Genealogy Do-Over – Month 7 – July 2016

The Genealogy Do-Over - Month 7 Topics: 1) Reviewing Genealogy Database Software and 2) Digitizing Photos and Documents - at GeneaBloggers

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

Topics: 1) Reviewing Genealogy Database Software and 2) Digitizing Photos and Documents

Reviewing Genealogy Database Software

By now, many of The Genealogy Do-Over participants have been tracking their research and then evaluating the evidence to prove or disprove dates, names, relationships and more. The next step: enter proven data into a genealogy software program or on a genealogy website in order to share results and produce reports.

When I first started with genealogy, I purchased the latest version of Family Tree Maker from Banner Blue software (remember them?) and simply entered whatever I found (without evaluating evidence) into the program.

Then when I decided to pursue genealogy as a profession, in 2008, I opted to use a variety of programs, all at the same time. These included Legacy Family Tree, RootsMagic and Family Tree Maker. I also had my data in on a public tree and on WikiTree. Why did I have my data in all these programs? Then, as now, I am often asked by vendors to beta test new versions and new features, so I had to keep my data in those programs.

Genealogy Database Programs – Are You Being Served?

I selected Family Tree Builder from MyHeritage since I have a MyHeritage subscription that I use and I like. MyHeritage is great for connecting with other European researchers and my German lines (Henneberg, Pressner, Herring) are where I need the most help.

I did a thorough review of available options and listed the features that were most important to me and my research. Every genealogist is different in terms of how they research so your choice should suit you and not work against you. Also, before moving to any new program, make sure you a) read the Terms of Services and b) understand how to import a GEDCOM file (that standard genealogy data file format. Some programs will not import notes, sources and other items. Make sure you don’t lose data when moving to a new program!

Wikipedia has an up-to-date Comparison of Genealogy Software chart listing specifications. In addition, check out GenSoftReviews which includes actual reviews, many by genealogists and actual users of the programs.

Digitizing Photos and Documents

Understanding the correct way to scan and digitize your family photos as well as your research documents is an important part of genealogy. I can’t stress this enough and I knew I had to include the topic in The Genealogy Do-Over.

Photo Digitization Best Practices

  • Set your scanner to a high resolution, such as 300 or 600 dpi.
  • Use the TIFF format and then copy TIFF files to create JPG or PNG files.
  • Clean the scanner with a microfiber cleaning cloth. Remove dust, lint and fingerprints so you can achieve the clearest possible scans.
  • Make sure the photo is in contact with the scanning surface or as close as possible to the surface; however, often you can get a good scan right through a plastic sleeve, matt, or glass. Don’t move the photo while scanning.
  • Keep the photo lined up with the edges of the scanner to reduce editing later on.
  • When transferring digital images to your computer, always save an original scan of the photo and then make copies of the file to be used for editing. Also, export to multiple file types.
  • Use Photoshop Elements or your favorite graphic editing software to resize digital images for use with your favorite project.
  • Remember to periodically backup your scans of photos and documents.

Photos: DIY or Use a Professional Service?

There are many different ways to handle digital preservation of family photos. You can take the DIY (“do it yourself”) approach or use a service that will scan the images for you.

So what is the difference? The DIY approach may require you to purchase a scanner, learn the specifications and correct scanning settings, and then scan each photo. Once scanned, you’ll need to rename the file, save it and then move on to the next one. The process can be time consuming to say the least. Using a service tends to be hassle free, usually guarantees a high-quality scan, but can be expensive if you have many items to scan.

If you decide to take the DIY approach, I highly recommend the book How to Archive Family Photos by Denise Levenick. It has excellent advice on how to select a scanner as well as the best way to scan all types of photos. I also recommend Denise’s handout from her RootsTech 2014 presentation, How to Scan an Elephant: Digitize Your Family History from Artifact to Zombie. Click here for the free download.

One aspect of my current scanning regimen is the use of a wireless SD card by Eye-Fi in my Flip-Pal mobile scanner. I have the 8GB version, but I just noticed that Amazon is carrying the Eye-Fi 16GB Pro X2 SDHC Class 10 Wireless Flash Memory Card on sale for 30% off! Click here for more info.

So why is having a wireless SD card so special? I can sit in my living room and through my wireless router, have the scanned image sent to my desktop computer or even to my Dropbox account. Also, many of the newer flatbed scanners have a slot to read SD memory cards!

If you decide to use a service, please take my advice: review their services and make sure they are using the best equipment and providing you with the best high-resolution scan. Many of the services, including superstores like Costco and Wal-Mart, outsource their scanning to vendors who are more focused on speed and quick turn-around rather than quality. Do you really want to take shortcuts with your family memories?

That’s why I use Larsen Digital for my scanning needs: I’ve been extremely happy with the results. By using Larsen, I know I get expert results AND spend that scanning time researching my ancestors. Click here to learn more about Larsen Digital and to get a 15% off coupon on scanning services!

Documents: How to Convert Image Text to Searchable Text

The digitization of documents is different than photos due to this challenge: how do you convert the text in an image to text that you can search, copy and paste and use? The process employed to convert image text is called OCR or Optical Character Recognition.

Again, just like scanning photos, you can take the DIY approach or use a service. Keep in mind that the quality of the document will impact the OCR results. So if the document is old, faded and hard to read, the OCR process will certainly need review and correction. And, currently, handwriting OCR is basically unavailable.

If you have a flatbed scanner and it came with software, look to see if that software will OCR your scanned text documents. Another option is to purchase a program such as Adobe Acrobat Standard that can quickly OCR scanned documents.

Alternatively, consider using a service for scanning documents; a good local option is your closest FedEx Office store.

Month 7 To Do List – Full Do-Over Participants

  • Reviewing Genealogy Database Software: Review all the different genealogy database possibilities, including software that stores data locally, and online programs such as WikiTree. Select a program that meets all your needs including source citations, linking to scanned photos and documents, etc.
  • Digitizing Photos and Documents: Spend some time reviewing how you want to scan your photos and documents. If you decide to take the DIY route, research scanners that work within your budget and technical expertise. And remember to thoroughly check out any scanning service you decide to use if you don’t want to scan items yourself.

Month 7 To Do List – Review or “Go-Over” Participants

  • Reviewing Genealogy Database Software: Also, decide if your current method of recording your genealogy research results are working for you instead of against you. If you decide to stick with your current system, make sure you’ve downloaded the latest upgrade and understand any new features.
  • Digitizing Photos and Documents: There is no real difference in practices from the “All-In” participants; however, if you are sitting on digital scans of photos and documents you’ve done previously, review the quality and consider instituting the best practices listed above and “re do” those scans!

©2016, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

Genealogy Do-Over – Month 6 – June 2016

The Genealogy Do-Over - Month 6 Topics: 1) Evaluating Evidence and 2) Reviewing Online Education Options

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

Topics: 1) Evaluating Evidence and 2) Reviewing Online Education Options

For Month 6 of The Genealogy Do-Over we turn to one the most important, and often neglected areas of genealogical research: Evidence Evaluation. As I’ve stated in the past, not determining whether a source was credible, would often come back to haunt me in later research. I’ve admitted this shortcoming and now I’m resolved to do something about it!

In addition, we begin to look at different types of educational opportunities available for genealogists. This month, the focus is on those offerings online, both free and fee-based. Ongoing education is a crucial part of not only becoming a good genealogist, but keeping your current skills finely honed and acquiring new skills!

Evaluating Evidence

Once I’ve gathered various bits of evidence for a proof point, such as my own birth date, and I’ve entered them in my research log, the next task: evaluating the evidence to determine whether my birth date can be proven or not.

In the past my evaluation of evidence consisted of saying to myself, “Well, if it is in a book it must be true!” or “If it is on someone’s tree, why would they lie?” Then I would enter the data in my genealogy database program and go on my merry way.

Now, I’m using a process to really look at the evidence I’ve found and to “rank” it based on certain elements. The evaluation elements that I use are from an article entitled Guidelines for Evaluating Genealogical Resources by Linda Woodward Geiger. You can find this article, and many more, in the Skillbuilding section of the Board for Certification of Genealogists’ website here.

I’ve included the basic evaluation information in a separate tab of my Genealogy Research Log so I can refer to it when evaluating a line entry in the research log. I also make notes in the Analysis column to support my theory as to proving or disproving my birth date.

Here’s an example using a certified copy of my birth certificate that I have in my possession:

  • Source Type: Derivative. It is a copy of the original record at the repository, in this case the New York State Department of Health, Vital Records. Some would argue that an official copy could still be called an Original instead of a Derivative, but for the standards I am using, I feel comfortable using Derivative.
  • Clarity: Clear. I can read the text, it is typewritten or printed, and I don’t need to guess at words.
  • Information: Primary. Although this is a copy, the original birth certificate was filed soon after my birth and is very close in time to the birth event. It was also filed with an official government agency required to keep an accurate record of such events.
  • Evidence Type: Direct. My birth date, location and other information is explicitly stated on the record; the information does not need to be inferred.

So, my birth certificate is “Derivative, Clear, Primary and Direct” as I call it. It would rank higher as a reliable record than say a birth announcement in the newspaper (not knowing who the informant was) or a Delayed Birth Certificate that is filed years later and based on one or more sworn affidavits by myself and/or others.

Finally, another valuable resource for learning more about evidence evaluation is QuickLesson 17: The Evidence Analysis Process Map at the Evidence Explained website.

Reviewing Online Education Options

Starting this month, The Genealogy Do-Over asks participants to starting reviewing options for genealogy education and the focus is online resources (we look for “offline” resources next month!).

As you can imagine, I’m a big proponent of not just genealogy education, but online genealogy education as well. Webinars are a big part of my own genealogy business and over the past five years, the genealogy industry has seen explosive growth in “distance education.”

So why do we pursue genealogy education? Not only to become better genealogists, but also because new record sets come online or are available at repositories and we want to use them as efficiently as possible. In addition, we may discover an ancestor from a new location and we’re not familiar with research in that area.

Here is a resource listing for free online genealogy education resources: RESOURCES Free Online Genealogy Educational Resources (opens in PDF). As you can see, there are some gaps especially in the area of Canadian, UK and Australian resources.

Month 6 To Do List – Full Do-Over Participants

  • Evaluating Evidence: Consider following my example of implementing evidence evaluation into your genealogy research process. Yes, it can be time consuming, but just like citing sources, once you’ve gotten into the habit, it becomes easier and you feel more confident in completing the task.
  • Reviewing Online Education Options: Review the RESOURCES Free Online Genealogy Educational Resources (opens in PDF) and consider creating an Education Plan. Start with small goals for 2016 and then look for webinars, videos and other online resources that can help you achieve those goals.

Month 6 To Do List – Review or “Go-Over” Participants

  • Evaluating Evidence: If you are reviewing your existing research, it may be difficult to evaluate evidence if you haven’t cited sources. In addition, some genealogy database software programs don’t make it easy to evaluate evidence. Determine the best method for your current data; it may actually help to use a program such as Evidentia, Clooz or one of the other evidence evaluation software packages.
  • Reviewing Online Education Options: There isn’t much different for the “go-over” or “review” participants – we all need genealogy education whether we are doing a complete “do-over” or not. See the plans above and determine what is a good fit for your learning style and the gaps in your genealogy skills.

©2016, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

Genealogy Do-Over – Month 5 – May 2016

The Genealogy Do-Over - Month 5 Topics: 1) Building a Research Toolbox an 2) Citing Sources.

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

Topics: 1) Citing Sources and 2) Building a Research Toolbox

Here we are in Month 5 of The Genealogy Do-Over and this month’s focus is all about tools: finding and curating online tools to assist with your genealogy research AND understanding the basis of citing sources as a tool to document your research.

Building a Research Toolbox

For several years I’ve been advocating the following concept: every genealogist should create a consolidated research toolbox filled with various tools such as historical value of money calculators, links to historical newspaper sites, etc.

The reason? Efficiency and increased productivity. Think of how much time you spend looking for a link to a site you saved a week or a month ago? Wouldn’t you rather spend that time looking for ancestors? On the other hand, when you need to calculate something – like how much $1 in 1910 would be worth in today’s money, you spend time out on the Web searching for a site to do the calculation. Don’t forget that each time you wander out to the Internet, you are at risk of being attracted by those BSOs (“bright and shiny objects”) and time is wasted!

A genealogy research toolbox can take many forms: a blog, a website, an Excel spreadsheet or even a cleaned-up and organized list of bookmarks:

A genealogy research toolbox can take many forms: a blog, a website, an Excel spreadsheet or even a cleaned-up and organized list of bookmarks.

BONUS: Building a Research Toolbox video from RootsTech 2015

This past February, I was honored to present a live-streamed session entitled Building a Research Toolbox (you can watch the video below or click here to view). In front of a full house of over 800 participants and with thousands watching live on the Internet, I explain the concept of a research toolbox and how it has helped my genealogy research. And click here to download the Building a Research Toolbox syllabus for free!

BONUS: Tools to Get You Started

Here are some tools that I recently located while preparing for a recent online webinar. They are so useful that I can’t see doing without them . . . so why not have them ready to access in a toolbox?

Citing Sources

True confession: Like many beginning genealogists, I did not always cite my sources during research. I was a name collector. I’ve evolved as my research skills improved and as I took advantage of educational resources. For me, citing sources is not about impressing other researchers or meeting any standards established by others. I cite sources so I can go back and find the original information. Plain and simple. Source citations are the equivalent of a trail of breadcrumbs along my genealogy journey.

So, why do we use source citations?

There are many reasons why a genealogist might want to cite sources while researching ancestors.

  • Establish Proof. Cited material gives credibility to a fact or relationship while proving a connection.
  • Determine Reliability of Evidence. Some sources are more reliable and make a stronger proof. Compare points of evidence based on their source.
  • Track Records and Resources. Easily go back and locate records and their repositories. This is effective when the original record or a copy is lost.
  • Expand Research. When encountering a difficult area of research, look for sources that were successful in making a proof and check them again for further information.
  • Discover Conflicts. Locate contradictions in existing research or when new evidence is found.
  • Understand the Research Process. When using another researcher’s work, sources can give a glimpse at how that research was developed.
  • Placeholders. Pick up a research project where you left off by looking at source citations.

How do I create a basic source citation?

A basic source citation has the following components:

Author, Title, Publisher, Locator

For the book Evidence Explained, here is a basic citation:

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Pub Co, 2007, p. 103.

  • Author: Format can be “First Name Last Name” or “Last Name, First Name.”
  • Title: Format can be Title (italics) or Title (underline). In addition, article titles may precede publication title.
  • Publisher: Format often includes publisher location, name and year published and sometimes appears in parentheses.
  • Locator: Usually a page number or range of page numbers depending upon the source type.

In addition, for online sources you may need:

  • Accessed: List date when source located as in “accessed on March 29, 2009” since online sites are known to disappear.
  • Examined: List search criteria as in “examined for any reference to ‘xyz’.”

Following the Basic Source Citation format above, you will want to add more “locator” information when using records such as census pages, death certificates, etc. and also specify the name of the person(s) listed in the record.

1850 U.S. Federal Census, Lewis County, New York, population schedule, Leyden, p. 84, dwelling 1254, family 1282, line 36, Clarinda PARSONS, digital images, Ancestry ( accessed 16 October 2011); from National Archives microfilm publication M432, roll 523, image 168.

How can I access the citation format templates?

While I have added the source citation templates to the Genealogy Research Log (on the Citation Formats tab), click here to access a list of common citation formats in a Microsoft Word document.

Month 5 To Do List – Full Do-Over Participants

  • Citing Sources: If you own a copy of Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace (either hard copy or digital), read Chapters 1 and 2. Doing so will help you understand how source citations are constructed and why they are so important to genealogy research.

Month 5 To Do List – Review or “Go-Over” Participants

  • Citing Sources: If you have cited sources for your previous research, review the cites and check them for formatting and accuracy. If you don’t have a cheat sheet or template to help speed up the process, consider creating a way to use pre-set source citation templates.
  • Building a Research Toolbox: Consider creating a research toolbox, especially if your current toolbox consists of tons of bookmarks or favorites that are not very well-organized.

©2016, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.