Back in the beginning of my journey into the past, practically before the earth’s crust had cooled, I did what I think a lot of newbie genealogists are guilty of: I didn’t keep track of my sources. My first pedigree chart, drawn so carefully with pencil and ruler, was based on facts gleaned from conversations with my grandparents and family remembrance.
To my credit, on family trips to England during my teen years, when I was able to coerce my grandfather to take me to the local records repository, or to traipse through an ancient cemetery in search of headstones, I did take notes, recording the place we’d visited and what discoveries I’d made there. But the idea of a bibliography was alien to me. Because I love old letters and aging paper, I did at least save the replies from vicars and distant family, sent in answer to my queries for information.
When the Internet exploded with online records and searchable databases, so did my family tree. I subscribed to Ancestry.com and for a while I was like a kid in a candy store, grabbing facts as fast as I could. When the amount of data got overwhelming, I transitioned my tree to Rootsmagic and began entering sources, but it was almost impossible to retrace my steps and find every source I’d used. The Rootsmagic source templates seemed complicated and confusing, so I used the free form option and recorded what I thought was important, although none of it adhered to accepted standards.
As I started studying more experienced genealogists’ online genealogies, I realized the importance of good citation, and muddled my way through the Rootsmagic templates and began transitioning my free formed entries to the software’s suggested formats. It wasn’t until I joined the National Genealogical Society and embarked on their home study course that I felt pressured to perfect my citations and discovered Elizabeth Shown Mills and the wonderful Evidence Explained. Mills has an example of virtually every form of source available to the modern, Internet savvy researcher, and provides sound reasoning for and examples of each form’s use.
Uploading my family tree to this blog, exposing it to the scrutiny of the World Wide Web, has forced me to begin the long, slow process of converting all of my citations to Mills’ standard of excellence. It’s going to take a while, but it is necessary and worth the time and effort.
In the meantime, I was thrilled to learn that Evidence Explained is one of the texts used in the Boston University program, so instead of just using it as a reference, I’m now reading it, chapter by chapter. Evidence Explained is going to increase the quality of my work ten-fold, and I think it should be on every genealogist’s bookshelf.