Saturday, August 25, 2012

Citing Sources....Lessons Learned

The other day, I watched several webinars that covered citing sources...

Citing Sources ( with Anne Mitchell, and part two here.   I also watched "The 5c's for Success in Genealogy Today" with Barbara Renick.  Anne provided a great tip, which if I had remembered my secretarial days, I would have thought of myself.  Basically, use templates to help you cite your common sources, like census records.  Why constantly work to come up with the right format, when you can use a preformatted template, and just change a few key parts to fit the particular census you are citing (date, place, etc).  I HIGHLY recommend you watch the videos, especially if you are just starting out in genealogy, and documenting your family history.

While Barbara's webinar wasn't specifically about citing sources, the last part she did, covering this topic, hit home for me.  We all have things from our beginning days as family researchers, where we just went willy nilly, collecting information without noting where it came from.  I have a recent example.....

Not long ago, I read somewhere that the border between NY and CT, near where my great grandfather was born, was very fluid for a long time.  This would involve Westchester county in NY, and Fairfield county in CT.  I think I remember it saying that if someone was actually born in Rye or Poundridge NY, which is so close to the Fairfield county border, before 1870, that their records would be in Fairfield county.  I say "I think" because, I forgot to save the link, or even copy and paste the information for future use.  Now I can't remember where I read it.  Drats!!!

Barbara shared a "chant" that was taught to her in a course...I am adopting it as my mantra:

When looking at ANY information, follow these steps:

1. FIND the source of information
2. CITE the source (don't read it until you do this!!!  Even if there is no useable information that applies to your research.  You will have a record that you already looked at that particular source).
3. SEARCH the source
4. COPY the source....write down any information you find that is relevant to your research, or copy/paste into a digital research notebook (I prefer OneNote).
5. EVALUATE the source - is it a primary source or derivative?  How reliable is the source?
6. REPEAT all the above steps and collect more information.  Never rely on just one source in your research.
7. ANALYZE and ADD - analyze the information you have found, and when you are sure of your findings, then add it to your family tree information.  

Now, I will admit, that if I find something on Ancestry or Family Search, that is pretty clear cut, I automatically add it to that person in my online tree.  The reason for this is because my Ancestry tree is my "working" tree.  It is always in a state of being updated, changed, etc.  When I am pretty sure of a fact, I put the information, with sources to back it up, into my online tree (noting that it might need more research).  I don't transfer it to my tree in Roots Magic until I can verify it ...within reason. Sometimes you only have once source.  If I feel it is accurate (which is a complete judgement call), I will add it to my master tree in my program on the computer.  

And sometimes, I add things to my shoebox on Ancestry.  Things that look like they might be a help, but need more analysis.  By doing this I am still keeping the record handy.  I have had times where I have found something, took a mental note of it, but didn't save it, and then couldn't find it again.  This goes back to citing your sources....always find a way to save what you find, whether it's online or on your own computer.  Something as simple as a Word document can be invaluable.  Write out what you find, paste a link to where you found out, and save it for future reference.  It always amazes me, when I look at notes I took 10 years ago, what my thought process was.  And many times I see things right there in front of my face, that I didn't see back then.

Both Anne and Barbara mentioned using a tool called Snag-It.  This can be a bit pricey at $50 if you are on a budget.  But I like the will snag what is on a webpage.  All of it.  Unlike the normal screen capture (PrtScrn) on your computer, which will only grab what is visible in the screen.  I can't afford that $50 at the moment though, so I did a search for free options. The one that I will give a try is called ScreenHunter Free.  Cnet gives it extremely high ratings, and that is a bonus.  I will update you down the road as to how I think it works.

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