Notes on the Source – Statement Continuum

In The Master Genealogist, version 8 (TMG8), the user is forced to choose between using end notes or footnotes. The differences between the two are remarkable and have an enduring effect on the reader and researcher.

Elizabeth Shown Mills and others have written on the subject and I’d like to add to and paraphrase some of those writings here.

Footnotes are the recommended style in genealogy

A casual reader may not be interested in the source material and can safely continue reading past the end of the page with footnotes. A researcher, however, needs to have the footnotes on the same page.

Benefits and Problems with Footnotes

The major benefit of footnotes is that they are on the same page as the statements to which they relate.

The major drawback of footnotes is that they can be lengthy and contain information not directly relevant to the statement. The best way to handle this latter is to find a way to merge digressing information into the text and add a citation to it.

In TMG8 the problem is compounded by the use of “ibid.” The forced use of this archaic and often confusing Latin abbreviation can lead researchers to cite the wrong source in their own work. It can also cause readers to misunderstand or misread a critical source citation.

Benefits and Problems with Endnotes

The benefit of endnotes is for the casual reader who is not so much interested in the sources as she is in the content about those sources. This type of reader may become a casual researcher and look up a source statement, but is generally put off by having to flip through numerous other notes on the way to finding the one she wants. This effort can lead to problems in finding and thus correctly interpreting the information in the endnote.

TMG8 handles the ibid problem differently with endnotes. You can combine consecutive notes and have them all together as proper. The problem with TMG’s output of endnotes is that they are “uniqued” and not consecutively numbered in the text. Thus you get note 20 followed by note 8, and then note 34. This is meaningless to a skilled researcher and can throw them into a wasteful loop of figuring out which notes are which.

The final grain that tips the balance against using endnotes in TMG is that they are not connected to the text as is proper. They follow the text as additional paragraphs, so you can’t click on the note number in the text and jump to the text of the note later in the document. You need to flip so many pages to get where you are going and maybe lose your original starting point because of the non-continuity of the numbering mentioned above.

Review: The Best Genealogical Sources in Print by G. B. Roberts

Gary Boyd Roberts has updated his survey of some of the best genealogical source material published in book and database form. This volume, previously published under the same title in 2004, updates a number of chapters and adds more material to the mix.

The early chapters review progress made in publishing materials since the 1960s. The middle chapters cover introductions to various significant books and series of print and digital materials. The later chapters discuss some of Mr. Roberts’ own work, the Mowbray descendants. The scope of The Best Genealogical Sources in Print is not limited to New England. It covers the entire eastern seaboard, the launching pad, so to speak, of most North American families that have been recorded in significant source materials. Published and unpublished family histories and genealogies are discussed as well as primary source materials such as federal, state, and local resources. Online and Internet-based resources are also considered, as they are the direction most modern genealogical data publishers are taking.

While printed materials are considered secondary, or derivative, sources in modern terms, they are increasingly valuable as more writers and compilers improve their source statement practices. Among the significant materials discussed are those based on the Jacobus school’s practice. Donald Lines Jacobus, a 20th century genealogist, began a rigorous practice that has developed into standards for genealogists of his, and future generations, that improves the accuracy of the materials published. Mr. Roberts reviews many of the more comprehensive materials in this book.

The Best Genealogical Sources in Print is a resource for beginners and experienced genealogists along the lines of New Englanders in the 1600s, by Martin E. Hollick, and The Great Migration series by Robert Charles Anderson. Mr. Roberts covers source materials rather than people, but the concept is the same as we use both people and printed materials as sources.

By studying Mr. Roberts’ discussions, the materials themselves, and examining the level of detail those materials contain, you can judge for yourself whether the source you use is of the higher quality. While not all good or great sources are covered in The Best Genealogical Sources in Print, the sources you use should reflect the standards of quality discussed by Mr. Roberts. I’ve found a few potential resources here that I hadn’t considered over the past fifteen-odd years that might improve my own work.

Roberts, Gary Boyd, ed. The Best Genealogical Sources in Print. Boston, Mass.: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2012.


© 2012 N. P. Maling — Sea Genes – Family History & Genealogy Research

Tech Tuesday – Source-centricity

I’d like to illustrate how I handle part of the chain of research in The Master Genealogist. This post is inspired by DearMYRTLE’s post “Did You View it Personally,” and Louis Kessler’s 6 bad things list.

In a person-centric genealogy application you enter the cousin as a person, and then attach the source to them. In a source-centric genealogy application you enter the source, using the cousin as the repository of the source. You are still adding the cousin, but you are connecting them to the source, rather than adding them as a perhaps unattached person in your database. The cousin may not appear in your database but their source is available for attaching to people who are in the database.

One way you can use these unattached sources is in to-do lists. The sources are in the database, linked to persons you are researching, but not directly attached to them as a source. Doing it this way keeps you from mistakenly citing a source you haven’t used directly. When you have directly used the source, you can attach it directly to the people referred to in that source. The source is still backed up with the cousin as the source of your source.

Handling a source this way enables you to keep the two sources together, and see one each time you use the other. This, is what I meant by my question “Is a person’s oral history interview transcript that much different from a person as a source?” In TMG you make them both sources.

© 2011 N. P. Maling – Sea Genes Family History & Genealogy Research

Wordless Wednesday – Daniel Gorton family register page

Family register page by Daniel Gorton, born Charlton, Massachusetts, 4 April 1790. There are three other pages, two sheets front and back, in this document, which will not be posted.

Citation: Gorton Family Papers, 1790–. Privately held by N. P. Maling, [address for private use,] Seattle, Washington.

A Sample Research Project

This is an article I wrote several years ago, but never posted. I think it’s finished, so here goes.

Recently on a professional genealogy research site I came across a project that a potential client had posted. Although I’m not particularly interested in this project, I decided to work some on it to keep in practice. I think the lessons learned could be useful. In this article the names and other details have been changed to protect the parties involved.

The question posed by the client was to find the official marriage record of a couple who moved from one New England state to another and then to Canada. The client provided little to go on other than the names, birth dates, and birth places of the couple and that they moved often. There were no sibling or children names given, although there were a few facts about the husband’s parents who were believed to have arrived in the country on the Mayflower. Not enough to go on, really, but enough of a start, given few facts available from the client.

The first order of business was to fact-check the information given using standard reference materials for the times and places involved. This included checking my own databases for the areas and surnames of interest; then checking a few standard materials such as those found in libraries.

The Initial Research Plan

This research plan used locally available materials, off-line, primarily, and then with a few sanity checks from on-line databases. Off-line materials included a couple of library archives. On-line databases included the reference libraries available through and I chose to work off-line first to see whether the data provided by the client could be backed up by existing resources and whether I could find the marriage record in a reliable source first, before getting into other resources.

In developing a first-level research plan I used my listings of locally available resources to give first-level resources. These sources include vital records, genealogies, local histories, and newspaper records. The local histories I focused on were both town and county level resources, and not at the state level, due to the area being partly under New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont jurisdiction at the time. It can be confusing to some, working with record sets created by different groups in this kind of situation since it seems that people were actually living elsewhere when they weren’t.

A second-level research plan would come after exhausting the locally available records by developing clues from them toward materials available elsewhere, such as microfilm ordered through a local LDS Family History Center. This process involved using the Family History Library catalog available on-line to develop leads to records available through the LDS church and possibly through interlibrary loan or photocopy requests, as they may prove less time-consuming and quicker. As a professional genealogist, it behooves one to lessen the costs by this means.

Reviewing the Data and Writing the Report

After reviewing the data that I found initially, I began putting together a draft report on the findings, re-stating the initially known information, integrating it into my preliminary findings, and listing the specific resources that I used. The restatement is important so that the client knows how specific the research pattern was. Also, the statement leads into the list of resources used so all parties involved know whether there was any significant information in them. Not only do I list positive findings, but also negative results. The latter is just as important to both the genealogist and the client so future research is not done in materials already checked.

The second-level research plan is primarily for future reference should the first time given for research be exhausted before the desired result is found. It provides the researcher and the client with the possibility and/or chance of finding the desired records in the future. Should the client want the genealogist to continue the research, the information is already available. Should the client want to go further on their own, the information is also available to them.

Following Through with the Client

Once the research report was written, I would have posted the report to the client. The last report includes the recommendations for future research as developed in the second-level research plan as well as the restatement of the first goal of the project, the findings, and analysis of the data.

The client should have enough time to check the findings for satisfactory work and validity of findings before embarking on the second level, so give them that time. A couple of weeks later you should follow through with a query whether to continue the research for the client or let the client do their own research with the information you provided them.


I gave myself five hours initially to do the research project. I completed the first level research plan in that time. The time used included writing up the findings of two and one half hours of real research time on-site and on-line. The first review and the report writing took up the balance of the time with about one hour for developing the first research plan and the rest for writing the real report.

Did I find the official marriage record in five hours? No, but I did find enough clues to enable the client and I to continue the research into the second-level research plan with resources that I developed in the first round. I recommended to the client another five hours of research time to continue the project by ordering microfilm from the LDS Family History Library. The client decided to do that on her own with me as a backup if she was unable to continue for some reason.

The amount of material reviewed came to about ten pages of hand-written notes and five pages of report for the client. The materials accumulated will add to the body of knowledge for future research into the family as well as for other families in the area. It was a valuable lesson in New England genealogical research using both old-fashioned research as well as new web-based resources.