How to: Adapting online sources to your own, with your own citations

How to: Adapting online sources to your own, with your own citations

Over the last year, we’ve probably spent half our genealogy time working on one project: cleaning up the sloppy work, especially with citations, we completed in our first years of assembling this family tree.

We had read Black Roots by Tony Burroughs (Black Roots) before we started, and beyond everything else he advocates a great genealogy process and has lots of advice on how to proceed building your family tree. He warns against falling to the temptation of just building out as fast as you can, and focusing on document collection instead of getting the things like oral family histories that you will not be able to get later.

We promptly ignored Mr. Burroughs’ advice, and clicked every shaky leaf we could see, we built out based on Ancestry User Trees, we accepted nearly every hint, and we ended up with a mess. A pretty solid, very useful, mess. The tree has good bones, but it probably causes more harm than good as a public tree some days. It’s why we’ve spent so much time going back and cleaning up our mess.

As we looked to clean up our main tree, and bring it into a much better, cleaner, accurate record of our family history, we started with one item which we don’t see many researchers publishing: attaching all sources as ours, with citations attached. This gives us a standard source format for all our evidence, and it gives us full ownership of the records and media, independent of what the original publisher chooses to do with it later.

The bulk of our process is taking all sources, online and offline, drafting a proper citation (following Evidence Explained as best we can), attaching that citation to the media/record, and then publishing our extracted record as the evidence supporting various facts. For online records this means not just accepting’s record entry and attaching it directly to our tree, it means downloading the media, crafting a proper citation, and manually attaching the record to our tree, while citing/linking to the online record.

There are many advantages to this approach (and we’ll blog in more detail on them next week), but the most important two benefits are this: we fully understand the quality of the record we are publicly attaching as valuable evidence before we do so, and we now fully own the record (and the media) regardless of what happens to the original digital source. For example, websites close, message boards with attached files get archived, subscriptions lapse…but if you have followed this approach, the 1880 U.S. Census record for your 2x great-grandfather is still attached to your tree, still shareable, and still visible no matter what happens to the original digital record.

Today, we’re going to walk you through how we do this, and how we attach it to our tree.

Step 1 – Download the record

Screen Shot 2018-01-25 at 9.55.47 AMWe’re going to use a record with media as our example, but this would largely hold with database-only or index records that don’t have media. First off, locate the record you’re interested in and download it from the holder of the electronic record. Most sites have a “Download” button, but if not, try right-clicking the image and select “Save image…”.

Step 2 – Create an MS Word document of the record, by inserting the picture

Open a blank Word document, and save it in the proper folder (we create a folder for every ancestor, and we would create it under their name and we would have copied the file from Step 1 into this folder). Adjust the “Orientation” to match the document (in our example, it’s a square shaped document, so we chose Portrait) and the “Size” (match the size as close as possible to the original size, so in our example we selected Ledger size to match the census sheet). Then select “Margins” and set them to “Narrow”. This will let you use as much of the sheet as possible.

Screen Shot 2018-01-25 at 10.06.51 AMNext, click “Insert-Pictures-Picture from file…”and select the image you downloaded in Step 1. Make the sure picture is selected, and click “Wrap Text-In front of text”. Now, you can move the image freely in the document, and you should resize it until it takes up most of the sheet…leaving enough room for text on the bottom.

Step 3 – Attach your citation

We’re not going to address how to craft a citation here, but we are huge fans of Elizabeth Shown Mills’ Evidence Explained and have done our best to follow that standard. For fellow adopters of the EE standard, we are using the “First Reference Note” as our citation for our images.

Create a text box below the image you inserted in Step 2 (Insert-Text Box-Draw Text Box), stretching it from end-to-end of the image above. As with the image, make sure the new text box is selected and click “Wrap Text-In front of text” to allow you to move the box freely on the page. Click in the box, and type your citation. When done, resize the text box to make sure it’s as close to the edges of the image as possible, and sized to keep the text as close to the bottom edge of the image as possible. Save your document.Screen Shot 2018-01-25 at 10.34.48 AM

Step 4 – Prepare for publishing

Screen Shot 2018-01-25 at 10.37.30 AMNow that the document is complete, save as a PDF file. This will make it easier to share later, and easier to print if needed.

Next, we convert this document to an image (.jpg) so that it appears easily readable in online trees. We use a free website to do the conversion ( but feel free to do it however you’d like. Some people just do a screen capture of their final document, some people just save as .jpg from a tool like SnagIT. Once we have created the .jpg, we’ll take the opportunity to crop it tight to the margins of the image, keeping the citation visible.

Step 5 – Create the Source in your Online tree

There are many different ways to do this, but it basically comes down to two methods: Create the source Online or create the source in your genealogy software and sync the change to your online tree. Either way works, and it’s basically the same tasks for both approaches.

Create the source record, and draft it to the standard you follow for your sources. In our case we are using Family Tree Maker to create the source and attach to the facts, and we use the citation we created in Step 3 as the main citation for the Source. We also make sure to attach the web link to the record in the Source, so that you can click through to the original online record just like if you had attached it from the online source directly.

Screen Shot 2018-01-25 at 11.29.09 AM

When you’ve completed creating the source, attach the image of the record created in Step 4, attach the source to your facts, and you’re done!

Screen Shot 2018-01-25 at 11.30.43 AMAll told this exercise takes about 5 minutes per source, and you’ve ensured that you will forever own this Source material, no matter what happens electronically in the future. And, as you’ll see in our next post, you can lose very precious information when online sources are taken down unexpectedly…

Genealogy was teaching us lessons on MLK Day…

Genealogy was teaching us lessons on MLK Day…

During this recent Dr. Martin Luther King holiday weekend, we received one of those messages on that you dream of. Through Felice’s paternal grandmother’s DNA, we had a 5-8th cousin reaching out to help try and draw the line between the tests, and while their theory probably doesn’t match up as she thought it might, it did highlight 3x great-grandparents we hadn’t yet identified. From that, we’re starting to piece together a theory that’s looking pretty strong about siblings of the 3x GGP’s, and with that a good lead on new direct relatives for my wife.

Genealogy for African families is very difficult because for much of our history they were only viewed as property and what we know from that time is largely based on who survived long enough to be considered a person.

These new relatives were all born as slaves in the South before the civil war, and so very little is known about them, very little was recorded, and even less survived. Good theories may be all we can ever piece together to explain the DNA connection we now know we share…and it seemed appropriate that this excitement, and struggle, should happen during the weekend we put aside to honor the struggle of our ancestors to be allowed to be human and citizens in the United States.

But like many lessons taught by Dr. King, there is a level even deeper than that which became apparent only after we thought about it and discussed it more.

By contrast, my genealogical line is much better defined, as most northern European/British lines are. In addition to being a Mayflower descendent, I have several lines that go back to the early 1630’s in the new world, and all of my relatives had arrived in the United States by 1850. This means I have a great deal of documentation on my ancestors, and it means I only have questions about the identity of 3 of my 32 3x GGP.

Felice’s line has only about 12 of 32 3x GGP’s identified, and since both of our relatives in that generation would have been born between 1800 and 1850, it’s surprising we have as many of her line identified as we do. It’s an obvious truth: genealogy for European

Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 3.06.18 PM
There is more to the “1870 wall” than slavery

families is much easier pre-civil war because they were considered humans, even if they were largely disdained at times; genealogy for African families is very difficult because for much of our history they were only viewed as property and what we know from that time is largely based on who survived long enough to be considered a person.

While we were both excited and troubled (as you are when you discover new relatives who were born as property) by this new finding, there was another emotion: we have so much information about Felice’s father’s side of the family, and not nearly as much as her mother’s…and here’s another breakthrough on her father’s side.

As we talked, and thought about it, we narrowed in on why this was: the relatives on her mother’s side were subjected to the worst of the Jim Crow post-war South, and suffered for generations under economic conditions that not only led to very few records being created, it meant that there were no family historians that had the luxury of gathering stories, documents, and proof of their ancestors to pass down. They were just further victims of the social apartheid they were subjected to for another 150 years after gaining their “freedom”.

In contrast, her father’s side of the family had several relatives that broke that cycle in the late 1800’s. A few relatives owned property by 1880 and were able to work it independently and keep the profits/proceeds. Another owned a cotton gin in 1875 and used that buy property, and spread the wealth to his children so they could be above the lowest social rungs. Felice’s paternal grandmother’s parents owned their land in Arkansas, and so the descendent of the original slaveholder in the neighborhood, who now managed a massive sharecrop (read exploitation/subjugation) organization in Ashley County would come to her father at harvest time and ask if he would help harvest his crop. He would refer to her father as sir, and ask please. He would take “no” for an answer, and pay him market price for what he helped harvest…the same as his white help.

It’s not just chance that we have more information on this side of her family. They were not as impoverished, they had the luxury of history and time to collect the information we now have. Just as my great-grandmother on my father’s side was completing her DAR application, and gathering so much of the amazing material I have today in the early 1900’s, so too were parts of Felice’s family. Today, there are multi-state bi-annual family reunions on some lines, and books published, and for others there’s a network of researchers who capture new DNA matches and connect the historical dots for us.

But her mother’s side heartbreakingly illustrates the subtle effects of the brutal oppression they suffered, and the echoes of which linger for generations after…even after many of the children escaped North during the Great Migration. Her mother’s family was largely sharecroppers, at best, and we regularly see 50% child mortality in these lines. The mothers often had more than 10 children, and we can only imagine how they struggled to make ends meet. They were living in the worst of the deep south, in the parts of Mississippi that were still stringing up African Americans regularly well into the 1960’s.

Mose Wright testifying against the white men who murdered of Emmett Till in 1955. In doing so he “crossed a line that no one could remember a black man ever crossing in Mississippi”, and that was only 10 years before Felice’s mother was born in the same county.

For example, Felice’s mother was born in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi only 10 years after a young Emmett Louis Till was tortured and murdered in that county. At the time of her birth, no one had been convicted of that horrific murder, and it was still known as the “Free State of Tallahatchie County” since the white residents knew they could, and would, do whatever they wanted and damn what anyone else said.

This black hole of genealogy just so clearly demonstrated the devastating conditions her family survived through, that we both were speechless as it because clear to us the answer why one side was more documented than the other. While both her parents’ families survived horrible oppression in the Jim Crow South, one side had slight means and a slightly less aggressive apartheid to allow them a sliver of advancement out of Arkansas.

The other side was in Mississippi, which freely and deeply continued to destroy the identities and lives of black families to the point of there being few official records, and those records are still very inaccessible. The official policy continued to be to deny the humanity of African Americans even after the world tried to force them to accept these people as people. That side of the family could barely feed itself, and couldn’t even accuse white people of a crime for most of their existence. Family history couldn’t be less important in those circumstances, and we see that today by the complete lack of their history beyond a basic census every 10 years.

It’s another example of how what isn’t in your family history can be as valuable as what is, and it’s another way that we learn what our ancestors faced on their journey leading to our birth. And on this MLK day, it helped our family feel more acutely the struggle and fight of those who put everything on the line to free African Americans from the oppression of the American government and culture…which is exactly what we should do on this holiday.