Family History Skills: Genealogical Basics

One of my To-Do items for March is to take the online “Family History Skills course” provided by the National Genealogical Society.   This course is offered free to NGS members;  NSG offers several other online courses for fees, so I wanted to take the free course first, to see if I like it. It’s a simple format, that doesn’t require any specials readers or viewers; you simply page through several pages of text, then take a quiz at the end.

I didn’t expect to learn much from the first lesson, “Genealogical Basics,” but I was pleasantly surprised.  The lesson covered overviews of the Genealogical Proof Standard,  relationship terms, recording genealogical information, and recording dates.  The area I found most useful was recording genealogical information.  I’ve seen lots of discussions on the web regarding the “best” way to record various pieces of information.  For the most part, I’ve picked up the “standard” ways to record, but in this course, I learned a few standards that I intend to incorporate in my own database going forward:

Capitalized surnames:  I do, as recommended, capitalize the surnames in my database.  Sometimes I capitalize them when writing narratives and sometimes I don’t.  The course suggests that we do not capitalize surnames in genealogical writing, so that will be my new practice.

Name changes and variant spellings:  When a person’s birth surname changes (not because of marriage), I usually choose the option that I see used most often during that person’s life and put the other option as an alternate name in my database.  In my case, this is usually because a surname has been anglicized.  NGS suggests that we put the birth surname first, then a slash, then the later surname.  For example, one of my family names would be Weidner/Whitener.

Recording place names: NGS suggests that we should not record street addresses in the place field of our software.  We should only include city, county, and state (in the U. S.), except in the case of burials, in which case we should include the name of the cemetery, if known.  I don’t have many street addresses, but I have been including them (although I wasn’t sure if I should).  I’m still not sure how I feel about this, because I attach GPS coordinates to all my place names for mapping.  The NGS argument is that with some software programs, the county and state may fall off pedigree charts, if there is an street address at the beginning of the place name.  I don’t use street addresses for birth, marriage, death events, but do use them for census and residence events.  Anyone have any thoughts on this issue?

This course is offered free to NGS members, so if you are a member and haven’t taken it yet, I would encourage you to do so.  You never know what tidbits of knowledge you’ll pick up.

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  1. says

    On the issue of street addresses, I usually put them into an event/fact called Address rather than in place names of other events or residence. I reserve residence for city, county, state. I do have an issue on using the cemetery name in the place name before city. It caused me problems in my reports. I found I could add a description field to my events/facts and I use this to record the cemetery or witnesses, etc.

  2. Oxa says

    NGS appears to be about 15 years behind the times in its understanding of genealogical software packages and their capabilities. Most software capitalizes surnames on output, so it’s not necessary to do that on input. Most software allows for multiple names/variations, so entering a birth name followed by a slash and the married name only results in confusion. Most software has a separate field for street address, so leaving that info out when it’s known just deprives you of the information.

    I’d take those recommendations and chuck them.

    • Tonia Kendrick says

      I complete agree on all counts. The key point for me, regarding capitalization, was that one should not capitalize the surname in narrative reports. I had seen it done both ways, so I was glad to have a “rule.”

      Regarding the street address, since I wrote this post I switched to RootsMagic, which has a field called “Place Details.” I now put the street address in that field, which keeps it with the fact/event, but also prevents it from being printed on pedigree charts. The only downside is that I lose some granularity with mapping using gps coordinates.

      Oh, and thanks for commenting!

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