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, Calvingenealogy.com 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.

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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.

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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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”