Spring potholes

Alicia Crane WilliamsSpring is pothole repair time in New England, and as I write this on April 4 southern New England is receiving up to 8 inches of snow with flash freezing predicted overnight, so there will be plenty of work this spring.

A pothole that has been bugging me this winter is remembering exactly which citations I have proofed and which are yet to be done. I already use the color “highlighter” function in Word – yellow to indicate questions that need answering and green to indicate “This is the right date/name/fact despite what some other sources say,” etc. – but I’m now adding light grey highlights for footnote citations that have been proofed. This provides a certain macabre sense of achievement as I watch the manuscript turn grey, and it has turned out to be particularly helpful in keeping track of my progress when I flit back and forth among multiple projects.

Another pothole, which has turned into a “synchole” on a couple of occasions, is the problem of keeping facts and the citations that go with them in sync. This happens when multiple, sometimes conflicting, facts from multiple sources are combined into a paragraph, then one or more of the facts are moved to another paragraph, but the corresponding citation gets left behind. The old grey cells don’t keep up as well as they used to, so I find “logging” more and more helpful in my old age.

The log entry will usually be a quote or extract from the source, often more information than I will eventually use in the manuscript, but by “clustering” all the versions together I can keep things straight, plus have a back-up list of which citations match which facts. For example:

“John1 Hollister, the ancestor of the American family of that name, is said to have been born in England in 1612, and to have emigrated to America about 1642. The compiler has sought in vain for some conclusive authority for these two statements. Nor can the place of his birth be positively given, though it is supposed he sailed from Bristol, England.” Hollister Family (1886), 19
“Nearly all the authorities who speak of Lieut. John Hollister of Wethersfield, Conn., say that he was at Weymouth, Mass., in 1643, and represented that town in the Massachusetts legislature in 1644 … according to Trumbull’s [Col. Recs of CT] John was in Wethersfield 2 March 1642, in April 1645, and in June 1646… From these facts it would appear that either there were two John Hollisters in New England at the same time, or that one owned property in both towns, and while holding office in Wethersfield was regarded as a “Townsman” in Weymouth. I am inclined to the opinion that there were two John Hollisters, and that the one in Weymouth afterward returned to England, still holding his lands in Weymouth”  — as shown by the will of John Hollister of Bristol, Eng., proved 1690, mentioning land leased to William and Samuel Torrey in Weymouth Hollister Family (1886), 30-31; NEHGR, 40: 62-63


“said to have been born in Glastonbury, Eng. But Mr. Alpheus Hollister … says ‘The H.—s were from Bristol, Eng., a good old family as early as Henry VIII” Ancient Wethersfield, 428.


“Hollister, John, Weymouth, freem. 10 May 1643 … rem. To Wethersfield, where he had been in 1642, when s. John was b. to him, as is said, strange…” Savage, 2: 449

I keep adding to the log until I feel I have exhausted every version available, then take a few Tylenol and start composing the text with everything I need in front of me.

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.

10 thoughts on “Spring potholes

  1. Dear Alicia,

    I so enjoy all the manuscripts and other publications for NEHGS you have written and edited. Ironically, I am now working on a family history for a client and just happen to spot your post on Vita Brevis and had to make a comment. I was just entering data into the Denison/Weld families and have your manuscript on Edward Denison (Early New England Families, 1641-1700). It is an excellent summary of him and his family. It is so well-sourced and the footnotes are of special value as they are clues to where I can find more citations to back up this family. The log you mention is a great idea and I need to do something similar. It is easy to forget conflicting information you find UNLESS you write it down.

    I’ve been thinking about doing something similar in a spreadsheet but never seem to have the time to do so. I end up with so much paperwork from material I print out and even then I might find myself looking for information that I have already discovered; not to mention, more ink needed for my printer and file space is getting tight with only 3 file cabinets. 🙂

    I like your analogy of “potholes” to “syncholes.” Keep up the good work.

    1. Sarah Ann, thank you. It is always a balancing act — time, effort, results. I try to keep things as simple as possible and although I occasionally use spread sheets, I have to watch out that I don’t go crazy with them. I do use Access databases, too, but again have to watch that I don’t spend more time on the database than anything else.

  2. Excellent information at a serendipitous time! I’m about to start writing from facts I’ve gathered about Francis Whitmore b. 1625, of Cambridge, Mass. I hadn’t thought about how I would keep these facts properly attributed and keep my sanity at the same time. I will chart it out as you demonstrated. And check my work with colors.

  3. I find myself in a predicament. Over the past 3 years a search for primary document on my grandmother, who died before I was born, has turned up death certificate, obituary and marriage certificate with conflicting information. I could live with this for now, except my Mayflower Descendant application has been halted until I find proof of her first marriage, which is not the marriage with my grandfather, that marriage I have, the father of my father. I believe there is a good chance I am the first person to apply with my connection. I have discovered my Louisiana born grandfather, and Maine born great grandfather are from a long line of proven Mayflower Descendants under John Alden and several others. Unfortunately for me I live in the County in which gold was discovered in 1849, El Dorado County, not New England. I visited the Alden Kindred Society October, 2015, just as the genealogist was walking to her car after closing the office for the day. Is it really common to decline to submit an applications because a marriage before 1906 is not found? The only records of the marriage are birth records of the 2 children.
    Your post about logging possible facts, evidence of proof is sound, yet I worry all my work will be in vain before I have a chance to submit.

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