Skillbuilding, NGS 2016: Koford’s Brick-Wall Sledgehammer

SpringBoard, an official blogger for the 2016 National Genealogical Society (NGS) Family History Conference, is pleased to offer a review of this BCG Skillbuilding lecture, presented 7 May 2016.

S451, Rebecca Whitman Koford, CG, “How I Built My Own Brick Wall and the Sledgehammer of Experience”

Reviewed by Angela McGhie, CG

Rebecca Koford’s fun presentation entertained and educated, a challenge for the late Saturday afternoon session. Her positive approach suggested ways that attendees could expand their knowledge and overcome brick walls.

Rebecca Koford, CG
Photo Courtesy Scott Stewart Photography

Rebecca shared fourteen points that keep us from solving difficult problems. She illustrated each with a story and a suggestion how to overcome the issue. As an example, researching only on the internet is point number seven. Rebecca used the comparison of a microwave and a stove. The microwave is fast and efficient, but it is not for cooking everything. Sometimes we need an oven or a stove to properly cook the food we want to eat. We do not want our family tree to be the equivalent of a TV microwave dinner when we could have a Thanksgiving feast!

When discussing the Genealogical Proof Standard, Rebecca observed that the acronym GPS could also stand for “Genealogical Problem Solver.” Those who consistently follow the five steps of the GPS are more successful in solving tough genealogical questions.

Rebecca ended her session by suggesting that we use writing as a method for solving our brick walls. She wants us to write about our research like we have been telling others about it orally. We can write it out just as if we were explaining it to another genealogist. Many times by putting our work on paper we see it differently or see the holes and can solve our own problem.

Rebecca’s personable style, fun sense of humor, and illustrative stories made this presentation an enjoyable end to an enjoyable conference.

 

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The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.

Skillbuilding, NGS 2016: Mathews on Evidence Evaluation

SpringBoard, an official blogger for the 2016 National Genealogical Society (NGS) Family History Conference, is pleased to offer a review of this BCG Skillbuilding lecture, presented 5 May 2016.

T201, Barbara Jean Mathews, CG, “Evidence: Let’s Get All Sherlock”

Reviewed by Angela McGhie, CG

Barbara Mathews began her presentation by posing the question, “How do we know if we have proof?” When working with research questions and records in genealogy, we can’t hold the proof in our hands or photograph it, so how do we know if we are coming to the right conclusions? She then shared a simple example. Barbara had a death record, and she searched for other records that may be in agreement with it to provide support for her hypothesis. One by one she discussed the documents she found, describing each one’s characteristics and evaluating their reliability. It seemed natural to look at the details of each record.

Barbara Mathews, CG
Photo courtesy of Scott Stewart Photography

From this introduction Barbara made a comfortable transition to the terminology for evaluating evidence. She described and gave examples of the different types of sources (original, derivative and authored narratives). She continued with examples of information (primary, secondary and indeterminable) located in the records, and then finished with the types of evidence (direct, indirect and negative). Barbara related each of these concepts to the actual records and research question in her example, so the terminology was understandable and not intimidating at all.

To further illustrate the concepts and terminology, Barbara shared a second example, this one about Charles and Anna Anderson. She thought the marriage records of Anna’s children might help find Anna’s maiden name. However the six marriage records provided three different maiden names, confusing the situation. Barbara created this chart showing the information from the marriage records and two records created at the time of Anna’s death. This conflicting information actually helped her locate the correct information. Through thorough research and understanding Scandinavian naming patterns, she was able to explain the differences in the maiden names and show that there was truth in each record.

Barbara’s chart showing information suggesting Anna’s maiden name

Barbara’s two examples teach effectively how to evaluate records for reliability. She successfully demonstrated how to analyze each record, and she made the evidence evaluation terminology seem logical. To hear the details of the Barbara’s examples about coming to the right conclusions you can order the recording from PlaybackNow.

 

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The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.

Skillbuilding, NGS 2016: Giroux on Evidence Summaries

SpringBoard, an official blogger for the 2016 National Genealogical Society (NGS) Family History Conference, is pleased to offer a review of this BCG Skillbuilding lecture, presented 7 May 2016.

S441, Amy Larner Giroux, CG, “Does the Data Fit? Using Evidence Summaries to Assist Your Analysis”

Reviewed by Melissa Johnson, CG

Amy Larner Giroux began her lecture by introducing the concept of a focused research question. She then discussed four genealogical terms—sources, information, evidence, and proof. This key information set the groundwork for the evidence summaries she discussed throughout the lecture.

Amy Larner Giroux, PhD, CG, CGL
Photo courtesy of Judy Fox

Amy offered insight into how she looks at the information she’s already discovered, figures out how the pieces fit (or don’t fit) together, and determines what the next steps should be in terms of research and analysis. She focused on several key tools—timelines, mind maps, spreadsheets, and organized Word documents—and how they help her visualize information and evidence in complex cases.

Using several examples, Amy demonstrated how she uses these tools to connect pieces of information, identify relationships, and figure out which puzzle pieces are missing. She engaged the audience with the humorous tale of the “alleged marked attention paid by Dr. Mangold to Mrs. Brambach,” and walked us through the evidence summaries that helped her arrive at her conclusion and form her narrative.

This lecture offered new ideas on how genealogists can look at the information they’ve already discovered, especially in cases that rely on indirect evidence and aren’t easy to piece together.

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The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.

Skillbuilding, NGS 2016: Dunn on Convincing Proof Arguments

SpringBoard, an official blogger for the 2016 National Genealogical Society (NGS) Family History Conference, is pleased to offer a review of this BCG Skillbuilding lecture, presented 7 May 2016.

S421, Victor S. Dunn, CG, “I Rest My Case: Constructing a Convincing Proof Argument”

Reviewed by Melissa Johnson, CG

It shouldn’t be a surprise to hear that Vic Dunn’s lecture on proof arguments began with an overview of the five elements of the Genealogical Proof Standard. Understandably, he placed particular emphasis on the fifth element, a “soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.” He stated firmly, “it must be in writing.”

Victor S. Dunn, CG
Courtesy of Scott Stewart Photography

Dunn walked the audience through the various types of proof discussions—proof statements, proof summaries, and proof arguments—and showed us examples of each from his own writing. He emphasized that proof discussions can be written for various reasons—as part of a larger work, for our own research files, as a client report, or for publication.

Dunn tackled a difficult task, instructing the audience how to construct and write proof arguments, the most complex of proof discussions. He emphasized to writers that proof arguments aren’t necessarily going to be constructed in the order that the research was done. He also pointed out one of the benefits of writing proof arguments: we often find holes in our logic and learn that we have more research to do.

Proof arguments are separated into several sections—the introduction, the body of the argument, and the conclusion—and Dunn offered a framework for how to approach each one. The beginning introduces the research subject, provides basic information about the person, and states any challenges or complexities involved in the research. The main body of the work lays out the argument, analyzes and correlates evidence, and resolves any conflicts. This section can include text, charts, timelines, maps and tables to communicate key information to the reader. The summary provides an overview of the main points, and sometimes explains the methodology used to solve the problem.

This informative lecture ended with several tips for effective genealogical writing: use the active voice, eliminate excess wording, use topic sentences, organize with headings and subheadings, discuss documents in the present tense, and proofread your work. For genealogists learning to write proof arguments, he recommends reading articles from the top five scholarly genealogical journals: National Genealogical Society Quarterly, The American Genealogist, The Genealogist, the New England Historic Genealogical Register, and the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record.

Anyone looking to increase their understanding of genealogical proof and sharpen their writing skills would benefit from hearing Dunn’s lecture.

 

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The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.

Skillbuilding, NGS 2016: Hait on the Logic of Source Citation

SpringBoard, an official blogger for the 2016 National Genealogical Society (NGS) Family History Conference, is pleased to offer a review of this BCG Skillbuilding lecture, presented 7 May 2016.

S411, Michael Hait, “Citing Your Writing:  Models for Documenting Your Genealogy”

Reviewed by Darrell Jackson, CG

Although he stated that there is more than one way to do citations and that citations do not have to be perfect, the main point of Michael Hait’s lecture was that if we think of the way we learned in school to cite books, we will have a simple (or at least simpler) model for citing sources in genealogical writing.

Michael Hait, CG
Courtesy of Scott Stewart Photography

After briefly noting the way to cite sources in a bibliography, Hait explained what he called “the logic of citation” as it applies to footnotes and endnotes.

The book citation model consists of four elements:
1. Author or creator of the book
2. Title of the book
3. Publisher, place, and date of publication
4. Location of the information, usually a page number

Application of this model to a typical genealogical citation, that is, of a document or record of some kind, requires two major modifications. First, most documents are unpublished, so item three may not be relevant. Second, because the document is not published and therefore not readily available in libraries in many locations, it is necessary to include access information in the citation. Access information usually cites an archive or public office (for example, a recorder of deeds).

Another guide for the construction of a citation is to think of a citation as a sentence and to follow the rules for capitalization and punctuation that apply to sentences. This is particularly true of the use of the semi-colon. It is used, as in a sentence, to separate parts of the citation.

Using the citation and model and sentence construction guidelines, Hait went through several examples of how to construct citations. The examples included citations of vital certificates, patent record books, census records, and items in a manuscript file such as a deposition in a court case.

The most complicated citations are those pertaining to a digital image accessed in an online database. These should include the URL and what the online database itself is citing. As illustrated by Hait, such citations involve repetition of some information.

The lecture gave a good understanding of the logic of citation. It was perhaps an overstatement to say that application of this logic is simple.

 

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A recording of this lecture may be previewed and ordered from PlaybackNow.

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.

Congratulations, Mary O’Brien Vidlak, CG!

Congratulations to Mary O’Brien Vidlak, CG, of Williamsburg, Virginia! A native of New York, Mary serves as Governor-at-Large and Corresponding Secretary of the Virginia Genealogical Society and is a past chairperson of the program committee for the Genealogical Research Institute of Virginia. She is the news coordinator for ProGen Study Group 15. Mary’s certification reflects a longtime interest in genealogy and history. She shares her journey with us:

Mary O’Brien Vidlak, CG

I was born in Queens, New York, and spent most of my life in Westchester County, a suburb north of the city. The suburbs never felt like home to me; there is a lack of history and roots because everything is new and always changing. Ten years ago my husband and I moved to Williamsburg, Virginia, because we love American history and feel a sense of home in this historic area. I had been working in human resources and planned to continue to do that in Virginia. However the position I wanted didn’t work out, and while I continued to look for a job in my field I took advantage of my time off to explore the areas of Virginia that had been the homes of generations of my maternal ancestors. This literally changed my life. I had always been curious about my ancestors and asked questions, but no one in my family—on either side—really had a strong interest or much specific knowledge. As is the case for most of us, the more I discovered the more I wanted to know.

I quickly realized there was a great deal of information that had no indication of the source. Based on past educational and work experience I knew I wanted to find professional organizations that could teach me how to figure this all out. I joined the National Genealogical Society (NGS) and started with their census course before moving on to the graded version of American Genealogy. In addition to the course material, I read all the recommended material. One of the graders suggested I consider certification, which led to my decision to participate in a ProGen Study Group to increase my knowledge and skill level. I also attended every local, state and national conference I could. My first national conference—NGS in Charleston—was amazing. I recognized how much there was to learn and how frequently incredibly knowledgeable individuals were board-certified genealogists.

Somewhere along the way I created my “strategic plan” and added institutes to my education. I began to pursue genealogy relatively late in life and found the courses themselves and the environment around them an excellent way to ensure I was learning the best practices of the discipline. I was fortunate to be in the final course Barbara Vines Little coordinated at the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR): Virginia Land and Military Conflicts; also, oddly enough, to be in the final Advanced Methodology and Evidence Analysis course that Elizabeth Shown Mills coordinated at IGHR. I have attended the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) every year but one since its inception, where among other courses I was enrolled in Determining Kinship Reliably with the GPS and Advanced Research Methods, both coordinated by Tom Jones. I also attended the National Institute on Genealogical Research (NIGR) where I found material I used in my portfolio. I got to Salt Lake City for the first time when I attended the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) in January 2016—after submitting my portfolio. My education will continue this summer when I am back at GRIP!

In many ways my past work and educational experiences have contributed to my success. I was an English Education major at Fairfield University; I ran a small business when my children were young; I worked in human resources at a Fortune 500 company and did a lot of writing and speaking as well as analyzing and correlating information. I enjoy learning new things—and in genealogy I am always learning new things. I also like the challenge of taking research and writing it up in an organized, logical and persuasive way. And genealogy affirms the core belief of my life: every individual is unique, important and valuable, and every life has a story.

One extremely valuable tool I used in educating myself was to purchase CDs from conferences and listen repeatedly to the lectures given by many experts. At times I feel as though I must know them since they spend a huge amount of time driving around with me! As I was working on my portfolio I listened many times to two lectures given at different conferences about preparing your portfolio. Each time I listened I heard something different that helped me with my work.

In addition to the greats of our profession, I have been inspired by people whom I met as classmates, in particular Jean Andrews, CG, and Nancy A. Peters, CG, who sent me encouraging emails and reminded me how much I wanted certification and how great it would feel when I got an email from the BCG Executive Director telling me my portfolio had been approved. I also have to thank Barbara Vines Little whom I ran into at the Library of Virginia one day when she told me to “just send it in!” Outside of genealogy, my husband Michael provided endless encouragement, and my father—who knows almost nothing about his family—fostered my interest in history, which led to my passion for genealogy.

Two suggestions I have for potential applicants—don’t make certification a new year’s resolution so that your deadline is December 31st unless you want to spend your holidays working on your portfolio, and remember that “done is better than perfect!”

Mary is a full time genealogist. She plans to expand her client work and continue to lecture.  She also intends to write and publish her own family research. Mary can be reached at movidlak@cox.net

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.

Skillbuilding, NGS 2016: Morehead on Finding an Ancestor’s Hometown

SpringBoard, an official blogger for the 2016 National Genealogical Society (NGS) Family History Conference, is pleased to offer a review of this BCG Skillbuilding lecture, presented 7 May 2016.

S401, Shellee A. Morehead, PhD, CG, “Clusters and Chains for Genealogical Success”

Reviewed by Jean Atkinson Andrews, CG

Shellee lectured on using extended family groups and migration patterns to identify family relationships. She provided information that applies to every ethnicity, location, and time period. Explaining cluster genealogy as the tracking of whole families, Shellee presented a broad list of potential relationships and urged the audience to expand rather than limit their scope. Beyond family and extended family, she suggested considering shopkeepers, midwives, and people from the same town or parish. People who associated together prior to immigration would often be found in similar relationships in the new country or location.

Shellee Morehead, PhD, CG
Photo Courtesy of Jean Andrews, CG

“Birds of passage” are people who came to the United States then later returned to their homeland one or more times to bring others to America. Young men, often unmarried, were frequently the initial pioneers. Other family members followed. Constructing timelines helps identify these people; tracking their movements can show chains of subsequent migration and prevent errors of identity.

Shellee’s case study example used Italian immigrant Michele Lautieri, believed born about 1882 in a town whose records ended in 1865. His parents were unknown. Shellee analyzed passenger and census list details and triaged multiple passenger lists to reveal patterns of movement based on Michele’s relationships. Studying movements, associations, and knowing related family such as siblings is necessary to separate families of similar names. Naming patterns and the custom of reusing names when older children die young are significant and can provide hints to hometowns and family groups.

Although Shellee’s case study example used an Italian immigrant, the methods she demonstrated apply to any time and place where migration took place.

 

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A recording of this lecture may be previewed and ordered from PlaybackNow.

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.

Skillbuilding, NGS 2016: Evans on Negative and Indirect Evidence

SpringBoard, an official blogger for the 2016 National Genealogical Society (NGS) Family History Conference, is pleased to offer a review of this BCG Skillbuilding lecture, presented 6 May 2016.

F351, Stefani Evans, CG, “Doughnut Holes and Family Skeletons: Meeting the GPS through Negative and Indirect Evidence”

Reviewed by Nancy A. Peters, CG

At the start of her lecture, Stefani asked tongue-in-cheek, “Who doesn’t love a corrupt governor?” She went on to describe how the Matteson family story has all the elements of an antebellum soap opera—westward migration, political corruption, fraud, bribery, witness tampering, and the villain fleeing the country.

Stefani Evans, CG
Photo courtesy of Adrianna Ko

On the serious side, Stefani faced one of the more troublesome, yet common, genealogical problems—no direct evidence connects an early nineteenth-century female to her birth family. Nancy Matteson was not named in her putative father’s will or estate file. Was she or wasn’t she his daughter? Confronted with records created in two states, family skeletons, and doughnut holes in the evidence, Stefani explained how she relied on the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) to solve the puzzle of Nancy’s parentage.

An essential element in the solution was the “hypothesis-based problem solving approach” used to identify the problem, develop positive and negative hypotheses, and test them using the GPS. At first, the evidence seemed inconclusive. However, deeper analysis of the negative and indirect evidence taken from a Bible, obituaries, gravestones, newspapers, and land transactions; an understanding of cultural context; and rigorous application of the GPS yielded a reliable conclusion.

Any family historian who faces negative and indirect evidence could benefit from hearing about Stefani’s approach to solving the Matteson family mystery.

 

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A recording of this lecture may be previewed and ordered from PlaybackNow.

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.

Skillbuilding, NGS 2016: J. Miller on Reasonably Exhaustive Research, a Case Study

SpringBoard, an official blogger for the 2016 National Genealogical Society (NGS) Family History Conference, is pleased to offer a review of this BCG Skillbuilding lecture, presented 6 May 2016.

F341, Julie Miller, CG, FNGS, “Eddie Wenck:  The Case of a Little Lost Boy”

Reviewed by Karen Stanbary, CG

Little Eddie Wenck died of “congestion of the brain” before he reached his third birthday. Julie Miller, in her quest to fully document the life events of her grandfather’s siblings, uncovered Eddie’s death register entry and church burial record, both naming “Four Mile Cemetery” as the place of interment. Yet, there is no “Four Mile Cemetery” in the community where Eddie and his family lived. There is no mention of said cemetery in the county histories. The closest Four Mile Cemetery was a twelve-mile journey from the Wenck home.

Julie Miller, CG, FNGS
Courtesy of Karen Stanbary

Eddie called to Julie to uncover the truth. She methodically studied city directories, church directories, county histories, diocesan histories, land records, maps, and newspapers. She identified early roads and even the location of a tavern where Irish mourners might gather after a burial. She analyzed assigned priests and each man’s handwriting in the church registers for both the Irish and the German Catholic churches in Eddie’s community. When the microfilm images did not seem quite right, she sought the original volumes. When denied access, she politely persisted, climbing the hierarchy within the church to gain access. She studied the provenance of the records.

It was as if Eddie accompanied her in this journey, compelling her to not give up until she could fully document his short life. In the process Julie (and Eddie) discovered and corrected significant errors in the burials of Newport, Kentucky, including naming many who lie in unmarked graves, now long forgotten.

This lecture is a fantastic example of source appraisal and analysis, an essential component of reasonably exhaustive research.

 

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A recording of this lecture may be previewed and ordered from PlaybackNow.

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.

Skillbuilding, NGS 2016: Jones on DNA and Brick Walls

SpringBoard, an official blogger for the 2016 National Genealogical Society (NGS) Family History Conference, is pleased to offer a review of this BCG Skillbuilding lecture, presented 6 May 2016.

F321, Thomas W. Jones, PhD, CG, CGL, FASG, FNGS, FUGA, “Systematically Using Autosomal DNA Test Results to Help Break Through Genealogical Brick Walls”

Reviewed by Melinda Daffin Henningfield, CG

Dr. Thomas W. Jones suggests autosomal DNA (atDNA) as another puzzle piece in helping family historians identify their ancestors. DNA should be employed along with traditional genealogical methods. He emphasizes that using DNA does not relieve the genealogist from adhering to the Genealogical Proof Standard.[1]

Thomas W. Jones, PhD, CG, CGL, FASG, FNGS, FUGA
Courtesy of Scott Stewart Photography

Most genealogists are not geneticists and may be baffled at how to begin using atDNA in their research. Utilizing a case study, Jones provides a framework to assist in employing this tool.[2] He steps through traditional research that brought him to specific and unanswered questions of identity. These were recognized as questions that might be answered using DNA. He discusses challenges in using DNA as a tool and outlines specific steps that can be followed to use it effectively.

Identifying ancestors for whom few traditional records exist is a constant challenge for family historians. Genealogists can now employ atDNA as an additional tool for identifying ancestors, but the large number of results makes it confusing to many. Jones gives a blueprint which clarifies how to begin this process. This lecture will assist beginning-to-advanced genealogists wanting to use this tool. The use of atDNA, accompanied by skillful use of traditional genealogical methods, can help family historians identify those elusive ancestors and break down those brick walls.

 


[1] Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards (Nashville, Tenn.: Ancestry.com, imprint of Turner Publishing, 2014), 1–3.
[2] Thomas W. Jones, “Too Few Sources to Solve a Family Mystery? Some Greenfields in Central and Western New York,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 103 (June 2015): 85–103.

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A recording of this lecture may be previewed and ordered from PlaybackNow.

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.