Tag Archives: Elizabeth Shown Mills

Please Site Your Genealogy Sources; OR How to Keep Your Ancestors & Their Stories Straight

Please Site Your Genealogy Sources; OR How to Keep Your Ancestors & Their Stories Straight

Vicki’s note – article from AncestralFindings.com  .  A reminder that taking the time to cite all of our genealogy sources for each fact is important. The main goal is to document your path so that you, (and others) can find that information in the future.

It is the difference between having a fun hobby, and maybe a sloppy family tree; OR being  (a more) professional genealogist “that ensures you have an accurate family tree where everyone is where they are supposed to be.”

I find that (when I am being good and cite my sources), I can see all of the places to search again.  We may see a person listed as a witness, etc. and then we find later that he/she is our relative.  Where did we see his name?

Ask me how I track sources/facts for a person with a time-line linked to the sources, as I find them.  We don’t discover the facts of a person’s life in a tidy lifespan order.  Time-lines are a great way to organize the events by occurrence.

The Legacy Family Tree.com genealogy software has a good free edition , (which you can download with that link), and a deluxe paid edition.  I suggest trying out the free edition using their sample George Washington family tree.  Both editions have Source Writer templates that are based on Elizabeth Shown Mills’ “Evidence Explained” so help to ensure that all the necessary source information is included.

Would your family history sources pass peer review?  If you ever want to write an article or have a book published on genealogy, they must pass peer review.  Yikes, I better stop having fun searching, and do the mundane task of validating my sources as I go!

The Dangers of Being Careless on Citing Resources in Your Genealogy Research

One of the most important parts of genealogy is citing your sources. Doing good genealogy research means making it something others can trust and follow. Sources allow other researchers to do this and use your research with confidence. Good sources also allow you the confidence of knowing your research is as correct as it can be with your current information. Using source citing shows good genealogical scholarship, and shows you to be a serious researcher and not just a casual hobbyist. Citing sources is also required if you are submitting any of your work to genealogical journals.

As you can see, you must cite your sources to be looked upon as a good genealogist. However, you also have to be careful in citing your sources. Make sure they are accurate and attached to the correct facts. Here are some of the dangers of being careless in your source citing in your genealogical research.

1. You May Get the Wrong Source Attached to the Wrong Fact

Be careful when citing your sources, especially on genealogy family tree software programs. It can be easy to accidentally put a source on the wrong fact. This not only makes your work look sloppy and unprofessional to other researchers, it can be confusing for you when you look at your research later. If you look up a source to confirm a fact as you go further back on that family line, you won’t be able to connect the two, resulting in you being unaware of where you actually got the fact you cited. Anyone using your work as a source for their own research will come across the same problem, and that particular fact, or even all the work you did on that line, will become useless to them. It can also lead to embarrassment if your research gets published in a genealogical journal and someone notices the citation and the fact don’t match each other.

2. You May Not Be Able to Understand Your Citation Later

There is a proper way to cite genealogical sources. You usually cite the entire source, including the name of the publication, the author, the repository, and the date you accessed it, the first time you use it. Subsequent times the source is used, it can be abbreviated. But, if you don’t cite it in full and accurately the first time, you may not understand it, or your abbreviations, later. Don’t think you won’t ever need to check a source again. The more work you do on a family line, the more likely you are to need to use your sources to re-confirm information. If you have recorded your sources in a way you can’t understand them later, they will be useless to you. It is well worth it to invest in a book on how to properly cite genealogical sources for this very purpose. “Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace,” by Elizabeth Shown Mills, is considered the definitive publication on the subject.

3. You Can Get People and Family Lines Confused With Each Other

Many families reuse names again and again over the generations. There are also surnames that are quite common, and if you have different family lines in the same area with the same surname, it can get confusing keeping people straight. Making sure your source citations are accurate can keep people straight for you. If you don’t cite sources, or cite them incorrectly or illegibly, you can easily get people confused. You might put someone in the wrong generation, or mix up one line of your family with another that uses similar names and is in a similar location. Good, careful source citation minimizes these risks and ensures you have an accurate family tree where everyone is where they are supposed to be.

It may seem like a hassle to write or type your sources for every genealogical fact you include on your family tree, but it is worth it. It is also worth it to take the time to do it correctly. Don’t be careless with your genealogical source citation, and you can be relatively sure you’ve got an accurate family tree that will stand up to the scrutiny of even the most diligent genealogy scholars.



Will founded Ancestral Findings back in 1995. He has been involved in genealogy research for over 20 years. The thrill of the hunt, the adventure, and the excitement begin when he started investigating the meaning of his Moneymaker surname. Why I Love Genealogy (And You Should, Too!)


Another brick wall solved

(Vicki’s Note – article from Legacy Family Tree, Posted by Geoff Rasmussen May 16, 2016.  The database mentioned below needs a paid subscription – “Newspapers.com”.     Wisconsin residents can use the Badgerlink “Access Newspaper Archives” for free.  It is through the Beloit Public Library homepage “Beloitlibrary.org” > “Discover, Investigate, Grow” > “Badgerlink” > “I’m a Genealogist” > Access Newspaper Archive“. ):

Another brick wall solved

Wooohooo! Another brick wall mystery solved!


When I heard how it was solved, it made me feel that everything we’re doing here with our Legacy software and our webinar series is worth all the time and effort we put into it. And when I read of the excitement from someone who has just solved a genealogical puzzle, it lifts my spirits and gives me renewed hope for my lost ancestors. So, congrats to Susan Biddle, and with her permission, I have republished her comments that she wrote in our Legacy User Group on Facebook below.

Here’s her initial comments:


She totally left us all hanging, didn’t she? 😉 What tips, what webinars, and how did she do it? So after a bunch of “likes” and people asking her how she did it, she filled us in:


Once again, congrats to Susan! And Beth Foulk deserves kudos for her Problem Solving with FANs webinar. And let’s give some extra kudos to Elizabeth Shown Mills for inventing the FAN concept (Friends, Associates, Neighbors). And for whoever it was that gave the newspaper tips, well done!



Genealogical Documentation of sources, evidence, and proofs

Genealogy Pointers
August 25, 2015

In This Issue
Professional Genealogy: Back in Stock and Relevant as Ever!

Professional Genealogy, edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills, is a manual by professionals for everyone serious about genealogy. For family historians who want to do their own study, reliably, it describes the standards. For hobbyists, attorneys, and medical scientists who seek professional researchers, it’s a consumer guide that defines quality and facilitates choices. For librarians who struggle to help a whole new class of patrons, it provides a bridge to the methods, sources, and minutiae of “history, up-close and personal.” For established genealogical professionals, it offers benchmarks by which they can advance their skills and places their businesses on sounder footing. And for all those who dream of turning a fascinating hobby into a successful career, Professional Genealogy details the preparation and the processes.

Not sure if you are ready for Professional Genealogy, consider the utility of the following excerpt describing the principles of evidence, from Chapter 17, “Evidence Analysis,” authored by Donn Devine:

Current Principles Concerning Evidence

Understanding basic terms
Popular genealogy recognizes the need to document sources and evaluate evidence in order to obtain proof, but it frequently treats these three terms–sources, evidence, and proof–as though they were variant names for the same concept. The confusion reflects genealogy’s mixed heritage from history and law. A careful consideration of the differences between these terms can help us analyze the information we obtain and establish the facts about family relationships.

Sources, in the genealogical context, are any means (person, document, book, artifact, or repository) through which we acquire information. The concept comes from the social sciences–particularly history, from which genealogy draws much of its research methodology. Historians traditionally considered only sources in documentary form. More recently they have turned to oral history–recorded or transcribed interviews with participants and witnesses–to fill gaps in the documentary record. Yet modern genealogists apply the term source to a significantly broader range of materials than those consulted by the traditional historian–from such memorabilia as samplers and quilts to such artifacts as tombstones, weapons, and home furnishings. All are records capable of yielding evidence.

Evidence is the information the source provides–a concept borrowed from law. (While commentators on the methodology of historical research discuss using sources as evidence for proving or disproving hypotheses, the term evidence is otherwise rarely encountered in the social sciences.) In the legal setting, a judge makes the selection, and the jury sees or hears only those sources deemed admissible. In genealogy, we personally select our evidence from the mass of available sources and then evaluate it for credibility and relevance to the matter in question.

Genealogical proof is the thought process by which we reach a convincing conclusion (assertion of fact) based on the evidence (information statements) we gleaned from the sources (people, documents, books, artifacts, or repositories) we examined.


Direct evidence is information that provides an answer without the need for additional facts or further explanation. As with primary information, the answer it provides may be true or false.

Indirect evidence is information that does not explicitly answer the question at hand, although it relates to it in some other way. In the quest for proof, where direct evidence is lacking or appears to be incorrect, indirect evidence from various sources is often assembled to arrive at a reasonable conclusion or “proof.”

Traditionally, genealogists have followed the legal field in using interchangeably the terms indirect and circumstantial evidence. However, the current consensus among many genealogists is that while direct or indirect may be used to describe how an individual piece of evidence relates to the matter in question, the term circumstantial should be reserved to describe a particular type of proof–the type that reasons from a number of items of indirect evidence to a convincing conclusion on an issue. Most important, we should bear in mind that direct and indirect are not rigid types of evidence. They are classifications we assign to statements in relation to a particular issue. Any piece of information may offer direct evidence on one point and indirect evidence on another.

[End of Excerpt]

There’s a lot more in Professional Genealogy’s chapter on Evidence Analysis, including sections on primary and secondary sources, screening sources, credibility of sources, relevance, and more. Readers will find equally helpful information in the book’s chapters on genealogical ethics, research skills, writing and compiling genealogies, professionalism, editorial services–29 chapters overall, and each written by an expert in the field. If you don’t own a copy of Professional Genealogy, now’s your chance. We have just replenished our supply! For more information or to order, visit the following URL:


http://www.genealogical.com is the online home of Genealogical Publishing Company and its affiliate, Clearfield Company. For general information about our companies and their products, please e-mail us at info@genealogical.com. To order online, please e-mail us at sales@genealogical.com.

To order other than online, you can:

1. Order by mail: 3600 Clipper Mill Road, Suite 260 – Baltimore, Maryland 21211-1953
2. Fax your order to 1-410-752-8492
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Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Third Edition by Elizabeth Shown Mills

Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Third Edition

Elizabeth Shown Mills

(This book is now in the Beloit Public Library Genealogy / Local History collection at GEN 907.2 Mills;

Article from Genealogical.com; book available for purchase from them. Note from Vicki.)

Evidence Expalined
Format: Hardcover

Pages: 892 pp.

Published: 2015

Price: $59.95

ISBN: 9780806320175

Item # GPC 3878


It’s Here! The new Third Edition of Evidence Explained, the nationally acclaimed guidebook on source citation and analysis.

Eight years have passed since the first edition of Evidence Explained, the definitive guide to the citation and analysis of historical sources–a guide so thorough that it leaves nothing to chance. Yet advances in genealogy and history research, changes at major repositories and online information providers, and the ever-evolving electronic world have generated new citation and analysis challenges for researchers. While countless websites now suggest ways to identify their offerings, few of those address the analytical needs of a researcher concerned with the nature and provenance of web material, whose numerous incarnations and transformations often affect the reliability of their content.

Like the previous editions of Evidence Explained, the third edition explains citation principles for both traditional and nontraditional sources; includes more than 1,000 citation models for virtually every source type; and shows readers where to go to find their sources and how to describe and evaluate them. It contains many new citation models, updates to websites, and descriptions and evaluations of numerous contemporary materials not included in earlier editions.

Highlights of the third edition include:

QuickStart Guide
Expanded “3×3” Evidence Analysis Process Model
Expanded coverage for genetic citations
Expanded coverage of layered citations
Latest concepts in evidence analysis
Coverage of latest media and delivery systems
Expanded glossary
Handling of cached materials at Wayback Machine and elsewhere
Privacy standards for genetic research
Updates in National Archives citations after changes at NARA and TNG
Updates for major online providers after acquisitions and mergers
When to cite DOIs vs. URLs
When to cite Stable URLs vs. paths and keywords
Your 4 Basic Rules for citing websites
& many other issues raised by users of past editions


“The definitive guide for how to cite every conceivable kind of source a historian might use, from traditional archival materials to digital media to the most arcane sources imaginable.”—John B. Boles, William P. Hobby Professor of History, Rice University

“Twenty-first century technology confronts historians and students with a bewildering proliferation of information some of it accurate and too much of it dubious. In Evidence Explained, Mills demonstrates how to separate the wheat from the chaff and how to report one’s sources and achievements. This encyclopedic guidebook is an invaluable resource for historians, students and editors alike.”—Jon Kukla, author of Mr. Jefferson’s Women and A Wilderness So Immense: The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America

“Historians will welcome the publication of this detailed guide to citations. Even avid users of The Chicago Manual of Style regularly encounter sources for which that handbook gives no guidance. Now we can turn to Elizabeth Shown Mills’s comprehensive work.”—Journal of Southern History

“A key resource guide for scholars and serious researchers who must rely upon and understand historical evidence. Highly recommended.”—R.V. Labaree, Choice

“This is an essential resource for family historians; highly recommended for all libraries.”—Library Journal (First edition: Library Journal Best Reference 2007)

“In standardizing a family history style, Mills has advanced the discipline. She has given researchers, writers, editors, and publishers invaluable new tools to bring quality and consistency to their work and distinction to the field.”—National Genealogical Society Quarterly

“Meant not only as a style guide for the types of source citations used by historians and genealogists, this book also discusses why analysis of information within the total context of a source is imperative to understanding the nature of a fact. Citations not only tell where the source was found, but also can indicate a level of confidence to knowledgeable researchers.”—Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly

** Library Journal’s Best Reference 2007 **
** Winner of the National Genealogical Society’s 2008 Award of Excellence**