Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace.

Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co, 2007. 885p. Hardcover, index, illus. $59.95. ISBN 0-8063-1806-6.

I admit it — when a new book is announced by Elizabeth Mills, I immediately put in an advance order, without even reading any reviews. I’ve heard her speak at dozens of conferences and seminars, local and national, and I’ve read (I think) all of her published articles. My regard for her professional expertise is such that anything she cares to say, I want to hear.

Taken by the main title alone, and by the announced length of the 1st edition of this book, I was hoping for a grand collection of the author’s thoughts on the ferreting out of sources, the evaluation of evidence gleaned from them, and the knitting of that evidence into a provable case. Sort of a distillation of her forty-plus years of accumulated wisdom in an area of family research in she is arguably the leading expert. The subtitle, though, is more accurate. Only twenty-two pages at the beginning address the subject of evidence and what to do with it.

The bulk of the volume is given over to a series of topical chapters on various types of source materials — published books and articles, unpublished manuscripts, business and institutional records, census, church, and cemetery records, local and state records produced by courts and clerks, national governmental records, and laws and court cases. Another sizable section covers handwritten and electronic correspondence, records and other materials (often ephemeral) found on the Internet, and broadcast or televised source material. But what you will find discussed is not the use or interpretation of such materials but precisely how they ought to be cited in your research and writing. Each chapter and section is preceded by a “QuickCheck” list of concise models and examples of the citation formats under discussion. (Those for electronic sources expand on Mills’s “QuickSheet: Citing Online Historical Resources,” a four-page laminated ready-reference tool also published by Genealogical Publishing (rev. ed., 2007). There’s an immense amount of detail here, far more than in Mills’s classic and now standard Evidence! (1997). If you need to know how to cite the contents of the Norwegian Lutheran Church’s registers, you’ll find it on pages 362-65. In that regard, this volume should be considered the genealogical equivalent of the Chicago Manual of Style, and as such, it has become the instant standard for genealogical writing for publication.

How does this 2d edition differ from the 1st? Not by very much. There are, apparently, a number of corrections (not surprising in a volume as complex as this) to the citation of manuscript and print sources, but the bulk of the changes consist of updates to various websites and citation models to new online forms (e.g., blogs). In other words, if you own a copy of the 1st edition, you needn’t immediately run out and buy the new one.

Still, this thick volume probably may be regarded as overkill for most hobby-level researchers. (The author would argue that every effort should be made to produce the best work possible, whether the researcher is a professional working for pay or a weekend hobbyist, . . . and I would agree. But still.) Perhaps this book would have been better conceived (and marketed) as a substantial expansion of Evidence! And I’m still hoping to see that future work with Elizabeth Mills’s name on it, called perhaps Everything I Know About Genealogy.

Finally: Not to cavil, but one error on the very first page of the 1st edition caught my eye, where the author quotes Lawrence of Arabia’s warning that “All sources lie,” and then refers to him (twice) as “Sir Lawrence.” Actually, Col. T. E. Lawrence’s given names were “Thomas Edward,” and the proper style is therefore “Sir Thomas.” Mrs. Mills or her copyeditor really should have caught that — especially in a book on source citations.

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Published in: on 4 August 2011 at 4:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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