All posts by Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia is the lead genealogist on the new NEHGS study project, Early New England Families, 1641-1700. Prior to joining the NEHGS staff, she compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant, the Alden Family Five Generations project, and the Harlow Family : Descendants of Sgt. William Harlow (1624/5-1691) of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University. In October 2016, Alicia was elected a Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists.

Citations

First, does the book give footnotes, endnotes, or other citations to the sources the author used? Second, are those citations useful?

One could say that “any citation is better than none,” and citations do not have to follow all of the “manual of style” rules to be useful. Their main purpose is to tell the reader where the information came from. That said, an understanding of standardized citation rules is always better than none. Continue reading Citations

Format

Over the centuries tens of thousands of different formats have been used to present genealogies depending on what system the author chose to use. Within the last half-century or so, standards of genealogical format have been developed and accepted by the professional community. Recommended reading: Penny Stratton’s online series on genealogical writing and publishing, and also her book, available as an e-book as well as in a print edition.

However, standardized rules do not ensure, even today, that everyone follows them, nor that they are understood. This means that evaluating a genealogy, old or new, requires consideration of whether the format is a help or a hindrance to our research. Standardized formats we use today have two particular aspects of importance – numbering systems and arrangement of information. Continue reading Format

Scope

Another way to assess a genealogy is to consider the “scope” of its content. Few genealogies trace all descendants of a seventeenth-century New England couple through male and female lines to the present: just ask the Mayflower Society about their “Five Generations” program, now approaching sixty years of effort with more than fifty volumes – and still growing!

Standard genealogies usually trace descendants of the same surname through male lines because it is a much simpler task to collect data exclusive to one surname at a time. Continue reading Scope

Who’s who

Enlarging on last week’s topic about Peer Review, it is always best to know who is who in any industry. The industry of genealogical research goes back almost 200 years, so that covers a lot of “Whos,” but here are some lists to help:

The American Society of Genealogists (https://fasg.org/fellows/all-fellows/) has elected 167 Fellows since 1940 based on their published work in books and articles. The ASG website includes biographies and lists of works by many past and present Fellows. Membership is limited to 50 Fellows at a time, so although many of the most recognized genealogists of the past 78 years appear on this list, it by no means includes everyone. ASG also gives several awards and certificates of appreciation to non-members for their work (https://fasg.org/awards/). Continue reading Who’s who

Peer review

Genealogists can learn from Fantasy Football. The focus with which some people research yards per game or number of completed passes is the same that every genealogist should put into learning about the “team” of authors upon whom they are basing their own work. Is your team reliable in the “red zone”?

Fortunately, today we have pretty nearly full access to thousands of book reviews online. Continue reading Peer review

Perfect 10

With the Winter Olympics almost upon us, we will be hearing a lot about “perfect” scores in the sports where judges assign points for such things as technical difficulty and artistic interpretation.

A “scoring” system for genealogies would be interesting. If, for example, we had ten categories on which to judge a genealogical source, and each category had a potential ten points maximum, the “perfect” score would be 100. Of course, this would all be subjective, but it would give us a way to group works for comparison (top 10%, bottom 50% etc.). Here are ten categories that I came up with, in no particular order (once we have the categories, we will examine them in detail in future posts): Continue reading Perfect 10

The three-legged horse

Thanks to everyone who joined in the discussion after my last post and suggested future topics. I should have plenty of inspiration, but please feel free to add new ideas at any time.

Overwhelmingly, everyone wants some kind of aid – a master list, a database – that will provide a one-stop source for researchers to assess bad resources, false claims, mistaken identities, and anything else that is not right about genealogy. Continue reading The three-legged horse

“But it was published in a book!”

Vita Brevis has posted more than one thousand essays in the last four years, of which I’ve done a few,[1] but I am having a really hard time lately coming up with appropriate and interesting topics for a Vita Brevis post, so I am throwing it out to you readers. What do you want me to write? Questions? Comments?

In the meantime, I recently read a quote from Isaiah Thomas – the eighteenth-century printer, not the basketball player – that I thought was worth thinking about: “But, to my great disappointment, I soon found that people were not to be reasoned out of measures, that they never reasoned themselves into.” Continue reading “But it was published in a book!”

Dower vs. inheritance

After my previous post, the question came up about whether a widow’s dower right in her husband’s property is an “inheritance,” since, as we traditionally see the term being used in seventeenth-century New England, it is held only for the widow’s lifetime and reverts to her children on her death.

However, I found the following on Wikipedia: “Usually, the wife was free from kin limitations to use (and bequeath) her dower to whatever and whomever she pleased. It may have become the property of her next marriage, been given to an ecclesiastical institution, or been inherited by her children from other relationships than that from which she received it.” Continue reading Dower vs. inheritance

Reverse dower

From a modern perspective, we might think that women had no legal rights in the “old” days, but there actually were many ways in which women were legally protected. For example, husbands could not abandon wives and families (although one had to catch the husband to make him pay up). Another right that we regularly see is the right of dower given to the wife: she was entitled to inherit one third of her husband’s estate, no matter what he might have thought about it. This right is often expressed in land records when the husband sells land and the wife “releases” her dower rights to the property. Not all deeds include this release, but the right was there and the transaction could later be contested without it. Continue reading Reverse dower