Sharing Your Genealogical Treasures

Sharing Your Genealogical Treasures in the NCGS Journal

by Larry W. Cates, NCGS Journal Editor (2012-2015)

Larry Cates, NCGS Journal Editor

     When genealogists collaborate, better family histories result. If we pool our analytical skills, discoveries, and experiences, we can open new doors and improve the overall quality of research. Think about all the abstracts and transcriptions you have used over the years, the books and articles you have read, the help you have received from generous folks online and in person, the podcasts and lectures you have listened to. All of these interactions were based on the experience and generosity of others. Few of us would have made much progress without such assistance.

     The North Carolina Genealogical Society Journal is just one additional avenue for reaching out. Certainly, people publish for a variety of reasons—to improve their skills, to demonstrate their capabilities, to increase their reputations, to counteract inaccurate information, or because of their love for the subject. But the best reason is to “share the wealth” of what we have learned with others.

     Generally, the Journal publishes two types of articles. First, there are simple abstracts and transcriptions of original documents related to North Carolina research. Due to space limitations, I usually prefer abstracts. In this form, more information can be packed into fewer pages. Good abstracts are accurate, vivid, and include all the genealogically important details. If executed as a series, they are produced in a consistent style. Before beginning a project, always ask yourself how a reader could use the information to advance his research. Also, search PERSI (Periodicals Source Index, available on HeritageQuest), the North Carolina State Library catalog, and online search engines to make sure the material hasn’t been published previously.

     Because the Journal must satisfy a variety of interests state-wide, the best document series often cover the entire state or at least several counties. In general, the more names included in the finished product, the better. But abstracts and transcriptions may also be limited to a single county if the scope of coverage is limited and can be completed in only a few segments. Neglected counties and more sparsely documented periods of history are particularly in demand. Likewise, abstracts and transcriptions can be limited in scope (chronologically or geographically) if they are used to explain and highlight the advantages of a particular record type. The key is to make the article as valuable as possible to as many people as possible. Even if a reader cannot derive direct information from the item, he or she should acquire ideas about potential avenues of research.

     The same principle applies to the other major category of contribution, methodological articles. These articles highlight skills and sources needed to solve specific genealogical problems and provide concrete examples. In other words, they demonstrate how the researcher arrived at his conclusions by focusing on process as much as outcome. Articles should be thoroughly footnoted and rely heavily on primary sources. They may include conclusions for which there is no direct proof as long as such conclusions are stated tentatively. In such cases, however, the surviving evidence must have been thoroughly examined, and an attempt made to explore reasonable alternative interpretations. It always helps, of course, if you can use the stories encapsulated in the records to enliven your prose and engage the reader’s interest. If your article is dull, no matter how valuable it may be, many readers will pass it by.

     In my editorship, I have chosen to give less weight to family histories per se, unless they are making a larger point that is applicable to unrelated people. All of us, I think, have been held a captive audience to someone else’s genealogical meanderings. And doubtless, we have all made the same impression when talking about our own research to others. The fact is that our families are rarely as interesting to our listeners as they are to us. Readers benefit most from our stories when they are motivated by our successes to apply our approaches to their own situations.

     Footnotes are often daunting to a new author. Sometimes, I find them positively tormenting. However, the key is to make sure that you identify reliable sources for every statement of fact that is not common knowledge. The process of footnoting keeps us honest about our conclusions, and it provides transparency so that others may judge how reliable our results are. We use Elizabeth Shown Mills’ Evidence Explained and the most recent edition of The Chicago Manual of Style to help format our notes. However, I do not object to variations from exact templates. The important thing is that each footnote should cite a credible set of sources. The items cited should be described with specificity and in a format that is consistent and intelligible to the reader.

     Please remember that no article is finished when it first reaches an editor’s desk. You should never feel that you must attain perfection before making contact. Part of the editor’s work is to provide you with feedback and move you toward a publishable product. If your idea is sound and interesting and you have the basic mechanics of writing under control, the editor can help you clean up the minor issues and errors. I want to encourage any of you who aspire to share the riches of your genealogical experience with others to approach me with your ideas and manuscripts.