Monday, August 12, 2013

Why Don't Beginners Cite Right?

While I have been researching my family history for about a decade I have to confess that the sources in my tree are not what they should be (either incomplete or I haven't actually cited the source that I have). It is embarrassing to admit, but there it is.

I have been thinking about how I ended up in this bind and I have come up with a few reasons.

  1. When I began doing genealogy I was doing it for myself. I wasn't trying to prove anything to anyone.
  2. When I began doing genealogy I didn't have many different sources (primarily obituaries, family lore and copies of census records that I made from microfilm at NARA) so it was usually clear where my information came from.
  3. I didn't realize how important proper citing would be later on.
  4. It was easier to put census and city directory information in the “Notes” section of my genealogy program because there was unlimited space compared to the “Facts” section where only a snippet can be readily seen.
Now, of course, I know better and have decided that this year I will make amends. When I think about the task ahead of me it is completely overwhelming because there are a lot of people in my tree. I am dreading this very time-consuming chore, but it simply has to be done. What I need to do is to focus on my ancestral line (siblings and more distant relatives will have to wait) and pick a family to begin with. Then I can start re-examining sources and citing them correctly. The biggest barrier is trying to figure out exactly how to cite sources in my family tree software.

I have tried on numerous occasions to tackle this problem, but citing sources in Family Tree Maker is, in my opinion, most definitely NOT user-friendly. Each time I've started over the past few years I've invariably thrown my hands up and stormed off in frustration. Case in point: one time I tried to add sources for two divorce decrees I found. I filled out the fields for the source and added the details for the first decree. Then I did the same for the second record (same source, different case/page number). When I went back to the first record it had the details for the second record. I fixed it and went back to the second record. You guessed it, now it had details for the first record. Time to give up. Another time, I was trying to cite obituaries that I had found in online digitized newspapers. I tried to use a template hoping it would guide me in correctly filling out the numerous fields. I finished and immediately realized that I hadn't found a place to put in the website where I found the digitized newspapers. Wrong again! When attempting to cite vital record images accessed online (again using the provided template, though trying to choose the right template is another puzzle) I spent I don't know how long, trying to discover the repository where the original records are held, though I never viewed the originals. Time to throw up my hands or pull out my hair? I was too frustrated to decide.

All I know is that I must dig myself out before I get any deeper in the mire. I know that there will be some benefits, besides the obvious one of feeling a tremendous weight lifted from my shoulders because my sources will be properly cited. First, I'll become so familiar with citing sources in my software that it will no longer be a barrier (and I plan to make a cheat sheet so, lest I forget, I will know exactly what to do). Second, I'm sure that in the process of perusing my records I'll notice things I hadn't before. At least I know that finding most of the records should be simple because I have a good system for organizing both my paper records and those on my computer. The only ones that will take longer are those buried in military pension application files, but those can wait.

This nightmare ends now! I'm taking an online course starting today to help me through this process. I don't know how long it will take to accomplish my task (a long time, I know), but at least I'll be making progress and I'll know how to do it right.

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