Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Other activities - the Genealogy Do-Over interlude

Sometimes I keep a diary.  And sometimes I don't.  And, when I don't, I often look back and wonder what I did for all those days! 

So, for my own future reference (and for any descendants who ever wonder what their "x times great" grandmother did), here are a few notes.  Firstly, I resurrected another hobby - sewing.  Prompted by the thought that the Saturday night banquet at the Guild of One Name Studies Conference has seen me wearing the same dress for a number of years, I decided to make a skirt - which then developed into making a skirt, top, evening bag and several other items just for the fun of it.  Getting the critical items finished on time did involve stitching at 5.30 am on the morning of the banquet but, since I'd woken up early anyway, it seemed like a good use of my time.

Finishing the sewing so early at least left me free to chat to people in any spare time during that day.  And chat I did, as the Conference is a great time for catching up with "old" friends, as well as making new ones.  Some of the conference sessions were recorded and the videos are available on the Guild's YouTube channel - I am looking forward to watching some of those sessions I missed, due to there being two sessions running at the same time.  It would be hard to pick highlights from the Conference, as it was all so good, but I think Jim Benedict's interactive session on "Succession-Proofing your ONS" probably stands out as providing the most laughs, as the various groups debated why *their* method of succession-proofing was best (Debbie, have you bought that spaceship yet?).

We heard more about the Guild Members Websites project over the weekend and I took the opportunity to chat with Mike Spathaky about his Cree Study site, and the various different options for producing websites.  It was Mike who had asked me, on the Guild hangout in February, why I was thinking of moving my PARRY ONS site to WordPress.  As a result of our discussions about the benefits, and potential longevity, of html, I now have a few more reasons for not doing so.

For the first time at the Conference, on the Friday afternoon there was an informal meeting for those interested in DNA testing.  Despite me being totally disorganised, having arrived at the hotel later than planned, and then walking all the way to my hotel room, only to discover that my key didn't work, so that I was still carrying around half my belongings at the time the meeting began, things seemed to run smoothly as we all shared about our various levels of involvement with DNA testing.  No doubt we will all be building on this in the coming months and years. 

I have frequently come away from the Conference with some snippet of Parry information, whether it has been from Marriage Challenge certificates passed on to me, or references I have found in books on the bookstall, or in someone's talk, etc.  This year was no exception, as Jo Fitz-Henry very kindly supplied me with photographs of some Parry gravestones that she had come across.  I'll write more about those on the Parry ONS blog.

The Conference was held at Brigg in Lincolnshire and my route there provided an opportunity to drive past RAF Scampton, one of the bases where my mother had been stationed in her WRAF days.  When planning my conference attendance, I had originally thought of contacting the museum on the base with a view to arranging to visit enroute to Brigg.  It was probably a good job I didn't do that, given how time went.  But that's now on my "To Do" list, for another occasion.

Moving on from the Conference in March, the next main event was the WDYTYA? Live Show in April which, for the first time, was being held at the NEC, Birmingham.  This provided another incentive to do some sewing!  Several years ago, Dick Eastman blogged about the Progeny Charting Companion program and its ability to produce an embroidery pattern from your family tree.  "What a wonderful idea," I thought, and soon after that, I was able to replace my 35 year old sewing machine with a new one capable of following such a pattern.  Then came the "busy-ness" of the last few years.  I still haven't tried that program but, ever since I discovered some ancestors who were "artisans in fireworks", I have had an idea in my mind - and I finally managed to execute that in time to wear to the show.

Okay, the hall was too warm to actually wear the hoody *in* the show, but I'd achieved my goal!  I'm now on the look-out for other items I can embroider with bits of my family history!

At the show, I was helping to man the ISOGG stand (ISOGG = International Society of Genetic Genealogy).  We were so busy throughout most of the time that I was amazed I hadn't lost my voice - it seemed like every time I sat down, another visitor would arrive with a query.  Hopefully, we will be seeing a rapid increase in DNA testing in the UK over the coming months, especially now all three of the main companies (FamilyTreeDNA, 23andMe and Ancestry) are marketing their products here.  Another enjoyable aspect of WDYTYA was meeting many of the ISOGG members who came across from the United States to assist with the practical aspects of testing on the FTDNA stand.  Although ISOGG itself is an independent organisation and, as far as possible, information is always presented without bias, many of us would admit to having a personal preference towards FTDNA, not least because they are the only testing company that support the YDNA and mtDNA projects.  (Having taken the autosomal test at all three companies, I think it only fair to mention that I can find pros and cons for each of them.)

There was a fair amount of catching up to do, after the three days of "doing nothing" at WDYTYA, which was followed by a deadline for some paperwork.  But, now that's been met, I find myself actually restarting my Genealogy Do-Over. 

I wonder whether I can get to week 13 without any further interruptions!

Genealogy Do-Over "restart"

It's time to restart my restart!

As I described in my last post, I needed to postpone my Genealogy Do-Over, as other activities have had to take priority recently.  However, I'm now back again - and, amazingly, back before the repeat of the scheduled Do-Over week that I had paused at.  So that gives me a bit of time to refresh my memory of what I had been doing (seems to be an increasingly necessary task these days!)

There has still been some - almost unintentional - progress on the Do-Over topics in the interim.  I have bought a new laptop, as the start up of my previous one would have been beaten by a snail doing a marathon.  Unlike previous occasions when I have changed computers, this time I do not intend to just transfer everything across in one go, thus maintaining (and perhaps being limited by) the old file structure.  Instead,  I will take the opportunity to redesign my filing system - which was one of my aims for the Do-Over.  Since I am keeping the old laptop to use whenever I run a stand for the Guild of One-Name Studies at a family history fair, the new laptop has also been a good opportunity to purchase full and/or up-to-date versions of the programs I'm going to be using from now on, such as Legacy and Evidentia.

So the next couple of weeks will be a steep learning curve, as I start to get to grips with these properly, as well as continue trying to build the use of programs such as OneNote and Evernote into my routine, in order to maintain a good system to my research files and the Parry data collection, in particular.  Thankfully, many of the programs have active User Groups, which I imagine I shall be making frequent use of!

Sunday, 5 April 2015

How am I doing? A Do-Over review

Half way through the Do-Over, I started to assess my progress.  Seven weeks later, the post is still sitting here unfinished - which probably says it all!

Other aspects of life got in the way again, and with the "Who Do You Think You Are? Live" exhibition coming up soon at the NEC, Birmingham, as well as family activities, the Do-Over situation won't improve anytime soon.   It isn't really a problem to me - I always knew that applying the lessons of the Do-Over would take longer than the 13 weeks of the scheme.  Thomas MacEntee is now repeating the series, for those who joined late, or who just want to repeat it.  Although I would have liked to have completed the full sequence of topics, if only at a basic level, before repeating them to add further layers of knowledge and experiences, for this second time around perhaps I will just pick it up again when he reaches week 7.

(Did I see a reference to cycles 3 and 4 among Thomas's comments on Facebook?  That will certainly help to keep me going all year. Perhaps by December I will have made it to week 13!  J  )

For those new to the idea, the Do-Over Facebook group can be found at https://www.facebook.com/groups/genealogydoover/

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Genealogy Do-Over week 6

The topics for week 6 of the Genealogy Do-Over were:
1. Evaluating Evidence
2. Reviewing Online Education Options

Collecting data, or "evidence", is easy - I do it all the time, particularly for my one-name study.  A new database is announced, I visit the site, search for "Parry", and then collect any results.  Sometimes this is only at the index level as, depending on the format of the database, extraction of any additional details can be quite time consuming.  And often, because the Parry ONS is a fairly large study, that is as far as I get.  Yes, eventually, when I am identifying individuals, and tracking the events of their lives, the expectation is that I will take a closer look at the details and be able to add the information to a person in a pedigree.  But that does not always happen to start with, and even an index level of detail can have value for a one-name study, so that's okay.  It is still progress on the study.

However, it is another step to actually evaluate the evidence found.  But this is an essential step, if we're aiming to produce reliable pedigrees, or life histories, or even just statistics from the original database.  After all, how complete *is* that database?  Are the results really representative of what I think they are?

Sometimes the need for evaluation of a source is obvious.  When I first started collecting any references to the Parry surname, I soon realised that there were certain "well known" Parry families.  For example, 'The Parrys of Poston', in Herefordshire, who are frequently noted because descendants include Blanche Parry, Chief Gentlewoman to Queen Elizabeth I.   But, when I found the often quoted source, a pedigree for the family in the "History of Breconshire", warning bells began to ring.  It wasn't just the tracing of the tree back into the 'myths of time', from "Catherine, widow of Thomas Lord Laci", through "Idio Wyllt, Earl of Desmond",  and back to the kings of Ireland, but basic issues, such as the almost total absence of dates, and even occasionally names, for some of the more recent individuals in the pedigree. 

Clearly there are questions to be asked about the accuracy and reliability of such a work. 

But the necessity for evaluation of all sources is easy to forget when dealing with some of the more recent "evidence" we collect.  So we take documents such as census records or birth certificates at face value.  Occasionally, we might perhaps spot an anomaly that causes us to ponder but, generally, we can be tempted to think, "it's an official record, it must be accurate".  We can also fall into the trap of assuming that, just because we can only find one entry for the name we're looking for, then that *must* be the relevant one.  I was amused to see a blog post recently, by Cherie Tabor Cayemberg, which illustrated exactly this point, as she was searching for the death date of a relative with what seemed to be a rare combination of names, but found two possibilities in the same area.  How easy it would have been to be misled, if there had only been one obituary available (Tuesday's Tip - The Case of the Two Viola Vanias http://haveyouseenmyroots.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/tuesdays-tip-case-of-two-viola-vanias.html

These days, it is so easy to add details to a family tree without going through a process of evaluation (especially when the tree is on the same site as the databases themselves, such as on Ancestry, with their "Save to person in your tree" button).  Once entered into a tree, there's even less chance of a later reader examining why a particular connection was made, or how strong the evidence was for a stated fact.   Good research, that produces results which can be relied upon, requires a better examination of every source, or piece of evidence, and a ranking of reliability.  That was something I was aiming at with my Colston Parry pedigree at http://freepages.family.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~parryresearch/colston.htm , but I still have some way to go to build this process into my practice. 

The principles of evaluating genealogical evidence, usually based on the work of Elizabeth Shown Mills (see https://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/quicklesson-17-evidence-analysis-process-map ), can be found on many sites. Thomas MacEntee added the relevant considerations as columns in his Research Log spreadsheet but, for a working reference sheet, I quite like the way Dawn Kogutkiewicz formatting the items as questions ( at http://dawninggenealogy.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/genealogy-do-over-week-6.html?spref=fB ).  So these are now entered into my OneNote Research Notebooks, to be referred to whenever I am collecting data.  I have also added a note to develop some questions for myself, that I can apply to a whole database prior to even looking at individual entries, as evaluation at that level will be necessary if I am drawing conclusions based on index level information.

Reviewing Online Education Options
This topic made me laugh - as, if "doing the Do-Over" wasn't enough of an example of online education, I don't know what is!

We all need to keep learning, as Thomas MacEntee says, not just to improve our own research, but to keep up with new developments and to learn about new areas of research.  So, do I need a specific 'education plan, as he suggests setting?  One needs to remember that those whose livelihood involves genealogical education will keep on producing 'new' courses, webinars, etc., as long as people keep attending them.  The danger is that there is so much information 'out there', that we can easily spend all our time trying to learn everything, and we never actually 'do' anything.

So, no, I am not going to create a new 'education plan' this week - in a sense, I already have one, because the goals that I set out initially for this year of my Do-Over, such as mastering the new techniques and new programs that I am using, involves a lot of learning.  So I shall continue to focus on the items already specified and trying to ensure that what I learn actually gets embedded into my practice.

Monday, 23 February 2015

My First AncestryDNA Tree Hint

Last week I noticed one of those leaves.  You know the sort - the little 'hints' that appear on  Ancestry, to indicate that they have identified an item in their records, or in someone else's pedigree, which the company's search tools suggest could possibly relate to someone in my own pedigree.  When I first put my tree online, there were over 1000 of these and some of the suggestions seemed so ridiculous to me that I soon decided to ignore the little leaves.

But not this one.

This one was on my DNA account.  That's the same pedigree for me, but being matched to a specific group of people as comparisons, people already identified by Ancestry as connected to me through shared DNA. 

Excitedly, I checked my match's details.  A private tree.  Never mind, send a message - and wait.  (Did they receive the message?  How long should I wait before sending another, 'just in case' the first went astray?  Oh, aren't we genealogists so impatient at times!)

I receive a reply. Hurrah!

And, yes, we do appear to have a common ancestor.  Or, more correctly, a common ancestral couple.  Thomas DOWDING (b. 1768 d. 1857) and Ann WHATLEY  (d. 1861), living in Donhead St Andrew.  I descend from their son, George , who married Mary COLLINS and my match descends from their daughter Jane, who married a John HOWELL.  I show the family on my "DNA Tree" at http://homepage.ntlworld.com/im.griffiths/parryfamilyhistory/personaldnatree.htm (search the page for "Whatley" to find them, as I haven't yet added links to specific families).

The research for this family was mainly carried out by my mother, and it is part of my "Genealogy Do-Over" goals to check her work during this year.  But, at the death of Ann DOWDING, the widow of Thomas DOWDING, the informant was a John HOWELL, and I have found some look-ups I did for Mum on Ancestry, back in 2005, relating to the John HOWELL, so we were definitely considering that family as another descendant branch.

John HOWELL appears to have first been married to a Mary (HO107/1175/5/ED8/F22/P6) and had at least four children by 1841.  There is a possible death for Mary in March 1849 and, based on the 1851 census, John and Mary had, had further children by then (HO107/1849/62/24).  John then marries Jane DOWDING* and has at least three children, Emma J, Georgina and Abigail.

My DNA match is descended from Emma Jane HOWELL.

The Ancestry relationship prediction is that we are 5th-8th cousins.  From the genealogical relationships, we are 4th cousins , once removed.

Unfortunately, at Ancestry there is no chromosome browser, so we cannot see where we share DNA.  If we could, it would enable us to each identify our other matches over the same area.  If those matches then matched both of us there, this would mean we all shared the same common ancestry somewhere on the lines through Thomas or Ann (either their descendants, or, as descendants of one of their ancestors).  Thus it would potentially help us find our connection to these other people, who might not have sufficient detail in their pedigrees for us to spot the link from the pedigrees alone.

Also, currently, even though the two of us have found common ancestors, it does not necessarily follow that the shared DNA definitely comes through them - so, finding other matches who share the same DNA segments with both of us would enable us to see whether their pedigrees have the potential to link to this same ancestral couple, which would help to confirm where the DNA actually came from.

I wonder if my match might be willing to upload their data to Gedmatch, so that we can actually compare DNA - currently, transferring the data elsewhere is the only way to make up for the deficiency in the Ancestry provision.

So, there is still a lot to confirm, but at least this 'shaking leaf' does seem to be a hint in the right direction. 

[*Jane appears to have been married before as well - a Jane DOWDING marrying an Elias DUNFORD in 1842, with Elias dying in 1843, and a 'Jane DUNFORD' then marrying John HOWELL in 1849.  These details do still need confirming.]

Genealogy Do-Over Week 5

The Genealogy Do-Over Week 5 tasks were:
1) Building a Research Toolbox and
2) Citing Sources

Thomas MacEntee is clearly keen on the idea of every researcher having a "consolidated research toolbox filled with various tools such as historical value of money calculators, links to historical newspaper sites, etc".  And I can see the advantages of increasing one's efficiency by being able to go straight to a particular "tool", (ie website), rather than having to spend time looking for a suitable one, and risking being sidetracked by all the other possibilities found en route, or becoming frustrated by not finding a suitable resource.

I know my mother had such a research toolbox, as I was going through some paperwork recently and found it.  She wrote information and useful websites into an address book:

But I must admit to being somewhat ambivalent about the idea of maintaining such a toolbox myself.  Whilst I used to bookmark particularly helpful, or unusual/interesting, web sites, these days I can usually find what I want using Google in less time than it takes me to even remember I have such a site bookmarked, yet alone remember where I listed it! 

Would things be better if I made sure my list was organised?  Perhaps, but I don't believe in reinventing the wheel and, with the existence of sites such as Cyndi's List at http://www.cyndislist.com/ , there seems little point in trying to produce a list myself.  

Maybe my view would be different if I was only researching my own family, and therefore concentrating on a particular region, or regularly returning to the same records.  But, with the one-name study, research could lead in any direction, so I am unlikely to have been able to anticipate which tools I need before a particular need arises.

It occurs to me that the research log, which I am (supposed to be J  ) keeping, will list all the sites that I have searched - so there's a sense that, as long as the log is completed as I research, and it is easily searchable, then it will meet the need of enabling me to re-find that really useful site I remember coming across.  And one of my intentions for my new ONS web site is to have a list of sources, with their general citation details and some information regarding the reliability (or otherwise) of the source, a bit like a bibliography but with added notes.  So this would also build up to become a form of toolbox.

And so I am not going to specifically create a toolbox now, but perhaps one will develop over time, and I shall then be able to see how useful it becomes.

I am quite "late" posting this, as I wanted to make sure I had actually carried out the part 2 activity, which was to read Chapters 1 and 2 of "Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace".  I bought a download of this book last year, and had started to read it but decided a refresher of those chapters would be a good idea.  Anyone who has studied to a reasonably high level, and carried out research projects, will know the importance of citing sources.  Some people doing the Do-Over seem to have been quite stressed about the 'correct' construction of citations - but there are several different formats in general use, depending on what type of research one is doing, or where it is being published.  So, rather than worrying about all the little nuances, I find it easiest to just remember the main point - that the citation should enable anyone else to find the documents I used for my research.  

Hopefully, that should be sufficient while I am getting into the habit of always quoting the sources for everything I do, and I can refine how I am actually writing them once I get more proficient at remembering to add them in the first place!

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Ancestor Score as at Valentine’s Day 2015

I am so pleased that genealogists like sharing what they do – and encourage others to copy it, by asking how the rest of us compare to them!

Cathy Meder-Dempsey posted her “Ancestor Score” today, at https://openingdoorsinbrickwalls.wordpress.com/2015/02/14/my-ancestor-score-as-of-valentines-day-2015/, copying an idea that she’d seen on another blog the previous year.  What a good way of measuring one form of progress in our research.

So here’s my ancestor score, based on the research carried out by my parents:

I have added an extra column to those used by Cathy, so that I can also record the number of DNA matches where I know the common ancestral couple.

Now seems a very appropriate time to “take stock” like this, given that I will soon be working through my parents’ research as part of my "Genealogy Do-Over".  Hopefully, by this time next year, I will not only have confirmed all of these ancestors but also added a few more – and, perhaps, also managed to identify a few more common ancestors with the thousands of DNA matches that I have.

Friday, 13 February 2015

DNA, Family Trees and collateral branches

A change from the Do-Over topics – having had my DNA tested several years ago, it has always been my intention to write about genetic genealogy and how the results of DNA testing were helping me (or not!) with my own family history.  There are several very informative bloggers who write about the “wider picture” of using DNA for genealogy, so my concentration was going to be just about my own personal experiences.  Since I have now started this blog for my family history, there seems little point in having a separate DNA blog, so I shall be including the DNA-related posts here.

Genetic genealogy should not be seen as a separate discipline from traditional genealogical research – the two methods go hand in hand.  DNA testing can identify that there is a common ancestry between two people but it is only through the traditional research techniques that the shared ancestors can then be identified. 

Fundamentally important to the process of identifying the DNA connections is having a pedigree available for one’s DNA matches to view and compare against their own family information.  I do have a public tree on Ancestry, based on the research carried out by my parents, but I thought it might be useful to have a tree on here as well.   This is just a small image of the tree, as I have also created a separate page of the blog (see tabs above) with a larger image on. 

The tree is based on the “horizontal style”, as advocated in the post on the "Analytic Genealogy" blog at http://analyticgenealogy.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/genetic-genealogy-needs-horizontal.html .  Although I haven't yet started to work through the records to confirm the research that my parents carried out, I do believe it is fairly reliable – more likely to be missing additional supporting records, than to contain incorrect connections.  As my “Do-Over” proceeds, it will involve checking my parents’ research, and I will update the tree as necessary.  Hopefully, that will also enable me to fill in many of the blanks on the tree - laying the pedigree out like this seems to show up the “unknown ancestors” much more effectively than the usual trees produced by the family tree programs.

Of course, for DNA matching purposes, what one really needs is a tree that shows, not just all of one’s ancestors, but also all of the other descendants of those ancestors – right down to the various “living cousin” levels of one’s DNA matches. Otherwise a descendant of those collateral branches might easily miss their connection to me, just because they haven’t researched far enough back to arrive at our common ancestor.

I have been working on a pedigree that might meet this need – it is currently on my web page at http://homepage.ntlworld.com/im.griffiths/parryfamilyhistory/personaldnatree.htm , as I still need to work out how to add that much styling information to a page on blogger.

And, as might be expected, it has even more gaps in it than the tree here does!

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

A long week or a short cut? (Genealogy Do-Over week 2..&3…&4……)

It’s strange how things work out – there was me, finishing my last post with “So now I just need to work out how to use OneNote effectively….” And along came an essential [non-genealogy] task that had to take priority over the Do-Over and has taken up several weeks of my time.  L

However, as part of this task involved identifying errors in a document that had been posted to me, I suddenly realised I could actually use OneNote for this and so get in some practice with it. I scanned the document and created a pdf from it, which I then imported into OneNote.  Next I annotated the pages, adding highlighting and text comment boxes, with arrows drawn to indicate relevant links between my comments and the original text.  Finally I exported the annotated version back to a pdf, ready to send off to where it needed to go. Along the way, I learnt a bit about printing from OneNote [It is advisable to set the page size before import of a document, if you know you’ll need to print it, otherwise you don’t get what you expect when you hit print!] [And, even after doing that, if you try cramming too much on the page, without paying attention to the margins, exporting to a pdf will still result in overflowing pages and additional pages being added to your exported document. L]

I also discovered that it is useful to ensure the image to be annotated is an appropriate size before highlighting anything, as resizing the image leaves the highlighting at random points on the page! [Perhaps there is a way to group the drawn items with the original image, as there is in Word, so that it all moves together - must look into that.] 

So, where did that side-track leave me with regard to my Do-Over progress? 

Well, after my last post, I had made a start on watching some educational videos – some about OneNote, Evernote, and several by Thomas MacEntee regarding the Do-Over, his Excel Research Log, and his Project management log.  I also watched one entitled “Genealogy on the Go with iPads and Tablets” by Lisa Louise Cooke, which looked like it could be useful (and it was).  Any notes I made during these, I tried to lay out in a “mind-map” format – which seemed to help me to focus and not write too many details down, a longstanding failing of mine when taking notes at lectures.  J

So far, so good - all part of deciding on the procedures to use to research, an aim of week 1. 

And perhaps that’s where I am really still at – although it seems like I might have now managed to deal with several weeks all together.  Week 2’s topics were 1) Setting Research Goals, 2) Conducting Self Interview, and 3) Conducting Family Interviews.  Thomas said that the reason for including 2) and 3) was to provide the data for 1), since many people had put aside their old research.  But as I am continuing to carry out research for my One-Name Study, I have more than enough items I could be setting research goals for.  I am also not yet ready to start on my own family history research at the moment.  So the “interview” sections of week 2 were put to one side until later.

Week 3’s topics were
1) Tracking Research and
2) Conducting Research,

And Week 4’s were
1) Managing Projects and Tasks, and
2) Tracking Searches

In week 1, I said I need to focus on the whole process of research, from start to finish, and that one of my principles would be to “Track all work”.  Now, maybe it’s just how I think, but it seems to me that the topics of week 4 are the top (“summary”) and bottom (“detailed”) levels of the practical side of that “whole process”, with items from weeks 2 and 3 fitting in-between them, like the first four stages in this: 

So I have been concentrating on how I am going to process all of those aspects in a way that fits smoothly together – and also takes account of the systems I have already that I believe do work (eg my correspondence log, which often serves as a “starting point” from which research projects develop.)  Having come across David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” system in one of the videos, and knowing that I have other projects in life that could do with better tracking, I have set up one notebook for organisation.  This includes a tab for “project management” in which I have embedded a modified copy of Thomas MacEntee’s excel project management spreadsheet.  Projects will then be allocated to the specific notebook they relate to (eg Personal Family History, Parry One-Name Study, or one of my other activities) as appropriate.

Both the Personal Family History Notebook and the Parry ONS Notebook are set up with sections based on the different sheets from Thomas MacEntee’s Research Log.  Within the sections I can then add pages of research plans & individual search logs.  That should enable me to have embedded excel sheets as summary documents in each notebook, whilst still maintaining a more narrative style for the actual plans and the detailed search logs.  At the moment, I have left in most of the columns from the original spreadsheets, but there’s likely to be modifications as I use the system and refine where my preferred balance is, between spreadsheet and narrative forms of recording.  Unfortunately, I have already had to remove the “drop down lists”, which were set up to limit certain column entries just to the relevant categories from Evidence Evaluation, as it appears OneNote cannot import a spreadsheet with them still in, but I am sure I shall soon learn to use the right terminology. 

I do want to give credit where it’s due so I will add here that inspiration for the various sheets I have used, and some of the modifications I have made so far, come from the files provided by Miriam J. Robbins (http://ancestories1.blogspot.co.uk), Christine Sisko Svircev, and Linda Debe Hodges, in particular (as well as Thomas MacEntee, of course).  These can be found either on their own blogs, or under the Files section of the Facebook Do-Over group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/genealogydoover/ .  I have also now added a “Do-Over Tools page” to this blog, with a few comments about the items I am finding particularly useful (or will be exploring soon).  I shall continue to add to this as my Do-Over continues (and as I continue to learn how to set Blogger up!)

So, what do you think - have I found a short cut to get to week 5 of the Genealogy Do-Over, or am I still at week 2, since I haven’t actually done any specific research yet?  

Monday, 12 January 2015

Week 1 of my Genealogy Do-Over

Week 1 of the Genealogy Do-Over is now well and truly over, and people are posting their week 2 comments.  But here am I, still writing up my first week’s summary.  I don’t really mind though - this week was an important one, so I am not going to hurry the tasks.

It was more of a “thinking and planning” week for me, rather than a “doing” one.  There have been many posts on the Facebook group and just reading what everyone else is planning for their Do-Overs could take up days, yet alone trying to follow up putting any of those ideas into practice.  Perhaps I work slowly, or some of the posters have quietly managed to work out how to fit more than 24 hours into each day (Please let me in on the secret, if you have!)  Either way, I have already improved my ability to “skim read” and to focus on what is most relevant to me.

The topics for this week were:
  1. Setting Previous Research Aside
  2. Preparing to Research, and
  3. Establishing Base Practices and Guidelines

 To add to that, and to help me remember the overall aim, I picked out key words to concentrate on – I am building a Firm Foundation, establishing Goals, Procedures and Tools to enable me to Work Smarter, leading to the ultimate goal of Better Genealogical Research.

1 Setting Previous Research Aside

Fortunately, the personal family history that I am “putting aside” for now isn’t my own research, but that of my parents, which makes this part easier for me than the process has been for some people.  The paperwork is still boxed up from when I brought it back from my parents’ house – original documents, mainly BMD certificates, are in specific files, so those will be my first port of call whenever I reach the point of needing to “order” a certificate.  Apart from that, the rest of the paperwork I shall ignore until after the Do-Over, when I will work through it, treating it as “new” sources to be evaluated, recorded and scanned as appropriate, using my improved skills and practices.  [Yes, okay, I did look up some letters Dad wrote, in order to answer a comment from one of his cousins, who I have recently starting corresponding with.  But that’s just checking a historical fact regarding what he did, isn’t it?  It’s not really “research” J ]

2 Preparing to Research 

The suggestion by Thomas MacEntee of “warm up exercises” before carrying out research prompted a few humorous comments.  But the point was to consider our “time, location and tools”, ie the when, where, and how of our research.  For some, this meant things like setting aside specific time for research, clearing desks, stocking up the coffee, and taking a few deep breaths to clear their mind.
My thoughts went to when I was clearing my Mum’s things and found that every bag had in it a hanky, a comb, a small mirror and a nail file or manicure set.  At the time, her organisation had made me smile – but now I realise that most of my bags come equipped with pens, pencils, and a magnifying glass.  And, along with my purse and phone, my little digital camera always gets transferred to whichever bag I am carrying. 

So maybe Mum and I are not so different after all - I just have different priorities.  As I am carrying out a reasonably sized one-name study, I often run into information in unexpected places, so being able to collect data whenever or wherever it pops up is important to me.  But I also know that I am currently not sufficiently organised to make the best use of these opportunities.  The lack of a good documentation process, and ongoing planning, can lead to erratic progress, “disjointed” research and an over-concentration on certain aspects, eg collecting data but never getting it analysed.  So I need to focus on the whole process, from start to finish, for better management of opportunities and research time.  This is where having a good research plan and log, with specific goals listed, is vital.

There’s a balance between setting goals, and setting yourself up to fail by making those goals impossible to achieve.  So I am just going for some “tweaks” to my existing practices.  The Guild’s “7 Pillars” structure for a one-name study is well embedded in my mind (especially the “collect - analyse - synthesize - publish” sequence), even if I don’t always manage to follow it through.  But now, above my desk, I have put up Mark Tucker’s poster of the Genealogical Research Process to remind me of additional details to be added in.  This will help with maintaining an ongoing research plan and log in particular.  [More thoughts on the plan/log below.]

I won’t stop the “anytime, anyplace” attitude but will be working on some tools to improve what I achieve.  Those I will detail on a separate page of this blog, as it’s going to take time to work through the most useful suggestions that have been made and I want a record of my progress with those.

3 Establishing Base Practices and Guidelines  

There has been a lot of “goal setting” going on by those joining in with the Genealogy Do-Over and some people seem to find it so easy to produce long lists of actions they will do.  I know that, unless a goal is written down, I am unlikely to achieve it but goals should also be specific – which starts to get too detailed for me at this point.  I prefer to do as Thomas MacEntee suggested and think in terms of what principles would I pass on to a new researcher. In which case, I have three that instantly come to mind:

1st Principle: Trust nothing, check everything.

2nd Principle: Don’t be in a hurry to link “data” to “people”.  
Some One-namers concentrate on people and enter all their data straight into Family Tree programs.  Although I use such programs, I dislike many online trees in particular as, even with sources listed, other people reading it tend to lose sight of the evidence that went into creating the tree.  But it is important to know how a particular judgement about a connection was made, especially when dealing with a large study.  If there are ten entries for a particular name in a particular place, then one must be able to show why the other nine are not the right ones.  This was a lesson learnt very early on in my Parry research, when I tried merging information across several census years into one file, thinking it would make it easier to identify matching census entries for particular individuals.  The principle applies just as much with a personal tree and being able to identify the correct entries in the records for a particular ancestor.

3rd Principle: Always be prepared to change your ideas in the light of new evidence.  
Many people have chosen Thomas’s “make the first pass, the only pass” as one of their principles.  That’s a good aim in that we should do the best we can now at analyzing a document.  But I would still say that, however well we do this, we should be prepared to review our research in the future.  Most of us are not experts on the past.  We view it with 21st century eyes and I know that I have occasionally read legal land documents as meaning almost the opposite of what they actually meant, purely because I did not understand the terminology of the land transfer.  We may have been thorough to the level of our own understanding at the time, but as our experience and knowledge develops, we might need to change our interpretation and conclusions.  This is one of the reasons why being explicit about how and why we reached a particular conclusion is important.

Those three principles I have tried to apply for years but Thomas suggested we came up with five, so what else do I need to work on? 

I have already written in my previous blog post my “Golden Rule” of no treasure hunting until previous searches are fully documented, and mentioned above the need for a research plan and log so, for my 4th principle, I will use one of Thomas’s – Track all work (even dead ends, negative evidence, and non-productive searches) and cite all sources. 

For my 5th Principle, I was thinking about why Thomas used the term “Golden Rules” and about the ethics of reciprocity, and treating others as you would like to be treated yourself.  I was struck by people including “be nice” and “sharing” among their goals.  As a one-namer, I am already committed to helping people and answering queries about my surname.  It is what we do.  I think collaboration is also important and so I started to think about how I could combine working more with people as well as help those who come after me.  So my final principle is to be generous, not just with assisting current researchers, but with an increased concentration on ensuring reliable information is “out there” for future researchers to find.  [To this end, I have already set up a Parry Name Study on Wikitree.  I did read a slightly negative view of that site recently, but I shall see how it goes.  My own Parry line had already been added by someone else, but I shall be adding my other ancestral lines as I carry out the Do-Over and research them, as well as working with the Parrys on the site.] 

This might have a downside – one of the consequences of putting anything online is often an increase in correspondence. And I learnt long ago that if I answer people quickly, they promptly write back – and soon I am snowed under writing emails and never actually progressing towards goals.  This is a hobby and I do have other interests, so will need to keep a balance.  But, hopefully, improved organisation will help me keep a better control of that, in future.

Further thoughts from Week 1 


I was given my first camera when I was aged 6.  We all had cameras in my family and photography was a hobby, so we took a lot of photographs.  And now I have piles of scanning to do, not just of past research notes and documents, but also the thousands of photographs from my parents that I am in possession of.   So I was thrilled to learned of Scanfest, (details at  http://ancestories1.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/2015-scanfest-dates.html ) As Carole Steers kindly pointed out, this is held from 7pm to 10pm UK time so is quite convenient time-wise and, hopefully, joining in that will help the scanning pass enjoyably.

File structure and file naming

In my first post, I said one my goals was to set up a new file structure for my one-name study – I shall write more about that on the Parry blog, once done.   For my personal family history, I will divide files between my paternal and maternal lines.  That will link in with my DNA research - with my mother and several of my father’s relatives DNA tested, I can sort matches into those two sides, so it will be easier to just concentrate on one set of records at a time.

But what about subsequent generations?  Should I continue to sub-divide the families in some way?

A lot of people have been describing their file structures and file naming systems for the Do-Over and posting associated images.  One poster neatly summed up the difference between the various suggested file systems as being either document based, or name based.  A surname-based system seems to be quite popular.

But it does strike me as slightly incongruous that, in their goals, many people are emphasizing their need to start documenting and analyzing records properly, and citing their evidence – but then opt for a file naming system based on the person the document (supposedly) relates to ie by name, dob etc., rather than one based on the document itself.

I suspect my own structure and file naming will fundamentally be document based, especially with the potential to end up with Welsh patronymics in some of my lines.  But since Thomas MacEntee says he’ll decide on a file naming convention later on in the Do-Over, I think I can safely leave my final decision on that for now, as well.

There do seem to be some useful “file-related” tools out there, such as a program for colour coding files by various criteria.  Some people are using that for identifying folders with different surnames, but I quite like the idea of using colours to identify the stage of processing, eg different colours to signify files that have just been collected, those with claims entered in Evidentia, those with ongoing queries, those ready to be archived etc.  So I may play around with those ideas first.

Research Plan and Log

There have been several examples of checklists, plans and logs posted.  I tend to find I like certain features on them, but not all, so I will probably end up with something I have devised myself, as a variation of some of these.  I do have some preliminary thoughts:

  • I need one Master Research Plan – most of the research plans I have seen posted have related to individuals and would need to be collected together in some way, so that it is possible to identify at a glance all the queries that can be looked up at a particular repository, or in a specific data-set, when preparing to research.
  • The plan and log need to be closely related – an entry from the plan, once done, can then be easily transferred to the log.  Similarly, doing research (and therefore logging it) often produces more queries that need to go on to the plan, as things to be done in the future.
  • The plan and log also both need to be accessible easily – if I have to physically turn the computer on to add to them, as I do currently for my correspondence log (an excel spreadsheet stored locally on the pc), then it won’t be very practical and I am unlikely to maintain it.  Since I usually have my phone with me, a tool that can sync automatically between a phone, pc, ipad etc, would be the most suitable.

In fact, I have made one decision about this – I was reading Miriam’s research plan, at http://ancestories1.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/tuesdays-tip-research-plan-explanation.html and, as soon as I saw her plan, I made the decision to try OneNote for my own (and, no, you may not find an obvious connection between that posting and OneNote.  It was just how my mind went!)

So now I just need to work out how to use OneNote effectively, to see if it will actually do what I want!

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Treasure Hunting

“I am a Treasure Hunter.”  That was the thought in my mind, when I woke up one morning recently.  

And not necessarily just for the “bright and shiny” objects you might be thinking of.  I am quite happy with my little collection of broken buttons and buckles, and other, as yet unidentified, objects.  As they say, ‘one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.’  For me, it is both the anticipation of finding something, as well as the thrill of actually uncovering an item that was once part of a person’s life, which provides the enjoyment.

But the excitement of looking for "something" spills over into other hobbies – learning new skills, trying out new handicrafts - and sometimes (just sometimes ;-) ) it applies to my genealogy as well.  I start hunting in the hope of coming across “anything new”.  Perhaps it’s just in that idle moment when I think, “I wonder what will turn up if I do a Google search for [name of a relative]”.  Sometimes it starts from a clue - such as when I was transcribing the details from an ancestor’s marriage certificate and found the father’s occupation recorded as “artist in fireworks”.  I was intrigued, as I’d never seen that before, so off I went, looking for the family in the censuses, to see if those confirmed his trade.  That soon led to linked trees on Ancestry, with further discoveries about the family - a sad tale of a death due to a fire in the fireworks factory, followed by circus connections, German ancestry, a new relative…..

You get the picture?  Working quickly, I found a lot – but what did I then do about it all?

In his Genealogy Do-Over post at http://www.geneabloggers.com/genealogy-doover-slow-move-fast/ , Thomas MacEntee suggests we should “Pay no attention to that bright and shiny object”, as it side-tracks us and steals our research time.  And it is true – sometimes we set out towards a goal and then going off on that “treasure hunt” means we don’t achieve it.  Not only that, as every responsible detectorist knows – if you don’t fill in the holes, sooner or later they trip you (or someone else!) up.  And so it is with genealogy, if all we do is carry out the search, we end up leaving a lot of gaps that need to be filled.  As Thomas points out, “what good is working quickly if it gets you where you are right now: doing your research over for a second (or third, or fourth) time?”

I do think there is a time and place for everything – and sometimes working quickly is essential (guess who missed out on collecting those Irish BMD records for her One-Name Study precisely because she did not drop everything and go searching!)  So I am not going to ban myself totally from treasure hunting.  But I am going to make myself the first of my “Golden Rules” – a treasure hunt must have a basis in my goals, and I cannot go hunting again until the previous hunt is properly documented.

I am already finding that just being aware of that rule is helping to put the brakes on some of my sidetracking!