4. Learning and Practicing the Genealogical Proof Standard

Ken looks right.jpg

I've been struggling over a lecture I'm giving in Oshawa at the Ontario Genealogical Society annual Seminar next week. My topic, Essentials of Documentation for Genealogists addresses the second part of the Genealogical Proof Standard, "We collect and include in our compilation a complete, accurate citation to the source or sources of each item of information we use" ( BCG Standards Manual (Orem, UT: Ancestry, 2000) page 1)


In my earliest version of this lecture, delivered many years ago Prince Albert, Saskatchewan I told a story of a man who inherited from his Aunt Hilda several bankers boxes of her genealogy of the Bengart family. Being a keen genealogist himself, he eagerly opened the boxes. Several days later at the cremation of Aunt Hilda, someone commented they had seen this man stuffing files into the casket to be cremated. When asked to explain this odd behavior, the man responded, "What good were they? There were no source citations!" My audience was horrified. I had their attention.

Over the last 25 years I have seen the importance of citations grow in the minds of serious genealogists. However, the actual citations were oftn less than useful. We cite our sources to be accountable, and to give credit, thus making others accountable. Until the appearance of Elizabeth Shown Mill's book, Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1997) many genealogists floundered around looking for a comprehensive guide robust enough to help one cite original documents, published material, on-line resources etc. I expect a new edition out soon. If you teach genealogy. You need this book. If you do genealogy, you need this book.
Students need to learn many things beyond what I am going to say here about source citation but this will help start your thinking.

Present your student with models of good citations. Teach them the elements of the citation for each type of source whether on-line, original document,artifact, book or article. Show them how to put the elements together depending on whether the focus is on the place (descending order) or on the person (ascending order). give them some problems.

One problem set might include a census, another a court record and a third a church marriage record. For each list the elements and ask them to create from the elements a citation, then discuss their creations.

Another learning activity might be based examining specific document, then creating the citation. For example:

  • In the index to the 1870 census of Martha's Swamp, Iowa find the entry for Howard Bathgate. Go to that census on the microfilm at the County Library and find the entry. Create a source citation for this household.
  • Using the digitized census on Ancestry available in the Public Library, find the same entry as above and create a source citation for the household
  • Go the the Local History Room at the Public Library and find the book with the call number 978.243 CADB, turn to page 278 and locate the description of the original cemetery in Star City. Create a citation for this information.
  • At the Count Museum, use their photograph index to locate the picture of Civil War veterans in front of Halburton House, the hotel in Martha's Swamp in 1870. Create a source citation for the photograph.
  • At the County Courthouse in the display case in the Registrar's Office there is an original will on display- the first probated here in 1869. Create a source citation for it. you might wast to consult with the clerk on duty.

Create a list of 10 such problems and instruct students to do any seven of the ten. Discuss in classs, then share your version of the citation.

Can you suggest other ways to teach source citation?


One response to “4. Learning and Practicing the Genealogical Proof Standard

  1. Ken;

    You’ve been gone a few years now, but I still miss you, my friend. Stumbled upon your Web site, brought tears to my eyes. I’m so glad you were able to touch my life and the lives of all the other lucky genealogists who got the chance to know you. Our lives are better because of you.

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