Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Family First - Get those Interviews Now

I’ve missed a few days of blogging because my Mom needed emergency surgery. She’s going to be fine but it was scary. Still, nothing like a little kick in the pants to remind me that NOW is the time to get those family stories written down.

Mom and I went through some old photos and we identified people but it’s the stories that build context to the lives that we spend so much time tracing. As Mom recovers it will be a good time to ask her about growing up in a mixed ethnic neighborhood in Philadelphia. I’ve already heard the stories about stick-ball, the knife grinder, the ice vendor, the depression, the Jewish Mama’s but now it’s time for the family stories: Who visited? What did you do for the holidays?  Who was your favorite cousin? Where did they live? What church did you attend?

I found that a good way to “bring back” the memories is to pull out a census record for Mom’s neighborhood and ask about her neighbors, too. I just found out that there was a family business around the block and they cleaned, repaired, and made carpets. Their home had a flat roof for laying out the carpets to dry. I remembered seeing that her great grandfather had listed his occupation as a “weaver” and I always thought that meant cloth but this conversation de-bunked that assumption. He was a carpet weaver. In today’s modern life I just forgot that the rugs were woven by hand, too.

If you are looking for ways to conduct some family history interviews try:


for information about interviewing the oldest relatives in your family.

Happy Hunting!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

It’s Not All Ancient History

First, for those who were concerned:  Irene passed by and blew down leaves and some branches. Some of those branches were really BIG ones but most of Myrtle Beach is unscathed. Thanks to all for their concern and prayers.

I received an e-mail from Ancestry.com letting me know that there were some record matches in my on-line tree. I perused the names and didn’t think much about it, since I keep my tree on my computer and only use the online tree for quick reference and hints like the one I received. I knew that I had accurate information for these people since I knew them and they had passed in the 1990’s.

This morning, though, I decided to click on each of the hints, just to see what the computers at Ancestry.com had decided to pick up. There were a number of census records which I already had but I was surprised to see some Federal record links and even college yearbooks.  The Federal records had interim addresses (between the census years) that can be great hints for where other records might be located. The college yearbooks had pictures for years when most people don’t have pictures. Once someone leaves high school the photographic records only seem to mark milestones but the college yearbook yields annual pictures for the young adult and also list activities and membership information.

So today’s lesson is two-fold.

1.      Don’t ignore hints

2.     Don’t just search for information for those long departed relatives: look in the recent past, also.

Happy Hunting!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Better Search Results

Tired of getting hundreds or even thousands of hits when searching on Ancestry.com, Familysearch.org, and other websites? I found a better way to search when you have some idea of what you are looking for.

Each of the above sites and many other sites have general searches that are supposed to search everything, everywhere for results to your query. That does not seem to be what happens. What seems to happen is a search across the most used databases. Many times the results can yield hundreds of results and none of them may be what you are searching for. So …

On the first page of these sites is a menu option for “catalog, card catalog, or databases”.  This is where the gold is found. Instead of just searching everywhere, search somewhere. Go to the catalog first and select a specific database and focus your search on one specific topic, event, era, person, or family. Don’t forget to read the “about this database” before you spend time filling in information on the search form. You may be in the incorrect database. This is particularly true when a database is limited to specific years.

So remember don’t search for everything: search for something.

Happy hunting!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

One Search - Different Results

If you search two databases for the same information why are the results so different?

I have ancestors buried at New York’s historic Green-Wood cemetery and have used their website http://www.green-wood.com/burial_search/ to complete the research. One of the surnames I search for is “Stearns” and the non-date limited search on the cemetery’s site yields 56 burials. There is a disclaimer that all records are not indexed and some records are incomplete.

Well, the “same” database was just brought up on Ancestry.com and there are 774 Stearns. WHAT????? So – I tried it again with the same results. At that point I went back to the Ancestry.com results and clicked on the about this database prompt shown below. This is a good place to look for details about a specific database. This time there was even a link to the originating database at the cemetery which was really handy but did not clear up the issue.

So what caused it? Bad data?  Lazy indexing?  Bad Karma? NOPE – The issue is how the records are indexed!

Those of us that are used to the big (Ancestry, Rootsweb, FamilySearch, etc.) websites commonly enter a surname search and trust that the results will include similar sounding names (SOUNDEX) to be included in our results. We (I) forget that most websites just search for what you asked for. Since spelling is a fluid thing and indexing is a human thing, it’s a good idea to keep track of what type of indexing the site uses and when you should expand the surnames for which you are searching.

Note: to those of you unfamiliar with SOUNDEX  or need to check a SOUNDEX code: http://searches.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/Genea/soundex.sh

Also, thanks for the prayers regarding Hurricane Irene. It looks like she’ll miss most of Myrtle Beach and now we pray for those in the Outer Banks – she could scrub those lovely barrier islands and change everything.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Getting Digital

As my family and I decide to stay put or flee in front of Hurricane Irene, I’m reminded of all of the family photos that are at risk. We have about 30 photo albums and stacks and boxes of photos that date back over one hundred years. Many have had the people identified thanks to a long sit down with my Mom while she reminisced with family stories as each person was identified. (Thanks, Mom)

Now there is a Category 4 Hurricane with the Carolinas in its sights. There is no way to evacuate all the photos along with people, important papers and a few “must haves.” We keep saying it’s just “stuff” but some of the photos are more than “stuff” they are the only tangible evidence of our family’s past.

When we moved to the beach six years ago, we knew this day would come. The day we look around the house and realize that the carefully prepared evacuation list suddenly looks clinical: wills, deeds, computers, jewelry, savings bonds, medicine and cameras. What about that box of my grandparents’ lives? What about our wedding album?

Well, a few years ago I started scanning photos into my computer. I have our whole wedding album, I have our honeymoon, I have Bob’s parents’ 50th anniversary but I don’t have everything. Why? Well – scanning in photos is boring!

I do have a flatbed scanner but it makes scanning photos a tedious job; especially with over 4,000 photos to go. So, I purchased a dedicated photo scanner from pandigital for the 2x3 to 4x6 photos. It has a straight feed-thru paper path so the photos don’t get damaged. I also purchased a wand scanner from Pandigital for easy sheet scanning of intact photo book pages.

So – assuming we don’t get blown away or float away – I’ll be scanning again next week. Today, though, I’m praying Irene goes out to sea and preparing for her if she decides to come here.

Happy Hunting!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Free Lunch – it does exist

Genealogy involves a lot of research and one of the ways to improve your results is to improve your skills. One way to do that is to take classes from one of the genealogy schools both on campus or online. Another less expensive way to get started with online learning is to take some time watching an online seminar. These are called WEBINARS. Many webinars are for fee from places like http://www.familytreemagazine.com  or require membership.

The real treat is that many of the best webinars are totally FREE! Even some of the paid websites offer free webinars: http://www.americanancestors.org/online-seminars/ from NEHGS and http://learn.ancestry.com/LearnMore/Webinars.aspx  from Ancestry are notable entries in this category.

Another source for free, great webinars is the genealogy software manufacturing community. These webinars are not just sessions on how to use their specific software, although this topic is often covered in these webinars, too. I’ve included specific links to the webinar (online seminar) pages for some of the most common genealogy software sites:

Some of these webinars are given at specific times and permit the audience to ask (type) questions for the presenter to answer. Some of these webinars are only available for a short period of time. Some of these webinars are lengthy and some are only 15 or 20 minutes.

You will certainly learn something new to help you in your ancestor search FOR FREE!

Happy Hunting!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Let Go of the Mouse

Want to look like a computer expert? Of course you do! (disclaimer – not sure how these work on a Mac) Learn some handy, speedy, keyboard shortcuts.

I use eight keyboard shortcuts all the time. They all involve using the control key (CTRL) on the keyboard along with other keys to minimize having to remove my hands from the keyboard. They also let me accomplish tasks that the screens I’m using seem to hide in some convoluted arcane menu structure.

The CTRL key was so vital to early computer keyboards that the designers put two of them on the keyboard. They reside to the far left and far right of the space bar on a standard keyboard.  You can be certain that if these keys were not important they would never have spent the extra money to have two of them!

Here are some of the commands that I use most often. There are so many more but these seem to serve most of my needs. I posted them based on how often I use them. Some days, though, I use the CTRL+z more than the others. If you hear yourself say “drat, shouldn’t have done that” or “what happened, NOW” try the escape (esc) key first and then if that doesn’t fix things, try CTRL+z.

Make sure you hold the CTRL key down first and while it’s down press the letter key and RELEASE both of them fairly quickly so you don’t accidentally cause the keys to repeat. If you’ve not used these before, you may want to try them on a website or document that is not important until you become more comfortable with them.

When using the copy, paste, and cut commands, remember to highlight the text first before activating the shortcut keys. The bold, italics, and underline shortcuts are used either before you type the text that you want to have with these attributes or can be used after the text is typed with the highlighting function. If you use the CTRL+b, I, or u before typing then you have to use the same commands at the end of the typing to turn the function off. It’s really much easier than it sounds.

Select All (really handy right before copying everything)
Use the Home key to go to the beginning
Use the End key to to the end

 I used many of these just in creating this post. I wrote the text in Word, saved it quickly (CTRL+s), Selected all of the text (CTRL+a), copied it (CTRL+c),
Then opened the blog post and pasted it (CTRL+p) into the window then used (CTRL+home) to go to the beginning of the post and (CTRL+end) to go the the end and add a few lines and make sure the table was not messed up.

So - the next time you find a great website and want to record the URL (address) into an e-mail or document, try highlighting the address, press CTRL+c to copy it, then click on the document and press CTRL+v to paste the information. No more typos.

So - you, too can look like a computer expert with a few keystrokes.

Happy Hunting!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Brick Wall Strategy – Census Records

Did you know that the census records can reveal different information depending on where you find your information? Yeah, I was surprised, too. Let’s just talk about four different sources. One is free, one is paid for by your local library, and two are available with subscriptions or through local libraries or family history centers.

At issue is who scanned the material and when and then who indexed it. The four sites are http://www.Familysearch.org – free, http://www.HeritageQuestonline.com – library based, http://www.Footnote.com – subscription, and the 800 lb gorilla – http://www.Ancestry.com – also subscription based.

Over the years I’ve found that the best quality census records came from Heritage Quest. They also have the best search capabilities for census information. I finally found a missing ancestor by searching for the given name and country of birth instead of searching for the surname. Heritage Quest brings up a list of results by state and finding my ancestor was much easier.

Ancestry.com has upgraded their images recently and FamilySearch.org has wonderful tools for showing other names on a page with links to images which may include Footnote.com. Footnote.com has very high quality images and good tools for inverting from black on white to white on black at high quality.

The other thing if found out about census records is that not all holders of these census records have indexed all years and all people and all states! Don’t just assume that the site has done this work. Check the “about this database”  or "What's new" notes before you enter a search. You may be looking for information on a site that they have not even indexed, yet. Heritage Quest recently completed indexing the 1930 census but recently they only had Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Texas, and Virginia indexed and online. No wonder I could not find my Pennslyvania ancestors there in 1930.

So your ancestor may be hiding on another website’s index.

Happy Hunting!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Get the Mop - My Mind is Blown

I just spent the last 2 hours listening to an archived webinar from Legacy Family Tree. This webinar spent 2 hours going in depth with some of the actual development team from Google+ and some of the biggest names in genealogy to show how Google+ works. All I can say is WOW.

I know I’m a GEEK but this stuff is potentially how we will all use our computers in the years to come. The seminar is free for the next week at http://www.legacyfamilytree.com/Webinars.asp along with a list of up-coming genealogy and Google+ webinars.

The one on Google+ is a long one but the broadcast can be paused, even for hours if necessary. I have six pages of notes and my head is swimming with the possibilities. I remember when Apple Computers first introduced hyperstacks that I felt the same way. Hyperstacks were the precursor to how we use hypertext links (web links) on the Internet and Apple was not even sure at the time what to do with them.

Google+ is not another Facebook or MySpace and this webinar from Legacy Family Tree is not just for geeks and genealogists. It really helps the novice user understand the features and possibilities of this incipient technology and makes the experienced computer user glad to be alive. So – get a pot of coffee or tea, a good chair, and get a glimpse of what’s next but do it before Aug 25th when you'll have to order the CD instead of viewing it free.

Happy Hunting!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Getting Specific with Family Tree Maker

I use Family Tree Maker software version 2011 but these hints work in most versions – so give it a try.

First don’t enter unknown (or an abrieviation) or a “?” when you don’t have the first name or surname. I’ve seen trees online with a surname of “unk” or “mnu” (maiden name unknown) and then people copy that and think it’s really a name. So how do you let the software know that you don’t know?

If you know the given name but not the surname, you should enter two backslashes (the key that is usually above the “enter” key on a PC) in place of the surname. This will make the given name show up properly in reports and trees as a given name instead of as a surname. This is very handy for many great great grandmothers in my tree. So Ann Unknown should be entered as Ann\\ and Native American Sitting Bull becomes \Sitting Bull\ \\.

The same backslash symbols are also used when the surname has a space or is two words. This keeps the pieces of the surname together without having to remember arcane keyboard combinations like “ALT+0160” for a non-breaking space. This means that “Van Wagner” could be entered in Family Tree Maker as \Van Wagner\ instead of VanWagner. This may work in other software but I’ve not tried it.

See my blog entry “We may need a little space” for other hints regarding names with and without spaces.

Happy Hunting!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Brick Wall Strategy - Be a Joiner

I just got back from my local genealogy club meeting. Many times members skip the summer meetings – BIG MISTAKE. Our presenters today were excellent and, although attendance was not as robust as during the winter, we had over twenty people there.

One presenter talked about how online message boards can help break through brick walls. He suggested some specific things to make sure you include in any message board request. Message boards are Internet “information wanted” postings. They are often arranged by surname or location. Some common message board or group locations are at Ancestry.com, Rootsweb.com, GenealogyWise.com, Facebook.com, and GenForum.com.
Be clear about what you are searching for. Include as much information as you already have – full names, parents’ names, town of origin, maybe even towns in the area, county, state, country, place of birth, occupation, timeframe, etc. You may not have all of this information. That’s probably why you are using the message board to begin with. Give the other message board users a chance to help, though. Don’t just ask for information on the Beach family from Connecticut. Offer something to those that might help but don’t give away all your information without some contact.
A better request would be: "Does anyone have more information on the parents of Charles E Beach, born New York City, 1830, died 1889 Brooklyn, New York; married Margaret Matilda Duryea in Boston, Mass; second marriage for both; his parents are from Connecticut. I have the marriage certificate of Charles and Margaret. They had three children, James, Sterling, and Otis."

So, be a joiner. Find a local genealogy or family history group and participate! Someone there may have just the hint you need to break through a brick wall. By the way – Charles E. Beach is my current brick wall. Any help would be appreciated.

Happy Hunting.

Friday, August 12, 2011

OneNote for Genealogy – Digital Notebooks

My favorite piece of software for pictures is Picasa my favorite software for everything is OneNote. OneNote is a program from Microsoft and is included in all the versions of Microsoft Office 2010. It was also in Office Home and Student 2007. It was developed when the first tablet computers came out about eight years ago. I loved it then and it’s much better now.

OneNote provides dynamic, expandable, searchable, shareable, networkable, digital notebooks for PC based computers. These notebooks back themselves up, keep live links, allow pages to contain typing, handwriting, audio, video, drawings, pictures, etc.

I make notebooks for Dad’s side and Mom’s side of the family and then I make sub-sections for each surname. Each individual becomes a page and the pages have no set length so I can add information from any source including: e-mails, websites, scans, web-clips, audio clips, movies, etc.

I also have notebooks for research aids, census blanks, magazine articles, etc. I’ve included pictures of some of my notebooks below on the left. When I open the notebook then I have access to the sections and pages (in blue below right.)  There are videos, blogs and templates online at http://www.onenote.com .
I could go on for pages and pages about this great program but I’ll spare you. Don’t be surprised, though if I throw in some helpful tidbits from time to time.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Building a Better Notebook

Yes, I still use paper for some of my genealogy research but I did find a better notebook system. Levenger.com has had Circa brand notebooks for years but they are really pricey. Staples has a similar system called ARC notebooks. The notebooks come in two sizes: letter (8.5 x 11) and junior – (8.5 x 5.5).

What’s so great about these notebooks? Well, now that they are available at a reasonable price from Staples, they can make note taking in seminars, meetings, and even online much easier. The power of these notebooks is in the binding system. The pages are easy to remove and reposition. You can fold the cover back and have a hard surface to support the pages for note taking when you don’t have a desk to lean on. There are many different paper styles including my favorite: the planner page. Other papers include: to do list, college ruled, and grid. The paper is thick and very smooth making it easier to use both sides without bleed through. There are also dividers, pocket dividers, business card pages, cases, and other inserts available.

What these notebooks excel at is (re)organization. Spiral notebooks only have one type of paper in them. Three ring binders are cumbersome and not suited to taking notes in your lap. Both Levenger and Staples have flexible covers and portfolio covers with slots for loose papers and business cards. Both Levenger and Staples’s notebooks have plain flexible covers or portfolio covers with slots for loose papers and business cards.

Now, when I’m researching one ancestor and come across information on another line, I can just start a new sheet and move that page to the appropriate notebook or section for review when I return home. If I run out of pages in a section, I can add more paper and move on. No more post-its to let me know where the notes are continued. No more torn out clipped in or taped in pages between notebooks. No more transcribing notes into a master notebook. No more fussing with notebooks and sections while I’m researching. I can just grab one notebook and know that it will serve my needs all day no matter what I’m doing.

So, if you like using spiral notebooks and like the pen on paper experience, consider these notebooks. If you prefer the electronic experience …(tomorrow)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Brick Wall Strategy – Playing with Maiden Names

I’ve found a successful way of “guessing” maiden names and this technique broke through a 5 year-old brick wall. I was researching my husband’s line and took the information I was given as gospel: first mistake. So the first lesson is to check your assumptions. The maiden name we’d been using for five years yielded not one usable clue as to where this woman had come from. I was beginning to realize that something was incorrect.

My husband and I sat down and started talking about where the information had come from and why we thought the surname was Marlatt. We came to the conclusion that, in reality, we were not so sure of the information. So, while I was busy doing some given name advanced searches online, he started looking at collateral lines (siblings’ lines) for other surnames and middle names that looked like they might have been surnames in prior generations.

He also spent some time remembering who was at the dinner table at family gatherings and realized, in general, if it was a family gathering, then most of the people were, in fact, FAMILY!

The next step was to go online with alternate surnames and the original given name and a few known dates and locations but it can work without much additional information. We searched for Laura with the three alternate surnames and in less than 20 minutes had our solution: she was Laura Eckert.

How could we be sure? The records we found included the names of other family members who sat around the holiday table when my husband was a little boy. When we were young we did not always know how everyone was related, nor did we know surnames, so sometimes our research requires testing our assumptions.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

We May Need a Little Space

I’m sure you already know how fluid spelling can be when doing genealogy research but sometimes we get in a rut and don’t realize how little changes in what we are searching for can make a big difference.

Those of you who attend the Waccamaw Neck Genealogy SIG will remember the day that our revered chairman was demonstrating how to search for his Isle of Man ancestors. One of our members was doing the typing and he was telling her the surname he wanted. Well, when you are used to doing the typing you know where the spaces go. The typist was not familiar with the surnames and did not know there wasn’t a space between some of the letters: so she put in a space and clicked “Search.”

Our chairman was stunned! There on the screen were ten of his long lost relatives; people he’d been hunting down for years. He was speechless and that’s saying something. We spent the rest of the session playing with variations in the surnames we’d all been hunting for in our own families. Sometimes we put spaces in: sometimes we took spaces out. The same theory applies to names with punctuation: take out the punctuation and the space, leave the space but take out the punctuation, leave the punctuation but take out the space, you get the picture.

Most genealogy search engines do a great job searching for variant spellings of names but sometimes they need a little space.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Top Two Internet Tips

I spend a lot of time searching on the Internet and I’m sure you do, too. So today I have two Internet browser hints. I cannot promise that they will work on a Mac but they work on the Safari Browser on my PC.

Is the print on the webpage you are on too small? I’m not talking about text that is always too small because that’s a different issue (screen resolution) but text that right now, on the page you are on, is just too small. Rather than squinting, looking for your reading glasses, or giving up...

On a PC hold down the “Ctrl” key and while it’s down press the “+” (the plus key) key and let go. See…… the page is bigger! If you continue to press the “+” key the text will continue to enlarge. The “Ctrl” key and “ - “ key (that’s the minus key) will reverse the process. On a Mac it’s the command key instead of the control (CTRL) key.

The other hint I want to share has to do with finding things on a web page once your computer insists that the item you are looking for is on the page but you don’t see it. I find it very frustrating to click on a search result only to be presented with a full page of text and no clue as to where the text is that I was looking for to begin with.
Yes, I know there are menu options for finding text in a page but it’s so much easier to just hit the “F3” key on the keyboard. The Safari browser on a Mac and other standard browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, etc.) will also work with the keyboard shortcut “CTRL+f” (command +f on a Mac.)

If you don’t have a Mac try the “F3” key first. It’s just faster. This shortcut will open a search bar underneath the browser’s toolbar area and let you type in the text you are searching for. It will often show you each occurrence with highlighting. Each subsequent press of the “F3” key will highlight and take you to each item it finds or you may need to page or scroll down the page. Each browser is little different so test yours first on a page like this blog and search for the word “blog” and see what your browser does. If no text is found, check your spelling. Some pages are not searchable but most are.

These 2 shortcuts can save you a lot of time and make research much more productive and less frustrating. Happy hunting.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Privatize Your Gedcom – How to share safely

Now that the Internet has created so many armchair genealogists; sharing your family tree on a website like Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Mocavo.com, or many others, can improve your research and help others. It’s important, though, that you don’t share too much information inadvertently. Your family won’t appreciate it if they get a call from some consulate in Nigeria saying that they’d just won a lottery and only have to send $500 to collect on the prize.

So this is where privatizing your file when you export it comes into play. I use Family Tree Maker 2011 but the concept works in other programs, also. The idea is that you do not want to share private information or birth dates with the world for people that are still living. You want to prevent this information from becoming a gold mine for identity thieves.

When I was at the National Genealogical Society annual conference in Charleston, SC this year there were a lot of privacy discussions with presenters and software manufacturers. The Family Tree Maker software considers anyone without a death date in the past 100 years to be living. When you export the file for sharing on an online site, make sure you are privatizing the file. This will not change any of your information on your own computer: it only changes the information on the exported GEDCOM file (a standard type of export file for genealogy data) without media files: it just has the facts.

To do this in Family Tree Maker 2011 (and many prior versions):

            Go to the File menu
                        Select “export” 
Select “entire file” (some people prefer to select specific branches for export – starting with grandparents – for more privacy)
                        Chose “GEDCOM 5.5” for the file type
                         Check “Privatize” file
                         Uncheck “include private facts”
                         Uncheck “include private notes”

Now your file is ready for upload to the Internet.
You will want to edit it once it’s there, though. I change the names of living people to just say “living” instead of including their names at all.
So – that’s a brief discussion about privatizing your shared family trees. This way you can reap the benefits of shared trees while protecting the living relatives.
Remember, there could be someone out there with the solution to your brick wall, as well – happy searching.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Brick Wall Strategy - Other People's Trees

I'm sure you've spent many, many hours researching your family history and carefully documenting and editing the data but still find yourself looking for the "missing link." Well, other researchers have the same problem. What if your work is what someone else needs to break through the brick wall in their research? Even better, what if someone else has the information you need?

This is where it gets interesting. Family Tree Maker in conjunction with Ancestry.com lets you merge information from other people's trees with your own tree. That's not what I think you should do until you have a high level of confidence in the other person's work.

What I am suggesting, though, is that you should take the time to review other people's trees that have the same surnames as your own tree. Look at the sources, look at the maiden names, check the number of children, see if the towns make sense. These online trees can lead you off into branches that may hold the information you've been hunting for.

These online trees are available at many websites including: http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com, http://www.ancestry.com, http://www.familysearch.org, http://www.mocavo.com, and many other websites. Once you see how useful these online trees are, please consider sharing your own tree online. Don't forget to "privatize" it first. More on that tomorrow.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Turning Over New Leaves with Family Tree Maker

Do you use Ancestry.com and Family Tree Maker software? Have you been clicking on the leaves to see what hints are available on Ancestry.com. Well - I have a hint for you and it should not work this way but it does.

I have entered full names in my trees when I know the first, middle, and surnames. My trees were populated with full names and only a few leaves and I was frustrated by the lack of automatic leaves. I figured that Ancestry.com just had to have more information without my having to search manually. So ... and this is the part that doesn't make sense ... I removed the middle names from a bunch of people. I know, I know your brain is rebelling. I can hear you screaming NO, NO, I spent ages figuring that out! I'm not removing information. (We'll get to how to document the resolution in a moment.)

Once I removed the middle names and waited a bit; I had brand new hint leaves from Ancestry.com on those very people! Lots of new leaves. I thought it was Spring; there were so many leaves. Does this work all the time? No. Does putting a middle name in where there was none also produce the same result? Not that I've found but I've not had as much time to work with that scenario.

So - how do you document the middle name that you removed? In Family Tree Maker software, in the person tab, add the Also Known As (AKA) fact. This AKA fact will keep the information documented in your software and will be available as an option on reports. You may decide to put the middle name back into the person's name field at some point but the biggest lesson here is that search functions Ancestry.com aren't always working the way we expect them to. If you want your family trees to think it's Spring again, remove some middle names.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

It's Just a Matter of Time

It's just a matter of time until your data file with all of your genealogy information in it blows up. I know, I just know, you have your important files backed up some place else - RIGHT???? I'm sure some of you are nodding yes and feeling pretty smug. I also imagine some of you are thinking that it's something you had not thought about, lately.

Well, here is the truth. Hard drives fail, computers break, laptops get stolen, viruses spread. I know you know these things but what may be more dangerous and much more likely is a program failure. I use Family Tree Maker 2011 software and have backed up my data daily for ages. It's also nice to know that the program itself does a back-up for you just in case you don't. 

Why do you care? Well . . . 
Software programs can have bugs that make them fail or malfunction. Computer hard drives can also malfunction. If this malfunction happens when you are saving or changing a lot of information - like global name or location changes - your data can be scrambled and become unusable. 

Think of your family history files as a sequence of 3x5 cards all neatly arranged in drawers. (it's much more complicated and powerful than that but stay with me) What would happen if you dropped that file drawer upside down on the floor? OK,OK, after the crying, gnashing of teeth, and possible unprintable expletives; you'd try to put it all back together and might even be successful.

If your computer data file gets scrambled, though, the computer would not be able to figure out what cards went with which people. That is why programs have a repair feature hidden somewhere in the menus to re-index the database. If the re-index/compact function does not fix the problems, then you have to use a back-up of your file. 

So, back-up your family history files on a daily basis and keep prior versions of these back-ups just in case your data file gets damaged and you need to restore the older file. 

Why do you need to keep older copies, also? Well - I hate to tell you this but .....
   sometimes the file damage has been around for awhile and the newest back-up file might be broken, too.

So - It's only a matter of time.
BACK-UP your data! Know where it is. Keep a copy away from the computer.

Happy researching