot of the valuable insight and education that Elizabeth has built into her book. I hope that the remainder of this post will help you get the most out of EE.

As a new user, your first step should be to read the QuickStart Guide inside the front cover. As the QuickStart Guide says, you should next read and assimilate the first two chapters. You may profit from reading these chapters more than one time, especially if you are relatively new to genealogical research and citation. As you read, refer to the Evidence Analysis Process Map inside the front cover. You will notice that each of these chapters has a gray title page, and that the back side of the title page lists the chapter’s major subtopics and the numbered sections into which the chapter is divided. This pattern is used throughout the book and provides a great way to navigate.

Once you have read Chapters 1 and 2, survey EE‘s table of contents and familiarize yourself with the types of records the book covers and how it organizes them. Note that the book has two appendices, a glossary and a bibliography, and two indexes, a general index and an index to the QuickCheck models included in each of the chapters that cover sources and records.

Congratulations! You now have an idea of what EE contains and an appreciation of the principles of evidence analysis and citation. You are ready to start using EE in your research and writing.

Let’s say you have located a piece of information–say, a birth date for an ancestor–and you are ready to use EE to create a source citation. Your first step is, take a deep breath. Ask yourself, “What am I holding on my hand? What is the source that gives me the information for which I am creating this citation? What kind of source is it?”

If the information is your ancestor’s birth date, and you got the information from a paper copy of a Pennsylvania birth certificate. This is a state-level birth registration/vital record. Looking in EE‘s table of contents, you will notice that Chapter 9, “Local & State Records, Licenses, Registrations, Rolls & Vital Records,” covers this kind of record. Go to Chapter 9. (The gray title pages you noticed initially will help you locate the start of each chapter within the book.) When you find the gray title page for Chapter 9, you will see that the front of the title page lists a something called QuickCheck models. The QuickCheck models are a handy reference feature of EE that provide patterns and examples for frequently encountered sources and records. As in Chapters 1 and 2, the back of Chapter 9’s title page gives the subtopics and section references for the chapter. The QuickCheck models for the chapter, also gray, follow the title page.

Reading the title page and chapter contents, you notice that there is a Quick Check model for State-Level Vital-Records Certificate as well as coverage of state-level vital-records certificates in chapter section 9.41 on page 467. Those will be your guide.

The first time (and possibly the first few times) you use an EE chapter for a category of records, I recommend reading the Basic Issues and Citation Issues sections of the chapter before you grab a format and start creating your citation. (If you don’t do this, you’re missing a significant piece of the genealogical education EE provides.)

“But,” you say, “I can just check the index for the type of source I have.” Yes, of course you can, but, when you don’t read the explanatory material EE provides, you’re missing an opportunity to be educated.

Citing the paper birth certificate is a simple example, but it illustrates the process:

  1. Identify the kind of source you’re citing.
  2. Locate the section(s) or QuickCheck models in EE for that kind of source.
  3. Read explanatory material such as Basic Issues or Citation Issues in the applicable EE chapter.
  4. Choose the appropriate model for your citation.
  5. Create the citation.

Every serious genealogist should have and use Evidence Explained. You can get your copy at Amazon.com or Genealogical.com. You can also purchase the electronic edition at the Evidence Explained bookstore.

Elizabeth has a whole website devoted to evidence analysis and citation at EvidenceExplained.com. The website provides information about the book, along with QuickTips, QuickLessons, and forums where you can discuss citation issues, evidence analysis issues, and record usage and interpretation–all for free. There is also an Evidence Explained Facebook page you can like and follow.

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Posted on: March 23rd, 2015 by
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Timelines are one of the most useful tools in the family historian’s toolbox!

I’ve been using timelines since I started researching my family history. Pedigree charts and family group sheets are great for summarizing relationships and storing facts, but they have lots of limitations. For family historians interested in the story part of family history, pedigree charts and family group sheets don’t make the story very clear. For me, this is where timelines come in.

Here is a basic timeline based on information contained in a typical family group sheet:

Date (When?) Event (What happened?) Source (How do you know?)
abt 1874 Eva Kruczkas was born in what is now Lithuania. She was the daughter of Stephen Kruczkas and Mary Mozicka. William Abromitis (grandson of William Abromitis), handwritten note, undated, circa 1960. Privately held by author. Birth date from 1900 census.
abt 1875 William Abromitis was born in what is now Lithuania. He was the son of Frank Abromitis and Marion Stanulis. William Abromitis note. Birth date from 1900 census.
Table continues with marriage, births of children, deaths.

For me, the timeline lays out the information on the family group sheet in chronological order, and thus shows the order of events. It gives the nucleus of the family’s story. It also prompts questions that might not arise from contemplation of the family group sheet alone. Including source information enables you to judge the quality of the information you have and can give you ideas for further research. (You will notice that I used shortened citations in the sample table, rather than full-size, Evidence Explained-style citations.) You can vary this basic three-column layout as you wish, limited only by your imagination. Here are some of the variations I use:

  • Using footnotes to document source information instead of placing source information in a column.
  • Adding columns for Notes and Questions, Future Research, Sources to Consult.

In addition to bringing out the sequence of events in the family story, timelines are great tools for analyzing records. The individual entries for a family in a census record, for example, document events that occurred before the date of the census. Here is an example from a 1900 census entry for the family above:

Date (When?) Event (What happened?)
May 1873 William Abromatis was born in Russia Lithuania.
Mar 1875 Eva Abromatis was born in Russia Lithuania.
1895 William and Eva immigrated to the U.S.
abt 1897 William and Eva married.
Sep 1899 William and Eva’s son Jacob was born in Pennsylvania.
1900 William and Eva Abromitis lived in Shenandoah, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, with their son Jacob, in a rented house. William was a coal miner and had not applied for naturalization.

Census entries are not the only records that document events that occurred on several dates. For example, a marriage license application and return may record

  • The approximate date the groom was born, with names of parents
  • The approximate date the bride was born, with names of parents
  • The residences and occupations of the groom and bride on the date of application
  • The date the marriage license was granted.
  • The date and place the marriage was performed, perhaps with the name of the officiant.

A death certificate may record

  • The decedent’s date and place of birth, with parents’ names>
  • The marriage of the decedent, with spouse’s name, but without date (Logically, the marriage occurred between the decedent’s date of birth and date of death.)
  • The decedent’s date and place of death.

Timelines are also a great way to correlate the information from multiple records, and identify conflicting information.

In constructing your timelines, you can infer events from the events actually recorded in the records you are using. In the case of the death certificate, if the places of birth and death are different, you can infer a move from the place of birth to the place of death include it in the timeline, even if you don’t know the date of the move. As you incorporate information from multiple source records in your timeline, you may be able to add documented dates or refine date ranges.

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You Can’t Find What You Don’t Look For

Posted on: February 20th, 2015 by
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My recent revisit to some ten-year-old genealogy work resulted in a discovery that changed my understanding of the history of the family I was researching.

Ten years ago, I researched the family of John Clark and his wife Sarah (Neville) Shidler Clark, parents of my husband’s great-grandmother Sophia Mary (Clark) Kinney. The research on Sophia started in Mitchell County, Iowa, where Sophia died, and backtracked her to Buchanan County, Iowa, where she was born. The documents located corroborated the family history information I had obtained from the Kinney family historian in Buchanan County, who for many years coordinated Kinney family reunions in Winthrop. This woman devotedly collected family history information from reunion participants over many years and assembled it in huge binders, which she displayed at the reunions and shared with Kinney descendants between reunions.

In my early days of research, I used paper checklists of records to search for each individual, highlighting the sources that might apply to the research subject and checking them off after I searched them.1 I always started by searching census records to create a rough history of the research subject, and not too long after I started researching I learned to research whole families rather than individuals.

Fairly early in this research I connected with two other women researching the Clark and Neville families, who generously shared what they had learned.

Sarah Neville had eleven brothers and sisters, so I quickly accumulated lots of census records for the family. I was using a genealogy software program (Reunion for Mac) to record my information and sources, and storing the information on paper in large binders. This system worked well for managing facts, but I found that it didn’t make the family’s story very clear.

To solve that problem I developed timelines for the family. This approach works wonderfully for a nuclear family (husband, wife, and children) but less well for the families of twelve siblings–here again, the amount of detail obscured the outlines of the story.

Next I developed a census spreadsheet, with a row for each family member and a column for each federal and state census in date order. In each family member’s row I shaded out the census columns before the person was born and after they died, and filled in the columns representing their lifetime with the household and location where they lived in each census year. As research progressed and families grew, the spreadsheet became quite large. I started assigning color coding to the states–orange for Ohio, where the family originated; yellow for Iowa, where they migrated; green for Kansas and turquoise for Colorado, where some of the Nevilles settled after leaving Iowa.

The color coding made the locations and migration patterns stand out. It clearly showed which families led the migration and which families lagged.

Along with the census research, I researched other types of records–largely vital records and federal land records–using resources that were becoming available on the Internet. Buchanan County marriages (accessible then at the Buchanan County GenWeb site) and federal land purchase records (from the Bureau of Land Management’s General Land Office Records website) corroborated the pattern revealed in the census records, showing that almost all the Neville siblings arrived in Iowa about 1855.

Several visits to Buchanan County allowed me to visit the Buchanan County Genealogical Society, courthouse, and several cemeteries. BCGS has compiled a very useful card index integrating burial and other information with clippings from county newspapers. It also houses original county marriage records and newspapers. My Neville research friends had already shared copies of some cards from the card index. Visiting the society allowed me to complete my set of cards for the Clarks and Nevilles.

I was also able to visit Holmes County, Ohio, where the library’s fabulous genealogy/local history room provided cemetery information, vertical files with family group sheets contributed by other researchers, county newspapers, and microfilm of county records. The Holmes County Genealogical Society had the original probate files, deaccessioned from the courthouse. I also visited cemeteries and examined original cemetery records.

Fast forward ten years to my revisit of the research–during the intervening time, both FamilySearch and Ancestry.com added Iowa and Ohio marriage records, with images of the Ohio records at FamilySearch. I already had Sarah Neville’s marriage record (from Family History Library microfilm), along with the Holmes County Genealogical Society’s publication of extracted marriage records. The new online collections enabled me to download images of the original records and access indexed Buchanan County marriage records for a longer time period than the USGenWeb index covered. The BLM GLO website had expanded its geographic coverage and added new features. State census collections had been expanded and included images of more censuses. Findagrave also expanded its coverage of burials.

In reviewing my research, I upgraded sources–substituting images of original records for published extracted records, for example. In this process I discovered that my initial research had not been entirely systematic–I didn’t have census information from the 1856 Iowa state census for some Neville siblings whose marriage records indicated that they should have been in Buchanan County when the census was taken, and my research records didn’t indicate that I had searched for land records for all the sibling couples using all the possible name variants.

My revisit of the land record research showed that it was more complete than I thought–I didn’t locate any additional land purchases. Revisiting the census research, however, confirmed that there were holes. Flaws in the Iowa census indexing at Ancestry resulted in my not finding Nevilles I knew were in the county. The siblings I had found had all settled in three townships, and the population was not extremely large, so I read the original census images for those townships. This reading enabled me to locate all but one of the “missing” siblings (indexed as “Mevill”) and revealed two surprises–one sibling that I thought never left Ohio was in Buchanan County, and so were the Neville parents.

In my initial research, I had worked under the assumption that Joseph Neville and Mary (Buckmaster) Neville never left Ohio because both died there, and both were over 50 when their children left for Iowa. As a result, I did not look for them in Iowa (and the index issues resulted in not stumbling upon them). My new research revealed that they were, in fact, in Buchanan County, albeit for a brief period–Joseph died in 1858 in Ohio, and Mary and her youngest daughters were enumerated in Ohio in the 1860 and 1870 censuses.

The two periods of research on the Neville family produced two conflicting stories.

  • The first story, revealed by the early research, was that the majority of Sarah’s generation of Nevilles moved from Ohio to Iowa about 1855, leaving their parents behind, with some family members subsequently migrating farther west to Kansas and Colorado. The original group of Iowa migrants were joined by other family members, with the last two families migrating after the death of Mary (Buckmaster) Neville.
  • The second story, produced by the second period of research, was more complex–Joseph and Mary Neville, along with all but one of their children, moved to Iowa about 1855. For some reason that we don’t know, Joseph and Mary returned to Ohio between 1856 and 1858, taking with them their youngest daughters, and one married son and his wife. The return from Iowa may have taken place after the marriage of Athalia in 1857 in Iowa. It certainly occurred before Joseph’s death in 1858 in Ohio. Mary and the youngest Neville girls continued to live in Ohio after Joseph died. The girls married in Ohio and later moved back to Iowa with their husbands. Mary was apparently cared for in her final years by her youngest daughter Amelia and her husband, who moved to Iowa after Mary died. Sophia (Neville) Uhl, whose family was not part of the earlier Buchanan County migration, apparently died in Ohio, and her husband and children moved to Iowa, settling in Warren County.

This research saga highlights two lessons: be careful of your assumptions, because you can’t find what you don’t look for.

  1. I no longer recall where I downloaded the form I used; it’s similar to this one from the Midwest Genealogy Center.
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