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!

Friday, March 28, 2014

April Assignment: Tombstone Tales

There are two bumper sticks that should be adorning my family cars. My husband's should say, "My wife's other car is a broom," and mine should say, "I brake for cemeteries." All genealogists love cemeteries, so this month's assignment should be easy. Among all those tombstones you've photographed or transcribed, there must be one or two that call to you, hinting at a deeper story. This is your opportunity to find and tell that story.

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. What source type template did you use? Did you have any difficulties with it?
  • Do you transcribe the tombstone when entering the information in TMG?
    1. Why or why not?
    2. If you do, where do you enter it?
  • Do you attach an image of the tombstone to the tag?
  • Write a narrative paragraph about your subject that derives from the tombstone. You will probably need to do extra research to write this paragraph! Don't forget to cite all these additional sources.
Hats off to Danielle! She completed her assignment before I finished mine. Bravo!

I do have a brief article with screenshots showing my burial tag, sentence output (English) and sentence output (Notes), the Source Definition screen, and the Citation Detail screen. The narrative is a separate article, discussing the Elizabeth (Colburn) Ball grave marker. Be sure to look at the photograph on Find A Grave.

The tombstone I chose has two names inscribed on it. Several members have asked me how I handle this in TMG. I've experimented with several methods, but I don't think I'm in love with any of them. One of the earlier blog posts discusses a few ideas I've used. If you're interested in these methods, the post is titled, "Entering Information from Monuments."

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 April 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.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Recapping a Few Points from Our March Meeting

Census records discussions always bring up a lot of questions, thoughts, ideas, and considerations. By request, here is a recap of the major discussion points from the meeting.

  • Two of us focused on the number of marriages entered in 1910 census households. In my example, the enumerator did not follow instructions. She entered the exact number of marriages for each married individual. In Mark's example, the census taker followed instructions. He entered "M1" if the person had been married only once; he entered "M2" if the person had been married more than once. Mark's subject had been married at least three times, but the census column contained "M2." Knowing the instructions for census enumerators is vital when interpreting census entries and explaining seeming discrepancies. Where does one find those instructions? A Google search will uncover several websites, but I use the U.S. Census Bureau's website for information.
    • Bookmark its "History" section and take the time to explore.
    • The section, "Through the Decades," contains the "Census Instructions."
    • The Integrated Public Use Microdata Series is another great website when you need insight into a census. Instructions to enumerators can be found in the section, "Enumerator Forms," but be sure to look at the material in the section, "Published Census Volumes."
  • If your genealogy research predates the Internet, you probably have many citations to microfilmed copies of census records. One of the members asked, "Is there any reason to look at census microfilm now with so many digital versions readily available?" Two reasons come to mind quickly.
    • Digital versions vary in legibility. One may be clear, another impossible to read. Sometimes, that very clear digital image, in removing scratches and spots, may have removed information. If something in a census entry doesn't make sense, check the microfilm or another company's digital image.
    • Ancestry and other companies separate census images, grouping towns - or what they determine as towns - together. The enumerator, though, may have continued one town's enumerations on another town's page. To determine who belongs where, or whether pages are missing or out of order, it's necessary to check the microfilm.
    • Thanks to the Allen County Public Library, scanned images of the National Archives microfilm publications are available on Internet Archive. This link takes you to the section, "United States Census." Explore. It feels just like reading the microfilm! Of course, these aren't indexed, but that lack encourages you to actually read the pages.
  • A knowledge of the law in effect at the relevant time and place is vital if you want to understand and analyze historical documents. Judy G. Russell's blog, The Legal Genealogist, is absolutely wonderful, whether you're a genealogy law expert or neophyte. I subscribe to it, so I get it in my emailbox every day.
I'm sure I've missed some important points, so email me and let me know what you would like to see. Thank you, thank you, thank you to Danielle, Mark and Duncan for your work on the March assignment. The starting point for our April assignment, "Tombstone Tales," is a tombstone. Surely we all have several tombstones that have piqued our interest! I'll post a more detailed assignment, as well as my own assignment, soon. In the meantime, start reviewing your favorite tombstones.