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10 Questions to Rate Your Readiness for Genealogy Research Success

10 Questions to Rate Your Readiness for Genealogy Research Success

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 39 Show Notes

Elevenses with Lisa is our little slice of heaven where friends get together for tea and talk about the thing that never fails to put a smile on our face: Genealogy!

Are you ready for a year of successful genealogy? Learn how to develop an effective research plan, and preserve and protect your genealogy. Keep reading for the show notes that accompany this video.

10 Questions to Rate Your Readiness for Genealogy Success

1. Have you selected a place to start?

I started learning how to play the guitar in 2020. I began with an online course to learn the basics, and I picked one song that I really wanted to learn how to play. 

For three months I worked my way through the course and played that song over and over every day. This resulted in two things: I learned how to play the song, and my husband took a blow torch to my guitar! (Just kidding.)

At the end of those three months I had several weeks where I just didn’t feel I was making any progress at all. I practiced every day, but I wasn’t getting anywhere.

It turns out that I had reached my initial goals – I knew the most popular chords, had memorized the Pentatonic Scale and could play the song Crazy On You for a captive audience in my home. However, I had not  stopped to identify my next set of goals. Therefore, stagnation set in.

In an effort to restart my learning and success trajectory, I spent an evening looking through my record collection and I made a list of 6 of my favorite songs. Then I put them in the order I wanted to learn to play them. Most importantly, I identified which one was my top priority to learn. Once I did that, I knew exactly how I was going to spend my practice time.

It sounds simple, but finding and deciding on the place to start (or restart) is really easy to miss. When it comes to genealogy there’s always a bright shiny object online ready to gobble up a few precious minutes, or hours, or days! Having a predetermined project goal in mind will help you get down to business faster and keep you from wandering aimlessly.

2. Have you developed a project research question?

Once you know what your project will be, it is time to formulate the general question. In other words, what is the question you are trying to answer?

In this episode I shared the family story that had been handed down the McClelland family about their ancestor Washington McClelland. The story went like this: “He immigrated to the U.S. from England. He was working on the railroad when he met a girl in Idaho. She became pregnant. They married. He converted to the LDS church. They raised a family together.”

The general research question was “is this story true?” That’s a big question, and one that we’ll break down further in question #3. 

Genealogy Gems Premium Members can learn more about formulating research questions by watching the segment How Alice the Genealogist Avoids the Rabbit Hole Part 1 in Elevenses with Lisa Episode 2. It’s available in the Premium Videos area of the Genealogy Gems website. Don’t miss the downloadable handout! You’ll find the link under the video. (Learn more about becoming a Premium Member here.)

3. Do you have a Research Plan for your genealogy project?

The general project question can usually be broken down into several bite-sized actionable questions. In the example of “Is the story about Washington McClelland true?” we can break that question down into several questions:

  • Where exactly was Washington from in England? 
  • When did he come to the United States?
  • Why/how did he end up out West?
  • Did he work on the railroad?
  • When and where did he marry?
  • When was their oldest child born?
  • Did he join the LDS church?

And many of these questions can likely be broken down further. These more focused question help provide the framework for the project’s research plan. They can then be re-sorted so that they follow a logical progression of answers.

The next step will then be to identify and prioritize the sources (records) that are likely to provide the necessary relevant evidence. Then determine the order in which you will locate each identified record. Finally, add where you think you can find the records to the plan.

4. Do you have the research forms you need?

There are many different types of genealogy research forms: research logs, blank record forms, checklists, just to name a few.

Research logs are great for keeping track of your research plan progress. Blank record forms (such a blank 1900 U.S. Federal Census form) are very handy for transcribing the pertinent information for analysis. And checklists (such as a list of all types of death records) help ensure that you don’t miss and records, and you don’t look for the same record twice!

Free Genealogy Forms at Family Tree Magazine
Family Tree Magazine offers a plethora of free genealogy forms. You’ll need to register for a free website account to download the forms.

Free Genealogy Forms at Ancestry
Here you’ll find several common and helpful genealogy forms including:

  • Ancestral Chart
  • Research Calendar
  • Research Extract
  • Correspondence Record
  • Family Group Sheet
  • Source Summary
  • US, UK And Canadian Census Forms

5. Have you established Your Filing System?

Having an organizational system in place takes the guesswork out of where things should be filed, making it much more likely they will actually get filed. It also ensures that you’ll be able to put your hands on your records whenever you need them.

Here’s a secret: There is no one perfect filing system. The most important thing is that it makes sense to you and that you are consistent in how you use it.

In Elevenses with Lisa Episode 6 (available to Premium Members) I cover step-by-step the system I developed and have used for over 15 years. I’m happy to report I’ve never lost an item. (Whew, what a relief!)

As you work on your genealogy research you’ll find there are two important tasks you will be doing often:

  • Storing items that you have not had a chance to work on yet (I refer to these pending items as “to be processed.”)
  • Storing items that need to be filed. (Let’s face it, we rarely want to stop in the middle of an exciting search to file a document.)

Not having a way to store these two types of items leads to clutter and piles on your desk. Here’s my simple solution:

  • Place a “to be filed” basket next to your desk.
  • Create a “Pending” tab in each surname 3-ring notebook (if you use my system.) The beauty of the surname notebook Pending section is you have a place to put documents (out of sight) that are associated with a specific family. When you’re ready to work on that family line, grab the notebook and jump to the Pending section to start processing and analyzing the previously found records.

7. Do you have the supplies you need on hand?

Make sure that you have a small quantity of all of the supplies you need for the filing and organization system you are using.

Here’s what my shopping list looks like:

  • 3” 3-Ring View Binders
    (allow you to customize covers & spines)
  • 1” 3-Ring View Binder
  • 1 box of Acid-Free Sheet Protectors
  • 3-Ring Binder Tab Dividers

8. Have you settled on a file naming scheme?

How to name digital genealogy files is something we all struggle with. Good intentions don’t make the job any easier. Take a few moments to nail down the basic naming scheme you will commit to follow. I say basic, because there will be times when you’ll need to modify it to suit the file. That’s OK. But always start with the basic format.

Here’s what my basic file naming format looks like:

  • Year (will force chronological order)
  • First Name (filed in surname folder)
  • Location

Example: 1920_robert_m_springfield_oh

Notice in my format I don’t usually include the surname. That’s because I file in surname folders. Notice that I said “usually.” That’s because we are always free to add on additional information like a surname if we think it will prove helpful. For example, if I anticipate that I will have a need to share individual files with other researchers or family members (rather than the entire folder) then I will add the surname so that the person receiving the file has the pertinent information.

8. Are you prepared to make copies?

Protecting and preserving our genealogy for generations to come is a top priority for most genealogists. All of us at some time have worried about what would happen if a website that we upload our content to goes out of business or sells out to another company. Now there is a new reason to take a few extra steps to ensure you don’t lose access to your genealogy data. 

Recently, According to Buzz Feed, on Jan. 9 the largest cloud-hosting service notified a large social media network with millions of users that it would be cutting it off  from its cloud hosting service.  According to the Wall Street Journal, “other tech partners also acted, crippling operators.”

Now we must add to the list of concerns the possibility that a genealogy website we use might be cut off from web hosting. How might this type of action impact our personal family history that we share on websites? Many companies that provide access to millions of historical records and likely house a copy of your family tree and your DNA test results use the same cloud hosting service. In fact, it’s hard to find a company out there that isn’t tethered to it in some way.

My research showed that both Ancestry and FamilySearch have been featured on their website in case studies and blog articles:

The bottom line is that our family history is our responsibility to preserve and protect. While we can benefit from sharing copies of it online, putting all our genealogy eggs in only the online basket puts it at risk because we don’t have control.

While I love the idea of going paperless and I’ve been striving to do that in recent years, I’m changing my tune on this. For several years I’ve been strongly recommending that you get your own genealogy software on your own computer and use it as your master database. All online family trees are simply copies. Many people, particularly those who rely solely on FamilySearch often wondered why I was so concerned. The events of this week make my point and put an exclamation point on the end of it.

Making digital and paper copies of your data is a simple strategy you can put in place today. This means regular print outs of your tree, family group sheets, and the most important genealogical documents. I keep mine in a portable fireproof safe.

We can also make digital copies as well. For example, last year I had all my old home movies transferred to digital and they are stored on my computer. I went the extra step to get copies on DVD and I also copied the digital files onto a terabyte hard drive that is in the fireproof safe.

Remember, your computer is connected to the Internet. If you’ve ever woken up to a Windows update, then you know that tech companies can make changes to your computer. Having your own paper and digital copies are just extra insurance that certainly can’t hurt.

Here’s a checklist of things you can put in place today:

  • a good printer
  • extra ink
  • a stock of paper
  • a portable terabyte hard drive

Ideas for saving paper and ink:

  • Print only the most important documents that might be more difficult to replace.
  • Focus your printing on direct ancestors.
  • Print in draft mode (depending on the document) and / or black and white to save ink.
  • Make double-sided copies.
  • When possible, add two documents to each side of the paper so that one piece of paper holds 4 documents.

 

9. Is your computer backed up to the Cloud?

I use and recommend Backblaze for computer cloud backup. They have their own storage facility. Here’s what their storage pods look like:

backblaze server podcast

Image courtesy of Backblaze.

I am also an affiliate of Backblaze so I appreciate when you use my link if you decided to make a purchase. I will be compensated at no additional cost to you, and that supports this free show. https://www.backblaze.com/landing/podcast-lisa.html 

Learn more: Premium Members can watch the Premium video Your Guide to Cloud Backup and download the PDF handout. You’ll get answers to questions like:

  • What is cloud backup?
  • Why should I use cloud backup?
  • How does cloud backup work?
  • Is cloud backup safe?
  • What should I look for when selecting a cloud backup service?
  • My personal cloud backup choice

10. Have you scheduled ongoing education time?

Pick one area you want to improve your genealogy skills and knowledge and make time each week to learn something new about it.

Thank you for making Elevenses with Lisa and Genealogy Gems one of your places for genealogy learning, laughing and getting refilled!

On the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel:

  • Click the Subscribe button
  • Click the bell for notifications.
  • Use a free service like Blogtrottr.com to receive email notification reminders. Simply paste the Genealogy Gems channel URL into the first field,
    https://www.youtube.com/GenealogyGems
    enter your email address and select from the drop-down menu how often you would like to receive notifications. Then click the orange “Feed Me” button. When I post a new video or schedule an Elevenses with Lisa episode you’ll receive an email notification.

Recap: 10 Questions to Rate Your Readiness for Genealogy Success

  1. Have you selected a place to start?
  2. Have you developed a project research question?
  3. Do you have a Research Plan for your genealogy project?
  4. Do you have the research forms you need?
  5. Have you established Your Filing System?
  6. Do you have the supplies you need on hand?
  7. Have you settled on a file naming scheme?
  8. Are you prepared to make copies?
  9. Is your computer backed up to the Cloud?
  10. Have you scheduled ongoing education time?

Elevenses with Lisa Archive

Premium Member have exclusive access to all of the archived episodes and downloadable handouts. Visit the Elevenses with Lisa Archive

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Resources

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Become a Genealogy Gems Premium Member today. 

Please leave your comment or question below

Let us know if you found this video and article helpful. I’d also like to hear from you about the topics you would like to learn more about in future episodes. Thanks!

 

A Cup of Christmas Tea with Tom Hegg

A Cup of Christmas Tea with Tom Hegg

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 38 Show Notes

Join me for an inspiring conversation with Tom Hegg, author of the New York Times best-selling book “A Cup of Christmas Tea”. Genealogists from around the world gathered together for this special live show to share a cup of tea and hear a story of the importance of touching base with our fellow man. It’s a message we can benefit from any time of year, and especially in a year where we’ve spent more time apart than ever. It’s also a wonderful reminder of the importance of family and how our older family members hold a piece of our own history in them. 

Cup of Christmas Tea with Tom Hegg

Get your copy of A Cup of Christmas Tea here.

You’re in for a special treat: a personal reading of this classic book by the author himself. I promise you, it will lift your heart this Christmas and all year long.

About the book A Cup of Christmas Tea:

A Cup of Christmas Tea, written by Tom Hegg and illustrated by Warren Hanson, is a simple, heart-warming story of how one man’s reluctant visit to an elderly aunt’s house renews his holiday spirit and brings him unexpected joy. The book’s Christmas 1992 debut on the New York Times Bestseller list after 10 years in print, was followed by three more years on the list and is unprecedented in publishing. To date this book has sold more than 1.5 million copies.

Charles Kuralt said, “I have a feeling that (this) little green book will be around for a long time, raising lumps in throats and smiles on faces. To it, I raise A Cup of Christmas Tea.”
Source: Tristan Publishing, Inc.

I wrap up this episode with my personal story as 2020 comes to a close. My daughter was injured in a serious accident. But no matter what 2020 throws at each of us, prayer is our most powerful weapon. Thank you to my many friends who’ve prayed for our family. You encouraged us and I hope you find this story encouraging.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy new year!

Resources

Premium Members: There are no downloadable show notes for this special episode. Please just sit back, relax and enjoy the show. 

Did you enjoy the show? Please leave a comment below.

 

Provenance: The Story Behind Your Genealogy Records

Provenance: The Story Behind Your Genealogy Records

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 37 Show Notes

There’s a very important story behind each one of your genealogy records. In this video and article we discuss why it’s critically important to understand the provenance of each record. We also talk about specific things to look for as you analyze their meaning. Great genealogy research requires a great understanding of the story behind your genealogy records! Keep reading for the show notes that accompany this video.

The story behind your records includes many important areas to be considered:

  • Provenance / History
  • The reason for the record
  • Information source (primary vs. secondary)
  • Motivating factors of the informants

Let’s take a look at each of these.

Provenance

In the art world,  knowing the provenance of a piece is crucial to understanding its value.

Provenance looks at an object’s origins, history, and ownership. Investigating and analyzing the provenance of a piece can shed light on:

  • whether the piece is authentic,
  • whether it truly was created by the attributed artist in the stated timeframe,
  • What the value of the item might be.
provenance definition

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 37

The principle of provenance is true for genealogical sources, too.

The Story Behind the Records

Provenance is important because it helps us determine how much weight to give the information provided by the genealogical record.

We need to ask When and where was the record created? We are looking for:

  • Records created closest to the time of an event
  • Documents created in places associated with your relatives
  • Documents created by people who knew them or were authorities

Review the Record’s Source Information

It’s important to take the time to review the available source citation information for each record we use. Fortunately, many genealogy websites that provide access to the records of our ancestors also provide critical background information about that record. This can help us find the answers to our questions and help us evaluate how much credence to give the information.

Ancestry Record Source Information

Scroll down and click through to get the rest of the record’s story.

Sometimes it just takes a little digging to uncover the backstory on a record. For example, the census enumerators received detailed written instructions before being sent out into our ancestors’  neighborhoods to collect data. You can review digitized copies (or transcriptions) of those instructions at the United States Census Bureau website for all years of the decennial census except 1800 through 1840.

Enumerator Census Instructions

1860 Census Enumerator Instructions

Finding Aids

Whether you’re researching at home or in an archive, look for or ask for the finding aid or reference guide for the collection you are using.  

A finding aid may include the following sections:

  • provenance
  • how the materials were used
  • contents / physical characteristics
  • restrictions on use
  • scope and contents note, summary and evaluation
  • box or file list

Learn more about Finding Aids in Elevenses with Lisa episode 31 featuring the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center. It includes a discussion of finding aids.

Genealogy Gems Premium subscribers: Learn more from a professional archivist about using finding aids in Premium Podcast episode #149. (Membership required. Learn more here.)

The same holds true for objects that are passed down through the family, whether it be a family Bible or a transcript of a reminiscence you find online.

Resource: Elevenses with Lisa episode 29.

Records as a Whole

Whenever possible, consider a source as a whole. It’s tempting to want to zero in on the paragraphs or photos that interest you most, but you may miss out on important information that changes what this source has to tell you.  For example, the specific placement of a photo in an album can be as significant as the printed photographic image. A photo’s position can indicate the relationship of the people in the photo to others on the same page, or the timeline of events.

Does the record appear complete?

Take note if any part of the source appears to be missing or illegible, especially if it appears that some of it has been deliberately removed, erased, or crossed out.

You may be able to make more sense of the partial information—or take a guess at why it was removed—as you learn more about the family. There may be a perfectly innocent reason for the change. But you may also be seeing evidence that someone who wanted to erase unpleasant memories or conceal a scandal.

Where has the item been over the years?

Where the source has been kept over time and who possessed it is an important part of provenance. Try as best you can to reconstruct and document the chain of custody of the item.

Resource: Heirloom Tracking Template
My Heirloom tracking page helps you document the complete story behind your precious family heirlooms. Premium Members can download the template from Elevenses with Lisa episode 6

Is the record the original?

Whenever possible, consult the original version of a genealogical record. Indexes, typed-up copies, or abstracts may not be as complete or accurate. Remember, handwritten or typed copies of older originals may have been made in the days before photocopying technology.

The Story Behind the Document: Motivating Factors

Another important question to ask about a record is Why was the record created? Understanding the motivation of the person, organization or governmental agency creating the document can help you anticipate their possible bias. It can also provide clues regarding information that you would expect or hope to find, but don’t. While the information may seem important, it may not have fallen within the scope of the original intent. Therefore, you may need to look for additional records that can help fill in the gaps.

Tax lists provide an excellent example of why we need to understand the motives and scope of the records we use. When reviewing a tax list, we need to determine if the government was taxing real or personal property and if it was including every head of household or just adult males.

Why was the information provided?

The original purpose of a source is highly relevant to how much faith you put in its contents. Here are a few examples of why the information provided might not be totally accurate:

  • A woman might have altered her testimony in divorce proceedings in an effort to minimize damage to her own reputation and future.
  • Newspaper articles may be filled with a variety of biases by the author, publisher, or those being interviewed.
  • A man may have lied about his age or citizenship on a draft card, either to avoid military service or in order to be included despite being underage.

Comparing the record with similar records can help reveal where the truth lies.

Who was the informant?

The information on a record is the person who supplied the information. Sometimes this is the same person who created the record, such as the writer of a diary. In the case of a U.S. census, the informant is the person in a household who told the census enumerator about the people who lived there. In many cases, it’s impossible to know who the informant was. Thankfully in 1940, census enumerators were instructed to mark the informant with a circled “X,” as shown in these two households. This is just another example of the value of doing 

Reliability of Informants

A source may have multiple informants. Each may have had unique knowledge of the situation. For example, on a death certificate a relative may provide the personal information while a physician provides the death-related information.

If the informant shares the deceased’s last name they:

  • likely are a relative
  • likely had first-hand knowledge of the deceased’s marital status, spouse’s name, and occupation.
  • (if father or brother) likely have provided primary information relating to the deceased’s birth, and parents’ names.

Even when a relative is close, we need to stop and think about whether they knew the information because they experienced it first-hand or were told about it. For example, if the informant was the deceased’s father, the  information about the deceased’s mother (his wife) such as birthplace would actually be secondary since he presumably wasn’t present when she was born! And that leads us to understanding the difference between primary and secondary sources and information.

Primary & Secondary Information

Historical evidence can either be considered primary or secondary information. Genealogical scholar Thomas W. Jones defines these terms in his book, Mastering Genealogical Proof:

  • “Primary information is that reported by an eyewitness. Primary information often was recorded soon after the event, but it may be reported or recorded years or decades later.
  • Secondary information is reported by someone who obtained it from someone else. It is hearsay.”

Interestingly, the same document can include both primary and secondary information. It helps to think in terms of primary and secondary information instead of striving to designate the source document as primary and secondary. 

How do all these clues add up?

It’s clear that as genealogists our goal is not only to evaluate each family history source, but also each piece of information it provides. Asking the right questions helps us ultimately answer the all-important question: how much do you trust what this record is telling you?

Answers to Live Chat Questions 

One of the advantages of tuning into the live broadcast of each Elevenses with Lisa show is participating in the Live Chat and asking your questions.

From Debra L.: Is the book (A Cup of Christmas Tea) good to give to 12 year old tea lover?
From Lisa: It has a wonderful message for any age of caring for others in the family, especially older relatives. (It’s not really about the tea 😊)

From Mary P.: As custodian of my parents’ life memorabilia I need help with the 5ish address books. Can you suggest an attack plan to glean information, what to store/record\research online etc. ? I’m overwhelmed.
From Lisa: It’s really a matter of how much time you have. I would lean toward transcribing them into Excel spreadsheets that can then be searched and sorted, including a column to indicate the relationship (friend, co-worker, relative, etc.) Store the books in an archival-safe box like this one.

From Mary P.: ​I’m back, can you help with this project? My grandfather built two houses in Garwood, NJ about 1920. I’d like to find information on their construction and owners/renters over time.
From Lisa: Elevenses with Lisa episode 20 & episode 28 have everything you need!

Elevenses with Lisa Archive

Premium Member have exclusive access to all of the archived episodes and downloadable handouts. Visit the Elevenses with Lisa Archive

Get My Free Newsletter 

Get My Free Genealogy Gems Weekly Email Newsletter 
The newsletter is your guide to upcoming shows, articles, videos, podcasts and new Premium content.

Resources

Bonus Download exclusively for Premium Members: Download the show notes handout. 
Become a Genealogy Gems Premium Member today. 

Please leave your comment or question below

Let us know if you found this video and article helpful. And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. We’re here to help!

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