31 March 2011

Place Name Problems At Ancestry.com

I'm wondering how many place names aren't really in Ancestry.com. I located my Henry Jacobs in the 1870 census index at Ancestry.com--in Prairie Township, Hancock County, Illinois, which Ancestry.com refers to as "Prairie, Hancock County, Illinois." He is clearly there as the screenshot shows.
Let's say I'd like to do a search of the 1870 census index for all Jacobs entries in Prairie Township, Hancock County, Illinois in 1870. It doesn't appear I can do that because when I type in "Prairie, h" in the location search box, Prairie Township (or just Prairie) in Hancock County, doesn't come up. It seems to me that it should, based upon how the location appears in the search results for Henry as shown in the first image with this post. Yet, when I typed in "Prairie, H" instead of Prairie, Hancock, Illinois, coming up, I only got two results as shown in the image.
One, I'd like to know why locations that come up in search results aren't in the list of options for "Lived in."

Two, I personally would like to know why Ancestry.com can't tag place locations so that when I search a census for the United States I do not get place suggestions in Europe. Is there some geography lesson I missed?

29 March 2011

Too Many Results Explained

I had a response from Ancestry.com regarding my post on "Too Many Results." The screen I got was actually an error--there were actually no results instead of too many. Ancestry.com is working on getting it fixed. I'm not a programmer (by choice), but it seems a little strange to me that "no results" has been confused with "too many." In graduate school we really never seemed to be confused between zero and aleph naught.

As soon as I get the next issue of Casefile Clues off to be proofread I'll post a longer response, but that needs to get finished first.

And, I've got an issue with a place name on Ancestry.com's search interface too that I'll also blog about at that time that I encountered when looking for people in Prairie Township, Hancock County, Illinois.

Hopefully tomorrow afternoon we'll have an update.

27 March 2011

Ken and Martha: A Lesson in Data Preservation

This has been published before, but I'm reposting as it is just as timely as ever. Michael-mjnrootdig@gmail.com


It's 1968. Two genealogists are madly obtaining and compiling family history information. Ken is converting all his data to punch cards. "State-of-the-art" he says. Locals at the genealogical society brag about how "modern" Ken is. He's been asked to discuss his technique with several groups. Martha insists on using her old manual, "it worked for Donald Lines Jacobus," she states, ignoring the blank stare she gets in return. Ken jokes, "why Martha, you probably don't have running water." Martha calmly replies "I most certainly do…packing water from the creek would take away from time at the courthouse."

Martha uses good paper and good ribbons, but that doesn't matter to the others. "Living back in the '30s," they say. Martha remembers using court documents from the 1890s and the ease with which sixty years later she read the judge's typewritten conclusions. She smiles to herself and carries on. After all, her research has shown she's descended from a stubborn, independent lot and a little ribbing won't sway Martha.

It's 1998. Ken and Martha have been gone for years, the society members who lauded Ken and ribbed Martha are mostly gone, current members are largely unaware the two former members. Ken's heirs and Martha's too have found their genealogical compilations in their respective attics and have wisely donated them to the local genealogical society. The acquisitions chairman quickly appoints someone to inventory and catalog Martha's typewritten charts, forms, and histories before they are added to the society's collection.

The society is still trying to find someone to do the same with Ken's cards. The comment "why don't we sell them as bookmarks at our annual workshop" is initially laughed at but does generate some serious interest. Pictures are also a part of Ken and Martha's collection. Martha's black and whites have stood the test of time rather well. Some of the original stones are gone, but Martha's pictures remain and will be archivally preserved by the society. Ken's color photographs have faded and they, in addition to his punch cards, are still awaiting a decision.

While the "old way" of doing things is not necessarily the best way (I'm partial to running water and electricity myself), Ken and Martha's story makes a point about the use of technology. The blond hair in the photograph of me at three years of age has faded. Today the photo makes me look as if I've always had a receding hairline. I have a stack of 5 1/4" floppies sitting on my desk, gathering dust. They all contain state-of-the-art software, and corresponding data files. The only computer I have that reads 5 1/4" floppies sits in my garage. With a null-modem I could transfer the files to the machine I currently use. That works today and the machine in the garage is thirteen years old. What about fifty years from now? If I had my "complete" genealogy on one of these disks could it be read and used in fifty years? What if the data is readable, but the software won't run? Will someone have a working copy of the software?

If not, will there be any way to convert the data to a modern format? Even if they had a machine that could read the disks, what is the chance a machine of that age is in working order in fifty years? And what if it needs parts? It took the auto-body shop two weeks to find parts for my five-year old car. Obtaining parts for a fifty-year old computer is likely to be even more problematic. That does not matter, the technical ones say. There will be ways to convert any data format to any other data format at that point in time. Maybe, but maybe not.

If you take a look at 30-year old genealogical magazines, there are ads for various specialized record-keeping systems, with special charts, forms, and numbering schemes. For how many of these can you still buy forms? Heaven help you if Great-aunt Myrtle used one of these systems and misplaced the manual. And in the ever-changing world of technology, whose to say which data format or operating system will eventually win out? Ten years ago we lived in the world of MS-DOS and every computer user (except for Mac people!) had to enter in text commands in order to maneuver data and software files. Ten years ago, all genealogy software was written for DOS and windows had curtains. If Sun and others have their way, it will be curtains for Windows. Regardless of who comes out on top, change is the only thing that never changes.

In the rush to computerize and to digitize, it must be remembered that relatively speaking, these technologies are in their infancy and that file formats are still constantly changing. It's also necessary to remember that computers and digital technologies originated as a means of communicating and processing information faster, not as a way to preserve information for hundreds of years. Electronic forms of publishing and data storage should not be abandoned. The days of paper and printing are not yet over. Remember the phrase "paperless office?" From what I see as I look at the clutter surrounding my desk, I realize we have a long way to go. In fact, computers make it easier to generate reports and forms.

Computers were never meant to be archival, they were a means to process information more quickly (at least in theory). And when a computer geek says they "archived" something they aren't storing if forever. They made a backup copy in case their hard drive fails in the next few years. They are not planning on saving a copy for the next hundred years. The school where I work occasionally receives donations of old software. Software for Windows 3.1 is essentially useless, especially if we are preparing students for technologies they will encounter in the workplace. When my office was moved from one building to another, I threw out countless old software manuals and programs. We are not a software archives and there's no practical reason to retain five and six year old software.

It's important to remember that a significant amount of the fascination with this new technology is hype. It's important to remember the word "hype" is related to the word "hyper." A hyper person is usually too excited to be unable to focus and concentrate. Also remember that software and hardware companies benefit from new products being put on the market every six months and that "new" is not a synonym for "better" (my word processor confirmed this, just in case I was not aware of it myself). It should also be remembered that recent trends have made genealogists more of a market than they were five or so years ago.

Make no mistake. Information technology affords genealogists opportunities never before available. Significant amounts of data are available via computer and communication can be greatly facilitated. In fact, the editor of this e-zine and I have never met, never talked on the phone, never faxed, and never U.S. mailed. Also, on my end nearly half the articles never see a sheet of paper until the completed e-zine is e-mailed to me when it is "published." Let's also remember that the greatest information processor of all time is not archival. The human mind still has advantages over the computer. If we are really lucky, it lasts one hundred years and no one ever claims the brain should be used for long-term data storage. After all, I have enough trouble remembering where I put my keys fifteen minutes ago. Printed, typed, or written pages, once transcribed by a human, may last for much longer if preserved correctly. As we research, compile, and create, let's not forget the lesson of Ken and Martha.

(c) 2011 Michael John Neill

26 March 2011

Too Many Results

I performed this search last week while setting up our most recent Casefile Clues contest. I searched for individuals with first name beginning with "Mar," (for Mary, Marie, etc.) and last names beginning with "Fecht*" to include Fecht, Fechte, etc. I even chose a month. The search came up just fine.

Today Ancestry.com indicates there are "too many matches" for this search-even when I have exact search turned on. I just cannot believe that there are that many women named Mary/Marie/Maria Fecht/Fechte/Fechtel coming through New York City in 1868.

Too many matches for Anne Murphy I could understand. Sometimes I just cannot figure things out. Maybe someone can explain to me what I am not understanding.

24 March 2011

Elizabeth Taylor Born At What Time?

Elizabeth Taylor was born on 2:30 AM on 27 February 1932 according to her birth certificate.

Actress Elizabeth Taylor's birth certificate was recently released on Ancestry.com. This image comes from their Consular Reports of Births, 1910-1949, which can be searched on Ancestry.com's site.

Taylor's father, Francis Taylor, was born in Springfield, Illinois--her parents were citizens living in London at the time of her birth. He signed her birth certificate as shown in this post. Taylor's mother was Sara Warmbrodt, was born in Arkansas.

19 March 2011

Look at the Original--1920 Census

There is nothing on this entry I didn't already know, but it makes an excellent point.

The 1920 census for Anna Goldenstein in Adams County lists her and the last half of her children. What is interesting about her entry is that for the place of birth for her parents and for her husband, the enumerator originally wrote "Ostfriesland." Later he realized that he needed to use Germany, so he crossed "Ostfriesland" out and wrote "Ger" over it.
Just goes to show you never know what is on an original record until you look. In 1920 census (and others) enumerators had standardized place names they were supposed to use. Most of the time it happened, but occasionally it didn't. Or, like in this case, it was realized after something else has been written.
And they didn't have whiteout(r) in 1920.

15 March 2011

Watching for Names, Migration Chains, Etc.

I don't normally post things that are this "half-baked," but there are several lessons here and one of these days I'll fill in the details and make a Casefile Clues article out of at least part of this.

The History of Bedford, Somerset, and Fulton Counties, Pennsylvania, on page 376 has a biography of Thomas Chaney. I've been using this biography, combined with an analysis I did of Thomas Chaney's pre-1850 census entries for an upcoming article.
In my preliminary work, I've been trying to find these chidlren of Thomas Chaney in various census records. Some success...and some failure.
A Google search turned up a reference on the Coshocton County, Ohio, Genweb site from Justice of the Peace James Shores (http://coshoctonohio.pa-roots.com/justicepeaceshore.html):

"James Rampley vs. Corbin Treadway, & Daniel Crow, surety: Suit brought to recover $14.72, dated 1 October 1842. Thomas Treadway gave Thomas Sharpless his note. Paid in full."
The Crow last name struck my fancy as it was the married last name of one of Thomas Chaney's daughters. The James Rampley in the 1842 suit was the husband of Thomas Chaney's daughter Elizabeth. I got to wondering.
A search on Ancestry.com for Daniel Crow did not immediately reveal a wife with the right first name. I'm still looking. But what was interesting is that Daniel Crow was apparently born in Pennsylvania, was in Coshocton County, Ohio, along with James Rampley.
And, according to the tree submission at Ancestry.com (which needs to be doublechecked), Daniel Crow lived in Walker Township, Hancock County, Illinois, after he lived in Coshocton County, Ohio.
And that's the same township where James Rampley settled when he came to Illinois.
Migration chains---always be on the lookout for migration chains. I have a lot of work to do on the children of Thomas Chaney, but I was reminded that if some of them "disappear" I need to be looking near where other children of his settled.
Lots of work to be done before this one appears in Casefile Clues, but always be on the watch for migration patterns.

13 March 2011

Free Copy of Brick Walls From A to Z

Response to this offer for a free copy of my "Brick Walls from A to Z" has been overwhelming. If any readers, followers, or just regular ol' genealogists would like a free copy of this article, just send an email to me at brickwallsa2z@gmail.com. Thanks!

10 March 2011

Looking for Brices in Boston about 1916

I found a man that I think is the John Brice for whom I am looking in a Boston city directory on Footnote for 1916. The name here is J Munroe Brice, but the address is a match. The residence (at least one of them) is consistent with an address provided for John in an estate settlement in Hancock County, Illinois, in 1915.

The probate settlement indicates John's residence was 24 West Boston, which is one address listed for him here, perhaps a work or office address. The estate settlement only lists him as John Brice, 24 West Boston, MA. There seems little doubt it is the same person.

I really like having access to the city directories at Footnote. I'm going to have to keep researching this Brice to determine what he was doing in Boston and if his middle name really was Munroe.

08 March 2011

When to Stop

I've been working from the informatoin on this obituary for an upcoming issue of Casefile Clues.
However sometimes there is a point where online work needs to stop and work in offline sources is necessary. This obituary comes from the Quincy, Illinois Daily Journal of 17 September 1913.
Based upon information in the obituary, I have located Agnes Harper in the 1880-1910 censuses that are extant in West Point, Illinois.
However, I have not had much luck locating her in census record before 1880 and I think that it's time to do some onsite research in the county where she died in 1913 and where she apparently lived from 1880 until her death.
Cemetery records or transcriptions might provide the year of death for her husband. There may potentially be probate information for him as well. The local historical society may have additional information on the Harper family that I can't access online.
Once I've searched probate records (both for Agnes Harper and her husband) and local historical society records, I will be better equipped to search for Agnes in other records.
Sometimes one has to stop and regroup before continuing online research when offline sources may answer some questions.

07 March 2011

Casefile Clues Discount

For anyone who missed it, we're offering a year of my Casefile Clues newsletter (back issues) for $10 now. Check out the blog post before the offer is over!

Google Mapping for Benjamin Butler

Google maps aren't always entirely accurate down to the address and that's fine for what I'm using it for today.

This map I made for Benjamin Butler includes the four known locations I have for him--1850, 1870, and 1880 census and where he married in 1864.

View Benjamin Butler Locations in a larger map

The locations I have for him are only as specific as the county--Google Maps works great for that. When I made the lines of how he "could" have traveled from one point to another, I noticed that his 1850-1864 migration took him (or could have) right through the county where he lived in 1870. Obviously that's not something I'm going to notice without a map.

Google maps also makes it easy to share your map with other researchers-you can have additional collaborators on a map.

Just remember that Google maps isn't perfect and that with addresses it may be slightly off. But it can help with some analysis.

We'll be featuring our search for Benjamin in an upcoming issue of Casefile Clues.

06 March 2011

Citing Sources is All About Me

We sometimes say that we cite sources in genealogy for others. To an extent that is true, but I think that for me, citing sources is not about others--it is about me.

Citing a source is indicating where the material was originally created, what form it was accessed in and how it was accessed. This usually includes publication information, page number, location on a website, and more. I won't get into the details of citation here. I will admit that my personal citations in my own notes and sources are sloppy. They contain all the essentials, but they don't fit any "correct form." Guess what? I don't care. What I care about are that all the essential information is there-the record, the form in which it was accessed, when and where it was accessed, etc.

At the most crude, citing sources allows me to go back and "doublecheck" what I saw. A citation allows me to as easily as possible find the same source and review it again, making certain I didn't leave anything out.

Knowing the form in which the information was accessed allows me to compare a "new" version of that record or source. Did I access the microfilm the first time? Have better digital copies been taken? Do I need to see the original at the courthouse? Was all that I accessed the first time a transcription made from a bad photocopy of the original record? All that makes a difference, especially when there may be other "forms" of the same record out there.

The publishing I do of information is for my how-to newsletter, Casefile Clues. Do most genealogists publish? No. However, I will say that in the process of cleaning up my citations I virtually always discover something I "overlooked" while preparing every issue. Every time. I'm always adding to my "to-do" list while reviewing my citations.

The reviewing I'm talking about is not the decision of where to place commas, semi-colons, etc. I'm talkin g about gathering all the elements for the citation as some (most) of my older material lacks all the necessary details. It is often when I'm gathering that information that I locate something else that needs followup, or that I notice an error in a transcription I made years ago, etc. Seemingly always something comes up when I clean up the citations.

And that is about me, because it helps my research. I see brick walls I made for myself and information and clues I overlooked.

Citation is essentially about me--making my research better and allowing me to discover more connections, conclusions, etc.

Even if I only did it "for me," the citation and analysis of my sources would still be necessary.

Most successful genealogists, those who "find lots of stuff" cite their sources. They may not have the commas and semi-colons in the right places. They might not even have the commas and semi-colons, but they have all the essential parts to create a citation somewhere.

Thinking about where they got something and how they got it helps them analyze and find more.

Personally if they tell you they "never think about that stuff" they are either lying or have errors in their conclusions just waiting to be discovered.