Thursday, January 17, 2008

Sources and Citations — How T-Ball and Genealogy Are Sometimes Alike

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January 17, 2008
Sources and Citations — How T-Ball and Genealogy Are Sometimes Alike


I remember going to my youngest son's first T-ball game. All that compressed little boy energy hung over the field like a gray cumulonimbus cloud getting ready to burst. The coach positioned each child on the field and they were prepared, that ball WASN'T going to get past them.

The first batter swung, connected and a dozen gloved wonders took off in pursuit of the ball. Two of the “teammates,” the quickest to arrive at the spot where the ball eventually rolled to a rest, tussled with each other to take control over the precious trophy. All the while, the batter, flushed with success at having batted his first ball, in his first game, easily ran the bases. Coaches gestured wildly, fathers screamed, “Throw the ball, throw the ball,” older siblings smirked, and mothers beamed with lopsided smiles at their misguided offspring.

The problem wasn't, of course, a lack of enthusiasm or commitment on the part of the young players. The problem was they had yet to learn the fundamentals that would allow them to play the game the way it was meant to be played — baseball at its best is its own form of poetry.

The same could be said of my first experiences in genealogy. I had the enthusiasm. I had the commitment, but I hadn't yet learned the fundamentals that would allow me to do the research and the recording of information in the way it was meant to be done.

I realized early on the value of recording where the information came from. Without documenting the source of the information, it was hard to go back and determine how or why I had added an individual to my family tree. So I added this information to the note section of each individual.

At some point, it dawned on me, AH HA, there was a section of the software made expressly for this purpose, and I began, I'll admit, to put the information haphazardly into the appropriate section.

Sometime after that, I realized that there was no consistency in how I was entering the information. I dug out my old APA style guide, and struggled to use the information I found there to come up with some kind of standard.

By this time I HAD A MESS! I did some online searching, and found several articles on the subject. Each time I thought I had it figured out, a new problem would arise. For example, the death certificate I received in the mail and the one I found online, should they be recorded in the same manner?

As each new online source became available, I became uncertain what appropriate form the citation should take. Enter Elizabeth Shown Mills's new book, “Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace,” which tackles among other things, just this type of quandary. As of today, I have my very own copy of Ms. Mills' book to read and thumb through at my own leisure.

I've only gotten as far as the Table of Contents and the Forward — already I'm impressed. She sums up the whole idea of the quest for evidence and the need to evaluate sources so eloquently:

“History is not a collection of raw facts we simply look up and copy down. The past is still a little-known universe that we explore with curiosity and confusion. As we probe its depths, we appreciate resources that save us time. We crave materials we can confidently trust.”

So simple, so beautiful, so true!

So take note, family and friends, I will be holed up for a while devouring the author's thoughts, words and most of all, guidance so that my database will finally be exactly what it was meant to be.

Until Next Time — Happy Ancestral Digging!

Note: If you would like to learn more about “Evidence Explained,” Miriam Midkiff of “AnceStories” did a nice review at http://ancestories1.blogspot.com/2007/12/evidence-explained-book-review.html.

Note this post first published online, January 17 , 2008, at Desktop Genealogist Blog at The News-Messenger Online http://www.thenews-messenger.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?Category=BLOGS02

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