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Evidence Explained: An Interview with Elizabeth Shown Mills

Dipping into the Genealogy Pointers archives, we unearthed a fascinating interview with Elizabeth Shown Mills, author of “EVIDENCE EXPLAINED: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace.”

As one of the most respected and influential persons in American genealogy, Published widely in academic and popular presses, she was editor of the “National Genealogical Society Quarterly” (NGSQ) for 16 years.

Mrs. Mills has also taught for 13 years at a National Archives-based institute on archival records and, for 20 years, headed the program in advanced research methodology at Samford University in Alabama.

Mrs. Mills knows records, loves records, and regularly shares her expertise in them with audiences across three continents.

“EVIDENCE EXPLAINED” is Elizabeth Mills’ third major publication pertaining to source citation. Her earlier works include: “EVIDENCE! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian” (1997) and “QUICKSHEET: Citing Online Historical Resources “Evidence!” Style” (2005). The groundbreaking “EVIDENCE EXPLAINED” analyses citation principals and includes more than 1,000 citation models for virtually every source type. In the process, it covers all contemporary and electronic history sources–including digital, audio, and video sources–most of which are still not discussed in traditional style manuals.

“Genealogy Pointers” spoke with Mrs. Mills about the making “EVIDENCE EXPLAINED” and how researchers can benefit from it. Here are the exchanges from that conversation:

GENEALOGY POINTERS (GP): Why did you write this book?

ELIZABETH SHOWN MILLS (ESM): Researchers need help and want help, but what they need today is not available elsewhere. Those who study history now probe far beyond the materials covered by standard citation guides–combing long-ignored original, grassroots-level records for fresh insight into our world. Thanks to modern technology, billions of these original records are now easily accessible through many different media. However, today’s researchers also know two things: First, all these records are not created equal. Second, the real reason to carefully identify sources for each piece of information is to ensure that we use the best sources possible. Otherwise, we just can’t reach reliable conclusions. Analyzing evidence is no easy task, considering the volume of information available, the diversity of the records, all the quirks within each type of document, and all the media formats.

Since the 1997 publication of the original “briefcase edition” of “EVIDENCE!” (which compactly covers 100 of the most common types of history sources), researchers have deluged me with questions about thousands of other materials. I definitely understand their angst, after three decades of my own research in the archives of most western nations, as well as writing for journals and presses in several academic fields and 16 years of editing a major scholarly journal. The new “EVIDENCE EXPLAINED” draws on that experience–but it’s also rooted in four file drawers of inquiries and debates generated by the users of that first edition.

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Evernote for the Genealogist

Evernote for the Genealogist

As a working professional, I was forced to look for an organizational solution to my compulsive note-taking problem. I used to carry around a small notepad and a package of sticky notes. My two companions lived in my backpack as a student, on my desk at work, even in my purse as an adult. My scribbles followed me: from my colorful tabs of commentary peeking from between the pages of my books to important thoughts in meetings to my grocery list, my tiny paper trail kept me organized.

After losing one too many notepads, I started to jot my notes-to-self on my iPhone. This was a vast improvement, but not quite there. When I found my solution in the free app Evernote, I didn’t realize I was using an awesome tool for a genealogist to solve my personal organizational struggle.

Evernote is an app that has thankfully replaced my paper system. I can take notes, keep track of online articles I want to read later, open spreadsheets and other documents on my mobile device, use it as a calendar and planner, and even record passages from my e-reader.

While I use Evernote on my iPad or iPhone, I can sync what I’m working on to my computer as well. I can seamlessly move back and forth between my linked devices - two computers and three digital devices – keeping all of my notes and research in one central location. It’s password protected, giving me peace of mind that my important information is safe.

The best part? I’ll say it again, Evernote is free!

In her blog post Evernote and Genealogy: They’re Made for Each Other, Alona Tester gives a great introduction of how and why to use Evernote for genealogical research.

Think of Evernote as a shelf of blank notebooks that you can jot down all your little notes and add in those newspaper and any other clippings you find that are relevant too (you know, old-school scrapbook-style), while still keeping them in a relevant notebook … that’s what Evernote allows you to to do digitally. Yes, seriously!

Evernote Tips: The 11 Amazing Features That Make Using Evernote So Freaking Awesome

Just think if you had digital notebooks for each family group? Or for your local history study? Or a particular topic that you are researching? Or a to-do notebook? It gives you a place to enter notes that you currently have on scraps of paper everywhere (I know we all have them), as well as filing them into a relevant folder.

Additional information: To learn more about Evernote this video is a great place to start. Ready to try it? Download it for your computer or device. Evernote thinks it’s a great fit for genealogists too! Cyndi’s List has an entire category devoted to Evernote, and an entire Evernote blog to accompany it.

We’d like to thank Alona Tester for allowing us to reprint her work.

Image Credit: Evernote.com

brainpickings.org

DNA, Genealogical Research and Privacy

Building your family tree is a painstaking process, traditionally comprised of careful historical research. Using advances in science, direct to consumer DNA testing is gaining tractions as a new genealogical tool. You, the consumer, are sent a kit to collect a sample; the company will sequence and compare your results to those within their database. The idea is to match you to your genetic relatives, enabling the discovery of missing links and the ability to close doors on cold leads.

When a company can offer a quick and easy way to discover your heritage, it’s a tempting idea. That’s not to say one shouldn’t use new technologies to discover genealogy, or that there isn’t a place for DNA testing in the new research landscape. However, just as the expanding web comes with a heightened awareness of a long and lingering digital footprint, using a DNA testing service should carry at least equal caution.

What happens when you give away your DNA for testing? Do you know where it will end up, who will see it, or how it will really be used? An Alaska class action lawsuit against Family Tree DNA claims that the company posted personal information on very public websites, in violation of state law.

According to the complaint of Michael Cole, Family Tree DNA publishes the results of its genetic tests on a publicly available website, not just their customer site, as he believed. This additional access on their own site and that of an Ancestry.com subsidiary is what Cole claims is “unbeknownst to and without the consent of its customers.”

The suit claims “Family Tree’s practice of releasing information about its consumers’ genetic makeup without their permission, carries serious and irreversible privacy risks and violates Alaska’s Genetic Privacy Act.”

As with any piece of personal information, caution and good judgment should be exercised. Read the small print to learn how your DNA will be used and shared, as well as who may have access to it.

Source, Kyla Asbury, “Alaska class action lawsuit says Family Tree DNA posted info on public websites,” May 16, 2014.

Image Credit: Brainpickings.org

Collegiate Records - Trinity College Library - Nic McPhee

Collegiate Records As Tools For Researching Your Ancestors

With the advent of May, many families are busily planning to attend the graduation exercises for various family members. Such occasions prompt us to consider the role of a college education in the lives of our ancestors. In my own family, my mother, father and I are the only individuals who have a college education, my father and I proceeding on to receive masters’ degrees. The generational immediacy of college attendance and graduation in my family may not be unusual. There are, however, families for whom the opportunity, and perhaps the expectation, that each generation would attend a college or university was commonplace, with offspring registered at birth.

Looking for college records may often be an overlooked step in family research, but it is an important possibility to entertain as we seek to learn more about our ancestor’s lives.

My first experience with collegiate records was during a trip to the National Archives of Scotland (then called the Scottish Record Office) some years ago. At the time I was actively compiling content for the Barclay One-Name Study (now the Barclay Genealogical Database). During the course of my several days in Edinburgh, I discovered a book in a reference section listing many years of graduates of Aberdeen University. As the northeast of Scotland is an area populated by many Barclays, I happily transcribed a long list of graduates for the one-name study (and somewhere in a pile under the eaves that transcribed list awaits the light of day).

What sources are available today if you wish to look for collegians in your family research?

  • School Alumni Lists. This online database is hosted by Rootsweb and includes 284,672 records that encompass 65,350 distinct surnames. The content derives by submissions from visitors to the site. In searching the site, one can perform both general surname and specific surname/given name searches. A surname search for “Barclay” provided a list of thirteen names dating from 1909 to 1979 from schools in Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Oregon, New York, and Minnesota. It is important to note that not all entries are at the collegiate level. Of the thirteen Barclay entries, only one was from an institution of higher education (VPI/Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia); the rest of the entries recorded high schools. A surname search for “Barkley” produced a list of ten names; again, the majority of the entries were for high school. However, one 1948 entry for Purdue University provided additional information including the residence of the individual; the date, time and location of the graduation ceremony; the name of the then president of the university; and the source of the information. I came by this additional information by clicking on the “more information” link.
  • School Alumni Lists at DistantCousin. This site provides access to a “free online archive of school alumni records (Yearbooks, alumni publications, etc.) and scanned images from publications concerning school alumni.” A surname search is possible or you can browse alumni lists by location. My standard “Barclay” surname search identified twelve entries including four Barclays (digitized full-text page images) who appeared on page 34 of the Directory of Former Students of Harvard Living in 1919. That entry included years of attendance and address. An entry in the 1913 Alumni Record of the University of Illinois for an individual from the class of 1887 included the individual’s degree, date and place of birth, parents’ names, marriage date and name of spouse, children’s names and birth dates, and address at the time of publication. I also looked for a Barclay cited in the Vassar College Class of 1925, but was unable to find the referenced entry.
  • Ancestry. A card catalog search for “alumni” provided a list of twenty-two links, not all of them pertaining to colleges or universities. Among them, however, are two interesting British databases spanning many centuries: Cambridge University Alumni 1261-1900 and Oxford University 1500-1886. The fifty-four Barclays included in the Cambridge database represented several colleges, with Trinity the most prevalent Barclay affiliation. By contrast only twelve Barclays were listed in the Oxford database.
  • Cyndi’s List. A search for “yearbooks and annuals” produced 156 links to sites, including yearbooks and alumni organizations and resources. One of the most extensive is the Dead Fred Genealogy Photo Archive. Some links point to school specific sites such as the Case Western Reserve University University Archives Student Yearbook Collection (Cleveland, Ohio), with yearbooks dating from 1867.
  • Family History Library. A subject search for “alumni” in the Family History Library Catalog  provided a list of forty-nine titles, including such interesting ones as Necrology of Alumni of Harvard College; Princetonians: a Biographical Dictionary; The Historical Catalogue of the University of Mississippi 1849-1909, and the provocative Yale’s Confederates: a Biographical Dictionary. If you happen to know your ancestor’s specific college or university, a Google search will assist you in identifying available resources.
  • Notable Alumni by College. If you have a famous person in your family, you will want to check this site. It claims to offer a “complete directory of famous alumni, listed by individual school. Photos and metadata are included in each famous student’s list – although to be clear, the lists are not definitive for graduates, but rather include all notable students who attended a school at one time, not just the prominent alums who graduated with a degree.” You can scroll through an alphabetical listing of famous and not-so famous colleges, universities, and high schools. Included are such surprising (at least to me) entries as Prince Albert II of Monaco, listed under Notable Amherst College Alumni/Students.
  • Printed lists and indices. In addition to the wide range of online databases and archival resources, you will also want to search for printed compilations of alumni information. A recent example is Jean L. Cooper’s Index of Students of the University of Virginia, 1825-1874 (Shortwood Press, 2011), which contained the following entry:

Surname: Barclay; First name: Shepard; Middle Name: _____; Home City/County: Saint Louis; Home State: Missouri; Session Number: 44 and 45.” (A table identifies those particular sessions as occurring between 1 October 1867 and 1 July 1869.)

Talking with family members and reviewing family documents and photographs may document a college or university graduate in your family. Then, with the help of available print and online sources, you may be able to tell the story of the academic life and experiences of your ancestor.

Photo Credit: Nik McPhee