Friday, March 14, 2014

Scaling Source Mountain

Every time I started trying to clean up my sources I got endlessly frustrated between trying to find a source template to exactly match my document and working with a software program that just wasn't intuitive to me for inputting sources. Now that I've made some changes in my approach, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel (granted, it's still a long way off). I also realized that the process won't be as painful as I had originally anticipated. In fact, though I admit it sounds geeky to say, when I have some free time I want to race to the computer to continue adding sources.

So, what changed? Several things.
  1. I changed family tree programs. While I was content using Family Tree Maker for adding information and generating reports I just didn't like the way it handled sourcing. I watched a RootsMagic (RM) video on source documentation and decided to try the program. In FTM I found it difficult to tell what was the master source and what was the source citation (the specific information that applied to one person). In contrast, the way RM approaches sources feels much more user-friendly and makes sense to me.
  2. I have accepted that the source templates are often not going to exactly match my document. When I began adding sources with RM I ended up scrapping many sources halfway through, or even after I had added several citations because I decided that I needed to change the template. I still don't understand why there are so many templates for U.S. census records, 28 of them, but that only one is for online images. While I do have census records copied directly from microfilm, they probably don't number more than thirty in total, while all of the rest come from an online source. I still don't understand it, but I just made all of my census master sources from the one template and moved on.
  3. I made a conscious choice that it was better to have sources that can lead others to find my documents than to make sure that every source is in Evidence Explained format. I know there are some who may take issue with this, but for me it's the right decision. I've had enough hair pulling over source documentation already. I probably could work on crafting source templates to fit EE standards, but it would take a lot more time and I don't aspire to becoming a board certified genealogist.

So, now that I am happily on my way, I have some advice for others in a similar situation.

  1. Find a program that makes sense to you. If adding sources feels like going into battle then you are using the wrong program and you probably won't get very far.
  2. Decide how important it is to you that your sources are in the proper format down to the last punctuation mark. If you want to become a BCG then you may want to take the extra time to make sure your sources will be in EE format. If all you care about is being able document your data then you might choose to do as I did.
  3. Take care in choosing your source templates because you'll keep using those master sources over and over. When you are about to select a template ask yourself “what kind of record is this?” Is it from an online source or not. You want to make sure you can add the website name and URL if it is.
  4. Try to add all of the information to the master source when you create it. Ask yourself if you could find the document in question again if it weren't in your hand or on your computer. If you don't add the information to your master source now you may forget to do it later. Yes, it can be time consuming at the outset when you would really rather be adding sources to your tree, but when you know your master sources are complete you can add citations with confidence. Besides, isn't blazing ahead without proper citations what got you into this mess in the first place?
  5. Try to identify the original repository. This is actually a corollary to Number 4, but I think it deserves emphasis. The only problem is that with an online collection it can be difficult to do. To me, the repository is where the original records (not the microfilmed version) are housed. Both Family Search and have a “Learn more. . .” link for each collection, that may or may not be helpful. Some collections at Family Search state “It is not necessarily intended to index
    any specific set of records.” If I wanted to find a copy of a record from one of their indexes this would bring me no closer to finding what I want. Throw me a bone, people! When I find an entry like this I just heave a sigh and leave the repository blank. Because I'm familiar with Michigan records I have been able to add the repository sometimes. For Michigan Deaths 1867-1897 I know the records are state level records sent from the counties starting when the state began civil registration and going until the advent of death certificates so I can add the repository.

I spent quite a bit of time up front creating master sources for some of my most frequently cited items: census, newspapers, vital records and frequently used databases. It was tedious, but once I had many of those in place I took a break and began adding source citations to my ancestors. I was delighted to realize that with the master sources done adding individual citations went quite quickly, which is a good thing, because I have A LOT to add. Then I went back and added more master sources. After my ancestors are in good shape I'll branch out to siblings, etc. Another time saver is being able to “Share” a fact along with it's source to multiple others with a few clicks of the mouse. This is great for adding census records to large families.

A fringe benefit of all of this is that now when I come across a new item to add to my tree, I don't hesitate to add the source citation immediately because doing so is simple. This makes me more determined to spend some time adding master sources for less frequently used sources so that adding source citations becomes both natural and painless. Now, I can see that I can do this. I'm a long way from sourcing everything in my tree, but I can see a pinpoint of light way at the end of the tunnel. No more will my sources be woefully inadequate (e.g. obituary, Kalamazoo Gazette or Michigan death certificate).

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