Become a Better Researcher

Our research problems are unique and our genealogy software, to be useful, must be flexible enough to match our respective problems and our respective methods. The Master Genealogist is that software, but power and flexibility has a down side. The more options a program has, the more decisions the user must make. This year, the Tri-Valley TMG User Group will explore those options and make some of those personal decisions. Would you like to play along with us? Do each month's assignment, and if you like, e-mail it to us at: We'll post some of the completed assignments on this blog each month. Let's hear it for choices!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Our March Exercise: Starting with a Census Record

Have you ever run across a census entry that puzzled you? Have you found one that provided the clue you needed to identify an individual? Have you found one that supported a published family record - or contradicted it? Do you have a census entry that you don't understand? Any of these would make a fine "prompt" for this month's exercise. With a census entry as your starting point, write a narrative paragraph that gives your readers a picture of your subject's life.

Mark's narrative growing from a court notice in the Grand Traverse Herald was the hit of the February meeting. He did a beautiful job, demonstrating perfectly how one could start from a simple newspaper notice, identify the questions it created, research the answers to those questions, and tell the story he discovered.

In addition to writing the narrative, here are some TMG points to consider when working with your census records:
  • Create a Master Source List entry for this record, if you don't already have one, and include a screen shot of the Output form. Are you a lumper or a splitter? This article, "The Great Census Debate," might give you some ideas, even though it was written long before TMG 8.x (or 9.x) came on the scene.
  • Analyze the census entry.
    1. Are you looking at the original census, a digital image, a transcription, or an abstract?
    2. What census edition are you viewing? 
    3. Did this census answer any questions?
  • Do you transcribe or abstract a census?
    1. Do you enter the census information in your database? Where?
    2. How do you expect to use that information in reports?
    3. Do you attach an image of each census record to the census tag?
    4. Don't forget to cite each entry!
  • What new questions did this record create, and what do you do with these questions?
    1. Do you write them down?
    2. Do you enter them in TMG?
    3. Do you simply hope you'll remember them?
  • Write a narrative paragraph about your subject that derives from this census record. You will probably need to do extra research to write this paragraph! Don't forget to cite all these additional sources.
I haven't chosen my census record, yet, but I'll post my assignment when I finish it. The race is on, everyone! Let me know when you complete yours. Who will be the first to finish?

Update: I'm being a little lazy this month, and I'm not planning to upload screen captures - although I might manage it before the March 15th meeting. I have managed to finish my narrative, though: "The Many Marriages of Benjamin Clark Pearman and Maria (Case) (Deatherage) (Fry) (Pearman) Randle." See if you can find my omissions.

While you're working on this assignment, feel free to post questions and problems to this blog, or send them to Kay and me at: Bring the finished product with you to the March meeting. I'm looking forward to hearing a lot of new ideas!

Remember this year's goals.

  • We want to develop the habit of analyzing each record we use, and not just enter each information bit without thinking about its meaning.
  • We want to make conscious decisions on what data we want to enter into TMG, how we enter that data, and how we will use that data in our research.
  • We want to develop the habit of writing research reports and real family histories, not just printing out pedigree charts and family group sheets.
  • We want to make TMG fit our research needs and goals. We don't want to make our research practices fit TMG.

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