Showing posts with label Ancestry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ancestry. Show all posts

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Thank You for Sharing

Handwritten note by Brice Larimer McClure, naming his ancestors
My husband's grandfather, Brice Larimer McClure (1878-1970), left several scraps of paper with notes about his family tree.

As shown above left, one of these scraps begins with the sentence: "I am Brice Larimer McClure, a son of . . . " He then proceeds to name his grandparents and great-grandparents and back as far as he knows.

Are the details all correct? Maybe yes, maybe no. This note was written from memory, I suspect, reflecting what Brice was told about his ancestors as he was growing up. Even if the names and dates aren't entirely accurate, they gave me good ideas for further research.

This first-person account of McClure and Larimer genealogy was so unique, I couldn't keep it to myself. I decided to share it on a public family tree on Ancestry back in 2011. As shown above right, I attached it to eight ancestors whose names appear on the note.

Since then, a total of 99 other Ancestry members have saved it to their family trees. This is far more people than have ever saved any other single photo or document from my public trees to their trees.

By sharing, I hope to give others clues for researching names, dates, and relationships in their trees, just as I've learned from clues in unique documents and photos shared by people who attached them to their public family trees.

Thank you, everyone, for sharing. Please go ahead and use any unique photos and documents you find on my public trees to jump-start your own research. And remember--unique items like this can be excellent cousin bait! 

Friday, February 7, 2020

Backup Is Cheap, Family Trees Are Priceless

Ancestry's instructions for downloading a family tree

One big reason I use RootsMagic7 genealogy software is to be able to sync with the family trees I've created on Ancestry.

Although I back up my RootsMagic trees every month or whenever I make major changes, I also like to download my Ancestry trees periodically.

It's easy to download a tree as a gedcom, as you can see from the above Ancestry screen shot. I give each downloaded tree a distinctive name AND date, so I can distinguish the "Wood" family tree download of February, 2020 from the "Farkas" family tree download of December, 2019.**

Keeping my family history safe is a top priority. Multiple backup processes (both RootsMagic and Ancestry trees backed up, stored on two hard drives, and stored daily in the cloud) may seem like a lot of duplication, but it offers me more options for restoring my trees, if ever the need arises.

Backup drives and cloud storage are relatively cheap -- carefully researched and documented family trees are priceless and deserve protection.

**RootsMagic will also download an Ancestry tree for me, including all media attached to the individuals--very convenient! I do this as well, but also like to keep a separate gedcom downloaded directly from Ancestry in case I need to recover.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Hint, Hint--Ancestor Adventures with Hints

Once upon a time, I wished for hints, hoping for clues that would lead me to learn more about ancestors.

Be careful what you wish for!

My husband's family tree is now overflowing with hints, as you can see from the above summary.

Filtering Hints

Many of these hints are for too-distant ancestors. Many of the photos are of DNA or ships or flags.


To winnow down the avalanche of hints, I sort by last name and filter by last name. Above, an example of an ancestor I am quite interested in. He's the first of many ancestors named Work with hints waiting to be evaluated. I can see, at a glance, hints for all ancestors named Work by sorting and filtering, making my adventures in hint-land easier and more productive.

Hints for Ancestors Near and Far

Some of the hints I'm reviewing turn out to be  helpful, even if they refer to ancestors on the outskirts of the tree.

Here, for instance, is a newspaper clipping about the wife of a 2d cousin 3x removed. It led me to names of other ancestors slightly closer to those I'm actively researching.

More adventures in hint-land are in my future.

Thanks, as always, to Amy Johnson Crow for this week's #52Ancestors prompt, "adventure."

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Playing Tag with My Ancestors

When I first saw Ancestry's TreeTags, I was intrigued by the categories. The idea is to indicate the research status of each ancestor.

Tag, You're It!

I like "unverified" and "hypothesis" because they are a great way to tag ancestors who I've either found on some document and been unable to verify further, or ancestors who I suspect (but can't yet prove) are related in a certain way to my tree. Extremely useful.

"Actively researching" and "brick wall" seem less useful tags for my purposes. "Verified" is, however, highly useful for situations where I've got clear, solid evidence for these ancestors and can verify how they are actually related to my family. 

What Does Complete Mean?

But after 21 years of active research, the word "complete" is not in my #genealogy vocabulary and I doubt I'll ever tag any ancestor in this way.

Ancestry defines "complete" as: "I am confident that I have executed thorough searches to help answer my questions."

As thorough as my research may be, new records become available all the time. And that's not all. DNA is also changing the research landscape.

So although I may have answered my current questions, and may even have amassed a huge amount of data through research, I don't view any ancestor as completely researched.

New Records Galore

Just this month, for instance, Family Search posted a database of 34 million U.S. obituaries from GenealogyBank, 1980-2014. Woo-hoo! I'm searching for the names of cousins, aunts, and uncles who died in the past 40 years. Maybe an obit will reveal a previously unknown spouse or challenge my knowledge of that person's life in some other way.

Family Search also posted databases of Cook County, Illinois births-marriages-deaths from the 1870s into the 20th century, as late as 1994 for the deaths. Another woo-hoo, as I search for ancestors who lived or died in Chicago. Found two already.

I may stop researching some ancestors for a while, focusing on others who I know less about or certain ancestors I have a special interest in, but I can't imagine tagging any ancestor (even my parents) as "complete."

What about you?

PS: To see the very latest collections on Family Search, go to the collections page here and sort by "last updated" (on the far right). 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Cleaning Up Online Trees, One Ancestor at a Time


One ancestor at a time. Because I use my Ancestry trees as my main tree (and sync to my RootsMagic software as backup, then backup my backup), I'm cleaning up my online trees. (Also known as a Genealogy Go-Over.)

Trying to be systematic, I'm working backward from my husband on his tree (and from me on my tree).

As shown above on hubby's grandma, my goal is to have a MyTreeTag for each ancestor AND sources attached as media for each main fact.*

My process, generation by generation, is:

  • Starting with parents and grandparents, I'm adding a MyTreeTag (new Ancestry feature) to indicate that these people are verified. Ancestry defines that as "I have done my best to verify the facts of this ancestor’s life with records which are attached." All true. I'm reluctant to say "Complete" because, despite thorough research, something new is liable to pop up someday. But verified indicates I've attached proper sources and used them to support the facts in the ancestor's timeline.
  • When I don't have enough records attached, I'm doing a search to turn up more records. If little shows up, I'm tagging these ancestors actively researching or, in some cases, unverified. Several are, unfortunately, still hypothesis, meaning I'm still testing whether they truly belong where I put them on the tree.
  • Ancestor by ancestor, I'm taking a screen shot of each source and uploading it as media visible by anyone who wants to see my source for a given fact. This makes my sources public and viewable. At a glance, someone can click and see a birth, marriage, or death cert--and save it or download it if desired. I don't mind sharing records I've spent money on! Others have been generous enough to do this, and I'm paying it forward by sharing mine.
Another by-product of this ancestor-by-ancestor go-over is that Ancestry hints tend to pop up on people I'm looking at. Woo-hoo!

This is a good project for when I have 10 minutes here or 10 minutes there. Inch by inch, making progress.

*UPDATE: Before attaching any sources as images visible on public trees, must check that they will not violate copyright or terms of service for the site.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Trying ThruLines and MyTreeTags

The new Ancestry ThruLines feature is a step forward in understanding how DNA matches *might* fit on a family tree. This feature also suggests "potential ancestors" to add to a tree.

The key is to understand that names, dates, relationships all depend on the accuracy of other people's trees. As with any info found online or provided by someone else, it's up to me to investigate and verify or disprove each potential ancestor and possible DNA match.

Pick Your Ancestor 

ThruLines is arranged by most recent ancestor and stretches back to most distant ancestor. Above, a snippet of the 100 ancestors/"potential ancestors" on my husband's ThruLines page. That makes it easy to investigate links to specific ancestors of interest. I can be as systematic as I like in drilling down into my husband's father's side or mother's side, in a particular generation.

As shown, one of these "potential ancestors" is not marked as male or female, and is actually "private" because he or she is listed on a family tree not made public by the owner.

How Private?

Well, not that private. I blocked out the info, but it was easy to figure out exactly who this "potential ancestor" was and the gender, too, without contacting the owner of the private tree. It was listed in the "private tree" notification above.

To check, I returned to my tree and looked at the outstanding hints for this branch. One second later, I had the details from sources other than the private tree, sources more objective and verifiable. So it actually helped me get a generation back. Unfortunately, there were NO DNA matches associated with this ancestor (nor for the spouse).

And in case I wasn't sure, right next to this "private" "potential ancestor" was listed his wife, Hannah O'Killey. Just in time for St. Paddy's Day, a possible new Irish ancestor to research and confirm.

Interestingly, the person who posted Hannah O'Killey's info on a public tree is NOT a DNA match for my husband, which is a disappointment and raises the question of whether this is an actual ancestor for one or both of us. My husband has no DNA matches through Hannah, according to Ancestry. Hmm.

Finding a Match

To find an actual DNA match in ThruLines, I started at the most recent ancestor and worked my way backward to hubby's great-granddaddy, Thomas Haskell Wood. That's where I finally found two cousins previously unknown to me, each of whom had more than 20 centimorgans in common with my husband.

Although neither of these cousins had anything new on their trees, at least I now know who they are and can be in touch to share info.

For the vast majority of the 100 ancestors on hubby's ThruLines page, Ancestry shows NO DNA matches.

Check Those TreeTags

Working through the ancestors on my own ThruLines page, it quickly became clear that my "potential ancestors" were highly speculative. I noticed suggested ancestors plucked from trees I already knew were not supported by good sources.

Here's where Ancestry's other new feature, MyTreeTags, would be very, very useful.

The idea is to be able to indicate the research status of a particular person on a tree. For instance, I could note that someone is a "hypothesis" (meaning I'm testing whether someone fits, based on DNA or other evidence).

Or I could note someone is "unverified" (meaning I got the info from somewhere but have done nothing to check its accuracy).

After looking, I can see that some of the trees that appear in hints or "potential ancestor" suggestions have inaccurate info and few if any sources other than other trees.

To be helpful, I've contacted tree owners in the past to say, for example, that although my grandma is shown on their tree, it's highly unlikely that she is actually related to the people on their tree. Dates, places, names don't add up, I point out tactfully. I invite them to please look at my tree and the documented evidence that proves who she is. Of course, I can't rule out that maybe there's something I don't know about my grandma?!

Usually I hear nothing, or I get a note saying their tree is a work in progress, with hypotheticals. Or the note says the tree is being built for a friend who had a couple of clues, and my info will be passed along to the friend for consideration. Those trees are often left as is, unfortunately.

As I work on my public trees, I'm going to try to use MyTreeTags to alert others when someone is a hypothesis or unverified, in particular, as a red flag to verify before accepting anything as a fact!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Why I Use Genealogy Software (It's Not Why You Think)

RootsMagic is my genealogy software of choice for one big reason: It syncs with Ancestry, my research/tree site of choice.

But unlike most researchers, I don't do my work in the software and then upload to Ancestry.

On the contrary, I prefer to work in Ancestry (including research and uploading photos/documents) and then download to my computer, via my sync with RootsMagic.

My Technology May Not Be Their Technology

Why? My mind is constantly thinking way ahead to what happens when I someday join my ancestors.

On that faraway day, even though my Mac computer will remain on my desk, it may as well be a pile of bricks as far as my genealogy heir(s) are concerned.

I'll bet none of the next generation will be bothered to open my genealogy software, let alone learn how it works. They'll have their own technology preferences, and any specialized genealogy software on my desktop Mac is unlikely to appeal to the mobile-first younger generation. Just ask your younger relatives and see if they agree.

With this in mind, I don't think of my genealogy software as the primary place to keep my tree and media. In a sense, my computer-based software acts like a backup to my Ancestry tree.

A Family Tree Grows Online

I believe descendants and relatives (and cousins I don't yet know about) are far more likely to find my public family tree on Ancestry, if they have any interest at all.

As I wrote in my book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Pastonline trees should be noted in any genealogical "will." For my part, I'm leaving my genealogical heirs a bit of money for an Ancestry subscription so they can noodle around and see how the tree works. They can use mobile or desktop devices, whatever suits their fancy.

Of course, I sync with RootsMagic very frequently so I always have the latest version of my tree on my computer, including all media. This is because I work on the Ancestry tree (multiple trees, actually) every week, sometimes every day. New documents become available, or new photos surface in the family--those are good reasons to add to my online tree and share with those who have been invited to see it. Also, I like to look at DNA hints and compare those trees with mine on Ancestry. It's just convenient to have the latest tree online.

Way in the future, my heirs can decide if they want their own genealogy software. If not, they and I can rest easy, knowing the tree and documentation are on Ancestry for the family to see at any time.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Real Clues on Other People's Trees

Example tree -- I'm not related to Martha or George!
Lately I've been browsing other people's trees in search of real clues to help research elusive ancestors and maybe even break down brick walls.

Of course I'm NOT going to copy anything without confirming for myself, but I do want to see whether other trees have something I don't have.

For example, when I buy a birth cert or a marriage license or some other record, I scan it and post on my Ancestry tree. Sure, I paid for it, but why keep it to myself? After all, I'm sharing with folks who are researching my family. Stands to reason that others might post their purchased documents, too (and I've been lucky enough to find some, thank you).

The same goes for scanning and posting family photos, sometimes with visible dates or other original captions. I add these to my trees and I really appreciate when others are generous enough to share with the rest of us.

So the first thing I do is check the sources on any tree I'm browsing. If the source is only another family tree (X marks the spot on the sample at top), I ignore. I'm looking for a substantive source.

If I see something like the SAR application in the source list above, I gladly click to see what I can learn. I want to actually view the document for myself, because indexing and transcriptions aren't always accurate, let alone complete.

Also I check the "facts" to see whether there is a scan of a document added as media for, say, a marriage, as in the example at top. Maybe I've never seen that media before and it's worth examining...

If so, I download the scan, blow it up to read if necessary, and scrutinize. Credible sources I follow up on and add to my tree once I've verified that the ancestor mentioned belongs to my family.

#Genealogy
#familyhistory

Friday, July 13, 2018

Lessons Learned in My Virtual Research Trip

Today, when I was clicking my merry way through online records pertaining to my husband's Slatter family, I discovered one shortcut and was reminded, yet again, of the value of checking originals.

Above, the shortcut I found to cut through the clutter of hints. My husband's Slatter family tree on Ancestry has more than 9,000 outstanding hints. Most of those are for ancestors too distant to be a priority. So I clicked on "records" to choose only those hints, then brought up the "filter by name" sorting option. (The default is "most recent" which means when Ancestry added that hint.)

By entering "Slatter" in the surname search box, I was able to view only record hints containing that name. Of course, I could have searched by first and last names, but given the creative spelling in so many records, I wanted to click through all Slatter record hints individually. Focusing on one surname enabled me to make progress, rather than being sidetracked by hints unrelated to my current research.


Now for the reminder about original records vs. transcriptions. The three dates on this record of marriage banns from a London church are 1 Dec, 8 Dec, and 15 Dec. The handwriting is very clear. At top of the page, not shown here, is the handwritten year--1907. Yet the transcription of this record says the year is 1908.

By reading the handwritten record, I was able to enter the correct dates for the marriage banns of Thomas Albert Slatter and Jessie Alice Elms. Also, the marriage license original confirmed the actual wedding day as 28 December 1907.

It's never safe to assume a transcription is accurate, let alone complete. It took only a few more clicks to view the originals and extract every possible data point.

My starting point for today's post was Elizabeth O'Neal's Genealogy Blog Party, July edition: Virtual Research Trippin'.


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Clues Buried in Sources on Other Family Trees

Good genealogy researchers trust good sources, right?


And that's why, any time I view other people's family trees on Family Search or Ancestry, I go straight to the sources. This allows me to retrace the steps of any family history researcher and examine the evidence for myself. I analyze and weigh the details of every piece of evidence. If the evidence seems solid, I add it to my tree, cite the source(s), and factor it into my genealogical conclusion.

If a tree has no sources, I move on--nothing to see.  Family stories and relatives' memories are only a starting point--we need actual evidence to construct a reliable family tree. Too often, family trees posted online use other family trees as the source (a la the sources titled "Ancestry Family Trees"). Sorry, not good enough for the Genealogical Proof Standard.

Sources for other people's trees, if any, will be hiding in plain sight.* At the top, a family tree on Family Search, with the button "print family with sources" circled in dark green near the bottom of the image. Click, and up pops a pdf of a family group record followed by pages of full sources (like the ones below).
I compared this tree with a tree on Ancestry, where the sources are in the center column for convenient access. Both of these trees had good sources--different sources, in some cases. By viewing the original documents, not the indexed or transcribed versions, my neighbor and I picked up good clues to research as she follows the Crandall branch of her family tree.


* Thanks very much to reader Marian, who pointed out that on the profile page of each person in Family Search, there are sources listed. Clicking on a fact will bring up any linked sources--then click on the sources to see the documents. I print the list so I can check which I have and which I haven't seen before by comparing with my tree.

PS: Yes, my neighbor knows about the Crandall Family Association. She's actually done a ton of research. We were spot-checking dates and spelling by looking at sources connected with other people's trees.

PPS: Above, from a tree that will be nameless (to protect the guilty), one reason why I distrust trees without sources. Jean must have had quite a wedding in 1805, considering she's listed as dead by 1790.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Testing Ancestry's "We Remember" Site

Ancestry has a new site in beta, "We Remember." A few days ago, I gave it a try. First I had to log in (using either Ancestry or Facebook user/password combo). After several aborted tries with Firefox, I switched to Chrome as my browser and was able to proceed. The interface was sluggish in both browsers, but presumably this will change over time.

At top, the memorial after I entered the requested info:

- Name of person (Dorothy Helen Schwartz)
- whether MD, Ph.D., etc. (this info doesn't appear on the memorial, not sure why)
- full birth and death dates (NOTE: only birth year and death year appear on the memorial)
- city and state/country of death (doesn't appear on memorial, not sure why)
- 250 words about her (plus an obit, if available)
- indicate whether she was family, friend, etc.

Next, I was asked to submit an obit if desired and write a "memory" of my aunt, including a photo of my choice. Alas, my first "memory" and related photo disappeared. The next memory was successfully saved and appears on Dorothy's public memorial page.

What do I think of "We Remember" so far? This will be my only attempt unless and until the interface is speedier and more reliable. Also, I believe all the requested info should appear in full on memorials. Why not show full birth and death dates rather than simply truncate to year only? Why not show MD or Ph.D. on the page? My aunt was justifiably proud of her Ph.D., and I had to mention it in the memorial text since it doesn't show after her name in the title.

Why the 250-word limit for the bio on the memorial page? This isn't Twitter--it's supposed to be a memorial, and no meaningful bio can be squeezed into so few words. In some views of the memorial, no middle name or initial appears--which can make it tough to locate just the right person. Again, I can't imagine the reason for this limitation.

I'm not sure that setting up "We Remember" memorials will do anything more meaningful genealogically than my Ancestry trees, my Find a Grave memorials, and my blog posts. But I'm willing to be convinced if the interface improves, the presentation of details is expanded, and a chorus of other genealogy enthusiasts find some value in this site.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Family History Month: So Many Hints, So Little Time

After reading Amy Johnson Crow's thoughtful post, "Should You Take Ancestry's Suggestions?" I thought about my own approach to the hints on my trees. As of this morning, my husband's tree has an incredible 7,406 total hints! So many hints, so little time.

My triage plan goes like this:
  • Sort by people, not by when the hint was generated. That way, I can choose who I want to research, rather than reviewing hints based on when the system presents them to me ("within last 7 days" etc.).
  • Look at relationships to avoid wasting a lot of time on people who are really remote on the tree. Say, for instance, Jane McKibbin, whose hint is shown here--she's a sister-in-law of my husband's 1st cousin 4x. Not someone I need to research with any particular urgency, unless I have a specific goal in mind.
  • Review photos quickly, because often they are ship images or flags or something else rather than an ancestor's image. I usually click to ignore 95% of photos, reviewing only actual faces or family groups.
  • Review stories to see whether there's anything personal or historical. Sometimes these turn out to be interesting! A letter that my mother-in-law wrote to a genealogist in the 1970s turned up as a story hint on the Wood tree not long ago.
  • Review records for ancestors I'm actively researching. Depending on my focus, I might look at all record hints for one particular ancestor or a family or a surname, in search of new avenues to explore.
  • Review member trees as a low priority unless I'm trying to connect with a cousin or someone else who is researching an ancestor of particular interest. Why? Because way too many member trees have no sources attached or have inaccurate details. But if I'm looking for a cousin, I make it a point to look at these trees and contact individual members with a note explaining who I am and asking about any possible relationship--always offering to exchange genealogy info.
Very likely I'll never get around to reviewing every hint on this tree. At the same time, I regularly click on ancestors of interest, noting that new hints tend to show up after I explore these people individually. Then the triage continues.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Family History Month: It's Backup Day

Happy Family History Month! A great time to think about backups. The first day of every month is backup day--in reality, every day is my backup day. To avoid losing any tiny bit of my precious genealogy research, I use a "suspenders and belt" system.

Let me suggest not just suspenders, not just a belt, but both and more to keep those pants up! Multiple backup methods can do a good job of protecting your valuable files: (1) back up your genealogy software, (2) backup your hard drive daily, (3) do intraday backups of your hard drive if possible, and (4) backup your backups once a month.

One of the things I like about RootsMagic 7 (shown above) is that I can open it, open Ancestry, synch all of my trees, and then back up all my RM7 trees with a couple of clicks. So not only is Ancestry always up to date, my RM7 trees are up to date and safe in multiple places. No matter what software you use, please check on how to back up your trees.

For extra safety, I back up my entire hard drive into the cloud once every day, automatically, using Mozy.

Not to mention my hourly Time Machine backups, as a Mac user, also automatic so I just set it and forget it. If something goes wrong during the day, I can return to the version of my file an hour earlier and go from there.

Being super-duper cautious, I have an extra hard drive for once-monthly backup of my backups. Today is that day. I have nearly 20 years' worth of details on my trees. Keeping all those details safe is a high priority.

Are your files safe? Are your backups safe? For peace of mind, consider suspenders and belt backups.



Saturday, August 5, 2017

Sorting Saturday: Happily Testing RootsMagic

During the IAJGS Conference last week, I had the opportunity to learn more about gen software that actually, for real, synchs with Ancestry, including downloading media (such as photos and documents attached to individuals).

Yes, I do have an existing gen program, but it's got every bell and whistle on the planet except synching, which wasn't available four years ago when I bought that old software.

Meanwhile, during my Genealogy Go-Over, I've been building my Ancestry trees and "sharing trees" with close cousins, so I have access to their names/photos/documents. I like the convenience of adding somebody else's photo of great uncle Moe to my Ancestry tree with one click. I'm accustomed to the Ancestry interface and navigating the site in search of more clues.

Now I wanted to be able to download all of that to my Mac with no rigamarole. So I plunked down cash to buy RootsMagic 7 at the conference special price last week.

Success! Granted, the interface doesn't look at all fancy (see an excerpt, above). Still, it gets the job done, has useful features that help me manage my people and trees, and it's fairly user-friendly.

Best of all, my attachments were easily downloaded along with every tree (see the purple oval marking the "media" tab). I can browse them, open, do whatever I want. Yay!

By the way, trees that were "shared" with me by other Ancestry users could also be downloaded by RootsMagic. That was a bonus I didn't expect.

I'm still testing all the features, and I'm very happy so far with the experience. Simply being able to vacuum up all my Ancestry trees to have on my home Mac forever was worth the money, no matter what else I use the software for.

Going forward, I'll continue to build my trees using Ancestry, and then synch using RootsMagic. It's just easier for me, it allows cousins to immediately see the latest info I've gathered, and I gain peace of mind that my Ancestry data will be duplicated on my own Mac.

Of course, I've also backed up the RootsMagic trees on an external hard drive for extra security. Can't have too many backups!

Update: After nearly 3 weeks of use, I'm still delighted at the ability to quickly and conveniently synch with Ancestry trees. After each synch I can view all changes to each tree in RootsMagic if I choose, a handy feature. Still need to test reporting mechanisms. More on that soon.