Saturday, July 7, 2018

AmericaGen Chapter 6: Reference Works

AmericaGen Study Group
Chapter 6 Homework 
Marceline Beem

Reference: Greenwood, Val D. “Reference Works.” In The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, 4th ed., 115-142. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 2017.

When I enrolled in the ProGen course, my main goal was to improve my genealogical writing skills. I already had good writing skills that got me through my Master’s in Public Health, but I wanted to learn to write about my family history in a more engaging style – an entirely different mindset from medical-related research and program planning! My favorite assignments in ProGen were the two that focused on writing polished pieces -  proof arguments and family sketches – and I feel like my writing skills improved greatly with those assignments.  Because of my personal focus on writing, the reference books I have most recently purchased relate to that skill more than methodology or other aspects of genealogy research.  Here are the books that I have at my desk, within easy reach because I use them so often, listed alphabetically by author's last name:

Casagrande, June. The Best Punctuation Book, Period. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2014.

Is the Oxford comma necessary, or can be it omitted? The answer is - it depends! No, seriously, it does! My own personal preference is to use the Oxford comma, but when I had to produce AP-style work at my transcription job, I was not allowed to use it. This little book is jam-packed with grammar and punctuation guidance for the four major styles of writing: book (including nonfiction), news, scientific, and academic. The book style is based on the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), so it is what I refer to most often for genealogy purposes, but it's nice to have the other styles since I often need them in my professional life.

Jones, Thomas W. Mastering Genealogical Documentation. Arlington, VA: National Genealogical Society, 2017.

This workbook demystifies documentation by stepping the reader through how to answer the who, what, when, and whereis questions when crafting citations for genealogy research. Although the book gives plenty of examples, Dr. Jones encourages the reader to craft his own citation style that is concise and contains all of the necessary elements in a logical order, rather than dogmatically adhering to any one style guide.

Mills, Elizabeth. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. 3rd ed. rev. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2017.

This book is the best reference for how to cite just about any type of document or object used in genealogy research. I used to grab this book every time I needed a new citation, but I'm trying to use what I've learned from Dr. Jones' book more often.  Sometimes I'm still stumped, though, and grab this book when I just can't figure out how to document what I'm working with. Even if you never use the reference models, though, every genealogist needs to read the first chapter on evidence analysis. I'm constantly referring to the evidence analysis process map, in both the research and writing phases of my workflow.

Rose, Christine. Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case. 4th ed. rev. San Jose, California: CR Publications, 2014.

This is a short book, but it is jam-packed with information on writing a solid answer to a research question. For our study group on this book, I created a chart that summarizes when and how to write a proof statement, proof summary, or proof argument. Since I can't keep the difference between the statement and summary straight in my pea-brain, I refer to it often when I'm writing conclusions.

In addition to the four books mentioned above, I have the following QuickSheets by Elizabeth Shown Mills at my desk. If I'm not sure how to cite something, I'll look at these before dragging out the heavier Evidence Explained:

  • Citing Ancestry Databases and Images, 2nd Edition
  • Citing Online Historical Resources Evidence Style
One other reference work which I use quite a bit, especially if I have a quick question about CMOS, is Purdue's Online Writing Lab, or OWL. It summarizes and provides examples for citations of books, journals, newspapers, and other materials that are used in academic writing, but that we also use in genealogy research. The website is free and open to anyone, not just Purdue students. This is a great resource if you don't have the funds or space for the hard copies of Evidence Explained or CMOS, or even if you do have them but are traveling and don't want to carry those tomes with you!

Of course, there are many other reference books and QuickSheets on my shelves in a wide range of topics from DNA to methodology to how to use specific software, but these four books are what I have found the most useful for me at this point of my journey.  As I get further back into time in my research, I plan to purchase Kip Sperry’s Reading Early American Handwriting, which I am sure will also wind up at my desk, but I’m not sure which book will get moved to the bookcase when I do buy it. I can almost guarantee that it won’t be one of these books, though!

Monday, June 25, 2018

AmericaGen Chapter 5: GRC Records

AmericaGen Study Group

Chapter 5 Homework 
Marceline Beem

Reference: Greenwood, Val D. “Libraries and the National Archives (NARA).” In The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, 4th ed., 99-114. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 2017.

Chapter 5 focuses on research in libraries and the National Archives. The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Library in Washington, D.C. is one of my favorite places to research, and I try to go there any time I am in the area. (Word of warning: if you plan a summer visit, make sure it’s not during Continental Congress – you won’t get in if you are not a DAR member. I may or may not have learned this the hard way!) 

One of the unique sources at the library is the volumes of the Genealogical Records Committee (GRC) books. The DAR provides background for this at its website:

Beginning in the 1910s, the DAR made a concerted effort to have members transcribe previously unpublished records of genealogical value to assist both the staff genealogists, potential members and the public. In 1913, the DAR established the Genealogical Research Committee (subsequently renamed the Genealogical Records Committee) to coordinate this nation-wide attempt to save historical records. The result has been nearly 17,000 typescripts of records from across the country. 

Although these records are considered secondary sources because they are transcriptions, they are still valuable and should not be overlooked. One of the mysteries my cousin and I solved through the GRC books was confirming the identity of William M. Dennett’s parents.  We had plenty of records for William after his marriage to Elvira Nickerson in Massachusetts in 1844, but documenting his early life, including his parents' identities, was challenging because there were several men named William Dennett born in Maine in the 1815-1820 timeframe.  None of the records we had indicated his parents, siblings, or even the town he was born in, so it was difficult to eliminate one or more of the men in question.

William Dennett is enumerated in the 1850 census in Royalton, Vermont, with his wife, Elvira and baby daughter, Ella. The family was there for only a few years before moving on to Ohio and then Wisconsin.  On the next page is a William and Martha Dennett, who were the right age to be William M.’s parents, but we could find no records to document the relationship. The elder Dennetts had no children at home in 1850, so we didn’t have names of siblings to research.

William & Evira Dennett household, 1850 U.S. Census, Royalton, Windsor, Vermont, page 95B

William & Martha Dennett household, 1850 U.S. Census, Royalton, Windsor, Vermont, page 96A

One day when we were researching at the DAR library, my cousin found William Dennett’s Bible record in one of the GRC volumes. We were amazed to find it listed his parents as William Dennett and Martha Doughty – the same William and Martha in South Royalton in the 1850 census. Not only that, but the record showed other children for William and Elvira. These children had been born and died young, in between census records, so we did not know of them until finding this document in the GRC.

When I first started visiting the DAR library, the books were available on the shelves, but the library had just started digitizing the pages. Now that all of the books have been digitized, images can be viewed in the technology room.  If you can’t make a visit to the library, though, you can still access the GRC books through a combination of online search and mail order. I’ll show you how to do this, using William Dennett as an example.

The first step is to search the GRC index, which can  be accessed at

The search form requires a surname. Optional fields include the state and first name. Here I'll search with both the first and last name, but leave the state and other fields blank:

GRC Search Form

The results page shows 29 results. If I click on the page number, I can view a list of others listed on the page, which is helpful in determining if I want to view or order the document.

GRC Search Results for William Dennett

Looking at the list of names for this entry, I notice that this document names a William M. Dennett, another William Dennett, and a Martha Douty.  This record looks promising, and is one I would order if I were actually conducting this research for the first time. 

List of names from page 47 of Illinois GRC series 1, volume 94
      One other tip for searching the GRC index - Don’t discount a record in the index just because it was submitted by a chapter in a state where your person of interest did not live.  Bibles and other family documents moved with descendants, and would have been transcribed and submitted by the local chapters where those family members lived.

To order a record, make note of the state, series number, volume, page number, and name in the index. Go to the Library's Search Service page, print and fill out the request form, and mail the form and a check to the address provided. The current cost is $10 for member and $15 for nonmembers.