An interview with Robert Raymond

It was such a pleasure to interview Robert Raymond, the presenter of “Using Excel to Create Time Lines” at the 2012 National Genealogical Society Conference. Mr. Raymond is a member of the NGS Board of Directors and is Deputy for FamilySearch Chief Genealogical Officer, David Rencher. Mr. Raymond also writes an award-winning blog and the author of a family history website.

“Using Excel to Create Timelines” is an interesting topic to help genealogists place their families in historical context and to organize data in a visual format. Mr. Raymond demonstrated how to use Excel to create time lines. One of the tough situations at a conference of this type is to reach the audience about the possibilities of the software without getting bogged down in the keystrokes and menus. Mr. Raymond explained the technical aspects and also was able to convey the usefulness of this method to provide context for family history.

There are some tricks to working with Excel. Dates after 1900 are already formatted with the default settings, but Excel does not support pre-1900 dates. Mr. Raymond suggested placing dates in Excel in the typical genealogical format: 24 Oct 1881 and also making a separate column for the sortable format: 1881-10-24. There were some tricks to using years with no month or date: 1719-00-00. This sortable format will allow the time line to fill in the proper sequence.

Mr. Raymond generated many types of charts using data. He made a time line with a table where the text was oriented at a 45-degree angle.

 He also showed participants how to create an XY Scatter Graph.

 In addition, Mr. Raymond demonstrated making a bar graph from a table of data.

Mr. Raymond was so gracious to spend a few minutes from his busy time at NGS 2012 to talk about genealogical organization. If you have a chance at future conferences, look for a Robert Raymond presentation. You will certainly enjoy it and learn something new and useful!

Graphs used with permission of the author and creator, Robert Raymond.




If you are not at NGS, you are missing out!

This year’s National Genealogical Society Conference 2012 is fantastic! Thousands of professional and amateur genealogists meet up with dozens of experts, lecturers, and vendors to make one great gathering this year in Cincinnati, Ohio.

No matter where I sit or where I go to eat, I can spot “new friends” with a common interest and passion. I hear stories of how they started the search for their ancestors. We chat about tips and tricks and the last workshop we attended. There is much common ground here. Genealogists are a unique breed of historians, archivists, and hoarders.  We love libraries and collections. We are fascinated by dating photos and the newest genealogical software. It’s a wonderful place to come to improve your skills and learn new things.

With registration and payment, you receive electronic (pdf) syllabi of all of the presentations. There is a wealth of knowledge there to keep you busy until the next conference. This year there were a few workshops on subtopics related to genealogical organization. I interviewed Robert Raymond on the topic of “Using Excel to Create Timelines”. And I interviewed Alvy Ray Smith on his presentation, “Advanced Word: Automatic Numbering for Genealogies”. Those interviews and tips from the presenters will appear as future blog postings. Sign up for the RSS feed so that you don’t miss it!

The 2013 conference is from May 8-11 in Las Vegas, Nevada. I hope to see you there!

Track the sites you have visited

Trying to organize genealogical leads is like trying to herd cats! There are so many things to track, but not just that, you have to go over and over where you have already tread. To make matters just a bit more complicated, there are hundreds of duplicate names, periods of inactivity, and an ever-expanding amount of information. The goal is to go back to sources, but not to go back to sources and redo the same steps as before with the same surnames or individuals.

This is something new I have developed, so I would love your feedback. It electronically mimics what I have been doing for many years in a paper/pencil format. My paper/pencil approach has a new page for each site and I regularly add to it. The advantage electronically is that it is searchable, sortable, easily backed up, and easily transported.

I have a list of sites that I visit regularly.Although I have listed Ancestry, here, I do not actually note all of the times I go to that site. Ancestry has a great tracking system for new information with the leaves, hints, and emails.. But the other sites listed here are a sample of what I am constantly trolling. As new sites come up, I add them to the list, even if I don’t get to them for awhile. It keeps track of my “new leads”, too.

The columns of the table are for the 16 common surnames. You can add more (or less). I have color-coded blue for my dad’s family and pink for my mom’s family.  This chart is an Excel spreadsheet. I saved it as an older format to make it accessible to earlier versions of the program. If you want to try it, email me at and I will email the file to you. I promise not to pass on your information and add spam to your life!

 Here is a sample of what it could look like.  I have added in the surnames for my parents, grandparents, and so on for both my mom and dad. There are more names in pink, but you will have to imagine the chart extending.

   There are two ways that I envision this chart being used. One method could just be to insert the date for the last time you searched there. Just deleting the old date and adding the new would keep the chart smaller. What I prefer is tracking all of the times I have been there, and even more about who/what I found. If you have worked with a spreadsheet before, you know sometimes the formatting can be tricky. I have set the row to expand with the content. Otherwise data would be covered up. Also, I use “line breaks” within each cell just for readability. To insert a line break in a cell (see the yellow circled area below), use ALT +Enter.  If you decide you want to track more than just dates that you have visited a site, then you can add more information. See the orange circle below for a sample of that. I used Find a Grave as my sample. It’s the kind of site that once you have located someone, you don’t need to go back to relocate them again. You might want to go back time-to-time to see if there are new people added to that same cemetery, or new information added to a person, but in general… once you found them, you found them.  So, for Find A Grave, I list each person by name as they are located. For those duplicated names, you can add dates to keep yourself straight. Just this week I noticed on Ancestry that Find a Grave is coming up under “new hints”, so perhaps I won’t need to track this the way I have been.  Let me know if you would like to try this chart. It’s free… and we all know genealogists LOVE to hear that!