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From the Green Valley News, Sunday 2 March 2008, page B9

Genealogy Today, by Betty Malesky

Documenting Your Sources

Last week over 1,000 genealogists and family historians from all over the country as well as 100 vendors of genealogical materials attended the Family History EXPO in St. George, Utah.

I presented a Saturday morning lecture on "Documentation: From Source to Citation." To my amazement the seats quickly filled until only standing room remained. People kept coming in and finally left the doors open so those who couldn’t get inside could stand outside and listen. I am not bragging as it was not my reputation as a speaker that brought the crowd. It was the subject!

Without documentation, today your genealogical research is worthless. In past centuries many genealogies were printed without a single source for the facts within their pages. Not any more. Today if you publish a family history without sources, you might as well save your effort and your money. Facts printed without associated citations to the information’s source, carry no more weight than gossip or hearsay.

My lecture was based on the definitive work on documentation, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace by Elizabeth Shown Mills. This 885 page book published in July 2007 by Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, retails for $49.95, a real bargain at less than six cents per page.

Mrs. Mills, one of the most widely respected professional genealogists in America, spent ten years writing this monumental and unprecedented work. Whether you are entering your genealogical data into a computer program or thinking about publishing your family history, if you are serious about your research, you need this reference book. Even if your work is only for your family, don’t they deserve a well documented, verifiable record of their past?

The first two chapters deal with the fundamentals of evidence analysis and the fundamentals of citation. A diligent study of these chapters provides an excellent background for making citations that adhere to today’s standard and for planning further research. The remaining twelve chapters discuss a multitude of sources arranged by type. QuickCheck Models of the most commonly used sources are found at the beginning of each chapter.

Sources give us information from which we select evidence for analysis. When evidence is relevant and adequate, analysis establishes the accuracy of the facts we present and leads to a sound conclusion. If we have conflicting or circumstantial evidence further research is necessary.

Unfortunately, historic evidence is not always trustworthy. Human beings in the past lied, prevaricated, distorted, and manipulated the truth just as they do today, and human clerks’ errors have been repeated ad infinitum. Our job, therefore, is to evaluate the evidence we collect, analyze its veracity, and report it on its own merits whether it is the result we hoped for or not.

Evidence Explained is dedicated to the memory of Mrs. Mills’s mentor and friend, Grady McWhiney, who in her words, ". . . taught me to probe the past carefully and report it as it was, not as I wish it were." In her book, we each have the benefit of such a mentor to guide us through the pitfalls of historic research.

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