The genealogy bug has regained its grasp on me as I wait for one last thing with The Sad Girl, so here’s a tip and a tool to help you get off on the right foot with your genealogy research.
First, the tip
Before my last Day Job, I’d spend 2-3 days each week working on my family history, but the combined demands of family and working 40 hours/week pushed genealogy down my priority list. I blame Ancestry.com for getting me going again. They ran a free records weekend over Labor Day, making all of their immigration records available for free, and I decided to do some research into Louisa Schirmer, my grandmother. I found one possible hit for her immigration trip, but I also realized how disorganized I was.
I discovered I couldn’t easily search for ancestors born outside the United States without a lot of work. TNG has a nice report generation system, and in a pinch, you can write your own MySQL query. But because of a decision I made when I first started my work, I couldn’t easily use either of those capabilities.
Back when I first started entering data, I thought I was smart enough to know which places were in the United States and which weren’t, so I ignored an accepted genealogy practice, which was to fully qualify any location. That means listing the city, county, state and country of each place, assuming you knew all levels. Had I done that in the first place, I could have easily created a report asking for all of the people whose birthplace didn’t contain “USA.” Without the country listed, I’d have to list every state name and abbreviation. Not a difficult query or report to create, just cumbersome.I thought I was smart enough to know which places were in the United States. #familyhistory #genealogy Click To Tweet
I decided to fix it now, to make life easier down the road. I’ve currently got about 460 locations in the database, and about 2/3 of those are in the US. It took me about an hour-and-a-half to fix it using phpMyAdmin. Then it took me about 15 minutes to figure out that was the wrong way to do it, and another hour-and-a-half to back out the changes. Then another hour-and-a-half to make the changes the right way. Yeah, that was fun.
So the moral is, if you’re just starting to enter your data, make sure to fully qualify your locations as you enter them. Trust me. It’s easier in the beginning. And if you’re using TNG and need to edit places, don’t do it in phpMyAdmin from your website cPanel. Use Admin | Places. The changes cascade through the database much better that way.
And now the tool: FamilySearch Family Tree
In March 2013, FamilySearch.org (the LDS genealogy organization) rolled out their newest addition, Family Tree. When I first heard about, I pretty quickly wrote it off, as I’m very happy with The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding software that runs my genealogy site. I paid for that, and even though Family Tree is free, I didn’t see a need to duplicate my efforts there. Then I thought about something that happened last year.
In April 2012, I received an email from the GGG granddaughter of Philipp H. Mueller, my GG uncle. My dad’s family had lost contact with Philipp’s side decades ago. She found me through a link to my site on Ancestry.com. And that’s why genealogy researchers put their information online: to find other members of their family.
I’ve been a very happy user of FamilySearch. They’ve become my go-to site because of the amount of records they have, and the price – free! They often have records that Ancestry either doesn’t have or wants me to pay for. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a capitalist at heart. But I’m also broke, and can’t afford an Ancestry membership (and I’m not thrilled with their pricing structure, but that’s another post).
One thing I’ve noticed at FamilySearch is that there’s no way to contact anyone who’s uploaded data about a relative. That makes it extremely difficult to collaborate on your research. But Family Tree encourages users to make at least an email address available, and that makes life a lot easier.
The other really nice feature is the way data is linked. When you search for a person on the Tree, you’re shown a number of possible matches. If none exist, you can easily add the person to your tree. Once that’s done, a “Research Help” link appears on that person’s page, which takes you to a search of FamilySearch’s records based on the data you’ve entered. If you get a useful record, there’s an “Add to FamilyTree” link on the record, and you can attach the record to the appropriate person right away. Everything is nicely linked and all edits are documented with the user’s name. I’d like to see FamilySearch add some sort of non-email contact system so that you can reach people who don’t want to share their email address, but maybe that’s coming.
For me, the beauty of the system is that I can put specific lines up there, and people who might be searching for the same people will find them much more quickly and easily than they might find a link to my site. As I add people to FS:FT, I’m adding a Source linking to their page on my site, and as I edit people on my site, I’m adding their FS:FT identifier. I’ve already found new information on a couple of relatives, and two of the researchers involved have made their email addresses available. I look forward to making contact with them as I get more research done.
Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter and subscribe to the blog so you never miss an update.