Regarding Chapter One of “Mastering Genealogical Documentation” – Mary Jane Saylor

Regarding Chapter One of “Mastering Genealogical Documentation” by Thomas W. Jones                                               – Mary Jane Saylor


When I begin to think of creating a citation for a source that I am looking at, I consider what steps I took to find the source in the first place. Did I do a search in the catalog of the library? Did I use a search box on a website? In other words, where exactly did I find the information that I wish to cite. The reason this is so important to me is that I want to be able to find the information again. I would also like those that come after me to know where I found the information so they know that I didn’t just pull the information out of thin air.


When I left home, I was given a book of my genealogy. It was compiled by one of my dad’s double cousins. The book was comprehensive and included my generation, but the book contained no citations. Because of this, I had no idea of how the information was gathered. Through the years, I have fortunately found the book to be correct. The cousin who assembled the book must have written a lot of letters, visited many court houses and cemeteries. Unfortunately, I had no idea when I was given the book if thorough research had been conducted.


In the 30 years that have passed since receiving the book, I have documented the original findings. It was easy for the most part because I had a head start, I knew the answers and merely had to find the source. Some unsolved puzzles were bequeathed to me in the book. I could have spent the last 30 years working on the unsolved problems, rather than confirming the accuracy of the work, if only I knew where and how the information in the book was obtained.


This experience has motivated me to leave a roadmap for those who follow so they can see exactly where I have been, what sources I have read, and where I was headed. This road map is greatly aided by citations to the work I am writing, documenting the research I have done.


By understanding when and how a document was created we can better understand the information in the document. An example of this would be the United States Census information. The recording instructions for each census was different. The dates that the information was collected varied. So understanding that a child who was 7/12 months old on a census may lead to the month of the child’s birth if one understands what date the census was meant to reflect. Census takers sometimes failed to follow instructions but the census gives clues as to the when to begin looking for more information.


Free form software can be helpful with entering source information. Several years ago when I was introduced to genealogy software, I was frustrated by the forms the software provided for entering source information. This early software never quite fit what I needed to be able to find the information again. Later, I discovered the free form options for creating your source but by then I had already developed my own method of just writing up my research as I went. Software for recording sources is not required for success, but for many researchers, it is helpful.


I love to read Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills, she helps explain the documents that I am researching which provides a deeper understanding of the information. I must admit, I rarely use her examples of citations. I need to repent and study how she writes up her citations on sources that I use frequently.  I am looking forward to applying her book more fully. I think it  will help me to have more uniform citations that future generations can use to see where I have been. Finding the truth in our research is important, but our hard work becomes mere words without citations. With proper citations for our research we lay a foundation that others can efficiently build upon.

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