Sunday, July 22, 2012

Genealogy Standards - Documenting Your Data

Question from Kristen:
I am a little confused about "standardized" data entry. What are the standards and who decided them?

I have an entire Power Point presentation on this topic. When we say data entry, we are talking about entering data into your computer database program. Hand typed formal reports have slightly different formats which are also noted. There is some minor disagreement within the genealogical community on what the data entry standards should be but on most points everyone is on the same page. Standardization of data entry is important. It makes it easier to share information between researchers and it makes your research more professional and credible. If you have any aspirations of publishing to a newspaper, magazine or journal, adherence to accepted standards is expected. In the United States, the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City is considered the authority. Associations such as the Board for the Certification of Genealogists (BCG), the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen), the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), and the National Genealogical Society (NGS) also weigh in on what the standards should be. One book I really like is Getting it Right. I am waiting to hear back from Ms. Slawson on whether or not she is planning a 2nd edition. Here is a very abbreviated list of the most common data entries:

If you saw that Mary Ann Carter was born 03-04-42, what would that mean to you?

  • Was Mary born on March 4th 1942?
  • Or was it March 4th 1842?
  • Another possibility is April 3rd 1942

Dates are always written with the two digit day, standard three letter month, and four digit year. Mary Ann Carter was born 04 Mar 1842. In formal reports the month is often written out in it's entirety for added clarity, 04 March 1842, the order remains the same.

You can also record approximate or estimated dates [listed abbreviations are accepted]

  • Before 1852 (Bef)
  • After 04 Dec 1912 (Aft)
  • Between 11 Apr 1878 and 1880 (Bet, and)
  • From 1790 to 1800
  • About 1792 (Abt)
  • Calculated 03 Nov 1823 (Cal)
  • Estimated 1901 (Est)
  • The term circa is no longer used

Names of Persons
Most genealogy database programs have separate fields for title, given name, surname, suffix, and AKAs. It is important that you use these fields correctly. Examples of titles are Reverend, Elder, Captain, Sergeant. The titles of Miss and Mrs. are only used as titles IF it was recorded that way in the records AND only in the AKA field. Miss and Mrs. can be important clues.

In the given name field record the full Christian name, if known. Examples are Mary Catherine and Thomas Calvin. If all you know is initials, then record that. There is always a space between initials (R. P. vs. R.P.). Some examples are, T., T. J., T. David, Edith A. Do not use quotes in the given name field except in formal reports. Mary "Mittie" Grantham is okay in a publication but not in a database program (Mittie needs to be in the AKA field).

When entering surnames in a database program do not use ALL CAPITALS. This used to be the standard but it is no longer taught. In formal reports you will see entire names in all caps but they are in small caps, two points smaller than the main text.

Examples of suffixes are Junior, Jr. (abbreviations are okay), Sr., IV (the fourth), Esquire, prince of Wales.

Enter all variations of the person's name you find in the records in the AKA Field. Some examples of AKAs for James Colon Simmons would be James C. Simmons, J. C. Simmons, Colon Simmons, Jim C. Simmons and Jim Simmons. The AKA field is also where nicknames go such as Stumpy Brown, Woody Davis, Mittie Grantham, PaPa Jones and Little Sis Morris.

Females are ALWAYS entered with their maiden name, Michele Lynn Simmons. Their married name goes in the AKA field, Michele Lewis. In formal reports and publications, the name is written Michele Lynn (Simmons) Lewis.

Names of Places
For locations in the United States a four field location is used. You go from the lowest to the highest jurisdiction.
town/city, county, state, country = Purvis, Lamar, Mississippi, United States. The words County, Parish or Borough are not included. Commas are placeholders. If you don’t know what one of the fields is you leave it blank.
, Lamar, Mississippi, United States (either the town is unknown or it is a rural area)
Purvis, , Mississippi, United States (the county is unknown, this shouldn’t happen often)

United States is the standard not U.S., U.S.A. or United States of America. Although the standard is 4 levels of jurisdiction, other countries don’t necessarily follow this rule. Be familiar with each country you do research in.
Havana, La Habana, Cuba (3)
Heimersdorf, Chorweiler, Köln, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Deutschland (5)

In formal reports, places are written out with the word county or parish for clarity and the country is left off if it is clearly understood. Leading commas are also omitted, again, to make the report easier to read and more clear.
Purvis, Lamar County, Mississippi
Cook County, Illinois
Walker, Livingston Parish, Louisiana

You will frequently see locations abbreviated severely like this: Purvis, Lamar Co, MS. This method has fallen out of favor.

I could write an entire book on how to cite your sources. Luckily I don't have to because someone already has. Elizabeth Shown Mills is considered the authority on how to cite your sources. She has two books available. I recommend Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian for beginning researchers. If you are past the beginning stages (or if you are just adventurous) I recommend her updated and expanded edition, Evidence Explained:Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Ms. Mills has an excellent website including an even more updated pdf version of the book at Evidence Explained. Citing your sources is an art more than exact science. You want to cite your sources in such a way that anyone coming behind you can find the document you are referencing with no difficulty. You also want your sources to be cited in a consistent manner. Ms. Mills has simple to understand templates for each type of source you will come across. Several of the top genealogy database programs base their source templates on Evidence Explained.

As I said, this is a very small sampling of the data entry possibilities. If you have any questions at all just send me an E-Mail.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

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