It’s not enough to be proud of your ancestry. Live up to it.

Wow, what a quote, huh?  It’s from “1001 Rules for My Unborn Son” ( and I think it’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard.

At least, for a genealogist.  Not really sure how it will benefit unborn children, but for those of us who are obsessed with our family tree, this statement should hit home.

Your ancestry is something of which you should be proud; the people who came before us are part of who we are today (even if some of them were criminal types and ne’er-do-wells).  In fact, it hardly matters *what* family members did with their lives – some of mine were slave owners, and Congressmen, and I’m still proud of them!  You know why?  Because they survived, in a time when survival was difficult.  Your ancestors also survived, and procreated, and fulfilled the human objective, and that’s why it’s your obligation to live your life to the utmost.  Take care of yourself; take care of your family, and your neighbors, and friends, and complete strangers.

Or as my father once told me, “You’re likely to make good choices if you live your life as if you knew your grandma was watching.”




Erroneous Vital Records – Annoying!

Isn’t it annoying when one of your ancestors’ vital records has incorrect information? It’s an official document – it should be correct! How dare they lie on a document that will be replicated in perpetuity on the family tree, requiring a proof summary to explain away the discrepancy! But it’s important to remember that sometimes, we should give our scorned ancestors a break; their records may be the product of excited distraction and not indicative of a desire to ruin their descendants’ family history research!

From a genealogist’s standpoint, my marriage certificate is a nightmare. We gave the wrong middle name for his father (Douglas instead of Daly), we married hundreds of miles away from home (in Vegas), and our witness was the on-duty security guard, a Mr. Ed Huggins.

My grandparents’ newly-found marriage certificate is similarly awful; a fact I can only admit now that the once-fruitless search is over. They eloped too, so one must assume that these discrepancies are based on their desire to not get caught! They were married in St. Bernard Parish, many miles away from their home in Avoyelles, and certainly not the New Orleans, where family legend has placed their marriage for nearly 90 years. Their ages are listed as 21 and 21, when in fact they were 19 and 17 (ahh, young love). And Grandma’s mother’s name is wrong. Sort of.

Interestingly, this taught me something crucial about my great grandmother. For years I have come across her name listed as “Martha Elizabeth O Bannon” on various online trees and even in published compilations, but I never understood the “Martha” part. In every record I can find of my great grandmother, her name is Elizabeth or Lizzie. I know that her name was Elizabeth; my mother’s middle name is Beth in her honor, shortened because “Mamaw” wouldn’t let my grandma name her Elizabeth, just in case people started calling her the hated nickname, Lizzie.

But Grandma’s marriage certificate clearly lists her mother’s name as Martha. Based on her insistence that my mother’s middle name not be Elizabeth, but Beth so as to avoid the hated Lizzie nickname, I assume Mamaw called herself Martha for the same reason.

But sometimes they really are just trying to be evil. A client of mine has in her possession a similarly awful death certificate, whose purpose was to confuse the powers that be. Around 1929, William Latimer abandoned his wife Mary Maude and their family of four children and went to live with another woman named Beatrice. In 1930 he listed himself on the census as a widower who was a lodger in Beatrice’s household. On his death certificate (in 1949), his spouse is listed as Beatrice Latimer. The funny thing is, he and Mary Maude never divorced, and she lived until 1975!

What a cad!

Why “Breeding Tells”?

A second post today, because I’ve received some feedback on my business name and I would like to explain myself.

My original business name was History Science Theater, and that’s actually still the “official” name (i.e. the one under which my DBA is confirmed, and for which my business license was approved).  That name comes from my lifelong love of learning, especially science and (gee) history.  It’s also a play on words from the hit show Mystery Science Theater 3K.  I’ve always considered genealogy to represent a mixture of historical research and the Scientific Method.  Given some data, form a hypothesis and then test it until you determine that it is either accurate, or inaccurate.

But “Breeding Tells” is much closer to my actual business focus, because I specialize in colonial records, and let’s face it, colonial people were classist snobs.  They either owned land or they didn’t – and if they didn’t, there probably isn’t much genealogical data available.  They married within their social circles – usually the people whose land adjoined were the likeliest “happy couples”.  They owned slaves (ugh; sad but true) and they considered themselves to be above the “others” in their world.

So why would I want to further this snobbery?  Because, it’s another play on words.  “Breeding Tells” refers to the fact that the way you were brought up can or will show in your actions and choices throughout your life.  It’s an old proverb, sort of like “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”  But “breeding” also implies a pedigree (think race horses).  And genealogy is a way to “tell” someone’s breeding, too.  So my slogan is “Breeding Tells: What Will Yours Tell You?” In other words, if you let me research your family history, can you imagine all of the amazing and wonderful information that I might find?  Are you eligible for a lineage society?  Are you related to the founders of our nation?  A president, a general, or even an English royal?  Or are you simply one of the nobly persistent and hardy folk who helped build this country?

The fact is, every single person in this great nation of ours whose family can be traced to the colonial era has forebears who were genuinely essential to the formation of the United States of America.  It doesn’t matter if they were slaves or landowners, of noble stock or indentured servants – EVERYONE who lived on this continent during the colonial era (and who had descendants) is a founding father or mother.  And so I repeat:  What will your breeding tell YOU?

BCG Certification Process

I’m currently “on the clock” as they call it, working on my portfolio for BCG Certification.  In case you don’t already know this, BCG stands for the Board for Certification of Genealogists, and, you guessed it, certification means just that.  It’s basically the highest standard that a genealogist can achieve. “Since 1964, genealogists have looked to BCG for consumer protection, skill assessment, and respected credentials. Based in our nation’s capital, BCG is independent of any society, although its trustees and judges are always national leaders in the field.”  In other words, if you’ve “got the stuff” to become certified, then you are one of the Genealogical Elite; one of the best in your field.  One of the few people in the world who are “officially” qualified to perform professional genealogical research for pay.

This doesn’t mean that non-certified professional genealogists aren’t awesome.  Most genealogists have many, many more years experience than I do; many of the non-certified are probably more qualified than me (SO FAR!!!).  But BCG Certification means that the best of the best have reviewed your work and found it worthy of their approval.

This is a really big deal.  So, why do I think I’m good enough to achieve this standard?

Well, because I’m awesome.  And because, from the first moment I started researching my own family history, I have striven for perfection.  My legal and scientific background prepared me to acknowledge that every single piece of evidence one provides must carry with it properly sourced and researched citations.  I never consider a project “done” – and I only ever consider it to be “acceptable” when it meets those standards.  But let’s face it – we are dealing with the entire lives of people we’ve never met – every person in the universe is much more than a birth, marriage, or death date.  Until you can identify every single event in a person’s life (practically impossible), you’re never “done” with the research.  But if you can provide evidence for the information that you have discovered, and you cite it properly, and describe your reasoning, then at least that part is complete.

So, my awesomeness notwithstanding, I have still felt a little overwhelmed with the process.  The portfolio includes seven sections, five of which are genealogical endeavors (the other two are to sign the code of conduct and provide a CV).  And this needs to be The Best of The Best Work You’ve Ever Done.  Your portfolio is reviewed by a panel of experts and deemed either sufficient, or insufficient.  The assignments themselves include extremely detailed case studies; well-researched proof arguments and kinship determination reports. You must be comfortable transcribing 300-year-old documents accurately and then preparing research proposals.  Your work must showcase your ability to perform “reasonably exhaustive research”, meaning, you’ve checked out at least most of the commonly-used (and not so common) resources to solve your problem.  Your source citations must be impeccable.  Nary a single piece of information may go unsourced.


The funny thing is, this shouldn’t scare me: as I said, I’ve always striven to do these things in my work, from the very first day I started.  And yet… and yet.  I’ve also never really had my work reviewed by the cream of the genealogical crop before, either.

I’m writing this post today because I’m working on my portfolio and frankly, I needed a break, so I decided to talk about my experience.  And of course, now that I’ve explained the process, I’m not sure what else there is I can say until I have done more of my portfolio.  So keep an eye out for future posts, because I’m sure I will have more to say on this subject as the months go by and I complete my projects one by one.

For the record, of the five substantive portfolio sections, I’ve completed one, and have dabbled at least a little bit in the other four.  Three of those four are about 60% done.  Will I be willing to submit the whole thing as soon as I’ve completed all five projects?  No.  I will have to go back through each of them and rework them, at least one more time.  Because I’m a perfectionist, and perfection never happens on the first try.