Monthly Archives: October 2011

Why You Should Consider Your Source

We know we should cite our sources… but as a researcher, you should also consider your source.  Maybe you’ve collected all sorts of information about an ancestor and you have a variety of sources to back that information up.  But maybe there is something that doesn’t add up, something that doesn’t fit.

To avoid feeling like something is off, you need to evaluate and judge each source.  Why was the source created?  Who created the source?  Does your ancestor have some sort of reason to exaggerate or lie?  Maybe they didn’t lie purposefully – maybe they just forgot?  Perhaps you have immigrant ancestors who didn’t speak English (or had a very heavy accent) and there was a communication barrier.  There are a lot of reasons why information on a source document could be incorrect.  It is your job to weigh how likely the information on the source document is to be correct.

For example, after my mom passed away, I received a lot of beautiful condolence cards from family members and friends that often included a little anecdote or memory about my mom.  These were so special for me because it helped me get to know another perspective of my mom.

I trust that most of these stories were true.  However, I received one letter in particular that I know was full of inaccuracies and falsehoods: The letter from my schizophrenic aunt.

I know in my heart that when my aunt wrote this letter, she was telling what she believed to be the truth – but her mental illness has made it difficult for her to tell the difference between reality and fantasy.

The letter itself was beautiful and talked about wonderful of a sister my mom was.  It talked about happy times and how much they got along.  It talked about when the Pope visited their little Catholic school.  It ended by saying that I was much too young to lose a mother and asked if I was excited about starting high school next year.  In short… the whole thing is made up fantasy.

The Pope never came to the Catholic school that both my mom and my aunt attended.  My mom and aunt had anything but a wonderful relationship growing up – in fact, my mom had plenty of stories that showed how my aunt was a bully and did some pretty mean (borderline cruel) things to her.  I even remember feeling the tension when my aunt and mom were in the same place – there wasn’t much sisterly love and happiness going on between them.

And I was 20 when my mom passed away – not a 13-year-old middle school kid.

If my grandchildren or great-grandchildren discovered this letter, they would be getting a lot of completely untrue stories.  The stories are nice, but there isn’t an ounce of truth to them.

As you are doing research, please remember to not only cite your sources, but weigh it too.


Looking Forward When Looking Back

Over the last few days, I’ve seen some great thought provoking articles about a survey recently conducted.  In short, the results showed more people are interested in genealogy but they know less about their family history.  Read more about the survey here.  You can read Caroline Pointer’s reaction (of 4YourFamilyStory fame) here and Thomas MacEntee’s reaction (of Geneabloggers fame) here.

Now for my opinion… You should look forward when you look back.

You Shouldn’t Have to Qualify for Medicare to Research:

It seems that it is an unspoken rule that you must be retired or over a certain age to want to research your family history – and this is a rule that needs to be erased from everyone’s head.  While people think that young genealogists like myself are a rarity in the community, I would disagree.  Having a curiosity of where you come from is something that we all have inside of us, regardless of age, but not all of us become addicted obsessed with it.

In my opinion, I think there are plenty of young genealogists and family historians in the world.  But a lot of them stay in hiding, afraid of making a mistake, afraid of being treated like an amateur, feeling that their computers and technology tools are unwelcome.  How do I know?  Because prior to connecting with the online genealogy community, that is exactly how I felt.  There are still days when I go to some genealogy societies and if I ask a question or make a suggestion that challenges the status quo, I’m treated like a traitor.  Before I had my network of genealogy friends online, I would become discouraged and feel like maybe I didn’t belong in this community.

So if you are a young genealogist in hiding, you aren’t alone.  When you are ready, make yourself known on blogs, social media, at conferences, and even at a genealogy society meeting.  You will find your tribe – I promise.  And if you are having trouble, tell me.  We’ll find your tribe together.

I Don’t Care Where You Put Your Comma

I am a big supporter of source citations.  I think they are vital in doing research.  While the industry standard is to use the formats explained in Evidence Explained, I don’t care what format you use.

Your source citations need to match your end goals.  Are you trying to become a professional genealogist?  Then you better open up that book of Evidence Explained and get your citations in proper form.  Are you trying to publish a family history  book or website?  Then you better pick a citation style (whether that be Evidence Explained or APA format… I don’t care) and stick to it.  Some other researcher or descendant of yours will someday find that book and want to retrace your steps to confirm your claims.  Are you just trying to research your family tree for yourself?  Then write down enough information to be able to find that exact document again – remember that it is safer to put more information than you need than to put too little and not be able to find that source again.

When it comes to source citations, the only thing I care about is whether you have given me enough information to be able to find the source again on my own.  Your source citation needs to be clear and detailed.  I don’t care if you put the comma in the wrong place or if you use APA format instead of Evidence Explained format.  Source citations are meant to be your bread crumb trail that can lead yourself and others back to the source document – as long as it does that, I don’t care.

Embrace Technology

I’m not saying that you need to be a computer expert, but I think you have to have a basic knowledge and an openness to learn.  Find a tech savvy friend to gain some new skills.  Take classes at seminars and conferences.  Always be learning.  Always.

For the genealogy societies of the world – listen up: Get a web presence.  You need a website and it has to be updated regularly.  Use the website as your advertisement to draw potential new members in and show them the value of your society.  Keep the calendar section updated to discuss new meetings and lectures.  Consider adding pictures and copies of your newsletter too.


Making these changes means more people will have the opportunity to learn about how to do genealogy, which is good for everyone.

So what are your thoughts about the survey results from


Matrimony Monday: Julia Downer & William Morris

For the longest time, I’ve been searching for the marriage record for my great-great grandparents, Julia Ann Downer and William M. Morris.  I had been unsure of which county and state they had married because they moved around so often.  To complicate matters further, Julia’s family lived on a border town between Ohio and what is now West Virginia.

After not coming up with any solid leads online, I ordered some indexes on microfilm from the Family History Library to see if I could find the marriage record.  I couldn’t.  I started getting frustrated.  I started searching another roll of microfilm and trying not to lose hope.

Then I saw it: “Julia Doroner m Wm Morris April 24, 1851″.

My stomach was instantly filled with butterflies and something in my gut just told me this was them.  Once I found the page, I knew it was them:

From October 14, 2011

Julia Downer (not Doroner) and William Morris were married on 24 April 1851 in Washington County, Ohio.  Julia’s father, Zachues Downer, was living in Belpre Township, Washington County, Ohio during the 1850 census – so the marriage most likely occurred close to Belpre.

But I didn’t get everything I had hoped out of this marriage record: Since “William Morris” is such a popular name, I had hoped this record would give me more identifying information about William.  Then perhaps I could finally learn about his parents.

But at least now I have a date and a place.  YAY!