Thursday, January 10, 2008

New Year, New Habits

Well, the Christmas decorations are almost all put away. It is time to tackle the piles of paperwork in my office and work on some filing so that I can start on the taxes. It is January, so I have started my list of all the things I'm going to do differently this year than last. I'm sure you all do the same. It is a new year, so we have a clean slate to develop some new habits, right?
Following are some new habits, new routines, and new tasks I would like to challenge you with for this new year:
  1. Set up a daily (or at least weekly) backup routine on your computer. You can use backup software to make this easy. I'm currently using Genie Backup Manager and find it very simple to use. It is set to automatically backup each night at a specific time. You can get a portable hard drive or flash drive to put the files on. To be extra safe, have two sets of backup drives and take one with you to work so that it is out of the house as an extra precaution. Make sure you are backing up your genealogy database files, important e-mail, your address book, and your research notes.
  2. Find a local genealogy society, or one local to an area in which your ancestors lived, and attend a meeting or join the society as a new member. Supporting the local genealogy societies means supporting their projects to preserve and publish genealogical records.
  3. Make a genealogy to-do list for yourself with all the things you would like to accomplish, all the projects or tasks you have had in mind to do. Then, pick just one thing on that list and get to it. Don't let the entire list overwhelm you and discourage you because you feel so far behind already (we've all been there!). Ignore the other things on the list until later. Just focus on that one item and apply yourself. Ideas for your list: organizing your photos; scanning photos for archiving and preservation; setting up an organized filing system for your research notes; inputting source citations for the various fields in your genealogy database; culling through your research notes and tidying them up.
  4. Buy a genealogy how-to book or find one at your local library. Whether it is a beginners book for you to review, or a specific genealogy topic you would like to learn, taking the time to educate yourself will help immensely as your research progresses.
  5. Transcribe a genealogically relevant document or record. Perhaps you have something in your own collection (a diary, a letter, etc.) that you would like to transcribe and share with the world on a web page. Or maybe you would like to join a group of volunteers who are putting records online for all of us to use.
  6. Attend at least one genealogy class, seminar, or conference. You will learn something new and have a chance to meet fellow genealogists.
  7. Makes plans for your genealogical research materials to have a home after you are gone. Do you family members know what to do with all your stuff? Do you have plans for a cousin, a society, or a library to inherit your research? Figure it out and then put it in writing.
  8. Start writing Thank-You notes to people who help you. Whether it was a big deal or a small gesture, a nice message (e-mail or snail mail) of gratitude goes a long way.
  9. Review your research, especially the stuff you did when you were brand new to all of this. Going back over things you did several months or years ago can often be seen with a fresh set of eyes and possibly give you new ideas for research paths to follow.

I'm sure you can all help me come up with more ideas for new habits in the new year. Now that we're thinking about it, let's get to doing some of them!


Saturday, January 5, 2008

Google Tips for Genealogy: Spelling

When you use Google you are searching an index of web pages found on the Internet. Keep in mind who publishes those web pages: fellow genealogists, cousins . . .human beings. Are human beings consistent with spelling? Nope. Do human beings make mistakes? You bet. Does every human being use his or her spell-checker? I wish.

Variant Spellings, Misspellings, and Typos:

When searching on names we have learned (or are learning) to look for all variant spellings of given names, surnames, and place names. For example, when looking for Anderson you should also look for Andersen, Andersson, Anderssen, and possibly just Anders, etc. The same goes for keywords or phrases that you might use in a search. So, when looking for one word/phrase also look for misspellings or typos for that word, such as:

  • genealogy --> geneology, geneaology, genology
  • ancestry --> ancestory
  • family history --> family histroy
  • cemetery --> cemetary

Other Languages:

Remember to use words and phrases from languages other than your own, particularly those from the country of origin for your ancestors. If you are looking for your Swedish ancestor use Swedish words in your searches. For example, use translation software or tools like the FamilySearch word lists to locate the Swedish words for birth (födda, födde, född, födelse), burial (begravning), wife (hustru, maka), etc.

Build Your Queries:

You need to build a series of possible search queries based on various spellings, words, and phrases. The queries can be stored in a document on your computer and used over and over again each time you sit down to Google your ancestors. Just copy and paste them when you are ready to search. So, using my previous (simple) Peter Johnson example, I would start to build a series of several queries like this:

  • genealogy peter johnson iowa sweden
  • geneology peter johnson iowa sweden
  • geneaology peter johnson iowa sweden
  • genology peter johnson iowa sweden
  • "family history" peter johnson iowa sweden
  • "family histroy" peter johnson iowa sweden
  • "family tree" peter johnson iowa sweden
  • ancestry peter johnson iowa sweden
  • ancestory peter johnson iowa sweden
  • genealogy peter johnsen iowa sweden
  • geneology peter johnsen iowa sweden
  • geneaology peter johnsen iowa sweden
  • genology peter johnsen iowa sweden
  • "family history" peter johnsen iowa sweden
  • "family histroy" peter johnsen iowa sweden
  • "family tree" peter johnsen iowa sweden
  • ancestry peter johnsen iowa sweden
  • ancestory peter johnsen iowa sweden

As you can see above it would be possible to come up with dozens of variant queries to try out based on combinations of misspellings, typos, and more.

Wanted Dead, But Not Live (for the most part)

At what point did it become acceptable to pass off live people-finding search services as "genealogy" and "family tree" resources? I'm thinking it is mostly an Internet phenomenon. I'm talking about web sites on which you look for living people through searches in databases with things like phone books, reverse phone directories, address directories, directories of names of living people, criminal background checks, court records, utility records, property records, etc.

Yes, genealogists and family historians with any level of experience or expertise enjoy meeting cousins and finding long-lost family members to help fill out branches on the family tree. Especially when they are also interested in genealogy and can shed light on an ancestor. But, searching for live people isn't the main purpose or objective in family history, is it? Aren't we looking backward, generation by generation, to figure out who and where we came from? Or am I alone in thinking that is why we are all in this obsessed hobby?

A quick look at a dictionary for definitions of the word genealogy:
  1. a record or account of the ancestry and descent of a person, family, group, etc.; a record or table of the descent of a person, family, or group from an ancestor or ancestors; a family tree.
  2. the study of family ancestries and histories; the study or investigation of ancestry and family histories.
  3. descent from an original form or progenitor; lineage; ancestry; direct descent from an ancestor; lineage or pedigree.

That has always been my view of genealogy. I do document the cousins and their children as I find them, but I don't go actively searching them in online resources. It is hard enough to find time (and money) to look for the dead ancestors, much less the thousands of live cousins spread around the world.

I started this thread tonight after receiving a new link submission from a site labeled as genealogy and described this way: "Find help for building your family tree and finding lost ancestors." However, it only had a search form and links that point to databases for finding living people, such as those I described in my first paragraph above. This isn't the first time I've received such link submissions. And it isn't the first time I've wondered about these types of sites. Why do the owners and/or visitors of these sites consider this genealogy? I worry that people who are new to genealogy will waste their time, money, and energy on sites like these before they learn where to really begin with their research. I worry that the descriptions on sites like this mislead people. It bothers me. I work hard to help people get pointed in the right directions in their research. I don't ever want to lead them astray with misleading links.

All that said, I do have a Finding People category on Cyndi's List where I link to individual phone books, people-finding services, etc. for those people who are looking for a living cousin. But that is only 191 links out of more than 260,000 total. And the links point to web sites that are all titled and labeled for what they are and what they do. None of them claim to be genealogy when they aren't.