Source Citation Hullabaloo

The genealogical blogosphere erupts from time to time with fierce arguments over the need for, and character of source citations for genealogy information. Let’s look at this issue from a practical point of view. To know how best to deal with citations, we need to consider what their purpose is.

First, sources serve as a reminder of where we found particular information. In the future, if we need to go back to the same source for related information or some detail we didn’t record, we will know where to look. Or if somebody asks us how we know a particular detail, we will have a source to give them.

Second, knowing the source helps us evaluate the probable veracity of the information. When conflicting evidence turns up (note I when when, not if), we need to consider the sources involved if we are to have any hope of showing that one version is more reliable than the other.

Third, a source citation will remind us of the content of that particular resource, and so help us find new information when we encounter another ancestor who might be recorded in the same resource. Or it may remind us we have a copy of a particular document that could shed light on another research problem.

Fourth, the source citation can help us avoid duplication of effort — we know we already have the information from that particular resource, and so do not need to search it again for the same subject.

Fifth, and diametrically opposed to #4, we can use the citation to help us go back to that same resource for a second look, if we think we may have missed something. As we gain experience we learn to get more out of each source, so sometimes a second-look is beneficial.

Those are just the benefits to the person making the citation. When others look at our work, they may derive all the same benefits out of the source citations, plus learn about resources they may not have known about. Whenever you run into a brick wall, look for well-done genealogies containing other persons living in the same vicinity as your ancestor — look through the sources cited to see if there are records you didn’t know about.

Or look for other citations to the sources you already have cited yourself. If the citation is specific enough, or the resource covers only a limited time period or area, you will find others searching your own family, or those searching neighboring families, and their other source citations may lead you to more information. Or you may benefit from contacting those other searchers, with whom you share an interest.

I think these benefits pretty well lay to rest any doubt about the need for source citations. In my next post I’ll take a look at the question of how those citations should be formatted.

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Computers Can Behave Badly

Of course it is not usually the computer that is at fault when something odd happens, 99.9% of the time it is the program that is the problem. But with so many programs interacting nowadays, which one is the culprit?

Today I finally put my new Farmington Area site online for Farmington and Farmington Hills Michigan. As I mentioned before, there was actually a site on that domain ( before, but it was an old and neglected site that I was not too proud of. I decided in re-engineering the site to drop the www from the url as superfluous, the fewer characters the better.

That site is a sub-domain of one of my other sites, So when I was creating the new site, I simply put it on a different sub-directory on history50states, so I could access it and test it out, without removing the old site. Then, when I was ready to go on-line (though it is not really “finished” — the best sites never are) I simply removed the sub-domain record for farmington.mich pointing at the old directory, and entered a new one, pointing to the new directory. Simple.

The oddity is, when I enter in my Firefox browser, I get the new site, but if I enter I get the site. The www version of the farmington site is supposed to redirect to the non-www version automatically, but on this browser it never goes to the correct page. Or even site.

To check out the problem further, I opened my Chrome browser and typed in the Farmington address. It worked fine. I tried the Internet Explorer browser, and it too resolved correctly, changing from the www version I entered to just plain It’s only Firefox that is confused. And I assume it only my local installation of Firefox has that problem, though I will have to wait until tomorrow to check that out at the local cyber cafe. But nothing in the local settings ever directed the www version of to But that seems to be where it wants to go. Crazy computers.

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Competing Against Free

Over on Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, Harold Henderson has a post today on things nobody told him when starting out as professional genealogist. Number one on his list bears repeating:

(1) Most professional genealogists do not rely exclusively on genealogy-based income to support themselves and their families.

researching in the library

In the Library

It is exceedingly difficult to earn a living as a genealogist. People who do not hesitate to pay $80 per hour for a plumber, balk at $10 per hour for a genealogist. Why? In part because so many people are willing to do the same work for free. Also, genealogy is mostly a do-it-yourself proposition, whenever possible, most people want to do their own research.

When I began as genealogist, most of my income came from selling reprints of scarce old genealogy books on microfiche. Today, most of those books are available free from Google. Desperate to supplement a dwindling income, I turned to the dark side in the early 2000s, and became a shill for Google Adsense.

For those of you who aren’t familiar that branch of the Google monolith, Adsense is a pay-per-click (PPC) network. They display ads on your website, then give you part of the profits when people click those ads. They charge the advertiser for the number of clicks received.

It seemed a fair arrangement, and the money was good in those days. What I soon discovered, the ‘dark side’ of the deal, was that quality was not rewarded when it came to making websites to display ads (MFA – made for adsense). Quite the contrary. A good quality site attracts readers. A junky site designed to pander to some keyword and rank high in search results attracts traffic, but when they see how poor the content is they don’t linger — and oftentimes they click on ads to get away. After all, the ads too address the same target keywords, and that is what the person is looking for information on.

So Adsense is a disincentive to build quality sites, and rewards quantity, which is why the Internet is overflowing with junky sites. I couldn’t bring myself to publish totally meaningless junk, but I did succumb so far as to produce a lot of trivial stuff. The natural result is that ads (and clicks) became worth less and less over time, until now they pay almost nothing.

Desperate to supplement a dwindling income once again, I’m expanding the scope of my offerings for my basic skill set — researching, writing, editing and publishing information. This site addresses a niche within the personal historian field, that part of the discipline devoted to writing, editing and publishing. My site and sites address research, as will my site on Farmington and Farmington Hills, Michigan, when I get it online. All I need are more customers. Any takers? And yes, I do charge just $10 per hour.

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A Lesson From The Shanachie

I spent a year in Ireland in the early 1980s, and have revisited nearly a dozen times for one and two-week long research trips. Needless to say, I’m pretty familiar with the romantic Irish traditions, as well as the modern reality. It’s a wee bit of a country – smaller than Indiana it would fit more than 15 times in Alaska. Nor is the population large — there are fewer people in all Ireland (North and South) than live in Indiana. Yet the number of musicians, poets and writers far exceeds what one would expect from looking at the size of the population. The Irish place a high value on education, and give the greatest respect to people who are able to express themselves well.

The Seanchai

The Seanchai by William Butler Yeats

Irish storytellers are therefore held in high regard. They were called shanachie (seanchai in Irish), and known for memorizing long texts that were to be repeated faultlessly if the shanachie were to retain his status. They kept the important history of the clans and transmitted them from one generation to the next. The wars and battles, the miracles and noteworthy events, and most of all, the genealogies were memorized and passed on with unfaltering accuracy. Well, at least in theory.

When the ancient tales were finally written down, in relatively modern times, we can see in comparing one version to another that there are minor inconsistencies, as one might expect of any oral tradition. But still, the fact that they agree to the extent they do for events spanning millennium, is testimony to their overall veracity and a high level of effectiveness in their transmission.

Once written down, however, each version is available in a fixed form that does not change with the telling. Indeed, we can go back and read the original of a 16th century rendition word for word as it was written. The lesson here of course, is to write down your stories! Don’t worry about who may be interested in them — eventually many people will value them for nothing more than their antiquity, if nothing else. Your family will appreciate them for what they reveal about you. Your offspring will see in them things that help them understand themselves better, since your experiences shape your parenting which shapes your children, and they theirs in a never-ending cascade.

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Documenting Your Personal Photographs

My public domain photograph collection for my Classyarts website has over 50,000 photographs. About 35,000 of those are currently useless, because I have not yet indexed them. There are some wonderful images in there (like this example below) but no way can I find anything in particular. The main focus of is historic photographers (the names database has over 100,000 records) so the main information I need from these images is the name and address of the photographer. Most are just portraits, so I record very little else, unless they are noteworthy.

Photo by Ralph Beem in Greenville OH

Unidentified Image from Greenville OH ca 1888-90

Your personal collection of photographs you have taken may present a comparable situation, if you take many photos. Of course you don’t need to index the photographers — there is only one in most cases — but date and subject are your key elements. Can you find that wonderful beach scene you took on a vacation to Brazil? If someone in your family asks for pictures of Aunt Clara you know you have them … can you find them? If the answer to these type of questions is no, maybe it’s time to begin organizing.

Now, if you have a huge and significant collection, and expect to make them available to the public by donating them to a museum one day, the gold-standard of photographic documentation is called the Dublin Core, a standard for meta-data on objects of all sorts. With the Dublin Core you have 15 elements to record about each photo (though you can skip any that are not applicable): Title, Creator, Subject, Description, Publisher, Contributor, Date, Type, Format, Identifier, Source, Language, Relation, Coverage, Rights. For most personal collections, however, that might be overkill.

Usually, all you need for personal photos is the subject and date. Some people like to also include an identifier, but that is usually only necessary if you are sharing the images. The identifier is a unique tag, usually a number, but it may be alpha-numeric, to uniquely identify each photo. I use identifiers on the ClassyArts images because they are available for purchase, or may be ordered by subscribers. Unless you are a professional photographer, your personal collection will probably not need that.

There are three common ways to organize your photos, once you begin indexing them: date, subject or identifier. Of course, if you choose not to assign an identifier, that option is not available. When choosing between date or subject, it depends how much hair you can afford to lose. If you choose date, the process is easy. Choose subject, and you will be tearing out so much hair you’ll need to consider the shaved pate look.

On the con side, dates are not unique, so you may have two, ten or fifty photos that fall in a single category, and those remain unorganized within that group. Usually, that is not a problem, again, unless you are a professional photographer, you probably only take relatively few pictures per day. The plus side is that you can easily organize new photos as they are taken, and if your subject headings are not specific enough to locate a particular image, you have the advantage of knowing approximately when it was taken to narrow your search.

Organizing by subject is a fools game because subjects overlap, and images often fit in two or more subject categories. Also, you may have hundreds of images for one category, and would still need to search through that huge group to find a particular image. The plus side is that all the pictures of Aunt Clara would (theoretically) be together, except those where she appears with others, or where some other category like funny, pathetic or hats over-rides the Aunt Clara category. Just don’t do it.

We’ll leave consideration of other factors like how and where to index images and physical vs digital images, etc. etc. in future posts.

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Musical Memories

I come from a musical family. Not professionally speaking, though I did have a cousin who played fiddle for dances and events, and even once made a recording — back when that meant 45rpm records. When I took up singing traditional Irish folk songs in the 1980s my mother commented that Dad’s father, whom I never met, used to sing those songs. So it goes back at least three generations, and probably much more. My dad loved to sing, with my mom accompanying him on the piano. His repertoire was mostly 1910s to ’30s crooner classics. The only Irish songs I remember hearing him sing were “Danny Boy” and “Galway Bay.” When listening to the radio or watching TV shows like Ed Sullivan or Lawrence Welk, he could always recall the exact year a song was published if it fell within that pre-WWII time frame. A friend of his recorded him singing on one of those reel to reel tape recorders, but when I later asked for the tape to copy it, he was not able to find it.

Particular songs spark associated memories for most people. Whenever I hear “Galway Bay” I’m reminded of my father standing just behind Mother at the piano, pipe in one hand and other on her shoulder, while he belted out the old classic. When I hear Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans” I think of my brother’s rendition, with his guitar accompaniment. “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” takes me to a canoe on an Alaskan lake, and I’m doing the belting. In Alaska we often sang to keep the bears at bay, but that time was just for pleasure. The song “El Paso” evokes a campfire on Steen’s Mountain in Oregon. and the faces of four others reflected in its flickering light. I could go on, but I think I’ve made the point. For some reason, song is often associated with our happiest memories.

I can’t tell you when a song was written, but most anything popular in the 1950s through ’70s I know the lyrics well enough to sing along. Sometimes older songs as well. I remember the time, again in Alaska, a lodge keeper was floored that I could sing along to her old 78 rpm ‘Swing and Sway With Danny Kaye’ version of “I used to Work in Chicago” — far from a classic, but then I had a collection of several hundred 78s myself. Later I heard a bawdy version of that song in a Liverpool pub.

The Irish say that music can make you laugh, or make you cry. I think it is this emotional response that ties particular tunes to specific memories, reawakening those feelings. Now excuse me while I put on a Strauss Waltz and return to a ballroom dance floor and 1973 …

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Identifying Exact Locations in the Early Censuses

Today I was working on gathering data for a new website (or re-designed old website actually) that will provide history and community-wide genealogy for Farmington and Farmington Hills Michigan, two cities that comprise an area that was once a single township. The problem I ran into was that the 1830 census does not list individual townships in that area, but lumps together the entire county in a single list. That list is 31 pages long and includes 853 names of head-of-household. The population of the county was 4911. Ten years earlier the population had been 330, so the 1830 census has, for the most part, the original settlers of the region.

I had a pretty good idea of who at least some of those settlers were, a list of 164 names from the BLM website gave the original purchasers of most of the land in Farmington Township, beginning in 1823. Now of course not all of those purchasers were resident in the township in 1830 — many were speculators who bought and sold the land without making any improvements nor taking up residence. Others lived in nearby townships, and bought the land for future use, or to provide inheritances for their children. But some were buying and developing their own pioneer farms, and those names should be found in the 1830 census. So all I had to do was to was index the 853 names on the census, (in the order listed, not alphabetical), then find as many of those 164 names as I could. They should cluster among other residents of the township.

Worked like a charm, but as usual, there was an anomaly that needed explanation. As I mentioned, the census is 31 pages long. I found 25% of the 164 original purchasers in the census. A full 80% of those were on the first six pages — so about 20% of the pages held 80% of the references, clearly Farmington Township lay in those six pages. The anomaly was that all those citations actually occurred in 5 pages: the 2nd page had none! Census takers in those early years were not as systematic as today. Did the census taker start in Farmington Township, then wander out into adjoining Novi or Southfield before returning to finish the township?

That was one possibility, but I considered another. Perhaps the second page represented the village. The original purchasers were mostly farmers, and bought tracts a minimum of 40 acres at a time from the government. The village residents would not be farmers, but tradesmen and service providers, who bought small lots from the one or two owners of the central village area. But a whole page of names (and it extended halfway into the first page as well) seemed a lot of people for such a nascent village — they were more than 30 years away from organizing into formal/legal village government. Could the town really have grown so fast, and how could I check?

Well, I looked about for another contemporary list of names to compare to the census, as I had done with the list of original land buyers. I found a list of members of the Baptist Church 1826-1838, 230 names. Only a small proportion of these were heads of households though, and some of them probably arrived after the 1830 census, so I expected to find fewer ‘hits’ when comparing names. At the end I only found 12 matches to the census — but the distribution was instructive. Nine of the 12 were on the those first six pages. The land buyers had 80% on those pages, and this list showed 75% — a good match. Of the nine found in what I considered the Farmington section, three were on that second page that had none of the land purchasers. Of the other six in the township but outside the village area, five were also matched on the land purchasers list.

1830 census vs blm original landowners

Map of township showing locations of original land purcheser in order listed in the 1830 census.

So not only did I locate which pages contain Farmington Township in the 1830 census, I even identified the general area in the census record where the village residents are enumerated. The map above shows the township sections outline (the gray area is Farmington, the rest is Farmington Hills) and numbers in red represent the original land purchasers, in the order they appear in the census, at the location indicated by the BLM records where they purchased land. Numbers in red from one to five are on the first page of the census, six through 32 are on pages three through six. Those old-time enumerators weren’t so disorganized after all!

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My Websites

My first website was started in 1994 at before bought out that site. The original owner of, Michael Cooley, allowed people to create free genealogy sub-sites on that domain, so my ‘site’ was actually a directory within that larger site, located at — I didn’t get around to buying my own domain until March 2000 when Michael announced he was selling the Genealogy Online site. I moved my files to and continued to expand the site. Well, not really — the site grew like Topsy, with neither rhyme nor reason — it is an embarrassing mish-mash now, but I’ve never found the time to give it the complete make-over it needs. It includes DigDat a subscription based Irish Genealogy site; a section on photohistory that has been completely superseded by the next site on this list; a science section with everything from a geologic time-line to an archeological report I wrote in 1981. There are also news feeds for archeology, paleontology, space, technology and general science news. Another section of the site is devoted to Mexico, though that part is pretty much superseded by the Chapala site listed below, though only this site has a picture of El Gallero, a painting by my talented wife Isabel. (She is also a story-teller, see her blog.) So although the layout is awful, does have some good content. It was my first site, so I can only plead ignorance; I have learned a lot about making websites since.

Another site I operate is which is devoted to the history of photography and historic photographers. Like the Irish Genealogy site, there is a subscription section for access to further information and images. This site has the largest database of historic photographers in the world, with over 110,000 records so far (May 2014). There are also over 10,000 images indexed, most of them from the 19th century. I am working on a guide to dating old photographs that is based on original research and contains clues and research techniques not found in any other source. That site also has over 20,000 records on 19th Century American Artists.

My American Local History site has over 20,000 pages of information. Mostly reprints from history and biographical works. Even with 20,000 pages it has large gaps in coverage, the location database it uses names over 160,000 different places in the country.

Much like the above site, my 19th Century Biographies site has reprint biographical sketches of 19th century Americans. Approaching 1,500 biographies so far, it is a good resource for information on the lesser known notables of our nation. There are many good stories here too.

Over at Visit Chapala is a little site about the town my wife and I call home, Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico. A beautiful place to visit, it is even better to live here. The weather is always perfect, the people are friendly (and have great stories), and like Lake Wobegon, everybody is just a bit above average.

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A Fresh Look Can Yield New Results

Several years ago I did some research on photographer Joseph Kirk of New Jersey. I was reminded of that in an email from photohistorian Gary Saretzky, who mentioned that Kirk was still listed in Newark up to 1897, but no further mention of him had been found. I decided to do a quick ‘look-up’ to see if any new records may have been indexed, or if different search terms might reveal something I missed the first time around. Sure enough, within five minutes, I came across an interesting reference to Joseph Kirk.

It seems that in 1900 Kirk and his wife Sarah B (b. Aug 1831) were living in Bethel Township, Sullivan county, NY where I previously found her in 1880, though he was living elsewhere that year. In 1900 they were in the family of Frank Huff (b. Nov 1851), also a photographer, who lists Kirk as his step-father. Joseph and Sarah were married about 1868, according to this census. Most importantly, this record provides an exact month and year of birth for Joseph Kirk, who generally rounded off his age in other census reports. November 1827. Combining these details, there is little doubt left when we find, on the find-a-grave website, a tombstone for Joseph Kirk (1827-1909). Sarah is there too, on the same stone, though her birth date is off by nearly twenty years (if the census is correct); she died in 1904, probably aged 72 though the tombstone gives her birth as 1812. A 1930s publication for the same cemetery inexplicably listed her death as 1894!

Never give up the search — new records are made available all the time, and indexes are improved incrementally as users contribute corrections. Joseph Kirk was indexed as Joseph Kirk Huff, which is what the census record actually shows. Clearly that is a mistake on the part of the recorder, but such mistakes are common. Look at known connections (like Joseph Kirk’s wife being in Bethel Township NY in 1880) and use those connections to extend your research. Now that the Huff-Kirk connection has been established, I’m sure further research along those lines will help flesh out the history of this important New Jersey photographer, and probably incidentally shed light on the career of his step-son Frank Huff, whose career took him to New Zealand (where he met and married his wife, and his elder children were born), before returning to the U.S. We also need to determine if there was any connection between Frank Huff and photographer Ferdinand L. Huff, who — like Joseph Kirk — was primarily active in Newark, New Jersey.

Tombstone for James and Sarah Kirk in Bethel Twp NY

Tombstone for James Kirk and his wife Sarah in Bethel Twp NY

Social and familial connections form a complex web, so it is important to follow up on connections and relationships, rather than try to pursue an individual in isolation. Not only will your research be more successful this way, but you will learn more about that target individual in the process.

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I’ve Travelled All Over This Wide World

That title come from a traditional Irish folk song, and for me it is almost true. During my period of wanderlust I visited every state in the United States (see your own country first, I figured) and one unincorporated territory (American Samoa), five Canadian provinces and one territory, nine Mexican states, thirteen European countries, and every state and territory in mainland Australia (though none of the offshore islands). So I’ve traveled widely, though still far short of ‘all over.’

And did I learn anything from my travels? Many, many things — but what struck me most, over and over again, is the contradictory dualism of human nature: people everywhere are pretty much the same, yet every individual is unique. Meeting the many thousands of strangers that my wandering put me in contact with has given me a deep respect for different beliefs and viewpoints. Though I may not agree with many of those views, I do not hold my beliefs ‘right’ and theirs ‘wrong’ but simply accept the fact that we differ. No doubt much of that cultural relativity comes from my university training as an anthropologist. That training helps me understand not only the fact that others have different beliefs and values, but to see how those beliefs and values fit into their lives and are shaped by their unique situations and experiences.

Everywhere I went, and with everyone I met, I tried to evoke from them their personal stories. I never met anyone who didn’t have an interesting tale to tell, though to them it often seemed commonplace. And the places had their own stories too, sometimes told by the residents, often learned from books or teased out of the landscape itself by observation. My years as an archeologist helped sharpen my observation for artifacts and alterations to the landscape from human activities. Whenever possible I visited archeological and historical sites, to learn what I could of their stories. And I’ve come to believe that people of the past were pretty much the same as people today, and like today also each unique.

As a genealogist, I often tell the story of people long deceased, after painstakingly teasing those stories out of old records and documents. It can be frustrating though, when those stories are incomplete. There are questions left unanswered because the facts were never recorded. Often the reasons behind known facts have to be guessed at, because there is no record that says why a particular event took place. We don’t know what people were thinking, and never will know for sure.

Working as a personal historian is much more satisfying. Where there are gaps, there are answers available for the asking. Making a story complete is pretty much the same as knowing the right questions to ask. As with genealogy, sometimes records hold the answers. As with archeology, sometimes artifacts tell a story. But when those resources are insufficient, there is nothing like an eyewitness report to fill in the gaps.

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