Sunday, December 29, 2013

What Genea-Santa brought me!

This is a follow-up to Randy Seaver's blog on Genea-Musings, "Saturday Night Genealogy Fun -What did Genea-Santa Bring You?  He asked... 1) What gift that you received for Christmas is your favorite for genealogy purposes? Book, magazine, hardware, software, website subscription, research time, DNA test - what was it, and how will it affect your genealogy research?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Using Facebook to expand your research

A few years ago, I viewed a Webinar that talked about using social media in your genealogy efforts. One thing the presenter talked about was using Facebook to create page for an ancestor. I thought this idea was very interesting so I decided to try with my patriot ancestor, the one I wanted to use to join the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). I didn't have a lot of information on this ancestor but according to the Webinar that was not important.

On August 29, 2012, I created a page for my ancestor, Johannes Spanknable as a public figure. I found a picture of a maker that noted his military service and another on the region where he came from. I added a short bio about what I knew about him and then added his DAR# and his SAR#. Finally his personal information is basically a short family group sheet with him, his spouse and his children according to his various DAR applications. I have a link going to his Find A Grave page, the place I found the picture of his marker or gravestone.

The first post is his family group information again because everyone doesn't always go into the “about” section.  Later I added another post about how twelve DAR members used him as their Patriot Ancestor and a link back to the Ancestor search page found on the DAR site.

It took a while but as the movie says “If you build it, they will come” and slowly a few did come and like my page. These people are descendants of Johannes and thus they are my distant relatives. I added an obituary of one of my ancestors who was Johannes granddaughter and now I hit pay dirt as one of the visitors has been sharing pictures of other obituaries. My family line is expanding all because I took a few moments to create a public Facebook page about my Ancestor.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

City Directory helps in finding family in 1940 census

Today I was able to help someone from my Genealogical Society find her husband in the 1940 census as a 3 year old child.

She was telling me how she hasn't been able to find her husband in the 1940 census. I asked if she knew where he was living at the time. She stated San Gabriel, California. So since I had a subscription to I decided to go directly to the 1940 census and I typed in the location. Well there were a lot of different wards, so I decided I needed to try to approach this problem a little differently.

I decided to do a search on her father-in-law name. I found him in the 1930 census but he moved by 1940. Then I found a bunch of City directories. I scrolled through the list and found one from 1941. Sure enough the address that my fellow society member gave me was correct.

So I decided to look just at the City directories, and typed in the year 1941 and the street name. I then found a person who lived near where her father-in-law lived. I recorded the name of the neighbor.

I proceeded to go back and search the 1940 census in San Gabriel for the name of the neighbor that I had found in the City Directory. I found a good hit that appear to be the neighbor and when I viewed the census record it was the neighbor because I found the street and house number. I looked a few rows up on the page and on the first three lines was her father-in-law, her mother-in-law and her husband. When I hovered my mouse over the name of her father-in-law, his last name was mis-transcribed and the g in the last name was changed to a z and this is why her search attempts were not working.

I had tied to use a wild card search of Mag* but since the g was the mis-transcribed letter the wildcard was not working.

So the lesson learned here is that we sometimes need to approach our challenges with different techniques. Plus being a little lucky to find a city directory the year after the 1940 census didn't hurt either.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

I'm most thankful for....

As I reflect this week, I keep thinking about what I am most thankful with my genealogy. The biggest for me is Technology. In the past 30 years that I have been during my family research, I marvel at how much technology has changed.

Even though I became extremely interested in genealogy while I was a young teenager, I didn’t really start looking into the hobby until I graduated High School back in 1981. This happens to be the first year home computers started on the market. However, I did not know how to operate a computer and I definitely could not afford one.  But growing up watching Star Trek made me marvel about them.

Anyway, I started my research with paper, pencil and binders. I read a lot of books about doing genealogy and I was more confused than ever. I started with what I thought I knew. I try my best for the next 10 years but marriage and children did derail my journal a little. I even decided to go back to college in 1985 and I decided to get a degree in computers because it was the one thing that made me feel stupid.

I learned programming and I always had my genealogy love in the back of my mind. I wanted a computer program that would help me with my record keeping because having to write the same information down multiple times was hard for me. I have terrible handwriting, I transpose numbers all the time and thus my information was not always matching for the same person on two different forms.

I remember my first computer, a luggable. I didn’t have a dedicated spot for a computer but I needed something to do my homework on since I had three small children and lots of programming to do. I would write BASIC code to test my program logic and then write it in COBOL at school. My luggable could be packed up and put into the closet when I wasn’t using it. It had a thermal printer and cost about $1500.00. I never paid that much for another computer again. The computer had no hard drive and within months of buying it, hard drives come on the scene. I used that computer for several years.

I found my first genealogy package back then, not sure what it was called but it divided the screen into four parts. One part had the menu, another part had the father and mother screen, and another was used for their parents and another for inputting children. It was very cumbersome but I only had to type the information once. Or I thought it would only be once. The program had no way of exporting and being able to import it into a new software package. This was very frustrating.

In 1997, I finally discovered Family Tree Maker and decided at that time, of all the software packages out there, this one filled my wish list the best. But because my previous program could not export to a GEDCOM, I had to start all over and retype all my information in once again. Also, it was around this time, that the Internet started to become popular. Before that time, there were closed networks, like Prodigy or AOL that you would log into their servers and there was Genealogy groups within their networks. You could only communicate with others on the same network. I ended up using Prodigy because they had semi local number that I used. But because it was sort of long distance, I had to limit my time on the network to fit my budget.

I remember the day I got rid of my dial-up service for DSL. I could not believe how fast it was to be on the internet.  And they when I installed my wireless WiFi it was wonderful.  Now I have a desktop computer, a laptop computer and an iPAD. All of which I can use to surf the internet, read emails, access my family file and more. Plus I have a wonderful all-in-one printer that can scan, fax and print in color. I have come a long way from that luggable computer with built in thermal printer to all this technology at my fingertips.

My eldest brother once asked me several years ago, “Why I am finding so much about our family now that I didn’t find years ago.” It is because of technology. There is so much more available on the internet, and more people on the internet that I can connect with and share my research with.

So YES, I am very thankful for technology. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Emails are time consuming!

How much time do you spend on emails versus doing genealogy research?

Every day that I sit in front of my desktop computer to get ready to work on my genealogy, either new research, following up on information given to me, or inputting sources to clear the piles under my desk and to get them filed , seems to start with me looking at my emails. For example: yesterday I was volunteering at my local Genealogical Library and thus didn’t get to look at my email, I open my email and this is what I found: My family email has 36 unread messages, my email has 167 unread messages, my maiden name has 3, my son (who is in the Navy) has 2, my husbands has 24 (I need to check his because he only checks his mail about once a month), my daughter has 1, my junk has 65.

So I start with the junk and quickly browse the subjects and who they are from and rarely do I have to rescue one and move it to my main email. So I empty my junk email.
Next I go into my son’s email and most likely need to delete it. His emails consist of Staples ads and I like to look at those. Even though I also get the same Staples ads in my email, it is so much easier to find and read in my sons. Also I get some Tax software emails because I do his taxes. This takes me one to two minutes and I delete them.   

Next I do my daughter’s email. She receives emails from her Virgin Mobile account; this reminds me when her monthly bill is coming up. She is only in High School and I pay her bill. Also, when I register her computer and laptop through HP, I used this email and sometimes they send me ads.  This takes me one to two minutes and I delete them.

My husband’s emails are simple. We I look at them, they are still on the server and he can review them later. This is where I will see how I am sending links to fabulous websites and such. Of course this is not me and lesson learned here, delete them. Anyway, I scan through the emails and see if any are important, such as for keeping his waste water license up to date. This takes two to three minutes to delete them.

Next is my maiden name, this email is used for my two mentally disabled sisters that I care for. Here I receive notices that pertain to them.  I review those emails, might have to handle something for them but usually they are just notices. These I might print out as reminders. This takes one to two minutes to delete them.

Now it is a toss-up between my family email and my personal email. Sometimes the family account has more and sometimes my account has more. I usually start with the one that has the fewest. But I do the same thing for both accounts. I quickly delete the junk emails. I use to try to flag them as junk, but that started to take too long. It seems that even though the emails look the same, the messages come from different addresses and flagging them doesn’t get rid of them. I use to try to look for the unsubscribe link but even those don’t seem to work. So now I just delete them first.

All the emails that I am deleting are not necessarily junk emails. I have other hobbies outside of genealogy. I know this might seem strange or foreign. But to be honest, those hobbies take a real far back seat to genealogy and the rest of my life. But anyway, if I am in the mood for one of those hobbies I will read those emails, otherwise they are deleted too. I don’t want to unsubscribe to those, because I do read them once in a while, but they mainly give me a easily link back to their website where I can explore stuff I have been ignoring.

I also have emails that I earn points for looking at. This is usually the remainder of the emails that I must address before starting my genealogy. I have earned lots of points and have been able to earn valuable gift cards on stores such as Staples, Lowes, Home Depot, Wal-Mart or Kmart and thus I will still do it because this is like free money to me.

To keep a handle on all this madness, I have decided to limit the total time that I spend going through my emails. I now allow myself about 30 to 60 minutes to do my email. 30 minutes if I was on the computer yesterday and 60 minutes if I haven’t been on a few days.

I always seem to live the genealogy emails for last. I subscribe to some newsletters and I receive emails from my DAR chapter and some from family members. I try to reply to family or inquires first, I will open and review the DAR emails and file them into a DAR subfolder and finally I read the few newsletters that I receive because I like to share the information via my Society’s facebook page (that I administer).
If I don’t get through all the emails in my time limit, they stay there until the next day. I am hoping that some of my email problems will go to the wayside because I am changing my emails from my telephone provider to gmail. The main reason is I am getting rid of my telephone provider.

I need to rethink my email situation, I have created a new account for my family email, this is where my banking and bills notices get sent to, my email is for my genealogy, my husband’s email is for him and my maiden name is still for my sister’s information. I will not create an email for my children, I will use my family email but I do need to create one more email for my incentive accounts. I think this is where all the junk email is coming from. I plan on stopping most of them, but I will keep the main one I have been using for years because it is the best of the four I have been using. 

So my goal for the remainder of this year is to get all my accounts pointing to my new emails, inform my family, friends and associates of my new email and with fingers crossed, be able to handle my emails in a more timely manner.

One final thought, when I use to work, I always had my email open all day because I would receive important messages but at home I close down my email after the 30 or 60 minutes that I had allowed myself to review the messages. I don’t open it again until the next day, on rare occasions, I might open it again at the end of my research day, just to delete the junk, and the messages that I know are junk, to free up time for the next research day.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

It's all about Consistency.

For the last month, I have been helping someone get back to doing their genealogy research. They had an older version of Family Tree Maker, version 8 to be exact. I was able to retrieve her database off of a 3 1/2" floppy drive, since the Genealogical Library that I volunteer at still have a computer with a floppy drive.

Each week I have been showing her how to get her new data into her database, how to do sourcing and other things. Each week she goes home and works on her family history. She writes down her questions and I answer them the best I can.

This week, she decided to bite the bullet and install FTM 2014. I noticed some changes from my FTM 2012. The first thing for her that came up was her place name problems. In older versions of FTM we had to remember how to input names and create our own place name consistency. However, with the newer versions, you get help with your place name consistency.

So when I got home, I decided I should bite the bullet and install my version of FTM 2014 onto my computers. I first installed it on my desktop since this is my my main computer. This is the one I actually sync my database with Then I decided perhaps I too should look at my place names and fix the discrepancies.

So now I have another project to my ever growing list of things to do. I managed to get through the first three letters of the alphabet. I use the task list to write myself a quick short reminder of where I left off. After I get that task done, I will have to look at my sources and see if they look consistent.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Lesson Learned!

At least I hope I have learned my lesson. Last week, while accompanying my husband to a work seminar, I stayed back in my room and worked on some genealogy. My project, to go through some pages a distant relative sent me from a family history book that someone published back in 1986. He scanned about 20 pages of this book along with the cover and title pages so that I could properly source the items to my genealogy software.

The problem that I created, I should have never created. I use Family Tree Maker for my genealogy program because I like how it syncs my tree to I always had my tree privatized so that when others find a match in my tree, I am able to expand my tree. But that is getting off the subject of my challenge.

I use a desktop computer and a laptop computer regularly to do my genealogy work. In the past, I would copy my desktop database to a flash drive and then copy from the flash drive to my laptop. After I was finished working on my laptop, I would then have to copy from the laptop back to the flash drive and then from the flash drive back to my desktop. The problem, I would forget to copy back to my desktop and start working and it would not be updated. Then I would have to have my laptop open next to my desktop and figure out what I did on one versus the other. I could have merged the two together, but I run into so many problems because of the size of my file and the duplicate names that I come across. Therefore, I just don’t merge if I really don’t have too.

Therefore when I found I thought I had my problems solved. I store my Family Tree Maker database and supporting files on Dropbox within a genealogy/FTM subfolder. Then, I make sure to turn on my laptop from home before leaving anywhere and making sure that my Dropbox folder syncs before I leave. Then when I get back, I make sure I turn on my laptop before starting my home computer so that any changes that I made on the road get updated to my home computer.

This works great in Theory.  However, when I was in my hotel room, I guess my internet connection was weak and it didn't update to Dropbox properly while I was away. Then I didn’t turn on my laptop before I started working on this project again from home. OUCH! Therefore, my files didn’t sync properly. The good news is that Dropbox informed me of this problem.

So now I have two FTM files open at the same time, with the index of individuals open. I will just compare name for name all the people in one file against the names of the other file. But first I need to redo the pages that I did last week. I hate redoing my work. I probably could merge my two files, but again, I have so many problems with merging that I just won’t do it. My hat does go off to those who are able to merge but I find I get duplicate facts with duplicate sources. It seems I get like a parallel file of names because it just doesn't merge correctly. Yes I do the backup before I start, and then I just don’t use the newly incorrect merge files. I get the most frustrated because of all the time I would spend trying to do the merge and then it doesn't work properly, so I am not going to this.

So here I am, kicking myself, scolding myself and feeling sorry for myself for being so spacey and forgetting to turn on my laptop when I got home from my trip. ARGH! Next time, I will put a big post-it-not on my desktop that reads “Before using this computer…. turn on your laptop and make sure Dropbox updates completely. Then make sure Dropbox updates completely on this machine before proceeding.”

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Genealogy Roadshow

Last night I watched the first Genealogy Roadshow. I wasn’t sure what to expect and I am not sure how I feel about the show.  I like the idea that it helped answered some of the questions people had dealing with their family history.

My favorite was about a woman who didn’t know anything about her father’s family. The started by talking about her great-something father and worked their way back to her father. They showed a picture of her grandmother holding her father and I think may the other woman in the picture might have been her father’s grandmother. Then they showed some other pictures. It turned out that they found her father’s sister and niece (her cousin) and brought the cousin on the show. She presented to her new found cousin a scrapbook with pictures of her father and her heritage.
I guess I wanted to know more on how they found these people and figured out their histories. I am more interested in the back workings of the show. But that is probably because I do research and I want to learn tips, tricks and hints on how to expand our own histories.

The show did make me wonder about some of the questions that I have. Okay, I have a lot of questions that haven’t been able to answer yet. The biggest question is about my mother’s birth father. This summer, I found out that my mother was raised by her step father since she was about 2 and was told 2 weeks after her 18th birthday that he was not her birth father. She was then legally adopted by her step-father.  My mother knew this her entire adult life and never said a word to any of her children.
Another question is my twice great grandfather Amos Booth. I know he was born in Canada and I think he was from Elizabeth Town, but beyond that, nothing. His death certificate doesn’t list his parents.  His civil war pension file doesn’t tell much either.

Well, I could go on with even more questions, but we all have our own questions to answer and I am sure you don’t want to read about mine. However, this leads me to a tip I read, using a spreadsheet program to keep a running master list of questions. In addition to the question or task, include columns for the date the questions arose, the relevant surname, the ancestor, possible repository where you might find the answer, the result and when it was answered. The wonderful thing about a spreadsheet is that you can sort any column you want. Perhaps you will be visiting a certain repository and then you could make a list before you leave.  Various lists can help you plan research trips and know where gaps are.
Good luck researching.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

It's never too late!

Last week while I was working at the Library, a woman came in and stated that she wants to get back into doing her family history. She told me it has been about 10 years since she did anything. I asked her if she did it manually or on her computer. She informed me that she used Family Tree Maker and wasn’t sure what version but her data is stored on 3.5” Floppy Drives. Since the Library does have one computer with a floppy drive, I told her that would not be a problem and that she needs to bring those in along with a flash drive, so we can move the files.

The following week, she brought in her laptop, floppy disks, flash drive and her Family Tree Maker Disks. She had version 8 and I explained that the new version doesn’t look anything like the old version but it would do for the time being.
We put the first floppy into the drive and I heard the drive churn and boy did that bring back memories. Especially since I could tell this floppy wasn’t reading properly. When we complete the task of reading all her old floppies, we only found a few that it could not read. We were able to read her old file and it had almost 400 people in it. We also discovered some old photos of grandkids and those were a great bonus. She even mentioned to me that she almost threw those disks away. Lucky for her she didn’t.

We proceeded to install FTM onto her laptop and decided to setup a genealogy subfolder in her documents folder for all her goodies. I suggested a FTM subfolder under her genealogy folder for her to store her database files. So she moved the file to the proper location. She had some other files on her flash drive and we created more subfolders for her census records, military records, vital records, newspaper articles and tombstones. She stated she was putting off returning to genealogy because she didn’t look forward to inputting all those names again, but now she was really excited.
I re-introduced her to FTM and explained how to do some basic tasks. We created some errors so she would see what comes up and how to fix it. I suggested that she should make sure to start citing her sources and explained some basic concepts and showed her some examples.

I then showed her FTM version 2012 and explained that the newest version (2014) is now available. I realized that we can take for granted all the cool features that have been added to FTM over the years. Since we see the changes as they occur, we don’t notice them, just like our children growing. We see them growing before our eyes so we don’t notice drastic changes like our friends or family might who don’t see your children every day.
She is going to key in all her changes and will probably upgrade her FTM version when she gets a new desktop computer. In the meantime, she is going to get her computer files to equal all the notes that she wrote on her paper forms. She also stated she has a lot of scanning to do and stated that she will also be working on that project. She promised to come back, in two weeks because we both have other things going on next Wednesday.

I am very excited for her!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dedicated Genealogy E-mail

We all have heard the phrase “Do as I say and not as I do”. Well this applies to Genealogy too!

When I teach classes, I always advise new students to setup a dedicated email for genealogy related items. I also advise against using the free email that their internet provider gives them, because if they change providers, they will have to change all their logins and contact information.
Well, I find myself needing to change my internet provider and thus all my email contact information. Yikes!

We also hear about how bad it is to write down our logins and passwords, but as I get older, I can’t remember all my logins, passwords or even websites that I have used. So lucky for me, I have written all this down. I have a small address book that I use for recording my information. After I create some new emails, one for genealogy and one for all my other stuff, I will slowly go through my address book and start to update the information.  Keep in mind that you can find lots of free applications that will store your passwords on-line. I think I have tried one, but I can’t remember what that website is off the top of my head, hopefully I wrote that down.
I am giving myself plenty of time to get this done, (the first of the year) because I want to complete this while I still have my current internet provider. Some websites will send a notification email or confirmation email to your old email as a warning that your account is being changed. This is great if your account becomes compromised, because you would know.  So if you close down that email account too soon, I don’t know what a website will do when they get your old email message bouncing back to them. This way I am hoping for the least amount of aggravation by doing my changes before I close down my email accounts.


Welcome Readers to my new blog titled “Out on a Limb”. There are times during my genealogy research journey that I seem to get myself “Out on a Limb”. I will try to record my genealogy challenges here, perhaps as a warning to you. As the saying goes, “If you can’t be a good example, you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.” So learn from my mistakes so that you don’t repeat them.