Thursday, June 25, 2015

Genealogy Do-Over Week 12 - Sharing Research and Reviewing Research Travel Options

The Pittston, PA home of my paternal grandfather
The topics for Week 12 are 1 - Sharing Research and 2 - Reviewing Research Travel Options

Sharing Research

From the very first person I entered in my Ancestry tree in 2008, I have had a public tree. I have seen people take photos and other information from my trees without any communication, one was even a cousin I know, although I haven't seen him in many years. It bothers me sometimes, but I just think of it now as the price I pay to find the long-lost relatives who do reach out.

At the beginning of the Do-Over I made the decision to keep my tree public but add a disclaimer as Thomas MacEntee suggested. After receiving an email from someone who is not related to me but was trying to find information on someone in my tree I realized from their comments that they had not read or seen that disclaimer. That and some other comments made by this person were so disconcerting to me that I made that tree private for the first time ever.  I'm not sure what I will do about this going forward, although it will matter less and less as I add those same ancestors to my new tree with my new research standards. That tree is, and hopefully always will be, public.

I agree with Thomas MacEntee, though. As long as you aren't a sucker, I think you have to approach sharing with willingness. I am definitely more giving when I'm getting the sense that a person is just happy to make a connection and less so when I'm feeling like someone is just doing it with their hand out. And if your expectations are too high, you could be setting yourself up for disappointment. An expectation can be a premeditated resentment.

Reviewing Research Travel Options

This "Friday Funny" is based on an actual research trip.  Over our Thanksgiving weekend last year, my mother and I made a trip to Quebec to visit cousins we hadn't seen in years. They live on and still work the farm founded by my 3rd great-grandfather 150 years ago.  There are ancestors buried in three cemeteries within 10 minutes of the farm and even more not too much further away. I had four on my wish list for this trip but the six inches of snow that did actually fall on bare ground the night before our arrival did us in. We tried but it was pretty much a failure.  Now, the reality of our trip was that we were primarily there to see family and the ancestor hunting would have been a terrific bonus but it brings up a good point. Try to plan trips for an appropriate time of year and have some back-up activities planned and some flexibility in your itinerary in case of weather.

Other things I can recommend based on my three little research trips so far are:

  • To have having specific goals - you don't want to get home and feel like you missed something.
  • Budgeting - Don't forget those vital records fees.
  • Reach out to local historical & genealogical societies - for any useful tips or information they may have.
  • Plan for emergencies - I hadn't thought of this, but thanks to Thomas MacEntee I will certainly make this part of my planning for my next trip.
I can't believe that this cycle of the Do-Over is almost over.  I've learned so much and have so many goals still ahead! Until the weekend.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Genealogy Do-Over Week 11: Reviewing Social Media Options & Building a Research Network

Me, Elk Grove Village, Ill 1970
The topics for Week 11 were 1 - Reviewing Social Media Options and 2 - Building a Research Network

Reviewing Social Media Options

Again, I have to agree with Thomas MacEntee about social media. It really is getting so that you can't say you're doing everything you can in your research if you aren't taking advantage of social media.

After about five years of craft blogging and just over three years of genealogy blogging, I just joined Facebook a few months ago, motivated by genealogy research goals and I'm really glad I did.  I now belong to 10 genealogy groups. Some are overall research groups like the Genealogy Do-Over and Genealogy-Cite Your Sources, some are geographic like the Swedish American Group and the Long Island NY Genealogy group.  All have been helpful in some form or another and I've seen members of these groups be very helpful to other members.

I joined Google+ this year, also because of genealogy. I have mentioned DearMYRTLE a few times during the Do-Over. Her Hangouts on Air are recorded and can be viewed on YouTube, but in order to comment live you have to join Google+ and her community, so I did. I'm not as active on Google+ otherwise, but I hope to get more into it in the coming months.

I have been on Twitter for a few years now. I'm not really an active "tweeter". I use it more as a news feed for my interests in genealogy and in ice hockey and for little else. Twitter moves more quickly than Facebook so it is easy to miss things, but I still like it and find it a useful tool.

And, of course, I blog. What started as cousin-bait is evolving into something more, I hope. As I grow more comfortable with the idea that I have more to share than just the names and facts of my ancestors, I hope that this will be a place where I can offer my experience with research as well.

Building a Research Network

This Saturday I finally attended my first meeting of a live Genealogical Society; the Irish Family History Forum. I joined online a few weeks ago, received a welcome package last week and attended their final meeting of the season on Saturday about a half hour from home.

It was a fantastic meeting. The lecturer was a genealogist by the name of Jane Wilcox and her topic was "New York City and State Vital Records and Their Substitutes." It was fascinating and very detailed and informative.

Although the meeting consisted mostly of the lecture, I was able to meet a couple of people who were very happy to share a wee bit of knowledge with us as well. I think more will come of that in terms of researching as I attend more meetings starting in the fall.

As I said above, my blogging began mostly as cousin-bait, but I am hoping that it will become "fellow-researcher bait" eventually as well especially as I share more of my experiences and thought processes when in comes to researching.

I'm also trying to become a better blog reader and make time to visit more blogs on a regular basis. I'm not sure when I got away from that as much as I have but I realized recently that I wasn't visiting nearly as many blogs as I was when I first found Geneabloggers.  As a blogger I know how much work blogging can be, it can only be a good thing to let fellow-bloggers know that I am reading and that I appreciate their work.

I think that expanding one's research network is as important as, and goes hand-in-hand with, a social media presence. This will definitely be a priority for me this year.

Sometime in the next couple of days I will post about the Week 12 topics and finally be caught up with the Do-Over as this cycle is coming to an end!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Friday, June 19, 2015

Genealogy Do-Over - Week 10 - DNA and Digital Organization


The topics for Week 10 were 1 - Reviewing DNA Testing Options and 2 - Organizing Research Materials - Digital

Reviewing DNA Testing Options

If you saw my last post and the photo of my new genealogy filing system or you take a look at my digital files above, you'll see that I have a Smith line. It also happens to be a brick wall and one of the lines I'm most interested in for a couple of reasons. There is Mayflower mythology in the Smith family. I believe it was my maternal grandfather's father who said that we are descended from Francis Cooke, although I have absolutely no evidence to support that claim. More importantly, my 2nd great-grandfather, Benjamin Smith, was born in the vicinity of the Long Island village where I grew up and still live. That wouldn't be a big deal in and of itself except that we moved here from the Chicago suburbs and my parents had no idea of any ancestry on Long Island when we did.  Long Island in 1822, when Benjamin was born, was lousy with Smiths and even with Benjamin Smiths and I have not yet found any evidence of the names of Benjamin's parents, so then DNA, right?

Well, not so fast.  I am a female descendant of a female Smith. I need a male Smith cousin to take a test. I actually have a male Smith cousin who has the genealogy bug and who might be persuaded but I'd like to do a little more research before I approach him about DNA. With all the answers we are looking for, I  have never heard him suggest it, so I don't know how he feels about it. There is a Smith DNA project which I should really investigate further and then, we'll see if Mr. Smith Cousin is willing to do a cheek swab or if there are other ways to break through this wall.

In any case, Thomas MacEntee has given all of us plenty of resources in the Week 10 post which I plan to add to my resource toolkit as I consider the options.

Organizing Research Materials - Digital


I am in the process of organizing my digital documents to mirror the color-coded system I am using with my paper files.  If I had a PC, I would be all over Folder Marker which I have seen demonstrated on some Google+ Hangouts and may even have seen posted in the Do-Over Facebook group. Folder Maker lets you change the color of folders and even their shape I believe. Unfortunately it is not available yet for Macs. What I can do without added software is to tag folders with one of 7 colors of dots as in the screen-grab at the top of this post (which you can click to enlarge).

My naming convention for documents is the same as Thomas MacEntee - DOE John b 1900 WWI Discharge Cert.  If John Doe were discharged prior to his marriage, the document would be filed in his parents' file because he would still be part of their family group. If he were discharged after marriage, the document would be filed in his file because he would be the head of his own family group.

Part of me says this seems like a lot of work when I can just do a simple search to find any document on my computer, but I like the idea of my digital files and paper files being organized the same way. And if it ends up that it doesn't work for me, I can always change it, wouldn't be the first time!

Images (Digitized Slides and Photos)

I am organizing my digitized slides and photos differently from the document files, and that is by the way they were taken/stored. For example, I have been scanning 18 carousels of slides that belonged to my father. Each carousel has its own folder. It may seem a little confusing, but it makes sense to me. Naming the images themselves has been another challenge, but one I can deal with better now that I know about...


Wow, how did I not know about this? Thomas MacEntee's webinar about metadata included in this week's post has been enlightening. Unlike a birth certificate or other vital record, photos often hold the images of more than one person but listing everyone in the file name can be impractical. That didn't stop me from trying, though. Now that I know about metadata, I will have to revisit my photos and my photo-naming. It will mean more work, but it will be worth it.

Backing Up

When I finished my first big digitization project, my maternal grandfather's photo albums, I saved all of the files to two memory sticks and gave one to my mother and one to my in-laws. The one I gave to my in-laws was actually lost to Superstorm Sandy, and I did not have any cloud storage at that time, so it was a good thing I chose two sites for off-site storage, although my Mac is still going strong as well.

These days I am saving files to Dropbox and my Mac's hard drive. I know I should also have an external hard drive and I am planning to purchase one this summer. Should I still back up to a thumb drive to keep at a family-member or friends house? It wouldn't hurt, I guess, but I probably won't do it right now.

One thing that needs improvement is the habit of uploading my digital images to Dropbox. The .tif files take a long time to upload so I don't always do it right away and then it is so easy to loose track of what is done and what is not.

As I said yesterday, once I am finished with this cycle of the do-over, I will dedicate some posts to my processes for digitizing photos, slides and negatives including archiving the originals and organizing the images.

Tomorrow morning I am headed to my first-ever in-person genealogy meeting. I'll post about that this weekend as part of a post about Week 11.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Genealogy Do-over Week 9: Cluster Research and Organizing Research Materials - Documents and Photos


Week 9 topics were 1 - Conducting Cluster Research and 2 - Organizing Research Materials - Documents and Photos.

Conducting Cluster Research

Cluster research is when you research the Friends, Associates and Neighbors (FAN Club) of your direct ancestors. A better, more detailed description can be found in the Week 9 Do-over post.  The post also includes tips for cluster research and collateral research that I found and will find helpful; a reminder to keep a research log, to formulate theories and write them down, to try swapping given names and middle names.

I am not ready for cluster research in my own trees, but I definitely see its value as a research method.

If you haven't already, I recommend that you read the Elizabeth Shown Mills post that Thomas MacEntee linked in his Week 9 Do-Over post. Not only is it a fascinating look at well done research, it contains very interesting history and begs the question, why did I ever think history was boring?

Certainly there is more reading to be done before embarking on cluster research if it is to be successful, and when I find it, I will share it here.

Organizing Research Materials - Documents and Photos


When I began the Do-Over, I started by organizing my documents, or so I thought.  As I organized I saw some posts in the Do-Over Facebook group about the color-coded filing system many people use and though that while it looked like a great system, it was too much for me and just wasn't a good fit for the type of documentation that I have (heavy on correspondence and keepsakes, light on vital records).  As you can see from the photo above, I have since changed my mind.

What I began to realize was that although my files were now organized it was not done in a systematic way and the organization might begin to break down when new documents and new types of documents were added. At first I dismissed the need to add to my paper documents because I find a lot of records now in digital format and because I immediately digitize the records that I get on paper. But in the back of my mind were online posts and discussions of file back-ups, software failure, online database changes and the fact that the file formats of today may not be compatible with technology of the future when a great-grand-niece or distant cousin wants to see my father's birth certificate. So, I took a deep breath and decided to take another look at what other genealogists are doing to organize.

Thanks to Cyndi's List I found a lot of great guidance in setting up this system, especially this blog post because it included a "sub-system" for dealing with Patronymics (names derived from the father). Patronymic naming was used in Sweden, home of my paternal grandmother's parents, my green folders above, so I needed to know that my system could handle that as well.

Although I found some of the supplies I needed at my local office supply store, I did have to place a small order through Amazon which I am still waiting for. Once that arrives and I can put the finish touches on my new system, I will share again.


I am so fortunate. I have ancestral photos going back over 150 years. But with this gift comes the great responsibility of preservation and preservation can be expensive and confusing.

As I have mentioned in past posts, I have found great advice about photo and slide digitization and preservation at the monthly Scanfests hosted by Ancestories blogger and genealogist, Miriam Robbins. I hope she finds a new platform for Scanfest soon!

It occurs to me as I type that I really should be using my blog to document this long process because there are others out there who might find it helpful. So, look for that soon. And I'll be back tomorrow with a post about the Week 10 topics.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Genealogy Do-Over - Week 8 - Conducting Collateral Research and Offline Education Options

Week Eight has a couple of great topics.  Collateral research is something I love and offline education is something I need to do more of.

Conducting Collateral Research

I love collateral research, especially involving siblings of people in my direct line.  For me, research on those relatives helps to flesh out other ancestors.

Ada Merritt Hobbs Matthews and Emily Hobbs Snell
This year I found the Pittston Gazette on; Pittston, Pennsylvania being the home of my paternal grandfather, Howard Matthews. I've made some incredible finds in there, like a letter my grandfather wrote to Santa when he was eight. But I have also found marriage and death announcements for his siblings, social notes about birthdays and church events (these papers were the Facebook of their day), and articles about fires that destroyed my great-grandfather's and great uncle's businesses, even a story about their home being burglarized as they slept.  All these things have enriched my understanding of the whole family, including my grandfather and great-grandparents, those in my direct line.

My mother and grandmother. The photo my grandfather carried while he was overseas.

In another case, it was just entering my maternal grandmother' siblings into my old Ancestry tree that gave me a deeper understanding of her childhood. I had always known that my grandmother, Marjorie Elizabeth Dean Smith, lost her mother at a young age and lost a brother, Lawrence Nimmo Dean, to WWII, but it took on deeper meaning for me when I saw all the dates in one place. I saw that she was 12 when her mother died and Lawrence was 2 and that it was another 7 years before her father remarried. Although two of her siblings were sent to other relatives during this time, my grandmother and Uncle Lawrence remained at the farm. She raised him until he was 9!
Loosing a brother is devastating enough, especially when your husband and other loved ones are also overseas and in danger, but this must have been like loosing a child. It was a decade after her death when I put this all together and I found myself crying for her pain.

All that said, as I start a new tree with new research methods and standards of research, I'm tempted to research just in my direct line at the beginning, then to move on to collateral research when I have more confidence in my new methods.

Offline Education Options

Once again, Thomas MacEntee is in my head, telling me what I need to do! But I am thankful that he covered this topic because it made me take another look at it.

I cannot even begin to put a conference with travel and hotel and everything else into my budget but I know I need to take some of my education offline.

I haven't had much luck finding a genealogical society near me, but I was determined that I would not finish this post until I found something that involved live people.  Searching for societies on Long Island, I was only finding things like the German Genealogical Group and Italian Genealogical Group neither of which match my ancestry. Then I discovered that these are just two of 11 member organizations that make up the Genealogy Federation of Long Island. Other members include a library and the local Family History Center!

They have a Facebook group, which I have asked to join, and meetings hosted by the member organizations in different places around the Island. Many of them have a Help Session before the meeting. That is encouraging and exciting. Its too bad that I missed their Annual Picnic this weekend, but they do have a number of meetings coming up that look interesting. I will definitely post about that as soon as I do!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Genealogy Do-Over Week 7-Reviewing Genealogy Database Software and Digitizing Photos

Black Hawk Statue, Lowden State Park, Ill. 1970 - GO HAWKS!
As you can see, digitizing and sharing old photos is something I love to do. I scanned this one last week in support of the Chicago Blackhaws, my "backup" hockey team. (The little yellow dot is me.)  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The topics for Week Seven were 1- Reviewing Genealogy Database Software and 2-Digitizing Photos.

Reviewing Genealogy Database Software

Until last Friday, I did not have genealogy software. I only had my tree online at Ancestry. That's right, seven years without a backup.  The Do-Over has done me good again, pushing me to not only review and consider database software, but to finally make a purchase.  Initially I thought I would have my new tree at People Search instead of Ancestry and use Roots Magic, but I found I wasn't as comfortable navigating People Search as Ancestry where I've been a member since 2008.  There wasn't anything bad about it, I just felt more comfortable where I am. Also, I use the Quebec Church Records (Drouin Collection) at Ancestry quite a bit, and since I had no intention of giving up my Ancestry membership it made more sense to me to just start a new tree there.

I'm also a bit limited in my software choices because I have a Mac.  In my last post I talked a bit about DearMYRTLE and Cousin Russ. He is a Family Tree Maker user and proponent and knowing he is not a casual researcher made me feel a bit better when I encountered negative reviews at GenSoftReviews, a site that Thomas MacEntee shared in his Week 7 post. I also took my question to the Genealogy Do-Over group on Facebook and all of the feedback on Family Tree Maker was positive.  And that was it, I downloaded FTM for Mac v. 3 on Friday afternoon.

With only three people in my new tree, I don't have a lot to say about it yet, but I will share something as soon as I do.

Digitizing Photos

I've been digitizing family photos for a few years now. I started with my old printer/scanner combo and my maternal grandfather's photo albums that are about 100 years old.

1914 Hudson, from the photo albums of George W. Smith
Unfortunately I was not connected to any genealogy community back then and didn't know anything about the best way to scan or preserve these photos or my albums. All of my scans from these three large albums are .pdf files and I have no idea what the default setting was on that scanner for dpi (dots per inch) (Thanks to Thomas, I now know that information is contained in the metadata!). The images are fine for sharing on blogs but not so great for posterity.

Since then I have discovered Miriam Robbins' Ancestories blog and her monthly ScanFest and something similar to the Photo Digitization Best Practices that Thomas shared in this week's post. If you click over to her blog today you will see her last blog post which is an announcement cancelling May's ScanFest. Rest assured, she will find something that works and it will be worth the wait.  Miriam and her regular participants are fonts of information about photos, scanning, preserving and genealogy in general.  I participate whenever I can.

The question of DIY or scanning service comes down to budget for me. I have a lot to scan and it is in no way, shape, or form in my budget. Sometime this year I do hope to use a service to digitize some other things; a home movie of my paternal grandparents' wedding, in black & white, with some footage of my dad as a child, in color! as well as an audio recording of one of my great uncles interviewing my great-grandfather.  I spent quite a bit of time looking for a service that I thought I could trust, but I really wanted a personal testimonial from the genealogy community before I send these precious items away. Thankfully, Thomas MacEntee did a review of Larsen Digital a few months (?) back, before the review in his Week 7 post, and I'm sold. I can't wait to watch my grandparents' wedding again!  But I will need to find a Swedish to English translator for my great-grandfather's memories.

I don't think I will have a lot to say about the Week Eight topics, but we'll see what happens when I sit down to write it. Until then, I'll be reading Evidence Explained.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Genealogy Do-Over Week 6 - Evidence Evaluation and Online Education

A family birthday, a Game 7 (Go Hawks!), and two bad nights' sleep kept me from writing this post this weekend. So here I am at work writing while I eat lunch because I'd really like to get caught up with the do-over by the end of next week. I'm not sure that will be possible with another family birthday coming up followed by Father's Day, but I'll give it a shot.

The topics for Week 6 of the Genealogy Do-Over were Evidence Evaluation and Reviewing Online Education Options.

Evidence Evaluation

I have started a completely new tree in Ancestry as part of my Do-Over.  It has five people in it, as opposed to my old tree (which is now private), which has 829. I guess you could say I was a name collector, although I wasn't putting people in my tree for the sake of a number.

I knew all four of my grandparents and I would probably feel comfortable putting all of them in my tree based on that fact alone, but I've decided to wait until I have more evidence just to practice my new process on people I do know before I move on to ancestors I don't know.

I'm still working on building the skills necessary to evaluate the evidence that I have and the new evidence I have collected since starting the Do-Over. I'm not that far into Evidence Explained yet and I have just started to use a trial of Evidentia.

As I evaluate more evidence I will share more about this part of my Do-over. For now I am reading and learning which brings me to this week's second topic.

Reviewing Online Education Options

I discovered DearMYRTLE's Google+ community a few months ago.  Every week Myrtle holds Hangouts on Air within a variety of themes.  They are held live but recorded and can be watched on Google+ if you are a member of her community or on YouTube.

She is now in the middle of her third study group of Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W. Jones in addition to a Beginning Genealogy Study Group which is almost done, Mondays with Myrt, Wacky Wednesdays and Genealogy Game Night.  You can learn more about these from her blog: DearMYRTLE's Genealogy Blog.

Her cousin, Cousin Russ, who is there for just about every hangout and is her partner of sorts, has a community of his own. Russ just did a two part Hangout which I haven't had time to watch yet where he goes through the steps of trying to establish the correct name of an ancestor while using his Research Log and Family Tree Maker. I definitely have to make time for that.

So for now, given the constraints of time and budget, my online education will be in the form of these valuable Hangouts, the Genealogy Do-Over and genealogy blogs.

Hopefully I will be able to post again before the weekend. Until then, good luck with your Do-Over or Go-Over.