Tuesday, December 8, 2015

SHOCKER - Ancestry.com Discontinues Family Tree Maker!

I just received this e-mail from Ancestry.com. I am just recovering from the shock. 
Dear Family Tree Maker™ community,

Ancestry is proud to have made a significant investment this year to bring valuable new content and records to the Ancestry site. In 2015, we’ve made 220 million searchable historical records from Mexico available, more than 170 million pages from the largest collection of U.S. will and probate records, among others. We’ve also introduced new features such as Ancestry Academy, and major advancements for AncestryDNA.

As we strive to provide our customers with the best experience possible, we are constantly evaluating our services and product offerings. True to this focus, we’ve taken a hard look at the declining desktop software market and the impact this has on being able to continue to provide new content, product enhancements and support that our users need. With that, we’ve made the tough decision to stop selling Family Tree Maker as of December 31, 2015.

We will continue to support existing Family Tree Maker owners at least through January 1, 2017. During this time, all features of the software, including TreeSync™ will continue to work. Our Member Services team will also remain available to assist with questions or issues you may have.

These changes are never easy. But by focusing our efforts, we can concentrate on continuing to build great products for our loyal Ancestry community.

You can find additional details about the retirement of Family Tree Maker on our blog.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

California Genealogical Society Board Nomination

I am deeply honored to be one of three people nominated to join the board of directors of the California Genealogical Society.  

The membership will be voting on the new board members at our annual meeting on Saturday, January 23, 2016.  I am hopeful that there will be no difficulties and that I will be elected in January.

Even though I am very busy, this is one opportunity to be more involved in genealogy, and to have an activity that is fun!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

I'm still alive!

It has been far, far too long since I last posted.

I was overwhelmed trying to keep up with the Genealogy Do-Over. I just couldn't work on organizing my research and blogging.  So I was paralyzed into inaction.

Then I had a series of colds, and life kept interfering.

I am regrouping and reorganizing pretty much everything that I am doing with my research.

I will blog when I am able. I am something of a perfectionist, so I want to have links, labels, graphics, etc. I need to let go of that pressure.

We'll see what comes next.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Genealogy Do-Over (Cycle 3) - Weeks 8 and 9 - Conducting Collateral and Cluster Research, Conducting Collateral Research, and Organizing Research Materials – Documents and Photos

Rather than continue my cycle of a new entry at the end of the week, I am combining two weeks, Weeks 8 and 9 of the third cycle of the Genealogy Do-Over.  Let's think of this as a blog do-over.

Four Topics for Weeks 8 and 9


Conducting Collateral Research

Collateral research is research not on direct ancestors but rather their siblings and their descendants. This can be a very useful way of finding relevant information.

I need to come up with a research plan for these collateral lines.

Reviewing Offline Education Options

I usually review the offerings of conferences in either my vicinity or from specialty organizations such as Polish Genealogical Society of America (PGSA).

For now, that is all that intend to do with offline education.


Conducting Cluster Research 

I have been using this approach with my mother's maternal line, the Kowals.

The idea is that we can learn a lot about people by looking at their neighbors, friends, business associates, etc.

This can be helpful because immigration and migration often happened not just in families but in groups of people - someone knows someone who went first and brings others along.

The area where my maternal grandmother was born had many immigrants who came from the same area in south-east Poland.  There is a website that describes the immigrants from that region.  From that website I found that there was a village, Smerek, that had both Kowals and Hoszowskis.

As a result, I have focused my research in Poland for them in and around the village of Smerek.


Organizing Research Materials – Documents and Photos

This is where I am stuck right now, and it is a top priority. My materials are a mess.
There are two steps to this.
First, the documents need to be replaced in their folders and the folders filed.
Second, I have all of the photos as electronic files, which need to be put in folders and properly organized in the cloud.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Genealogy Do-Over (Cycle 3) - Week 7 - Database Software and Digitizing Photos and Documents

So we are now nearing the end of Week 7 of the third cycle of the Genealogy Do-Over.

Review of Last Week

I have actually spent this week on the first of the topics below.

Two Topics for Week 7

Reviewing Genealogy Database Software

Ah, the perpetual review of genealogy database software. This is a topic that I go over constantly. I have posted more on this topic here than any other topic.

I used to break these programs down into two categories: those that sync with online trees (Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com) and those that don't. However, with the increased number of programs syncing with FamilySearch.org, this is need nuancing.

A deal breaker for me is whether the program can handle my marriage to my wife. That pretty much rules out Legacy 8.0, which is just hard-wired to reject us.

So I have been reviewing, again, the various programs.  

I still find Family Tree Maker to be the most comfortable to me.  I think that may be because I have been using it since the last millennium, and I have trained myself to think in its terms.

Given that most of my overseas relatives are on MyHeritage.com, I wanted to like its software, but it just still feels like it is a generation or two behind.

For now, I will stick with Family Tree Maker and constantly question that decision.

Digitizing Photos and Documents

This is something that I don't need to do, because I have digitized everything that I can get my hands on. 

Now, the problem is organizing those files, which has been on my To Do list for over a year. I stress over it even more than I do over what software to use.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Genealogy Do-Over (Cycle 3) - Week 6 - Evaluating Evidence and Reviewing Online Education Options

So we are now nearing the end of Week 6 of the third cycle of the Genealogy Do-Over.

Review of Last Week

I was out of town all week at a professional conference, which is why this blog has sat here neglected.

Two Topics for Week 6

Evaluating Evidence

Not all evidence is equal. It may be an original, or a derivative work. It may be direct or indirect (what we call circumstantial in court). It may be contemporaneous to the event, or it may be much later.

As a concrete example, a birth certificate is more reliable than a death certificate when it comes to the date of birth of the person. The birth certificate was created near the time, by someone with knowledge. A death certificate is much later, and is frequently based on information from a grieving family member who most likely didn't know the person when they were born.

This brings me to thinking about Evidentia. Evidentia is a great program that is a pain to use at first. You enter each piece of evidence that you have. Then for each piece of information (a name, a date, etc.) you enter a claim relating to that the piece of information.

The value of this exercise is that it makes you evaluate every document critically. It makes you apply the Genealogical Proof Standard to every claim. It lists and reports every piece of evidence relating to a claim, e.g., every piece of evidence of a specific person's date of birth.

As you can imagine, this is an insane amount of information. A page in a single census record contains potentially dozens of pieces of information about a family. I have hundreds of people in my family tree so far, and most have multiple sources of information.

Of course, once this information is entered, it becomes easier and easier to do this. Still, it takes a major effort.

I have tried using this program for one specific person - James Brady, and his family. I have gotten bogged down. My brain is always racing ahead, and this is very painstaking work.

I can try to make another run at this, but I am not hopeful.

Reviewing Online Education Options

I spend a lot of time and energy on free online education for genealogy anyway, so this one pretty much is done. I monitor webinars and watch them as they are available/interesting.

However, I am finding myself doing less educational efforts in general.

I think that my general academic/intellectual leanings causes me to focus more on learning about an activity than actually performing them. I am always searching for that new database or technique that will solve all of my problems. But as time goes on, I find that I know most of what I am learning.

The key for me is to actually do the research.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Genealogy Do-Over (Cycle 3) - Week 5 - Toolboxes and Citations

So we are now in Week 5 of the third cycle of the Genealogy Do-Over.

Review of Last Week

I spend some time this week looking at task management software options. As I said last week, I was unaware of a good cross-platform, simple option - something that would work on tablet and computers, with cloud capacities to ensure universal syncing.

Well, after hours of searching, I still haven't found anything. Indeed, some of what I used in the past is no longer available/supported. I can try to use Evernote, but I think that is as bad as trying to use spreadsheets for every task. This will be an area of ongoing investigation for me.

Two Topics for Week 5

Building a Research Toolbox

The idea here is to centralize links to useful resources that we would like to not have to hunt down whenever we would like it. For example, a calculator that translates between Julian and Gregorian calendars can be useful in trying to figure out what a particular date might be in the other calendar (for those of us with Eastern European ancestry, that one is important because Orthodox countries like Russia didn't adopt the Gregorian calendar until the 20th century).

I have done that in the past in my browser bookmarks. I will review the bookmarks, because to be honest, even with my multiple layers of subfolders, some things are misplaced.

Citing Sources

At some point I will go into the whole point of source citation, the Genealogical Proof Standard, and how to be thorough and document things.

The main point is that it is important to cite the sources of information. This is important both for yourself and for others following your work.

For yourself, citing sources will allow you to go back later and review why you came to a conclusion. It will also help you find additional information that you overlooked before, as you learn more what to look for in the records.

For others, it allows them to replicate your research to verify it for themselves. It lets them test your conclusions and possibly correct errors. And it also gives others confidence in your results.

Thorough citation is a pain in the butt. It takes a long time, requires practice, and every type of resource has its own stylistic template. Different software programs require different ways of setting up the sources and citations.

Let me explain a bit. Say I am citing a U.S. census record. I got the information from a repository, say, Ancestry.com. It received the information from the National Archives on some date. I retrieved the results on a different date. The census was taken on an earlier date. The record is for a specific state, county, and district within the county. It is on a line and a page. All of that information might make it into a citation.

Online search services usually attach some sort of citation to an entry. However, any information entered by an individual user doesn't have that information. If I get a copy of an old birth record in a church directory, scan it, post it to an online tree (we can have a discussion later about copyright issues), and then try to cite it, there are a host of issues that I need to address. I may need to create a repository entry, a source entry, and a citation.

I am getting tired just thinking about it.

Citing sources is one of those things that we all agree makes sense, like not jaywalking and always obeying the speed limit, but where we might cut corners when we are in a hurry.

Saying "cite your sources" is a lot like saying "eat your vegetables." We know it is good for us, but most of us are not in the habit of doing it consistently.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Genealogy Do-Over (Cycle 3) - Week 4 - Managing the Research

So we are now in Week 4 of the third cycle of the Genealogy Do-Over.

Recap of Last Week

My post from yesterday is basically my recap from last week (well, technically, it relates more to Week 2, because I am falling behind).

Two Topics for Week 4

Managing Projects and Tasks

Now, this is different than tracking research. This is a higher level, between the overall research plan and the actual searches being performed.

Thomas MacEntee loves spreadsheets. I loath them, mostly because of bad prior experiences with people overusing them.

I know people who use spreadsheets for every problem.  I believe that is like using an electric drill for every project. They are great and surprisingly versatile. However, sometimes I just need a hammer, and sometimes I need delicate manipulation of small parts.

Spreadsheets are terrible at manipulating text. They are designed to manipulate numbers and text associated with those numbers. They are insanely linear. There are many superior alternatives to spreadsheets for most other uses.

Again, I think Evernote might be a better tool, but I need to give this some thought. There are actual project management tools that may be superior. I have tried several in the past, but none that I have used are cross-platform, simple, reliable and have the features that I would want (nesting subprojects, etc.).

I need to do a little research this week.

Tracking Searches

The reason that Thomas MacEntee gives for why he proposes tracking searches is basically the very reason that I don't track searches. I will give his suggestion some consideration.

Let me back up and put this in some context. There are two major types of searches: searches within a fixed source, like a specific book, and searches within a database.

I agree with recording searches within fixed sources, since they don't change. In general, if I look for all records for a particular person on a particular roll of microfilm at the Family History Library, the roll won't change. I want to record my searches so that I don't unintentionally repeat a search of that roll. I have done it before, and it is a waste of time.

I haven't tracked searches of databases, including search engines like Google.com, because they change frequently, and I will find different results if I try again at a later date.  Hence, I want to repeat those searches.

I think a good solution might be to create a specified set of searches that I want to perform in certain databases on a regular basis. FamilySearch.org is a good candidate for that, as they are regularly updating their database collection.

Of course, if I were Steve Morse, I would probably figure out a way to automate those searches. (For those who haven't visited stevemorse.org, stop right now and do so, and marvel in its power and simplicity.)

Saturday, July 25, 2015

About the Whole "Ancestors Hiding" Thing...and How It Relates to My Research

The title of this blog is a little unfair to many of my ancestors, particularly my father's. So I figured that I should explain, as it has affected my research planning.

My father's ancestors are cooperative

Truthfully, my father's ancestors have been fairly easy to find, especially given how little energy I have spent looking for them. (There are a number of fascinating mysteries about them, to be discussed another time.)

Recently, as referenced here, I have been in touch with a man in Poland who appears to be my third cousin, Jerzy Kolakowski. His tree goes back to the early 1700s, although I have not been able to verify 99% of what he has listed and so I am taking it with a bag of salt.

Still, I have found the ship manifests listing all four of my father's grandparents, and I have confirmed the birth villages of three of them and have a 19th century document reporting the fourth.

So all in all, they are pretty good sources for researching my paternal ancestry, and I may be able to track most of those lines to the 1700s with enough time and patience - records are in Russian, Polish, German and Latin, sometimes mixed in the same document, and I speak none of those languages.

I have paid less attention to my father's ancestry because my mother wants answers and my father seems only mildly interested.

My mother's ancestors are difficult

The Bradys

My maternal grandfather's family all are of Irish Catholic descent. His father, James Brady, was the subject of one of my first posts.  James Brady was born in Oldham, England just northeast of Manchester, to Thomas Brady and Margaret McCue.

The family moved to the United States when he was a young boy, right after the 1880 U.S. census and quickly settled on the border between Rhode Island and Massachusetts, moving back and forth over the 1880s and early 1890s. Sadly, it appears that whenever one place was doing a census or other reporting, the family was in the other place. There are huge gaps in the records, and what little I know is from tracking down things like birth records for his U.S. born siblings.

Thomas Brady was born in Ireland. That is all any record ever reports. His father was named Thomas Brady as well. He also had a son named Thomas Brady. He moved to Tiverton, Rhode Island and neighboring Fall River, Massachusetts, where there were at least three men about the same age named Thomas Brady. I believe that all of them eventually had sons names Thomas, several about the same age. At least two of them had wives named Margaret. At least two had fathers named Thomas.

The family eventually moved to New York City, the other place in the world outside Ireland that was overrun with men named Thomas Brady. He died in his mid 50s, and his widow Margaret McCue Brady remarried. I have located most of the records of James' siblings through their proximity to her.

James Brady eventually married and went to live on a boat, as I mentioned in my earlier post.

The Cowells

My maternal grandmother's family were immigrants from what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Hricz Kowal and his wife Anna Hoszowski moved to a small mining town in Clearfield county, Pennsylvania.

Although Hricz Kowal would translate literally into English as Gregory Smith, he Anglicized his name based on the spelling to Harry Cowell. At least, he eventually did. Every record of this family has the name spelled differently. I have found records with different spellings ON THE SAME PAGE!

My grandmother identified as Austrian or as Ukrainian, and said they were from Galicia. U.S. records call them Ruthenian. They attended a Ukrainian Catholic church. The church says it has no records.

Harry came to the United States around the age of 30, and quickly became a citizen. I wish that he had taken more time, because the early citizenship forms had very little information. They do list the date of his arrival in the United States, but I have had no luck in locating a ship's manifest (some are damaged and so the record may never be found).

Many people in the surrounding towns in Pennsylvania came from the same area in what is now the very southeast tip of Poland. Records are kind of confused from that area, because these towns have been in Poland but the records aren't Roman Catholic and the people were ethnically different, so records have bounced between countries over the past century or so.  All of the local Ruthenians were forcibly relocated during the Cold War years, and there is nobody local to ask.

Although Harry and Anna had a large family of children, there are a fairly small number of descendants, and most have no knowledge of the family history beyond garbled stories handed down.

I have found all of the easy documents, and most of the less easy ones. I have been to Clearfield county. I have seen Harry and Anna's grave in the church cemetery. I have gone, page by page, through the records of the local funeral home from the era.

It will take some serious effort to break through this brick wall.

The Point of All This

 As I have been trying to develop a research plan for the Genealogy Do-Over, I have struggled with setting priorities.

The most promising areas of research are not the ones that will lead me to answer the questions about my mother's family, and finding those answers is one of the prime motivators for my doing this work. My desire to find this information outweighs my desire to document thoroughly.

However, I believe that doing the research right is the best way to ensure that I follow every lead, verify every point so that I do not waste effort or cause confusion.

That is what prompted me to try the Genealogy Do-Over. The low hanging fruit have all been picked. Now it is time to get things together and make some real breakthroughs.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Genealogy Do-Over (Cycle 3) - Week 3 - Oh No, I Have To Start Researching!

So we are now in Week 3 of the third cycle of the Genealogy Do-Over.  Am I really doing this, or just pretending? Sometimes I am not sure.

Recap of Last Week

You may have noticed that there were no posts on the blog this past week (I sure noticed). I wish that I could say that was because of something exciting or fun going on, but no, it was actually just boring normal life stuff happening. Plus a lot of computer gaming, because I have been a bit stressed out. Change is coming at work, and I don't know what that will look like for me.

I was supposed to be coming up with a research plan. I didn't. I think I am taking this Do-Over too literally. Do I really need to start from the beginning? That stuff is so boring! I already know it!

Two Topics for Week 3

Tracking Research

Ah, the bane of a researcher's life. This is even worse than citing sources. Tracking every blind alley, every useless search, every successful search. This is insanely tedious, but terribly necessary.

Let me give a very current example. I wrote just two weeks ago that I had found an online tree that likely contained the Polish part of my Kolakowski line. I did a quick online search and found records from the local Roman Catholic parish that validated some of the information.

Well, the operative part was "quick online search." I received an e-mail from my distant cousin who created the online tree, and this prompted a question that made me want to quickly check the online parish records.

I couldn't find them. They were just there. I had bookmarked them. I checked the search history of my browser going back days. I checked my well-organized bookmark collection. Nothing. No trace.

This drove me nuts. I found the download history from the browser for the record that I saved, and learned which website it came from. I couldn't find the records on the site. 

After about a half hour of searching every possible rabbit hole on that giant Polish database site, I finally found the right page. I knew it was the right page because the browser showed that it had been bookmarked. (I guess my clever bookmarking organizational system isn't perfect.)

The moral of the story - tracking research is really important.

But I hate the idea of using a spreadsheet - they drive me nuts (so, so, linear!). I would rather use a database program, but it seems like those are passe these days.

(I find it hysterically funny that I am complaining about linearity, when I am the queen of stacking things into neat piles.)

I wonder if I can figure out how to do research tracking in Evernote. Tags are good. Tags are sort of non-linear.

Conducting Research

OK,without a plan, and without committing to a tracking regimen, I can't really do that research. That is the whole point of the Do-Over. Three weeks in, and I am already behind. But we are at the beginning of the week, and maybe I can get things in gear.

Successful or not, I will be back next week with more on this journey.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Genealogy Do-Over (Cycle 3) - Week 2

So we are now in Week 2 of the third cycle of the Genealogy Do-Over.  I am still here, doing this.

More on Last Week

I was going to discuss what I came up with about base practices and guidelines. I didn't, and I shan't.

The real gift of  this process is being part of the online community doing this project. People post all sorts of useful information, and this is being shared and commented upon and improved. It is a real communal process, something of a crowd-sourcing of genealogical methodology.

Also, it is a very supportive community of people struggling with the same issues, which is one of the gifts of the modern Internet age.

I was very busy reading other people's blogs for information about how they research, how they envision the process, what practical steps they take. There was so much information that I just plain didn't blog about it.

I strongly encourage everyone seriously interested in genealogy to join this process, and to join the closed Facebook group. Even if you do none of this, just following along will be worth the effort.

Three Topics for Week 2

Conducting Self-Interview

This is the part where it would be easy to mess things up. I could cheat and ask myself everything that I know about my roots, which would suck all of the stuff that I set aside!

I guess that I am in an unusual position in that I am regularly asked for a biography of myself, ranging from a paragraph to much longer. As someone who has run for office, I have seriously reviewed my own history and put it into writing so many times that it is kind of sad.

Conducting Family Interviews

This is one of those "easier said than done" things. I don't talk to my relatives that much. Most of them have little to say to me about the family, and those that do have already done so long ago, in my notes that I set aside for the Do-Over!

One of the reasons that I turned to doing this research seriously a few years ago was that my mother was concerned that most of her cousins had passed, and that the memory of her immigrant grandparents/great grandparents would be lost forever. So I talked to folk, and got a lot of information. I have been collecting it ever since.

I helped my wife Cynthia (the newspaper editor) prepare what was essentially a press release for my parent's 50th Anniversary six years ago, and so went over much of their lives. And I have gone through boxes of old photos over the past few years, and have read various accounts that my mother and her father wrote about their lives.

What I will do this week instead is to separate those materials out and organize them better, and use them to formulate additional questions for follow up.

Setting Research Goals

This is what I am mostly going to be working on this week. I am still trying to figure out how I want to focus my research. Should I focus on just one branch (e.g., my paternal grandmother's family), or work simultaneously on multiple avenues?

I guess that my original main purpose for the Do-Over itself is to reorganize materials, and to go and back-fill my tree to make it properly sourced.

When I first started getting back into genealogy, I tried setting aside specific days of the week for specific lines. I then discovered that it wasn't enough time to get anywhere productively. So then I decided to set different weeks for different lines. The same thing happened again. So I concluded that setting priorities by this particular approach didn't work for me.

Also, to be frank, I have had more breakthroughs on my Eastern European ancestry in the past few weeks than I had in the previous year and a half, mostly by accident.

My trip to Genealogy Jamboree netted me a copy of John Pihach's "Ukrainian Genealogy," which tied together some things that I already knew and helped me to refocus. And in the last few weeks I became more aware of the Rusyn (Ruthenian) resources online that can connect me to folk with access to information and knowledge that I somehow overlooked. There are some interesting avenues for research there.

The unexpected discovery of the Kolakowski family in Poland has opened all sorts of new research avenues.

So my actual research goals will likely refocus me on Eastern Europe. So let me explain why I haven't give Eastern Europe as much thought.

I have been mostly interested in my mother's family, since she cares about it and my father really doesn't seem as interested. My mother's father is purely of Irish descent. My maternal grandmother's family is from Galicia, in what was the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. I will discuss this greater detail later, but I have pretty much hit a brick wall in researching that line.

Circling around and starting over when there is a brick wall seems like a good strategy. So that is where my research is heading.

I will recap what I came up with next week.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Not Just Talking to Myself Anymore

I was just looking over the metrics on this blog. I pretty much just expected this to be me posting into the cacophony of the Internet, and that nobody would be noticing it.

Instead, this blog have dozens of visitors each day. And in the three months or so that it has been around, we have visitors from not just the U.S., but also from nine other countries!

OK, not a lot of page views, but much more than I expected:

United Kingdom

I hope that I can come up with posts that merit your continued reading.

More on Irish Genealogy - Follow Irish Genealogy News

While I am thinking today about Irish genealogy, I thought that it would be a good idea to give a shout out to Irish Genealogy News.  It is a website that I follow regularly to hear all of the little seen developments regarding genealogy in Ireland.

Recently it also has included more behind-the-scenes information about the Irish genealogical scene than I really want to know.

If you care about Irish genealogy, this is one blog that you really should be following.

Irish Roman Catholic Parish Registers Finally Online

The National Library of Ireland announced earlier this year that it would be putting digitized versions of all of its microfilms of Roman Catholic parish registers sometime this summer. Well, that sometime is now, and the registers are online.

This is a very useful tool, but it isn't the first place that most people should look. The information is not indexed, so what one needs to do is find the parish first, then see if the register exists for the time frame in question, then review the individual pages for the information.  The pages can then be downloaded.

If one wants indexed records, there is always the outrageously expensive rootsireland.ie ($255/yr! - or just save up all of the searches that you want and buy a single month at $28).  I have had less success with searching with FindMyPast.com

Sadly, it is still difficult to do research without knowing the town name where one's ancestor was born, married and/or died.

When I was in Dublin just over a year and a week ago, I reviewed these registers and found one piece of information that I didn't previously know.

Of course, the information that I looked for in Ireland is now online for free - I mentioned this type of thing happening in my previous post about Genealogical Murphy's Laws.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Genealogical Murphy's Laws

Today's experience with an unexpected research opportunity while I wasn't supposed to be researching reminded me that there are a whole series of "rules" that I have observed over the last few years of genealogical research. This is a partial list.

  • Any repository visited without prior contact will be closed, or the desired data set temporarily unavailable.
  • 90% of discoveries will occur in either the first hour and the last hour of a week-long research trip to the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City. The remaining time is interesting but not very productive.
  • The microfilm that I need is in the back of the drawer, in the most inaccessible spot.
  • The record I need on a microfilm roll is at the end of the roll.
  • Almost any record obtained after going to Salt Lake City will be available online within six months of making the trip to the FHL.
  • Any foreign language document that I do find will be located after the only person at the FHL who can read it has left for the day. They won't be back until after I've returned home.
  • Almost any discovery made for my father's family will be something that he later tells me he already knew.
  • If one state has good birth records but lousy death records, and another good death records but no birth records, the person that I am researching will be born in the later and died in the former.
  • The person I am researching will likely have moved into an area right after a census or leave just before a census.
  • If the records are available for surnames in some letter groups but not others, the person I am researching will be amongst the missing, even if it is a single letter
  • If there are only five people in all of recorded history with a particular unusual name, they will all have been born within three years of each other and in the same county. In most cases, one or both of their parents have the same names as well. Also, there is a good chance that none are the person that I am researching.
  • If a record set is for a specific range of dates, the record that I am seeking will be either within six months before the beginning of the range, or within six months after the end of the range.
I may post additional ones as I think of them in the future.

Possible Kolakowski Family Mother Lode - An Acceptable Excuse for Some Quick Research?

So, as I mentioned this morning, I have been granted access to a tree on MyHeritage.com with tons of Kolakowski family in Poland, going back to the 1700s.

Per the rules of the Genealogy Do-Over, I should have stopped at that point, developed an action plan, and pursued this reasonably.

I just couldn't do it. I wanted to do a quick check verification of what I knew, and what I could find from this tree.

Now, according to this new tree, the family was from the small town of Kolaki Kwasy, which is near Ciechanow, the previously reported home of my great-grandfather Romuald "Roman" Kolakowski before he came to the U.S.

So I looked up the nearest Roman Catholic churches in the 18th century to that town by referring to an old reference I have on my computer, and looking at Google Maps (new Catholic dioceses were rare creatures back in those days).

I found that the nearest church was in Koziczyn, and a search online indicated that their local vital records were available digitally. I looked in 1883, and there it was - a record for a Romuald Kolakowski, son of Jozef Kolakowski and Anna Jablonowska, which matched with the names of his parents listed on his U.S. marriage license as his parents.

The record is handwritten in paragraph form in Russian, in cyrillic, and it could take me forever to plow through it. But this documentation ties my ggf to this online tree. I likely have found the remaining Kolakowski family in Poland.

I am going to end my brief diversion from my Do-Over and get back on track.

Do-Over Challenge - Wouldn't You Know It - Research Breakthrough Beckons

Well, my Genealogy Do-Over suddenly met its first challenge today.

One of the features of online trees and their fancy searching algorithms is that they continue their mechanical search for information notwithstanding our quaint concepts like "setting previous research aside."

MyHeritage.com found a tree from a user in Poland that contains what might be my great-grandfather Romuald Kolakowski. who came to the United States in 1904.

The tree, totally unsourced, traces the Kolakowski family back to the mid 1700s.  It has a Romuald Kolakowski who went to the United States who is about a year older than the earliest reported birth date for my ggf.  I have only found one Romuald Kolakowski entering the United States.  This is likely to be him.

I suddenly have this massive research project dropped into my lap.  I have all of this information that I know about him and his possible siblings in the United States, and this additional, extensive but unsourced, information about his possible life before he left Poland.

I am going to try to use this opportunity to organize and solidify what I know about the Kolakowski family.  I am going to organize the research, and use proper methodology.  However, I also have potential relatives in Poland who will be eager to find out what I know about my family.

This will be an interesting project.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Tweaking the Blog's Design

The site has been getting a lot more traffic lately, as word is getting out about it, and so it was time for some post-Pride cleanup.

I made a few tweaks today to the blog's appearance, and I expect to do more over the next few days as I figure out how to make this as visually appealing as possible on both desktop and mobile devices.

In addition, I have been sprucing up a few of the older posts, removing typos, adding an image or link here or there, etc.  None of the substance has been removed - just enhanced.

So if you see any notices about posts being updated, it just means that I am trying to get them to a uniform level.

Thanks for visiting and reading this!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Belated Welcome to Readers of Julie's Genealogy and History Hub

I somehow missed that I was mentioned on Julie's Genealogy and History Hub on 19 Jun 2015.

Sorry, Julie!

Genealogy Do-Over (Cycle 3) Is Starting Today! Week 1 Begins

Today marks the beginning of the third cycle of the Genealogy Do-Over, a thirteen week cycle of activities that Thomas MacEntee dreamed up at the end of 2014. I think of it as something of a combination of a New Year's Resolution and genealogy bankruptcy.

The idea behind the Do-Over is simple. We all began our genealogical research before we knew how to do it. As a result, we developed bad habits, and bad information snuck into our trees. We didn't cite our sources, record where we found things or who told us information, trusted online trees, etc.

In addition, we developed inefficient habits. We searched without a goal or a strategy. We followed shaky leaves and got distracted. We forgot to be methodical and left gaping holes in our work.

So the proposal is to set aside what we've already done and start over, except in a more organized, thorough and methodologically correct manner. We can use original records that we paid for, etc. but should start afresh otherwise.

Three Topics for Week 1

Setting Previous Research Aside

Now, lots of people have tried doing this program in the first two cycles. Some were purists, and others modified the program to work with their existing work (what MacEntee calls a "Go-Over.")

In my case, I will likely hew closer to the pure process, but not necessarily in the order that he lays out. It is not that I am super-eager to get back to researching, but rather that I am super-eager to jump ahead in the organizing topics.

I am planning on incorporating my old records and digital files into my new research, and I am trying to organize the study where I work, so I will continue to organize the hard files with papers that are sitting around in piles.

Also, I am excluding from this process my genetic genealogy work, which is kind of on a separate track. However, I will be trying to be methodical and document what I am doing with that as well.

Preparing to Research

Part of my preparation is getting the study organized, cleaned up, etc.  I am also reviewing my Evernote tags, and figuring out what tools and supplies I may need.

Establishing Base Practices and Guidelines

This is what I am mostly going to be working on this week. I have a number of ideas in mind, and there are a number of things that I do without being conscious of them, but I believe that the point of this exercise is to be intentional and to be aware of these practices, so that we can consistently incorporate them into our work.  So I will post again on this in a few days.

So How Long Will I Really Do This?

One of the benefits of having a blog in that it will hopefully discipline me to follow this, since I am making a public proclamation of my activities.  Of course, very, very few people read this blog, and most of them I don't know, so the public shaming element is fairly minor, but it still is there, and should inspire me to continue to post.

Let's see how it goes.

Problems with Heredis

I started working with Heredis last week, and I encountered a few hiccups and then I ran into a major catastrophe.

There are a number of things that are non-obvious when using the program, and answers are deeply buried in help files, etc.  For example, try putting in "McCue" and you'll see what I mean. (There is a manual override switch hidden in there.)

I spent so much time working my way past those issues that I didn't immediately notice that LOTS of people were disattached from their relatives! Parent-child relationships were missing all over the place from my tree - imported from a GEDCOM file. Sometimes people are missing one parent, sometimes both.  It is a mess.

I am going to try again from a nice, clean GEDCOM and see what is happening.  

Until then, I cannot recommend using Heredis if you are going to do a GEDCOM import.

Welcome, visitors from Jana's Genealogy and Family History Blog!

This blog was included in a listing of blogs of interest today at Jana's Genealogy and Family History Blog.

I am hoping to get some more blogging done this weekend, after a crazy and hectic month of June, which started with Genealogy Jamboree and proceeded to the purchase of a new bookcase and a wild month at work including a complex jury trial and busy hearings throughout June (I am a criminal court judge by day).

Now, things are beginning to settle down, and I am starting the Genealogy Do Over (more on that in a separate post).

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ben Affleck Kills PBS Genealogy (Sorta)

The New York Times reports that PBS has suspended Henry Louis Gates' Finding Your Roots television show, citing the controversy over Ben Affleck's successful efforts to keep his slaving-owning ancestors off the show.

One of my very first posts was about the initial controversy.

PBS wants the next season to be reviewed by an independent fact genealogist and a fact checker, and will not commit to another season.

I have mixed feelings about the whole situation.

On the one hand, none of these television genealogy shows highlights every ancestor of a famous person, because there isn't time.  I am not surprised that the choice of which line to review and which ancestors to discuss is one that sometimes includes input from the subject of the show.  I bet if we dug into the development of all of these shows, we'd find more creativity than we imagine.

On the other hand, Finding Your Roots typically examines issues related to the troubled history of the United States regarding slavery.  That Dr. Gates allowed slavery to be overlooked with Mr. Affleck is out of character with the show, and could reasonably be viewed by its viewers as a betrayal.

Genealogy often digs up unpleasant truths about ancestors. Some lied, some cheated, some drank themselves to death, some were criminals, and some were bigamists.  In other words, they were human beings.  They lived in a particular culture and world.  They represent the best and worst of us, sometimes at the same time.

Television genealogy shows are entertainment.  They are not documentaries.  They are not news programs.  They aren't even particularly educational.  They are about celebrities, they are interesting, and they may inspire others to search their own trees.

But they are curated entertainment, edited and packaged with narrative structure and with some story to tell.  Once we accept that to be the case, then we can enjoy them for what they are and not for what they aren't.

New Bookcase is a Godsend

So my wife Cynthia and I went to Ikea on Saturday and picked up a lovely Hemnes bookcase.  I assembled it, and over the past few days it has been filled up with stuff from my other bookcase and otherwise unsorted materials.

The process of making room for the bookcase led to a major relocation of materials from all over the spare bedroom that we call the study.  This has resulted in me finally organizing all sorts of materials, none of which are genealogical in nature, that have been resulting in clutter.  Much has been recycled, some things have been filed away, others have been gathered into organized piles awaiting processing.

It is actually liberating to have things less messy.  I think that my mind is less cluttered when my environment is better organized.

Now, I am a very busy person with lots of interests and who was raised to be a pack-rat.  It has been a real challenge for me to let go of a lot of things, especially anything unique, irreplaceable or potentially useful.  Combined with a certain type of perfectionism, it is often easier to just box up problems and avoid them rather than deal with all of the decisions connected with severing the emotional ties connected to "things."

Also, I haven't been spending as much time in the study as I would like. I had once hoped that Cynthia would join me (she has a comfy chair) and read, but she prefers to do that by the pool, in bed, or basically anywhere else in the world other than the study.  So we spend a lot of "us" time in the bedroom watching television or reading, and me working on my laptop in bed.

It is my hope that a clean and tidy study will be more enticing, as Cynthia is really averse to clutter.

But I still have to organize all of my genealogy materials.  This is LGBT Pride weekend here in the SF Bay area, and so it may be rough getting time to do it this weekend.  Still, over the next week and a half I should get things well settled into their proper places, and I hope that will lead to things being better than ever.

I might even get some genealogy done soon!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Heredis 2015 Released - Looks Good in Theory

I just received a promotional e-mail this morning about the release of Heredis 2015, and I immediately upgraded from my existing Heredis 2014.

If you have followed this blog, then you know that I have a continuing angsty relationship with genealogy software, and I have been unable to commit to one, so I try several.

Heredis has a video of the changes to Heredis 2015, and it looks very impressive:

For those of you who don't want to sit through a 9 minute video, the key features include a souped up photo and document management system that can tag individuals in the photos or information referenced in the document and automatically link them to events and multiple people in the tree, including pulling signatures out of documents; provide contextual online searches of public databases from within the software; provide basic photo and document image editing; and create online albums from all of this information.

Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the proof of the genealogy software is in the entry and manipulation of the family tree.  So I will experiment with these new features, and see if they are as amazing as they look in the video.  Also, I will play around with the software in general to see if it is all glitz and no substance.

Compared these kind of features to what we had in software a few years ago, and the development of this field becomes clear. These are not just pretty tools but practical ones. They assist in search and integration of citation into the tree.  The latest versions of the other major software are similar, but it is not surprising that this newest software has some of the best new bells and whistles.

I expect to see this type of development in other programs in the near future as they compete to offer new features and polish.

Of course, with Legacy I would be happy if I could just enter my marriage.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Family Trees Catching Up to the Times (Or Not) - Pride Edition - Part Two

After recounting some developments in how two popular online family tree providers have adapted to the increasingly public recognition of same-sex marriages, I realized that mentioning the way that several of other companies handle this might be helpful.

FindMyPast.com, which largely handles British, Irish and Australian records, uses the term "spouse."

MyHeritage.com is an Israeli company that is positioning itself to be the major rival to Ancestry.com. They use the term "partner" for each person in a same-sex married  even though partnership is also a relationship option. Hence, regardless of whether one lists the relationship as a marriage or a partnership - it will always display as a partnership in reports, etc.  Still, it is an acceptable response.

Oddly, MyHeritage Family Tree Builder, their software that syncs to their online trees, lists my wife and I as "wife" and "wife." Go figure.

RootsMagic 7 allows for the manual selection of labels for both persons in a marriage: for one the label "Father," "Husband," or "Partner" and for the other "Mother," "Wife," or "Partner."  It does not seem to have a problem with the person being of the wrong sex of the label.  Pretty weird, actually - it  must be a fix to a database structural problem that assigns to each marriage a first (male) and second (female) position.

Heredis uses the term "spouse" for each person in a marriage.

Of the various major software progframs, only Legacy 8.0 doesn't allow recording same sex marriages in some form, and although there are work-arounds, the software will "correct" these if the user takes advantage of the error-correction features of the software.  (These work-arounds require a entering one spouse as the opposite sex and then changing it afterwards.)  This appears to be intrinsic to the data structure of the program, and would need either a major revision to the architecture that I don't see coming until FamilySearch.org comes around, or some weird fix like RootsMagic made.

It would be nice if a single program had all of the features and functionality that I want. Sadly, none quite make it.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Family Trees Catching Up to the Times (Or Not) - Pride Edition

There have been some really positive developments regarding the way that the online tree companies record and display same-sex marriages.

Family Tree Maker can record same-sex marriages fairly simply.

Ancestry.com's online trees had this annoying feature: they listed my wife's relatives as "xxx of husband." This has changes, and now they list them as "xxx of spouse." 

Yesterday was an interesting day for FamilySearch.org, the free service of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). 

FamilySearch.org has been in a tough spot, because the Mormons do not accept same-sex marriages and yet genealogists have to record all sorts of things that some people find uncomfortable or objectionable.  So FamilySearch.org does not allow entry of same-sex unions.

Some genealogists noticed an interesting change in some language on the FamilySearch.org website, which suggested that this was going to change in the near future.  Thomas MacEntee posted about this change on Geneabloggers.

Within an hour of that post, the FamilySearch.org website was changed to remove the language suggesting that a change was planned.

This is both disappointing and ridiculous. Same-sex marriages happens (I am in one), not just in one state but in thirty six U.S. states and approaching two dozen countries outside of the United States.

The job of a genealogist is that of any historian (and like journalists), to record what actually happened.  Same-sex unions are happening. 

The Mormons have always been strong partners in genealogy, but if they cannot enter the twenty-first century, then genealogy may eventually leave them behind.  Genealogist may research the past, but we do not live in it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

I Need Another Bookcase

OK, I mentioned last week that I now had too many books to fit on the lone bookcase in my study, and I was trying to figure out what to do.

I decided to gather up all of the stray magazines, journals and books that were scattered about the home, and made some nice tidy piles (I make piles, it is what I do).

So here is the problem: I have more stuff than I realized. A lot more. I cannot just prune a few things off the existing bookcase. I need to remove an entire mini-collection.

Once upon a time, I would have just squeezed another bookcase in. However, there is no room. I have too many racks for DVDs (I have more DVDs than I know what to do with.)

I have 165 inches of bookshelf space, and 670 inches of DVD/Blu-Ray space. Yes, we have that much lovely video hanging around. Those racks take up almost every spare inch of wall-space.

I've looked. I really have. There is no obvious room for a bookcase.

Then I used all of my engineering, organizational, and creative skills, and I figured out how to rearrange the room to make some room for another bookcase.

OK, I won't be able to easily access it. It will be between the printer/office table and the window, jammed in alongside my desk here so that I can't really easily access it. But it will be there, holding books.

I can take all of the things I don't use much, and put them there. All of the decorative things that we want displayed in the house. And it will free up room for books.

Glorious books.

Time to go shopping.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Explaining Jamboree to Non-Genealogists

There were two questions that I received almost every universally from friends, colleagues, and acquaintances after Jamboree.

First, I was asked if I enjoyed myself. I could honestly say that I had a great time.

Second, I was asked if I learned anything new about my family. That still leaves me flummoxed.

Most people don't want a real explanation (I learned that the hard way, back when people would ask how I was doing and I would actually tell them). So I just say that I learned some new strategies for researching.  If I am particularly non-chatty, I add that I learned some new ways to manipulate Excel spreadsheets of DNA data and that ends the conversation dead in its track!

In general, most people seem to think that genealogists either jump onto Ancestry.com and click on some shaky leaves, or engage in some mysterious process of diving through musty tomes containing old documents with original records. I think this because that's what they see on television.

One of my frustrations with televised genealogy programs is that they show results and not processes. These shows are great at showing the results and the powerful stories of found ancestors, but give no idea of how we actually do this.

The online database companies have no real desire to see this change. The goal of these companies is the streamline their processes even further, to make them more accessible to mobile users, and to get people clicking and adding to their trees immediately.  This is the climate that increases the chances for errors in online trees.

And on that happy note, I will end this post.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Back From Jamboree

I flew back home last night, missing the final day of Jamboree. I was right - I was already brain-dead and I slept for many hours upon getting home.

Sadly, the purchase of a few books this weekend has caused a bookcase crisis at home - I need to remove something to fit the new materials on the shelves.  This means one of two things: (1) taking one aspect of my multi-faceted personality and boxing it up for a while; or (2) pruning those things and boxing up a portion of them.

Neither is a pleasant thought, although inevitable.  The best, although most time consuming, may be the second option.

You may wonder why I just don't add a bookcase. Well, there is no room for one.  I could remove one of the DVD shelves, but that just creates another whole angsty-thing (I already have half of my anime collection in storage, and the Doctor Who collection is itself in a crisis state-the spin off series may need a new home).

Another solution is to offload stuff to my chambers (office), but that is already over-crowded since relocating to Oakland.

As I have been writing this, I have been taking breaks to stare at the books. I have resisted the urge to pick them up and start reading (a danger for me of organizing anything).

However, I think it is past time to write and to start organizing.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Ads ON the Elevator Doors

Every hotel has its own quirks.  Some are endearing, some are bizarre (I will post at some point the photo of the hot tub in the living room of a mini-suite).

I have been in numerous hotels with advertisements IN the elevators. This is the first one that I've seen with advertisements ON the elevators.

(I am not including the owl noises that I heard on two consecutive nights, because everyone else here thinks I am hallucinating or something.)