This week’s post is supposed to explore how to begin to fill in the blanks and how to find more information.
Before that, however, we must address sources.
Sources will be the foundation of your family tree. Every name, date, or location you place on your pedigree chart or family group sheet should have a source.
The quality of your source matters greatly. Sources can be original or derivative. An original source is one created by a person with firsthand knowledge. Examples of a derivative source would include a transcript or an abstract of information from an original source. Because information sometimes gets lost in the translation, so to speak, original sources are most desired. While they are less likely to contain errors, they aren’t always correct—people lied in the past. That is why your research should be as comprehensive as possible. Don’t take the first thing you find and assume it is correct. Keep digging.
For example, when I climbed out on my NELSON limb, I was told by my mother that my great Grandpa Frank Nelson’s mother was named “Lucy.” Digging around in census records revealed “Lucil.” It makes sense she would have been called Lucy. Her mother’s name, from the same census record, was “Lizzie Hackney,” so it would stand to reason Lucy’s maiden name was Hackney. Ironically, Lucy’s death certificate, the informant being her son Aaron’s wife, had no information on Lucy’s parents. “Dont Know” was typed in each blank.
I kept digging because at this point, it would have been wrong to go with the the “Lucy Hackney” assumption. All the possible sources had yet to be exhausted.
A look at marriage records told that Lucy J. Peck married Coleman Nelson. This was corroborated by great Grandpa Frank’s death certificate which gives his mother’s maiden name as “Lucy J. Peck.” The informant was his brother, Aaron who, more than likely, would have known their mother’s maiden name.
It took five different sources to find the given and maiden names of great-great Grandma Lucy!
Proper citation of sources is crucial to properly conducted research. While it is a blog post of its own, in these early stages of your research, make sure you are source labeling the copy of each document you find. At a minimum, the source information needs to include:
- who created the source
- what it is—it’s title
- when it was created
- where you found it
- page or image number
It is best to use a full, rather than a short, source citation because you can pull the bibliography, and endnotes and footnotes from a full citation.
The full reference note citation for the census image used above is:
1. 1880 U.S. census, Greenbrier County, West Virginia, population schedule, Blue Sulphur District, Enumeration District (ED) 25, sheet 18A (stamped), dwelling 161, family 164, Lucil Nelson; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 18 January 2013), citing Family History Library microfilm 1241759.
The full reference note citation for a conversation is:
1. Interview with Jane (Swope) Nelson (Mrs. Robert Nelson; 123 Happy Street, Boondocks, WV 12345), by Cynthia Saddler Maharrey, 28 July 2012. Transcript held in 2018 by Maharrey (456 Happy Street, Notintheboondocks, KY 23456).
The best thing about the full citation is that it has all the information you or anyone else will need to find it again.
Two books I have used frequently for citation help were both written by the same person, Elizabeth Shown Mills:
- Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian
- Evidence Explained Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace.
Clicking on one of the titles will take you to a link with information about that book. Clicking her name will take you to a brief bio about her.
Now, all that information you rounded up last week...make sure you cite it before you move forward and forget where and when you found it!
Remember: NEVER write on an original document! If it is a photo, scan it and put the citation in the metadata (if there’s writing on the back, scan both sides!). If it is a document copy, you could cite it on the back, but you’d have to remember to scan both sides when you digitize your records. Otherwise, place the citation in the margin.
Next week we will explore how to begin to fill in the blanks and how to find more information--I promise!