Public Service Announcement: Copyright and plagiarism are hot topics right now in the world of genealogy. I have written about it as have several other bloggers and I have tried to link to these other writings so that you can get the information from several different perspectives. Elizabeth Shown Mills has just written an excellent article with examples, Plagiarism—Five "Copywrongs" of Historical Writing. The two articles that I wrote are, Copyright © and Copyright Infringement. Another article that I have linked to in the past is Copyright and Copy Wrong by Michael Lecleric. Please protect yourself by understanding copyright infringement.
You know by now that I am on several mailing lists. Three of the most active are the Legacy Family Tree (LFT) mailing list (for people who use or are interested in the LFT genealogy database software), the Transitional Genealogists Forum (TGF) and the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) list. One topic that frequently comes up on all three lists is what is the right way to record something. This could be about how to properly cite a source, or should you put the cemetery address in the burial location field or is it okay to put Mrs. Davis if you don't know her Christian or maiden name. The list goes on indefinitely.
I wrote a blog post on Genealogy Standards last July. Although I am a big believer in certain documentation standards I am more a believer in CONSISTENCY (the whole reason behind having standards). There is certainly room for interpretation when it comes to how you document things. Sometimes, especially when citing your sources, it can be more of an art than a science but the one thing that remains true is how important it is to remain consistent.
Even if you don't agree with how most genealogists do a certain thing at least be consistent within your own file. For example, the standard way to record burial locations is the same way that you record any location:
Purvis, Lamar, Mississippi, United States
There are many people out there that like to see the cemetery name in the location field like this:
Coaltown Cemetery, Purvis, Lamar, Mississippi, United States
If you like doing it this way then fine, just make sure that you always do it this way. It will make your research look much more professional and credible.
Once you decide on a format then stick to it. Here is and example of what you don't want in your locations:
Purvis, Lamar, Mississippi, United States
Purvis, Lamar County, Mississippi, United States
Purvis, Lamar Co, MS, USA
Purvis, Lamar County, MS, United States of America
I am sure that you could come up with some more variations for this one location. If I was looking at someone's file and saw all of these variations for their locations I would immediately question all of their facts because they were so sloppy in entering them. How can I trust their work if they can't be careful enough to record their locations in a consistent manner? This is a newbie mistake and any researcher that has been doing this for any length of time should have this corrected.
Here is an example with dates. Dates should always be entered 04 Mar 1850 but if you like it better as 03-04-1850 so be it. With dates it is even more important to be consistent. With the 03-04-1850 is that March 4th or April 3rd? (That is why you shouldn't write the dates this way but if you insist at least make it consistent). What if you have dates across your file like this:
04 Feb 1912
2 March 1809
Pick one style and stick with it!
So if you started out this way, how do you correct things like this? If you have hundreds or thousands of entries in your file the task itself is so daunting that you might hesitate. I am most familiar with Legacy Family Tree since that is what I use but I am assuming that the other top programs have the capabilities to do this. Legacy has a master location list. On this screen you can merge duplicates easily. All of my Purvis, MS entries would show up together and I can readily see that I have four entries for one location. I can merge the bad three into the good one and then all of the locations will be corrected with one click. It still takes some time to go through all of the locations to find the dups on the list but it really is quite easy.
You can also scan through the master surname list and find all the surnames that you accidentally entered in all caps and correct them, or, if you really want them in all caps then you can correct those that are not. You can format dates correctly across your entire file with one click. You just tell it what format you want and it will correct all of the dates even though they are in several different formats.
If you want people to take your research seriously, record your information in a consistent manner and don't forget to document WHERE you got your information. For more information about that, read The Basics of Citing Your Sources.
Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis