Showing posts with label research log. Show all posts
Showing posts with label research log. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Plowing Through My 2019 Genealogy Goals

It isn't to late to set some goals for the year. Set reachable goals and reap the benefits.

Goals give you a purpose and direction. It can be fun to let your genealogy research lead you wherever it wants. But goals lead to more productive research.

I set 7 genealogy goals for 2019. The first 3 are finite goals. They aren't "I hope I can discover…". They are "do this task until it's finished".

Here's where I stand with my first three 2019 Genealogy Goals:

1. Log the first five years' worth of birth records from each town into spreadsheet

This one is done! I want to create a digital, searchable database of every key fact from 1000s of documents. I downloaded birth, marriage, and death records from my 6 ancestral Italian towns. They start in 1809, and some go into the 1940s.

Because it's an insanely big project, I broke off a chunk—5 years of birth records—to encourage myself to get into it. I'd already transcribed a good amount of the 1809–1813 births, so this wasn't an accurate test of how long the whole project will take.

But the benefits are real. After I finish the next 2 goals, I want to work on the 1814–1818 birth records. That eagerness to continue is exactly what I was shooting for.

2. Search for all missing census forms in my document tracker

Dive in and start those goals. Look what I found in 3 sessions.
Dive in and start those goals.
Look what I found in 3 sessions.
I'm going through the alphabetical list of people in my document tracker spreadsheet. I'm focusing on which names have a missing census form in their "Need to find" column.

Right now I'm into last names beginning with C, and it's been a very satisfying three days. I've added a lot of missing documents to my family tree.

Sometimes while searching for a census form, I can't help but see the death record or marriage index that I was missing. So I'll grab those while I'm at it, too.

The important thing to remember is to stick to your process and handle each document carefully. My routine when finding a new document image is to:
  • Crop it in Photoshop if needed.
  • Rename it using the style I've developed. My file naming rules make it easier to find any document.
  • Add it to the family tree record of each person named on the document. That means each family member on the census form gets a copy of the census sheet in Family Tree Maker.
  • Add each fact and the source citation to each person. Each family member will get a Residence fact based on the census image. Those with a job will get an Occupation fact, too. And all facts get the proper source citation. Other facts can include immigration year, naturalization year, birth and marriage years.
  • Update my document tracker spreadsheet. This is my inventory and to-do list rolled into one. It's important that I keep it accurate.
One thing I decided after starting this goal was to be reasonable. If several search techniques don't get me the census I need, I will move on. The important thing is to make a good effort.

You can add notes and a title to every document image you collect.
You can add notes and a title to every document image you collect.
3. Enter every Pozzuto baby from Colle Sannita into my family tree

I started this goal last year. A DNA analysis method pointed me to a specific last name from my grandfather's hometown. Someone with this name is highly likely to be a direct ancestor for both my parents. Their DNA says they are 4th to 6th cousins. My true goal is to find my parents' connection by analyzing these babies.

I'm working my way through my downloaded collection of vital records from Grandpa's town, adding each of these babies to my tree. I add their parents and try to ID their grandparents. If they aren't connected to anyone in my family tree yet, I give them a profile picture that says "no relationship established". If I find their connection later, I'll be sure to remove their relationship graphic.

It's still January, and I'm having an insanely productive genealogy year already. I plan to bounce between goals 2 and 3 to avoid boredom. That'll make me feel like I'm accomplishing more, too.

It's still January, and it's only January. Have you set your 2019 Genealogy Goals?

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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

How Are Your 2018 Genealogy Goals Coming Along?

My father-in-law, Ben Ohama, crushing it on the track, leading the pack.
My father-in-law, Ben Ohama, crushing it on the track,
leading the pack.
It's nearly August already! How are you doing with your 2018 genealogy goals?

Last December I encouraged you to set some genealogy goals. The point was to help push yourself to work on or finish important genealogy tasks.

So how are you progressing? It isn't too late to hack away at those goals.

Here's my own list of 2018 goals. Let's look at how I'm doing and see if that can inspire you.

1. Create a Weekly Backup Plan

Genealogy email folders are part of my backup plan.
Genealogy email
Done! But it is ongoing. Each Sunday I consult my list of file types to back up. I've only missed a couple of weeks, but at this very moment, my files are 100% backed up.

My list contains some non-genealogy files:
  • My Microsoft Outlook email file (which has tons of genealogy information)
  • My bank and credit card statements and QuickBooks files
  • My 3 latest Family Tree Maker complete backup files
  • All the genealogy document images I've collected since my last backup
I back up my files to a neat little external, 1 terabyte Seagate drive and to OneDrive by Microsoft. I get a free terabyte of space there because I subscribe to Microsoft Office Online.

2. Find My Parents' Connection

When I uploaded my raw DNA to GEDmatch.com, I discovered that my parents are 4th or 5th cousins. Boy, did that leave them with their mouths hanging open.

My goal is to find their connection. Somewhere there is a pair of 5th or 6th great grandparents that they share. I haven't found the connection yet, but I am actively working on it.

I'm going through the vital records from their ancestors' neighboring hometowns and building out their families. I'll find that connection eventually. I just hope I'll find it while they're still alive to laugh about it.

3. Log the Antenati Documents Into a Master Spreadsheet

I feel like I talk about this every day. If you don't know or you have no Italian ancestors, Antenati is a website with TONS of Italian vital records. The word antenati means ancestors.

Using a free software program called GetLinks by Carlos Leite, I've downloaded to my computer every available vital record from each of my Italian ancestors' hometowns:
  • Baselice, Circello, Colle Sannita, Pastene, Pescolamazza, and Sant'Angelo a Cupolo in the province of Benevento
  • Santa Paolina in the province of Avellino
I have—easily—several hundred relatives in those records. Sometimes I search the documents for someone in particular. Sometimes I go year by year searching for every baby born to a particular couple.

But I really want to record the facts from all the records in a spreadsheet. I've completed several years' worth of records. It makes searching for someone so much easier.

A sliver of my ambitious master file of tons of vital records.
A sliver of my ambitious master file of tons of vital records.
Someday, when it's all done, I can share the results and benefit everyone else who's a descendant of these towns.

So, I'm actively working on it, but I can't finish it in 2018.

4. Fill in the "Need to Find" Column on My Document Tracker

A near-disaster with my "document tracker" spreadsheet has forced me to make a ton of progress on this goal.

Last week I wrote about a screw-up in my master spreadsheet where I keep track of every document image or date I gather for someone in my tree. I took full advantage of a glitch in the file to make progress with my 4th genealogy goal.

Line-by-line, I'm examining my document tracker. I'm comparing each person's line in the spreadsheet to their documents and facts in Family Tree Maker. I'm filling in all the columns, and determining what's missing.

My spreadsheet of everything I've found, and everything I need, helps guide my research efficiently.
My spreadsheet of everything I've found, and everything I need, guides my research efficiently.
I'm adding the missing facts to the "Need to Find" column. Then I give the person's entire row a green background color to make it clear I've examined that person.

I'm not following alphabetical order because I'm also working on goal #5. I have completed my review of the letters A through C (that's last names) and S through Z. I've done all my Leone relatives and my Iammucci relatives. Those areas contain some of my closest relatives.

I'm making progress and absolutely will complete this in 2018.

5. Replace Family History Center Photos with Antenati Document Images

Around 2008, before the Antenati website and FamilySearch.org made the Italian vital records available online, I ordered microfilm of the vital records from my maternal grandfather's hometown.

I viewed every record from 1809 to 1860 on nasty old microfilm viewers at Family History Centers in Philadelphia and Poughkeepsie, New York.

The Philadelphia Family History Center had one computer that read microfilm. When it was available, I could grab JPEG files of the documents I wanted the most. In Poughkeepsie I had to take iPhone photos of the projected images. Those are awful. They're dark, fuzzy, and show the texture of the surface on which the image is projected.

This dramatic before-and-after comparison makes it clear why I need those high-res documents from Antenati.
This dramatic before-and-after comparison makes it clear why I need those high-res documents from Antenati.
My goal is to replace all the crummy iPhone photos with high-resolution images from the Antenati site.

I'm making headway on goals 4 and 5 at the same time by focusing on the families from the town I researched on microfilm. I can replace those bad images, fill in the blanks for those people on my document tracker, and make double the progress.

It's August-eve. We're seven twelfths of the way through 2018. That's about 58%. I believe my goals are at least 58% complete.

But I'm not taking my foot off the gas pedal. I need to keep on track and keep that finish line in sight.

Now it's your turn. And it's not too late in the year to begin! Which genealogy tasks are most important to you this year?

How are you doing?


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Friday, March 23, 2018

4 Ways to Fit Genealogy into Your Busy Day

If you don't have some time, make some time...for genealogy.
Don't stress about it. Do your
genealogy in stolen moments.
Does this sound familiar? You haven't worked on your genealogy in a while because you're busy at your new job. Or your kids had the flu. Or you haven't had a weekend to yourself in months.

It's easy to postpone your family history research, even though you love it so much. But if you put it off, your research plans are no longer fresh in your mind. It gets harder and harder to pick up where you left off. You can feel as if you're not getting anywhere.

You can break that cycle! By carving out even the smallest amount of time each day, or several days a week, you can keep your head in the game.

Here are 4 things you can do in a small block of time that will strengthen your family tree research.

1. Work on One Person

Choose one family member that's of great interest to you and look at their timeline of facts. What's missing? Do you need to find a birth record, death record, military record? Choose one type of record and do an online search. Important: Make note of where you searched and where you plan to search. Then you can pick up where you left off next time. (See Where Did Grandpa Come From?)

2. Stop Ignoring Sources

Take a look at your source citations. Are they good enough to be useful when someone has inherited your family tree research? Work your way through and improve them. If you tackle them alphabetically, it'll be easy to make a note of where you stopped so you can continue the next time. (See Trade Up to Better Family History Sources)

3. Get Consistent

Are you consistent in the way you record facts? Would you rather record last names in all capital letters? Do you wish you'd started with a different date format (I like DD Mon YYYY)? Choose one item and work your way through correcting or changing them. This can be an enormous task if you have several thousand people in your tree. But won't the consistency make your work so much better? (See Organize Your Genealogy Research By Choosing Your Style)

4. Add Value to Documents

Look at your media collection. You may have photos of people and lots of images of documents. Does each image, on its own, contain facts that make it more valuable? I've gone through each of my hundreds and hundreds of census images and annotated them. People borrow my images from my Ancestry.com tree all the time. They're getting a lot of information about where the image came from and which line numbers to look at. (See Who's Borrowing Your Family Tree?)

These are tasks that don't demand you spend several uninterrupted hours. If you're disciplined and take research notes, you can make progress on the big picture each day. In small blocks of time.

So where will you find that small block of time? You could:
  • wake up a few minutes earlier each day
  • give up one TV show you don't care that much about
  • bring your laptop or tablet with you when you're waiting to pick up the kids or see the doctor. Or while you get someone else to clear away the dinner dishes for a change.
Genealogy is a fascinating, time-consuming hobby that we love. But don't think of it as requiring six hours at a time.

With some planning, you can keep up your momentum and make progress. You only have to try.

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Friday, March 9, 2018

4 Ways to Make Big Genealogy Progress When You Have Little Time

You've seen the memes. Genealogists would rather spend every moment working on their family trees than, say, eating, sleeping or dealing with people.

Got a little time? You can make real genealogy progress.
It doesn't take a ton of time to
make real genealogy progress.
Do you have the luxury of 100% free time? I don't either!

Don't worry. You can still make significant progress on your family research in short bursts of time.

Have about an hour after the dinner table is cleared? That'll do. Have some free time in the late afternoon before the family gets home? That's great! Are you an early riser? It's genealogy time!

Arm yourself with a list of tasks and a progress chart, and a small window of time can yield big genealogy progress. Here are some examples.

1. Choose a Specific Ancestor from your Grandparent Chart

Last night I was too exhausted to spend much time on genealogy. So I chose a specific ancestor from my "grandparent chart".

The chart shows me exactly which direct-line ancestors I've identified, and which ones I haven't. (See "How to Visualize Your Ancestor-Finding Progress".)

I chose one ancestor from the chart whose parents were missing. I found him in my tree to see what I knew about him. Then I examined his children's marriage records to see if they contained the names of their grandparents.

In the short amount of time I had (before I fell asleep at the keyboard), I added a few marriage document images to my tree. I can pick up where I left off when I have another chunk of time.

2. Improve as Many Source Citations as You Can

I have a few items on my Task List in Family Tree Maker that involve making my tree better. One task is to replace some of my weaker sources with strong ones.

For example, I received some relatives' information from a distant cousin. That's not very scientific. I'm happy to have the information, but I need to verify it with proof. (See "Trade Up to Better Family History Sources".)

So, when I have some time, I can go to these people in my tree and do the legwork. I can replace the "a cousin told me" source citation with more concrete facts and documents. That's a great use of time.

3. Enhance Your Tree's Document Images with Facts and URLs

Ever since I discovered this trick, it's been a must-do task for me. Before I attach a downloaded document image (vital record, census sheet, ship manifest, etc.) to my family tree, I add facts to the image itself.

You can add a descriptive title and comments to an image's properties. Many or all the facts will be pulled into your family tree file. (See "How to Increase the Value of Your Family Tree Images".)

Each time I have a new document to add to my tree, I edit its properties. I include a descriptive title, the name of its source and the URL it came from. Once I add it to my family tree, all I need to edit there is the date field and the category.

4. Create or Update Your List of All Gathered Documents

I'm a strong believer in keeping a spreadsheet inventory of my found documents. My document tracker contains more than 1,500 names of people in my tree, and each document I've found for them. (See "Track Your Genealogy Finds and Your Searches"

When I have some time, I can choose someone in my tree, like my grandfather. I can see exactly which documents I have for him, and which are missing. In his case, I have his:
  • 1902 birth certificate
  • 1920 ship manifest
  • 1927 naturalization papers
  • 1930 and 1940 census
  • 1992 death certificate
There are only three important documents I would like to find for him:
  • His 1928 marriage to my grandmother
  • His 1959 marriage to my step-grandmother (I do have a record of their marriage license)
  • His 1958-or-so trip back to Italy—his one and only trip home since arriving in New York in 1920.
My document tracker makes it very easy to see what I can search for when I have some time.

Don't worry about not having countless hours to spend working on your family tree.

By spending a little time on your family tree more frequently, you will see true progress. You'll feel a sense of accomplishment. And you'll know your family tree—your legacy—is better and stronger than it was yesterday.


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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Track Your Genealogy Finds and Your Searches

Ten years ago I needed to take control of my family tree digital files. I had a growing collection of census forms, draft registration cards, vital records, and more.

I'd already settled on my preferred way of saving these files:
  • A folder for each type of document
  • A naming convention that groups a person's documents together:
    • LastnameFirstnameYear for a census or ship manifest (I use the head of household's name for a census.)
    • LastnameFirstnameBirthYear for a birth record
    • LastnameFirstnameWW1 for a draft registration card, etc.

But my well-named image files, sitting in all those different folders, didn't show me the big picture.

How could I see at a glance every document I have for a particular ancestor? And how could I quickly see which documents are missing?

Use the Technology You Know

That's when I turned to my old pal, Microsoft Excel.

For years I'd been using Excel spreadsheets on the job. I tracked progress on large-scale projects. I built formulas to show an accurate cross-section of the content on a website I manage. I kept tabs on my freelance hours for invoicing.

So why wouldn't I use Excel to create a genealogy research inventory?

My genealogy "document tracker" has 1540 lines right now. I have one person on each line. There are columns for each type of document I collect. The last column gives me space to note what's missing.

For example, for one of my grandmother's cousins, the "To find" column contains this:
  • 1915 census
  • 1920 census
  • 1925 census

One Spreadsheet Tells the Whole Research Story

Now it's time to get even more value out of my document tracker.

I've been looking at sample research logs on different genealogy sites. A research log is a disciplined way for you to note:
  1. What you're searching for (the 1930 census, a WWII draft registration card, etc.)
  2. Where you searched (National Archives, State Library, Ancestry.com, etc.)
  3. How you searched (by first name only, browsing through the whole census district, etc.)
  4. Your thoughts on what to try next

here's how you can get more value out of a genealogy spreadsheet
A new worksheet lets me attach research notes to
anyone in my family tree.
The research logs I found were much more complicated than I wanted. For starters, I'm satisfied with the list above.

So I've added a second sheet to my document tracker Excel file and named it Research Notes. The first column is for the person's name. I added four more columns to match the four items in my list.

How to Start Using Your Research Notes

The next time I'm trying to find a specific document—like the elusive 1940 census for the Raffaele Saviano family—I'll add a line to the new Research Notes worksheet.

I might note that I tried searching for the family using only their first names. And that I used Americanized versions of their Italian names. I'll add that I tried this on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org.

When I'm ready to call it quits for the moment, I'll add a note about what I think I should try next.

Finally—and this is a cool Excel trick—I'll add a link from this research note to Raffaele Saviano's line on the first worksheet where all of his documents are listed. And I'll add a link from there back to his line on the new Research Notes worksheet.

My favorite thing about linking between the sheets is this: You can reorganize the lines on either worksheet and not break the links. You can sort them, add new lines in the middle, do whatever you need to do, and the links will still work.

Here's how to create a link between the two worksheets in a single Excel spreadsheet file:
  • Make a mental note of which line number holds your ancestor on your new Research Notes worksheet. For example, I have Raffaele Saviano on line 2.
  • Click the empty cell where you want to add the link. You'll want to devote a column to these links. In my example, I'll go to Raffaele Saviano's line (1327) on my Facts worksheet and click in the empty "Link to Notes" column.
  • On the Insert toolbar or ribbon, click Link and choose Insert Link.

  • Click to select the name of your new research notes worksheet.

  • In the field labelled "Type the cell reference" it may say "A1" by default. Change it to A2, or A and whichever line number you need to link to.

  • Click OK and you'll see your link.

Now make a mental note of the line number for this ancestor on the Facts worksheet. Go to the Research Notes worksheet and link back in the same way.

Click the links to see them work.

Now you can have all of these facts at your fingertips. It's 100% searchable, sortable, and update-able. Download a sample spreadsheet to build on.

My favorite thing about Excel: I know it can do a million more things I haven't even thought of yet.

For more detail on the "document tracker", see:

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