Genealogy Do-Over – Week 9, Cycle 3: 28 August – 3 September 2015

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

Click here to download this article in PDF format.

Previous topics in the Genealogy Do-Over:

[Editor’s note: Much of the text below is unchanged from the original Week 9 posting on February 27, 2015, except for my personal updates.]

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

Where are you at with your Genealogy Do-Over? We are coming into Week 9 with four more weeks remaining. Again, I know that many of you may feel “behind,” but please don’t panic! As many have said, one of the best aspects of this collaborative learning project is the ability to print the PDF articles for each week and work on them when you are ready. And don’t forget! When the current Genealogy Do-Over cycle ends, on 1 October 2015, I’ll be restarting with Cycle 4, Week 1 on Friday, 2 October 2015.

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Conducting Cluster Research

Last week 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! But 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 an effective collateral or cluster search.
  • 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.

  • What I Plan to Do: I have started to do some cluster research for my family. My mother had 11 siblings and I have almost 40 first cousins so there is quite a bit of research involved. It is slow going, but I know the time invested will be worth it.
  • “All-In” Participant Options: 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!
  • Modified Participant Options: 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 iterate out 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 and progress from there.

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 week we’ll 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 paper. But 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 13,000 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.

  • What I Plan to Do: I’m making progress on organizing my materials. I recently ordered a set of 200 acid-free document protectors for all my certificates and vital records that I’ve ordered in the past.
  • “All-In” Participant Options: 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.
  • Modified Participant Options: 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!

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And that’s all I have for this week’s topic of the Genealogy Do-Over. Get ready for next week when we start looking at the basic concepts of DNA testing and how to choose the right test for your research. And we’ll also focus on keeping digital files organized.

Next Week: Week 10, Cycle 3 – 4-10 September 2015

  • Reviewing DNA Testing Options
  • Organizing Research Materials – Digital

Thanks for being a part of the Genealogy Do-Over and your feedback is always appreciated. You can leave a comment on the blog post at GeneaBloggers, email me at or post at the Genealogy Do-Over Facebook Group.

©2015, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

Genealogy Do-Over – Week 8, Cycle 3: 21-27 August 2015

The Genealogy Do-Over - Week 8 Topics: 1) Conducting Collateral Research and 2) Reviewing Offline Education Options.

Click here to to download this article in PDF format.

Previous topics in the Genealogy Do-Over:

[Editor’s note: Much of the text below is unchanged from the original Week 8 posting on February 20, 2015, except for my personal updates.]

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

How are you doing on your Genealogy Do-Over? Or are you working on a “go-over” review of your own research? This is Week 8 with five more weeks remaining. I realize that many participants are not yet caught up, but one of the nice features of this collaborative learning project is the ability to print the PDF articles for each week and work on them when you are ready.

Don’t forget! When the current Genealogy Do-Over cycle ends, on 1 October 2015, I’ll be restarting with Cycle 4, Week 1 on Friday, 2 October 2015.

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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.
  • What I Plan to Do: Now that I’ve done basic research on my generation, my parents and my grandparents, I’ll go back and start collateral research. This means looking at my siblings (my brother) and proving his life events. Then I’ll work up to my father and my mother (Mom had 11 siblings – a huge project). For each of them I’ll try to prove their live events and list their children.
  • “All-In” Participant Options: 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 weeks of the Genealogy Do-Over.
  • Modified Participant Options: 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

You’ve 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 also 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 2015 or 2016. Click here for RESOURCE Offline Genealogy Education – US or visit the Files section of the Genealogy Do-Over Facebook Group for a listing with links.

  • What I Plan to Do: I currently keep tabs on all genealogy education offerings, both virtual and offline (in person) through various blogs and using Google Alerts. One of the challenges for me, personally, is that when I attend a genealogy conference I am often delivering several lectures. This means I am often unable to attend other lectures at an event. Participating in virtual genealogy education has always been a better fit for me.
  • “All-In” Participant Options: Review the list of available conference and institutes. Also consider local genealogy conferences and attending local genealogy society meetings.
  • Modified Participant Options: Review the list of available conference and institutes. Also consider local genealogy conferences and attending local genealogy society meetings.

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And that’s all I have for this week’s topic of the Genealogy Do-Over. Get ready for next week when we start looking at the importance of “cluster research” especially when trying to break through brick walls. We’ll also focus on keeping documents and photos organized.

Next Week: Week 9 – 28 August – 3 September 2015

  • Conducting Cluster Research
  • Organizing Research Materials – Documents and Photos

Thanks for being a part of the Genealogy Do-Over and your feedback is always appreciated. You can leave a comment on the blog post at GeneaBloggers, email me at or post at the Genealogy Do-Over Facebook Group.

©2015, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

Digitization Options for Family Photos Including Slides, Film Negatives, and Home Movies

Confused when it comes to scanning family photos? What about slides, negatives or even home movies? GeneaBloggers has a guide to get you started . . .

One of the focus areas for Week 7 of the Genealogy Do-Over is scanning and digitizing photos. There are various approaches you can take to get this done: send them out to a service or scan them yourself. Many of us don’t feel comfortable sending our precious photos out so we take the “do it yourself” route. However, the DIY approach requires making the right choices when it comes to purchasing equipment and actually scanning items so that the resulting digital files are useful for genealogy research.

The process becomes more complicated once you discover that you need to digitize items such as film negatives, slides, oversized photos, home movie film and more. Do you purchase one scanner to handle all of these items? Or must you spend money for specialized scanners that you’ll only use a few times?

Here are some tips regarding digitizing items, with some sound advice on developing a comprehensive scanning program for items in your family archives.

A special discount of 34% percent off the new book How to Archive Family Photos by Denise Levenick - here's how to get the special coupon code!

Tip: Purchase How to Archive Family Photos

Even for a tech guy like me, it isn’t easy to stay on top of the latest strategies for digitizing various types of items. I can spend hours searching the Internet for articles that may have tips and tricks or I can simply go to an authoritative source such as the new book How to Archive Family Photos by Denise Levenick. Click here to read my review of this book which is available in paperback as well as e-book format.

The author provides a basic outline of digitization strategy and also reviews terminology such as TIFF vs. JPG file formats and 300 dpi vs. 600 dpi. The most valuable chapters give a step-by-step approach to digitizing and archiving specific types of media including photos, slides and more.

Tip: Create a Digitization Strategy Plan

Most readers know I am big on plans. I believe that my ancestors had a motto: “Make no small plans.” I carry this thinking through to everything I do in terms of my genealogy. I figure that I should take time to do something the right way the first time, rather than redo it years later.

As genealogists many of us make research plans, so why not create a Digitization Strategy Plan. Here are the basic elements and you can create this on paper, in a digital file, on a spreadsheet or even in Evernote to track your progress:

  • Take Inventory. Create a list, either simple or detailed, of items needing to be scanned. Include all photos, slides, negatives, movies etc. Also list photo sizes as well as media formats; remember that negatives can be 110 and other sizes! The same goes for slides and you don’t want to purchase the wrong type of slide scanner, right?
  • Evaluate equipment. For those taking the DIY approach, research available technology in terms of types of scanners, storage media, etc. Collect information and determine which device is best for your project.
  • Set standards. Research the base minimum standards for each media type and list them. Use these to set standards and preferences for equipment such as a flatbed scanner.
  • Create a Tracking Mechanism. One you’ve done your inventory, it should be simple to track digitization projects from start to finish, whether you scan them yourself or send them out to a service. Also tracks costs of equipment, cost of outsourcing projects and even time spent scanning items.
  • Data Management and Backup. Once items are scanned, you’ll need to focus on file naming standards, keeping items organized and, of course, backing up your data!

Tip: DIY or Send It Out? How to Decide on a Scanning Approach

Everyone has a different approach not just to scanning photos and documents, but also opinions on how to best use their time for these projects.

If you feel overwhelmed by the scanning technology and spend too much time just choosing the right scanner, sending your items out to be scanned might be a better choice. However, if you want more control over how items are scanned and you want to save money, the “do it yourself” route is likely your best bet.

Take time to determine the overall cost of a digitization project including money spent on technology, time spent just researching technology, and time spent actually scanning and organizing digital files.

Tip: Selecting a Scanning Service

If you do opt for outsourcing your scanning, either for every project or a specialized project involving slides or film, make sure you thoroughly research the service provider you select.

Here are some of the questions you should be asking or research on the company’s website:

  • What equipment is being used for scanning? The company should be using professional quality scanners.
  • What resolution is used for scanning items? A quality company will list their minimum resolution for scanning. Beware of companies that aren’t up front about their scanning resolution. They may be using high-speed scanners that focus on rapid scanning of large amounts of photos, saving the company time and money.
  • Is there an additional charge for large photos? Some companies will have a standard price per photo up to a specific size, such as 5×7”.
  • Do you offer free shipping? Most companies charge you for the return of the photos unless you have an order totaling $50 or $100 or more.
  • What happens if my photos are lost in the mail? Make sure you read the Terms of Service for the company and purchase insurance if available.
  • Do you offer standard features such as color correction? Some companies will “nickel and dime” you for services that are standard such color correction.
  • Do you offer a free sample scan? Many companies will allow you to send one or two photos for a free sample scan. You’ll receive the original photos returned in the mail and the digital files sent via e-mail or accessed via a download service. You can then judge the quality of the scan, the scan resolution and the file format used.
  • What about customer service? How accessible is the company when you have a question or want to track the status of a scan job? Is the customer service based in the United States or handled overseas?
  • Where is the digitization work performed? Is it done in-house by the company or is it further outsourced? Many companies send materials overseas for scanning, so make sure you understand where your items will be scanned.

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One of the best scanning services for genealogy and family history items is Larsen Digital, located in Salt Lake City, Utah. I have used them for numerous projects, including photo restoration, and they understand the needs of genealogists when it comes to scanning.

Visit and use promo code Thomas2015 to save 10% on ALL conversion services including negatives, film, photos and even audio and video tapes!

Tip: Develop a Multi-Device Approach to Scanning

In over 20 years of using various types of scanning technology, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is not one device or one approach that will do everything. Especially so many different types of media to be scanned, you simply can’t rely on just a flatbed scanner or a scanning app.

For me, I need four different scanners to cover different situations;

  • A flatbed scanner in my home office for photos and documents up to 8.5 x 11 inches in size.
  • A portable scanner, such as the Flip-Pal mobile scanner, for research trips and scanning photos when visiting relatives.
  • One or more scanning apps, such as Shoebox or CamScanner, for times when a repository won’t allow the use of my Flip-Pal OR using my iPhone is just more convenient.
  • A multi-media scanner, such as the Jumbl, to scan negatives, slides, film and more.

flip pal  mobile scanner

Tip: Why the Flip-Pal Mobile Scanner is a Valuable Tool

I’ve been a fan of the Flip-Pal mobile scanner for years now. I own one and travel with it all the time, from genealogy conferences to family visits. I never know when I’ll need to scan something!

Some would argue that the Smart Phone and scanning apps are soon to render items like the Flip-Pal obsolete, but I don’t agree. Here’s why:

  • Using a hand held device to take a photo of a photo or document can be tricking due to overhead lighting. Many times I get a glare on glossy images.
  • As I get older, my hands are not as steady as they used to be. I’ve had scans from a Smart Phone that are blurry.
  • For larger items, I usually have to scan in sections anyway, so why not just use my Flip-Pal and then stitch the sections together with the free stitching software?
  • When I am at home watching television or listening to music, I can sit on my sofa and scan 100 photos an hour using my Flip-Pal. I even have a wireless SD card which lets me scan the image then sends it to my desktop computer automatically – no need to take the SD card out and transfer photos manually!
  • And finally, the Flip-Pal is easy to use. Recently at a family reunion, I managed to convince some of my younger cousins to sit and scan photos while the adults talked and swapped family history stories!

Click here and use promo code gb2015 for special savings from Flip-Pal!

scanner app

Tip: Scanning Apps Can Save the Day!

Yes, I prefer my Flip-Pal for mobile scanning, but there are times when I need a backup scanner for road trips. Not every librarian or archivist can be convinced as to the merits of the Flip-Pal; often, they are concerned about possible damage to the item being scanned. Or I have even had situations where I’m encouraged to use the photo copiers instead, since the library makes money from those copiers.

For times when a portable scanner just won’t do, I make sure I have at least two scanning apps on my Smart Phone. For me, the choices are Shoebox by Ancestry and CamScanner.

  • Shoebox: With more genealogists using mobile devices, it makes sense that Ancestry would have a free app to scan photos. Shoebox works with both the iOS (iPhone, iPad) and Android (Windows) platforms and allows you to correct the photo position and color as well as date and tag photos.
  • CamScanner: Another scanning app for smart phones is CamScanner offering basic scanning capabilities. A big plus is the ability to scan a document of typed text and then convert the text via OCR (optical character reading) to a text file.

Tip: Is a Multi-Media Scanner Worth the Price?

There is a growing awareness in the genealogy community as to the immediate need to scan and digitize items such as negatives, slides, and film. Each week, genealogists discover that these items don’t last forever and that the materials actually degrade over time. Colors fade, coatings disintegrate and even entire images disappear.

Outsourcing various types of media can be expensive since most companies use specialized scanners for each type of item. In addition, these items cannot be “rapid scanned” and require quite a deal of manual handling. And one down side of sending items out to be scanned: you’re not sure what images are on the media and whether you really want to keep them. So you pay for unwanted scans . . .

Taking the DIY approach does offer more control over the process but digitizing these types of media on your own can be even more challenging than scanning photos and documents. Should you purchase a different scanner for each type of media? Are the scanning standards for film different than those used for photos?

Lately, more and more “multi-purpose” media scanners are appearing in the marketplace. One exceptional item is the Jumbl All-In-1 Film & Slide Scanner available at Amazon.

Are you sitting on a collection of old 35mm slides, 8mm or 16mm home movies, or perhaps boxes of photo negatives? I hope you realize that the material breaks down over the years . . . that’s why it is so important to scan and digitize those materials as soon as possible. The Jumbl High-Resolution Scanner handles many media types and does not require a computer or software – you can scan right to its internal memory or memory card! Right now the Jumbl, which has high ratings, is 50% off at Amazon – only $99!

The Jumbl allows you to scan 33mm slides and negatives, 110 and 126 film as well as Super 8 slides and negatives. Scan resolution is amazing with a base of 14 megapixels and with the Jumbl software you can even scan up to 22 megapixels. In addition, everything you need to scan is in this device meaning there is no need to connect it to a computer. You can view images once they are scanned and then save scans to a SD card (not included).

Right now the Jumbl is on sale for 50% off at Amazon – just $99 USD and free shipping for Amazon Prime members. Click here for more information.

technology for genealogy group on facebook

Tip: Spend Time Learning How Your Flatbed Scanner Works

I spend quite a bit of time reading posts over at the Technology for Genealogy group on Facebook and many of them involve scanning and scanners. I’ve come to the conclusion that most genealogists have some type of flatbed scanner, whether it is a stand-along scanner or part of an all-in-one device such as a printer/scanner combination.

Most users don’t spend time reviewing the settings for their scanner or scanning software. They simply accept the factory defaults and start scanning. Then after several weeks or months they realize that they’ve been scanning hundreds of photos at a low resolution and/or using a non-standard photo format.

Once you have a Digitization Strategy Plan (see above), note that standards you’ve developed – such as 300dpi and TIFF file format – and then set those standards on your scanner under Preferences. This way you won’t have to check the settings each time you embark on a scanning project!

flatbed scanner

Tip: Recovering the Cost of Purchased Scanning Equipment

One of the frequent questions I receive via email is this: “What do I do with a specialized piece of scanning equipment once I’m done using it?” For example, if you purchased a slide scanner and you’ve completed your digitization project with over 1,000 slides, what should you do with that scanner for which you’ve paid good money? It is unlikely that you’ll come into possession of more slides, right?

One option is to donate the equipment to your local genealogical society or public library. Many organizations are willing to set up “do it yourself” scanning stations for patrons. And you could get a tax deduction!

Another option: trade in the equipment for credit. Click here to learn how you can mail in your equipment (Amazon even pays the postage!), and get a credit to use on any purchase including genealogy books. Visit to learn more on how you can trade in almost any piece of technology – even if you didn’t purchase it at Amazon!

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Digitizing Photos and Documents Is Easier Than Ever

There have been so many advances in technology used to scan and digitize family photos and documents that there are no more excuses to put off those important projects. Whether you take your items to a scanning service or embark on a DIY project, it all comes down to making smart choices. If you do decide to scan items yourself, make sure you have the proper equipment and use the best standards to ensure quality scans and the need for “do-overs.”

©2015, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.