My name is Kathleen, and I have been researching my family history since I was a child. I love to go into county courthouses and smell the old books and paper... or is it dust? This blog will focus on the stories I've heard over the years and the research methods I follow. I am particularly interested in data management and cloud genealogy.

Some of my personal areas of interest include Southern Maryland and DC (Robie, Rhodes, Grimes, Lindsey), NY state (Hill, Cookingham, Flynn, Rhodes, Skinner, Wheeler, Mead, Havens, Trotter), NJ (Parcell), North Carolina and Eastern TN (Lynch, Seabolt, Spears), MO (Wilcox, Kiddell), and CA (Simi, Grady)

I am always happy to compare notes or share my experiences, so please leave a comment!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Power of Persistence

Don't listen to the ads on TV.  Your family tree will not come together with just a few clicks of your mouse.  Genealogy is more often a story of gradually piecing together disparate bits of information into a coherent whole.  That's how it works for me...a census record might include a child with a different surname, which leads you to a previously unknown marriage, which leads to a newspaper story about another unknown child who moved west, and that child's death certificate identifies the parents' places of birth.... you get the picture.  You rarely find the prize without gathering a lot of individually unimportant clues.  However, even this kind of detective work can mostly be done online.

Sometimes old-fashioned, boots-on-the-ground legwork is what it takes to get results.  I saw a great example of this in action just the other day.  I have been working with another descendant of Lazarus Spears of Hawkins County, Tennessee to find documentation for Lazarus' children.  I have written about this family before; they are one of those you see all over the internet, lacking any clue as to where the information came from and how reliable it is.  My cousin had his own copy of the ubiquitous family group sheet -- with one difference.  His copy had an off-hand notation: "Bible owned by Mrs. XX."

The first thing he did was go to the Tennessee property assessors web page to see if there were any people in Hawkins County with the same surname as the owner of the Bible.  He found one, so proceeded to look up a marriage license for that person, which led to a surname that is often seen in the family we are researching.  He continued to search the family of this person, using the census and other public records until he found the names of living family members.

That was all he needed to pick up the phone and start dialing.  As he put it, the first person he called:  "knew nothing about being related to the Spears' but he gave me the number of another brother who also knew nothing but gave me the number of the third brother.  The third brother thought they were related to the Spears family but that was about it, and gave me the name of the sister.  So I called her and she knew they had some Spears information but didn't know much about it.  She promised to go up to "the old home place" and get some of it and call me back and she did last Thursday..."
first page from Mary Elizabeth Amis Spears' Bible
Mr. James Spears' photo used with permission

That's what I call persistence!  And what a prize... now there is a source for all those names floating around online!

I would like to express my gratitude to all the hard work done in this case by James Spears -- a truly indefatigable researcher!

Friday, April 11, 2014

FTM, where have you been all my life?

I switched over from PC to Macs about five years ago, and the only thing I was unhappy about in the change was the stunning lack of choice in Mac-based family tree software.  Using Parallels to run my old Legacy family tree program was a complete non-starter because it was too awkward and slow, so the only choice was to plunk down the cash for Reunion.  Reunion was quite a bit more expensive than the (practically nonexistent) alternatives, but all the reviews said it was the only choice for the serious researcher who wanted to thoroughly document sources.  

Well, that experience was less than stellar... in fact, the difficulties I faced working with sources and documenting ongoing research in Reunion led me to set up my research templates for the Bento database program.  Although Bento was not a genealogy program, it worked well and allowed me to relate my data in useful ways.  Unfortunately File Maker stopped supporting it last year so I knew it was time to move on.  I tried Zotero, which is a wonderful tool for managing your research, but the problem is getting your data out of the program (it doesn't export readily into any format other than academic bibliographies).  Evernote is good, too, but I just can't integrate it easily into my routine.  It also feels too much like a big photo album -- and I like to see my data as text, too!

Another complicating issue for me is the staggering number of data management tools I've used in my time -- beginning with pencils and paper files back in the 1970s, and moving through several different iterations of software as computers came onto the scene.  The difficulties migrating my data over the years, compounded by changing standards in my data collection methodology (to put it politely), have resulted in a rather messy database.  So I have been using Bento to record my new sources (hoping that it will continue to work) and trying to clean up my Reunion files in my spare time.  

By chance I read a message about Family Tree Maker on an message board the other day, and on a whim I downloaded it to see if it was any good.  FTM was cheap -- a fraction of the cost of Reunion -- so I figured I could toss it if it wasn't useful.  

OMG (to quote my children)!!!!!  In the two days I've been playing with FTM, I've made major inroads on cleaning up my sources, places, and people; I've added masses of photos; and I am starting to integrate my Bento data.  This program is just so much more intuitive and easy to use than Reunion.  I love how I can include active web links directly in my source citations and easily link my saved document images to the citations as well.  It may seem like a small detail, but having one central location where I can see an individual's entire status -- facts, sources, and images -- is critical to my sense of control over my data.
And did I say it was intuitive and easy to use?  There's a lot to be said for simplicity -- it is highly correlated to actual use!