2018 June – Thinking Genealogically: Advanced Methods

Thinking Genealogically: Advanced Genealogical Methods

Course Coordinator: David McDonald, DMin, CG

Additional instructors: Rick Fogarty, Melissa Johnson, CG, Michael D. Lacopo, DVM

Held June 24-29, 2018, at La Roche College, Pittsburgh, PA. Registration Information.

Having learned basic and intermediate genealogical research skills, this course is intended for learners who have devoted substantial amounts of time to genealogical pursuits. While one may not choose to seek credentials in the field, the skills and forms taught here would be of use to those who are considering the option down the line.

Primarily, our endeavors and efforts will be to stretch the researcher’s mind to thinking intuitively about tasks and methods of utility as a genealogist. After a time, a researcher should almost instinctively begin to think about how to approach a research problem, an information source, or a genealogical goal.

Prior to our institute week, each student will have been expected to read Chapters 1 & 2 of Elizabeth Shown Mills’s Evidence Explained [EE].

Additional preparatory readings will be drawn from Mastering Genealogical Proof, by Thomas W. Jones; Genealogy as Pastime and Profession, by Donald Lines Jacobus; and select essays from the 75th Anniversary edition of The American Genealogist (1997).

Monday, 25 June

M-1: Overview, Review & Discussion (McDonald)

We begin with some conversation and sharing around our unique and shared genealogical experiences and particular expertise among the classroom participants. We’ll briefly examine incentives, motives, and participants’ backgrounds. Opening conversations on what makes genealogists’ minds tic. Discussion around Jacobus’s Pastime and Mills’s EE.

M-2: Sources and Resources  (McDonald)

What constitutes evidence? How do we evaluate and determine what information we have, what information we may wish to seek out, and how it is those resources may best be brought to bear. How do we effectively correlate information to build evidence in a case?

M-3: Reasonably Exhaustive Research, Conflicting Evidence, and Sound Conclusions (McDonald)

Thorough research, “reasonably exhaustive” in nature, allows a researcher to build their case on multiple sources. Regrettably, research will not always provide the same information. Rather, reasonably exhaustive research can produce information that conflicts. A skilled genealogist can work with this evidence, resolve the conflicts and produce well-crafted and carefully-reasoned analysis of their findings.

M-4: Evidence and source citations: more than the dreaded footnote (McDonald)

A hands-on evaluation of ephemera, research notes and family materials which may provide information on a genealogical problem. Developing citations, based on the models provided in EE. Homework based upon this session’s conversation and exercises.

4 PM: “My Happiest Finds”  (McDonald)

A bonus session revealing unexpected serendipities out of oddball resources, or materials discovered from resources from unanticipated and previously unknown repositories, collections or individuals.

Tuesday, 26 June

T-0: Homework conversations  (McDonald)

Some review and conversation around the evening’s homework assignments

T-1: DNA Basics (Lacopo)

Fundamental ideas and concepts with regard to DNA evidence. What is DNA? Understanding mtDNA, Y-DNA, and atDNA, the tests commercially available for their analysis and the output from those tests.

T-2: DNA Applications (Lacopo)

An examination of tools, online and otherwise, for the analysis and interpretation of DNA data. Questions around the usefulness of such information in genealogical analysis will be raised.  How can a researcher effectively report the material? We will discuss interactions with prospective DNA donors to secure their cooperation and with clients around findings, including unexpected results. Realizing what DNA indicates, both in what it tells us and what its lack of information might mean.

T-3: Document Transcription & Analysis (McDonald)

A workshop on the methods to transcribe and evaluate documents in order to plan research endeavors and more fully extract data in the pursuit of evidence on a research target. Transcription, abstraction, analysis and research planning will all be done in this session, with a common document used as a model. HOMEWORK based in this session’s activities.

T-4: Effective Use of Government Documents (McDonald)

Government entities on all levels produce documents on which a genealogist’s work may come to rely. We will discuss the types of records available through the National Archives and Records Administration, methods to access them, and their potential application in a research project. Consideration of the differences between NARA’s citation style and those preferred based on EE. Private laws and bills enacted by Congress and the reports made by various committees of the House and Senate will be considered.

4 PM: Considering Genealogy Credentials (McDonald)

Conversations about credentials and the bodies who administer the evaluations and confer them. Why pursue them? Are they worth it? Why do they exist?

Wednesday, 27 June

W-0: Homework review (McDonald)

Final review of assignment 1; conversation regarding transcription exercise.

W-1: Seeking, Finding and Using Manuscript Collections (McDonald)

One need not be a dead novelist to have an archive of manuscript holdings. Many ordinary folks through the centuries have amassed personal papers and collections held in various private and public collections. Using the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections [NUCMC], and non-digitized resources accessible only in such documentary collections, insights into these types of holdings and what might be available in them.

W-2 Federal Land Records (McDonald)

The Federal Government’s largest asset (its only real asset in the earliest days of the republic) was the vast Public Domain of lands. The territory acquired from Britain at the close of the Revolutionary War, and those subsequently purchased and annexed were subsequently divided into family-sized tracts of land. Some of the land was purchased. Some of it was distributed as military bounty lands. Still later, some was distributed through the Homestead Act of 1862 to settlers willing to commit five years’ time to improving the lands. Each of these methods produced records, and these records can be of critical importance in genealogical research.

W-3: “Don’t Forget the Ladies!” (McDonald)

Abigail Smith Adams’s well-remembered admonition to her Revolutionary-agitator husband, John, serves genealogists well. Identifying women, including their birth surnames, is often among the biggest challenges a competent genealogist faces. An examination of records and methods which may be of utility; and considering the need to correlate the data against other known facts and proofs.

W-4: Understanding the Law in Context (McDonald)

A basic primer related to the utility of law with regard to research. Laws compel behaviors and compliance, as they have for centuries. Sometimes those laws impacted our families; more often than we recognize, the law itself will impact our analysis of the families in our research scope.

Tonight’s homework will be due on Friday morning, to be returned to the students after the conclusion of the institute.

Thursday [R], 28 June

R-0 Homework Conversations (McDonald)

R-1: Church and Religious Records (McDonald)

As substitutes for vital records, church and religious records, where extant, are a critical tool in the genealogist’s tool box. Beyond their substitutionary utility, though, the records provide insight into our forebears’ ways of thinking, their actions and their place in the community of their times. Accessing the records, and determining the types of records available in a number of denominations; learning of which communities research targets might have joined or in which they may have participated; and research correlation using religious records.

R-2: Taxes, Tales & Marks: Other Courthouse Records (McDonald)

Beyond the vital records so desperately sought by researchers, most official record repositories have a vast array of additional materials worth considering. Moving beyond the barebones of “who, what, where, when and why,” we will consider what sorts of additional materials can be found that can add color to your family research, but also help provide insight into their context and community. When other records lack, these records (when available) can be of use!

R-3: Structuring Research Questions (Johnson)

Perhaps the most challenging of tasks before researchers is learning how to limit and focus on a carefully-designed research question. Research conducted in pursuit of a clear and concise research query supports clarity of purpose. We will consider how to write and self-edit a well-crafted answer that provides a client, or the public, with sufficient information to demonstrate the soundness of our research conclusions.

R-4: Pulling the Research Together (Johnson)

Once a question has been formulated, the research completed and the analysis done, a proof argument should be assembled which supports the conclusions warranted as a result of the effort. Examples of writing techniques, including ongoing analysis, will illustrate the session. Cues and clues for the development of a proposed journal article will be covered.

Friday, 29 June

F-0: Final homework conversations; turn in Wednesday’s assignment for evaluation and return after the conclusion of the course.  (McDonald)

F-1: Applying Research Principles to Non-Traditional Contexts: A Native American case study (Rick Fogarty)

Among the tasks advanced researchers must consider is conducting research in non-traditional fields. Native American research has been a specialized field of study within genealogy, and while the communities and their records may be different from a typical, Anglo-focused family’s research, the methods for solving and addressing genealogical conundrums are the same. Through the use of a case study, Rick Fogarty will move beyond the government documents into other more obscure, but vitally important, resources to address a Native American research problem.

F-2: Ethics in Genealogy (McDonald)

Genealogists are more than DAR grannies and their pedigree charts. We are the builders of family-level social histories. As such, we have obligations to conduct ourselves with sound and ethical practices which may lead to revised conclusions based on solid evidence. Genealogists have a responsibility to report findings and conclusions thoughtfully and truthfully. We will consider how best practices in genealogy support ethically sound and well-reasoned research.

11:30 AM: Certificates & Conclusions

Concluding remarks and the presentation of certificates of completion. Safe travels home!


© MMXVII, David McDonald. All rights reserved. “CG®” and “Certified Genealogist®” are trademarks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, Washington, D. C., and are used by authorized associates following periodic, peer-reviewed competency evaluations. No. 452, renewed, expiring 19 April 2019.