In genealogical research facts often have a way of becoming factoids once new evidence weighs against the old hypothesis. As a genealogist, we should stay away from declaring a research subject absolute and finished – instead we should quantify our analysis of the evidence by prefacing our statements with qualifiers.
In genealogical research facts often have a way of becoming factoids once new evidence weighs against the old hypothesis. As a genealogist, we should stay away from declaring a research subject absolute and finished – instead we should quantify our analysis of the evidence by prefacing our statements with qualifiers. Using a current research project of mine, here is a statement without a qualifier attached:
Sally “Susan” Fisher was born between 1805 and 1815 in the sleepy little town of Lyndon Vermont.
Using the statement without a qualifier gives it more authority than I intend. This statement declares a fact which may not be true – was born between 1805 and 1815. I have not located a birth record for Sally that provides me a specific date, nor does any of the evidence point to a particular year in a convincing manner. What I do have are a set of sources which provide a range of years in which her birth likely occurred. There are possibly additional records that I have not yet unearthed, and any one of them may provide evidence of a birth year outside the range given. Here’s my revised statement:
Sally “Susan” Fisher was likely born between 1805 and 1815 in the sleepy little town of Lyndon Vermont.
Likely, as used in the above statement, is known as a qualifier – a qualifier is a word that limits or enhances another word’s meaning. Qualifiers affect the certainty and specificity of a statement “Qualifiers–Grammar Rules and Examples,” Grammerly.com (https://www.grammarly.com/blog/qualifiers/ : accessed 1 May 2017), para. 1.
Using Qualifiers in Genealogy Writing
Elizabeth Shown Mills has identified six qualifiers that she offers as a set of parameters that can be applied in a logical hierarchy Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained, Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, Third Edition, (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2015), pp. 19-20.. While she refers to her hierarchical example as “Levels of Confidence,” as the title of this page asserts, I believe these can be described better as “Levels of Conviction. But I don’t see reason in my research to reinvent well-hewn wheels, and I am resisting the temptation of realigning probably and likely in Elizabeth’s list below, no matter what Anthony D’Angelo says – so I will keep my research attuned to her scheme:
Certainly: The author has no reasonable doubt about the assertion, based on sound research and good evidence.
Probably: The author feels the assertion is more likely than not, based on sound research and good evidence.
Likely: The author feels some evidence supports the assertion, but the assertion is far from proved.
Possibly: The author feels the odds weigh at least slightly in favor of the assertion.
Apparently: The author has formed an impression or presumption, typically based upon common experiences, but has not tested the matter.
Perhaps: The author suggests that an idea is plausible, although it remains to be tested.
This is part 2 of the Series: Vermont Vital Records Research. It is an in-depth look at the Vermont, Births and Christenings, 1765-1908 collection found at FamilySearch.org, with examples and tips for better searching, analyzing and recording this collection.
When you are finished with this article I hope that you will be able to do the following:
1. Understand the provenance of the Vermont, Births and Christenings, 1765-1908 collection.
2. Search the collection thoroughly and accurately.
3. Analyze what is contained in the collection, and be able to use the results to further your research.
4. Accurately and precisely cite the source and any record you may find of an event.
5. Understand the QUAY value for this source and determine the genealogical proof standard for a citation.
Even if your research doesn’t involve Vermont ancestors I believe you can learn from this article.
This is part 3 of the Series: Vermont Vital Records Research. It is an in-depth look at the Vermont, Births and Christenings, 1765-1908 collection found at FamilySearch.org, with examples and tips for better searching, analyzing and recording this collection. When you are finished with this article I hope that you will be able to do the following:
Understand the provenance of the Vermont, Births and Christenings, 1765-1908 collection.
Search the collection thoroughly and accurately.
Analyze what is contained in the collection, and be able to use the results to further your research.
Accuratelyand preciselycite the source and any record you may find of an event.
Understand the QUAY value for this source and determine the genealogical proof standard for a citation.
Even if your research doesn’t involve Vermont ancestors I believe you can learn from this article.
Name index to birth, baptism and christening records from the state of Vermont. Microfilm copies of these records are available at the Family History Library and FamilySearch Centers. Due to privacy laws, recent records may not be displayed. The year range represents most of the records. A few records may be earlier or later. https://familysearch.org/search/collection/1675544
This description given by FamilySearch is based in part on a standard description given for their Births and Christenings Vital Record Index Collections. It really doesn’t tell us much about the specific data found in the database. If you advance to their WIKI article on this database you can get a slightly better description:
The Coverage Table below this paragraph “Births and Christenings Vital Record Index Collections (FamilySearch Historical Records)” FamilySearch WIKI. Accessed January 7, 2016. … Continue reading shows the places and time periods of the original records in this collection. The table indicates how many records the collection has from each place. Most of the records in the collection are from the time periods listed in the table; however, the collection may have a few records from before or after the time period.
Births and Christenings Vital Record Index Collections Coverage Table
Births and Christenings, 1765-1908
Vermont Births and Christenings Vital Record Index Collections Coverage Table
Source analysis is an important step in the genealogical research process. It helps to inform you of where a source originated from, and what type of information you can glean from it. This information is not only important in placing a score on your record analysis but also in hinting at possible other avenues of research later. For a description on how to conduct a source analysis, please see: Genealogical Source Analysis.
The structure of the results show us that each record in the index may contain information for the event by providing: name, gender, birth date, birthplace, father’s name and mother’s name. Along with information about the birth or christening event we are provided with specific information about the source: Indexing Project (Batch) Number Individual indexing projects were given a unique number called a batch number. The batch numbers listed in this index are links. Clicking on the batch number will display an alphabetical list of all … Continue reading, system origin, GS film number The film number provides a reference to the microfilm indexed by the volunteers and you can find additional information in the Family Search catalog. and reference ID The Reference ID often provides the page and/or book/volume number for the record. .
WHEN was the source created?
There is no indication on when this database was created, but we do know that this is an index only, subject to human error, and as such, the exact date of creation has less impact then would be we were looking at digital images of original records. We also know, by the descriptions, that the original source of data came from a variety of locations, and requires the researcher to drill down to the GS Film number results to see what the original films were images of.
WHERE has that source been located since it’s creation and is it the original or a copy?
This database is an index of a copy of a variety of records microfilmed by FamilySearch. Without digging into the specific Film Numbers it is impossible to know specifically which records appear in this database. While the index was created by volunteers for the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City this organization is what we now know as FamilySearch, and this database is owned by them. It is conceivable then, that this database has always been located with this organization.
WHY or HOW is this source important to my research goal?
When I first saw the results from this database I didn’t see the importance of it. My complete lack of understanding of where this information originally came from perturbed me. But as I followed through in researching the provenance of the source I realized the value this database has. This database is a unique method of searching the Vermont, Town Clerk, Vital and Town Records, 1732-2005 collection at FamilySearch. The vast majority of the records indexed came from microfilm that has now been digitized by FamilySearch, but remains officially “unindexed.”
The WHY or HOW is always unique to an individual, but for me, that’s the importance I see in this source, it can assist me in speeding up my finding of appropriate ancestral records.
How to Search
Beneath this section is an image of the actual search screen you will see when searching this database at FamilySearch. They have broken this search down into four groupings:
Deceased Ancestor’s Name The first thing I noticed is I must search for a “Deceased” individual. So no living, or presumed living relatives would be in this database even if they had appeared in the original records. You are allowed to search by the first, last and/or gender of the person. You can search by wildcard in the name fields using an asterisk * which denotes any value of any length. You can use up to three of these at a time for more precise control. The gender option enables you to limit your matches to any, females, males or unknown. When using unknown it is only going to search through the records and provide results for births and baptisms with an unknown gender. The checkbox beside the name fields limits those fields to an exact match only.
Search with a life event: Because this database contains births and christenings the life event only allows you to search for births. Christenings are treated as alternate births in the collection. You can search by location (it does not have to be exact) and/or birth year range.
Search with a relationship: In order to group families together you can select the “Parents” option in this grouping and choose to search by only the parents name(s). You may use wildcards in these fields.
Restrict records by: You can restrict your search by Type, Batch Number, or Film Number. Restricting your search by type shouldn’t restrict anything, since the database is only one type, christenings and births.
FamilySearch generally considers christenings and baptisms as births.
Restricting your search by Batch Number Individual indexing projects were given a unique number called a batch number. enables you to search all records which were transcribed as a single batch.
Restricting your search by Film Number enables you to search all records which were transcribed from that film.
Additional Tips for Searching:
If you’re searching for a particular person, try using the exact method first for names. If that doesn’t work, perform a broader search and then refine that search directly from the results page.
You must fill in at least one field in the form or you will get the “What would you like to search for?” error message.
When using the parent field, try searching by the name of only one parent, to see if that parent may have married more then once, or had a child out of wedlock.
Use the “Restrict records by” field and input a microfilm number. This enables you to find all the results from a specific microfilm.
Anytime a checkbox appears in the form it enables you to search by “exact” methodology, matching your input exactly.
Example Searches: Pa*i* for in the Last Names field would search for most variations of Partridge that are used, including Patridge, Pattridge, Pardridge, Partigg, etc.It would also include names such as Paris, so if you wish to just see matches for Pattridge, it may be better to choose that option. Mc* in the surname field , and gender “male” would allow you to search for all boys named Mc something. Placing “Highgate” without the quotes in the Birthplace field AND selecting the checkbox to restrict to exact match, would allow you to browse all the births recorded in this database from the town of Highgate Vermont.
Understand the Data
This is probably a good place to state that this database is a “fluctuating” index of records, with no images present.
Sometimes we identify a set of entries for a locality and record type that form their own collection. When these are identified and pulled together into the new “complete” collection (usually with images), the entries are removed from the Vital Records Index collection. “Births and Christenings Vital Record Index Collections (FamilySearch Historical Records)” FamilySearch WIKI. Accessed January 7, 2016. … Continue reading
This is likely that most of the Vermont records to be found within this database will be removed. You should include such possibility in your record citation notes. Once you drill down to the microfilm numbers you will find that most of the microfilm has already been imaged and appears in the collection: Vermont, Town Clerk, Vital and Town Records, 1732-2005.
When you search for a person using the search form you are provided results which will give you all of the facts concerning the birth or christening event which can be found in this collection. But if you stop there, then you’re missing the real value of using this database.
Once you have found a record you wish to view more details about, click on the doc image for the record which looks similar to
. This takes you to the Person Details Page. After searching for a Joseph Martel I visit his details page and see the following:
The Person Details Page repeats some of the information shown in the search results and as a result most people fail to realize the importance of viewing the details page for this collection. On the right side of the details page you are provided two important facts concerning the provenance of the record, and clues to enable you to find the original. At this point copy or jot down the GS Film Number and the Reference ID. The GS Film Number is going to help you locate the origin of the film used to create this record, while the Reference ID will assist you in finding that record on the film.
In order to find the microfilm visit the Family Search Catalog and click on the “Film/Fiche Number” in the “Search For:” grouping. Look at the example in the gallery above if you have any questions of how to do this. Input the GS Film Number you copied from the Persons Detail Page. In my case the film number was 2155157. Once you input your film number click on the search button.
You should now get a results page showing only 1 result. Click on the one result title and it will take you to the details page for the collection in the Family Catalog. Your film is likely only part of a larger collection of films all originating from a single source. Each film may have been scanned at different times. The Catalog page provides extensive information about the source: Author, Format, Language, Publication, Physical format and References. This is information you should include in your citation for the original record (providing you find it), not specifically for this collection.
Beneath the information about the database are the Notes and Film Notes. The notes section will provide you important information that FamilySearch felt warranted to share concerning the overall collection. Don’t be tempted to click on the Vermont, Town Clerk, Vital and Town Records are available online, click here link just yet. That link will take you to main page of the collection where you will have to drill to your specific film. Instead, scroll down to the Film Notes section and find your film number in the list.
Pro Search Tip
The film should include a search icon
. This should help you narrow down your choices if you’re looking at a particularly long list like the one for Burlington Vermont.
I’ve attached several images in the gallery below to step you through this section.
When you find the right film number and you are so lucky as to see a camera icon
– click on it! This will now take you to the digital representation of the actual microfilm It is possible that your film was not imaged. If so, click on the reel icon and you may be able to rent a copy of the actual microfilm and have it shipped to your local FHC (Family History Center).. Now use the Reference ID to assist you in finding the correct record on the film. If I cannot narrow it down using the reference ID of some other method, I will have to scroll through 1803 images! That so reminds me of the old days using a microfilm reader with an non indexed census. My Reference ID for Joseph Martel is “item 1 cn 194,” I would think this refers to Item 1 Certificate 194. Many of the id’s, especially if the records were bound into book format, will provide you the book volume and page number. You will also find that the microfilm you are looking at is indexed at the front or back of the film if you cannot find it using the Reference ID. In my case, I find a digital image of the Joseph’s birth certificate on certificate 194 in Item 1, just as described in the Reference ID. I’ve included the image in the gallery above, but will leave off analyzing that source until my discussion on that specific collection.
Source analysis involves looking at the evidence found and analyzing it for further avenues of searching. This specific collection is ideal for this usage, as it serves primarily as an index and pointer to finding the original source document.
While citations may be confusing and troublesome they are also very necessary. If the records in your family tree lack citations to back them up, then they lack validity for anyone else who may read or see the information. A properly crafted citation is paramount in proper research technique, and while it may be slow at first, you will certainly gain speed as you become more familiar with the techniques.
To help you with crafting your citations, I have taken the citations as output by FamilySearch and transformed them into more complete and precise citations. When I craft citations I try to insert into the citation note field for the Source Citation any tips that can help me locate, analyze, and/or use the source. In a Record Citation I like like to insert into the citation note field information specific to that record which can assist me in establishing its provenance and reliability.
This is the citation as provided by FamilySearch at the bottom of the database page:
“Vermont, Births and Christenings, 1765-1908.” Database. FamilySearch. http://FamilySearch.org: accessed 2016. Index based upon data collected by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City.
The citation above is a good citation to start with but I think it should be adapted to:
“Vermont, Births and Christenings, 1765-1908 – FamilySearch.org.” FamilySearch. Accessed January 5, 2016. https://familysearch.org/search/collection/1675544. Index based upon data collected by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City. Transcribed index. This source fluctuates and the records cited may not remain. Insure that you check the date accessed in the individual citation records. To find the source of the specific record view the record page and record both the microfilm number and the Reference ID. Then search for the microfilm number within the Family Search catalog (https://familysearch.org/catalog/search) and view the film notes. The specific volume/book and page number is likely contained in the Reference ID.
As you can see in my source citation note above, I’ve added some additional information which will enable anyone (including myself) who views the source, to further search and find the actual image record if available. This also serves as a reminder for myself if I need to further review this record, or find another record in the same database.
The specific record citation I am going to use would be attached to facts and events in the life of one Gilbert Smith. This is the citation as provided by FamilySearch at the bottom of the record page:
This is a good start for a citation for the record, but it lacks proper credit to the original source which they microfilmed. I would expand the citation to read:
“Vermont, Births and Christenings, 1765-1908,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:F82X-QVM : accessed 6 January 2016), Gilbert Smith, 11 Sep 1905; citing Births, City of Barre, 1905, reference v. 4, p 208; FHL microfilm 2109765. Transcription of microfilm taken 4 April 1998 of original records in the City Hall, Barre, Vermont.
I think my record citation provides a better provenance of the original data then does the standard record citation created by FamilySearch.
Reliability of Source
The reliability of this source is displayed as a QUAY score below. A QUAY score is the method used by GEDCOM exchange to share the reliability of both sources, and their individual citations. The reliability of the source is also shown using the Genealogical Proof Standard.
Genealogical Proof Standard
Use the following information to help you properly craft your proof standard for this source.
Derivative: This source is an index of a transcription taken from microfilm.
Indeterminable: While we know the organization who created the index itself, we don’t know who originally furnished the information as the index transcribes microfilm from several different original sources.
To answer this you must determine whether the evidence you found – directly, indirectly or negatively answers your initial genealogical problem or question. For this purpose, the classification of “negatively” infers that while the evidence did not answer the question it was otherwise relevant to the question at hand. Because each genealogical problem is different this is a question only you can answer for your own research.
What is QUAY?
A QUAY value conveys a quantitative evaluation of the credibility of a piece of information, based upon its supporting evidence. Some genealogical systems use this feature to rank multiple conflicting opinions for display of most likely information first. How each genealogy program handles this information is left to the programs author. The GEDCOM standard however stipulates the following scoring:
0 = Unreliable evidence or estimated data 1 = Questionable reliability of evidence (interviews, census, oral genealogies, or potential for bias for example, an autobiography) 2 = Secondary evidence, data officially recorded sometime after event 3 = Direct and primary evidence used, or by dominance of the evidence
Research the Database
You have finished this lesson. Why not visit this free collection and try searching for your Vermont ancestors?
Individual indexing projects were given a unique number called a batch number. The batch numbers listed in this index are links. Clicking on the batch number will display an alphabetical list of all the index entries in that batch.
The first thing a researcher should do when encountering a database is to find out the provenance of the original source. Establishing provenance is a needed step in the Data Collection Standard as published by the BCG. For genealogists, we would want to identify the record of ownership of the documents referenced in the online collection, as well as ownership and creation of the database itself. While each individual database has it’s own provenance, the records they depict, also have their own history. To get a better overall understanding of the creation of vital records in Vermont throughout history, I have created the following abbreviated timeline.
This is part 2 of the Series: Vermont Vital Records Research. It contains an abbreviated timeline of laws affecting the compilation and storage of Vermont vital records.
How can you judge the accuracy of a record, if you don’t know where that record originated?
The first thing a researcher should do when encountering a database is to find out the provenance Provenance – A record of ownership of a work of art or an antique, used as a guide to authenticity or quality. of the original source. Establishing provenance is a needed step in the Data Collection Standard as published by the BCG (Board for Certification of Genealogists) Board for Certification of Genealogists. The BGC Genealogical Standards Manual. Millenium Edition, Ancestry Publishing, 2000.. For genealogists, we would want to identify the record of ownership of the documents referenced (and often imaged) in the online collection, as well as ownership and creation of the database itself.
While each individual database has it’s own provenance (and we’ll discuss those on each database page), the records they depict, also have their own history. To get a better overall understanding of the creation of vital records in Vermont throughout history, I have created the following abbreviated timeline.
Timeline of Laws Affecting the Compilation of Vermont Vital Records
1779 – Town clerks mandated to record all births, deaths and marriages recorded in their towns. These records were held at the local level.
1857 – In 1857 the towns were mandated by the state of Vermont Act No. 63 of 1856, Vermont Vital Registry System to compile lists of vital events (births, marriages and deaths) in their town starting with the year 1857. These lists would become known as returns. Annually these returns were to be sent to the Secretary of State and bound into books by year and town. The state would label these books as Series PRA – 242, Vermont births, deaths, marriages, and divorces, 1857-1968. Series consists of books of births, deaths, marriages, and divorces. Volume for 1866 is missing. The years 1903 – 1908 have two volumes per year. Books are alphabetical by county, Addison … Continue reading
1859 – The Secretary of State noticed significant inconsistencies in how the vital records were reported for 1857 and 1858 by each town and issued instructions concerning registrations in 1859. (Link to pdf file)
1886 – State Board of Health was created in Vermont.
1896 – In 1896 the state of Vermont passed an act Act No. 56 of 1898 requiring county clerks to submit records of divorces occurring within their county, including the number and cause, to the State Board of Health.
1898 – The returns of divorces, created by Act No. 56 in 1896, were added to the State Vital Registry. Act. 59 of 1898
1902 – In 1902 town clerks were required Act No. 114 of 1902 to begin submitting their returns bi-annually (March and September) to the State Board of Health. After the State Board of Health prepared and published the vital statistics tables required by the State they would then submit the returns to the Secretary of State Office for binding, indexing and preservation.
1904 – Town clerks were required Act No. 140: An Act Related to the Registration of Births, Marriages, Divorces, and Deaths to continue submitting bi-annually their vital returns, except the months of submission were changed to January and June. County clerks were required to submit their returns for divorces as well bi-annually. These returns would then be forwarded to the Secretary of State for binding, indexing and preservation.
1908 – In 1908 the law was changed to require Act No. 78 of 1908 monthly reporting. In 1908, the Secretary of State was required to create a card index for any records in the custody of the Secretary. Unfortunately, not all towns complied with the prior Acts, and the Secretary of State did not have a complete list, so this registry is considered incomplete.
1919 – Because of the incompleteness of the records supplied to the Secretary by the towns a new Act Act No. 92 of 1919 requiring the towns to record in full, records of births, marriages and deaths in the possession of the towns and churches. In addition, inscriptions of gravestones for all individuals who died prior to 1870 needed to be transcribed as well. The town select boards were responsible for paying transcribers five (5) cents per card and transmitting all cards to the Office of the Secretary of State by January 1, 1920. State registry History, https://www.sec.state.vt.us/archives-records/vital-records/state-registry-history.aspx
1921 – Act 92 of 1919 was reintroduced in 1921 Act No. 89 of 1921 and the State of Vermont put some teeth behind the act, threatening to procure the towns records at the towns expense if they did not comply with the Act.
1930‘s – Acts were created to handle citizens amendments to Vital records (corrections, additions, etc.).
1949 – The State Board of Health was reorganized into the Vermont Department of Health.
1980 – Subsequent to 1980 the vital records within the Office of the Secretary of State were physically removed and divided between the Vermont Department of Health and former Department of Public Records, which operated the State Records Center. Act No. 142 – An Act to Modernize and Improve Laws Relating to Vital Records.
2008 – The 1980 arrangement remained in place until July 1, 2008 when the now Division of Public Records merged with the Vermont State Archives to create the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration, which is a division of the Office of the Secretary of State.
There are several years in the timeline which provide important information concerning the records we will be using in our research. Vital records in Vermont were first required to be collected by town clerks starting in 1779. Unfortunately, you will find that not all clerks followed this requirement. So each town has its own specific starting date. Up until 1857, those records were compiled and held only by the respective town clerk. The most important date for genealogists are the acts of 1919 and 1921 where the State of Vermont required all Vermont towns to compile from the original records, churches and cemeteries, the vital records information. Notice in the timeline that compliance was a particularly difficult process to insure, as until 1921, there were no detriments for the town if they did not comply.
Series consists of books of births, deaths, marriages, and divorces. Volume for 1866 is missing. The years 1903 – 1908 have two volumes per year. Books are alphabetical by county, Addison – Windsor; towns are alphabetical under their respective counties.
Source analysis is an important step in the genealogical research process. While it’s often the first thing discussed by professional genealogists, it’s almost always the last thing amateur genealogists perform. It’s usually left for the time when a researcher, suffering from the effects of the “shaking leaf syndrome,” realize that they’ve attached all these people to their family tree, and all these events to those people, yet some of the facts and events of their ancestors lives simply don’t add up. And then they begin to doubt whether a person in their tree really is an ancestor. Don’t wait for that time… begin now, at the start of 2016, to first analyze a source before you use it.
Did you know you’re suppose to actually investigate a genealogical source before you use it?
An often overlooked tool by beginners in genealogy – is the investigation of a source they’re attaching to a record. We could blame it on the “shaking leaf syndrome” that Ancestry has introduced into the genealogical community, but that would be unfair. This issue has been around for centuries. But the new shaking leaf, along with the marketing behind it, facilitates sloppy genealogy, where researchers, generally interested in their family tree, are duped into thinking clicking on a shaking leaf is all there is to doing genealogical research. Before you click on the next “Yes” question posed by Ancestry, remind yourself this, have you actually researched the source you’re about to attach? I’m not talking about checking the veracity of the facts or events tied to the source… I’m not talking about insuring that you’re actually adding an event into your ancestors life that they took part in… those are both vitally important; but so isn’t spending a few minutes of time to research where a source originated from, and what type of information you can glean from it. This information is not only important in placing a score on your record analysis but also in hinting at possible other avenues of research later.
My analysis of sources is based loosely on the standards employed by professional genealogists:
In order to maximize our understanding of the substance and reliability of any record, we must first understand that record within the context of its source. Anderson, Robert Charles, FASG. Elements of Genealogical Analysis, p. 2. Boston, MA: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2014.
Charles Anderson reports in Elements of Genealogical Analysis that there are four basic questions we should address to any source Anderson, Robert Charles, FASG. Elements of Genealogical Analysis, p. 3-22. Boston, MA: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2014.:
Is it the original or a copy?
When was the source created?
Who created the source?
What formulae were used in creating the source?
For my own purpose, I have adopted his four basic questions, expanding one, changing the wording of one, adding a fifth, and hopefully structuring them to make them a little easier to remember:
Who created the source?
What template was used in creating the source?
When was the source created?
Where has that source been located since it’s creation and is it the original or a copy?
Why or how is this source important to my research goal?
In my investigations I answer each of these five questions for each of the sources I research, but the Why is really independent on each of our own goals, so I will simply reflect why or how that source is important in my research at that moment.
Who created the source?
When evaluating a source you need to know who created it. Identifying the creator of the source enables you to value the reliability and originality of the source. For instance, did the census taker follow the instructions for that census? If he did you may consider valuing the reliability of that source greater then you would for a census taker who did not appear to follow the instructions. The same may follow with a town or county clerk. A set of records for a community was likely created by different town clerks over time and each town clerk brings to the task of recording these records their own peculiarities, handwriting, record-keeping and general knowledge of the town happenings. You may find when reviewing the overall records that one town clerk paid better attention to accuracy in their reporting then others, and should consider that in your overall value of reliability for the source.
What template was used in creating the source?
Most genealogists are familiar with blank census forms. I find them invaluable when trying to determine the earlier census (1800-1840) columns when looking at surviving images of those census. In a lot of records we consult in our genealogical research, an actual template was used by the person recording the event, this especially holds true in Government records. Sometimes though, there were no physical templates but an accepted practice of ordering and/or writing out the event. Charles Anderson describes this as a formulae, Anderson, Robert Charles, FASG. Elements of Genealogical Analysis, p. 17-18. Boston, MA: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2014. but I’ll keep to the more familiar wording of template. French Canadian Church records are notorious for utilizing a method of recording events where a non French speaker can reasonably interpret the information found in the records (if you can read the handwriting).
When was the original source created?
It’s important that you determine when the original source was created. In valuing the worth of evidence in genealogical research, it is generally accepted that the further away from the original event that the record appears the less likely it is to be reliable. This won’t always hold true, but it’s yet one determination you should be using as you determine the reliability of the facts presented. Christine Rose in Genealogical Proof Standard states the following concerning this “distance in time”:
The weight of a derivative source may have more to do with the type of derivative. A microfilm or photocopy made in 2009 from the 1804 original deed is more credible than a poor handwritten transcription made in 1850 from that 1804 deed, even though the transcription was many years closer to the event. Rose, Christine. Genealogical Proof Standard, p. 6. San Jose California, C.R. Publications, 2014.
Where has that source been located since it’s creation and is it the original or a copy?
In order to determine the authenticity of a source you need to be able to show the provenance of it. We need to identify the record of ownership of the documents referenced (and often imaged) in the online collection, as well as ownership and creation of the database itself.
After determining when the original source was created, and it’s provenance, determine whether the record you are looking at is in fact the original, or is it a copy of the original? Most online genealogists are not going to handle or view the original documents of an ancestor, but we will often view a photographic image of the original document that somebody else made. Professional and amateur genealogists often handle the determination of this as a copy or an original differently. It is in fact a copy. But in value it sits directly beneath, only the original, and since you or anyone else are likely to never see the original, it as a copy, is probably the most reliable record you will find.
Why or how is this source important to my research goal?
My final step in source analysis is to determine why or how this source is needed to resolve the particular research goal I am trying to achieve. Some may find this an interesting choice when valuing the reliability of a record, but I’ve found as I research that I need to place some weight on my personal needs and my likely ability to find further evidence. While I recognize that genealogists are supposed to collect all information potentially relevant to the questions they investigate, sometimes, whether for financial reasons or reasons of time, this just isn’t possible.
If you’re interested in what professional genealogists have to say about a “reasonably exhaustive search” then Judy Kellar in two of her 10-Minute Methodology blog posts delves into this and does a thorough enough job, that I’ll just refer you to both of her posts. The first deals with what Is “Reasonably Exhaustive” while the second attempts to answer, how do you know you’ve reached what is considered reasonably exhaustive?
When I look at the source’s importance in helping me resolve my research goal, I am merely equating it to the overall number of records available in a reasonably exhaustive research for that record type. Irregardless of whether my “reasonably exhaustive” search is what you consider reasonably exhaustive, I will insure that you know exactly the searches I made, the records I found, and how I determined which source was likely more valid.
Source analysis is an important step in the genealogical research. While it’s often the first thing discussed by professional genealogists, it’s almost always the last thing amateur genealogists perform. It’s usually left for the time when a researcher, suffering from the effects of the “shaking leaf syndrome,” realize that they’ve attached all these people to their family tree, and all these events to those people, yet some of the facts and events of their ancestors lives simply don’t add up. And then they begin to doubt whether a person in their tree really is an ancestor. Don’t wait for that time… begin now, at the start of 2016, to first analyze a source before you use it.
Researchers of Vermont ancestors are fortunate to be able to access comprehensive vital records online for people who were born, married or died in the State of Vermont. I find these records invaluable in research of my own Vermont branches, and feel this would be a good data collection for me to provide examples and tips for better searching, analyzing and recording these types of sources. Even if your research doesn’t involve Vermont ancestors I believe you can learn from this series of posts on how to better organize, collect, record, analyze, and craft your genealogical research.
Researchers of Vermont ancestors are fortunate to be able to access comprehensive vital records online for people who were born, married or died in the State of Vermont. I find these records invaluable in research of my own Vermont branches, and feel this would be a good data collection for me to provide examples and tips for better searching, analyzing and recording these types of sources.
When you are finished with this series I hope that you will be able to do the following:
Understand what is contained in each of the databases consulted and the provenance of the data and/or images within it, as well as the provenance of the online database itself.
Search each database thoroughly and accurately.
Understand the data contained on the images (if included) and analyze them for further research possibilities.
Accuratelyand preciselycite each source.
Understand the QUAY value for each citation you are inputting.
Even if your research doesn’t involve Vermont ancestors I believe you can learn from this series of posts on how to better organize, collect, record, analyze, and craft your genealogical research.
In order to better understand the sources that we record we should also conduct some sort of preliminary research on the type of record we’re investigating, especially the laws surrounding legal events. This would normally be an earlier part of my genealogical research cycle when I locate the records needed to help support a fact, but since we’ll be jumping to the specific databases, I want to share the provenance of each source you’ll be searching through.
The first part of this series investigated the laws required of Vermont towns and counties in reporting these vital events over history. I can now use this information to better understand the individual provenance of each database and to better analyze the QUAY value for each specific source cited.
In conducting research for this post I looked at the Vermont Vital Record databases located online at three locations: Ancestry, FamilySearch, and NEHGS (New England Historical and Genealogical Society). I did this in order to understand the differences (if there were any) between the databases and images at all three locations, and to share with you my source analysis for each database found. Two of the websites where these records can be found at, are subscription based (Ancestry and NEHGS). Only one website has consolidated all of its data into a single database, and that is the NEHGS. On each database page I will also share with you methods of searching, collecting, analyzing, recording, citing and interpreting records found within each database. Each method will be found under it’s own heading on the page for quick reference.
I will provide a link below to each new post in this series as I add them. Please bookmark the page, or add your email to the newsletter on the right to be notified by email.