Ruminations on Genealogy: Part 3


English: The stemma of the kings of Lazica acc...

English: The stemma of the kings of Lazica according to Toumanoff, Cyril. “How Many Kings Named Opsites?”, p. 82. A Tribute to John Insley Coddington on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the American Society of Genealogists. Association for the Promotion of Scholarship in Genealogy, 1980 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


A while ago, someone posted on Fb an infographic, part of which read ‘comparisons are cliché’. It should have read ‘comparisons are passé’. The writer, reader, and re-poster got it wrong as far as genealogy goes.


Comparisons are not passé as far as genealogy goes. We do comparisons as part of our basic research. We compare others’ recollections to known facts to prove or disprove what is the truth of a matter about our ancestors. The only thing that is passé about comparison in this way is that it becomes old hat after a while and we don’t bother thinking such things.


As far as writing clichés, that’s a different thing. There are only so many ways to write a birth, death, marriage sequence of sentences in a well-defined format. Indeed, all genealogists use clichéd formulas because they work. Most genealogy programs use hackneyed phrases (The Master Genealogist is an exception) to pass off their data and genealogists need to change them to something unique.


These hackneyed phrases, however, are usually the best way to portray compared data. Yes, they are passé but only in the sense that they work. The writer and reader have only to let their eyes see beyond these phrases to get to the real meaning and the underlying data. Doing this allows one to create a better proof statement and research report.


The writer is responsible for not making the reader’s eyes glaze over with too many redundant statements of the same form.






The word ‘genealogy’ is pronounced …

gee nee al o gy

that is, it is not pronounced

jen e al o gy

My understanding of Webster’s definition is that the E in genealogy is alike with that in ‘easy.’ I’ve heard some podcast speakers and others trying to make it sound like gen et ic, but it’s not; they are two separate words with two separate meanings.

Thanks, folks!



Sanity Checking with Multiple Genealogy Programs

There are some people, like me, who are not quite satisfied with just one program for genealogical purposes. I use several, and keep an eye out on the others for features that might suit me well.



LifeLines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

is one of the programs I use on a semi-regular basis. It is an old program (console window, anyone?) and has a long history of strong development by the maintainers. Thomas Wetmore originally wrote it back in the olden days of Unix and DOS, but it’s still around.

One of the things I like about Lifelines is it’s powerful scripting language. This language takes a bit of getting used to but once you know it, it seems intuitive. The program comes bundled with a lot of scripts, some better than others, and some near-duplicates of others. The verify script is one of the most powerful sanity-checkers on the market (did I mention that Lifelines is free?). Some of the things it reports on are age boundaries (birth, marriage, and death), multiple marriages, kids out of order, and so on. Several scripts check for people who might be in the Social Security Death Master Index. Another script called, weirdly enough, zombies, looks for people who don’t have death items (death, probate, burial, and so on).

I ran verify recently on a 5500+ person database and it came up with nearly 1600 items that it thought were interesting and that fell outside of user-programmable boundaries. It’s not for the faint-of-heart to look at this report as it can be a lot to digest. The nice thing about the report is that when I go through it, item by item, I can tighten up the quality of the data on a semi-regular basis, and gain a semi-regular consistency for the entire database. It might take years to finally go through the entire list and complete each item, but knowing about these items is the important thing.

Like verify, the zombies script reads through the database and plucks out those that have death items. This report is much simpler, and sortable so you can find the people by year, instead of in database order. The great thing about this report is that you find out who is in the database that is not marked as dead, dead, dead, as in dead. The script doesn’t consider the deceased flag, if there is one on the person, it makes you think about getting the details, and you’ll want to go out and get the details right away.

If you’ve added a lot of what I call “the moderns” you’ll want to run one of the SSDI check scripts and follow up on a visit to the Death Master Index on your favorite online site that has one. I used to use the one at, but removed it to their own site for some reason. Shucks, the Rootsweb version was better, IMHO.

Enough about the great Lifelines scripts. Multiple programs for genealogical data analysis are a must if you are serious about the pastime. Knowing what’s good data and bad is a good idea, as well as ethically correct. My other genealogy programs include an old version of Legacy, and a current version of The Master Genealogist.

TMG is the one I use on a regular basis as it is almost as powerful as Lifelines in the analysis and reporting facets. The only drawback to TMG’s reporting is that it’s not as flexible and programmable as Lifelines. Legacy, on the other hand, even though my copy is quite dated, is pretty good at picking out bad data, too. Even though I haven’t used Legacy for a while, like Lifelines, I keep it around as a variant finding tool.

Ruminations on Genealogy: Part Two

English: National Archives and Records Adminis...

NARA record

This is a continuation of the post referenced in the title “Ruminations on Genealogy,” that I put up a few weeks ago. Parts of the “essay” that I mentioned follow.

Genealogy is non-denominational; it is not a cultish thing. Genealogy is a global pastime for all who are interested in their ancestry, family history, and the works of their forebears. Genealogy goes beyond the simple ancestry charts, pedigree lists, and data tables. It encompasses history: itself, legal, medical, and family, to place individuals in their context of time and space.

Genealogy’s sources are diverse. Some of them include the items above: ancestry charts, pedigree lists, and so on. However, some such as those on the major data providers’ websites can only be classified as derivative. These data providers may, and often do, present images of the originals, but they also present images that have been manipulated. The changes made can only make one wonder what else the provider has changed.

Like all original sources, there is only one copy, and at most a few copies of that. The images often found on a providers’ website technically belong to them; the original, however, doesn’t. This is why you need to examine and cite to, the original and not the derivative on some website.

The best way to get an accurate, complete, and as close to possible, original, is to go to the archive where the best provenanced copies are kept. In the case of census records, this means going to a National Archives and Records Administration site and looking at their microfilm copies. Using a NARA-provided image is getting as close to the original as most people can, so it is the best available source. Use it, and cite to it, rather than a manipulated copy from or, or wherever.

To be continued.


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

Follow Friday: The Turning of Generations

In the midst of finalizing and indexing the Mellen genealogy, I try to keep abreast of geneablogging. This week I found a new (to me) blog, called The Turning of Generations. The current theme on this wonderful piece of work is the 21st Century Organized Family Historian (#21COFH).

What’s interesting about 21COFH is that all genealogists can learn from reading about it. I’ve been working on digital organizing since I had an 8086 KayPro, so had to use very restrictive (nowadays, anyway) file names and directory structures. Eeew!

There seems to be a growing number of other folks reading and practicing the exercises for this theme, so I hope to learn something and perhaps contribute something when I’m more free from other concerns.


© 2012 N. P. Maling

Citations – Madness or Sanity?

An Antebellum era (pre-civil war) family Bible...

Image via Wikipedia

Working with genealogical materials in a responsible way calls for citing them in a responsible way. Some folks cringe at the mere thought of citations while others obsess over them. Which way is better? Which way is worse?

The middle way, or the way I’ve chosen to do citations is to use the KISS principle. Keep It Simple, Simon. (Simon also happens to be the given name of the patriarch of one of my most often researched lines.)

Years ago when I started out, there were several different methods I knew of for citing sources, Chicago, Lackey, MLA, etc. Then comes E. S. Mills with Evidence Explained, in 1997. This is the simplest method, combining the other styles I just listed, with the more specialized source styles preferred for genealogy materials. Then, a few years later, comes the big Evidence Explained book. Whoa! I had already set up more than 1,000 sources in the earlier style and wasn’t keen on re-doing them all to the new style. Am I wrong to not “fix” them? No, not really.

The 1997 EE style is sufficient for the majority of materials and can be adapted to special cases based on styles for similar materials. Works for me. My cites are better than they were, and are easily adapted to other styles, such as a society’s “house” style, or moving to a different piece of software.

I keep the big EE book handy to check my existing source citation templates and use those styles for new, and different, materials not covered in the 1997 EE book. There really isn’t much difference, so they all meld together in a readable and usable format. It also keeps me from obsessing over fixing all thousand-plus sources, and it’s hardly madness to do it this way.

As an aside, you might ask: “Why do you have so many sources?” I’m not a lumper like some folks on The Master Genealogist mailing list call themselves. Nor am I a splitter. I am a realist. I keep each source separated as much as possible so that if the templates I use get separated from the source data for some reason, all is not lost. Here’s the way I see it:

Simple fact: if all the source data is in one place, the source entry can’t fall apart when I shift from one application to another. Say I’m using a census entry. What happens if the word “census” only appears in the template and not in the source data? The rest of the entry is ambiguous so If I see the data without the template, I’m left asking “1870 what?”

An analogy is the recommended practice of writing your source citation on the front of a photocopy. If the source entry is written on the back, it can get lost when someone else makes a copy of it, leaving them with just the data on the front.

Simple fact: if all the data appears in a citation, like it should, then I can just excise the bits I don’t need for the particular house style I’m using. Magazine cite styles are shorter than professional report cite styles. Many journals are focused on one place or region and the readers can very easily fill in the missing data from the context for themselves.

The flow of data, from complete entry to short-form citation in a report, is consistent. There is nothing unnecessary added and there is nothing unnecessary removed. I can also focus more on what I’m doing at the moment and not flipping around.

It’s easy to handle citations in this way. I’d rather not spend time hunting down a needed piece of data in one application when I’m trying to write a report in another application.

Oh, and an admission: some of my source entries, not very many, though, could be tighter, but since I don’t need them very often, I also follow the YAGNI principle: “You ain’t gonna need it.” So I haven’t fixed them. If it’s not broken ….


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

Picking a Professional Genealogist, Redux

The Association of Professional Genealogists is composed of members who choose to be called professional. Does that, in fact, make them “professionally designated”? No. That makes them self- designated professionals. The APG does not screen for anything other than paid membership and signature on a piece of paper.

The Board for Certification of Genealogists does not “professionally designate” it’s members. The people who go through the certification process choose to be professionals, or not; their own designation, not the Board’s. Many of the members of the BCG have chosen to test their skills against the Board’s requirements so they can demonstrate to others that they are qualified to do other highly specialized work, but, they are not practicing professionally as genealogists. That makes them self-designated non-professionals, doesn’t it?

The International Commission for the Accreditation of Genealogists does not “professionally designate” a member of their group. The members choose to be called professionals on their own. The members who practice professionally, again, are self-designated, like they are with the APG and BCG.

One of my favorite librarians is a member of these organizations. She is not a practicing professional genealogist. She got these postnomials to prove to herself and others that she knows the subject. Is she a non-”professionally designated genealogist”? She is one of the best I have ever met, but she doesn’t take clients. That’s her choice, not the APG’s, the BCG’s, or the ICAPGEN’s.

Taking the following quote and facts from the LDS church’s own standards:

 “Years of education, research experience, and satisfactory service to clients may be just as important as credentials.”


Professional genealogists include those who are experienced researchers having:

  • some unique research specialty
  • credentials that show advanced skills
  • years of education and professional development
  • access to facilities with many records

Where is it necessary to have a specific degree here? Nowhere. Where is it necessary to have a specific postnomial here? Nowhere. Where do “professionally designated” genealogists fit in this picture? It does not matter. Period. If you do the job well, the client is happy, and all parties involved are satisfied, great. That’s the point of doing business, satisfying the customer.

Put simply, the customer’s satisfaction is all that matters in business. Will you chose the appropriate genealogist to work with? A genealogist, self-designated as professional or not, who has years of experience and satisfactory service?

I am not a member of any of the groups mentioned, yet I adhere to the ethics and sound business practices advocated by the APG and BCG. They are worthwhile organizations to recognize and follow because they have strong ethical standards for all genealogists to adhere to.

Thank you for reading.

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