Become a Better Researcher

Our research problems are unique and our genealogy software, to be useful, must be flexible enough to match our respective problems and our respective methods. The Master Genealogist is that software, but power and flexibility has a down side. The more options a program has, the more decisions the user must make. This year, the Tri-Valley TMG User Group will explore those options and make some of those personal decisions. Would you like to play along with us? Do each month's assignment, and if you like, e-mail it to us at: We'll post some of the completed assignments on this blog each month. Let's hear it for choices!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Recapping Our October Meeting - Part One

The October meeting merged our "Stump the Panel" segment with members' requests for new source type templates. In the course of discussing and problem-solving, some tips and techniques were reviewed. Perhaps the most important of these discussions centers on a problem described in this user review of the recently released 3d edition of Evidence Explained: how does the researcher determine the most appropriate citation model. Both the reviewer's post and Elizabeth Shown Mills' response should be read. Note ESM's important point: "If we don't understand the documents we are using - and the differences that exist between different types of records - then their citations will indeed confuse us." When choosing a TMG source type template, or creating a new one, the first priority is to understand the document.

Consider the first citation problem we considered: a legal name change document. On 28 June 1954, Jiminy Cricket changed his name to James T. Grasshopper via a "Declaration of Legal Name Change" notarized in Grassy Meadows County, California. This document was found in the family files of James Grasshopper's daughter, Joanna (Grasshopper) Bluebird. In addition to documenting the name change, this document also included Jiminy Cricket's (a.k.a. James T. Grasshopper) date and place of birth. What template should we use to cite this source?

Before choosing a source type template, we must first understand the document.

  1. This is not a microfilm copy or digital image. Therefore, we can ignore all those templates, and it's likely that we won't need to worry about any "layered" citations.
  2. This is a legal document; however, it is not the result of any court action and the law did not require that it be recorded in any court. Therefore, it's unlikely that it should be cited with any of those templates used to cite court and government records.
  3. Despite the legal purpose and form of this document, it was privately created by Jiminy Cricket/James T. Grasshopper. This document was kept among Mr. Grasshopper's papers, which eventually found their way to his daughter. If you think about the types of records that you might have found in a similar location, you will see that this document is more akin to a family letter, scrapbook, or photograph privately held by a family member, than to a record found in a government archive or a historical society library.
  • Now, examine EE for citation principles to these family papers. Mills doesn't have a chapter called "Family Records," but Chapter 3, "Archives & Artifacts," includes a section on "Private Holdings." Doesn't that fit our document? Take a look at the examples in this section and you will see one called "Legal document, unrecorded." That looks perfect!
  • Don't skip to the QuickCheck Model and copy it down. Read the basic issues for this class of records first, and then read the discussion on basic elements and basic format for these privately held records. Basic elements include: 1) type of item; 2) description; 3) last-known whereabouts; 4) statement of provenance.
  1. Let's create a description of the item. Descriptions usually included the creator/author/subject, the title or type of item, and the date and place of creation. It should also include any other information bits necessary to uniquely identify the item. Here is our initial description: James T. Grasshopper, "Declaration of Legal Name Change," 28 June 1954, notarized in Grassy Meadows Co., California. I would like to include the original name in this description, so perhaps I would change the creator to this: "James T. Grasshopper (originally known as Jiminy Cricket)." Do I want to include the name of the notary? Knowing this name, date, and place might allow a future researcher to find the notary's record book, if the notary kept a record book, and if the notary was required to deposit his or her record books with the state commissioning authority or the county court. Although this information probably won't be required in a publication citation, we could still include it in our personal working citation: "Grassy Meadows Co., California, Hildegarde A. Turtle, Notary." This is our complete description of this document: James T. Grasshopper (originally known as Jiminy Cricket), "Declaration of Legal Name Change," 28 June 1954, Grassy Meadows Co., California, Hildegarde A. Turtle, Notary.
  2. It's usually a good idea to identify the format of any record you saw before you tell everyone where you saw it. This is the original family copy of this document.
  3. Now, it's time to describe the last-known whereabouts: privately held by Joanna (Grasshopper) Bluebird, 2015. Since Joanna is happily still alive, we need to protect her exact address, although we can include the town and state: Shady Oak, California.
  4. What about the provenance? That statement can be very important to future researchers, as it helps to establish the credibility of the information a record contains. "Ms. Bluebird is the daughter of James T. Grasshopper, and inherited his papers upon his death in 2010."

Here's our preferred citation:

James T. Grasshopper (originally known as Jiminy Cricket), "Declaration of Legal Name Change," 28 June 1954, Grassy Meadows Co., California, Hildegarde A. Turtle, Notary; original family copy, privately held by Joanna (Grasshopper) Bluebird, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Shady Oak, California, 2015. Ms. Bluebird is the daughter of James T. Grasshopper, and inherited his papers upon his death in 2010.

Are you ready to enter this document in your Master Source List? Then continue to Part Two.

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