Watch my YouTube video on how to get started with your genealogical research.
One of the trends in popular genealogy that is impossible to deny is the rapid accumulation of information, even if it’s errant information. Professional genealogists complain about it. I read the message boards! This genealogical hoarding is an interesting phenomena. But like all hoarding, there tends to be a reckoning. Eventually something will gob-smack you in the face and wake you up to the reality of what you are doing. Everyone will have errors in their trees, but with sourcing and a little bit of research, we can greatly minimize those errors, particularly those passed on to others.
Some people on Ancestry are obviously just collecting names, collecting data, and collecting photos without even the slightest amount of logic or research applied. Case-in-point, I found a hint to my own name this week. I was so excited, but when I clicked on the link, it was to another online tree that had listed me as deceased and having died in a place where I have never lived and never visited. I was married to the correct man from the correct family, however, the information about me was wrong. I contacted the tree owner to see if he or she could update and correct the information… no answer yet. But then a strange thing happened. All sorts of people started attaching all of that wrong information to their own trees. The misinformation propagated like rabbits in springtime.
If you approach your research as a connector rather than a collector, you might be surprised what you find. Family history is about more than names and dates. It’s about lives and struggles, wars and ideals, faith and hope. You can learn about some of the heroes and some of the scoundrels. How many of us know the migration and hardships? The stories and the “overcoming” are what make a great testimonial of life. The connections woven between military men or farmers in a community, or the women at church are so valuable for us to understand how they survived and thrived. It’s important for us to have that perspective on how we came to be and all of the events that had to occur in order for us to be here right now. That kind of perspective is life-changing. To think that all eight of my great great grandfathers had to survive their Civil War service for me to be here right now is a thought that makes me choke up.
One of the great things about an online tree is the ability to seek and find. The difficulty lies in assessing the quality of information. I would encourage you to look at each tree with a careful eye. Is it sourced? Are there documents and photos and stories? If not, move on. If each of us approach the process as connectors rather than collectors, we will build a much more valuable network of information.
My favorite genealogical conference of the year is fast approaching. The Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference, or FGS, is in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, on August 21-24. I attend a number of conferences each year, some focus on genealogy and some are for my day job. But by far FGS is the most enjoyable to me because the focus is on the librarians, the archivists, and the societies that are the foundation of genealogy. These hard-working and underfunded workers and volunteers are the protectors of data and records that we crave. And societies do the work at the local level to keep information available for all of us. https://www.fgsconference.org/
Individual researchers and those curious about genealogy will find a variety of topics of interest. There are lectures and workshops for all areas and all levels of experience. In addition, the Allen County Public Library is one of the best collection of books, periodicals, city directories, and family history books in the country. http://www.genealogycenter.org/Home.aspx
Spend as much time as you can in the stacks of the library. Prepare ahead of time to make the most of your visit. Explore the website and familiarize yourself with their resources. Typically, the library offers a tour for those who have never been to ACPL. The tour is well worth the time.
You may use computers and scanners in the Genealogy Center of the Library. Bring a lock to attach your laptop to the desk in order to roam through the stacks. No need to bring coins for the copier. The machines use a swipe card system where you preload money to pay for your copies. There is plenty of room (and multiple outlets) to bring your electronic gear with you.
Even if you have never attended a genealogical conference, take the opportunity to learn, to spend time with like-minded people, and get invigorated and more productive in your research. Whether you have one day or four, come to the FGS conference in Ft Wayne, Indiana. The program of speakers and luncheons is a great mix of society interests, individual learning, and technology courses.
I had an enjoyable talk with Dr. Smith at the National Genealogical Conference following his lecture, “Advanced Word: Automatic Numbering for Genealogies.” Dr. Alvy Ray Smith is a published author, lecturer, and scholar. Dr. Smith holds a PhD from Stanford in computer science. He also is a member of FASG, a fellow of the American Society of Genealogists. This honorary society is limited to 50 living people receiving an invitation due to their scholarly contribution to genealogy.
In addition to his accomplishments in genealogy, I was in awe of his varied and amazing accomplishments. Dr. Smith was a founding member of Pixar. He has won technical awards for animation and filmmaking including an Academy Award for his work in developing pioneering techniques in digital paint systems used to make motion pictures. I have to admit I was a bit star-struck when I realized that he had ties to some large tech names and products including but not limited to Pixar, Xerox, Lucasfilm, Microsoft, and Altamira. I was fascinated to learn of his work on the Visible Human Project through the National Library of Medicine.
Even though the lecture was billed as an Intermediate to Advanced level class, there were a wide range of attendees. And just to make it interesting, there were Word users from 2003, 2007, and 2010. The occasional Mac user added some flair, complaining that they could not find the correct menus and commands. The presentation was interesting and informative. I left the session feeling competent to use automatic numbering to simplify my research and well-versed in the advantages of this type of organization. Especially useful with long registers of generations, the advantages of automatic numbering outweigh the time it takes to learn the techniques and set up a document.
Another take-away of the presentation is that publishing—genealogical and otherwise—is moving away from flat books to three-dimensional hyperlinked and expandable digital formats. PDF books are downloadable and much more user friendly than following the pagination and numbering of genealogical registers in print products.
I asked Dr. Smith if he would consider selling templates or macros to speed up with the auto numbering process. He made available a link to his web site where he has a tutorial, templates, and instructions for anyone’s use for no charge.
When asked if Dr. Smith used any other organizational tools in his own research and publishing, he responded, “I primarily use Word.” He talked about the power behind Word that is rarely utilized and not often capitalized upon. He suggested exploring Word to find its special features, built in macros, and amazing functioning power.
After an informative lecture and great conversation about genealogy, I still found myself enamored with having one degree of separation from the man who directed the “first use of full computer graphics” for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. This genealogist and Trekkie loved it!
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.
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.
One often overlooked source of genealogical information is family history and local history ebooks. Often in a library, you can find the books that have no index, but a wonderful added bonus with ebooks is that pdfs are searchable. And each ebook can be attached to relevant ancestors in Family Tree Maker. I have three major sources for ebooks– Project Gutenberg, Google Books, and WorldCat.
Project Gutenberg is a free resource for all types of ebooks. There are thousands of topics, authors, classics, and books are available in dozens of languages. Books are also available as pdfs or many other ebook formats. Project Gutenberg has a family history/genealogy subcategory.
WorldCat is another fabulous resource for genealogists searching for family history books. Search by surname, location, event, and any other criteria. Sometimes you will find downloadable ebooks, but generally, WorldCat will tell you which library to contact to find the book. In addition to books, WorldCat also have a variety of media cataloged. You might be surprised what you find there.
Google Books is a great search feature within Google for family history resources. Use Google’s search tips to cut down the number of hits. Rather than just searching by surname (which will generate thousands of hits), I usually start with a search of surname +”family history”. With the plus sign and no space, Google will pair the name with anything you add to it. It will significantly cut down the number of hits. By placing “family history” in quotation marks, Google will show you those resources tagged or categorized as family history. For more tips on Google search tips, just google “google search tips”.
It is also helpful to combine surname +location. For example: offenbacher +ohio.
Or you can combine surname +event. For example: brelsford +flood or brelsford +”civil war”.
Use the Google search tools to account for surname alternate spellings. For example, in my family, there are Offenbachers and Offenbackers. So, you can google search with the asterisk to account for that. Just search for offenbac*er or even more generally search for offenba* which would also include the Offenbaughers and the Offenbakers.
Remember in all of these formats and sites, search for people, places, and events. And don’t forget to search for historical accounts, centennial/bicentennial celebrations, and other local happenings. You might be surprised to find that one of your ancestors was a part of local history.
My search method is to go through a collection very thoroughly by surname on a regular interval. I use the same source tracking chart to keep track of ebooks in addition to the other sources that I mine regularly. If you would like a copy of the Excel file, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will send you a free copy! Happy ebook hunting!
One of the most difficult things to keep track of in your genealogical search is where have I been? what did I find? and how often do I need to go back?
I was talking to a cousin this weekend about her “brick wall”. We were batting around ideas about how to locate a rather scandalous and infamous ancestor who was lynched in 1860 for a murder. We were talking about newspaper records. One thing I suggested to her was the old standby… Find a Grave. Sometimes cemeteries feature their famous burials. Most of us have used it at one point or another. I suggested that she look at that site, but keep going back. There are new things added all the time.
As I wrapped up the discussion with my newly found cousin, I decided that I needed to follow my own advice. I needed to retread some ground that I had already covered. I had been searching for my third great grandfather, John W Reed and a wife that I thought was nicknamed Fannie. I had seen his birth year in the family Bible. And the Bible said he had been born in Baltimore. I went to Find a Grave. I searched for John Reed in Ohio, as I had done many times before. Of course, there are thousands. But I focused in on a county by county search. And I found him!
And, I found his wife, and 18 other people buried there. Just retreading through sites that I have been through before, broke down that brick wall. And after a trip to the cemetery, and the library to search city directories, I found the house where my great great great grandfather used to live. And I found the location where the family grocery store used to be.
Don’t forget to go back and retread… I am working on developing an electronic tracking method just for this purpose. I will share soon (when I finish it).