Blog 2021 08 12 GPS Standard #2: Complete and accurate source citations

Many people will ask, “Do I really have to write a fully sourced citation to the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) or other such standards?”  Not to sound like Certified Genealogist and Lecturer Judy G. Russell but the answer to this question is, It Depends.

What it depends on is what do you intend to do with your research writings?  If you plan to only put it into your personal notes or genealogy software, then you do not need to do it to that standard.  If however, you plan on publishing your results in any manner whatsoever to include self-publishing, then you should meet the minimum standards.  If you plan to submit it to a genealogical society journal, you will need to meet their standard which is almost identical to the CMS.

So what is the minimum standard?  It is still hitting the main points of the CMS or Elizabeth Shown Mills’ book, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, Third Edition Revised, Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore, Maryland, 2017.

Dr. Thomas W. Jones, in his book, Mastering Genealogical Proof, NGS, Arlington, Virginia, 2013, takes a slightly different approach from Mills’.  Regardless, everyone agrees that citations are an art and not a science and therefore open to some interpretation.  Even this library guide put out by Indian River State College has their viewpoint,  However, they all agree that the minimum that should be in a citation is the below items.

  1. Who?  Not who is being referenced but who is the source of the information or the creator of the record.  Such as Appling County, Georgia, Probate Court.
  2. What?  What the title of the record is such as Marriage Book D (1850 – 1885).
  3. When?  Signifies when the record, book, CD, Newspaper, or microfilm was published.
  4. Where?  Where in the source is the information you are citing.  For U. S. Census records, we put the County, State, City or Township, Militia District, or Other; Post Office location when listed; Supervisor and Enumeration District (SD and ED) when available; Dwelling and Family numbers are preferred over line numbers.  The reason is, most of the schedules (supplemental census records) will use the SD, ED, Dwelling, and Family numbers to link the supplement’s record back to the specific family record on the population schedule.
  5. Where is the original record and where did you find it?  This one is very important, DO NOT use URLs as they change.  You must list the location of the original such as Appling County Courthouse, Baxley, Georgia, Superior Court.  Then you can say or etc.

The bottom line is, can someone pick up your research and readily go find the exact record you looked at.  So many people get hung up over style such as US Census vs U. S. Census vs U. S. census, vs….  Who really cares?  That is my thought and not indicative of anyone else in my profession.  But frankly, I do not care how you write census for those in the United States because I am smart enough to know what you mean.  However, if you mean Birmingham, England and just write, Birmingham, unless all other records have clearly indicated British research, then you have erred.  Anyone looking at your research must immediately know not to look in Alabama for your Birmingham records.

I hope this clears up a lot of the confusion.

Blog 2021 08 05 What is “Reasonably Exhaustive Research?”

Blog 2021 08 05 What is “Reasonably Exhaustive Research?”


One of the tenets of the Board for Certification of Genealogists is the first of five elements of the Genealogical Proof Standard which is, “A reasonably exhaustive search.”  But what does that mean?


It means several things.  To start, do not stop proving something simply because you found one document that supports it.  I have a family Bible that says my Great Great-grandparents were married on 2 November 1880 but the county marriage license and the register shows 1881. [i] Had I stopped at the Bible records I would have the wrong answer.

A recent Genealogy Scavenger Hunt I am running shows the famous silent movie director, Clarence Leon Brown in the 1900 U. S. Census at age 10 living with his father, Larkin H., born in Pennsylvania, and his mother, Catherine, born in Ireland. [ii] However, the birth register shows Larkin was born in Georgia.  If you assume either one is correct alone, you have not conducted “A reasonably exhaustive search.”  We must always try to find no less than two but preferably three documents to support the event.

We must also weigh the specific document to determine which we trust over the other.  In the case of Clarence, the enumerator did not note who gave him the information, and census records are typically less reliable than others.  However, in this case, it is correct.  Using several other records including the 1870 U. S. Census from Delaware County, Pennsylvania, shows a 4-year old Harry, born in Pennsylvania along with his younger brother Hugh, living with his parents and older siblings all of whom were born in Georgia. [iii] To be honest, several documents had conflicting information but the above 1870 census is closer to the fact than the others and does corroborate statements later made by Leon.

In the case of my ancestor’s marriage, the primary reason may have been to conceal the fact that she was already pregnant at the time of their marriage.

When doing research, once again, I reiterate, look for no less than two documents to support the fact and preferably three or more.  If there is any conflict between the three, then further research is required to determine the truth and document the reason for that determination.


[i] For particular reasons I cannot divulge the specific names involved here.  Family Bible personally held by author.

[ii] 1900 U. S. Census, Worcester County, Massachusetts, population schedule, Grafton Town. Supervisor District 1940, Enumeration District 1633, page 4 (inked) B, Dwelling 77, Family 88, household of Brown, Larkin H., image, FamilySearch ( : access 30 July 2021), citing NARA publication T623. Roll 692.

[iii] 1870 U. S. Census, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Borough of South Chester in Chester Township, Village Green Post Office, page 29 (inked), Dwelling 218, family 223, household of Brown, J. M., image, ( :accessed 30 July 2021), citing NARA publication M593, Roll 1336/1337.

Blog 2021 06 30 The case for backups, backups, and backups

As some of you know, I am working on getting certified by the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG).  To that end, one of the pieces required is a Kinship Determination Project (KDP) consisting of an indepth look at three generations plus the listing of the children of the most recent genealogy.  Every newly introduced fact requires a proper source citation and my paper is currently at about 16 pages and growing.

I spent several hours this past Sunday reviewing the first half and properly citing all sources in the correct format.  When you are using a Family Bible, you must acknowledge the publisher and date of printing as well as the dates for the first and last family entry.  This makes us look at how far removed the entries were made, whether they were all done at one time or overtime, and how close to the actual event date the entries were made.  So we had to pull the Bible back out and take some pictures to capture the publisher and date of printing.

The bottom line, four hours worked to get these updated.  I kept hitting save in Microsoft Word ® so I would not lose all of my work.  I did not close the document and sometime between Sunday and today, half the pages were erased the file resaved.  The work was lost.  Or was it?

I have all of my work in various clouds, for this work, I have it in Dropbox.  One of the features of Dropbox is the ability to recover previous versions.  So I was able to go into Dropbox on the web and recover my file.  Hallelujah!

Closing thoughts….  Make backups and close your files when you have finished working on them for the day.  You do not want to lose hours’ worth of work because of carelessness.

I know I am behind, I have been very busy the past couple of weeks with clients and family visiting.

Blog 2021 07 15 – Set it aside

One of the techniques I have learned over the years in trying to solve a brick wall is to set it aside for anywhere from 2 months to 2 years.  While this may sound like a crazy idea, let me explain why.

First off, sometimes we cannot see the forest because of the trees.  We begin to get a bit frustrated in our failure to solve the riddle and stop seeing clearly.  By setting it aside before returning, we take a few extra minutes to relook at what we have, what we have looked at, and what areas we may not have looked at.  The second reason is that documents are being digitized and put online every day and something entirely new may now pop up.  Another reason is that we might learn of another area to research and be able to go back and solve the questions.  Finally, while setting person A aside we might start looking at a collateral line who may have had a relationship with person A and discover something new that will aid us later on when we pick it back up.  Allow me to share a few examples.

The oldest known ancestor on my father’s side (although not yet proven) was known as Lawrence Gailshiott in Cecil County, Maryland in the early 1700s.  It was long believed he was Lars Gailshiott of Norway although nothing was known to exist to support that claim.  After Googling everything known, I set it aside for a few years and upon returning learned that The Breviate in the Boundary Dispute Between Pennsylvania and Maryland, which contained the research to support the lawsuit that led to the hiring of Mason and Dixon.  In the very think book, Lawrence gives a deposition which includes his age and the date of the deposition.  Then after several more years, the census from that part of Norway was digitized and put online and the year of birth for Lars, who sailed off, aligns with Lawrence’s.

Another concerns my late wife’s great-grandmother.  The family story was that her father, who by today’s money was a millionaire, wrote her out of his will because she married below his station in New York.  As it turns out, after he died, she fought it all the way to the New York Supreme court where she once again lost.  That court record is now digitized and online.

Finally, one of my great-grandfathers who I have just taken back up spent several years with the family in Arizona.  After setting him aside and starting again, I realized I never really researched him in that state and until recently, never thought about researching voting lists.  As it turned out, he registered as a Democrat in 1918 and a Republican in 1920 but more importantly, what he did and the company he worked for was clearly written.  I could never make out on the Census what he did just the industry and as it turns out, he worked for a company that supported the industry but his actual job was far from what I had thought.  Additionally, looking at his father on voter lists helped me put him in a specific family.

Keep searching, but sometimes, set it aside for a while.

Blog 4 July 2021 – Lineage Societies

I am sitting here drinking my coffee on this sunny 4th of July morning and one of the items someone posted on Facebook talked about our founding fathers who signed the Declaration of Independence.  When they signed their name to a document which ended with, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”  The Facebook post is of a grave marker and it reads, in part,

“nine signers died of wounds during the Revolutionary War.  Five were captured or imprisoned.  Wives and children were killed, jailed, mistreated or left penniless.  Twelve signer’s houses were burned to the ground.  Seventeen lost everything they owned.  No signer defected – Their Honor Like Their Nation, Remained intact.”

Many people who do genealogy research do so to join some kind of lineage society such as the Daughters (or Sons) of the American Revolution.  A genealogy friend of mine recently told a group of us that one of the main reasons she joins these societies is because it forces her to research that person and line and thus get more of her research done.

I know there are also many researchers whose families immigrated to the United States in the past 100 -150 years so what kind of society could they join?  Well, another friend of mine knew her grandmother worked at the Bell Bomber plant here in Marietta, Georgia, and was able to prove it and her relationship to her grandmother and joined the American Rosie the Riveter Association, this friend’s first lineage society.  There are literally hundreds of lineage societies out there so look for them, do your research, and join one that fascinates you and encourages you to complete your research on that line.

For me, I will submit my SAR packet after I submit my portfolio to the Board for Certification of Genealogists since it overlaps a lot.

It’s not always this easy

We all hope to find the answers readily available like the below from the Revolutionary War pension application of Jacob Higginbotham. [i]

Here, Jacob’s son, John, gave the date of his parents’ marriage, names of all the children along with their dates of birth.  We see that Joseph and Benjamin are twins and that Jacob Senior died in January 1836.


Truth is, these can be found but are very rare indeed, normally we have to hunt and search for them.  Even now I am trying to determine which, if any, of these children are the father to a specific Higginbotham.


Sometimes the answers are well hidden and we must use all possible records.  The above came from a military pension record which is where I found proof that one of my scoundrel 2nd great grandfathers ran out on wife number 1 and therefore was never legally married to wife number 2.  If you see that there is a pension record, you should get it.  Whether it is a military pension or a railroad pension.  In them, they were required to show evidence of marriage if the spouse was to get any benefits, same with children.


After looking in all the standard places like census records; birth, marriage, and death registers; probate, and land records, you should start looking at possible military service, church affiliations, and even historic government meeting minutes.


Sometimes you will need to think outside the box.  I have found missing information in Visa applications, in history books that are written about a neighbor but the family of interest gets caught up in the storytelling.  I have found proof on how to distinguish a previously unknown son with the same name as his father in a small memoir book written by someone else.

[i] Higginbotham, Jacob Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Applications, pension number R 4977, ( accessed 24 May 2021) citing NARA publication M804.

Is your Family Tree Naked?

So many times I have been asked to help someone do their research and when I look at their family tree, there are very few branches because either every family had only one child or none of the siblings were added to the tree.

You may be looking for William Bishop and there are many of them in the area but the one you are looking for had a sister named Patience and a brother named Thomas Jefferson.  If you exclude the siblings you risk missing hints on ® and similar sites as well as not looking at records pertaining to Patience and her family as well as Thomas Jeffersons.  You may find that Patience’s husband puts in a will that W. Bishop is named executor to his will and given guardianship of the minor children.  Or, if you lose site of William you might be able to determine his father from his father’s estate records showing children William, Patience, and T.J. and it might indicate that William is now living in Coosa County, Alabama.

At the same time, you may learn about William Bishop through his wife’s father’s estate or land records.  If William was married more than once, don’t limit that research to only the wife of your person of interest.  Research all wife’s parents and siblings.  I am looking at one in St Mary’s County, Maryland, where the father never mentions his daughter but leaves his son-in-law, Hopewell Addams, half his estate for “Love and Affection.”  He must have been some kind of son-in-law!

By putting the person of interest in context with his whole family and the spouse and spouse’s family, you better your chances of finding the information you seek.  While it might be a challenge occasionally when there are 14 siblings, but you will be glad if it pays off.

Think about how you can find your person of interest in the census.  If you do not consider the whole family you might have the wrong one.  That was a mistake a distant cousin of mine made concerning the census of where my Great Grandfather, General Jackson Thomas, was about 8.  Seems there was another G. Jackson Thomas in the county who was 7 and she did not look at the entire family to notice that the father was not Banner, the mother was not Mary, and none of the siblings lined up.  While there were also other indicators it was the wrong family, had she looked at all the names she would have caught it.

Speaking of General Jackson’s family, Appling County did not assemble the U. S. Census pages in the correct order and 45-year-old Banner is the last name on one page and at the top of the next page is a 20 something Mary and an infant instead of a 40ish year old and several kids.  A retired archivist advised me to go to the archives and look at the official records which bound into a book and it was that book that was scanned by all of the agencies.  By looking at the date the enumerator went to each area, I found that the pages are out of true order and were numbered based on the way it was bound.  So Banner’s family is about ten pages before the page where his name is located.

Final thought, do not limit your research to just the direct line of your research if you want to stay on the correct path.

When March 1743 to June 1744 equals 3 months

If my 7th Great Grandfather, Lawrence Gailshiott signed his will on 4 March 1743 and died around the first of June 1744 how could that be about 3 months later?

I promise you, this is not any kind of new math nor am I intoxicated!  It really is three months later.

We must first understand a bit of history and the calendar because it all changed in 1752 for the American Colonies.

Prior to 1752, the colonies and most of the British Empire operated under the Julian Calendar which did not calculate the actual time the Earth takes to complete a single orbit around the Sun. [i] It did add a Leap Day every four years similar to the current Gregorian but in reality, it was adding too many days and getting the users off the true date.  So in 1582, the concept of the Gregorian Calendar, which was named after Pope Gregory but designed by Luigi Lillio who was an astronomer of his day, was first proposed and many Catholic countries adopted it. [ii]

It was determined that about 10 days too many had been added since the calculated beginning of A.D. Anno Domini and these would be dropped when converting.  The Julian Calendar, established by Julius Caesar in 708 B.C. [iii] The British Empire being protestant, did not make the change until 1752 by which time 13 days had to be shaved off.  What this meant was that everyone went to bed on Wednesday, 2 September 1752, and woke up the next day on 14 September 1752. [iv]

But that still does not help the initial situation.  The other change was moving New Year’s Day from 26 March to present-day, 1 January.  Therefore, 4 March 1743 was actually in 1744 by current standards but the year did not change until 26 March. [v] You may also see the date written as 4 March 1743/44 or 1743/1744 because they all knew it was already a new year.

Now you know.






Beginning Family Research (AKA Genealogy) – Where do I begin?

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me that question, I could have retired by now. If you attend any seminars, including the one I participate in every year, the standard answer is, “Start with yourself.” However, most people who are asking that question will tell me, “I already know who my parents are and my grandparents. That is not what I mean. I mean, now where do I begin?”

Let me answer that question without alienating my colleagues and friends. When we discuss starting with yourself, we are referring to putting the information down on paper on a Family Group Sheet or in a computer program. Forming the foundation from which all your remaining research will build upon. Your initial point of reference for conducting any research on your family is yourself. If you’re doing this on your husband or wife, then they are the starting point.

Since you already have information on yourself, including a copy of your birth and marriage record (if applicable), you begin entering that information. Inside of 5 minutes, that is completed. Next, enter the same information for your parents. Put in everything you know and can prove. By prove, I refer to having a copy of birth, marriage, and death records, and any other material you enter. If you enter military information, do you have any supporting documents or evidence?

If you lack the proof, that is okay, then annotate on the paper copy of your Family Group Sheet where you do or do not have the documentation. If only using a computer program, in the source area, annotate the source record as not having it, which will serve as a reminder to go get it. Now you have spent a total of about 30 minutes on your project getting started and have established a reference point. You might consider doing the same for your grandparents and anyone else you can readily do.

Now you are ready to answer the big question, where to begin. My answer to that is always the same, “What is the most burning question you have about your family?” Recently, a lady said her grandfather, born of a former slave, was one of 16 children and she knew practically nothing about any of them. My response, “Pick one, preferable the easiest, and gather as much information as you can on that one, then move to another one.” When she started to tell me her grandmother was also 1 of about 12, I stopped her and repeated my previous answer. “Pick Just One!” Otherwise you grow frustrated be-bopping back and forth and feeling like you have accomplished nothing.

Maybe you have a family story like I do that says a father and son fought together in the Revolutionary War and you might be interested in joining a lineage society. Here is where some of my colleagues may disagree with me. I say, check both Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) to see if your patriarch is already there and if some of the lineage has already been proven to the satisfaction of the society. Now, your job is to draw the line from yourself to where the other researcher left off or turned down a different branch. I like working smarter rather than harder; but you will eventually have to corroborate the previous researcher’s work.

Maybe the family lore is that your 5th great grandmother was the sister of President Taylor’s wife, Margaret Smith. Instead of trying to draw a line from you to her, you should start by researching the family of Margaret Smith. Starting with her parents; did she even have a sister? If yes, then start researching each of them and their families and their descendants while simultaneously researching from you going towards the Smith family.

So you see, there are multiple approaches but first you must start with the foundation. If you do not have a burning question but simply want to see how far you can trace your family and the multitude of branches, then I would suggest you do 1 complete generation before starting on the next. Each generation will double the number of base pair people to research. Another suggestion is to select one branch and take it as far as you can before starting on the next branch. My final suggestion,
Get Started! Oh yeah, and Have Fun!