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, 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. 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, 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 ($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

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 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." 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).