The Legal Genealogist: The Ethics of Criticism


This blog is a combination of comments from several genealogist who are mentors and teachers. When I get stuck on a point of view I turn to them for direction not the answer. Megan Smolenyak, Ann Turner, Elizabeth Snow, Judy Russell, Blaine Bettinger and Nicka Sewell Smith. Rather than pulling together their comments in one blog I decided to use the Legal Genealogist blog which is on the mark. It pretty much mirrors their comments.

I travel the road least travel with all of its curves, pits, holes, branches, hidden dips, etc. Hard but I rather travel down that road to keep learning, investigating and researching. One of the rules of genealogy if you remember and it is very simple, “Do not believe everything you read and hear”. Investigate and add value not negative baggage.

The ethics of criticism 

Posted: 18 Jan 2017 06:00 AM PST

Being nice versus being right

The genealogical community is a small one, as communities go. And, as with any small pond, something that makes waves is going to attract a lot more attention in our community than, say, even the largest-ever-built ocean liner would make churning its way around the oceans of the world.

Which makes it kind of hard, and kind of uncomfortable, when what we want to do, as genealogists, is disagree.

When what we need to be is critical.

In this context, The Legal Genealogist isn’t talking about criticism in the sense of censure or faultfinding, but rather in the broader sense: “the act or art of analyzing and evaluating or judging the quality of a … work …”1 And about being critical in the sense we can all aspire to: “involving skillful judgment as to truth, merit, etc.”2

CriticismLet’s say, for example, that you’re reading somehing in this blog. And you happen to have the knowledge and background in the subject being discussed that leads you to believe that I am just plain wrong.

It’s not that I hold a different opinion than you might based on facts on which we both agree. I’m not talking about a case where we’re dealing with the difference between “Andrew Jackson was one of the least effective Presidents!” and “No he wasn’t!”

What I’m talking about here is a case where I’m just wrong. Where, say, I’ve reached an erroneous conclusion or my work just isn’t up to snuff — or it simply doesn’t meet genealogical standards

Now you, as that smarter-than-I-am reader, have essentially two choices. You can ignore the error, stand silent, say nothing. Or you can call me out on it — tell me that I’m wrong.

Which, in this circumstances, is the ethical choice?

To which the only possible answer is, either one is.

There’s no ethical imperative, in genealogy or anywhere else, for every reader of a blog or an article or a journal to alert the author or the editor or the publisher to every error that makes it into print, online or off. If you don’t think a mistake is important enough for you to take the time to comment on it, then you can let it pass and that will have been an ethical choice.

There’s also no ethical prohibition, in genealogy or anywhere else, against any reader of that same blog or article or journal stating the disagreement with that blog or article or journal even in strong terms. If you do think a mistake is important enough for you to take the time to comment on it, then you can state your disagreement and that will have been an ethical choice.

That’s because the ethical rule here is one, necessarily, of flexibility. In the words of the Code of Ethics of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, “To protect the profession, I will act, speak, and write in a manner I believe to be in the best interests of the profession and scholarship of genealogy.”3

So each of us is free to choose, in any given situation, what we will and will not comment on — and remain ethical.

We are charged, of course, with striving for truth, acting honorably, and not publishing or publicizing as fact anything we know to be false. In the words of the Code of Ethics of the Association of Professional Genealogists, we do not “defame the profession (or) individual genealogists”4 — “defame” being a technical legal term connoting “a false statement purporting to be fact.”5

It’s certainly consistent with those goals to speak up, if we choose to, about errors in the facts or the methodology of another researcher.

But remember that the goal of publication is to expose our ideas: to get our facts and our methods and our reasoning out there for all the world to see. And by the very act of publication we’re inviting criticism. Asking others to review the work, take it apart, look for holes and supply information that perhaps we missed or to which we didn’t have access, and in so doing make the work as a whole better and more likely to stand the test of time.

Even here, in this ephemeral online context, my own “Rules of my road” for this blog state simply: “If I’m wrong about a fact, I’d like to know it. … So tell me when you know more than I do or I’ve just plain goofed.”6

There’s also a lot of room for variation in how we speak out when we do choose to do so. Criticism by its very nature can be rough and tumble. Go back and read some of the very best of the movie reviews by Roger Ebert, for example. He called one film “sickening, utterly worthless, shameful trash. If it is not the worst film I have ever seen, that makes it all the more shameful.” About another: “I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it.”7

No holds barred there.

Most genealogical criticism is somewhat more tempered and temperate — but there’s nothing in any ethics code that says it has to be. We may choose out of courtesy or manners or our own preferences to be delicate and polite — or we may choose to be Roger Ebert.

We’re not required to contact the original researcher or editor or publisher privately — though we may choose to do so, particularly if we want that person’s cooperation in making changes. And we’re not required to respond only in the original medium — if social media is a better platform for us, or an article in a competing journal is our forum of choice, those options are open too.

Yes, surely, there are times when silence is golden. In those cases, standing silent is an ethical choice. But speaking up in criticism of published work — whether a blog post, an article, a journal, a book, whatever — when truthful and factually based — is an equally ethical choice.

Being ethical doesn’t mean being silenced.


  1. ( : accessed 18 Jan 2017), “criticism.”
  2. Ibid., “critical.”
  3. Code of Ethics,” Board for Certification of Genealogists ( : accessed 17 Jan 2017).
  4. Code of Ethics,” Association of Professional Genealogists ( : accessed 17 Jan 2017).
  5. Wex, Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School ( : accessed 17 Jan 2017), “defamation.”
  6. Judy G. Russell, “Rules of my road: 2017,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 3 Jan 2017 ( : accessed 17 Jan 2017).
  7. See Nolan Feeney, “7 of Roger Ebert’s Most Brutal Movie Reviews,” Time, posted 4 July 2014 ( : accessed 17 Jan 2017).

DNA Testing is Shedding Light on Centuries of African-American Historical Trauma


For many African Americans, consumer genetic ancestry is much more than a gimmick that allows people to find out a little more about their heritage. It’s a way of reclaiming some of the family history that was taken from them during the slave trade.

Alondra Nelson, dean of social science at Columbia University, explored the cultural and political meaning of DNA testing in her latest book The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome, published earlier this year.

“I think this sense of loss is very real and palpable for people. There’s a void in their lives that people talk to me about in quite emotional terms,” she says. “I don’t want to conflate the two situations but it’s not dissimilar to stories we hear about adoptees also turning to genetic ancestry testing to find out who they are. No matter how much your family loves you, no matter how great a childhood you’ve had, there’s just a nagging yearning feeling to know a bit more.”

DNA tests can give descendants of the slave trade, who could only refer to the continent of Africa as their heritage, an indication of the specific region where their ancestors came from. Nelson discovered she was related to the Bamileke people of Cameroon. Now, if she’s listening the newspaper and hears an item about Cameroon, she pauses to pays attention.

Genetic ancestry testing is also important, says Nelson, because it empirically demonstrates that the effects of the transatlantic slave trade exist in the present moment.

“It rubs up against a public narrative that says, ‘Oh, all that stuff’s in the past, it didn’t affect you, can’t we all just get over it,’” says Nelson. “We can use the test to telescope in on that history and show that that history, in a genetic sense, affects your friend, neighbor, partner in very profound ways.”

DNA testing can even help keep the debate over reparations alive. In a 2002 class-action lawsuit against companies that built wealth off slaves, the court demanded that the plaintiffs prove they were descendant from former slaves. The plaintiffs used genetic testing to prove their relationship to different nation groups in African, though in this case, it was not deemed precise enough for the court. Still, says Nelson, it’s “an interesting adoption of a cutting edge technology being leveraged for a longstanding social movement.”

The danger of such genetic tests, says Nelson, is that they can suggest that race is biological when in fact the values and hierarchies associated with race are social and political products.

Ultimately, genetic ancestry testing shows that slavery “still has bearing on the lives of people who live in 21st century Harlem, Brooklyn, Compton and the like,” she says. “It offers a living history at a time when we’re too inclined to historical amnesia.”


Written by: Olivia Goldhill

The African Genetics Project

The African Genetics Project

To enhance its research and enrich its customer experience, 23andMe is launching the  African Genetics Project,


Africa_iconrecruiting people who emigrated from, or whose parents emigrated from several specific countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.Africa is the birthplace of all humanity, and its people are the most genetically diverse in all the world, yet our knowledge of that diversity is limited. This newest project follows continuing efforts by 23andMe to enrich our understanding of the human story and increase  diversity in genetic research, while also providing more detailed ancestry results for 23andMe customers with recent African ancestry.

23andMe’s African Genetics Project is offering kits at no cost to people with all four of their grandparents born in the same African country or from the same ethnic or tribal group within one of the following countries — Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Ivory coast, Liberia, Republic of Congo, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan and Togo. The west African countries in that list are a priority for 23andMe because the majority of slaves brought from Africa to the Americas were brought from these African locations. We are also gathering data from individuals with all four grandparents from Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia to aid in identifying ancestry for more recent immigrants and to improve our reference populations for Africa.

This effort is unique in many respects, but primarily because it allows people of African ancestry who know where in Africa their family came from, to help others with African ancestry discover more about their own African roots. The effort may also yield insights into the TransAtlantic slave trade, and migrations within Africa over the last few hundred years.

While the goals of this project are focused primarily on improving ancestry insights, the African Genetics Project is part of a long list of efforts undertaken by 23andMe to improve diversity in research. Some estimates show that more than 90 percent of the research into the genetics underlying disease is on individuals of European descent  alone, but for many conditions an individual’s ethnicity plays an important role and the insights from those studies fall short of helping people of other backgrounds.

There are a number of reasons for the lack of diversity  — historical, cultural, economic and social — but by reaching out and recruiting people from all backgrounds it will also ensure that everyone benefits from advances in genetic science.

Over the last five years, 23andMe has undertaken several initiatives on that front including its Roots Into the Future project to study the genetics of disease impacting African Americans, the first-ever genetic portrait of the United States that mapped the country’s Native American, African and European ancestry, and more recently a NIH-funded project to develop a new way to detect disease causing genetic variants among ethnically mixed populations.

Taken together, these initiatives have helped 23andMe improve diversity in its research. The African Genetics Project is part of that same effort and it will allow 23andMe to identify genetic similarities of people from specific locations in Africa. This in turn will not only improve  what we can tell our customers with African ancestry, but will also aid our research into how people migrated within and from Africa over the last 5,000 years.


Progress has been very slow to move forward with genealogical and genetics research in Africa. Euroasia is very easy and the collective information is accessible to most of the genealogical companies. The real problem is that Africans are a diverse people genetically and spread all over the Continent. It is absolutely the home of Genetic Jane and John and all others born in the same time period. (This is not the biblical Jane and John) It is estimated conservatively we are about two years from being able to use the data from Africa to connect people of color.


Mitochondrial DNA “mtDNA”




If you are frustrated or just need direction sin finding all those female ancestors with missing maiden names, or if you are not sure which Julia is your great-grandmother, you can look no further than the answers provided by mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). One of the most powerful tools available to African-American genetic genealogists and African-American genealogists (new term genetealogy (ge-neh-tee-ol-0-gee), mtDNA offers a glimpse into the the maternal lines of even your most challenging ancestors. So how can mtDNA help you?



Each mitochondrion contains its own DNA and its own protein-synthesizing machinery. They reproduce by splitting in two after they make a second copy of the DNA. In humans, the mtDNA is in the form of a circle that contains approximately 16,500 nucleotide base pairs of DNA. (DNA molecules consist of two paired strands, and each strand is a long chain of four types of nucleotides, designated A, G, C and T.) In contrast, the DNA in the nucleus is divided into 46 linear chromosomes (23 from each of our parents) that have an average length of more than 200 million base pairs. Each person’s mitochondria come from the cytoplasm of the mother’s egg. The father’s sperm cells also contain mitochondria, but they are not inherited by his offspring.

Before people started to travel around the world, the rare changes that occurred in mtDNA over time resulted in unique types of mtDNA on every continent. Therefore, most contemporary mtDNAs can be assigned  to a continent of origin based on the nucleotide sequence of the most variable region (Hypervariable control region HVRI) of the mtDNA. The HVRI region is about 400 base pairs in length and is the region where the mitochondria start making a new copy of their DNA. It is the region of the DNA molecule where mutations (changes) are most likely to occur. When a scientist determines the order of the four nucleotides in this region, they find a record of all of the mutations that have occurred over time as the mtDNA was passed from mother to daughter from generation to generation. These accumulated mutations are the basis for the unique types of mtDNA found on each continent. HVR2 is the second region and they both accumulate changes relatively quickly, and thus tend to be hype-variable from one person to the next unless those people are closely related. The third portion, the coding region (CR), accumulates far fewer changes and contains the nucleotide base pair sequence for mitochondrial genes.

Example: mtDNA Family Member

Chr 2

Match ID Type Name Matching segments on Chromosome 2 Overlap with previous match
1 F2 (A982870) 104323793 – 130334843 (24.045 cM) New Root


Within continents, regional mtDNA variation can be observed as well. When a woman’s mtDNA contains a new mutation, her descendants are likely to live near her. Therefore, a local area where she lived will be the only place in the world where this particular type of mtDNA is found. However, whenever people moved from one place to another they took their mtDNA with them. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, there have been extensive movements of people over time. As such, a recent study has shown that approximately half of all African mtDNAs are shared among people from multiple countries in Africa. If an African-American has one of these shared mtDNAs, it is not possible to determine which country was the original home of the maternal ancestor who came to the U.S.

A second problem is that many African-Americans have a particular type of mtDNA that is clearly African in origin, but has not yet been observed among the African mtDNAs that have been analyzed. This situation occurs because there is an incredible amount of genetic diversity among Africans and African mtDNAs have not been studied extensively. In fact, the mtDNAs from many African ethnic groups have not been analyzed at all. Additional studies will help with this situation. However, if a particular mtDNA is rare enough to be found in only a small region of Africa, there is a good chance it will be difficult for researchers to find it. Some people suggest comparing these rare mtDNAs to similar mtDNAs that have already been found in Africa. However, when these comparisons are made, the rare mtDNA is usually similar to one of the common mtDNAs that are found in many countries. Therefore, it is not likely that a particular person’s mtDNA can be assigned to a particular country of origin. This conclusion is true not only for African mtDNAs, but also mtDNAs from every other continent as well.

Coming Soon:

Y-DNA| atDNA| Y-DNA Standards

Source: Scientific America, “How Do Researchers Trace Mitochondria DNA Over Centuries?” Digital Access 12/7/2016

National Institute of Health Genome Project, Digital Library, Cell Structure 2016





DNA, Genes and Genomics

A Brief Guide to Genomics



View largerDeoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is the chemical compound that contains the instructions needed to develop and direct the activities of nearly all living organisms. DNA molecules are made of two twisting, paired strands, often referred to as a double helix


Where is DNA Found?

In organisms called eukaryotes, DNA is found inside a special area of the celle called the nucleus. Because the cell is very small, and because organisms have many DNA molecules per cell, each DNA molecule must be tightly packaged. This package is called a chromosome.

Each DNA strand is made of four chemical units, called nucleotide bases, which comprise the genetic “alphabet.” The bases are adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), and cytosine (C). Bases on opposite strands pair specifically: an A always pairs with a T; a C always pairs with a G. The order of the As, Ts, Cs and Gs determines the meaning of the information encoded in that part of the DNA molecule just as the order of letters determines the meaning of a word.

An organism’s complete set of DNA is called its genome. Virtually every single cell in the body contains a complete copy of the approximately 3 billion DNA base pairs, or letters, that make up the human genome.

With its four-letter language, DNA contains the information needed to build the entire human body. A gene traditionally refers to the unit of DNA that carries the instructions for making a specific protein or set of proteins. Each of the estimated 20,000 to 25,000 genes in the human genome codes for an average of three proteins.

Located on 23 pairs of chromosomes packed into the nucleus of a human cell, genes direct the production of proteins with the assistance of enzymes and messenger molecules. Specifically, an enzyme copies the information in a gene’s DNA into a molecule called messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA). The mRNA travels out of the nucleus and into the cell’s cytoplasm, where the mRNA is read by a tiny molecular machine called a ribosome, and the information is used to link together small molecules called amino acids in the right order to form a specific protein.

Proteins make up body structures like organs and tissue, as well as control chemical reactions and carry signals between cells. If a cell’s DNA is mutated, an abnormal protein may be produced, which can disrupt the body’s usual processes and lead to a disease such as cancer.

Besides the DNA located in the nucleus, humans other complex organisms also have a small amount of DNA in cell structures known as mitochondria. Mitochondria generates the energy the cell needs to function properly.


The nucleus is a highly specialized organelle that serves as the information processing and administrative center of the cell. This organelle has two major functions: it stores the cell’s hereditary material, or DNA, and it coordinates the cell’s activities, which include growth, intermediary metabolism, protein synthesis, and reproduction (cell division).

In sexual reproduction, organisms inherit half of their nuclear DNA from the male parent and half from the female parent. However, organisms inherit all of their mitochondrial DNA from the female parent. This occurs because only the egg cells, and not the sperm cells, keep their mitochondria during fertilization.

Sources: National Institute of Health, Education Digital Library, DNA,  11/20/2016

National Institute of Health,, Digital Library, “A Brief Guide to Genomics”, 11/20/2016

Genetic Genealogy Standards



The Genetic Genealogy Standards Committee presented these standards at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy in Jan. 2015.

This document is intended to provide standards and best practices for the genealogical community to follow when purchasing, recommending, sharing, or writing about the results of DNA testing for ancestry.

These Standards are intentionally directed to genealogist, not to genetic genealogy testing companies. As used in the Standards the term “genealogist” includes anyone who takes a genetic genealogy test, as well as anyone who advises a client, family member, or other individual regarding genetic genealogy testing. However, it is ultimately the responsibility of those taking a genetic genealogy test (“tester”) to understand and consider these standards before ordering or agreeing to take any genetic genealogy test.

Standards for Obtaining, Using and Sharing Genetic Genealogy Test Results

  1. Company Offerings. Genealogists review and understanding the different DNA testing products and tools offered by available testing companies, and prior to testing determine which company or companies are capable of achieving the genealogist’s goal(s).
  2. Testing With Consent. Genealogists only obtain DNA for testing after receiving consent, written or oral, from the tester. In the case of a deceased individual, consent can be obtained from a legal representative. In the case of a minor, consent can be given by a parent or legal guardian of the minor. However, genealogists do not obtain DNA from someone who refuses to undergo testing.
  3. . Raw Data. Genealogists believe that testers have an inalienable right to their own DNA test results and raw data, even if someone other than the tester purchased the DNA test.
  4.  DNA Storage. Genealogists are aware of the DNA storage options offered by testing companies, and consider the implications of storing versus not storing DNA samples for future testing. Advantages of storing DNA samples include reducing costs associated with future testing and/or preserving DNA that can no longer be obtained from an individual. However, genealogists are aware that no company can guarantee that stored DNA will be of sufficient quantity or quality to perform additional testing. Genealogists also understand that a testing company may change its storage policy without notice to the tester.
  5. Terms of Service. Genealogists review and understand the terms and conditions to which the tester consents when purchasing a DNA test.
  6. Privacy. Genealogists only test with companies that respect and protect the privacy of testers. However, genealogists understand that complete anonymity of DNA tests results can never be guaranteed.
  7. Access by Third Parties. Genealogists understand that once DNA test results are made publicly available, they can be freely accessed, copied, and analyzed by a third party without permission. For example, DNA test results published on a DNA project website are publicly available. 1 Except in situations where DNA testing is specifically mandated by law or court order. This type of mandated DNA testing may affect other Standard including Standards #3 (Raw Data), #6 (Privacy),
  8.  Sharing Results. Genealogists respect all limitations on reviewing and sharing DNA test results imposed at the request of the tester. For example, genealogists do not share or otherwise reveal DNA test results (beyond the tools offered by the testing company) or other personal information (name, address, or email) without the written or oral consent of the tester.
  9.  Scholarship. When lecturing or writing about genetic genealogy, genealogists respect the privacy of others. Genealogists privatize or redact the names of living genetic matches from presentations unless the genetic matches have given prior permission or made their results publicly available. Genealogists share DNA test results of living individuals in a work of scholarship only if the tester has given permission or has previously made those results publicly available. Genealogists may confidentially share an individual’s DNA test results with an editor and/or peer-reviewer of a work of scholarship. Genealogists also disclose any professional relationship they have with a for-profit DNA testing company or service when lecturing or writing about genetic genealogy.
  10. Health Information. Genealogists understand that DNA tests may have medical implications.
  11.  Designating a Beneficiary. Genealogists designate a beneficiary to manage test results and/or stored DNA in the event of their death or incapacitation. Standards for the Interpretation of Genetic Genealogy Test Results
  12.  Unexpected Results. Genealogists understand that DNA test results, like traditional genealogical records, can reveal unexpected information about the tester and his or her immediate family, ancestors, and/or descendants. For example, both DNA test results and traditional genealogical records can reveal misattributed parentage, adoption, health information, previously unknown family members and erros in well-researched family trees, among other unexpected outcomes.
  13. Different Types of Tests. Genealogists understand that there are different types of DNA tests, including Y-chromosome DNA (“Y-DNA”), mitochondrial DNA (“mtDNA”), Xchromosome (“X-DNA”), and autosomal DNA (“atDNA”) testing. Each test has advantages and limitations, and can be used in different ways for genealogical research. Often, multiple types of testing can be or must be used to test a hypothesis. Prior to testing, genealogists determine which type(s) of DNA testing is capable of achieving the genealogist’s goal(s).
  14.  Y-DNA and mtDNA Tests. Genealogists understand the current recommended minimum YDNA and mtDNA testing standards, guidelines for which are currently being drafted and will be found at when completed. Genealogists are aware that even after an initial mtDNA or Y-DNA test, additional testing (e.g., additional markers and/or sequencing) might be necessary in order to achieve the genealogist’s goal(s).
  15.  Limitations of Y-DNA Testing. Genealogists understand that Y-DNA test results reveal relationships among testers through their direct paternal lines. However, identification of the exact relationship or most recent common ancestor (“MRCA”) cannot be determined by Y-DNA test results alone.
  16. Limitations of mtDNA Testing. Genealogists understand that mtDNA test results reveal relationships among testers through their direct maternal lines. However, identification of the exact relationship or MRCA cannot be determined by mtDNA test results alone.
  17. Limitations of Autosomal DNA Testing. Genealogists understand that autosomal DNA test results, alone, can be used to confirm or deny first degree relationships with certainty (parent/child or full siblings). Genealogists understand that analysis of genealogical relationships beyond the first degree requires the combination of DNA test results and traditional genealogical records.
  18. Limitations of Ethnicity Analysis. Genealogists understand that ethnicity analysis is limited by the proprietary reference population database and algorithm utilized by the testing company, and thus understand that estimates can vary. Genealogists further understand that because individuals do not possess DNA from all ancestors, an ethnicity estimate can neither be predicted nor evaluated based solely on a genealogical family tree.
  19. Interpretation of DNA Test Results. Genealogists understand that there is frequently more than one possible interpretation of DNA test results. Sometimes, but not always, these possible explanations can be narrowed by additional testing and/or documentary genealogical research. Genealogists further understand that any analysis of DNA test results is necessarily dependent upon other information, including information from the tester, and that the analysis is only as reliable as the information upon which it is based.
  20.  DNA as Part of Genealogical Proof. Genealogists understand that no single piece of evidence, including evidence gathered from DNA testing, alone constitutes genealogical proof. Establishing genealogical proof requires thorough research in reliable relevant records, complete and accurate documentation and source citation, analysis and correlation of all evidence, resolution of conflicts caused by contradictory information, and a soundly reasoned written conclusion. For more information, see the Genealogical Proof Standard (
  21. Citing DNA Test Results. Genealogists understand and use the current recommended minimum standards for citing DNA test results in reports to clients or in works of scholarship. Guidelines are currently being drafted and will be found at when completed.

Evicdence Explained




Source: Evidence Explained: “Citing History from Artifacts to Cyberspace”, third edition, by Elizabeth Shown Mills 2015

History still waits to be discovered. In courthouses and warehouses, town halls and rectories, dusty attics and ancient trunks, old records survive in every form imaginable.

Technology delivers other treasures. Websites and DVDs offer documents and relics in many digital formats. Audio files, podcasts, and blogs stream other insights into history. Libraries house fiche and film, reprints and revisions, translations and transcripts, alongside digital access to books and journals published previously in print.

History is everywhere. But history is not just a slew of records or a set of “facts”—and all sources are not created equal.

Historical records offer evidence, but their assertions may or may not be true. To judge what likely happened, we must understand those records. To analyze that evidence and decide what to believe, we also need certain facts about those records themselves.

Students, scholars, and curious sleuths all face the same questions:

  • What details must we capture for each type of source, in order to understand it and properly interpret its evidence?
  • How do we evaluate a record’s credibility—especially when its information conflicts with assertions made in other sources?
  • How do we identify each source—not just so it can be found again, but so we and others can judge its reliability?

Evidence Explained guides us through a maze of sources not covered by other citation manuals—all kinds of original records, accessed through various media.

More than a thousand examples for U.S. and international documents demonstrate how to handle the quirks that stump us when we use those materials. Evidence Explained is the go-to guide for everyone who explores the past.

How does Evidence Explained differ from other citation guides?

Evidence Explained is built on one core principle: We cannot judge the reliability of any information unless we know

  • exactly where the information came from; and
  • the strengths and weaknesses of that source.

Beyond this, Evidence Explained differs significantly from other citation guides in several ways.

Evidence Explained vs. Traditional Citation Guides

Traditional Guides

Evidence Explained

Primary focus on published materials; limited treatment of academic papers Primary focus on original records not treated in traditional guides:

  • 9 chapters (532 pp.) cover local, state, and federal government records, business & institutional records, ecclesiastical records, vital records, materials in private possession, and other archival resources and artifacts in the U.S. and other western nations
  • 3 chapters (282 pp.) cover published materials more extensively than the traditional guides

(The 2 introductory chapters teach the fundamentals of citation and analysis.)

Emphasis on stylistic matters Dual purpose; EE provides not only citation styles but instruction in the use and analysis of each type of historical source material
Citation models (varying quantities) for bibliographic, full reference note, shortened reference note, and in-text formats
  • Citation models for 1100+ record types and 161 diagrammed templates
  • Each in bibliographic, full reference note, and short reference note formats

(In-text formats are not suitable for typically complex citations to original historical documents and digital materials.)

Limited treatment of digital materials Extensive treatment of digital materials—including

  • original records of all types reproduced online and in other media
  • print publications reproduced or archived online or in other media
  • new publications created online or in other digital media
Very limited coverage of legal works and published government documents Extensive discussions and models of legal publications and published government documents
Emphasis on output—i.e., the minimum details needed at publication to enable readers to relocate a source. Emphasis on input—i.e., the details researchers need to capture while using a record, in order to understand (a) the nature of the source and (b) the strengths and weaknesses of the information that source provides.

Source: Evidence Explained: Citing History from Artifacts to Cyberspace, third edition, by Elizabeth Shown Mills 2015

Maybe be purchase at; National Genealogical; Family Tree; American and other retailers.

New or Just Getting Started with Genealogy or Family History Research


New or Just Getting Started with Genealogy or Family History Research has been written continuously by authors Louis Gates, Tony Burroughs and others, providing great direction and tools to build your genealogy skills. The tools for building a strong African-American genealogy tree lies within the methodology and structural approach. It is going to be frustrating at times, too slow and too much time and attention to details. The rewards however is a family tree you will be proud to share with family. A good detective looks for clues, evidence, who, why, when, where and how in their investigation to reach sound conclusions. Evidence Explain-Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace by Elizabeth Shown Mills, 3rd Edition 2015 is an excellent source you must read. Understand that genealogy starts with you and proceeds backwards. So start with your self and add your mother and father, grandparents on both sides and their parents on both sides and  you have now started your tree. Add your siblings, aunts, uncles and their children and continue. Gather as many family records as possible if you can,. Often our relatives are protective of the information or want to know exactly what you are doing. Example of discovery, I found old photographs, newspaper clippings, awards and a sundry of items never seen before of Annabelle Boothe my mother’s sister. This gave me a lot of information about my mothers sisters life I never knew. I complied all of her material into one folder along with a Family Group Sheet, Source Summary, Ancestral Chart, Research Extract and Photographs.
I was able to confirm information I had researched on my grandmother (Saluda Slade) and my grand step-mother (Annelee Thomas) and both great grandmothers. My grandfather (Samuel Johns) and his father (Allen Johns) and his father (Jack Johns) and his father John B. Johns who was a slaveholder in Wake County, NC. I also learned that some Johns after the Civil War changed their name to Jones, Johnson and Johnnes. There were also some family members sold before and the during the Civil War. Note: When I get to DNA, I will point this out to you by looking at matches with 20 cMs to 40 cMs (centimorgans) over at least one segment or more.  For right now I will continue with genealogy. Collect, scan or photograph family records and papers. Organize all of your records into genealogy charts that trace blood lines and group people in family units. 
Next Step
The goal and objective is to research your family back to 1860. I know some are saying that is a brick wall. It’s a brick wall if you let it be for you. Example, my great-grandfather Allen Johns was a slave born in 1823 and court records of the Johns family show the plantation locations as Wake County, NC and researching old maps I can pin point his location. I just went beyond 1860. I found his brothers Washington and Mark Johns and an old family photograph. What is the history of that location and the people who lived on and around the plantation? According to a journal written by another relative (Gwendolyn Johns) my great-grandfather Allen John’s mother was African and sold to another plantation when John B. Johns decided to take a wife. Her name was Elizabeth; no known location or name change was provided. Typical of that period among owners. I found two cemeteries where a lot of family members are buried in North Carolina, about 150 individuals and some with unmarked graves outside of the cemetery walls. I found this information looking at the Johns Family in Colonial Maryland and Colonial Virginia historical records.
Research your family to 1860 and beyond identify the last Slave Owner (if you cannot you are not going to get very far). Side note, I hear several times a year that my ancestors were not enslaved. I will not dispute that, but tell me how you know that and how can you verify that information? Did any one come from Africa?  Remember evidence is important. Research the slave owner, the history of slavery and understanding the environmental conditions, Federal, State and Local laws, slave and slave owner customs and practices. Hint: Look at the census before 1860 and you will find slaves listed with a monetary value with just ages sometimes with their first name.
Many African-Americans only know the surface of their rich history, so I highly recommend researching your history not told in history books. Example, many African-Americans know very little, if anything about the migration to England, Spain and Portugal mainly in the late 1500’s. I was told that we arrived from Africa however,  not so true for so many.  We were shipped to the Caribbean and South America in the millions and only around 450,000 actually arrived from Africa to the Americas (US).
It is imperative you research Canada, Caribbean, India, South America and Europe for ancestors. With the pioneering effort in Genetic Genealogy we can cross the pond for our ancestors and that is beginning to happen. I suggest you subscribe to Ancestry UK, libraries in other countries or International. More testing for health reasons are being done in African which will benefit genealogists.

New or Just Getting Started with Genealogy or Family History Research P2

                                 I invite you to spend a little time understanding the basics of genealogy or family history research. You may be excited and ready to jump right into DNA. A little genealogical effort to building your family tree is imperative to using DNA results. There are thousands of eBooks, books, literature and websites dedicated to genealogy and family history goals and objectives. I will provide information I think is helpful to avoid the most common pit falls that even the most seasoned genealogist occasionally fall prey to.
Do Your Home Work
So I will tell you that you need to start at home. Play detective when looking for information and you start at home
Other places to discoveries your relatives:
Birth records, marriage and death certificates
Newspaper articles or clippings,including obituaries and wedding and anniversary announcements
Religious records
Family Bible
Letters and addressed envelopes
Military, school, occupational, business, land and legal records
Diaries and journals
If there’s family members your age or older (second, third cousins included), pick up the phone and contact them today; not next week or next month but now. Get started a family detective and ask questions. You will need to generate a list of questions before you  start contacting family members.
Don’t Believe Everything You  Hear or Read
Example: All Africans came to America (Not true, historical evidence proves it)
Capture What You Learn
There are two forms I think are important and essential in your quest to understand and learn about your genetic roots. The pedigree or ancestral chart shows your direct-line ancestry of a particular individual and the descendancy chart or descendant tree (a chart which a selected ancestor appears at the top, and all descendants are depicted in successive generations in rows below him or her)
Pedigree Chart
Left side of the tree Y-Chromosome Line (Paternal), Right side of the tree mt-DNA Line (Maternal)


Descendancy Chart


Ancestry/Pedigree Chart records the ancestors from whom you directly descend–those for whom you intend to compile and complete and correct a family unit. Id shows at a glance the progress you have made towards this goal and what remains to be done.


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