I recently received a file with over 3,500 names in the file. The data in the file was a mess! Dates, nicknames, and locations were entered differently from person to person. I found November 29, 1937 written four different ways, 29 Nov 1937; 29-11-37; 11-29-37; and 11-29- 1937. There was no consistency, which made many of the entries unclear. I worked hours correcting the data. Used regularly, a simple style sheet could have prevented this problem.
A style sheet defines the details writing style such as presentation, punctuation, grammar, and spelling. Every genealogists needs a style sheet. The style sheet will bring clarity and consistency to your genealogy.
Many items on a style sheet should conform to writing and genealogical standards while others are a matter of preference. In some cases, there may be several equally correct options. A style sheet is about making choices and using those choices consistently throughout your work.
The style sheets does not have to be created in a day. In fact, it should be a work in progress rather than a finished document. Start with a blank sheet of paper either in a notebook or a word processor. On the left side of the sheet write, NAMES, DATES, NUMBERS, LOCATIONS, PUNCTUATION, and SOURCES. After each category name, describe in detail how you will handle each issue pertaining to that category.
Style Sheet (Example)
Names: Unknown name– a question mark inside square brackets in place of unknown name. Example: [-?-].
Dates: Day, month, year; month is written out; numbers are not used for the month; four digits are used for th year. Example: 29 July 1956.
Numbers: First word in a sentence is written out. Example: One hundred dollars. Location: County abbreviated as Co. Example: Broomfield Co. State speed out. Example: Colorado.
Order is city, county, state, country. Example: Lyons, Boulder Co., Colorado. Punctuation: Jr. and Sr. without commas. Example: “Harry Warren, Jr. has our brothers.”
Sources: Birth registration (state level). Joseph L. Brown, birth certificate no. 1889 (1915), South Dakota Department of Health, Pierre, South Dakota.
These categories are ideas to help you begin your style sheet. More categories can be added as needed. Including examples for each entry will make the style sheet easy to use and understand.
A word of caution regarding abbreviations. Abbreviations can easily be misinterpreted. For example, “MA” is the postal code for Massachusetts. But at a quick glance someone might think it is Maine. There is never a question if the word is written out.
A mistake that is often made by genealogists is the placement of comments and events in place of a location. This can be very confusing. Comments and events such as Civil War, World War I, or “Died Young” do not belong in the location field. They should be placed in a note field or in a special event field. Make the choice of where to place them, then be consistent so you can locate the items later.
Create a style sheet that fits your needs, update it regularly and it will enhance your genealogy.
Three publications to help get you started with your style sheet are: Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian by Elizabeth Shown Mills, QuickSheet, Citing Online Historical Resources Evidence Style by Elizabeth Shown Mills and The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition published by the University of Chicago Press.