Genealogy Basics

Genealogy Data Entry Techniques

In the course of a week, I get to see a lot of genealogy data. Some of what I see is abysmal. Many otherwise highly-skilled genealogists do not seem to know that their keyboards have a SHIFT key! Instead, they simply press their CAPS LOCK key and then ignore upper and lower case after that.

Of course, the use of UPPER CASE text has a long history in the computer business. The mainframes of the 1960s and 70s only used upper case text. Data typically was entered on 80-column punch cards. The IBM 026 keypunch machine, the most popular keypunch machine ever built, indeed did not have a shift key and was incapable of entering lower case text.

By the late 1970s, all of this had changed, and data was being entered from computer terminals in normal upper and lower case. However, not everyone got the word. It seems that a number of people do not realize that the keyboards of the twenty-first century have improved since those “stone age” computers of 40 or 50 years ago!

Did You Find the Correct Ancestor? Many People Did Not as Shown by Numerous Published Articles about Hillary Clinton’s Family Tree

Megan Smolenyak has published an article that I would suggest should be required reading for all genealogists. She discovered that most of the published reports of Hillary Clinton’s ancestry have (at least) 25% of their information wrong. It seems that two women with the same name were born in the same area within a short time of each other. Guess which one most writers claim was Hillary’s grandmother? Yes, the wrong one.

You can read Megan’s article at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/megan-smolenyak-smolenyak/hillary-clinton-family-tr_b_7009986.html.

Ok, so what’s in your family tree? Is your information 100% correct?

I Have a Complaint Concerning Many Genealogists

Warning: This article contains personal opinions.

This is an almost exact duplicate of an article I posted several years ago. The topic has come up again lately so I decided to publish it again for the benefit of those who did not read or do not remember the original article. I have changed a few words to make sure it covers recent comments.

I have a complaint that may upset some people, including some who read this newsletter. I will probably lose readers because of this article, but I don’t care. Like many of my readers, I feel so strongly about this issue that I just have to speak out – hold the sugar coating.

Some people are so shortsighted that they manage to ignore certain facts that are blatantly obvious to others.

In short, every time I post an article or someone’s press release about some new genealogy data becoming available on a fee-based web site, a great hue and cry arises from the nay-sayers. The comments they post on this newsletter’s web site and elsewhere vary in wording but have a common theme: “The information is public and should remain free to all of us and not be the private property of some company.”

I am amazed at the folks who actually believe this bit of misinformation.

It is the First Day of the Month: Back Up Your Genealogy Files

BackUpYourGenealogyFilesIt is the first day of the month. It’s time to back up your genealogy files. Then test your backups!

Actually, you can make backups at any time. However, it is easier and safer if you have a specific schedule. The first day of the month is easy to remember, so I would suggest you back up your genealogy files at least on the first day of every month, if not more often.

Downsizing and Going Paperless

Warning: This article contains personal opinions.

I have written a number of times about the advantages of a paperless lifestyle. Genealogists seem especially attached to paper. We often save photocopies of old records, old books, and much, much more. I once bought a four-drawer filing cabinet to store all my paper. A few years later, I purchased a SECOND four-drawer filing cabinet. I purchased probably more than one hundred dollars’ worth of file folders over the years. I photocopied and photocopied and stored all the paper in neatly-arranged folders.

Sadly, I almost never opened the drawers to retrieve anything. When I did attempt to find something, I often couldn’t locate what I wanted because the document was filed in some obscure method. For instance, the marriage record I might be seeking often was filed under the husband’s surname, not under the wife’s maiden name.

Today is World Backup Day

What would you do if you lost everything?

A backup is a second copy of all your important files — for example, your family photos, home videos, documents and emails. Instead of storing it all in one place (like your computer), you keep another copy of everything somewhere safe. In that manner, if your primary copy becomes unavailable for some reason (hardware failure, fire, bust water pipe, or accidental erasure), you always can retrieve one of your backup copies and continue.

March 31st is World Backup Day. I am not sure who made the declaration to make it a “special day” but I like the idea of having one day a year to make people aware of the need for backups. You can learn more about World Backup Day at http://www.worldbackupday.com.

Using Basic Genealogy Tools and Methods to Show that Your Family Name Was NOT Changed at Ellis Island

There is a common misconception, call it an old wives tale or an urban legend, that family names were often changed at Ellis Island. Such myths gain a great deal of credibility when newspapers such as the New York Times, the country’s “paper of record”, perpetuates these myths by repeating them, in this case in obituaries.

Kenneth A. Bravo, JD did a bit of research and found about half a dozen Times obituaries with similar erroneous Ellis Island stories. After doing the research on each, he was able to show the original name for each of them.

Who Owns Your Genealogy Data?

Overheard at a genealogy conference recently (repeated from memory so the wording might not be exact):

Person #1: “I won’t put my genealogy information online because I am afraid someone might steal it.”

Person #2: “Where did you obtain all that information?”

Person #1: “From freely available public records, including census records, birth and death records, newspapers, and such.”

OK, now let me add my own comments and questions: All of those records are always available to everyone else. What is person #1 trying to hide?

(+) Should All Genealogy Data on the Web be Verified?

The following is a Plus Edition article, written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.

Caution: this article contains personal opinions.

I often hear people moaning and groaning about the quality of genealogy information to be found online. Some claim that much of the online genealogy data is worthless. These comments seem to insinuate that people shouldn’t place information online until they have verified it. I have heard a few exclaim, “We have got to stop those people!”

That is a lofty goal, although unattainable. People are people. New genealogists join in and post data much faster than we can educate them. The idea of requiring source citations for all data sounds wildly Utopian to me.

You know what? I don’t care.

English Surnames and Their French Equivalents

If you have French-Canadian ancestry, as I do, and have tried to trace your family tree back into Quebec or Acadia, you may have encountered difficulties with name changes. When many of the French-speaking people moved to areas where English was the predominant language, they often adopted new surnames that were often based upon their French surnames.

Some were obvious, such as the surname Leblanc being changed to White. Both words mean the same thing. Other changes were a bit more difficult for the non-French-speaking descendant to decode, such as the French name Courtemanche being Anglicized to Shortsleeve. Courtemanche apparently is a nickname derived from the French words court (meaning short) + manche (meaning sleeve).

Where to Donate Records to Make Them Available to Everyone

A newsletter reader sent an interesting question this week, asking where to donate newly-found documents that may be of interest to many other genealogists. Here is an excerpt from her message:

“I recently was going through records and old documents that my grandmother had saved and came across an original passenger list of one of my immigrant ancestors from Poland/Prussia in 1895. To the best of my searching, I have not found any other records from this ship and this document is nowhere else to be found. I have scanned mine in so that others may benefit from it. The problem is I don’t know what to do with it. Aside from attaching it to my ancestors records. Where else can I deposit this information?”

I believe I can give some answers but suspect that other newsletter readers can contribute even more ideas. Here are my suggestions:

How Do You Find a Professional Genealogist You Can Trust?

Maybe you’ve hit a wall in tracing an elusive ancestor, or you’ve received DNA-analysis results of which you can’t make heads or tails. At this point, you might consider getting professional help. Henry Louis Gates Jr. (well known for his Finding Your Roots television program) and and Suzanne Stewart, a researcher at the New England Historic Genealogical Society, have pulled together some guidance that can point you in the right direction. You can find this interesting, although brief, article about finding a professional genealogist to help you at http://goo.gl/KqoJYH.

Is There Any Such Thing as a Half-Cousin?

One of my pet peeves is a term that I see online over and over: someone claiming to be a “half first cousin” or a “half second cousin once removed” or something similar. Sorry folks, but there is no such thing as a “half first cousin” according to legal dictionaries. However, the term is used by others. I know that lots of families use that term to refer to various relatives.

NOTE: I will describe references used in the U.S. It is possible that relations are described differently in other countries and especially in languages other than English.

Many people think that a “half first cousin” is someone who shares one grandparent with you but not both of them. For instance, my great-grandfather was married twice. He had several children by his first wife. The wife then died in childbirth, and great-grandfather later remarried and had more children by his second wife. I am descended from great-grandfather and his first wife. I recently met a man who is descended from my great-grandfather and his second wife. Some people would think that this other man and I are half-second cousins. “Half” apparently refers to the fact that we share only half the relationship because of our different great-grandmothers.

In fact, we are second cousins. Period.

A Relationship Chart by Betty Eichhorn

Click on the above image to view a larger version.

In the recent comments to earlier newsletter articles, several readers suggested that one or more relationship charts may be difficult to read. Betty Eichhorn suggested to me that she has an easier-to-read chart that is also accompanied by a description of relationships.

After looking at her chart and the accompanying description, I agree. Betty’s chart is easier to read and understand. Betty has graciously agreed to share her two page chart and description with everyone.

A New Family Relationship Chart and Infographic

Crestleaf has created a family relationship chart to explain how you’re related to other people and start asking yourself questions, including:

  • How exactly am I related to Uncle Bob, who I only see once a year?
  • There are a bunch of kids running around these days – how do they fit into the family tree?
  • How in the world do I fit into all of this?
  • Boy, these people are weird. Am I completely sure I’m related to them?

Automate Your Google Searches

Google has become the primary tool for all sorts of online searches. I use Google every day for genealogy and other searches. I perform searches for several ancestors, searches for any information about a small town where my ancestors lived, searches for any information about the small town where I grew up, any mentions of my newsletter, any mention of my cousins with the unusual surname, and a number of other topics. I perform these searches daily, always looking for any new information that appears online.

Of course, logging onto Google every day and manually performing such searches is tedious. Besides, I am forgetful. I don’t always remember to perform the searches as often as I should.

Luckily, Google provides a solution for me and for millions of others who wish to perform repetitive searches of Google’s billions of links, looking for new information.

Are You New to Genealogy?

Welcome to the fascinating world of family history research! You can learn more about you, your ancestors, and why you are the person you are today.

Here is a list of articles from my newsletter that I think are the most useful resources for anyone who is learning how to find their ancestors:

Family History for Beginners

Genealogy Basics

Ahnentafel Explained

Click on the above image to view a larger version

Ahnentafel is a word commonly used in genealogy although it probably confuses most newcomers. Ahnentafel is a German word that literally translates as “ancestor table”. It is a list of all known ancestors of an individual and includes the full name of each ancestor as well as dates and places of birth, marriage, and death whenever possible. It also has a strict numbering scheme.

Once the reader is accustomed to ahnentafels, it becomes very easy to read these lists, to move up and down from parent to child and back again, and to understand the relationships of the listed people. Ahnentafels are very good at presenting a lot of information in a compact format. However, the numbering system is the key to understanding ahnentafels.

To visualize the numbers, first consider this typical pedigree chart:

“Second Cousins,” “Once Removed”, and More Explained in Chart Form

It’s simple: “Figure out the common ancestor between two relatives. Then select the relationship of the first relative to the common ancestor in the top row. Move down to the row that corresponds to the relationship of the second person to the common ancestor. The result is the relationship of the second person to the first.”

OK, so maybe that isn’t so simple after all. I am not sure if a chart is worth a thousand words or not but a cousin relationship chart at http://flowingdata.com/2014/11/05/chart-of-cousins does save a lot of words. It is easier to understand than the above explanation.

See you yourself at http://flowingdata.com/2014/11/05/chart-of-cousins.

Irish Artifacts Infographic Summary

Ireland has an incredibly vibrant history that is rich in history and culture. Particularly symbolic for the Irish is the many Celtic symbols and emblems used across many traditional Irish Artifacts and crafts.

Paul Murphy, Managing Director of Murphy of Ireland, has created an infographic that explores the most prevalent and perhaps most popular artifacts along with an overview of Celtic design. These Artifacts range for the Aran Jumper to the Claddagh Ring, and the Tin Whistle to the Tweed Waistcoat and Cap. It takes an in depth view of the origins of these Artifacts, how they were made, and the many alluring and interesting facts that surround them.

Did you know for example that the hands on a Claddagh ring symbolise friendship? Or that Irish children would gather flowers, berries and even turf to dye the cloth that was woven into tweed waistcoats and cap? You might be surprised to know that the typical Aran Jumper has 100,000 carefully constructed stitches taking upwards of 2 month to complete.

Click here to view the full-sized infographic.

NOTE: Your web browser may try to compress the image to make it fit into the browser’s window although that is not true of all web browsers. If the image is too small to read, you can enlarge the window by “zooming in” on it. To do so, display the image on our screen. Windows users then can hold the CONTROL key down and press “+” several times to make the image appear larger. Macintosh users may do the same by holding don the COMMAND key and and pressing “+” several times to make the image appear larger.

To “zoom out” to normal size, hold the CONTROL (or COMMAND) key down and press the minus key (“-“) several times.

You can also learn more about Murphy of Ireland at www.murphyofireland.com. Murphy of Ireland has been selling high quality Irish clothing for over 75 years. Irish tweed jackets, vests and caps have been a staple part Irish culture for generations.

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