Not a magic bullet!

I could virtually hear the shrieks of joy yesterday as social media exploded in response to Ancestry’s announcement of product updates, including new tools for working with DNA match data.

One of those tools, ThruLines™, uses data from users’ public or private, searchable trees linked (to their DNA results), and data from other public and private but searchable trees to show how users could connect to their DNA matches through common ancestors. Like two other new tools, MyTreeTags™and New & Improved DNA Matches, it’s still in beta.

ThruLines™ is a potentially powerful new tool, but users will get better results by understanding that it’s not a magic bullet.

Ancestry cautions users that suggested ancestors are only as accurate as the trees data is pulled from.

“Since ThruLines are based on the family trees of you and other members of Ancestry, they’re as accurate as the trees they’re based on.”

The new suggested ancestors are just new information until users apply it to a specific research question. So, like all information, it could be true or false. Information doesn’t become evidence until it’s applied to specific research questions.

Since genealogy is all about research, it means that evidence needs to be documented, cited and analyzed before making conclusions, and conflicting evidence needs to be resolved.

Marc McDermott, with contributions from Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG and Thomas W. Jones, Ph.D, CG, CGL, FASG, has graciously shared this great graphic, via Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivitaves 4.0 International (CC ByND 4.0): It shows what our research process may look like, even when working with new information from ThruLines™, or any other new info.

Genealogical Research Process – Marc McDermott, with contributions from Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG and Thomas W. Jones, Ph.D, CG, CGL, FASG.

This means users need to treat new information from ThruLines™ just like any other information!

An Example – 

ThruLines Pettit
ThruLines™ suggested common ancestor, Sarah Morris, for Melanie J. Rice, at

In the image above, I see two potential new direct ancestors, who are not in my tree. I was actually aware this could be my line of descent before seeing ThruLines suggestion, but I have not proven my more recent direct ancestor’s (William W. Pettit) connection to Allen Pettit, nor Allen Pettit’s connection to Sarah Morris, so they are not in my tree. I also had no idea I might connect to this many potential descendants!

Pettit Descent
ThruLines™ suggested line of descent for Melanie J. Rice from Allen Pettit, born about 1805, in Morgan County, Ohio.

Should I add them to my tree now that I see more than 40 DNA matches have them in their trees? NO!

I’m sure excited to learn that I seem to share DNA with several distinct branches of others descended from potential common ancestors! And, this discovery highlights an avenue for further research for me.

My plan going forward with this information will include research questions and evaluation of evidence. I may start with something like this:

Do each of the 15 DNA matches shown actually descend from the Allen Pettit, who was born about 1805, in Morgan County, Ohio? If so, how much DNA do I share with them? Do I match any of these folks through a different ancestor?

I may explore similar questions for the other DNA matches whose trees show they descend from other children of Allen Pettit. Next I would look for other evidence that may or may NOT connect us to Allen Pettit, and then evaluate all of the evidence before making a conclusion.

While I’m thrilled that Ancestry has provided users some great new tools, I wish they would prominently display a strong disclaimer, warning those new to genealogy that these are suggestions, not facts, and as such need to be verified.

In summary – 

Ancestry has given us some powerful new tools, including ThruLines™. We need to resist the temptation to take shortcuts around solid research methodology, and treat this information like all other new genealogical information.

To leave feedback for Ancestry on ThruLines™, go to Explore ThruLines™ on your main DNA page, select any of the potential ancestors, and click the “provide feedback” link in the dialog box at the bottom of the page.

Resources – 

Ancestry tutorial on new features

More from Ancestry on ThruLines™

TheDNAGeek’s blog post on ThruLines™

Evaluating Evidence

Evaluating Evidence in Genealogy Research

Genealogical Evidence, Sources and Information

Genealogy Explained workflow chart and GPS Standard

What’s love got to do with it?

Jemima Sherow was the marrying kind, as were most American women in the mid 1800s.

Women in her era had few options. They grew up, married, had children and setup housekeeping.

Many couldn’t buy property in their own right. With few exceptions, careers weren’t for women and there were limited employment opportunities outside the home.

Women had virtually no political voice and little influence in public affairs. [1] Urbanization, better transportation and a growing middle class led to changing roles mid-century that in part gave rise to what some have called the “Cult of domesticity.”[2] The Cult of Domesticity held that women’s roles were confined to the home: Wife, mother, housekeeping and keeper of moral and religious beliefs. Women were to uphold the virtues of piety, purity, submissiveness and domesticity.

Thus it’s hard for us to know today if couples then married for love, money, necessity or simply because it was the nearly universal expectation, particularly for women of that day.

Jemima Sherow was my 2nd great-grandmother and the likely the third child of John Sherow and Susannah Young, who had at least eleven children over a span of nearly 20 years.[3]

Jemima Sharo 1850
John & Susannah Sharo family, 1850 US Federal Census[3]
Jemima was born October 4, 1835, in Ohio, likely in Darke or Miami County, in the western part of the state. [3][4]

As the eldest daughter, she likely would have taken on many of the household chores and helped care for the younger children.

In today’s society we might liken her to a “Xennial”, because she came of age during a period of great change. Jemima knew what life was like on the frontier, but as she grew into a young woman, society enjoyed greater mobility with expansion of railroads and the canal system. Literacy was increased thanks to public education and land-hungry Americans gobbled up property in westward expansion, as they pushed the few remaining Native Americans onto ever shrinking reservations.

In March 1841, Jemima’s parents sold their land in Miami County, Ohio. [5] Sometime between 1843 and 1846, the family migrated to Fulton County, Indiana. [6]

inoh1835 OH to IN edit
1835 Ohio-Indiana map, edited to show Sherow family’s migration path [7]
Since the family owned land in Ohio, it’s hard to guess why they relocated to an area that was just being settled.

Their world was forever changed with the death of Jemima’s father in July 1853,[8] just a few short years after the family’s big move. It must have been difficult for Susan (Young) Sherow to care for her family with him gone, and small children to care for. 

Just two years later, Susan, remarried to William Peck, a mason, and possibly an itinerant preacher.[9]

American society was undergoing changes then, too. Women’s suffrage was a growing concern, labor conflicts were on the rise, photography was a developing craft and tension was rising about slavery in the U.S. Shortly after Jemima’s marriage, the U.S.would erupt into the Civil War.

Yet, like so many other women of her day, Jemima married just shy of her 21st birthday, on Sept 21 ,1856 in Fulton County, Indiana, to William Wallace Pettit.[10]

William Petit - Jemima Shero Marriage
William Petit-Jemima Shero marriage record [10]
Jemima’s first marriage is unique in our family because of the story passed from my great-grandmother, to my grandmother to me.

Short and bittersweet, the story says that Jemima and William Wallace Pettit married against the wishes of their respective families. William was said to have been disowned by his wealthy, Irish-Catholic parents. Worse, he died young after being kicked by a horse, leaving Jemima widowed at the close of the Civil War, with four young daughters to support.[11]

Is it true? That’s hard to say after all these years. But it’s the lore the family clung to and it’s how they made sense of the tragedy Jemima and her girls experienced. This story circulated in several branches of Jemima’s descendants’ families, which gives credence that at least for the family, this was how it was. In retrospect, I’d like to believe Jemima and William were madly in love when they married.

But, all evidence needs to be examined and evaluated against other available evidence for accuracy and relevance. Family “stories” are especially prone to inaccuracy, yet they add color to our ancestors’ lives and can hold clues for family researchers. This is part of an ongoing research project, so I’ll share more about William Pettit in another installment.

The only additional record I’ve found to date for Jemima and William after their marriage is their 1860 US. Fed Census enumeration.[12] Just two of their four daughters have been born so far.

1860 census Wm Pettit family
William W Pettett family – 1860 US Federal Census [12]
It shows that William worked as a blacksmith and the family did not own land. They were somewhat poor, as compared to their neighbors, many of whom were landowners. William’s occupation supports the family story that he was killed after being kicked by a horse.

Jemima and William had four young daughters:

  • Harriet M. “Hattie”, born about 1857[12]
  • Clarissa Ann “Clarcy”, born August 1858[12]
  • Margaret A “Maggie”, born March 20, 1861[13]
  • Elizabeth Jane “Janie”, born Nov. 13, 1863, my great-grandmother[14]

I haven’t located a death record for William yet. Indiana didn’t begin keeping death records at a statewide level until January 1900. I’ve found no other records of his death, to date.

For Jemima, widowed with four young daughters to care for, remarriage was almost a necessity. Though she was likely a skilled housekeeper, she would have had a hard time putting food on the table.

After William’s death, Jemima went on to marry twice more, first in 1866 to John W. Young,[15] with whom she had several more children. And, after being widowed a second time, to Benjamin Griffith Martindale in 1899.[16] She died before Benjamin on March 4, 1911 at Marshall County, Indiana.[4][17] But these are stories for another time …

Were Jemima and William madly in love? We can’t know today, but if they truly married against their families’ wishes, it’s a strong possibility.

Jemima Sherow Martindale Grave Stone
Jemima Sherow Martindale grave stone – photo credit: Kim White [17]
About this post

I’ve shared this post because I’m participating in Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors Challenge!

Genealogy is a work in progress. More research is ALWAYS needed, and some data shared here does not reflect the entire story of the subjects. I’ll be sharing more on some of the folks in this post in future entries.

The first thing I’ve learned in participating in the 52 ancestors challenge is how many holes there are in my research! I’m also finding what a challenge it is to provide source information for content I’ve shared. I hope this will become easier as I move through this challenge.

And, a word on surname spelling: Before spelling was standardized, particularly before widespread literacy, surnames were often seen spelled many different ways in documents created during our ancestors’ lifetimes. In the citations, I’ve spelled the names as they appeared in the document(s) referenced, but in the text, I’ve used the standardized spelling for surnames.

Digging deeper

Check out some of these links to learn more about women’s lives and changes in American society during Jemima’s lifetime at these links:


[1]  Dr. Graham Warder, Women in nineteenth-century America. 2015, Virginia Commonwealth University, ( accessed 16 February 2019).

[2] Catherine J. Lavender, Notes on The Cult of Domesticity and True Womanhood, prepared for students in HST 386:Women in the City, Department of History, The College of Staten Island/CUNY. 1998. ( accessed 14 February 2019).

Lucinda MacKethan, The Cult of Domesticity, Department of English, North Carolina State University. 2011). National Humanities Center. ( accessed 14 February 2019).

[3] 1850 U.S. census, Fulton County, Indiana, population schedule, Newcastle Township, p. 459B (stamped), dwelling 57, family 57, John Sharo household; digital images, Ancestry ( accessed 20 February 2019); citing National Archives microfilm roll M432_146, image 601.

[4]Indiana State Board of Health, Certificate of Death no. (unreadable), Jemima Martindale, 4 March 1911, Marshall County, Center Township; viewed at “Indiana, Death Certificates, 1899-2011” database with digital images, Ancestry ( : accessed 14 February 2019); citing Indiana Archives and Records Administration; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Death Certificates; Year: 1911; Roll: 09.

[5] Ohio, Miami County. “Deeds, 1807-1968. County Recorder’s Office, Troy. Browsable images. Family Search. accessed 19 January 2019); volume 28 1853-1854, p. 166-167, item of interest: Deed. Sherow>Kinsey, 20 March 1841. Recorded 23 May 1853. John and Susana signed with an X, indicating they likely could not read and write. The document shows they lived in Darke County, Ohio, so they were apparently not living on the land they sold to Mr. Kinsey.

[61850 U.S. census, Fulton Co., Indiana, pop. sch., p. 459B (stamped), dwell. 57, fam. 57, John Sharo household. Daughter Elizabeth, 7, was  born in Ohio and son Emanuel P., 4, was born in Indiana. This dates the family’s migration from Ohio to Indiana approximately between 1843 and 1846.

[7Indiana and Ohio 1835. Digital image. USGenWeb Archives Digital Map Library. ( : accessed 18 February 2019).

[8Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed 19 February 2019), memorial page for John Sherow (d. 24 July 1853), Find A Grave Memorial no. 63609878; citing Reichter Cemetery, Talma, Fulton County, Indiana, USA. Gravestone photograph by Janneane Veger.

[9] Indiana. Fulton County. Marriage Records, 1850-1859, Vol. A: 211, William Peck-Susannah Sherow, 1 July 1855; “Indiana, Marriages, 1810-2001,” Ancestry. ( accessed 20 February 2019). Online images.

[10] Indiana. Fulton County. Marriage Records, 1850-1859, Vol. A: 486, William Petit-Jemima Shero, 21 September 1856; “Indiana, Marriages, 1810-2001,” Ancestry. ( accessed 20 February 2019). Online images.

[11Smith, Ruby VanLue. South Bend, Indiana. As told to Melanie J. Rice. Multiple dates – unrecorded. Family story, recalled from memory.

[12]1860 U.S. census, Marshall County, Indiana, population schedule, Tippecanoe Township, p. 142 (written), dwelling 992, family 1031, William Pettett household; digital images, Ancestry ( accessed 20 February 2019); citing National Archives microfilm roll M653_278, image 14; FHL film 803278.

[13]Indiana State Board of Health, Certificate of Death no. 216 local, Margaret A. Jenkins, 15 October 1951, Kosciusko County, viewed at “Indiana, Death Certificates, 1899-2011” database with digital images, Ancestry ( : accessed 14 February 2019); citing Indiana Archives and Records Administration; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Death Certificates; Year: 1951; Roll: 10.

[14]Michigan Department of Health, Certificate of Death no. 149, Elizabeth Jane Van Lue, 9 December 1929, Berrien County, Niles; viewed at “Michigan, Death Records 1867-1950” database with digital images, Ancestry ( : accessed 14 February 2019); citing Certificates, 1921-1942>030: Benton Harbor-Niles; Year: 1921-1936.

[15]Indiana. Fulton County. Marriage Records, 1859-1870, Vol. B: 333, John W Young-Jemima Pettit, 12 April 1866; “Indiana, Marriages, 1810-2001,” Ancestry. ( accessed 20 February 2019). Online images.

[16]Indiana. Starke County. Marriage Records, 1897-1902, image228 of 446, Benjamin G Martindale-Jemima Young, 17 December 1899; “Indiana, Marriages, 1810-2001,” Ancestry. ( accessed 20 February 2019). Online images.

[17]Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed 19 February 2019), memorial page for Jemima Sherow Martindale (1835-1911), Find A Grave Memorial no. 73101546; citing McElrath Cemetery, Marshall County, Indiana, USA. Gravestone photograph by Kim White.

When Worlds Collide

I wasn’t expecting any exciting discoveries when I clicked on one of my new Ancestry matches this morning.

We shared just 66 cMs, and she had no tree. What could I really hope to learn from looking at this?

Surprise Cousin

I scrolled down this new matches’ shared match list. Wait. No. That can’t be right!

After seeing her first two matches, my brain lumped her into the paternal match bin. They were known close paternal cousins. But that third match – it was my maternal 2C, R.J.1, whom I’d just helped find his birth father. I know how he connects to me. He’s a maternal second cousin, descended from my great-grandparents, Francis Alvin VanLue and Elizabeth Jane Pettit’s son, Harry VanLue and his second wife, Dorothy Ritchey.

My Tree2

I doubled back. Neither my mom nor my sister, who have both tested at Ancestry, match this person.

But – R.J.’ s a proven maternal second cousin. Multiple shared matches and target DNA testing prove this. Could R.J. be a double match, with shared DNA from my dad’s side as well? Hmmm.

I drilled down deeper into new match, S.J.’s, shared match list with me. There were several other potential maternal matches, but they all linked to the same couple R.J. is descended from, and share just his paternal grandmother’s line. There were more of my paternal matches, first on my Gorsline/Clem branch, then, as the shared cMs became fewer, the shared matches trailed off into just Dailey/Majors, a line on my dad’s father’s side.


I was gobsmacked. If anyone told me R.J. and I connected on one of my paternal lines, too, I would never have guessed this particular branch. But indeed, it appears we very likely do share DNA from one of my ancestors on this line, in addition to sharing my mom’s grandparents’ ancestry.

I’m able to identify these connections quickly, because I use several tools to manage my Ancestry matches’ data. I use the MedBetterDNA Chrome extension to display my match notes on my main DNA match pages. I’ve coded my matches with colorful emojis that help me see at a glance how that match connects to me, if I have that information. And, I review all my 4C and closer matches.


I also keep a spreadsheet matrix of all my 4C and closer matches at Ancestry. The sheet shows who matches whom in vivid colors that make it easy to distinguish maternal and paternal matches at a glance.

Matrix Snip

I used Heirloom Software’s DNA Match Manager tool to export a CSV file, with my Ancestry matches’ user names. I built my matrix spreadsheet using this data.

And, I use DNA Painter to map chromosomes when I know what segments I match particular cousins on.

Or, where I THINK I match them.

This new match changes everything.

DNA Painter

It means that segments I’ve mapped for my second cousin, R.J. are not necessarily what I thought they were. Since this match shows that he and I match on BOTH my maternal and paternal lines, I can no longer “assume” that segments I share with him are from a maternal ancestor!

This underscores Blaine Bettinger’s admonition to always compare complete trees before making genealogical conclusions. He’s shared his thoughts on tree completeness frequently in a Facebook group I belong to. I heartily agree with him. I practice this. I practice it religiously.

At least I thought I did.
My match with R.J. seemed like a “no brainer.” He shared DNA with a host of other cousins descended from my overachiever great-grandparents, Francis A. VanLue and Elizabeth Jane Pettit. Of course we shared maternal DNA.

We focused on finding his father, and in the process did identify his paternal grandmother. I pushed her line back a generation or so, to help when we sorted R.J.’s matches by whom they descended from. But that’s where I stopped. We found our match. We knew how we connected.

Or did we?
Turns out, we didn’t know all the ways we connected, and I now have more research to do, to decipher how his maternal grandmother’s line intersects my dad’s ancestry. And, I need to rethink my DNA Painter activities. For now, I’ll just keep this in mind, and watch for new match data to enlighten us on where we share the DNA from my dad’s side. (I don’t have access to my mom’s test results.)

And, I will be even more vigilant in comparing complete trees with my matches, and in documenting how I evaluated our match results, including how I compared our trees, searching for common ancestors.

I’ve decided to revive my Grandma’s Genes blog as part of Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge
Though my research practices have improved dramatically over the years, I’ve done little to get my work “shareable” with family and the genealogy community at large. I hope working through Amy’s challenge will help me find a good format for sharing my work while challenging me to take my work to the next level.

I intentionally plan to give myself liberal leeway to skip here and there, as I already know life will get in the way.

Though this entry doesn’t exactly focus on a specific ancestor, it’s apropos for this week’s prompt: Surprise

1Names and initials have been changed to protect the identities of living people.

Returning to Genealogy Research with New Tracking Tools

It is said ‘You can never go home again.’ But I believe you can, albeit to a changed home and with a new perspective.

Today I went back to a park I used to live near. I didn’t realize how much I had missed it until I had walked almost around the small lake. How fitting that I was ruminating on Genealogy Do-Over Week 3 at the time. In week three, Thomas MacEntee talks about returning “home” to our genealogy research, now well-armed with tools to improve the quality of our research.

As I walked down the tree-lined path surrounded by fond memories, I realized that though my genealogy research will never be the same as it was before, I can indeed return home and maybe even have the best of both worlds. I will begin anew in documenting my family history, cocooned in my happy memories of ancestors found in searches past. But this time, I will be prepared to thoroughly document my searches and my sources. This will require using a research log.

Thomas MacEntee's Research Log, edited by Melanie J. Rice.
Thomas MacEntee’s Research Log, edited by Melanie J. Rice. You can find his original version online in this blog post: Genealogy Do-Over Week 3

The Old Way: Informal To-Do Notes and Poor Follow-Up

In my early years of genealogy research, I would jot down things to look for and then get distracted by BSOs almost daily. I had records by the bunches, but my data was so disorganized that I struggled to make sense of it. I’m not sure why, but it didn’t occur to me then that incorporating spreadsheets to track data would have been a good idea.

Thomas MacEntee has made his combination Research Log & To-Do List available online for download in his Genealogy Do-Over Week 3 blog post.

After I reviewed Thomas’ spreadsheet, I mulled over what I wanted in a research log. Then I did a quick Internet search to see how others manage this.

The New Way: More than One Way to Keep a Research Log

I discovered that not everyone loves spreadsheets as I do, and that there are many ways to organize and track your research data. Here are a few examples, besides Thomas’, that I found:

Research Log using Google Sheets — 

Calvin Knight uses Google Sheets to track his research. He has made his spreadsheet available for public download on his blog, in this blog post: Calvin Knight’s Google Sheets Research Log. Calvin’s Google Sheets spreadsheet even has a nifty map feature that’s a BSO for me. I had to fight the temptation to drop everything and find out just how he did that immediately.

NOTE: Thomas MacEntee’s Excel Research log can be imported and saved as a Google Sheet, too. You can download it here. It’s about halfway down the page.

Calvin Knight's Google Sheets RESEARCH LOG includes this cool map feature.
Calvin Knight’s Google Sheets RESEARCH LOG includes this cool map feature.

Research Log using Evernote —

Other genealogists, like Colleen Greene, use Evernote as a research log. Colleen is a librarian, educator and genealogist based in California. Several folks on the Genealogy Do-Over Facebook page said they don’t like spreadsheets, so this may be a viable option for them.

Like Calvin and Thomas, she has made her template available download and public use. You can find it in her blog post about using Evernote to track research.

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 8.44.54 AM
Colleen Greene’s Evernote RESEARCH LOG is available for download online at her blog post here.

Green says she capitalizes the surnames in her research log, to make them stand out and make it easier to read.

Research Log integrated into family tree software — 

Finally, Michele Simmons Lewis, of Legacy Family Tree uses Legacy Family Tree genealogy software’s integrated log to track her research. She describes her process at this post on her Ancestoring blog.

NOTE: Negative search (or findings), as seen in Michele’s log below, is not the same as negative evidence. Read more about negative evidence at this blog post by Elizabeth Shown Mills.

Michele Simmons Lewis is careful to record results for all search criteria in her log.
Michele Simmons Lewis is careful to record results for all search criteria in her RESEARCH LOG.

This  is where I face a dilemma. I recently switched from Windows to a Mac. I didn’t always track my research, but when I did, I used Legacy’s built-in to-do list and note features. However, as of today, there is no working version of Legacy available for Macs, without using software like Parallels, which allows Mac users to run Windows on their machines. I’m not going down that road. I liked using Legacy to track my research because I had everything at my fingertips. I find the more places I have to go to find and track data, the more likely I am to become disorganized or give-up the record keeping.

Personally, I’m a detail-oriented, big picture person. This means I want to see how details fit into the overarching plan. Thus, I find a log like Thomas MacEntee’s appealing. I prefer not to keep separate logs for each person, but to have it all together in one accessible file. Perhaps I will find it becomes unwieldy after I’ve logged data for hundreds of ancestors. In that case, I will be open to exploring other options.

For now, I’m going to start out using a slightly modified version of Thomas’ Excel Research Log. I’ve created separate columns for surnames and given names, and added a column called “Other Person Identifier” to add data to help me distinguish between multiple individuals with the same surname and given names.

I take hard copy notes when I work on my one name study at the local library. Then, when I get home, I can enter full source information into my spreadsheet RESEARCH LOG.

Since I don’t bring a computer to the local library when I search hard copy records there, I’ve started using a notebook to record my searches. I plan to transfer this data into my research log. This lets me search quickly while at the library and enter the exact source information from home.

The Takeaway —

There’s one right way to do a genealogy research log: The one you will stick with. Perhaps exploring some of the examples shown here will give you ideas of how you can make a genealogy research log work best for you.

Research plans, logs and to-do lists: What’s a genealogist to do?

Research plans, to-do lists, research goals and project plans — what’s the difference, and what’s in a name?

This week’s Genealogy Do-Over topic of “setting research goals,” left me grappling with what the difference was between:

  • Research Plans
  • Project Plans
  • To-Do Lists
  • Research Goals

And, how these work together with a research log, and other tracking logs.

No, I don’t have the definitive answers to these questions, yet. But, I have given it some thought and cast my net to the Interwebs to see how others approach these questions and deal with the data these things will certainly produce. I’ve included several helpful links below.


Genealogy research is personal. Though we can learn much from each other, ultimately each of us needs to find methods that work for us and our own unique research style. That said, I’ve come up with some thoughts that may help clarify how these things differ and what the role of each may be in my family history research. There’s no one right way to do this. Instead, there are many good ways and some not so good, which I’ve already tried. 😉

After digging through my old paper research, I realized I had been doing some of these things — unintentionally and sporadically. I had no formal research plan, to-do list or research goals. But, periodically, I would jot things down that I needed to do, and kept rough analysis notes.

To-do lists — the old way.
To-do lists — the old way.

Since the “Do-Over” will look at project plans in Week 4, I will leave that one out. However, I’ve created a new overarching category called “Overall Plan.” It may turn out that this is the same as the “Project Plan.”

Personally, I need to see tasks and goals nested into a hierarchy. I want to know how individual items fit into my big picture goals / plans / projects.

Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • Overall Plan — This is my big picture goal. It has many sub-goals and components. An example would be: Starting with my generation, create a 4-generation printed family history report, complete with narrative, documents and images — to share with family.
  • Research Goal — This is a specific point I will need to prove, such as: Prove birth date and location for John Smith.
    • There will be many such goals in my Overall Plan.
  • Research Plan — The research plan is specific to a given research goal. It documents how I will find and analyze records to prove my research goal, in this case, John Smith’s birth date and location.
    • It will include a list of repositories and records that may exist for this individual.
    • After data is collected, it will need to be analyzed and interpreted.
  • To-Do List — My to-do list will be overarching. It will incorporate tasks generated by multiple research plans, relative to several specific research goals. Thus, it may include several records requests for different individuals and other diverse tasks.
    • I like the concept of an overarching to-do list because it will help me better coordinate research attempts. If I’m at a repository, I can gather records on several individuals, that may apply to multiple research goals.
My data analysis was informal and inefficient. I had no "log," and didn't follow-up on problems identified.
My data analysis was informal and inefficient. I had no “log,” and didn’t follow-up on problems identified.

I’ve decided not to get hung-up on nomenclature. I can call these things whatever I like. What’s most important is that I create a way to manage data intentionally and effectively. Per Thomas MacEntee’s Genealogy Do-Over, I intend to create lists of things to prove, show how I will accomplish and evaluate records I collect, and then track my progress and holes in logs. Call it what you will, it’s what we do that matters most.

Here are some helpful links:

Patricia Rhon’s post on Tracking Research

Patricia Rhon’s sample Evernote Research Plan

Genealogy Do-Over FB Post by Renita Ford Collier

Renita’s blog post on Setting Research Goals

Erin Williamson Klein’s blog post on Research Goals and Workflow

Family Search — Basic Genealogy Research Plans

Board Certification for Genealogists — Focused vs. Diffused Research

Genealogy Do-Over FB Discussion on Research Plans and Goals

The information at the links above was provided by other researchers who have shared their processes. Why not check out their blogs and Facebook posts to thank them?

Genealogy Do-Over Week 1 Take Away

… This is the stepping-off point for revitalized research!

At the start of Genealogy Do-Over Week 1, I came up with my top five base practices for family research. I decided to further develop my second research practice:

I will develop a workflow that works for me, and follow it. I will update it when I find it’s not working. (This will likely include trial and error attempts.) It will include a research plan, sharing with others and efficiently working with documents — from collection, to analysis and data entry to producing reports.

Remember these?
Remember these?

Throughout the week, I evaluated my former research habits and came up with some things that didn’t work, some that did and others that worked, but could work much better.

I studied charts and research logs and best practices others had shared.

Here’s what I came up with:

  • I’m a bit ADD. I’m good at finding things, but not so great at processing them. I need to allow myself the occasional freedom of spontaneous research, but follow-up with disciplined tracking and data entry.
  • I had no research plan. Sure, I started looking for a certain thing. But then, I followed every BSO that came along. Oh, the stories I could tell about the rabbit holes I’ve been down. Most didn’t result in good research, however. So, I need a plan. An overall plan, and project plans, to direct my research.
  • I had no finished package. I had been organizing digital material and throwing hard copies into boxes to sort out later. No more. My workflow will include printed reports that I can share with family, who will enjoy it today. I was inspired by several posts on The Organized Genealogist Facebook page.
  • I have very few family photos. I’ve been trying for several years to get access to them, but relatives across the country have them. Correcting this may require a cross-country trip.
  • My research and to-do logs kind of work, when I remember to enter data into them. Post do-over, this won’t be the case. I’m looking forward to developing research, to-do and tracking logs that work with my unique workflow and get updated consistently.
  • Legacy Family Tree worked for me. I came to love its integral notes, robust Evidence Explained compatible source templates and scalable fonts and dialog boxes. This sounds like a good thing, right? Not so much. I switched from Windows to a MAC in January 2015. I’ve yet to find a comparable program for MACs.

    Sneak peek at new digital file tree
    Sneak peek at new digital file tree
  • My census naming system worked. Unfortunately, I had no naming system for other files. This is about to change.
  • I was anal about documenting sources, but not properly recording the data. This means I have scribbled notes written sideways across pages that reference sources and analyze data. No more. My new base practices require that I cite sources according to Evidence Explained, and that I analyze data according to the Genealogical Proof Standard.

Grandma Smith (nee Van Lue) walked along an Indiana ditch with me, pointing out edible wild berries and sassafras leaves. She bent and pulled the weeds away from the sassafras plant and gently dug it from the ground, showing me its reddish bark. Her mother was part Native American, she told me.

Grandma's sassafras roots
Grandma’s sassafras roots

She had taught her about plants to use for healing and to be a caretaker of the environment — before environmentalism was a thing.

This grandma’s genes, mingled with those of countless other ancestors make me who I am today. I’m participating in Genealogy Do-Over  to honor them, and to help tell their stories to generations to come.








Binders and folders and papers — oh my!

Genealogy Do-Over, Week 1 Cycle 3

Setting Previous Research Aside

I’ve had a month or so to come to terms with the fact that my research is a mess, and I need a plan and a do-over. And, I’m used to setting research aside. In fact, that’s contributed to two of my data losses. Years ago I set my research aside to move across the country, without backing up my database. I lost all my digital files, but I had kept my hard copies. Now, I’m a full-time student and I work, so when the semester gets hot ‘n’ heavy, I pack my genie goodies into boxes and hide them. Yes, I hide them, so I’m not tempted to look inside and do genealogy instead of homework.

No, this isn’t my ONLY box! 😉

Before I set aside my paper files, I’m going to give them a quick once over to clump them according to record type and family. This will help me formulate a research plan that fits my research style and records on hand.

I don’t plan to toss these records, but I do plan to carefully reintegrate what is usable into my NEW system, once it’s fully in place.

Today, I set aside my digital files. It was easy. They are on my old Windows laptop and I’m now working on an iMac.

I’m hanging onto one thing, though — a special project I recently started that involves separating tangled roots in a family branch. This project will be my testing ground for tracking and workflow, however I won’t be entering any data into my database during the cycle.

Preparing to Research

For me, this includes everything that I will go through during our genealogy do-over. I will be better prepared because as I participate in the do-over, I will identify what I’ve been doing that doesn’t work, and STOP it!

I will be armed with the latest version of “Evidence Explained” by Elizabeth Shown Mills, and I will stick to my plan but not keep it set in stone. When I find something’s not working, I will find a better way to get the job done.

Establishing Base Practices and Guidelines: Five little words that carry loads of weight.

This is pivotal to the success of my do-over. It may take more than a week, heck, it may take longer than the whole cycle to complete. But, by the end of the cycle, I hope to be better acquainted with my options and to have a strong plan in place that I can tweak as I go.

What’s inside Pandora’s box?

Here are my top five base practices:

  • Research from a point of “I don’t know.” (I’m borrowing one of Thomas MacEntee’s Golden Rules of Genealogy). I’m not out to prove this or that, but to find out who, what, when, where, why and how.
  • I will develop a workflow that works for me, and follow it. I will update it when I find it’s not working. (This will likely include trial and error attempts). It will include a research plan, sharing with others and efficiently working with documents — from collection, to analysis to data entry and producing reports.
  • I will implement regular back-ups in multiple formats.
  • I will create a tracking system that prevents double work, lets me find documents when I need them and fits into my workflow. It will include documenting where I search, what I find, accurate source information and a plan for future work. It must work with my database and other software I use and has to be efficient.
  • I will work toward the Genealogical Proof Standard and carefully analyze data before making conclusions. I will pursue a blend of people focused and evidence based genealogy, with a strong emphasis on evidence, source citations and evaluation.

No big deal, right? Well, not so much. Several of these are within my reach for day-to-day research. However developing a workflow and tracking system that efficiently integrates with my database and other programs will be a challenge and might include some do-overs.

Better genealogy: Know what you don’t know

… “What you don’t know can’t hurt you” = FAIL in the genealogy world.

Since I stumbled upon Thomas MacEntee’s Genealogy Do-Over blog and Facebook page several weeks ago, I’ve gotten a glimpse into what I don’t know about doing genealogy well. That peek awakened my native curiosity and left me craving more. And, I know just where to get it.

There’s an active community of genealogists online, many of whom are more than willing to share their secrets of success with others, who like me, don’t know what we don’t know.

Take Christine Sisko Svircev’s recent post on the Genealogy Do-Over Facebook page, where she has shared her workflow for handling new records and how she incorporates OneNote into this part of her research. (You may need to request to join the group page to view the post.) After I checked it out, I realized my workflow was full of holes.

Or, Jessica Kaylor Morgan’s “Personal Collection Log” spreadsheet that she shared on The Organized Genealogist Facebook page. This spreadsheet could serve as not only a log of records collected, but a repository log, cost tracker and contact sheet. Best of all, Jessica has made the file available for download.

Before I found “Genealogy Do-Over,” I knew I had a mess of paper records that would make a hoarder drool, a file naming crisis and no suitable genealogy database to run on my iMac. But, I didn’t realize how many other holes there were in my research process, or what great solutions are within reach.

Data is hypothetical only
Data is hypothetical only

Gone are the days when genealogists connected primarily through, or USGenWeb. I confess that I miss the active message boards of the late ’90s, but today we have new options and ways to connect with other genealogists that offer to change the way we do genealogy.

Better research starts by knowing what you don’t know, so I’m excited about the opportunity to create my own improved research system. And, I’m stoked about participating in the upcoming third cycle of Thomas MacEntee’s Genealogy Do-Over that begins Friday, July 3.

Confessions of a messy genealogist

… why I need a genealogy do-over

My frustration over not being able to find a good (IMHO) family tree program to run on my new iMac led to my decision to do a genealogy do-over. But, it was my many years of sloppy record keeping that necessitated the do-over in the first place.

In the late 90s, I was ecstatic to find a wealth of information on I connected with other researchers and we added branches by the bunches to our family trees. I was so eager to see it all in my The Master Genealogist database, that I entered many individuals without proper source data.

Sure, I jotted my sources down somewhere, in an abbreviated form. I mean, why not just come back and add those pesky sources later?

I was surrounded by scribbled notes.
I was surrounded by scribbled notes.

About a year in, I realized how important the source information was, and I began the painstaking process of going back to add the source data. Then life got in the way. I packed up all of my work and moved across the country. A couple of years later when I picked it back up, I had a data crash and hadn’t backed up my system.

Since I had all of my hard copy information and hastily scrawled notes, I began the process of re-creating my family history file, this time in RootsMagic. I armed myself with “Evidence” by Elizabeth Shown Mills, and started over, sort of.

"Evidence," by Elizabeth Shown Mills
“Evidence,” by Elizabeth Shown Mills

I managed to trace one line to a Daughters of the American Revolution patriot ancestor and was accepted into DAR membership.

But, I’m the sort of person who learns best by doing. Doing it wrong the first few times, actually. I didn’t back up my data — AGAIN. I had uploaded my GEDCOM to GenCircles and thought that was good enough. I hadn’t gotten all of my old information re-entered when my computer crashed without warning.

Life came calling again and I packed my genealogy work away. By the time I decided to try again, GenCircles had been taken over by My Heritage, who wanted to charge me for access to my own family history. Family history that I soon realized had been edited to contain errors by others.

Since then, I’ve pecked away at adding data to my Legacy 7.5 database on a small laptop. My eyesight isn’t good enough to do too much data entry on that small screen, and I have a lovely iMac for work purposes. My hope was to be able to run Legacy on my laptop and use the iMac as an external screen. Not happening. And, probably this is for the best.

Now, I can focus on building a system, and recording and BACKING UP my family history research from the get-go, as I embark on my “genealogy do-over.”


Switch from Windows to Mac leads to genealogy do-over

Who knew that switching from a Windows laptop to an iMac desktop would precipitate a genealogy do-over? Heck, when I made the switch, I hadn’t even learned that “genealogy do-over” was a thing.

I did some research to be sure I could use my huge iMac screen as a display for my laptop that I run Legacy 7.5 on, but not quite enough research, as it turns out. My iMac can only function as an external display to computers that have Thunderbolt technology, which my laptop doesn’t.

When I learned this, I began my search for a robust family tree software program that I could run on my iMac — this led to more frustration. Neither Legacy, nor RootsMagic have options for Macs that work for me.

Legacy doesn’t have a native Mac product. Legacy’s site documentation says it is working to make Legacy 8.0 functional under CrossOver for Macs. However, the demo version was so glitchy it wouldn’t stay running for more than a few minutes at a time. When it crashed, it took the data entered five minutes ago with it. Legacy support staff suggested I contact CrossOver to try to resolve the issues.

RootsMagic developer, Bruce Buzbee says they are working on a native Mac version of RM. To bridge the gap, they have released MacBridge, which is essentially a customized version of Wine that allows RM to run in the Mac environment. However, this solution proves unworkable for my needs.

My eyesight is less than perfect, but correctable to nearly 20/20. I’m just not able to read the text in most of the dialog boxes in RM — in the Windows version, or under MacBridge on the iMac. RM doesn’t have scalable fonts and only allows users to adjust font sizes for certain areas. It appears that most of the critical dialog boxes use the system font. The only way I’ve been able to adjust the system font is by reducing the resolution of my display, to increase the size. Under MacBridge, the fonts are also sketchy and look as if they were printed on a dot matrix printer. (See screen shot image.) This is particularly noticeable in the source dialog box. I believe this may be a result of viewing the program through the “wineskin.” It’s not impossible to read the text, but for me, it created so much eyestrain that it’s just not feasible.

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 8.24.09 AM
Source dialog boxes in RootsMagic under MacBridge are difficult to read.

Other demo programs that I tried for Mac also fell short of my expectations.

Before purchasing my iMac, I had been working in Legacy to recreate data I had lost after a computer died on me several years ago. I had not done a recent backup, and lost all of my digital work, but not my hard copy backups.

The data I lost was my second attempt at starting from “scratch” with my family history data. In the late 90s, I was so excited to find new connections that I had entered them into my The Master Genealogist database without source information. I was naive enough to think I could just add those pesky source citations later, which of course, didn’t happen.

My frustration over not finding a suitable family tree program to run on my iMac got me looking online for solutions. Hence, I stumbled onto the Genealogy Do-Over blog, as well as several genealogy groups on Facebook.

After reading several posts on the Genealogy Do-Over blog, I realized my genealogy research was in desperate need of a full-blown makeover. (More on this later.)

So, as much as my crazy schedule will allow, I plan to participate in Cycle Three of Thomas MacEntee’s “Genealogy Do-Over.”