Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Google genealogy ... how to do genealogy searches on the Internet

Google is the most powerful web search engines ever created. It has come into the lexicon as a adjective, "just Google it". And best of all it is free for all genealogy researchers. For someone who has little experience doing Internet searches a Google could lead to few results.  But by learning a few simple search techniques, the better your results might be.

Uncommon names
The more uncommon the name the better.  So searching for John Smith will be next to impossible so you may have to go in a different direction such as John's father, children or siblings.  If John has a brother named Mortimer finding Mortimer the correct Smith family will be much easier when looking for Mortimer than solely by searching for John.  You may need to come in backwards rather than starting with who you are looking for

Dates matter
One time a friend and I were both researching our family tree.  I told him I was stuck on Henry Lewis and couldn't get past him in Wales.  He said, " I have Henry Lewis in Wales too and I have three generations past him as well."  For two days we thought we might even be related through old Henry.  That was until we get our books out.  My Henry Lewis was 1792 and his was 1850 and none of his ancestors had any names in common with mine and none of my descendants fit his chart.  So our brief time as relatives ended.  When searching Google add as much information as you can about dates and try different dates such as birth marriage and death.  All dates are important because you never know if someone is researching your relatives spouses family and only has a marriage date.

Location, location, location
Tracking down someone to a county or town can help with finding the person in a Google search.  This is may or may not help.  In my own research I tracked my ancestor with and uncommon name of Manus Boyle to the town of Hazleton Pennsylvania in 1880.  But upon further research apparently Hazleton was a popular town for the Irish as there were 6 families named Boyle there in 1880 and two of them had a patriarch named Manus.  So even when I thought I found him I had not.  I had to delve deeper and compare to other information I already had to know I had the right guy.   

So when Google searching knowing the location and adding it to the search can be helpful, but also be mindful of the area as well.  I was doing a search of a local newspaper for a relative and found a great story about his weeding and the guest that were there in the society section.  But the section was for the next town over, because that it the town where the church was located.  If I had limited my self to the town he lived in without expanding to the nearby area I would have missed the story.

Major events     
Also finding your relative based on events that might have been involved with such as a war.  Searching for there name followed by the war of a particular battle may provide you a website that list more information about them or the battle that they were involved.  My paternal grandfather was a bombardier in WWII and died when my father was young.  But through Google I was able to find a website about his unit which list every mission that he went on and what the target was.      

Rank or title
Any title that your relative had will help your Google search for them.  Identifying them as doctor or Captain will help narrow down to the person you wan to find.  So if they had a title try search for them using that title. 

Search what you want
Adding what you are looking for could also narrow the results.  Adding the term "obituary" should in theory remove all living people from your search results.

All of the above
Using Google for genealogy is still a lesser source as it deals with mostly current events and people but if you have time or at a dead end it may be worth your time to spend a few hours seeing if you can get information you do not have.  But doing it the right was will lead to more fruitful results.

Examples from most general to most specific:
Name search: John Smith
Uncommon name: Mortimer Smith
With date: Mortimer Smith 1863
With location: Mortimer Smith 1863 Spotsylvania Virginia
With event : Mortimer Smith 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville
With title: Major General Mortimer Smith 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville
With what you want: Obituary of Mortimer Smith 1884 near Richmond Virginia

This should help get started with what to search, in a future post I will discuss other syntax options within Google to get even more out of your Google search and narrow down your results.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Twenty first century genealogy in action

Beyondthedate is proud to announce a new partnership with the online academic website Udemy.com the number one provider of online education.  The online education market is booming with many topics.  From the educators that I have talked to this is the direction that education is going by users taking online specific courses to grow their skill set.

What does this have to do with genealogy?
Among the courses that Udemy offers are a few but growing number of courses about genealogy.  There are courses from experts about tracing your family tree and other courses will be added as time goes by.  I also know that for many genealogist, genealogy is not there only hobby and Udemy many be a resource they were unaware of that could help develop those hobbies as well, whether they be anything from photography to yoga to computer programming.

While the genealogy course selection are small now I know they will be growing as the Udemy platforms continues to grow.  Full disclosure I am currently in the mist of creating my own genealogy related online course through Udemy that will hopefully be done in the Spring.

For now the best genealogy courses are Everything Olde is New Again! Genealogy Clan Management which can help beginners climb their family tree and understand their records. Another great genealogy related course is Develop YOUR Customized Genealogy Family Tree Board Game which is a detailed course on creating your won genealogy board game. But feel free to browse their extensive collection of courses and topics that may interest you. 

As this partnership goes on I may mention from time to time any courses of genealogical interest(especially my own)  and place a permalinks on he right hand side but I will continue to blogging about topics of interest and how to get beyond the date to get your family story both past and present.

The two online courses mentioned in this article

Everything Olde is New Again! Genealogy Clan Management Develop YOUR Customized Genealogy Family Tree Board Game

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Knowing your milestones...the genealogist historian

My grandfather tells the story that in his father's lifetime the Wright brothers flew the first airplane and the first man landed on the Moon.  In my own lifetime there has not been a man on the moon but there has been unmanned landing on Mars and the Internet as we know it was invented.  Where my great grandfather grew up in a age of transpiration advances, I am growing older in an age of technological advances.

Being aware of the greater world and how it is changing adds depth to your genealogy.  These things have a place in the narrative of your genealogy so the future generation can know what you experience. In a narrative in my grandfathers genealogy he writes a story of how his father remembers the streetlights being lit by hand every night in the city.  As someone born after prevalence of home electricity and indoor plumbing, stories about how my relatives lived in before these things and found it normal, is fascinating.  It makes me stop and appreciate the modern conveniences that I take for granted.

Your personal milestones only become apparent in hindsight.  Technology develops over time.  If my great grandfather heard about the Wright brothers first flight, he might have thought they did something interesting, but there is no way he could have possibly conceived that it would lead to modern air travel let alone a trip to the Moon.  But all of those things happened as time passed.

Keep track of the modern world and how it is changing and note it in narratives in your genealogy so that future generations can look back and wonder how you ever survived without a flying car or your teleportation device to get to work in seconds.     

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Telegraph, Telephone, Tell Aunt Ethel

Genealogy is a two way street.  Most of the time we are going backwards looking for ancestors from the past but we must also continue to document current history as well.  People are having babies all the time and as the generations get further apart is becomes more difficult to keep up with the new arrivals.  So as a genealogist you need to have systems in place to keep tabs on distant families note worth news.   

Closeness matters
In an ideal world you would receive a announcement or a least a Christmas card from every living family in your genealogy program with an update on an wedding, graduation or births that have occurred in the recent years.  But we don't have an ideal world and when you start to get to 2nd and 3rd cousins it is not practical or affordable to send out those thing to people you hardly know.  It is easy to get information from local relative or close relatives that you see throughout the year but what about the rest.

Relying on the relations to of others
Though you may not be close to the distant relatives perhaps you are close to someone who is close to them.  A personal example is that my Uncle was closer to some of the my fathers cousins than my father.  My Uncle saw them more frequently so to get genealogy information on who was having a baby or getting married in that family who I only saw at the occasional funeral or the once in a while family reunion, I would get the information from my Uncle who what happy to share the information he received when he saw them last.

When lines break
The problem with the "relative of a relative" situation is that communication lines can break.  In my own example my uncle died.  So the news out of the cousins family ceased.  Luckily my father has a cousin on that side of the family that he sees more than I do so, he is able to get births and marriages more frequently than next funeral but not as frequely as my uncle used to deliver.  But sometimes you have to take what you can get.

"Aunt Ethel"
Many families have a central figure that always seems to have the news on everyone.  The person usually is older and has ties to multiple families.  It may be a grandmother, or a Aunt but they are the one everyone sends the an obligatory birth and wedding announcement too, as well as the most recent school picture of the kids.  As the family genealogist, you need to make it a point to call or visit "Aunt Ethel" first to see how she is doing and secondly to be able to get a hold of her treasure trove  of genealogy information both past and present. 

As I have posted before Facebook can be a genealogical resource for distant relatives.  But Facebook also has its limitation.  People generally only friend people they know.  So if you friend your 20 year old great niece, you may be the only one of her "friends" over 40 which could have some awkward things coming through your news feed if she even accepts your request.  But friending relatives that you know and are you own age could also get you genealogy information when they post about new grandchildren.

So when trying to get names down the tree rather than up, it is good to have strategic placed relatives that can give you all of the news of distant families that are also descendants of your relatives.  As the generations continue the names that you put in as babies will be having babies of their own and you need to be ready to document them as best as you can.                    

Thursday, November 6, 2014

21st century genealogy... looking forward while looking back

File:Science museum 025 adjusted.jpg 

In the late eighties, shortly after my grandfather retired he decide to take up genealogy as his retirement hobby.  So he purchased a new computer and genealogy software.  He had a DOS based computer which ran the Roots III software program.  He began putting all of his names, dates and locations into the software.  Through the 90's he upgraded computers and software, moving up to a windows based computer and upgrading to Roots IV and then to Ultimate Family Tree when the company that made the Roots software got bought out.  On Ultimate Family Tree he stayed.  

I recently got a call from him that his a new computer with Window 8 on it would not run the old genealogy software.  He is so use to the interface of UFT he doesn't want to learn a new software but  the old software won't work.  As an IT person, I hope to be able to discuss with him over the holidays the problem.  I have emailed him a possible solution but need to see if they worked for him.  I hope to be able to visit him to get it fixed before the new year.  

Keeping up with changing technology
I tell this story not to solicit advice for an old software but the point of the story is this: Are you keeping up with technology of the future, as you continue your family journey in to the past.  It is difficult to change to an new program once you have mastered the nuances and shortcuts of another program.  Are you prepared if your hard drive crashed for what you would do, not only for back ups, but for transferring to a new machine.  Hard drive crashes happen everyday, so we have to be prepared for them.  We must also keep up when our software is out of date.  There are various resources in the genealogy community that have been available for years, such as a GEDCOM file that should help transition to a more modern software.  But we also have to look at how is the industry leader when picking software.  And also look at the possibly that the days of buying software at a store that come with 2 or 3 CD ROMs to load the program on the computer may be coming to an end.  The world is going wireless and cloud based and software is downloaded no longer bough as it was in times past. That too comes with risks and caveats.  Trusting the cloud and having your tree online is great but also has risks to doing so with things that are not always tangible or accessible and you many not have recourse if you are not backed up with a hard copy.  Keeping all things online could wind up in you having nothing at all if the service goes down. 

Utilizing new technology
As we discussed in the post about smartphones there are millions of apps and websites for genealogies to try.  Some will be junk but some might be helpful.  This is also true about websites.  An example was that I was putting names into Google to see what might come up.  I was dealing with an rather unusual name so it was easier to sort the results.  I found a website of the survivors of a Air Force unit that my other grandfather had been a part of in WWII.  It listed all the bombing runs that he had done over Europe as well as the crew of each mission.  This was info that no one in my family had and i found in on Google.   

Depending on how much you watch TV you have seen that Ancestry.com has been putting out and ad campaign to get new users. This can be a start but it is not always as easy as they make is seem and Ancestry.com doesn't have all of the genealogy resources wrapped up yet.  So I remain neutral on if an Ancestry.com membership is right for you.  But know that there are many things you can find just perusing the Internet.  Many things that we previously only found in library are now finding their way to the Internet.  Some for free and some with a price.  You have to decide what resources are right for you and how much they are worth to you.  

If you are still finding all of your info in the library or archives (both great sources) and not looking what modern technology has done for genealogy in the form of the Internet or genealogy software and resources then you are handicapping yourself and your research.  If you still have your ten year old computer with old irreplaceable software that is not longer supported and no modern day back up of USB sticks or CDs for all of your thousands of names then you are playing with fire and all your work could go up in a puff of smoke.        

Friday, October 3, 2014

Knowing where the family records are, even if you don't have them

I have a copy of my great-great grandfather's civil war discharge and pension papers.  The copy I have is from the original that he received upon discharge in 1864.  I do not have the original and even though I act as the family genealogist, I am not really entitled to the original just because I have an computer with some names in it. 

My great-great grandfather's had 6 kids and each of those kids had between 3 and 8 kids and that only puts me at my grandfathers generation, there are about a hundred more people a generation below that.  The point is that I am one of hundreds of people who is a direct descendent to him.  The record is also in the archives if the copy in the family ever gets lost.  I was fortunate enough to talk a great uncle into letting me get one copy of the fragile document many years ago before he died.  From that one good copy I made many more copies and scans.

When my great uncle passed away that documents went to his son.  I assume they are still with him since everyone should realize the significances of the document.  The 1980's cartoon series G.I.Joe always ended each episode with a life lesson and the catch phase "...and knowing is half the battle." This phase also holds true for original documents that you have as much right to as everyone else.  Knowing where they are, having and copy for yourself and knowing that they are safe is half the battle, there is no need to fight over getting the original.

Not yours to take 
Once things go out 2 or more generations, many more people have a sake to claim on holding the original.  While it is imperative to make sure the document or picture are safe and trying to get a copy even if you have to drive the owner to Office Max so they can see you make the copy and give it back to them, you do not have to have the original and you may not be entitled to it.  But knowing where the original is, "is half the battle." 

If my house ever caught on fire and my fireproof safe where I keep important documents failed, I would know where I could get another copy of the document.  Historic documents get lost and destroyed all the time, but if they are in the family and you know who has them, you can sleep well at night with your copy.

 If you are concerned about the document, it wouldn't hurt to reach out to the family member about preservation techniques to make sure they are about to pass down the document to their family as well.  Originals are wonderful but if 100 people are just as entitled to them as you, then a copy might have to be good enough. Knowing where the originals are and even noting that in your research can give future generations an idea of what family line they went down.  

The other side of the coin
There are occasions when people want you as the family genealogist to take the original, since they might not have an interest or storage.  This might be true of pictures of distant relative that have not descendants. Great Uncle Sal was a life long bachelor, so when cousin Kelly got a box of his personal items she didn't want to throw them away and wanted you to have the box because you are the keeper of the genealogy.

In genealogy, you can end up with a lot of "stuff", books, pictures, documents and letters.  It is important to hold on to the things you get and get copies of the things you don't possess, but if you had everything you would need another whole house just to store it.  So be happy with what you have and hope that future generations have the room to store even more generations of family significance.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Social Science of Genealogy or Finding the Why?

Often times in genealogy there is a disconnect between the name of a person and the concept that this was a real person who had day to day struggles and made life decisions.  It's easy to get caught up in a static picture that of John Miller (1850-1910) who was a farmer.  But to get into the life of John Miller we have to look at where he lived, why he lived there and what he did on a daily basis.  You are more than dates and an occupation, so why limit John Miller to that too.

 Let's look at the whys of life rather than just the who, where and when

Location Why 
Knowing where relatives lived is interesting (census records are good for placing them in a location every ten years) but finding out why they got there or how they decided to pick that location is even more interesting.  It's one thing to look at immigrants, they left home due to war or famine or to seek new opportunity.  But it is another to look at where they went when they got here.  Did they move to a location because of a job specialty, because of a large ethnic population that matched them or did they have relatives here already?   Don't just accept that in 1870 your great great father is living in Hazleton, Pennsylvania.  Think about if he was there for work, living temporarily there after being discharge are the Civil War?  Understanding the world around him at the time helps us draw better conclusions.   

No two people are the same now and they weren't then either.  So how is it that two Irishmen get off the same boat in the same port but one ends up farming in Maryland and one ends up living in New York City.  Seeing why they went different ways will help understand them better as people.    

Occupation Why
Another thing to look at is what your distant relatives did for a living and why.  Most of us don't come from lines of Rockefeller so our relatives were working class folks.  But why did they choose that profession.  If your Italian relatives got off the boat and moved to the city and started a restaurant, was that because they had great cooking skills that they brought with them.  Many times people get into profession their parents were in.  Was your grandfather a farmer because his father was a farmer, or did he specifically not become a farmer because he had other aspirations?  I have a relative who had a farm but for a living had a business that blew up tree stumps with dynamite.  He may have obtained this skill during the Civil War and turned it into a career after discharge.   People both then and now use their skills and talents to make money.

Occupational and location can go hand in hand
The point is that names and dates don't tell the whole story and the genealogist job is to put him or herself into the mind of the person.  One last personal example, I have a relative from around the turn of the century that I followed in three censuses in the first one he was at home, the second he was in St. Louis and the third he was back at home.  I could read a lot into this but with further digging I found out that he was in the publishing business and since he had 3 bothers already on the farm he left to go to St. Louis which at the time was a hub for publishers.  While in St. Louis he contracted Tuberculosis during an outbreak of while he was there.  He came home so that he could die at home with his family.  Census records and dates won't tell that story and if I was guessing I would have thought homesick or unemployment.  But the real story is more meaningful to my family tree.