Tag Archives: research

Search to Failure

Wilbraham Public Library Session III

For the past 10 years or so, I’ve been providing guidance in family research, both on- and off-line. For quite a while, I’ve advocated particular strategies that I find effective. Last night I spontaneously described it as “search to failure.” It just rolled off my tongue. Here’s why I think it’s a good strategy and a good description.

Just a few years ago, most genealogical search engines offered dozens of fields to be filled in so that you could locate the records of your ancestors. Early in my own research, I felt it necessary to offer up as much information as possible. After all, the fields were there waiting to be filled, right? Just like a job application or a mortgage application, the questions were there for a reason. But what I soon learned…or maybe not to soon…was that less is more. And the websites seemed to finally agree with me. Today, you’re offered far fewer fields to fill which, in my opinion, is a good thing.Let me explain the strategy that I teach.

Linnie Otto Peace Robison (1880-1954)

First, Grandma may have said that her grandfather was born on such-and-such a date, always used the name “Thomas” (for example) and he always, as far as Grandma knew lived in a certain town. My response is this: Well, Grandma, we love you but we don’t necessarily believe you! New researchers will go to great lengths to use exactly that information without deviation. Contrary to the “job application” strategy, I demonstrate my “search to failure” strategy using the name “Smith.” That’s it, just “Smith.” And I never ask for an exact spelling. As a matter of fact, in Ancestry.com for example, I ask for “Sounds like,” “Similar,” and “Soundex” in order to get every possible permutation. That’s the only field I fill and I use “Smith” because I already know the dramatic results. Tonight, I got 146,696,564 results. That makes me happy. Why? Because I know I’m on the right track. Be patient, I’ll get the results down to a manageable number and in a very short amount of time.

Now, I’ll ask the audience to give me any first name. It doesn’t matter what they give me, but let’s say someone says “Michael.” My response is “Do you know if it’s really Michael? Or perhaps it’s Mike, or just M or what if Michael was his middle name because he didn’t like his first name. How can we be sure?” The answer, of course, is that we can’t be sure about anything at this stage. But let’s use Michael, making sure we also use “sounds like,” “similar,” and “initials.”

Now we’re down to “only” 4,102,786. That’s significant even at the volume of returns. It’s only about 3% of what our original search brought. I explain here, that “Michael” is a filter and the filter, in this example, worked. Or so we think at least! Now I add another filter and then another. In literally no time, our 146 million number can be reduced to 6 or 8 results. But I want to end up with NO results. “Search to failure.” Why? I want to make sure that I’m using the most efficient filters. That last filter that wiped out all my results is not the end of the search, it’s the first “failure” that will force me to eliminate that filter then go back and refine, refine, refine what I’ve done so far. The point is this: I’m starting out my fishing in a big pond. If my first search includes so many filters that my first at-bat gives me nothing, what have I gained. But if I start out with huge results then whittle them down with one filter at a time until there are no results, I can by-pass Grandma’s data (without telling her, of course!) and hopefully come up with enough results that through principle #1 of the GPS, a thoroughly exhaustive search, I can determine which of the results is the target ancestor.

My point is “search to failure,” then begin to massage the filters in order to “search to success.”

Facebook Genealogy

Train Station, Evergreen, ALIn nearly every class or lecture I conduct on genealogy research techniques and strategies, I ask the group, “Who here is on Facebook?” The reaction ranges from a raised hand to snickers to an adamant “NO” here and there. Then I explain that there’s more to Facebook than reporting the BLT you may have had for lunch or whatever mundane activity  you’re involved with.

And here’s why I encourage everyone with an interest in family history research to take a long hard look at Facebook (FB) and where it can take you. If you want to tell your friends that you just saw a great movie or your favorite TV show, I have no problem with that at all. All I’m pointing out here is that there’s more to on-line research than Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org.

I’m here to tell you that there are 10,029 genealogically and historically oriented FB pages in the United States listed on 288 pages with an index. That, according to Katherine R. Willson, is a list that grows constantly! Her website at SocialMediaGenealogy.com contains a link to a PDF file that you   are welcome to download and keep. The direct link to that file is here. But I urge you to take a look at her site and take in all of the information you can that she provides.

So that takes care of the US. But many of us do a significant amount of research in Canada. For that list, we turn to Gail Dever and her site, Genealogy à la Carte. This link will take you to the page where she talks about her work on the list. I encourage you to surf around her site, click on some of the links under “Archives.” The direct link to the page with the PDF is here. Scroll down a bit to find the link to the “Facebook for Canadian Genealogy which was last updated June 2016. She doesn’t list the FB links by number, but there are 26 pages of them!

In either of these files, just pick a subject, perhaps a surname or a hometown. Use CTL+F to open a box where you type in “Smith” without the quotation marks, for example. In the US list, “Smith” gets 48 hits. In other words, there are 48 FB pages that have something to do with Smith. Or just use Katherine’s index.

The same strategy of using CTL+F can be used in the Canadian document. For that matter, CTL+F works in just about any document or web page. Gail’s Canadian list has large groups of page sorted by Province. So you can scroll through or use the CTL+ strategy.

Double Helix - Red and Blue with BandsHere’s how FB has worked for me. I have relatives all over the country. My paternal ancestor arrived in the early 1700’s, a Scots-Irish immigrant. The Scots-Irish element is proven through Y-DNA matches with folks still in Europe. My maternal ancestors include at least one Mayflower ancestor (John Howland) and dozens of post-Mayflower arrivals. In 1621, William Bassett arrived and began the line that includes me, his 9th great grandson.  Many “Great Migration” ancestors arrived after that including Deacon Samuel Chapin, my 8th great grandfather, who first established himself in Roxbury, Massachusetts, then followed William Pynchon to help settle what would become Springfield, Massachusetts. I opened an FB page titled “Descendants of Deacon Samuel Chapin (1598-1675)” expecting a couple of dozen people asking to join. We now have a little over 125 descendants who have all contributed their specific line from the Deacon to themselves. This has provided me with enough data to complete, or nearly complete, a one-name study of the Chapin line. Since the information began to flow, I have confirmed my relationship to Amelia Earhart, President William Howard Taft, Johnny Appleseed, Harry Chapin, Marion Morrison a/k/a John Wayne and dozens of other individuals who have been in the public eye.

One of the other  FB pages is titled “Find-A-Grave Genealogy Discussion” for which I had moderate expectations. Today there are nearly 7,000 members who ask and answer questions, tell their Find-A-Grave stories and in general, provide a great deal of help to other researchers. On that site, I have 4 co-administrators to keep up with it all!

I have a few more pages, most involving genealogical or historical research. And I belong to about 40 others. Nearly all of these pages have proven helpful. They provide information I’m looking for and information I’d like to share while allowing me the opportunity to meet hundreds of like-minded people with whom I collaborate.

Facebook isn’t the only game in town. Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and others can be effective tools to assist you in your hunt for those elusive relatives.

So, are you on Facebook? Instagram? Pinterest? Twitter? If you are, that’s great but follow all the privacy and security recommendations. If you’re not, this could be a great time to get started.

Don’t forget to stop in at my Old Bones Genealogy of New England website. Background, services, lists of classes/lectures and a curious link called “Useful Documents.” Click it then scroll down a bit to the link that will take you to my DropBox folder where there are hundreds of forms, documents, and other useful things.

Use the QR code to the right to get to Old Bones Genealogy of New England:

Old Bones Genealogy of New England

Old Bones Genealogy of New England

Mocavo (a great resource) is moving to FindMyPast…soon!

Below is the body of an email I received today regarding my Mocavo account. I also have an account at FindMyPast. That part of the merger will be interesting! And the merger is taking place TODAY, 23 MARCH 2016!!

Mocavo is moving to Findmypast

We’re contacting you to let you know that the Mocavo website will be closing at midnight today (Wednesday 23rd March) and that your account will be moving over to Findmypast in the next few days. Plus, over the coming weeks, all of Mocavo’s records and much, much more will soon be available on Findmypast.

Find out more

 

What do I need to do?

Your Mocavo account details will automatically transfer to Findmypast, where we’ll give you a 30 day trial, completely free. You’ll receive further instructions on setting up your account in a follow-up email.

We have all sorts of help content to get you started here on our blog.

 

What’s great about Findmypast?

Findmypast is the perfect place to dig further back into your family’s history and here’s why.

  1.5 million UK BMD Records: The largest online collection of UK parish records anywhere
 
  100 Million US marriage Records: The only place you’ll find 360 years of marriage records that include more than 450 million names
 
  110 million Irish Parish Records: The largest collection of Irish records available anywhere online (over 300 million names)
 
  1939 register – 41 million records: The only place you can access this Wartime Domesday Book
 
  100 Million Travel Records: Trace your English, Irish and Australian ancestors in our migration records and passenger lists.
 
  3 Million England & Wales Crime Records: The largest online collection of UK crime & punishment records (1779-1936)
 
  13 Million British & Irish Newspapers: The largest online collection of searchable historic British and Irish newspapers
 
  65 Million World Military Records: The most comprehensive online Naval collection, Royal Air Force collection and British Army service records

 

What about my Mocavo family tree?

If you have a tree, we’ll be migrating it over to Findmypast and sending you a link for where you can access it shortly. But, if you can’t wait, you can always export your GEDCOM file now. Just read the instructions below to find out how.

  Click on the “Family Trees” tab at the top of the Mocavo homepage and select “My Trees” from the dropdown list.
 
  On the page called “Settings & Preferences“, click “Export” next to the tree(s) you wish to back up.
 
  Click the “EXPORT GEDCOM” button to download your tree. This will be emailed to you – keep it safe and we’ll be in touch with instructions on how to import it to FMP once your account has been migrated.

 

Export tree

 

 

 

 

  Get in touch

You can contact our customer service team with any questions by email at support@findmypast.com

From,
The Mocavo & Findmypast team

Genealogy Research Tools

In response to an assignment arising from HOA “GenTools Study Group” I have to say that I have very little in the way of hardware to support my research efforts.

LENOVO T540p

LENOVO T540p

For online research, it’s my (not so) trusty Lenovo T540p laptop. I thought I had made a wise decision but it has been anything but! It’s nothing particularly exotic nor does it have any extraordinary features. As a matter of fact, just the process to get it working properly is in itself a long story.

I have a backup laptop. It’s an overworked DELL STUDIO XPS that overheats and shuts down. However, I can nurse it along with a cooling pad with a built in fan.  Standard equipment with this old machine!

HP Officejet Pro 8600

HP Officejet Pro 8600

Beyond that, there’s my trusty workhorse printer/scanner/fax machine, the HP Officejet Pro 8600. It’s probably the best printer/scanner/fax machine I’ve ever owned and since it was very reasonably priced, I considered it a bargain. I would recommend HP products without reservation. It has never failed to do what it was built to do. In the next several days or perhaps even several weeks, I’ll be putting this machine to task. I’m planning on scanning as many of the hundreds of documents, photos and whatever and shredding the originals in my attempt to make room here in my office for me to at least sit down at my own desk! (I might even get around to painting the walls ala Hillary Gadsby’s office!

Communication: Motorola Droid Turbo from Verizon Wireless. There are better phones, but in

Motorola Droid Turbo

Motorola Droid Turbo

my opinion, not many. I have a ridiculous number of apps installed including Find-A-Grave, Billion Graves, Ancestry.com, FamilySearch and a few other genealogy related apps. The camera is excellent and I have plenty of storage. It syncs with my laptop so whatever photos I take whether grave stones or documents, it’s no problem at all to name and store them, upload them to the newly condemned Family Tree Maker then sync’d with Ancestry.com,

My Logitech headset and webcam are essential for participation in Hangouts and broadcasting/watching various webinars. Both of these items came highly recommended by DearMYRTLE and Cousin Russ and have proven reliable.

Logitech HD Pro c920 Webcam

Logitech HD Pro c920 Webcam

Logitech USB Headset

Logitech USB Headset

Without a doubt, I’d really like to invest in a good portable scanning tool, a tripod that will hold my Droid horizontally and a few other items. But as you may not have realized, I have precious little room in my office for anything else…until I get “organized!”

“If It’s Online…It’s True” — Abraham Lincoln

The whimsical quote above is something I found somewhere…probably online… and I thought I’d share it with you. I was hoping it would be a humourous segue into this subject.

It occurred to me as I was watching WDYTYA, that if anyone took a tally of what was discovered on line, specifically by the show’s sponsor, Ancestry.com , and what needed to be researched in libraries, archives, repositories, church records, town halls, private collections, et al, that it would clearly demonstrated that no, as a matter of fact, it’s NOT all online!

The amount of data that can be discovered at home by logging in to a variety of websites both free and subscription is quite definitely increasing, seemingly by leaps and bounds. We see numbers such as so-and-so “…has added 3,500,00 records…” with some more and some less. Without knowing how many more records there are to index and post, it almost seems as though we’re nearly done so who needs the libraries, archives, repositories, church records, town halls, private collections, et al?

I’ve seen estimates that the internet contains 5% or less of the available data. Others estimate upwards of 15%. But the fact remains that even the sponsor of a very popular program dealing with genealogical research which is itself an internet based research resource still employs dozens of professionals to get the job done. If Ancestry.com needs professionals to put their program together, how can any hobbyists or private family researcher or professional genealogist hope to do better?

I’m just sayin’!

Hezekiah’s Farm

This link is to an aerial view of what was my 4th great grandfather’s farm in Alabama. http://www.findaspring.com/locations/north-america/usa/robinson-hollow-spring-elkmont-alabama/. It’s located on Robinson

HESAKIAH ROBRSON: Yet another way to spell Hezekiah Robinson or is it Robison or maybe Robertson!!

HESAKIAH ROBRSON: Yet another way to spell Hezekiah Robinson or is it Robison or maybe Robertson!!

Hollow along Robinson Road near Elkmont, Limestone Co, Alabama where you’ll find Robinson Family Cemetery.

After marrying Anne Grantham who died young and then his sister-in-law Tabitha Grantham, Hezekiah Robinson (or Robison or Robertson or Robson) settled here after his service in the War of 1812.  The Robinson Family Cemetery is here but hidden by the trees in this view.  He was born sometime between 1777 and 1784 in Virginia and died in 1852 in Elkmont on his farm. His gravestone reads “HESAKIAH ROBRSON”!  Another case of “speeling duzn’t cownt”!!

Hezekiah’s widow, Tabitha spent almost 30 years trying to claim her widow’s pension. Government bureaucracy and the confusion as to how to spell his last name, letters went back and forth from Elkmont, Alabama to Washington for years!  She finally won out but died about 2 years later.

Boston University

Let me take a short break from “Lest We Forget” to talk a little about the BU course in Genealogical research. I’ll admit the course is a little tougher than I expected. Especially when I submitted an assignment and anxiously awaited the results. Well, the grade cam back at an abysmal number: “You seem to grasp all of the concepts in this module and all of the information is well presented. However […dontcha just love “however’s”…] you missed the central goal. You’ve written a report that….

And on and on… The grade, as I said, was abysmal and I figured I’d have to ace every single element for the balance of the course to keep my head above the line. I sent a “private message” to the grader in a feeble attempt at reconsideration. HA! Reconsideration…. That was out of the question. I know that because I got a response that didn’t even address the points that I made in my plea. Instead, the TA sent a note to all the students to explain that this module has 3 assignments: 1 is graded on a scale based on 30 points, then another 30 and finally 40 for a total of 100. Well, that puts my “junk” score back in the running so I felt much better. Can’t wait to submit this week’s work!

All in all, this course seems to run from really easy “stuff” that I’ve been doing for a while to really hard “stuff” that I never even considered… Well, that why we take these courses.

Wish me luck!

“Lest We Forget” March 5, 1913

"Got up at 6:30..."

“Got up at 6:30…”

March 5, 1913
“Lest We Forget”

Got up at 6:30 and got ready to work. Cullerne went to the office and didn’t get back till nine and told us that Arthur was coming out with us. We all had dinner out. Arthur was about all in. We got back about 6:31 Weather a little dark and cloudie

Jim’s [?] letter [ ] a letter from Agatha and a card from C B L A

Help! If anyone can make out the last 2 lines, I’d appreciate it!

By the way…it’s 11:25 AM and we’ve barely gotten a snowflake! The news is showing video from areas not too far from here with upp to a foot of the white stuff… I hope that’s the story for the rest of the day because I’m on my way out to a genealogy workshop to help some “beginners” find their families.

BU

Between all the drama over the past few weeks, I can look back and say that this was bad timing to start an on-line course in genealogical research. It’s not as easy as it sounds…not that I thought it would be a walk in the park! Here are some concepts I can’t get my head around: A birth certificate is a source, but is it original or derivative? And what about the information it contains? Is it primary or secondary? Then you have evidence. Evidence can be direct or indirect. What about a photocopy of an original birth certificate? Original or derivative? Is the information it contains primary or secondary? Does it constitute evidence? Is so, is it direct or indirect? Are you with me on this?

If you really need to know all that, let me know! In the meantime, the next assignment isn’t due unitl next Wednesday, but I’m also supposed to be an active participant in the “Discussion Groups???

To be honest, my grades have been coming back a bit better than I expected them to be. Especially considering that I just blew through some parts of the assignments. I’ve been doing this a while, but relatively unsctructured…organized, but unstructured…and they insist on certain terminology which, if I’m working in my own little world, isn’t critical. They even have a Glossary! So, BU brings the structure….I just have to adjust to the rigidity of it all

I’ll keep you posted….

February 28, 1913 “Lest We Forget”

Now, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: This diary can be excruciatlingly BORING!! Aside from the nostalgic value to me or maybe it’s the historical value from a family history standpoint, it’s interesting. Interesting enough to take the time to post these blogs, anyway!! Clem died in 1955 at age 67. I was only about 2 1/2 at the time and my memory of him is more from the pictures that I’ve seen of him with my grandmother, or the picture of him holding me outside the house at 32-34 Tyler Street in Springfield, Massahcusetts. (That reminds me, I should track that one down and scan it for the blog) And, of course, this diary which is 100 years old this year! So for me, that’s where he lives…in the photos and this diary. In that respect, this diary is important to me, and I hope that some of the readers can get at least a little something out of it!

"LEST WE FORGET" February 28, 1913

“LEST WE FORGET” February 28, 1913

Weather a little colder with a little snow. Cullerne and Steve went to town on the 1:30 AM. Steve left for Seattle.

I stay in the car and over in the office all day.