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 ( and and those that don't. However, with the increased number of programs syncing with, 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, 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, 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.