Cheat Sheets: Part Four

Alicia Crane WilliamsThe first fourteen steps in my process for creating entries for the Early New England Families Study Project are covered in three previous posts, beginning here:

15. Analysis. Many, many books have been written about genealogical analysis. I have just read the most recent, Bob Anderson’s Elements of Genealogical Analysis, and highly recommend it with one caveat – it is written by a left-brained genealogist. Speaking as a right-brained genealogist, I know some readers may find themselves grumbling about “overkill,” but remember that Bob is examining the process of genealogical analysis on the cellular level. (Start by reading his Preface about his “roots” in military intelligence and microbiology, and you’ll know what I mean.) The rest of us don’t need to be scientists, but we do need to be aware of all of the complex steps that go into a sound genealogical conclusion.

Analysis is naturally part of every step of the process as each draft of each sketch is formed and polished, but for this example I’m listing the questions I need to remember to ask myself when it comes to the “final” analysis that determines if the sketch is ready to publish (incorporating some of Bob Anderson’s definitions):

A. Are all facts documented? Do I have a sufficient source for every birth, marriage, death, event, deed, will, etc., that I mention in the text? Have I considered the “substance” and “reliability” of the sources? Is there a better citation I could still get?

Lacking a source, do I have a good argument for stating each fact – such as estimating date of birth from age at death?

B. Are all of the “linkages” made? If each person potentially has three genealogical linkages – to parents, to spouse, and to children – have I provided citations and/or arguments to make that connection? Do I have a rationale for every child who is listed? Have I made any “leaps of faith” that two or more records refer to the same person?

Or, in cases where the link is missing or weak, do I have a reasoned argument for leaving it that way – I am, after all, compiling a synopsis rather than attempting to answer all of the outstanding questions. If there are outstanding questions, have I included suggestions for further research by others?

C. Do I need to access more sources, consult other researchers, and/or write more logical arguments?

16. Format.

A. Have I spelled all the names and places correctly and consistently? Does Green turn to Greene every other paragraph? If I miss the names here, I can still catch them during indexing.

B. Dates. Any inconsistencies that I did not notice in earlier proofs? Died before born?

C. Grammar and punctuation. This is where the old proofreader’s trick of reading text backwards can be helpful. Are all the paragraphs indented properly? Do I have “close quotes” for every “open quotes”? Does the text read smoothly and concisely? (Hint: read it out loud)

D. Are my footnote citations correct – full and proper bibliographic citation for the first occurrence, consistent “short” citations for following occurrences?

17. Hot chocolate or ice cream?

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.

12 thoughts on “Cheat Sheets: Part Four

  1. Love the right/left brain analogy !
    If anyone remembers the pre-GEDCOM world of Roots 3 – I referred to the the people who actually could make that program work as “DOS-brain”.

  2. Thank you for a very clear concise treatment of the analysis process! I do wonder where DNA analysis fits into the process? For example what if one’s surname documented to the 1600s does not match current Y- DNA findings for that surname? Thank you again.

    1. Kathleen, while I don’t deal with DNA in my work with the Early New England Families Study Project, I am always interested in the DNA studies that are published to see if they have figured out where the “non-paternity” event took place. It opens a lot of horizons!

  3. How important is the consistent spelling of names? My grandmother spelled her grandmother’s name three different ways–O’Neil, O’Neill, or O’Neal–depending on how she felt that day, I guess. In his naturalization application my ggggrandfather spelled O’Neil with one ‘l’. Two of his sons, in naturalization application and inheritance papers, spelled O’Neill with two ‘l’s. Thanks for any explanation.

    1. Kathleen — a perennial problem for the genealogist! Usually, for the family sketch you’ll want to choose one spelling that seems to be the most commonly used by the family. The variations should be noted in a discussion in the introduction or footnotes, and whenever quoting from an original document, use the variant(s) within the document within quotation marks. If you are doing all the descendants of a family, this can lead to having some families under O’Neil, others O’Neal, etc. There are many time when one branch of the family will follow one spelling and another branch a different one and be very particular about which one is right! When it comes to the index, of course, you’ll combine all the spellings together.

  4. Thanks so much–I’m saving your advice. I had a neighbor whose surname was ‘Nieroski’. I don’t know what the original spelling was, but given that so many Polish names are really difficult to pronounce the three sons, including our neighbor, chose to differ from the way it had been spelled in the fatherland. Unfortunately, they each chose a different spelling, which should drive subsequent family genealogists nuts.

  5. Another consideration is that spelling wasn’t standardized until quite late, so of course, names were spelled very differently. Also, many, many people could not read or write well so that names were often changed repeatedly. One other thing I often read about, is that when an immigrant entered America in the early years, 1600-1800’s, the officers registering their arrival often changed difficult names, “anglicizing” them! Our Haulsenhousen, became Holshouser!

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