When I was a newbie genealogist I loved the hints that Ancestry.com provided. Now all of the online sites offer the same. I was surprised to recently hear that a colleague of mine still happily accepts every hint that is shown. Her reasoning was that she could always sort out later if something was amiss.
“Later” like in never is what I say. Here’s a perfect example of why you need to be careful of those hints:
The hint above flagged for my uncle, George Joseph Kos who did live in northern Indiana and was born in 1921. Family stories say that, although his attendance area high school was Lew Wallace in Gary, he somehow un-enrolled himself and re-enrolled in another high school at the urging of a football coach. Of course, his parents found out about it and my grandmother was livid with all parties – the zoned school who allowed a minor to remove himself, the new school and coach for enrolling him without permission and my uncle, well, for being my uncle. So, the hint looks legit.
My trusting colleague would have clicked “save” while I would have clicked “ignore” if I didn’t have time to check it out. Ignore is a way to really save the hint to look at later while getting the leaf to disappear.
Now I’m going to analyze if this is a correct document for my uncle so I click “Review” on the hint and this displays:
Wow, that does look legit. According to the family story, it was Roosevelt High School where he wanted to play football but he was 15 when that happened. I could rationalize that he was 15-16 years old during the 1936-1937 yearbook so the age is feasible. But Roosevelt High School was in Gary, not East Chicago, a nearby town. Could the towns boundaries have changed? We see that so often in genealogy. I’m still wary so I’d click view and this is what is displayed:
So, the Hint was really for a George KOSTIN not George Kos. This was not my uncle. Then I remember, there were two Roosevelt High Schools. Duh!
Hints are just that – hints – they are not guaranteed correct information. Use with caution.
Recently, I volunteered to provide free genealogy assistance through a local genealogy society to which I belong. I try to help twice a year – fall and spring – which is advertised throughout our county. Every time I attend, I learn something new about genealogy practices. Here’s my latest revelations:
1. Keep your email accounts current – My first “client” had gotten everyone in her family to test. That included her siblings, children and herself. She had a DNA question for me but she couldn’t readily access any of her accounts because she had used an old email address she no longer had. I recommended she contact the DNA test companies to update her records. But that led to the next problem:
2. Know where you did your DNA test and when – She recalled she had last tested with 23andMe but when we clicked “Forgot your password?”, it was sent to her current email The problem was that kit was for her daughter. She then recalled she had purchased the kit two Christmas’ ago intending to use it but gave it to her daughter instead. We tried FTDNA, but couldn’t get in because that was the older email account. She thought she had used Ancestry.com for her sister but it turned out those were her results. Clicking around used up a good deal of time we could have spent analyzing the results. I shared how I save my info; I use Excel to keep a list of the Kit numbers, date the test was ordered, who the test was for and the company that was used. On a second tab, I record contact information from others after the results are returned. This way, I avoid duplication of effort.
3. Try, Try Again – Last fall I assisted a woman trying to find an obituary from the mid-1950’s. Her grandmother had been active in the community where she resided but she couldn’t find the obit in the nearest big city newspaper. I had recommended she contact a research librarian to find out the names of newspapers that were publishing at the time in that location and where the microfilm of those papers were held. She said, “I called and someone said they’d get back with me but nobody did.” Here’s a lesson we all need to heed, don’t think that call is going to happen now, months later. Call again. Ask to be connected with the Reference Desk. If a few days pass with no results, email. I love the Ask-A-Librarian online contact. Not only do you have a record that you made the request, it saves you a phone call and having to spell out the surname while the librarian is trying to take notes.
4. Two Heads Are Better Than One – I love paper but I don’t love having to sort through a ream and a half of every item ever discovered on a brick wall ancestor. In other words, be organized. If the information had been presented in time line order, we could have gotten through it much more expeditiously. The woman used the method of last found information was placed on top. I recommended she sort the information on a table by the year that the record was created. Sure, the immigration paperwork completed when the ancestor was in their mid 30’s had the date and place of birth but keeping the documents in created age order helps to determine the accuracy of the information found. She told me her method drove her uncle nuts but she was so into the hunt for records she didn’t like to take the time to organize them. I recommended she get with her genealogy buddy, the uncle, and see if he was more adept at organization. Then, they could put their heads together and make a timeline on paper (she hates software programs) to find holes. This approach also helps in finding information that was out there that you initially glossed over because you focused on something else. For example, she had the ship manifest so she knew where the ship sailed from. She also had a birth location from the immigration record. She had scant information between the birth and the immigration. I recommended reading the history of the area at the time the ancestor was born to determine if the family had relocated soon after (hint, it was probably the potato famine). If she wasn’t interested in that type of research, her partner could do it and then they could discuss where she could research further.
5. Know What You Want to Know – Your research question is imperative. “I want to know everything about my great grandfather” is not a question. You might be able to eventually get to the point where you know a lot about your great grandfather but to do so, you’ve got to start with a name or a place and a time from which to build. If you start small, you don’t get overwhelmed and quit. INMHO, that’s why people give up on genealogy. It is a practice in patience, analysis, and sometimes, dumb luck. You can control two of the three components. My recommendation for this individual was to focus on one area of a person’s life, like their career, and see what you can find. Then move to why that individual held that job. Perhaps there was indentured or apprenticed paperwork. Maybe the great grandfather or another relative was in the same line of work. Here’s an example I shared; my husband comes from a long line of carpenters. The original carpenter, however, didn’t build homes. He was a ship’s carpenter. That would have been a modern job when ships provided the largest means of transportation. His son was a ship’s carpenter early on in his career but switched as he aged to building homes. That man’s son moved farther inland and continued with the trade. That original research question could disclose a wealth of family information over generations. It pays to be specific about what you’re looking for.
Two weekends ago I tried using My Tree Tags on Ancestry.com and I think you’ll like this new feature. For years, I’ve wished that there was a way to flag my ancestors so I could create various lists of my folks. This feature will do that and more.
To try it for yourself, click on Extras on the ribbon (it’s the last entry). Then, click on My Tree Tags. Notice it’s in Beta so it’s still being improved. I had no problems with the feature so the IT Department must have worked the bugs out long before they made the Beta available to the general public.
I know, you’re thinking, “Why should I waste my time Beta testing when it isn’t a finished program?” Simply because you still have time to provide your insights to make the program even better! You have the option to give feedback using a short survey.
Once you click Enable you are good to go. The first change you’ll notice is that the former search button for individuals is now called Tree Search. When you click it, the Tree Search looks different then it did:
This threw me for a minute but it works the same – just type in the individual you are trying to located in the search box and they’ll display as a drop down as they did before.
To use My Tree Tags, click Filters and it will display the tag choices:
Each Filter contains more items to explore. I personally like the Custom filter as I created one I titled “Lineage” which allows me to identify the people I selected to join various lineage societies. In the Custom feature, you can even write a description of what the title means to you so others, if your tree is public, can better understand your definition. I’m thinking of identifying careers as I’d like to analyze those that followed a particular career path, such as teacher, minister, or farmer.
Once you’ve selected tags, they will display on the Facts page under your ancestor’s identifying information in white letters in a blue box:
Only 3 tags will show. If more were selected a + and a number appears on the right; click to display the other tags that were selected:
Now here’s the awesome part – say you want to find all of your military people. When you click on Military it will display all others in your tree that you’ve identified with the same tag:
For the life of me, I can’t figure out how the list is ordered; it’s not by alpha of last name or by dates. It doesn’t seem to be by how I identified people, either.
If you goof, it’s simple to correct an error. The edit button is the pencil in the circle at the end of the tag. Click it and change – add or delete – whatever you’d like.
IMHO, the best part is that you can identify if you are working on a line and making a hypothesis. I became so frustrated with brick wall (another tag you can select) ancestors that I was then researching (currently researching is also a tag) that I stopped adding to my tree as I did the research because someone would copy the information and before I knew it, it had spread like a wildfire. I’m hopeful that tagging will alert someone that the information is not verified yet.
If you decide you don’t want to use the feature, go back to Extras on the ribbon and disable it. You’re back to where you were.
My online family tree is aging and just like we humans need as we get older, regular check ups are important to maintain its vigor. I think I just discovered a different approach to identify errors to keep my tree robust.
My first computerized tree was done on a TI99 home computer. I had to insert a cartridge to view the genealogical program (which is now in my attic). In 1995,we had switched over to a desktop system and we were online thanks to AOL. I downloaded PAF from FamilySearch.org and spent a few weekends transferring my info from the old software to the new. I’ve been transferring that same tree as it grew ever since.
Around 1997, I created a tree on Rootsweb (now owned by Ancestry.com). My old tree is frozen in cyberspace and I cringe at some of the errors I’m not able to correct. I believe that’s the only tree I’ve got stuck in time.
Over the years I’ve transferred the root tree to various online sites – Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, MyHeritage.com, FindMyPast.com, Geneanet.com, WikiTree.com, and AmericanAncestors. I’ve used Legacy Family Tree, RootsMagic, and Family Tree Maker software to help identify and correct errors. Last weekend I found another source to fix mistakes in lines I haven’t looked at in years.
Geneanet.com allows you to view tree statistics, whether you’re a member or not. Simply click the down arrow next to your tree’s name which accesses the menu. Under the heading Family History, click Family Tree Statistics. Although the number of people in your tree with the same first name is interesting, it’s not going to fix errors. (As an aside, the largest number of my peeps are named John and Mary, just like my grandparents). To find errors, click “The 20 who lived the longest.” There I discovered I had an ancestor that lived over 500 years and he wasn’t named Methuselah. Clearly, I had entered John Clark’s death date in error, typing 1918 for 1418.
The next individual, Thomas Eaton, had lived for 311 years but not really. He had been pruned once from his line so I deleted him. He was just an unlinked soul lost in my tree.
Now click “The 20 oldest persons still alive” and you’ll be able to identify folks you know have passed but you haven’t found their death date. My oldest was Melba L. Jones born in 1899. Using FindAGrave, I discovered she died 2 Jan 1993. I like how this feature helps me keep my tree current on lines I don’t check often.
I like that only 20 questionable individuals are provided at a time so it makes the task less onerous. It’s still a pain to maintain trees at various sites so I’ve been keeping one current which is linked to my desktop and then every 6 months, update the others. In the interim, when people find me at the other sites, I just redirect them to my always maintained tree.
Now that I’ve Spring Cleaned my tree, I’m ready for more research. Happy Hunting!
I tried Ancestry.com’s new feature, Thru Lines, last weekend and I’m not impressed. If you aren’t sure what it’s about, you can watch their brief video here. What set me off was the comment “For a few short minutes and without doing any research, you can have a whole new network of ancestors and living relatives.” Not in my opinion! If only genealogy were so simple.
Here’s the issue I have and which I wrote in my survey result to Ancestry – say everyone in your family believes that your shared Great Great Grandpa was John Smith Jr.. You all know this because it said so in an unsourced family book written in the 1940’s. Some of your older relatives even remember the author and he was an honest, hard working genealogist. He knew that John Smith Jr. was his Great Grandpa because his mom told him so and she never lied. So there, it’s the truth and nothing but the truth.
Now along comes Ancestry’s Thru Lines and since everyone copied everyone else’s tree on Ancestry because it’s simple to do so, everyone has John Smith Jr.as their 2nd time Great Grandpa and now everyone’s DNA results PROVE it. Except, it proves nothing at all.
All Thru Lines proves is that you are all related. If everyone has a wrong name listed everyone with shared DNA will connect to that wrong name. Perhaps John Smith Jr. was adopted. All of the shared descendants are related to the adopted individual but not to John Smith Sr. Thru Lines is going to give you other relatives you “might” be related to. This just perpetuates the wrong information.
I tried it with one of my adult children’s DNA results and it connected to my husband’s grandmother. Was that accurate? Yes, because far flung family members have also tested and they connect to grandmother’s parents. We also have the paper documentation of the relationship. All Thru Lines did in this example was confirm what my documentation already showed.
Two other features are in the works, New and Improved DNA Matches (I can only hope) and Tree Tags, which is something I’ve been wishing for a long long time. Tree tags is adding info you’d like others to know, such as – “This is not a confirmed relationship.” I would absolutely love that. I actually wanted a color coded option so I could make my confirmed relationships in green and my tentative ones in yellow or red. I understand that some folks have difficulty with color so tagging is a nice alternative. As soon as I’m able to test these features, I’ll blog my opinion.
Last weekend, my local genealogical society held their annual seminar with the main presenter being D. Johsua Taylor. Josh mentioned 3 resources that I had never used so I’m passing the information along as they may be helpful in your researching.
Warning – the first and last isn’t readily available so it might take you some time to find them in your locale.
Early American Imprints is a collection in two series of single page documents, such as advertisements, pamphlets and sermons, from 1690-1800 and 1801-1819. There is a searchable database produced by Readex. Unfortunately for me, there is no facility in my county that has access but I did email a library at my closest state university and discovered they do have it and allow the general public to view it. I can’t wait to check it out!
Archive Grid, owned by OCLC, is like WorldCat and this free resource is available to you from home. The beauty of Archive Grid is that you can obtain catalog descriptions from collections housed around the world, not just the U.S. Through a key word search or by browsing a selected topic, who knows what genealogical gems you may uncover. I’m thinking this might be a wonderful way to shed light on some of my brick wall ancestors who left little records behind.
ArchiveFinder is similar to Archive Grid but is available only through libraries. I haven’t found a local source yet and will ask my library consortium if they could fund it in the future. Why I would like to check it out is because the database includes manuscript collections that I wouldn’t know are available without this resource. Josh recommended asking your library if they are a part of C19 – libraryspeak for an index that libraries often subscribe to. ArchiveFinder is available with a subscription to C19.
GenealogyAtHeart Hint – keep a Word doc or spreadsheet on your computer of resources you want to search for at various archives so when you’re headed out the door on an errand, you have a list of what to check while you’re passing by that library. Sure, I call or email the library if it’s urgent but often I come across a book I’d like to review for a possible connection to an ancestor I’m researching but the facility is closed at the time I discover it or I just don’t want to make the drive to the next county for just a look. I actually print the lists and keep them in my car so if I happen to be going that way, I can stop in. I record the call number (from WorldCat), the book title, the author, the publication year, and most importantly – the name of the ancestor I think it pertains to. I can always look up the call number or title in the library but if I can’t remember who I’m looking up, it’s a waste of my time. Don’t forget to remove the resource from the list on your computer when you get home. Happy Hunting!
Ahh, the balance of the universe! Maybe it’s just me but I’ve noticed lately that the more that the web grows genealogy sources, the more sources I relied on in the past have disappeared. I’m definitely not a doomsday prophet but I found my experiences yesterday as a wake up call to change some of my practices in the future. If I don’t I’ll be facing disaster someday. Here’s what happened…
I was going back over a line I hadn’t visited in five years. When I do that, I start with my gateway ancestor, in this case, Mary Ann Hollingshead, and I recheck my saved sources. I predominately use Ancestry.com so I click on the Gallery feature and look at the documents I previously uploaded. Then I go to the hints area and look at all that I had saved as “Maybe” or “No.” I always keep the hint setting on but my tree is so large I don’t have time or desire to check every hint that populates. Weekly, as part of my genealogy cleaning chores, I go through any hints that are shown over the previous seven days and just dismiss them. They don’t really go away; they are saved under the individual that the system matched them to. That’s a nice underused feature, I believe, as you can always go through them at your leisure to examine each one closely when you have the time.
Next, I go back to Facts and check the citations that I had linked to the timeline. For sources that I created from outside of Ancestry.com records, I always but the link so that I can easily review the information and note if anything has changed. That’s where I noticed the first of the serious changes to the web.
I went to Francis Hollingshead and was checking the link I had made to FamilySearch.org for England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975. I used to be able to see the actual page of the document but not any longer:
As you can see on the right side above, I must go to the Family History Center to view. Now I wish I had saved every FamilySearch.org document I have ever found and that’s a lot! It never dawned on me that the information would not be readily available from home. All I could think of was Job 1:20 “…The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away…”.
I did notice that some of the documents were available through FindMyPast.com so I could (and will) go there to snip and save them to my Gallery but not all can be found that way, as the one above shows.
As I went farther back on the Hollingshead line I discovered that British History Online now charges for many documents that once were available for free:
Back in the day, they asked for support through a donation but now they have Premium, Gold, 5-year Gold and 10-year Gold access. What I was trying to reach was Gold level. I only needed one document so it wasn’t worth it to me to purchase a subscription. I had saved in my citation a transcript which is fine for my purposes but if I had known it would go away, I would have snipped and saved the original and transcribed under it. Live and Learn!
Yes, I did try the Wayback Machine to see if I could gain access to these docs and the answer is unfortunately, no. For the British History Online document, only once was it saved and that was in 2015 but you had to log in to access. I tried my old log on but it no longer works.
The next issue I discovered was of a document I had saved in my Gallery. I had the page snipped but I had neglected to include the book’s title page. No worries, I thought, as the link was for Internet Archives. Of course, I happened to hit them just as they went down for maintenance so I couldn’t get the information I needed. The book wasn’t available through any of the other online sources so this just required me to wait awhile to get what I needed.
It’s not just older documents that are no long accessible. Google+, which ties to my Blogger account, is disappearing soon. With it goes all of my former reader comments. I’m glad that I save all of my posts to my genealogyatheart.com website so they will still be available but unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do about the comments.
Genealogy is definitely a practice in patience. Sometimes it’s years before you find the record you seek or connect with a long lost relative that holds the key to discovering a generation back. With organizational changes, patience needs to extend to how we save the documents we find at the time we make the discovery. I’m fortunate that there were only a few records I wasn’t able to access in the 18 generations I checked. I’m hopeful, going forward with the procedure changes I plan to implement in my practice, that won’t be an issue again.
UPDATE 23 Feb 2019: I spoke today with a FamilySearch rep at a local genealogist conference I attended. He stated that some of the records are no longer available from home due to copyright agreements with the holders of the original data. He also stated, if you have found yourself having difficulty viewing some of the records online because they become fuzzy, simply record where you are then click out of the database and go back in. When you restart go directly to the record you left off and it should be viewed clearly. If not, you can report it.
Genealogist purists do not like using indexes. I ‘m glad I’m not a purist as I recently found an interesting record by accident while using an index.
Monthly, I get an email from Familysearch.org with updates about the site. I always check out the section that lists the newly available online records. I find this especially important since the organization has stopped mailing microfilm to be viewed locally and a trip to Salt Lake City doesn’t seem to be in my immediate future so I need to keep checking to see when records of interest to me are available online.
One of the new links was to Ohio Wills and Estates to 1850: An Index by Carol Willsey Bell. I have many Ohio settlers from the early 1800’s and I wanted to use the index to make sure I didn’t overlook a probate record.
I understand the danger of simply citing an index as there might have been an error in recording the information. Personally, I view indexes like Ancestry hints. I might get lucky and I might not so let’s roll the dice and hope for the best.
I was searching for a probate record for Edward Adams, my elusive 3rd great grandfather who showed up in Perry County, Ohio about 1815 when he married Mary “Polly” Dennis Hodge, widow of John Hodge who had been killed in the War of 1812. Edward died shortly after being elected county auditor and was replaced in October 1822 according to the History of Fairfield and Perry Counties, Ohio.
I was delighted to find an entry on page 1 in Ohio Wills and Estates for Edward (Estate-1825 Perry Common Plea Minutes 64, page 10, page 68) and an Evi on page 2, who I was hoping to link together. I also found a Samuel I had not known about. One of Edward and Polly’s sons was named Evi, an unusual male name. The adult Evi in Perry County would have been about the right age to be a younger sibling of Edward so I was excited to see an entry for both men. I had also found a Susan Adams in the 1830 census in Perry County and I wondered if there was a connection. I’m now thinking she was the wife of Samuel. Reviewing my notes I noticed I had never checked the Common Plea Court records in Perry County and that’s where the index was directing me.
I quickly returned to the search engine at Familysearch.org and opened the microfilm for the Common Plea Court. I click on Minutes v. A 1818-1820 Minutes v. B 1820-1822 and without paying close attention to the middle of the title, noticed that the last entry was for 1828-1831. What I missed was that not all the records were filmed. And of course, some of the records I needed weren’t there.
Obviously, Bell had seen the complete records when she was recording the information for her book. This gives me hope that the records are somewhere out there where I may one day find them.
The limited info I did find showed that Evi was the administrator for Edward so I was pleased in that connection although it did not state their relationship. But I’m not disappointed at all because instead of finding what I was seeking, I discovered instead a court record for my 4th great grandfather, Peter Drum (1750-1837), which was on the page where I thought I’d find Edward’s estate info.
I’m unable to find the bill of indictment so I don’t know what he was pleading guilty to. I did look up the fee of $4.19 and in converting it to today’s dollars – it’s about $20.00.
Here’s the weird part…the day before I had emailed the Fairfield County, Ohio Pioneer Society for a followup as earlier this year, I had submitted a lineage society application for Peter Drum and I had not heard from the organization. I could have used the above record as further proof of his residence but I hadn’t known it existed. The day after I found this record I received a response that the application for Peter Drum was accepted and I would receive more information in December.
Now I intend to go page by page through these court records to see if there are other interesting discoveries to be made. So glad winter is coming!
1 Court records, 1818-1854 Minutes v. B 1820-1822 Minutes, Peter Drum, Familysearch.org (https: familysearch.org: accessed 28 Oct 2018) p.2.
It’s October and my surroundings are beginning to look creepy with Halloween quickly approaching. One thing that greatly disturbs me more than the skeletons and witches on every corner is my Ancestry.com ghost hints.
If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, a ghost hint is the term used for those pesky hints that were once available and no longer are. There are several reasons for their occurrence – an individual may have uploaded media and then removed it or made it private or Ancestry may have discontinued the database for the hint.
Every so often I go through the hints as sometimes I miss a new database that Ancestry has added and the hints can give me some information I may have missed. The ghost hints, though, remain and give a false number of the hints that are available. I’ve clipped below the grayed out hints that appear on my All Hints page:
As you can see above, there are 7 and all of them are records. When I look at the hint counter, however, it shows that I have 14 hints, 8 of which are records and 6 that are photos.
Clicking on Records or Photos just gives me the message ” You currently have no photo hints for Reset filter to see all hints ”
Also, look at the count over the leaf of 99+ on the upper right corner. I don’t have over 99 hints as I actually have zero. That count has stayed the same even after leaving the program and signing on a different computer the following day.
This lack of accuracy scares me; how many other data counts are off that we aren’t aware of? How do we know that filtering we set when doing a search is correct?
Ghost hints aren’t a new phenomena; I first noticed them in June a few years ago and when I called Customer Service was informed the problem must be on my end with cache in my computer. Yeah, sure. The following May, at an NGS Conference, I asked one of the Ancestry reps about the situation as my ghost inhabitants had grown. He explained the reasons which I mentioned in my first paragraph and said the company was working on cleaning up the problem by periodically doing a refresh. The problem is the refresh does not work for all the hints as I’ve had the 7 above for YEARS.
I’d really love for Ancestry to stop being a ghost host and send these phantoms to parts unknown.
There has been much controversy lately regarding law enforcement’s use of DNA results from public sites to solve crimes. I’ve even had a Client who requested the removal of results due to media coverage. Here’s my top five reasons to keep your DNA public:
You’re reconnecting with close family that may hold the key you otherwise wouldn’t ever uncover
You’ve gained collaborators who care about the line you’re interested in learning more about
You gain health information that you otherwise wouldn’t obtain so you can make better lifestyle changes, if needed, to enhance your quality of life
By sharing your information, you’re being altruistic in helping others
You’re leaving a footprint for future genealogists
I understand the cons. No one likes to snitch on family but the real truth is that withholding your DNA results is not going to alter people who make poor choices need to make restitution for their actions. The serial killers who have recently been outed continued to make bad choices that negatively affected others. If DNA results had been available years ago, think of how many families would not have suffered the loss of a loved one.
My long time readers will know from past blogs that my family has made some really awful choices – abusive behavior and law breaking readily come to mind – and I’ve found that other families I’ve researched have a few bad apples or black sheep, too. All humans share DNA, obviously some more closely than others. Just because you share DNA genetically with someone who committed a crime does not make you more likely to do the same. Hiding your DNA is not going to change their actions at all.
No one appreciates Big Brother nosing in on you and your loved ones. A few nights ago, however, the importance of using technology to catch a criminal was really driven home to me. Because their is currently an open police investigation I’m going to be vague in details. Suffice it to say that we were able to possibly prevent a future homicide due to a Fitbit, security cameras and a cell phone record. Giving up a little bit of privacy for the common good of a community is the right thing to do.
If you’re thinking about removing your public results, seriously think again. The information you withhold may save a life.