The Character of Genealogical Data

I’m starting another project, this time a Slattery one-name study site, and further refining the data model I used on my Farmington Michigan site. On that site I have tens of thousands of individuals recorded, with anywhere from a single reference to dozens of events associated with any particular individual. On average, there are currently about 3-1/2 events recorded in the database per person. That figure will of course increase as I add more information — so far I have every federal census 1830-1940, a city directory (1841), a phone directory (1950), and the land and business listings from an 1872 County Atlas. I have gathered quite of few more resources, and just need to format them to add them to the database. The most laborious part is connecting the various references to the correct individuals — that is the essence of genealogy — the question of identity.

But before we take a look at the identity problem, let’s go back to the basics and consider what is the character of genealogical data? Where does it come from? The simple answer is ‘sources’ — all of our genealogical information comes from some source. In most cases those sources consist of written information, but they may also be sound recordings, photographs or other physical objects. A source might also be a living person, who provides information from memory, or our own personal experiences. What makes genealogy interesting, and at times frustrating, is that all sources are fallible. There are always mistakes, errors and misleading clues in any source you can name. Even our own memories are suspect, though most people are loath to admit it.

So a pile of sources are not a genealogy, because we first need to extract from those sources the evidence we use to construct our genealogy. And what does evidence consist of? Typically, genealogically significant evidence is some combination of names, places, dates and events. Sometimes evidence can give us clues to more nebulous characteristics of our ancestors, such as personality, talent, politics, beliefs, and so forth, but such conclusions must be drawn from the events recorded in the sources we find.

Despite the fact that many professional genealogists are now throwing about the term ‘Proof Standard’ as if it were the gold-standard of genealogical research, there is no such thing as ‘proof’ in genealogy. You can not PROVE anything. In some philosophies your own existence is suspect, how then can you ‘prove’ anything about your ancestors? You can assemble a compelling argument that will convince most reasonable people to agree with your conclusions, but they are still conclusions — not proof. It is unfortunate that the Board for Certification of Genealogists chose ‘Genealogical Proof Standard’ as the term for their well-reasoned process for arriving at correctly documented conclusions. Genealogical Standard for Conclusions would be a more apt title.

So our goal in recording information drawn from sources is to record the relevant names, dates, places and events. These constitute the evidence (not necessarily facts, since much evidence, as I stated earlier, contains errors, mistakes and misleading information) from which we draw our conclusions. We need to include all the relevant evidence, even if we believe some particular detail or item is in error — so as to avoid having others fall into the trap of believing those erroneous details (or using them to attack our own conclusions), we need to explain why we believe they are wrong by marshaling the evidence in support of the most reasonable alternative.

To this end, the data in the new Slattery website I’m working on will consist of an events database as on the Farmington site, where each event may be linked to a particular identity. Unlike the Farmington site, those links will be 100% reversible in case of error. Each event has a reliability rating, and can be linked to a justification where the facts of the matter may be argued, to arrive at a reasonable conclusion. Each event includes a ‘role’ that the person played in that event, to clarify relationships. The Slattery project will include an additional layer that provides a GEDCOM-like synthesis, where the preferred version of the details are consolidated from available records, for use in family group sheets or pedigree charts. But each detail will be linked back to all the records upon which it is based, so that users can see the sources upon which each conclusion is based.

As for the question of identity — which John Smith is the one in this particular record? I’ll have to leave that to another post. It is a subject worthy of a book-length exposition, but beyond the scope of our consideration of the character of genealogical data. Consider this the necessary background to that further expansion of the topic.

Posted in Genealogical Methodolgy | Leave a comment

Dating Old Photographs: 1864 CDV With Front Imprint

Burrows and Bundy Photo Middletown CT 1864

Elderly Woman by Burrows and Bundy 1864

This image of an elderly lady is the earliest I have with a photographer’s imprint on the front that is more complex than the very small, serif font photographer’s imprints found on other early CDVs. In this case, the imprint is gilt, just like the double lines near the outer edge of the card. Some celebrity photos had titles in slightly larger and more ornate fonts, but even Brady kept front-side imprints, when used at all, fairly inconspicuous in the 1860s.

Two equal width lines like this are typically found on CDVs dating 1861-65, though rarely it is a feature seen as late as 1868. (Not to be confused with one thick outer line and a thinner inner line, also a common 1860s and early 1870s motif.) That supports the reported date of 1864 for this image. The woman’s clothing, too, is typical of the mid-1860s.

The photographers, Burrows and Bundy (W F Burrows and either Joseph or Horace Bundy) are also listed in Middletown CT in 1864-65 in W C Darrah’s CDV collection.

So this CDV is probably correctly dated, and represents an early use of larger and more complex fonts in front-side photographer’s imprints. If you have an earlier example, or reason to think this date is in error, be sure to leave a comment!

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Those Wacky Records

Sometimes I run across oddities in records that may be of interest to readers of this blog. Here is one such wacky record.

Oddities in document

Knedy-Kennedy in Blankenship Document

This is from an original probate document. Mr. Blankenship has died, and his heirs are listed:

W., M. Blankenship
H. A. Blankenship (x minor)
Serena Kennedy . wife
J. W. x Knedy
Francis x A Blankenship
G M Blankenship

W M may be the widow, or if there was none, one of the children. Because the next child listed is noted as the only minor, I suspect W M is the widow. Is the comma after the W an indication it is an abbreviation for Widow and the name begins with M? Serena Kennedy is written in very lightly, as if an after-thought, since she is probably the true heir and J W is her husband, hence the word ‘wife’ after Serena. But her name is Kennedy and his Knedy! Maybe that too is intended as an abbreviation, but if so there is no apostrophe or periods or letters in superscript to indicate it is abbreviated.

Another oddity here is that for Francis, her middle initial comes after the x rather then before. These are the kinds of things you have to look closely for in order to notice, but that provide tantalizing clues. When combined with clues from other records, it is these tiny hints that lead to the most surprising conclusions.

Posted in History and Genealogy | Leave a comment

Consider The Future

I’ve been reading Martin Ford’s Light at the End of the Tunnel and Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, and I’ve already read several of Kurzweil’s books on the singularity and related subjects and Mann and Van Gelder books on global warming.

I think I understand it all. The picture seems pretty clear:

Nanotech is going to make every material desire available free and allow us to live forever, but not before everyone (or some substantial percentage, enough to cause major social disruption) loses their job to automation/robotics. All this will occur in a world of increasing financial inequality and increasingly stressed by global warming and environmental pollution.

I threw in the pollution for free, because everyone knows that, no need for a particular source citation. We live with that now, how can it not get worse before it gets better?

Obviously, the transition period is the key. If there is revolution when the jobs are automated, the projected development of nanotech will not occur. If people starve to death, they will not have the opportunity to live forever. Duh.

And when will this transition occur? Well, it has begun. We are in the earliest stages now. Some people are losing their jobs to automation, but it is not yet a deluge. There are still alternatives available (usually at a lower pay scale) for most of them. Some folks are anti-technology already, though we have always had that among a small minority. The question is: Will we let it grow until significant numbers of activists are striving to stop progress?

The benefits of technological advances in biotech and nanotech are so potentially significant that we can not allow the neo-luddites to prevail. But common humanity and social justice will not allow us to fail those who are negatively affected by these developments and allow them to suffer the consequences. Nor is such a heartless approach in our common interest.

I think we need resuscitate an old idea, but one that never received its just attention in my opinion. In 1890 Theodor Hertzka published a book called Freiland; ein sociales Zukunftsbild which was translated in 1891 as Freeland: A Social Anticipation, translation by Arthur Ransom. Much of the book was Utopian fantasy, which sounds good but but has never worked well in reality. But one concept, he has ‘hit the mark’ with: that we all have a right to the benefits of our common heritage. The farmer is effective because he relies on 10,000 years of accumulated experience. The manufacturer does not create his machines and tools and methods from scratch, but relies upon our accumulated knowledge and experience. Every profitable enterprise relies upon our cultural heritage to be more efficient and more effective than they could otherwise be. The individual who can not amass the requisite resources to take advantage of this knowledge and experience still deserves to benefit from that ancestral accomplishment as much as those fortunate enough to make practical use of our common heritage.

Hence, the impoverished, rather than being despised as lazy or pitied as unlucky, should be supported as co-inheritors of all the accumulated knowledge and experience of all the generations that preceded them — knowledge that forms the basis of all the wealth of the most fortunate, and deservingly successful individuals. Everyone deserves the basics in life: food, shelter and clean water.

Of course the division should not and could not be equal — but nobody should suffer starvation for want of wealth in a world such as ours. Basic human needs for shelter, warmth and sustenance should be provided to all, not as charity but as the just share of our common heritage.

Provide the justice of basic survival to all the peoples of the planet, remove the fear of starvation, and you will cut the heart out of any anti-technology revolution that arises before it can spread, and we can all survive until the nanotech catches up with robotics and AI to provide us a much better world.

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Who Do You Think You Are?

Most of you will have seen at least one episode of the popular television series Who Do You Think You Are? Did you know there are three version of the show? The British version was first, and is now in its 11th season. Next came the Australian version, now in its 6th season. Finally the show opened to U.S. audiences, and that series is in its 5th season.

Several genealogists have expressed concern over the impressions created by the show, but in general most welcome the renewed interest in genealogy it engenders, similar to, but probably more pervasive than the effect we saw when Roots came out, first in 1976 as a book, and then in 1977 and 1979 as movies. Here we will try to correct some of the misconceptions non-genealogists might gather from the show.

First, every story is interesting. We rarely see farmers, for example, even though when we go back a few generations 80% to 90% of the Americans, Europeans and Australians were farmers. Farmers, alas, tend to leave rather mundane records. This is television, if there is not an interesting story to tell, they would not feature that person. Yes, there are many very interesting stories out there — the steady stream of celebrities on the show bears witness to that fact — but not everyone you discover is exceptional, and not everyone searching has the good luck to find exceptional ancestors. You never know until you do the search. You can bet they research thousands of celebrity genealogies, and only invite those onto the show for whom they find an interesting story.

Which brings us to the second point: each forty-five minute show (it goes on for an hour because it is 1/4 advertising, like most shows) tells a complete story, but finding the documentation featured on that show may have taken thousands of person-hours of research. It is television, they have a huge (by genealogical standards) budget, and can hire an army of genealogists from all parts of the world to get the work done.

Next, let’s consider how genealogy is done. Most of it is done in libraries, archives and cemeteries. Today lots of people do genealogy without leaving their computers, but they are just scratching the surface. On the show, they are always hopping on a plane to some exotic and picturesque distant land. Yes, I have flown several times to Ireland to do research for people, but it was to visit the libraries, archives and cemeteries in most cases. With the Internet it is now much easier (and cheaper) to hire experienced researchers at the location of those resources than to visit in person.

Another common criticism of the show is that it is sensationalist. Scandals are featured far more frequently than they are found in everyday research, giving the impression that skeletons in the closet of family history are much more common than they really are. Of course every family has a few scoundrels, it is simple math — each generation you go back the number of ancestors doubles. But this is television, it is the sensational that boosts ratings. They only celebrities as subjects for the same reason.

There are no guarantees in genealogy. Sometimes you discover interesting ancestors, sometimes they are, if not actually boring, at least unexceptional. Sometimes the records you want are online, more often not. Sometimes there is a sensational story, more often not. The bottom line is you have to do the research to find out.

When I was working on the History of Larimer County Colorado I met Brooke Shield’s paternal grandmother, and learned about her 19th century ancestors whose ranch gave name to Shields Road in Fort Collins. When Brooke was featured on Who Do You Think You Are? it was her mother’s line they featured as it took them to Paris, they didn’t go out to Colorado and look at a road.

Posted in History and Genealogy | Leave a comment

What Are The Odds

In a weird coincidence, I was researching the Michigan component of the Civil War Iron Brigade, for a series of biographical sketches I’m working on. For background research I am reading Donald L Smith’s History of the 24th Michigan of the Iron Brigade. I’m planning an ebook based on biographical sketches of all the members of one Company in that regiment, highlighting what they did before the war as well as during, and for those that survived, after as well. The regiment was recruited in August 1862, and volunteers were ordered to rendezvous at ‘Camp Barns’ — named for the editor of one of Detroit’s newspapers of that time, the Advertiser and Tribune.

It was the description of the location that hit me. Camp Barns was to be established at the old State Fair Grounds,

now roughly the area lying between Woodward and Cass from Alexanderine to a little north of Canfield Streets.

Now, depending on how much ‘a little north’ was, we are talking about an area 12 to 15 hectares in size, in Detroit, which is currently about 35,950 hectares. But those street names struck a chord with me — they were all around where I lived my senior year at university, 122 West Willis Street (I checked Google Street View, and the building is still there) a building with 16 very small apartments. For $90 a month I had a Murphy bed in my roughly three meter square living room, and a kitchen and bathroom, either of which might be painted without any need for moving from one spot. Right there in the middle of Camp Barns! My alma mater, Wayne State University is just north of there, and may even include part of Camp Barns, again — depending on how far ‘a little north’ may be.

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Facts of the Matter

As children, we believe our parents are infallible. That’s just how nature made us, for our own good, because our parents certainly had more experience of life, and were likely to be closer to ‘the truth’ than we could possibly be. But as time goes on, we gain confidence in our own knowledge, and begin to trust ourselves over all others. But upon examination, many of those beliefs actually came from our parents in the first place. How many Americans still adhere to the political party their parents followed? Enough said.

In genealogy, the popular axiom is ‘never believe any story unless you can support it with documentation’. That is a reasonable standard for heritage societies and professional genealogists, but is it necessary for family historians? The problem is that those highly-ingrained stories we learned during our youth, take on greater significance than an impassioned assessment of the events would merit. ‘But Aunt Clara wouldn’t lie to me!’ is a natural and highly emotional response to any challenge to the veracity of family tradition. But remember, Aunt Clara may have believed she was telling the truth, even when it was not so. Or she may have told you stories with morals, for your own benefit (parables) without believing them herself. Or maybe the story is true, but just not documented … so you can never prove it. In all cases, TELL THE STORY. Write it down for your descendants and the descendants of your relatives. Don’t lose the story just because you can’t prove it, or you have found some parts of it are untrue.

TELL THE STORY if you believe it true or not. The total knowledge of family history in people’s minds far exceeds all the documents that exist. It includes personal stories that only you know, and that can not be proven because they were undocumented. It includes stories passed down from earlier generations, many of which are also true, but can not be proven because the events were not documented. And it includes a broad fantasy world of hopes and dreams and wishes, that are in themselves instructive, even when they bear no relationship to reality. The only way we can use these stories, and evaluate them, and enjoy them is if people write first record them — so they can be compared and analyzed and evaluated. If you are honest in recording the story, clearly distinguishing between what you know from experience, wheat you believe because you were told by a trusted source, and what you simply heard repeated fourth-hand, no one will cast blame your way if the story is eventually proven false.

TELL THE STORY. Then, if you have been able to verify or refute some of the facts, tell that story too. Or if you have not been able to find anything to prove or disprove certain facets of the story, share the search for answers, however unsatisfying the results may seem. By sharing the story, you open it up for discussion. Others, even your siblings, may remember it differently. Very distant cousins may have the same, or a similar story, that have been hording for lack of verification. Or maybe, just possibly, someone out there has the proof you have been looking for that the story is true. Whatever the outcome, the future is best served by SHARING THE STORY!

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A Brief History of the 24th Regiment, Iowa Volunteers

This is something I wrote in 1984 for the introduction to the ebook Civil War Letters of Dan Camp.

Ten companies of Iowa volunteers were mustered into the service
of the United States on September 18, 1862 at “Camp Strong,”
Muscatine, Iowa, as the 24th Infantry Regiment. The original
enrollment was 979, but subsequent recruitment brought the total
to 1204 by the end of the war. Of the 1204 who served with the
regiment between 1862 and 1865, 71 were to die of wounds
inflicted in battle while 201 died of disease. Little wonder
then that in his letters Dan Camp seems somewhat obsessed with
health matters.

The 24th regiment departed Camp Strong on October 19, 1862, for
St. Louis, traveling by river transport. On arrival in St.
Louis they received orders to proceed to Helena, Arkansas. The
troops disembarked in Helena on October 28th, many of them ill
from contagious diseases contracted aboard the crowded boats.
The regiment joined the brigade of Colonel McGinnis of the
Eleventh Indiana in a swampy, unhealthy camp just south of the
city. The sick list continued to grow.

The regiment formed part of the force under General Hovey that
departed for the mouth of the White River on November 17, 1862.
Returning once again to Helena, the troops then formed part of
an expedition to Coldwater, Mississippi, to cooperate with the
movement of General Grant against Vicksburg. On January 11,
1863 the regiment again found itself on the march up the White
River, under General Gorman this time.

These three mid-winter campaigns never met with any
consequential number of Rebel forces, but that winter took a
heavy toll on the regiment, and indeed the entire brigade.
Poorly equipped for the stormy, blustery weather and chronically
short of good food, the troops readily fell prey to
debilitating, often fatal, illnesses. The moral of the 24th
Iowa Volunteers was never lower. Upon their return from the
third expedition the troops found their camp at Helena flooded.
The arduous task of moving camp, however, turned out to be most
beneficial exercise. Once on higher ground, the overall health
of the camp improved tremendously.

On February 15, 1863, the brigade joined other forces under the
command of General Washburn, engaged in clearing out
obstructions in Yazoo Pass. Then in early Spring they returned
to Helena. At that point, the regiment was transferred to the
13th Army Corps and ordered to join General Grant’s army in its
operation against Vicksburg. The troops were shipped on
transports to Milliken’s Bend. Disembarking there they made the
difficult march overland to Perkin’s Landing. On April 28th at
Perkin’s Landing they again boarded transports and barges, and
headed downriver.

Just above Grand Gulf the troop boats stopped while gunboats
exchanged fire with Rebel batteries on the shore. The fierce
exchange seemed to have little effect in quieting the enemy
guns, so the troops disembarked and marched down the levee to a
point about three miles below Grand Gulf, where they bivouacked
until morning. During the night the gunboats and some
transports slipped by the Rebel batteries, allowing the troops
to embark once again in the morning. They continued down to
Bruinsburg, where they landed and began the march toward Port

At the battle of Port Gibson on May 1, 1863, the 24th Iowa was
held in reserve while the 34th Indiana, supported by the 56th
Ohio captured a Rebel battery along with 220 prisoners. Later
in the day however, the 24th and 28th Iowa were ordered to
support Major General Logan’s troops who were under heavy fire.
Here the 24th Iowa got their first experience of sustained
battle, continuing the fight until the enemy was driven from the
field as night began to fall.

Between May 2nd and 15th the 24th Iowa and other members of the
13th Army Corps were engaged in various small skirmishes with
Rebel forces. On May 16th they fought the bloody battle of
Champion’s Hill. Nine of the ten companies comprising the 24th
Iowa were involved in the fight, company ‘B’ being on detached
duty at the time. Outnumbered almost three to one, the Union
forces still managed to prevail, but at great cost of life to
both sides. Major Edward Wright of the 24th Iowa was severely
wounded, while captains Silas Johnson and William Carbee, and
first lieutenant Chauncey Lawrence were among the dead. The
toll for the 24th Iowa was 35 dead, 120 wounded and 34 missing
and presumed captured. Theirs was the highest percentage of
loss for any regiment in the battle.

From the battle at Champion’s Hill the 24th Iowa marched to
Black River Bridge, but the fighting there had drawn to a close
by the time of their arrival. After a few days at Black River
Bridge they marched on to Vicksburg, joining General Grant’s
siege on that city. Vicksburg surrendered on July 4, 1863, and
on the morning of the fifth the 24th Iowa were on the march
again, joining General Sherman’s expedition against Jackson,
Mississippi. On July 16, 1863, the Rebel forces evacuated
Jackson, and the regiment returned to Vicksburg. Losses for the
24th Iowa during the siege of Vicksburg and the taking of
Jackson amounted to one killed and twelve wounded.

While the 24th Iowa rested in camp at Vicksburg, their
commander, Colonel Byam resigned (June 30) and Lieutenant
Colonel Wilds assumed command. In mid August the regiment was
transferred to a new field of operations, taking transports to
New Orleans.

At this point, the official chronicle of the 24th Iowa contains
a four month gap, stating simply that they proceeded from New
Orleans to a camp at Algiers, where the narrative resumes in
January, 1864. The letters reproduced here from Dan Camp to his
family contain only one from the period thus far discussed, that
one being dated November 27, 1862 from Helena, Arkansas. For
that shadowy period of the latter half of 1863 however we have
eight letters. We can see from Dan’s letters that the 24th Iowa
was not idle during that time. They spent the fall and early
winter of 1863 moving about south-central Louisiana – Brashear
City, New Iberia, Opelousas, Vermillion Bayou. He reports on
the brigades engagements with Rebel forces near Vermillion
Ville, where losses exceeded 600 men, nearly 20 killed, 175
wounded, and the rest captured. The 24th Iowa was not directly
involved in this fight, having been left behind to guard the
camp. In early November, five men of company ‘F’ of the 24th
Iowa Volunteers were captured by Rebel forces while out
gathering wood.

Most of January, 1864, the 24th Iowa spent in camp at Algiers,
Louisiana, until January 21st when the division was moved to
Madisonville on the opposite side of Lake Pontchartrain. There
they remained until February 26th when they returned to their
old camp at Algiers. On March 5th the regiment was transferred
by rail to Berwick Bay, Louisiana. There they dispensed with as
much equipment and baggage as they could spare, sending the
excess back to New Orleans, as they prepared for a rapid march
to reinforce General Bank’s army, then engaged on the
unfortunate Red River Expedition.

By March 31st the troops reached Natchitoches, Louisiana, some
290 miles from their starting point. After a few days in that
vicinity they moved up to Pleasant Hill, arriving late on the
7th of April. There they found Federal cavalry skirmishing with
Rebel forces, but before they could move up to support the
cavalry, the enemy withdrew. For the next two days the division
moved slowly forward, meeting with scattered opposition. Five
companies of the 24th Iowa were detailed as escort for the train
in the rear. In mid afternoon on April 9th the battle of
Pleasant Hill began. The third division, numbering about 1200
men, were ordered to advance against a force of over 8000
Rebels. After a couple hours of fierce battle, nearly depleted
of ammunition, the division was forced to fall back, though even
that was nearly impossible because they had been outflanked by
Rebel cavalry. Major Wright, in command of the five companies
of the 24th Iowa that were engaged in the battle, ordered his
men to retreat by means of a narrow strip of thickly wooded
brush. Of 130 men from the Iowa 24th engaged in the battle,
there were 34 casualties. In retrospect it is clear that this
battle, like many others on the Red River Expedition, was poorly
handled by the incompetent General Banks.

General Banks retreated from Pleasant Hill to Alexandria,
reaching there April 25th. While the troops were at Alexandria,
Lieutenant Colonel Wilds returned from a recruiting trip to Iowa
and resumed command of the 24th Iowa Volunteers. On May 13th
General Banks began his retreat from Alexandria.

General Bank’s army reached Morganza Bend on May 22nd. While
there the 24th Iowa was involved in a skirmish with Rebel forces
that cost one life and left four wounded. The total loss of the
regiment while they were connected with Bank’s army numbered 48.
The consensus among the men was that the sacrifice had been in

The regiment left Morganza on June 13th and proceeded to
Carrollton, Louisiana, going into camp at Greenville Station on
the New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad. Leaving there on June
21st, they were subsequently stationed at Kennerville, and then
Thibodeaux, Louisiana. On July 6th they moved by rail back to
Algiers, where they were issued new Springfield rifles to
replace the old Enfield rifles they had been using.

On July 22nd the regiment embarked on the “Star of the South” by
which they made the sea journey to Fortress Monroe. From there
they proceeded into Washington, D.C., where they took a train
for Monocacy, Maryland, arriving August first. At Monocacy the
24th Iowa joined a detachment of the 19th Army Corps under
General Emory. Colonel Wilds was placed in command of the
brigade to which his regiment was attached.

On August 4th, 1864, the 24th Iowa were transferred by train to
Harper’s Ferry. Two days later they began a series of movements
with the rest of the army designed to intercept 30,000 Rebels
under General Early, but the enemy eluded them. Later in the
month they joined forces with troops under General Grover.
These and other forces, under the overall command of Major
General Sheridan, began a series of movements leading up to the
battle of Winchester on September 19th, 1864. During an advance
towards Cedar Creek around noon that day the 24th Iowa were
surprised by Rebel forces who found the right flank of the
advancing Union troops unprotected. Sequestering themselves in
a deep hollow, the Rebels set up a battery of artillery and
began a deadly barrage. This was followed by a hail of musket
shot from a column of Rebel infantry, firing at right angle
along the lines. After a severe loss the Union forces fell back
to the woods, and redirecting their efforts toward the flank
managed at length to rout the enemy. Colonel Wilds was mortally
wounded in this confrontation, and died November 18. Dan Camp
was also severely wounded, and resigned from the service November

The 24th Iowa were involved in various other fights between
September 20 and October l9th, when they fought their last
battle, but were never again involved in such intense fighting.
From the end of October, 1864 to the end of the war, the 24th
Iowa Volunteers were engaged in various guard duties and moved
from Virginia to North Carolina and later Georgia. They were
mustered out at Savannah, Georgia, July 17, 1865.

Posted in History and Genealogy | Leave a comment

Where Farmington Began

I posted an article on my Farmington Michigan website about a historical marker that was recently changed, supposedly to correct the information, but was actually made less accurate. The gist of the story is that years ago a marker was placed at a convenient cross-road titled Where Farmington Began. In 2004 the local historical commission decided it was in the wrong place, and so they moved it and changed the wording. If you actually read the original sign however, it said Farmington began 1/2 mile south-east of where the sign was — which is fairly accurate. The new sign is closer to the correct spot, but still a 1/4 mile off, and the wording no longer matches the history.

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More on Source Citations

In an earlier post I looked at the value of source citations, and concluded that they were not just for other people reading your work, but help the genealogist himself in several ways. Now let’s look at the question of formatting citations.

Elizabeth Shown Mills has written the definitive book on citing sources for genealogists: Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, and certainly every professional genealogist should follow those standards when writing genealogies and genealogical reports. (For more information on that book and author see Ancestry Insider, GeneaBloggers or Genealogy Book Reviews). But does the average family historian need to shell out $100 (or $50 for a used copy) for a tome of nearly 900 pages, then spend hundreds of hours studying and digesting the information, just so they can provide citations in the correct format? I don’t think so.

What purpose does format serve in the source citation? As in all writing, the citation exists to convey information, and format helps to provide a consistent means of conveying details about the source of the citation. The author’s name is listed first in a book citation, then a comma, followed by the title of the book, etc., etc. The format helps the reader sort out what each part of the citation refers to, concisely and consistently.

When dealing with print publications, being concise is a virtue. In cyberspace, with personal genealogies, it is somewhat less important. Why not just label the different parts of each citation? Then the order is not so important, though consistency speeds up the interpretation it is no longer absolutely required for clarity. The placement of commas or other punctuation is no longer critical to the interpretation of the citation. Instead, everything is explicit. Furthermore, if we agree upon some standard method of tagging our labels, the citation becomes easy to interpret by machine, and can be easily computerized. I propose curly brackets {} as a convenient label demarcation. Then everything following the label up to the next label or end of the citation, belongs to that label. To further simplify the labels, I suggest always using lower case for them – since much of the typical citation uses capitalized words, the labels stand out better in all lower case. Use of bold, parentheses, quotes, etc. is optional — as those may not be available in every context.

So, instead of the citation:

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Revised edition. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2009.

We have:

{author} Mills, Elizabeth Shown. {title} Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. {version} Revised edition. {published at} Baltimore: {published by} Genealogical Publishing Co., {publication date} 2009.

Not so concise, but so what? If you forget the correct order and instead write:

{title} Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. {author} Mills, Elizabeth Shown. {version} Revised edition. {publication date} 2009. {published at} Baltimore: {published by} Genealogical Publishing Co.

The user will still have the correct information, they will just have to read it more carefully to pick out the relevant parts.

The second function of consistent source format is to make sure nothing gets left out. That is little harder to deal with for amateurs, since they often don’t know what should be included. The rule of thumb is that you can never have too much information. Do not worry about how long a citation becomes, just include everything you can think of that would help yourself or someone else find or evaluate the source. You might find yourself needing that information years from now.

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