Thanks a Lot, Ancestry.com

No, really. 

I guess it’s time for me to rework my entire research process. If you’re a genealogist, you already know about this. If you’re not, you probably don’t care. 

On Tuesday, 8 Dec 2015, Kendall Hulet of Ancestry.com announced via email and the Ancestry blog that they would be retiring their desktop software package known as Family Tree Maker:

“…we’ve taken a hard look at the declining desktop software market and the impact this has on being able to continue to provide product enhancements and support that our users need. With that, we’ve made the tough decision to stop selling Family Tree Maker as of December 31, 2015.”

What?!?!

He then goes on to say,

“Our subscription business and website, on the other hand, continue to grow and we are doubling down our efforts to make that experience even better for our Ancestry community.”

Wrong. 

The next day on 9 Dec 2015, after a deluge of outraged customers hit the Comments box, he made another blog post to “clarify” the issue. Here’s the key portion of that: 

After January 1, 2017, features that require connectivity to Ancestry, such as TreeSync, uploading and downloading trees and media, and Web Search, may no longer be supported. Most Family Tree Maker features are designed to work offline, and should continue to function unless a change on your computer, such as an operating system update, causes the functionality to break.

Oh, you mean those operating system updates that we perform say, about twice a year on average

In other words, Ancestry.com decided to rock the genealogical world 17 days before Christmas, pulling out from under our feet the single most useful feature present in any genealogy software on the market: TreeSync™. 

You see, the software in question, Family Tree Maker (or FTM), isn’t really that great. It’s clunky, doesn’t have good charting or reporting capabilities, is nearly useless for source citation* and refuses to export a gedcom that comes complete with media. 

*BUT

FTM syncs your desktop tree with your online tree at Ancestry.com. In other words, every source record and EVERY ASSOCIATED IMAGE is present on your desktop computer. Without TreeSync™, if you perform a lot of research on Ancestry (and who doesn’t?), the process to attach image copies to records is about ten steps long. 

Some genealogists, the smart ones, already use other (BETTER except for the sync) software programs, and already include this ten-step process in their Method. But those of us who are lazy, or slaves to convenience, or who simply never thought the day would come when ANCESTRY WOULD PULL THE RUG OUT FROM UNDER OUR FEET, simply relied on TreeSync™ to import our data. The lack of a comprehensive export feature never really bothered me unless I wanted to try out new software. And once I realized the export didn’t work, I just grinned and bore it: went back to FTM. It’s just easier that way, despite FTM’s foibles. 

Instead of figuring out a workaround for the media issue, I developed workarounds for the citation issues. For the charting. For the database maintenance. 

And now I realize that I must go back and start all over in order to have my entire tree in another program. 

You see, here’s the problem: Ancestry refuses to release the TreeSync™ function to other software developers. 

So now, the slaves to convenience like me, must force ourselves to adapt, to access our online trees and download every single image, rename it, attach it to the source citations, then to the people, then to their respective events. Some people have tens of thousands of these images in their tree. 

This. Is. Going. To. Take. Forever. 

The good news: 

In the upcoming nightmare of redoing my whole tree, I actually may learn something. I may figure out a better process. I may find that some of my attached records, which I haven’t needed to revisit since I added them, are incorrect. I will be forced to analyze each and every piece of evidence for each and every person. The result will ultimately be a better tree. Better research. Better citations. 

Better genealogy. 

Ancestry.com, most of your customers are horrified. You’re going to lose a LOT of business among the online subscribers. 

But THIS customer? This customer is glad. 

Thank you, Ancestry.com, for forcing me to become a better genealogist. 

How to Get Started

A non-genealogist recently asked me how she should begin researching her grandmother’s ancestry.  I responded to her via email with an overview of the “basics” as I see them, and afterward realized that my response is worthy of reposting here on my site.  You can get the same advice elsewhere, but here it is in MY words.

How to Get Started in Genealogy – The Basics

Collect the Information

The #1 most important first step is to talk to your older relatives.  You need to find the EARLIEST possible information in living memory.   Do they know where Grandma lived throughout her life?  Did she move around, did she work, what did her husband do?  What do your relatives remember about her?  The answers to these questions will provide a combo of vital information to help find her, as well as personal, non-official information that will be invaluable when writing her life story.

Then ask them about Grandma’s parents.  Do they happen to know their names?  Their MIDDLE names?  Maiden names? What did they do?  Did they own land?   When did the family come to America (even an estimate is good) and where were they from?  “Scotland” is good, but “Perthshire, Scotland” is better.  

Collect the Evidence

Then start acquiring evidence of your grandmother’s vital info:  Her birth date, marriage date, death date, names of her children, any paper copies of vital records (i.e. birth cert) that you can get your hands on.  It’s best to get these records for as many people as you can find, but it’s okay to start with just one person’s papers.  Other resources to check are family bibles, scrapbooks, clipped newspaper articles, photos, letters, military discharge papers, social security cards, etc.  I found some very useful information in a copy of my grandparents’ first mortgage agreement.  Pretty much anything that has a date and a name on it can be useful.

Look Online

Sites such as Mocavo, Find My Past, and of course, the ubiquitous Ancestry, offer records and even images of original documents, for a price.  Keep in mind, however, that there are dangers in online research – it’s very easy for a beginner to accept information found online without realizing the pitfalls.  Such as:

  1. Info that does not include source information – if it’s not sourced, it’s NOT evidence – it’s just a hint.  This applies to the “hints” that Ancestry gives, the public family trees found on Ancestry and other family tree websites, the information published by individuals on their personal web pages, etc.  Remember, just because it’s on the internet does NOT mean it is true.
  2. Records that look like they pertain to your ancestor, but do not.  Be sure to check all  the information in the record.  Did she live in California her whole life?  Well then, the Census listing a person with her name in Missouri – does NOT refer to your ancestor.  Do the dates on the records make sense?  If she was born in 1900, then a marriage certificate dated 1910 is highly unlikely to belong to her (not impossible, but unlikely – you’ll want to place an asterisk by this information until you can research it further).

Please Cite Your Sources

Keep notes of everything you learn, make copies of everything you find, and carefully record the source information.  Who gave it to you, who wrote it, where did you find it?  Who is the publisher?  Also be sure to note which evidence applies to each fact.    It is absolutely vital to record as much information about the origin of every piece of evidence you have, from the very beginning.  I cannot stress this enough.  The Board for Certification of Genealogists provides an extremely useful “Skillbuilding” article on this subject. It includes basic guidelines on the source information you should collect for each type of source (book, certificate, census, etc).  Here is an excellent layman’s-terms blog post on the same topic.  

Ask For Help

There are many online resources for new genealogists.  Cyndi’s List, a nifty directory of genealogical websites, has a great collection of links for beginners.  If you’re willing to pay a professional, email me!  Or check the Association for Professional Genealogists‘ directory for a pro who specializes in your region, time period, etc.  There are a number of good forms online where you can record your information to keep everything organized.  Family Tree Magazine provides free downloadable forms for this purpose.  You can also simply Google Genealogy Forms for other resources.

By the way, it isn’t tragic if you can’t access all of the information or documents I suggested above.  I was never able to talk to my relatives, and I have to order most vital records from courthouses.  As an experienced professional, the only things I REALLY need to get started are a name, birthday, birthplace, and something about at least one relative to help differentiate your person from others by her name; preferably a husband or parents, but even a child’s name will do. And if you don’t know anything about any of her relatives, well, I can probably find something for you anyway.  🙂

Just Walk Away…

So, it’s amazing to me.  It’s amazing that I can do All The Research and still come up empty, but what amazes me even more?   I can walk away from my records for a few days, come back to them for a review, and find the amazing, glaring piece of evidence ALREADY IN MY DOCUMENT, which solves the problem for me.

In a nutshell, I’m trying to prove the familial relationship between two parties, and that relationship is spelled out in (somewhat uncertain) terms in a single document; when compared to the other data I’ve accumulated, they become CERTAIN terms.

I’ve been working on this case study for about 3 months now, carefully sifting through all of the evidence, searching and searching and searching for more evidence, scouring wills and lawsuits, even drawing up plats and land ownership maps based on the language in 18th century surveys to prove my point, and the solution to my problem was there in an 1846 will, all along.  A will which I transcribed… three months ago.

WHY DOES IT TAKE A BREAK TO FIND THAT?  How can I focus on an issue for MONTHS and miss a single sentence in a single document to solve all my problems?

Words cannot express how much I stand by just. walking. away.  Just walk away.  Clear your mind.  Work on something fun or something less intense for a couple of days.  See what’s new on Ancestry.com.  Maybe even do something not genealogy-related, for a few precious days.  Then go back and see what you can find in your already-compiled documentation.  You never know!

Recording Your Records

I am being forced to take a break from genealogy work for a month or so while we pack and move to a new home.  My books are going into boxes, my papers are going into the filing cabinet, and my mind is going crazy.  You don’t realize how much you rely on performing research until you are unable to do so.  I have a couple of brick walls that I was painstakingly disassembling before we found The House, and I am afraid that even my obsession with the stories won’t be enough to allow me to pick up where I left off.

This is why a quality research log is so important, folks.  Meticulously record each source you consult, even when you don’t find what you need.  ESPECIALLY when you don’t find what you need; you don’t want to consult the same source repeatedly only to come up empty, because you forgot to note that you already checked it!  It’s so easy to click through a bunch of links going “Nope, go back; nope, go back; nope, go back; YES! I FOUND SOMETHING!”  All of those “nopes” need to be recorded as well.  Trust me – it helps.  Because I am meticulous about my research logs, I’ve found myself able to return to a project after months off, and after a brief scan of my research log (which ALWAYS includes at least three “next steps” at the end), I can get back to work with very little scrambling around.

However, while I’m good with the research log, I’m not so great with the filing.  Moving also showcases the reasons why a well-organized filing system is important.  To be honest, I still haven’t found a good way to file my stuff, which is why I’m so nervous about this hiatus.  My computer filing system is slightly better than my paper filing system, but both of them are based on surnames, which doesn’t always work.  For every significant surname, there are multiple associated families via marriage.  So, while I may have an Austin folder, and a Williams folder, in which do I place the Austin-Williams marriage certificate?  Well, I place that in my “Vital Records” folder, which has copies of every original vital record I own… NOT organized by surname.  See how this gets confusing?  Let’s not even get into Evernote, and tags, and Family Tree Maker, with the media…

If anybody has suggestions for a workable filing system, please let me know.  My paper files are, at this point, a random repository of random papers placed in random folders based on how I felt about the papers at the time.  “This goes… with AUSTIN! YES!”  Next time… “WILLIAMS! YES!”  When I worked as a legal secretary, each file folder had a list of the contents, so a quick scan would tell you whether the document you were seeking was inside.   This would be a fabulous method for genealogy, but gosh, with over 4 gigabytes of files and information, implementing this strategy would take away even more valuable research time.  What to do, what to do…

Modesto Scottish Games, 6/6/15

As Area Deputy Chieftain of the American Clan Gregor Society, I represented ACGS at the Modesto Scottish Games and Celtic Festival yesterday, June 6, 2015, in Modesto California.  The games were wonderful, the booth was a huge success, and the pictures should say the rest!  Take a look at my album on Carousel for some great videos of the Mass Pipe Band walking by my tent!

Thank you VERY MUCH to the St. Andrew’s Society of Modesto for hosting this event at the Tuolomne River Park.

2015-06-06 16.38.25-12015-06-06 15.52.08PS:  A corset is NOT the most comfortable thing to wear in 90 degree weather with no breeze.  Just pointing that out.

 

It’s not enough to be proud of your ancestry. Live up to it.

Wow, what a quote, huh?  It’s from “1001 Rules for My Unborn Son” (http://rulesformyunbornson.tumblr.com/post/87316940/349-its-not-enough-to-be-proud-of-your-ancestry) and I think it’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard.

At least, for a genealogist.  Not really sure how it will benefit unborn children, but for those of us who are obsessed with our family tree, this statement should hit home.

Your ancestry is something of which you should be proud; the people who came before us are part of who we are today (even if some of them were criminal types and ne’er-do-wells).  In fact, it hardly matters *what* family members did with their lives – some of mine were slave owners, and Congressmen, and I’m still proud of them!  You know why?  Because they survived, in a time when survival was difficult.  Your ancestors also survived, and procreated, and fulfilled the human objective, and that’s why it’s your obligation to live your life to the utmost.  Take care of yourself; take care of your family, and your neighbors, and friends, and complete strangers.

Or as my father once told me, “You’re likely to make good choices if you live your life as if you knew your grandma was watching.”

 

 

Erroneous Vital Records – Annoying!

Isn’t it annoying when one of your ancestors’ vital records has incorrect information? It’s an official document – it should be correct! How dare they lie on a document that will be replicated in perpetuity on the family tree, requiring a proof summary to explain away the discrepancy! But it’s important to remember that sometimes, we should give our scorned ancestors a break; their records may be the product of excited distraction and not indicative of a desire to ruin their descendants’ family history research!

From a genealogist’s standpoint, my marriage certificate is a nightmare. We gave the wrong middle name for his father (Douglas instead of Daly), we married hundreds of miles away from home (in Vegas), and our witness was the on-duty security guard, a Mr. Ed Huggins.

My grandparents’ newly-found marriage certificate is similarly awful; a fact I can only admit now that the once-fruitless search is over. They eloped too, so one must assume that these discrepancies are based on their desire to not get caught! They were married in St. Bernard Parish, many miles away from their home in Avoyelles, and certainly not the New Orleans, where family legend has placed their marriage for nearly 90 years. Their ages are listed as 21 and 21, when in fact they were 19 and 17 (ahh, young love). And Grandma’s mother’s name is wrong. Sort of.

Interestingly, this taught me something crucial about my great grandmother. For years I have come across her name listed as “Martha Elizabeth O Bannon” on various online trees and even in published compilations, but I never understood the “Martha” part. In every record I can find of my great grandmother, her name is Elizabeth or Lizzie. I know that her name was Elizabeth; my mother’s middle name is Beth in her honor, shortened because “Mamaw” wouldn’t let my grandma name her Elizabeth, just in case people started calling her the hated nickname, Lizzie.

But Grandma’s marriage certificate clearly lists her mother’s name as Martha. Based on her insistence that my mother’s middle name not be Elizabeth, but Beth so as to avoid the hated Lizzie nickname, I assume Mamaw called herself Martha for the same reason.

But sometimes they really are just trying to be evil. A client of mine has in her possession a similarly awful death certificate, whose purpose was to confuse the powers that be. Around 1929, William Latimer abandoned his wife Mary Maude and their family of four children and went to live with another woman named Beatrice. In 1930 he listed himself on the census as a widower who was a lodger in Beatrice’s household. On his death certificate (in 1949), his spouse is listed as Beatrice Latimer. The funny thing is, he and Mary Maude never divorced, and she lived until 1975!

What a cad!

Why “Breeding Tells”?

A second post today, because I’ve received some feedback on my business name and I would like to explain myself.

My original business name was History Science Theater, and that’s actually still the “official” name (i.e. the one under which my DBA is confirmed, and for which my business license was approved).  That name comes from my lifelong love of learning, especially science and (gee) history.  It’s also a play on words from the hit show Mystery Science Theater 3K.  I’ve always considered genealogy to represent a mixture of historical research and the Scientific Method.  Given some data, form a hypothesis and then test it until you determine that it is either accurate, or inaccurate.

But “Breeding Tells” is much closer to my actual business focus, because I specialize in colonial records, and let’s face it, colonial people were classist snobs.  They either owned land or they didn’t – and if they didn’t, there probably isn’t much genealogical data available.  They married within their social circles – usually the people whose land adjoined were the likeliest “happy couples”.  They owned slaves (ugh; sad but true) and they considered themselves to be above the “others” in their world.

So why would I want to further this snobbery?  Because, it’s another play on words.  “Breeding Tells” refers to the fact that the way you were brought up can or will show in your actions and choices throughout your life.  It’s an old proverb, sort of like “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”  But “breeding” also implies a pedigree (think race horses).  And genealogy is a way to “tell” someone’s breeding, too.  So my slogan is “Breeding Tells: What Will Yours Tell You?” In other words, if you let me research your family history, can you imagine all of the amazing and wonderful information that I might find?  Are you eligible for a lineage society?  Are you related to the founders of our nation?  A president, a general, or even an English royal?  Or are you simply one of the nobly persistent and hardy folk who helped build this country?

The fact is, every single person in this great nation of ours whose family can be traced to the colonial era has forebears who were genuinely essential to the formation of the United States of America.  It doesn’t matter if they were slaves or landowners, of noble stock or indentured servants – EVERYONE who lived on this continent during the colonial era (and who had descendants) is a founding father or mother.  And so I repeat:  What will your breeding tell YOU?

BCG Certification Process

I’m currently “on the clock” as they call it, working on my portfolio for BCG Certification.  In case you don’t already know this, BCG stands for the Board for Certification of Genealogists, and, you guessed it, certification means just that.  It’s basically the highest standard that a genealogist can achieve. “Since 1964, genealogists have looked to BCG for consumer protection, skill assessment, and respected credentials. Based in our nation’s capital, BCG is independent of any society, although its trustees and judges are always national leaders in the field.”  In other words, if you’ve “got the stuff” to become certified, then you are one of the Genealogical Elite; one of the best in your field.  One of the few people in the world who are “officially” qualified to perform professional genealogical research for pay.

This doesn’t mean that non-certified professional genealogists aren’t awesome.  Most genealogists have many, many more years experience than I do; many of the non-certified are probably more qualified than me (SO FAR!!!).  But BCG Certification means that the best of the best have reviewed your work and found it worthy of their approval.

This is a really big deal.  So, why do I think I’m good enough to achieve this standard?

Well, because I’m awesome.  And because, from the first moment I started researching my own family history, I have striven for perfection.  My legal and scientific background prepared me to acknowledge that every single piece of evidence one provides must carry with it properly sourced and researched citations.  I never consider a project “done” – and I only ever consider it to be “acceptable” when it meets those standards.  But let’s face it – we are dealing with the entire lives of people we’ve never met – every person in the universe is much more than a birth, marriage, or death date.  Until you can identify every single event in a person’s life (practically impossible), you’re never “done” with the research.  But if you can provide evidence for the information that you have discovered, and you cite it properly, and describe your reasoning, then at least that part is complete.

So, my awesomeness notwithstanding, I have still felt a little overwhelmed with the process.  The portfolio includes seven sections, five of which are genealogical endeavors (the other two are to sign the code of conduct and provide a CV).  And this needs to be The Best of The Best Work You’ve Ever Done.  Your portfolio is reviewed by a panel of experts and deemed either sufficient, or insufficient.  The assignments themselves include extremely detailed case studies; well-researched proof arguments and kinship determination reports. You must be comfortable transcribing 300-year-old documents accurately and then preparing research proposals.  Your work must showcase your ability to perform “reasonably exhaustive research”, meaning, you’ve checked out at least most of the commonly-used (and not so common) resources to solve your problem.  Your source citations must be impeccable.  Nary a single piece of information may go unsourced.

WOW.

The funny thing is, this shouldn’t scare me: as I said, I’ve always striven to do these things in my work, from the very first day I started.  And yet… and yet.  I’ve also never really had my work reviewed by the cream of the genealogical crop before, either.

I’m writing this post today because I’m working on my portfolio and frankly, I needed a break, so I decided to talk about my experience.  And of course, now that I’ve explained the process, I’m not sure what else there is I can say until I have done more of my portfolio.  So keep an eye out for future posts, because I’m sure I will have more to say on this subject as the months go by and I complete my projects one by one.

For the record, of the five substantive portfolio sections, I’ve completed one, and have dabbled at least a little bit in the other four.  Three of those four are about 60% done.  Will I be willing to submit the whole thing as soon as I’ve completed all five projects?  No.  I will have to go back through each of them and rework them, at least one more time.  Because I’m a perfectionist, and perfection never happens on the first try.

Lineage of Anne Brent

I’m the X-great granddaughter of Anne Brent on my mother’s side. Recently I’ve been working on the , and we have completed the “trail” from Anne’s father George Brent, to William Malet, the Magna Carta Surety Baron from which we descend. Unfortunately I cannot import a full pedigree, only 4 generations at a time. (Until I learn more about HTML, that is…). So this is going to have to do.

My line to Anne Brent:

Me
My Mom
Marian Lafargue m. Hooker Williams
Edwin Louis Lafargue m. Martha Elizabeth O’Bannon
Adolphe Lafargue m. Annie Winn Irion
Alfred Briggs Irion m. Caroline King
Valentine King m. Nancy King
John Edwards King m. Sarah Clifton
Burdette Clifton m. Rebecca Kenner
Burdette Clifton Sr. m. Francis Hill
Thomas Clifton m. Sarah Ashton
Anne Brent m. James Clifton

The following information is sourced SOLELY by Douglas Richardson’s “Royal Ancestry” published in 2013.   This is okay with me because this reference work is near-universally acknowledged as the best in its class, linking immigrant ancestors to royalty/nobility.

Anne Brent to Mary Huggerford


Mary Huggerford to Mary Wodhull


Mary Wodhull to Thomas Wodhull


***Note that Isabel Trussell (wife of Thomas Wodhull) is descended from Henry II via a mistress, Ida.  See below for that line.

Thomas Wodhull to John Wahull

John Wahull to William Malet, Surety Baron and signer of Magna Carta

ISABELL TRUSSELL to Henry II, King of England

Isabel Trussell to Ada Botetort:

Ada Botetort to Idonea Longespée

Idonea Longespée to Geoffrey d’Anjou (father of Henry II)

As you can see, this line is pretty important! Even more important is that Anne’s father, George Brent, was an original colonist in Virginia! Illustrious origins… breeding tells!