Book Review: Genealogy Evidence by Noel C. Stevenson,

Gen Evid bk StevensonStevenson, Noel C. Genealogical Evidence: A Guide to the Standard of Proof Relating to Pedigrees, Ancestry, Heirship and Family History. Laguna Hills, California: Aegean Park Press, 1979, revised 1989.

What can you learn from a book written almost 35 years ago and revised 25 years ago? A lot!

To state the case most simply: if you are working on your portfolio, you need to have this book close by. Let me explain why.

Noel C. Stevenson, J.D., FASG  is one of genealogy’s icons of the most recent past generation, serving as President of the American Society of Genealogists from 1985-1986. [1]  His book, Genealogical Evidence is recognized as a pioneer in defining a common genealogical vocabulary, constructing a standard for source analysis and providing guidance for assessment of evidence.[2]  Thus, in the genealogy of genealogy, this book is an “ancestor” to Evidence Explained  by Elisabeth Shown Mills and Mastering Genealogical Proof by Tom Jones. [3]

The content covers common genealogical problems and establishes guidelines for their assessment.  For example, The first chapter on “Paternity, Maternity, Legitimacy and Illegitimacy” discusses “Age and Paternity” and “Age and Maternity,” where Stevenson discusses the ages one can expect parents to be within and ones that are outside that realm.  When you are looking at the age of the father at 16 and the age of the mother at 13 in your case study, what do you say about the likelihood of that happening? Stevenson will give you guidance and his work is a respected source. Is your case study a question of identity?  If so, Stevenson has an entire chapter on that topic.

Stevenson then breaks down records into two groups — public and unofficial records, the latter being everything that isn’t public, such as bibles, church records, tombstones etc., and covers types of records within those two broad categories. With each source type he begins with a short history of the development, and then describes their relative accuracy. Another great inclusion is the list at the end of these chapters which describe the various locations one can obtain the information desired if the single source does not exist.  The list for location of evidence of marriage, considered a public record, is 21 items long.  These other locations for marriage records may assist you in breaking down some of your brick walls or verify that you have truly completed your “exhaustive research.”

As a lawyer, his narrative concerning court records is especially note worthy. Stevenson brings a depth of understanding of the types of courts, their history and the records found there. He covers the types of marriages and the legality by state of common law marriages.  In this era, laws of marriage are changing so rapidly this list may be outdated, but it gives you a place to start.  This section (and others) are laced with examples which focus the reader on the analysis and the conclusions that can be drawn from the court records.  He even discusses, with examples, false pedigrees and some of the genealogical hoaxes that have been committed and still exist today.

Val Greenwood’s book, The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, another iconic book, looks at source types; Stevenson’s addresses source types but then investigates each source type for the type of information it might contain and discusses the inherent validity of the evidence you may find within that source type. It is true that Stevenson uses terms like “circumstantial evidence” which now are dated, but this does not obviate the quality of the contents within.

If you are “on the clock,” this book will provide you with a basis for assumptions, will give you a basis for analyzing your sources and give you hints as to other locations to find records which make for a more complete research effort.  In addition, his citations may lead you to other documents, articles and books to assist you in solving a particular problem.  However, this is not a “brick wall problem solvers guide” as it is not focused on a particular problem you might have but rather the book provides us with a road map for our every day genealogical assessment.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting:  I made my research plan for the holiday weekend.  I also listened to Ron Arons Legacy Webinar on mapping.  He did a nice job and Geoff Rasmussen, the host, gave my webinar presentation on fire insurance maps (scheduled for April) a shout out to all the live listeners.

[1] American Society of Genealogists, “Past Officers” ( : accessed 25 November 2015).

[2] John (surname not given), “Elements of Genealogical Analysis,” Our Blog (Allen County (IN) Public Library Genealogy Center), blog,  13 November 2014 ( : accessed 25 November 2015).

[3] Do I really need to provide a citation for you?

NGS 2015: “Take-Aways”

I like to ask each attendee at my presentations to identify one of their “take-aways”–those ideas or thoughts which resonated strongly with them.  These “take-aways” (TA) are often just a couple of comments related to each presentation. By writing them down, the attendee will better remember something about the presentation and I can tell what portion of the presentation was important to that particular attendee.  Those thoughts give me ideas about the parts I should emphasize the next time I give it.

2015 NGS crowdSo here are some of the sessions I attended at NGS and my “take-aways.”  The non-genealogists who read this blog might find the variety of the titles interesting.  The genealogist who attended NGS this year might compare their TAs with mine. And, the genealogists who didn’t attend might want to put the NGS conference on their “bucket list” for next year (Fort Lauderdale FL, 4-7 May 2016)

“Iowa: Fields of Genealogical Opportunity” (Marieta Grissom):  a general overview of the resources of the state of Iowa presented by the writer of the NGS Series on the States.

TA: there are numerous small repositories in the state but I feel that I have exhausted most of the relevant ones; the author missed the Ostfriesen collection in Wellsburg, Iowa. And you have to love the Iowa censuses.

“Analyzing Deeds and Wills: I See What It “Says” But What Does it “Mean”?” (Elizabeth Shown Mills):

TA: One of the best presentations i attended; she wrings information out of a deed.  It gave me lots of hints about how to systematically review a deed for my portfolio.

Transcriptions, Abstraction & the Records” (David McDonald).  Transcription and abstraction is a critical skill for a genealogist.

TA: Narrow the focus of the research question associated with the document, e.g “why is the grantor selling the land?” As you do a research plan, make sure you indicate where (repository) you would probably find the information.  A “gold star” presentation.

“So You Think You Want to Get Married: Marriage Records, Laws and German Customs” (Baerbel K. Johnson):

TA: Unfortunately what I remember is that the speaker was not feeling well and coughed through the entire presentation.  The presentation was on customs of Bavaria, a much different area than Ostfriesland.  Ostfriesland’s freedoms, tho’ limited in this same time period (1800s), were more liberal than Bavaria’s, e.g. individuals had a greater ability to move around and had lesser stigma associated with illegitimacy.

“Overcoming Surprising Research Barriers: A Case Study” (Tom Jones)

TA:  another memorable session on research plans and their development; this will also be applicable to my BCG portfolio.

“Introduction to Tracing your Czech Roots” (Amy Wachs)

TA: Hubby’s background on his maternal side is Czech.  This gave me a great background of some readily available records. Unfortunately, the presenter felt compelled to treat the audience like they had never done any genealogical research and spent the first 45 min. discussing US records.  I would have appreciated a little different balance but there were probably others in the audience who felt it was very appropriate.

“A Methodology for Irish Emigration to North America” (David Rencher): Head of FamilySearch and an excellent presenter.

TA: David presented a very interesting statistical approach to determining the most likely parish within a County to investigate to find your ancestor.   I am hoping this may help my friend who does not know the parish of birth of her ancestor but knows he came from County Roscomman.

That was the first two days.  There were still two days to go!  No wonder I came back energized and exhausted.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting:  I have worked with about 6 or the 8 authors for the next SGS Bulletin to get documents to the editor for proofing.  I also set up the template for the Bulletin, changing what I could for this issue, etc. I want to publish before I go to a conference the end of June.  Also, realized I had forgotten to send a contract to Cape Cod/Falmouth so worked on that and I submitted my 6 proposals to Ohio Genealogical society for their 2016 conference.  Getting excited for Jamboree.

Photo: taken by the author prior to the live streaming session of Alison Hare, “A Time of Cholera: A Case Study about Context,” another gold star presentation.  Read the book about the topic: The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson.

BCG Case Study: Movement!

Clock mathAbout five days ago, I started working on my Case Study and I have been steadily working at it since!  Finally, some real progress for.  I wonder if it was because I requested and received an extension of time to my portfolio?  Being “on the clock,” I certainly know that I don’t want to ask for another extension a year from now.1  If that was the motivation–I’ll take it.

I have always liked my BCG Case Study focus.  I am finding it a challenge to get it organized in a way that is very clear and very convincing to the reader. To refresh my memory about writing these proof arguments, I reviewed Tom Jones’s book, Mastering Genealogical Proof.  This became a very good thing to do.  I have taken the Mastering Genealogical Proof class under the tutelage of Karen Stanbury, so I am familiar with the book and have done the exercises.  I learned a lot but this time different topics resonated.

  • Writing a good research question is not as easy as it sounds–at least for me!  I find myself redrafting the question as I write.  Probably not a good attribute. This chapter added some clarity to my writing. (Chapter 2)
  • My comfort with source citations (Chapter 4) has increased but not due to this chapter.  I have gained a new perspective on source citations because of the lectures Dr. Jones gave at the Professional Management Conference in 2015 in Salt Lake City. I need to review those notes and his syllabus again from that conference.  I do “get” the idea that Evidence Explained by ESM is a “style manual” and not a “rule book,” a concept some have difficulty with.
  • I need to spend some time in analyzing my sources–but not too much as I have all original documents.  ( Chapter 5) Also reading some Q articles might help me better understand the amount of analysis of my sources I need to incorporate into my writing.
  • I love tables!  There is not a table I have ever met that I didn’t like!  But, I think I have an overabundance of tables.  🙂 I need to consider what is the best approach for presenting the information  in the best way not resorting to what method I like best, i.e. a table. I suspect I will lose some of the tables and use some of the other tools instead. (Chapter 5)
  • How does one best “close the deal?”  Some proof arguments I read have weak written conclusions–I need to read Q articles by strong writers (Henderson, Bittner, etc.) to analyze what makes a strong proof argument conclusion.  Chapter 6 does a good job answering some of my questions about the issue of conflicting evidence and my Case Study.
  • And when I get to the “Nirvana Point”–the time when I feel I am 90% done with the paper, I want to remember to review the 11 questions in chapter 8 about my genealogical conclusion.  I want to be able to answer “yes” to every one.

The NGSQ Study Group is meeting next Tuesday morning and I plan on being on the call.  I learn much from the collective wisdom of the group and certainly will be especially watchful of the items noted above.  I can then improve my Case Study, which I have been working on so diligently for the past five days.

Happy Hunting!


What I have been doing since my last post:  I have been working on my Case Study.  Woo hoo!  In addition, I have presented to the Eastside GS and Skagit Valley GS.  Both were great fun. Upcoming is Seattle GS and British Columbia GS.  I have put together a presentation on “Insanity in the 19th Century: One Family’s Story.” But, so far no one wants to hear it–yet i constantly have people who tell me that some relative of theirs was in an insane asylum in the 1800s or early 1900s.  Do you know someone who wants to hear it?  I will be working on the SGS newsletter this coming week and printing the Spring Seminar Syllabus. I approached Seattle Public Library to teach some genealogy classes.

1The photo was taken by me on 11 April 2015 at the University of Washington, School of Medicine, 750 Mercer, Seattle, Washington in the CERID lab.

NGS 2014: some personal highlights

First off– i have no proof that any of my direct line ancestors, including my parents, ever set foot in Virginia. Nada. So, what was I doing at a conference in Virginia?

The Virginia “track” is only one of eleven that one can experience and I could easily avoid them if I wanted to and concentrate on other learning experiences. But, I found I didn’t want to. You can see below that several of my favorite sessions were VA related.

Belle IsleTuesday: I had bought my plane ticket early hoping that I would get into the BCG workshop. No such luck. So I walked from VCU to Belle Isle (see photo) and then back up the hill to the convention center to register. (Belle Isle was where Mary’s Union soldier/great grandfather was kept for a few months before being moved to Salisbury after being imprisoned by the Confederates.)  I met up with my friend and mentor (and professional “get on the clock” nag) for drinks before Mary, my gracious host, picked me up to drive to her place where I stayed for the week.


“Hell on the Homefront” by ESM (see pic to the left). A new record set to me about claims made, mostly by Southerners,  to the federal government  for war damages
“New Standards or Old” by Tom Jones. Compared the old standards for evaluation of our genealogy work with the new “genealogical Standards.”   He made the strong statement that these standards are not for just portfolio writers but rather ALL genealogy work.


Indexing NGS 2014Thursday:
“Finding Family History in Published Legal Records” by Sharon Tate Moody, a Virginia based researcher. She gave me confidence to explore the published laws of the state and the nation.  I also enjoyed her presentation on the Live Streaming option on land records.
Exhibit Hall: I spent an hour and a half in the exhibit Hall. I reviewed portfolios at the BCG booth, stopped at the FGS booth (met Rorey there, a ProGen cohort member), entered some names at Find my Past, took a picture of genealogists doing a good deed by indexing records. (see left)

Friday: “Bittner Day!”
Attended three terrific sessions by Warren Bittner– German History ( he should have called it “1000 years of German history in 1″), Using German Gazetteers” and finally “Writing to Engage your reader”. All absolutely terrific.

Saturday: The high level buzz is gone! Everyone is starting to drag.
“Using Case Studies to learn Research Methods” by Tom Jones. This was the Birdie Monk Holsclaw Memorial lecture and Tom presented a presentation that had been given by Birdie  and him in 2000 shortly before her death. This was special to me as Birdie and I started an early computer interest group together in Denver, Colorado. She and I were first time mothers together. Russ, her husband, Pat, Birdie and I had dinners together occasionally to commiserate about the lack of computer software programs which focus on sourcing to the extent both of us desired.

Remember the post about how I make decisions about which sessions to attend? Looking back I believe that I pre-identified about 50% of the sessions in advance which I then went on to attend. I consulted and took the advice of others as to sessions to attend and changed my mind on some. I also attended more on Virginia and German sessions than I had anticipated.

Hope to see you in St. Charles.


What I have done since the last posting: I had trouble getting my draft of this posting (and the next) to upload to the cloud and into my primary WordPress box….hence the delay.  I have been working on my Dirk Bode article.  I now feel I have a draft ready to submit to my ProGen class.  I attended the SGS Spring Seminar.  Jeanne Larzalere Bloom did a great job.  I am now also getting ready for the SGS Board meeting tomorrow.

GPS Element #5: Writing your conclusions

typewriterThis is the third of a series of articles about the Genealogical Proof Standard. [1]  The elements are not being published in numerical order, primarily because I had presentations to make on some of the elements, and I completed those first.  You can read about GPS #1 (thorough search), GPS #2 (source citations)  and  GPS #3 (analysis and correlation), by clicking on the links.  I haven’t yet published GPS #4 (resolving conflicting evidence).

My ProGen class is in its second month of writing their proof arguments. Proof arguments are the basis of the BCG case study and components of the Kinship Determination Project, both requirements for certification.  Proof arguments are a type of genealogical writing that describes, in a scholarly way, our findings to a question.

I won’t dwell on the definition of a proof argument, you can find explanations and examples in a variety of places, including the BCG website ( Almost every article in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly is a proof argument.

As our class discussed their first drafts, I started to see some trends in my writing as well as that of my cohort. These observations may reflect a single paper or sometimes the issue is systemic.  One thing remains clear–these are my personal comments.  Each of the items below is composed of 1.) what I see/experience, 2.) any documentation or analysis which clarifies the issue and finally 3.) a statement of how I plan to approach the issue in my own writing.  What you select to incorporate into your proof arguments is a personal decision; your choice may be different than mine.

I pause here for a minute to thank Karen Stanbury, my facilitator for Mastering Genealogical Proof (MGP) by Tom Jones.[2] She made the course, taken in late 2013, rigorous and demanding. I utilize daily the information contained in that book and emphasized by Karen. I know that some facilitators were not as rigorous as Karen and that is their loss.

1. Research Question:  The crafting of the research question seems easy at first and then reveals itself to be surprisingly difficult. At times I was struggling with defining exactly what I was trying to “prove.”  Did I want to answer when Mary was born, or her location of birth or who were her parents?  In the end, for this assignment, I decided to focus on the parents because I had the evidence to support that question.
Analysis:  The research question is composed of two parts: a clearly defined and unique individual and a measurable interrogatory. To identify an individual who is “unique in the world,” you must supply enough known descriptors that there is only one person who could satisfy those requirements.  The interrogatory may be relationship (e.g. who are the parents of…), or an identity (e.g. Which Alonzo Fedpussle paying taxes in Whichamacallit County in 1879, was the son of Alphonso Fedpussle?) or an activity (e.g. What military service, if any, did Alonzo Fedpussle, born in 1847 in Whichamacallit County, provide in the Civil War?)  The interrogatory also needs to be measurable.  A question such as “who is John Smith?” fails on two counts.  John Smith is not unique in the world but, in addition, the interrogatory “Who was…” is not measurable; said a different way, how would you know if or when the question of “who was John Smith” had been answered?
How I plan to approach it:  I believe that I understand the concept of the unique individual but I will continue to work on the crafting of the good question.  I am hopeful that writing more PAs will result in more efficient writing.  Reading more articles will help as well.  I struggle most with research questions that are implied in the writing but not specifically stated.

2. Organization: The organization of the writing is very challenging. It’s not that I cannot organize the writing, but rather I have trouble picking the best organization for the question, the evidence and the reader.
Analysis:  I am not sure I see too much written about this.  In MGP Dr. Jones describes how the work must have a beginning, a middle and the end (I work with several people who always start conversations “in the middle.” Irritating, isn’t it?)  I think this is harder for some people than others.  Dr. Jones discusses various constructs for the argument, including single hypothesis, alternative hypotheses, building blocks and syllogisms [3]
How I plan to approach it:  My articles usually use one of these techniques as the prime organizing methodology and then within that structure some or all of the others will be utilized.  It sounds like I know what I am doing but it is still hard to pick the right structure for the evidence you have.  I’ll probably blog about this more later.

3. Inclusion/Exclusion: We want to include all we know. We worked so hard to get all that information and just because it doesn’t support the research question doesn’t mean we should eliminate it, does it? Well, yes, it does. The focus of the writing should be on the research question and all other material which does not support the thesis should be deleted. On the flip side and equally as “wrong” as too much information, is making the paper so “bare bones” that the author forces the reader to make assumptions and “leaps of faith.”  A third type of problem with writing of proof arguments is where the author writes something which “begs the question.”  In the latter, the reader is busy wondering why something wasn’t covered; just the inclusion of a brief discussion would have eliminated the alternative focus by the reader.
Analysis:  Inclusion of other information which does not directly support the question, leads the reader away from the prime focus; the author appears to have wandered off topic. The reader should also not be making assumptions because the writer has failed to include necessary evidence.  This type of writing leaves the reader with questions which interrupt the flow of the reading.
How I plan to approach it:  I actually have the problem of putting in too little information and making leaps of faith, under the guise of “isn’t it self-evident?” My writing improves if I have the opportunity to let it sit for a while before rereading.  I also write the paper and then outline it after the first draft.  I find outlining helps identify errant bits of evidence which do not support the question, but notice — I outline after I have written the draft.  If I have difficulty outlining the paper, the area of writing which needs improvement is immediately identified.

4. Proof Argument/Research Plan?: Some in the class wrote the argument as if it were a research plan. This sometimes looked more like a listing of sources which supported the query.  The author would include all the evidence in a source list/discussion but never pull it together and correlate by contrasting and comparing.  They told the story but seemed more interested in the sources than the proof.
Analysis:  The eleven points of MGP continue to guide us in the writing but everyone needs to improve on this. [4]
How I plan to approach it:  I will continue to read NGSQ and study other articles.  I admit I was amazed how much I had learned in the past two years by reading and rereading these articles.  I am a much better consumer of peer reviewed articles than I was before–it’s a bit scarey!

5. Analysis of sources: Am I the only one who doesn’t want to read about whether that will was original or derivative or the information was primary, secondary or undetermined?  The inclusion of source analysis after source analysis which is not additive to the argument makes for difficult reading.  The author has the responsibility to provide informative citations which tell the reader the viability of the source that was used; it is not necessary to do the analysis in such a visible way.  For all the analysis, the evidence could still be wrong.
Analysis: These citations should make obvious whether the author was looking at an original, derivative or authored work; using primary, secondary or undetermined information and providing direct, indirect or negative evidence.  Only when two sources conflict is it reasonable–it seems to me– to expect the author to discuss the quality of the source and then draw a conclusion.   The inclusion of that analysis can happen in one of three places– in the body of the proof, in the footnote of the proof and outside of the paper altogether. Authors who analyze every source and include their analysis in the narrative, make for difficult reading. Note the fifth bullet of the 11 in MGP, “We discuss sources to a lesser extent, because most information about sources belongs in the citations and footnotes.” [5]
How I plan on approach it:  I leave out most and sometime all references to the categories of my source, information and evidence.  I have a tendency to write about the analysis of the source only when it is in conflict, i.e. does the source analysis make one answer more appropriate than another?

6. Style of writing: Some authors wrote a portion of their article in a very familiar style- first person, present tense.
Analysis: The third bullet of the 11 points in MGP states “present-tense verbs refer to extant sources and living people….(consequently, much genealogical writing is in the past tense.) and the tenth bullet “the tone of a proof argument or summary is that of a “defense” in the academic sense.” [6]
How I plan to to approach it:  I have little difficulty using past tense fairly consistently in my writing but occasionally, a present tense verb sneaks in.  I just have to be aware of the issue and address it at the time of writing.  Generally, my writing is rather academic (read: dry) so the use of the first person does not often enter my writing.

So this was, and continues to be, a great exercise. I have written a few proof arguments now and although I cannot say I am comfortable, the efficiency of writing is better and my initial output is stronger.

Happy hunting!


What I have done since the last posting: commented on my classmates proof arguments; got the SGS newsletter out to our membership; campaigned to have our society join FGS; purchased, received and deeply skimmed Applied Genealogy by Eugene A. Stratton and Genealogical Evidence by Noel Stevenson. Both are older books but are still the go-to reference for genealogy fundamentals. Also read the ProGen assignment for next month and 4 NGSQ articles (one is related to my BCG case study, one was written by a friend, one is the Q study article for March and one is about a special schedule of the 1880 census where a great grand uncle was enumerated as he was labeled insane. More about this later—I am doing some deep research on the topic of incarceration in an insane asylum in the late 1800’s.)

[1] Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards (Nashville: Turner Publishing Company, 2014) p. 1-2.

[2] Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, VA: National Genealogical Society, 2013).

[3] Ibid, p. 88-89.

[4] Ibid, p. 90.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

How Do You Handle URLs in Citations?

CMOSWe had a discussion in our ProGen class about how much to include of the URL of a website in a citation.  There were a variety of opinions and so I went searching for an answer.  The uniform resource locator or URL is the series of numbers and letters that forms the web address.  It appears in your browser window and begins with http://.  Sometimes it is very short but sometimes it is very long.



The options discussed were:

  1. Use a TinyURL.  (If you are not familiar with TinyURLs check them out here.)
  2. Use only the homepage URL (e.g. and
  3. Use the entire URL address.

Here is what I found.

Option #1: TinyURLs
Citation for this blog using a TinyURL:
Jill Morelli, “How Do You Handle URLs in Citations?” Genealogy Certification: A Personal Journey, 7 March 2014 ( : accessed 7 March 2014).

TinyURLs take a long web address (URL) and turns it into a small one.  For example, the Permalink for this posting is  I shortened it to  by using going to the TinyURL website and putting in the longer web address into the field and the site generated a unique but shorter address.  The address for this blog is not particularly long but compare that address with this citation for an image at

Include the citation information around this link and you end up with six to eight lines for every footnote, sometimes consuming half of the page.

Why not use a TinyURL if you only wish to locate the source in the future–that works, doesn’t it?  No, it doesn’t.  What if the link is broken?  What clues are you or the reader given to enable you to find the source again?  The TinyUrL gives no clue as to which source you consulted to obtain the information.  However, the long URL in the example above has embedded within it the site name of ancestry and information about the type of record and the name of the individual of interest.

Tom Jones, in his book, Mastering Genealogical Proof doesn’t even mention ease of retrieval as a reason to cite your sources.  Instead, he describes citations as indicative of an exhaustive search and our use of “least error-prone sources” and to document our findings. [1]  But if the citation uses a TinyURL, how can you determine if you have done a thorough search?  You have no idea if the author cited Wikipedia or a peer reviewed journal article. You also are hampered in predicting the probability of error. The use of a TinyURL also does not assist in documenting findings.

I do not recommend using a TinyUrl in any citations you are writing.

Option #2: use of only the homepage URL
Citation for this blog using only the homepage URL:
Jill Morelli, “How Do You Handle URLs in Citations?” Genealogy Certification: A Personal Journey, 7 March 2014 ( : accessed 7 March 2014), searched for citations & case study.

Elizabeth Shown Mills in her book, Evidence Explained, discusses web addresses (URLs) in section 2.37, page 59. [2]  Her assertion is that long URLs are subject to change  more easily thanthe  shorter homepage address and may not link correctly at a later date.  We all have encountered the ERROR 404 on a broken link.  Broken links are not uncommon even in the most cared for site.

Ms. Mills proposes that we use the address of the home page but include any additional descriptors for finding the particular item cited.  You can see in the example for this web site the search criteria of “citations & case study.” In a citation for a census image from, you might add “search for John Smith, Winchester County, Indiana.”  If using the homepage appraoch, Ms. Mills offers no guarantees as websites can still be rearranged, but even if the homepage changes it might be possible to locate the document in the future through the use of Internet Archive Wayback Machine. The use of the Wayback Machine is an option not available if a TinyURL is used.

Option #3: Use the entire URL
Citation for this blog using the full URL:
Jill Morelli, “How Do You Handle URLs in Citations?” Genealogy Certification: A Personal Journey, 7 March 2014 ( : accessed 7 March 2014).

In EE, Ms. Mills indicates the need to use the full address for journal articles and journals themselves.  She continues by saying that most style manuals use the full URL  [3]  I found it difficult to tell if she was only talking about Journal citations or it was a more global statement.  I analyzed each (yes, I really did!) of the QuickCheck Models in EE that pertained to online citations to try to discern a pattern of full URL vs. just the homepage URL.

Four observations:

  1. At no time did I find an example using a TinyURL.
  2. The full address was used more often, by a ratio of 2:1 (n=34,) than the homepage URL for citations that were related to online resources.
  3. In many, but not all, where the short address was used, the citation described the database and not a specific image.  In my recent blog about “What is Context Anyway?,” citations have to be responsive to what is being cited.  In some cases the “short form” was being used because…it would have been inappropriate to do anything else.
  4. but there were examples where, for example, was cited using the homepage URL and the image was the focus.

I checked ESM’s EE web page ( and didn’t find any specific information on this topic, but you can read what I did find by going to this link: .  And, if you find a relevant article somewhere, please share!

The Chicago Manual of Style provides, to me at least, the answer:
“URL or DOI. [4]  Many of the examples in this section include a URL or a DOI at the end of the citation.  A DOI, if it is available, is preferable to a URL.  If using a URL, use the address that appears in your browser’s address bar when viewing the article unless a shorter, more stable form of the URL is offered along with the electronic article.”  [5]

Three observations seem now apparent:

  1. Whatever is decided, be consistent across types of citations.
  2. The BCG certification “fear factor” makes each applicant ultraconservative in writing citations, resulting in full URLs more prevalent (observation based on my reading of several BCG portfolios.)
  3. I need to think about the context of the citation.  If I am citing just the database or have a narrow site focus, use the homepage URL; otherwise…
  4. I will be using the long URL or DOI.

I would be interested in your thoughts, especially of those who are “on the clock” or already certified.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting: spoke to the Eastside Home Economists’ Club on “Soldier, Spies & Farmwives: the Changing Roles of Women in the Civil War.”  It was well received;  computer was down for 1.5 weeks. I suffered from major withdrawal; worked on my draft no. 2 of my Proof Argument for ProGen;  tried to set up a time to meet with my business counselor but had to cancel;  encouraged a friend to consider running for Vice President of SGS;  worked on presentation of GPS Element #2 for SGS to be given on Sunday.  I hope some folks come–its DST!

[1] Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013), p. 7.

[2] Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co, 2007), p. 59.

[3] Ibid, p. 799.

[4] DOI stands for Digital Object Identifier and is tied to the image, not to the website.  The link is extremely stable.

[5] University of Chicago, Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press) section 14.184.

What is “Context” Anyway?

Context of the source, context of the citation, and context of its reader should all inform the decisions we have to make while crafting a citation. Different contexts will lead to different decisions about what to include and how to format the elements of the citation. — Tom Jones, email to the author, 31 December 2013. [1]

Citation is an art, not a science. — Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained, p. 41.

What?  Dr. Jones speaks of “crafting” a citation and Ms. Mills describes it as an art!  In my genealogical infancy, I confidently looked up the type of source in a style manual, found a suitable template and filled in the blanks–no need to read all that text!  Now, Dr. Jones and Ms. Mills challenge us to thoughtfully create citations that are responsive to the text and regard the reader–the context.  But, this word “context” still has me puzzled.

I thought “context” was the sociological or historical or political environment within which we make decisions.  How can a source or a citation or the reader have a context?  What is “context” anyway?

Let’s start with the Oxford English Dictionary:

Root of the word: “Latin contextus (u-stem) connection, < participial stem of contexĕre to weave together, connect. (author’s emphasis)”
[2]  I love that!  Weave together–how beautiful!
Definition (noun): “The weaving together of words and sentences; construction of speech, literary composition”

So what are we actually weaving?

In 1425, a Middle English writer combined the word “context” with “historical.”[3]  Today, genealogists are also introduced to the phrase “historical context.”  For example, the decision by Ulysses Grant to stop the exchange of Union and Confederate prisoners confined many individuals in Civil War prisons. More contemporaneously, the decision by the US Congress to reduce spending on research can negatively impact the numbers of young investigators entering the field.  A soldier kept in prison for months may become sickly for the rest of his life; a promising student may decide to enter the familial business rather than have a life in research.  These are real world individual decisions that are affected by the decisions of politics and history.  The individual decision is inextricably tied to the macro event–tightly woven together.

So, how does this apply to citations?

In Evidence Explained, Elizabeth Shown Mills has three references to “context”– cemeteries  and censuses and their physical context of the neighbors and the differences of the context of the original church record as opposed to that of a certificate of marriage. We may be able to obtain the certificate but a review of the original church entries may include information that wasn’t included on the certificate and reveal information about the recorder (e.g. shakey handwriting, level of literacy) which lead us to conclusions about the quality of the source. She covers the issue of context of the citation without a direct use of the word in Section 2.1 Art vs. Science. [3]

Let’s look at a relatively simple example–the blog– to illustrate how the context of the item being cited can drive the format of the citation.

If the context of the information that is being cited concerns a specific posting, the citation, according to EE, might look like this:
“What is Context Anyway?” Jill Morelli Weblog: Genealogy Certification: A Personal Journey, 11 February 2014 ( : accessed 11 February 2014).

If the information that is being cited is focused instead on the blog as a whole, the citation might look like this:
Jill Morelli Weblog: Genealogy Certification: a Personal Journey, 2011-2014, [6]

If the information or the article is focused on the author, the citation might look like this:
Jill Morelli, “What is Context Anyway?” Genealogy Certification: A Personal Journey, 11 February 2014 ( : accessed 11 February 2014).

We can look to the templates provided but ultimately we must think about what are we citing, why are are citing it and what impression do we want to leave with the reader.  Thus, the development of the citation is one of mindfulness of the source, the narrative, the reader and the citation.

Happy Weaving!


What I have done since the last posting: worked on the SGS newsletter and getting it ready for publication.  The feature article is about the Spring Seminar featuring Jeanne Larzalerle Bloom.  I met Jeanne at the APG Professional Management Conference prior to SLIG and interviewed her.  It should be a good issue. Continued to work on the ProGen assignment–a genealogical proof argument.  My topic is the Irish village of birth of Mary Coyne.  The client provided me with many family traditions related to their location from which the family emigrated but I am writing a proof argument without the use of any of the clues provided.

[1] Tom Jones [(e-address for private use)] to Jill Morelli, e-mail, 31 December 2013, “blog posting comparing article with EE citation templates,” digitally filed, Blog file; privately held by Morelli, [(e-address) & street address for private use], Seattle, Washington, 2013. cited in blog posting “GPS Element #2: Informative Citations,”,
[2]  OED Online. December 2013. Oxford University Press. ( : accessed 9 February 2014).
[3] The OED cites the first usage in 1425, “In the contexte historicalle….” Almost 600 years later, we, as genealogists, use the word similarly.
[4] Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007). For blog postings, see 811-813; for cemeteries, see 229; for censuses, see 260; and for church records, see 340.
[5] As our internet vocabulary matures, I believe the word “weblog” has evolved to “blog.”  I would suggest handling the word “blog” similar to the word “digital image” or “database”.  This might the citation looking like: Jill Morelli, “What is Context Anyway?” Genealogy Certification: A Personal Journey, 10 February 2014, blog ( : accessed 11 February 2014).