18 March 2013

Tuesday's Tip - Pruning the Family Tree

Trim (a tree, shrub, or bush) by cutting away dead or overgrown branches or stems, or to control and direct the new growth of a plant.

In January I ordered 13 Death Certificates; 2 Marriage Licenses; and 2 Social Security Applications from the State of Pennsylvania.  The cost - $3.00 per death certificate; $12.00 per marriage certificate and $27.00 per Social Security Application – was by far cheaper than traveling to Pennsylvania and each of the counties.  But, the wait . . . the State of Pennsylvania has cashed my checks or charged my credit card, but I am still waiting for all the ‘snail’ mail to come in.  To say that I am not a patient woman is a gross understatement and yet here I am completely addicted to family genealogy which clearly is not a hobby or profession of instant gratification.  Go figure!
Which brings me to today’s post.  While I am waiting for these much anticipated documents to arrive, I have decided to avail myself of on-line webinars and educational YouTube videos.  I use Family Tree Maker 2012 Software and Ancestry.com, and I am very interested in learning how to maximize the potential of both the software and the on-line program, so that I can get the most from them.

What follows are some of my ‘lessons learned’ and how I am beginning the process of incorporating those lessons, tips and tricks into my daily research and routine.  And, how I have already seen / gleaned results. 
The videos I watched were:

  • Using Notes in Family Tree Maker and Ancestry Member Trees to Keep Track of your Family History
  • Smart Search Tips & Tricks 
  • Using Social Media in Genealogy
As most of us already know, it is important to look at the actual image whenever one is available.  The reason is simple, errors sometimes occur during the transcription process or the original hand writing was difficult to read which caused the transcriptionist to read the information incorrectly.  Or information on the document / image could have been overlooked.

The Using Notes in Family Tree Maker and Ancestry Member Trees to Keep Track of your Family History video takes it one step further; when we save a document to our tree,  it suggests that we open the image and transcribe the information – word for word and in chronological order.  Why? 

1.    It helps us to really pay attention to every detail
2.    We may discover information that we initially overlooked in our cursory review of the
      document / image
3.    It will focus our search – what information / details are we missing?  What records /
      information do we need to narrow or broaden our search and that will help move us
      forward – um, upward – on our family tree?

While watching the video, I had a ‘hand to forehead’ moment of . . . Why didn’t I think of that?  I’ve been interested in genealogy for over 20 years, but have really been going ‘full throttle’ at it for the past 3 – 5 years.  And, I had thought, that I was doing a reasonable job of keeping track of my research.  What I found; where I found it; what I wanted to find; where I thought I could find it; and keeping that information all organized, so that I could refer back to it as necessary with some ease.  The key words here being . . . I had thought.
I am an executive secretary by profession, so this stuff isn’t un-natural to me and yet, while watching the video and listening to the suggestions, I immediately knew that I could, and needed to, do better.  So, it was off to the computer and Family Tree Maker to start the process.

Now my family tree is relatively small compared to some others that I’ve read about; I currently have 493 persons inhabiting my tree.  The decision I made – since I am currently waiting on documents to arrive in the mail – was to go to each individual’s profile and transcribed each document I’d saved to them. 
It is tedious and I could only work on so many profiles a day, but since starting this, I have discovered some things that I ‘missed’ on the initial review of the documents.  For instance, one census record, records that my Great Grandmother had 8 children (births) but that only 3 had lived.  This information has been there the whole time, but I had missed it.  Going through this transcription process allowed me to really focus on the information contained within the image / document; now, I have a research note to go back and see what information I can find, if any, on the five children that didn’t survive.

The other video I have found helpful is the Smart Search Tips and Tricks.  If you are an ancestry.com subscriber you may also frequent their Facebook Product & Services Fan page.  If you do, you have probably seen your fair share of posts from consumers who are frustrated and who complain about the search feature(s) / tool(s) and the search parameters that are not meeting their needs.  And, I confess that I have equally been frustrated at times; however, I have always assumed the fault was mine, rather than ancestry’s.  Which is why I highly recommend watching this helpful tutorial.  For this non-tech / non-geek, it was presented in an easy to understand format.  And, most importantly to me, it worked. 
I have a Great Grandfather that has been elusive; I’ve traced him from England, to Philadelphia, PA in the later 1800’s, I’ve traced him in the census records from 1900 – 1920; in 1920 he is again married - my Great Grandmother passed away in 1900 – and living with his wife and 7 year old daughter.  In 1930, they are all missing; can’t find a one in the census.  In 1940, my Great Grandfather shows up living in an indigent home for men and women in Philadelphia.  To this point, I have not been able to find where he, his 2nd wife and daughter are in 1930 and I do not know what became of his 2nd wife and daughter in 1940 – they are not with him in the home for indigent men and women.

To say that I’ve been frustrated with not being able to trace my Great Grandfather and learn more about his life from 1920 – 1940 is an understatement; but after watch the Smart Search Tips & Tricks video, I decided to try some them out and . . .
Voila, I had found the missing daughter; she was on a recently added ancestry.com member tree.  I didn’t take this at face value; I reviewed the tree and the source documents attached as thoroughly as possible, and I was convinced that there was enough information there that would lead me to believe that the tree owner and I were researching and documenting the same family member.  I excitedly crafted an initial e-mail and sent if via Member Connect at ancestry.com.  After several days, they responded and we have been collaborating and sharing information ever since.  There are still one or two questions that we are both striving to answer, two working together is better than one, and, it is always more fun!

Lastly the Using Social Media in Genealogy tutorial is what started me on the path of blogging.  Although I blog mostly for me at this point, I have received good responses from my family members.  And this is a plus!  Typically when I speak of my ‘tree climbing’ adventures and ask family members questions about our ancestors, I get the ‘why are you doing this?’ ‘Why not leave the past, well, in the past?’  And similar comments like those.  Since I started this blog a few weeks ago, I've gotten favorable comments from family and they seem to be interested in what I've learned.  That is really exciting for me, because isn’t that the reason that we do this?  So our family’s stories can be shared.
Well, I have just checked the mail and those documents still have NOT arrived; ugh!!  So, I am off to see what else I can learn and how I can best use that information to continue to control and direct new growth on my family tree.

I would love to hear what you do during those ‘down times’ while waiting for documents to come in or hear back from ‘cousins,’ etc.? 

And, in closing, I highly recommend ancestry.com's webinar's and YouTube tutorials; I've personally found them to be informative, educational, helpful and that they work.  I encourage you to take a look and see if they might be of benefit to you and your search for ancestors.

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