Genealogy Do-Over – Month 10 – October 2016

The Genealogy Do-Over - Month 10 Topics: 1) Reviewing DNA Testing Options and 2) Organizing Research Materials - Digital

Click here for a list of ALL The Genealogy Do-Over Topics for 2016.

Topics: 1) Reviewing DNA Testing Options and 2) Organizing Research Materials – Digital

Reviewing DNA Testing Options

One of my biggest research challenges has been to connect two different lines of ancestors: the MacEntees of Gardiner, Ulster County, New York with the more famous McEntees of Kingston, also in Ulster County. The only way I’ll likely prove one of my long-held theories is through DNA testing.

Which DNA Test is Best? One Way to Start . . .

. . . is to read! That means studying various articles available online and in print. I’ve learned so much over the past five years from these great blogs that feature DNA and genealogy:

DNA Genealogy Toolkit

Another great read – and FREE – is the Jump into Genetic Genealogy: Use Genealogical DNA Testing to Solve Family Mysteries e-book from Family Tree University. This guide will help you learn the terminology involved with DNA genealogy and you’ll be able to differentiate between the various tests.

How about a wiki, like Wikipedia, but for DNA genealogy? That’s what you’ll find at the ISOGG Wiki ( created and maintained by the International Society of Genetic Genealogy. This site makes it easy to search for terminology, DNA test vendors, and more.

Interpreting DNA Testing Results

One tool I need to use more is GedMatch ( which allows you to upload your testing results from various tests and run reports as well as connect with other genealogists using DNA testing.

Organizing Research Materials – Digital

While computers and the Internet have been a boon to genealogy researchers, with more data come more headaches including how to keep it all organized!

Danger Ahead: The Digital Dark Ages

Which of these two items do you think is more in peril of being lost: An original photograph from 1950 OR a digital scan of that same photograph? While the printed version might be lost, or consumed in a fire or damaged in a flood, consider all these calamities that could befall your digital version:

  • Hard drive failure
  • Accidental deletion of file
  • Conversion from high-res TIFF file format to lower-res JPG format
  • File corruption
  • File format becomes obsolete
  • Storage on outdated media such as floppy disks
  • Over-correction of color and features using photo editing software

The truth is that there is no guarantee that TIFF or other file formats will even be around in 20 years. I’m sure that even with glasses, my eyes will always be able to see that 1950 photo! See Google’s Vint Cerf warns of ‘digital Dark Age’ for an overview of this pressing issue.

Pick a File Naming Convention and Stick With It!

There are many different ways to name your digital files used in genealogy research. Some prefer a numbering scheme while others begin with the surname. What about married female ancestors? (I ALWAYS use the surname with which they were born . . )

My method right now, and one that works for me is as follows: SLATTERY John Vincent b1888 WWI Draft Reg Card tells me, at first glance, that the file is a World War I draft registration card for John Vincent Slattery who was born in 1888. I add the “b _____” segment since I have many ancestors with the same name, such as John Austin.

This method is loosely based on one developed by a current Genealogy Do-Over participant, Diana Ritchie. Click here to read Diana’s original post in The Genealogy Do-Over Group on Facebook outlining her file naming convention.

Metadata Is Your Friend

What is metadata? It is “data about data” but there is an easier way to get genealogists interested. What if I told you that there was a way for you to add information about a digital image to the file – such as the subject, data, location and even a source citation – to the file so that it is always part of the file structure? That is what metadata can do.

What is metadata? Basically it is “data about data” but there is an easier way to get genealogists interested. What if I told you that there was a way for you to add information about a digital image to the file – such as the subject, data, location and even a source citation – to the file so that it is always part of the file structure? That is what metadata can do.

In the example above, I have entered my own text in the Title and Subject fields, added Tags and also placed my source citation in the Comments field (which holds 9,999 characters!)

You may not realize that metadata is already added to many of your digital files, especially when they are created. One example is a photo created with a digital camera or a smartphone. If you examine the metadata it will tell you the type of camera used to create the file, the file creation date, the resolution and sometimes even the GPS location of the photo.

So what about files that you’ve created, can you add and edit that metadata? Sure you can. An easier way to explain it is to watch a video recording of a webinar I presented called Metadata for Digital Images. Click here to watch now.

Once you’ve mastered the metadata concepts, consider adding important metadata to each of your genealogy research files!

Organize AND Backup Digital Materials

What good is spending hours organizing digital files if you don’t ensure their future accessibility? Every genealogist should have a data backup plan and also perform backups on a regular basis.

Try employing the 3-2-1 Rule:

  • 3 copies of each file. This means one primary copy, likely your hard drive, and then two other copies such as in the cloud and on an external hard drive.
  • 2 different media formats. Don’t store all copies on different hard drives or in different cloud platforms. Use different media such as hard drive, cloud, USB flash drive etc.
  • 1 offsite copy. This means do not copy files to a USB drive that you keep near your computer. Place it in a fire safe. Better yet, make sure one of your file copies is in the cloud which means it is not physically stored near the hard drive version.

Don’t forget that backing up on a regular schedule is important as well. In the genealogy community, the 1st day of each month is promoted as Data Backup Day and is a reminder to all genealogists to future proof their research data!

Month 10 To Do List – Full Do-Over Participants

  • New to DNA Genealogy: If you have not yet spent time learning about DNA genealogy, use some of the resources listed above and familiarize yourself with the various tests and terminology. Also, consider attending a DNA genealogy lecture at the next genealogy conference you attend.
  • Organizing Research Materials – Digital: Map out a file naming convention and also rename folders if necessary. In addition, don’t forget to have at least two forms of file backup! Most genealogists use a cloud platform such as Dropbox paired with an external hard drive or an automated backup site.

Month 10 To Do List – Review or “Go-Over” Participants

  • Currently Familiar with DNA Genealogy: If you have already completed one or more DNA test, make sure you are using all the possible tools at your disposal for interpreting results and connecting with others.
  • Organizing Research Materials – Digital: If you have not set aside your original research files and are still working with them, you will likely have the most work to do in terms of getting organized. Decide on a file naming convention and start using folders to group and sort items.

©2016, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

Genealogy Do-Over – Month 9 – September 2016

The Genealogy Do-Over - Month 9 Topics: 1) Conducting Cluster Research and 2) Organizing Research Materials – Documents and Photos.

Click here for a list of ALL The Genealogy Do-Over Topics for 2016.

Topics: 1) Conducting Cluster Research and 2) Organizing Research Materials – Documents and Photos

Conducting Cluster Research

Last month we covered Collateral Research, which focused on siblings, in-laws and others considered to be within the same extended family. Cluster Research is different and is a large portion of the F.A.N. Club concept as put forth by Elizabeth Shown Mills (see QuickLesson 11: Identity Problems & the FAN Principle at the Evidence Explained website for an excellent overview of the concept).

Here is the definition of Cluster Research that I use for my own research: When you research the friends, associates and neighbors (aka F.A.N. club) who were part of the community of your direct line ancestors. Most times this means focusing on the geographical area where your ancestors lived or the locales from and to which they migrated.

Your Ancestors Had a Network

The saying “No man is an island,” holds true when it comes to the daily lives of our ancestors and probably more so than daily life in the 21st century.

Understand that when a person or a family arrived in a new country, city or town it was likely that they already knew someone there. This may have been a relative or a friend of a relative. They may have been connected to the same hometown or same ethnic group in the Old Country. Our ancestors didn’t just pick up and leave on a whim to settle down in a place that was unfamiliar.

When arriving in a strange place it was comforting to have some connection, something that was familiar be it language, religious belief or occupation. This made the transition easier and helped the person build a network upon which they could rely when needed.

Finally, if someone strange did arrive in a small town or even a city neighborhood, it was likely the townsfolk or neighbors wanted to know the following:

  • Who were they?
  • Where did they come from?
  • Why were they here?
  • What do they intend to do here?
  • What are they bringing with them?
  • What are they leaving behind?

In many places, in order for a town to survive, it was vital to find out this information and determine if this new person or family was a good fit.

Best Practices for Cluster and Collateral Searching

  • Always use a research log. Make sure you enter your finds in a research log, no matter how insignificant they may seem at the time. Remember, you are looking for data that will indirectly provide clues to your direct lines.
  • Formulate theories . . . and write them down! How often have you contemplated certain theories about your research, only to forget them later? Make sure there is a “Possible theories” or “Notes” section in your research log. You’ll find it easier to recall those ideas later on if you enter them right away.
  • Spelling counts! However, not in the way you expect it to . . . Make sure you are employing spelling variations when conducting each search. Surnames changed over time.
  • Stop relying on records that are indexed. The indexing process is not perfect and if you rely solely on your ability to find information through a search, you can’t conduct effective collateral or cluster searches.
  • Try swapping given and middle names. For many different reasons, individuals may have used different names at different times in their life. Search based on both given and middle names and search using different orders.
  • Search by address. You might be surprised at who lived at a particular address before or after your ancestor was there.
  • Leave no stone unturned. Be dedicated in your search efforts to perform a “reasonably exhaustive search.” If you don’t, you’re only shortchanging yourself.
  • Search without boundaries. Make sure you are searching over that county or state line if an ancestor lived in an area close to a border.

Easy-peasy, right? Again, it takes practice and over time you’ll remember all the little tricks of performing effective cluster searches.

Organizing Research Materials – Documents and Photos

Since we’re on the “down slope” of The Genealogy Do-Over, it is likely that you’ve accumulated physical items in your research such as documents, vital record certificates, photos, etc.

While next month we will focus on how to keep digital items organized, let’s talk about using folders, binders, filing cabinets and the like. First, I need to admit that I have a strong bias towards digital . . . to the point where I’d rather have a PDF or scan an item than have a paper version. Nevertheless, there are some items that are irreplaceable in their original form so organize we must!

Best Practices for Organizing Genealogy Items

Here are some guidelines I follow when organizing my paper materials:

  • Think preservation as well as access. I try to focus on not just organizing items and making them easier to find, but also ensuring that they will endure. That means using sound archival practices such as the proper materials to store photos, negatives and other items. Check out the resources at The Family Curator ( by Denise Levenick offering great advice on the ins and outs of archiving and preserving items.
  • Select a system that works for you. Don’t employ an organization method that you won’t stick with especially when it comes to maintenance. Review the various methods that other genealogists use and pick one that’s right for your research habits OR select elements from several methods and create your own.
  • Schedule maintenance time. Use a calendar (paper or online) and block out one or two hours a month to do nothing but tidy up your genealogy materials.
  • Do I really need that item? A huge part of organizing for me is “curating” which means being selective in what to keep and what to discard. For old genealogy magazines, I just don’t have the space anymore to store them. And, it is easier for me to search my computer for that article I need than to leaf through magazine issues. So I’ve scanned the articles that I want to keep and toss the original. Better yet, when I subscribe to a magazine, I opt for the digital version. For books, I can scan them and then donate them to my local genealogy or library.


Here are some resources that I recommend when anyone tells me they need to get their “genealogy cave” organized!

  • The Organized Genealogist ( is a group of over 26,000 genealogists on Facebook discussing ways to organize their genealogy materials. Lots of collaboration and discussion as well as people generously sharing their tips and resources.
  • Organize Your Family History ( is run by blogger Janine Adams and uses the byline “Stay focused and happy while exploring your roots.” This site is filled with helpful information from a professional organizer who happens to also be an amateur genealogist.
  • Cyndi’s List – Organizing ( offers links on every conceivable sub-topic related to organizing your genealogy materials: bookmarks, supplies, gadgets, etc.

Ready to get organized? I realize that you can’t simply organize all your genealogy material in a day, but with the knowledge and resources above, here’s what you can do: create projects and tasks for your To Do List and tackle them little by little.

Month 9 To Do List – Full Do-Over Participants

  • Conducting Cluster Research: Like me, you may not be ready for cluster research. However, if you do reach a stopping point, make sure you have the cluster research knowledge and materials handy to work through your ancestor’s F.A.N. club connections!
  • Organizing Research Materials – Documents and Photos: Think of getting organized as an investment: why would you spend years doing research if at some point you couldn’t locate what you’ve discovered? Set aside those crucial one to two hours a month and commit to a plan to get organized.

Month 9 To Do List – Review or “Go-Over” Participants

  • Conducting Cluster Research: It is very likely that you have some dead ends, road blocks or whatever you want to call them in your past research. Try taking one person for whom you can find no real information, and identify their F.A.N. club connections. Use clues from records such as census sheets to find their occupation, their native country, their native language etc. Start slow and small
  • Organizing Research Materials – Documents and Photos: Organizing what you have can be a HUGE undertaking. Review the resources above and don’t forget that there are professional organizers who can help!

©2016, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

Genealogy Do-Over – Month 8 – August 2016

The Genealogy Do-Over - Month 8 Topics: 1) Conducting Collateral Research and 2) Reviewing Offline Education Options - at GeneaBloggers

Click here for a list of ALL The Genealogy Do-Over Topics for 2016.

Topics: 1) Conducting Collateral Research and 2) Reviewing Offline Education Options

Conducting Collateral Research

Many people confuse collateral research with cluster research or they tend to lump them together. For me, collateral research involves the collateral lines connected to your direct line ancestors. Most times this would mean focusing on the relatives of someone who married into the family – the wife or husband’s parents, siblings etc. It also can mean distant cousins along your direct line. Also, don’t forget those second and third marriages and step-children.

My definition of Collateral Research: A search for those who are not direct line ancestors, but who are considered part of the same family. These include siblings, half-siblings, in-laws and others through marriage. Example: take time to look at the siblings of a woman’s husband or her husband’s parents and who they married, as well as their children.

  1. Start out with a direct line ancestor.
  2. Spend time researching that person’s spouse, including parents and siblings.
  3. Record as much information as possible, no matter how insignificant it may seem. Include occupation, address and other details.
  4. If needed, branch out with research on the siblings and other non-direct relatives.

Reviewing Offline Education Options

You have likely heard the term “not everything can be found online” when it comes to records and genealogy research. The same holds true for genealogy education. There are several large genealogy conferences as well as week-long intensives better known as “institutes” offering a chance to learn from nationally known educators and genealogists.

Over the past five years, several new institutes have popped up and I believe this will continue over the next few years in the genealogy field. Genealogists realize the value of working in a collaborative environment with other researchers and being able to network with others in person. There are some aspects of the institute concept that just can’t be replicated online!

Review the list of large genealogy conferences and institutes in the United States and make plans to attend one or more in 2016 or 2017. Click here for Offline Genealogy Education – US handout.

Month 8 To Do List – Full Do-Over Participants

  • Conducting Collateral Research: While some researchers prefer to work on an entire family as a “group,” meaning parents and children, others “loop back” once they’ve work on all the parents and grandparents. No matter which approach you take, remember to utilize the research and evidence evaluation skills you’ve acquired over the past few months of The Genealogy Do-Over.
  • Reviewing Offline Education Options: Review the list of available conference and institutes. Also, consider local genealogy conferences and attending local genealogy society meetings.

Month 8 To Do List – Review or “Go-Over” Participants

  • Conducting Collateral Research: Those doing a “go-over” will want to review the children for each set of parents and look for missing children, other spouses, and verify all information such as birth dates, locations, marriages, etc.
  • Reviewing Offline Education Options: Review the list of available conference and institutes. Also, consider local genealogy conferences and attending local genealogy society meetings.

©2016, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.