Why Genealogy Education?

For the past few months I have been focused on learning and improving my research skills.  It started with my annual trek to The Genealogy Research Institute in Pittsburgh and Judy Russell’s and Rick Sayre’s class on “Law School For Genealogists” and continues today with the DAR Genealogy Education Program courses.

Over the years I have done extensive research in the local courthouses, primarily focused on the genealogists favorites:  probate records and land records (including tax records).  This year I started looking into Criminal and Civil court records and have found some really interesting things, which leads me back to the course in Pittsburgh.  I needed to understand what the records were really saying.

Putting the information I learned in Judy and Rick’s class to use, I found a whole new world of records has opened up.  Federal court records, immigration records (more than arrival lists), and State and Congressional law, including private laws just for a citizen.  Who knew?  I thought it was boasting (or hot air) when, in a 2nd great grandmothers autobiography, she claimed she had Congress pass a law, just for her.  To find out it could have happened, wow!

A friend asked me a simple question:  “Why do you take classes?”  My answer: “To better my research skills.”  And she asked: “But why, aren’t your skills good enough?”  This question really started me thinking.  When do our genealogy skills become “good enough”?  And I don’t have an answer for her question.

If there are records out there that I could consult, that would help me find a way around a brick wall, then I want to know about them.  My Civil Court findings to date:

  • Sued for paternity and support of an illegitimate child (one case in county court and one in Federal court)
  • Sued by the local Poor House to support an indigent parent (lawsuit included a half-brother I had never heard of)
  • A brother suing his brother-in-law and various counter suits over a fence and (drunken) party!
  • An uncle sued for non-payment by the nurse who cared for a brother in his final days (this lawsuit proved a relationship which resulted in my membership in DAR)
  • Sue or be sued for border disputes, land disputes, damages, etc.
  • Make a verbal promise to support a cause and then lose ones business as a result of failure to carry through when sued 25 years later!
  • Attempted to take oath of citizenship only to have the proceedings stopped by a Federal attorney, resulting in the denial of opportunity (still waiting for court records on this one)

I have only begun my searching through these record collections and I’ve turned up all of this?  These records are sitting on a shelf gathering dust, whether I know about them or not.  However it is my family these records are documenting, their life struggles, good and bad.  Some of the lawsuits are petty, but they have shed light on why my 4th great grandfather had 2 separate 90th birthday parties (there was a whole column in the local newspaper devoted to the competing parties, with different relatives in attendance at each).

Those records are just sitting there waiting for us.  What’s a little bit of time spent learning?

Posted in Genealogy software | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Research Trap?

I just caught myself falling into a research trap.  I know when using FamilySearch to check for the un-indexed collections.  It is an ingrained work habit.  Since I use many of the county court/probate collections on FamilySearch, I am used to looking in the indexes in the front of the “books” and hunting down my family members, manually.

Ancestry.com is a different story.  Most of their collections are indexed, and for the last several years with the ability to “correct” the bad indexing, the hits are getting more consistent.  I’ve been working with City Directories, specifically,  U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989.  I wondered why I get some hits in some years but not the intervening years.

Index Example, George F Goodman I began to look at each year, by itself, looking up individual family name listings.  Much to my surprise, some years are not indexed.  Since these are city directories, alphabetical makes this a relatively straightforward process.  I discovered the lack of index when ancestry informed me a record could not be attached to a person in my tree due to the lack of index.  I continued to check other years and discovered some years are indexed, but the names are so badly mangled that I couldn’t even match an index entry to George to correct the index.

Index Example

Index Example

Moving on to the next year, I discovered another gotcha when looking for George F Goodman (see image below).  These indexes have the last name recorded for the first person in the column, but not for everyone else!  Other names are indexed by middle initial, first name, no last name.  In this case, these are columns of Goodman’s, starting with Goodman Abel in the first column, and each of the successive columns are labeled with GOODMAN at the top of the column, but that name doesn’t appear in most of the index entries, making a hit extremely unlikely.

Don’t get me wrong, I like and use ancestry and have done so for at least 13 years.  This isn’t about ancestry; this is about me.  I allowed myself to fall into a trap, thinking one website publishes many un-indexed collections and the another does not.  Where else have I missed records because of my assumption?  Hopefully, the discovery of my own research mistake will help others avoid this same trap.

Happy researching

Posted in Genealogy software | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is It Time to Prune the Family Tree?

Do you ever feel like your family tree is just too big?  I am in that spot now and am debating the pros and cons of pruning my tree.  Our combined tree, for myself and Charlie’s family, holds over 21,000 relatives!

Why is my tree so large?  I inherited trees from about 7 different family genealogists back in the late 1990’s early 2000’s.  The familiar story of genealogist dies, documentation to the dump and find someone to foist the “compiled family tree” onto.  When I find an obituary, I record the information including the children and spouses.  I really do love newspaper obituaries and having them online.   I get tunnel vision and move “forward down a line” picking up basic information from census records, and keep adding people and then return to task.  And of course, early on I was name gathering as that is what I thought genealogy was all about.  At this point, my tree is just too large to work with.  I am having trouble “ignoring” the unfinished work but need a couple of lifetimes to truly research these relatives they way I feel they should be researched.

What are my genealogy goals?  My genealogy is really about satisfying my own rampant curiosity.  I’m truly hooked.   I just joined DAR for my first patriot (Ruth York Faith)  and would like to pursue DAR/SAR membership for my husband and myself.  Between the two of us I have at least 16 identified patriots and am still digging on other lines.  The patriotic service of some has these patriots have been established.  However, the patriotic service of 11 ancestors hasn’t been submitted to DAR/SAR but they could become recognized patriots if I gather the documentation and submit what I already have!  What is the purpose of having the information if I don’t share it?

Looking at our combined tree it currently contains:

  • 897 direct relatives
  • 2,130 aunts & uncles and their spouses
  • 2,932 1st cousins and spouses
  • 4,202 2nd cousins and spouses
  • 4,319 3rd cousins and spouses
  • 3,043 4th cousins and spouses
  • 1,695 5th cousins and spouses
  • 776 additional cousins and spouses 6th – 8th cousins

My focus for the last 7 or 8 years has been on the directs, aunts & uncles and to the 2nd cousins.  I use the aunts & uncles along with the 2nd cousins to support my research.  I have found our families in different county histories and sometimes having the 2nd cousins has come in handy.

My inclination is to save a copy of my tree as it is today and prune my tree from 3rd cousins onward, or is that from 4th cousins?  I could run descendants lists for each of the 2nd cousins, and paste the report into each of those cousins, then purge the children, grandchildren .. pruning the tree.  This way I’m covered in case I ever lose that saved pre-pruning tree and I would have a more manageable tree, aligned with my research goals.

Why do I feel so guilty?  Share your thoughts and experiences about pruning your family tree!





Posted in Genealogy software | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

What is the Multimedia File Listing Report Used For?

Have you ever wanted a list of the files you just downloaded from a website?  Or a list of the files you just scanned and loaded into your computer?

This morning I found a collection on ancestry.com called: Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Tax Records, 1782-1860.  My husbands 4th great grandfather  William Goodman lived in Bucks county in the 1840’s through his death in 1854.  His widow, Elizabeth Zimmerman was pregnant with William B at the time of her husband’s death.  William left her with a couple of properties, a mortgage, and three small children:

  • Emma born in 7 Mar 1850
  • Joseph born in 1851, who died 11 days after his father in July 1854
  • William B born 29 Nov 1854, 4 months after his father died

What I haven’t been able to determine is where in Pennsylvania William is from; Emma’s death certificate says he was from Chester county.  I know he had a brother Augustus, who married the widow Elizabeth, and died in 1870.  One of Elizabeth and Augustus’ children lists Augustus’ birth place as Philadelphia county.  The information I’ve found indicates the brothers were probably not from Bucks county.

When did they arrive or move into the county?  Maybe the tax records will shed some light on the questions.  I searched the Bucks County Tax records for both William and Augustus.  There were 35 pages pertaining to both of them which I saved on my computer in the taxes directory.  My next task is to record the information for both men in my family tree.  To do that I needed a list of the files that I had just downloaded and saved on my computer.  Using this list I can cross off each of the files as I record the information in my family tree.

GenDetective has a great report that I used for this task, the Multimedia File Listing, shown below.

Multimedia file listing

Multimedia file listing

This report provides a listing of the files in a directory, including all of its sub-directories.  Since I stored the taxes by year inside the county, you will see the listing for each year under genealogy\images\taxes\pa\bucks, grouped by directory name (the year) and then each of the individual files I downloaded.

I now have my work list, a listing of all the files I just downloaded from ancestry.com that need to be recorded (hooked up) in my family tree.

Posted in Genealogy software | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Conducting A Document Inventory

Have you ever wanted to inventory your file folder of documents (evidence) for a person and compare it the list of documents associated with the person in your family tree?  I have been working on DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) applications and find that I have need to do so.  My primary focus is on my direct lines but there reports apply to any person in a family tree.

With a lot of online genealogy research, most of my documentation is on the computer.  I use file folders (for directs only) to store:

  • Deeds, mortgage records and tax records
  • Estate records
  • Court proceedings (civil or criminal lawsuits)
  • Birth, death and marriage certificates
  • Other information I have found “offline”:  in a courthouse, archives, or library

While I am working on a line, I will check to verify that I have a hardcopy of all of the information I found online.  Why?  I find it easier to evaluate all of the evidence in paper form where I can arrange it into piles: primary versus secondary, direct versus indirect or chronologically.  Not what I envisioned when I first started my genealogy research, but I’ve found it works best for me.

GenDetective has several different reports that help with this task.  Many of the documentation reports focus on missing documentation, or documents that you may still wish to acquire.  However, our task here is different: we want a unique list of all documents that are associated with a specific person.  Possible reports include:

  • Multimedia File References by Person:  This report outlines each file attached to every event or the person.  Not quite what I was looking for as files may be repeated if they are used to support multiple events.  A very useful report, if I am looking at the “supporting documents” for each event for a person, but that isn’t my current task.

    Media files by person

    Media files by person

  • My Supporting Documentation: This report fits the bill as it provides the title of the document or media file and the name of the file. However, it isn’t my favorite as it is small print and there is no way to check off that I have the document in my file folder.

    Documents By Person

    Documents By Person

  • My Document Inventory: This report is just right.  It is relatively new, and may have been in GenDetective 2.2, but if not it will be part of  GenDetective 2.3.  It has the title, name of the report, a check box (yes or no) and it is color banded making it easier to identify the documents I have printed and the ones that I need to print.
My Document Inventory

My Document Inventory

Happy researching.


Posted in Genealogy software | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Do you the know origins of Memorial Day?

There are several different possibilities as to the origins of Memorial Day.  The story that I grew up with in Western Pennsylvania was that Memorial Day began in 1864 in Boalsburg, Centre County, Pa.  Boalsburg is a small community located outside of State College in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania.  The year 1864 may call to mind the Civil War, which was raging, as well as the many casualties that occurred during this these years.

Family lore says that two women (Boalsburg history adds a third woman) Emma Hunter and her friend Sophie went to the cemetery to lay flowers on the grave of Dr Reuben Hunter, Emma’s father, a Civil War doctor who died during the war.  Gradually this local remembrance expanded into the Memorial Day that is celebrated today.  An article about Boalsburg Village and the history behind this event can be found here.  The cemetery has a statue of the three women as well as the history of the event in a little park that is at the entrance to the cemetery.

Why do I chose this “version” of Memorial Day to speak about today.  As a genealogist, I could say I favor this version of the origins because it started in my home state, Pennsylvania  Or it could be because that I grew up hearing about the origins of Memorial Day once a year.  Why was this part of my family oral history?  Because Dr Reuben Hunter, who was the genesis for this event, was my 1st cousin, 4 times removed.

Happy Memorial Day

Posted in Genealogy software | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Got Death Certificates, Whats Next?

In my prior article An Exciting Day in PA Records Is At Hand I discussed the impending release of the first wave of PA Death Certificates (1906-1924) on Ancestry.com.  Four hundred and sixty-nine (469) death certificates later, I’m ready for the next wave to be released in June.  You may ask yourself, what in the world would Sandy want with 469 additional PA Death Certificates (above the directs I had already pulled)?

The answer is: medical health history and cause of death.  While I pulled more death certificates than just the directs and great aunts & uncles, I am most interested in the illnesses described on the death certificates for those that share the same gene pool as myself and my husband.  I’m not too worried about causes of death like:

  • typhoid
  • smallpox
  • car accident
  • suicide

However, I am very interested in the incidences of:

  • cancer (any type)
  • apoplexy (strokes)
  • heart attacks or heart disease
  • other genetic or inheritable  diseases
Create Reports, Events

Create Reports, Events

GenDetective has a few reports that will help you ferret out any pattern of inheritable diseases.  In the Create Reports tab, select the Events category as shown on the right.  There are 2 reports that are very suited to this kind of inquiry:

  • Who has this event that matches?
  • Who has this event with details?

These reports are dependent upon the way you record the cause of death or illnesses for relatives in your family tree software.  You may record this information under any of these common events or your own custom event:

  • Illness
  • Death
  • Cause of Death

Regardless of how you record the information, these two reports isolate the information so that you can study it for patterns.  My favorite is the “Who has this event that matches?” as I like the geographic breakdown of the report .  The geographic grouping allows me to distinguish between city and country illnesses.

Who has this event that matches?

Who has this event that matches?

Using these reports what chronic or genetic illness might you discover run in your family?

Posted in Genealogy software | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment