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.

Pulling it all together: Part Two

Continuing with my assessment of The Phelps Family of America:

Scope: The work traces Phelps-named males through the ninth generation as well as some female descendants born with the Phelps surname to their children, and occasionally further through a grandchild with a non-Phelps surname. An effort was made to trace the Phelps family in Europe, presented in the form of 70 pages of transcribed, but not analyzed, correspondence with parish rectors and individuals named Phelps. The methodology was limited, but the scope deserves a score of 7. Continue reading Pulling it all together: Part Two

Pulling it all together

Over the past weeks I have been defining 10 categories to use when assessing the value, or lack thereof, of a genealogy. The question is not “Where do I find a list of the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ genealogies,” but “How do I judge whether a genealogy is good or bad?” For the experiment, I am assigning a maximum of 10 points per category with the idea of coming up with numbers that may allow us to compare thousands of genealogies. This is purely my subjective opinion, of course, and numbers by themselves have little meaning without the reasoning behind them, which is why I have included a good deal of reasoning in the examples below – which means it will take me several posts to complete my report. Continue reading Pulling it all together

Accessibility

Until very recently, the vast and rich world of genealogical publications was limited to those who could visit a library with a specialized collection, such as NEHGS. Most genealogies are, as one would expect, privately published by the author or client in limited numbers. Sometimes only a handful of copies were made and distributed to a few, select libraries, plus a small number of relatives, and that does not even begin to cover manuscript material of all those genealogies that never saw print, or collections of multiple family research by noted genealogists.[1]

The good news, of course, is that this is a case where the Internet has had a positive influence, with nearly every book in the world being digitized and made available online and exploding access to digitized manuscript material from every library and archive to boot.[2] Continue reading Accessibility

Completeness and restraint

It is one thing for the author of a genealogy to have the goal (or scope) of publishing everything about all the descendants of [blank], and a much, much different thing to achieve that goal.

Clearly, there is no such thing as “everything” and “all.” The author has to decide what information she wants (or is able) to include, how much detail of that information to provide, and whether the same standard will be applied to everyone. Does the standard go beyond names, dates, and places? Are probates, land and church records, gravestones, obituaries, pensions, census records, and the like provided in detail when available? How exhaustive has the search for these facts been? Continue reading Completeness and restraint

Analyze what?

Genealogical articles, such as those published in the Register, very often address a problem or omission from a previously published genealogy. The author explains the problem, describes methods and sources used to address it, reports results and, then, if the answer is not clear cut, presents an argument as to why one conclusion is preferable to another.[1]

Every family has its share of complications that need to be addressed in their genealogy. The most common egregious element of nineteenth-century genealogies, in particular, is the claim of English/royal ancestry. Continue reading Analyze what?

Age and Methodology

Although it would seem logical that an older genealogy would always be less valuable than a newer one, as we would assume that the author of the newer work had access to more and better resources and modern genealogical methodology, that is not always so.

The biggest advantage that really old genealogies have is the author’s personal and family knowledge. If the genealogy was published in 1857 by an author who was born in 1800 and contains information on his immediate family in his lifetime, one could have more confidence that he knew what he was writing about. Continue reading Age and Methodology

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