Showing posts with label Jumpstart Tips. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jumpstart Tips. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Jumpstart Tip #24 - Embed Dates in File Names

Earlier Tips have described the benefits of using Folders and File Naming Conventions to make it easier to store and find things - essentially helping keep them more organized and making you more efficient by not having to burn through valuable time looking for things endlessly.

Another helpful Tip is that you can leverage the power of your computer to help you create an automatic Chronology Document for one or more individuals. Here's how it works.

First - note that your computer will instinctively organize a group of files in alphanumeric order. In other words, if you have a folder with 10, 20 or even 100 items, they will generally be displayed in ascending order with certain characters, then numbers, then letters being used to create teh ascending order. This is, of course, unless you have directed your computer to display them otherwise.

To 'force' the order into a Chronology, use a specialized form of an 8-character date field as the leading part of the file name, then follow with a more descriptive title using words.

Use the format YYYYMMDD where the Y is a four digit year (e.g. - 2012 or 1912), M is a two digit month (e.g. - 02 for February, 12 for December), and D is a two digit day (e.g. - 01 is the 1st, 11 is the eleventh). For everything to sort correctly, it's important that you use leading zeros for months and days that would normally be single digit numbers. So, today's date would be 20110119 and this past Christmas Day would read as 20101225.

To make things a bit easier to read, I often use a period (or dot) to separate the year, month, and day.

2010.12.25 - Christmas Day
2011.01.19 - Today's Tip Posting

You can already see how useful it can be just by looking at the two entries above. Start by focusing your efforts on a favorite ancestor or one with a special importance. Create a folder and copy (don't move, but instead copy) various files into this folder. They can be any file type you like - digital images, PDFs, Word documents, and others. Then inspect and rename the files one-by-one, inserting a date at the beginning. Your default Chronology will begin to appear.

What if I don't know a date for an image?
You won't always know an exact date for an image or may have to guess all together - that's ok for now, there is a way you can indicate that. Consider the files listed below.

1883.02.05 - Lynch Patrick Waterbury CT Birth Certificate
1900.06.01 - Lynch Patrick Waterbury CT US Federal Census 1900
1903.00.00 - ?Lynch Patrick Waterbury CT Photo Shop
1910.04.14 - Lynch Patrick Waterbury CT US Federal Census 1910
1916.02.24 - Lynch Patrick Waterbury CT Marriage Certificate
1920.01.01 - Lynch Patrick Waterbury CT US Federal Census 1920
1930.04.01 - Lynch Patrick Waterbury CT US Federal Census 1930
1941.08.00 - Lynch Patrick Waterbury CT Portrait
1958.03.24 - Lynch Patrick Waterbury CT Death Certificate
1958.03.25 - Lynch Patrick Waterbury CT Obituary

In the example shown for my grandfather, you can see that I have a photograph of an uknown specific date, but the back of the original indicates simply 'August 1941' and so I indicate the portion of the date that is known. If you later obtain a more precise date, you can always go back and rename the file.

You can also see that I have another photograph which I'm estimating was taken in about 1903. Since I don't know for certain, I use zeros for the month and day and also lead the text description with a question mark.

These is a technique that has worked well for me and I hope you find it to be of some use as well.

Happy Hunting!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Jumpstart Tip #23 - Research Places, not just People

There is a tendency when working on our family trees (yes, me too) to be driven by the Pedigree Chart. We see those empty boxes and are compelled to fill in a name and a few dates and then, up come two more empty boxes because that person had a father and mother too.

Don't forget the importances of doing PLACE NAME RESEARCH from time to time as well. If your ancestors lived somewhere for any appreciable amount of time, it would serve you well to understand a little bit about that place.

Here are just a few of the questions you should consider:
> Where is the place located?
> Was it known by any other name?
> Is the place part of a larger area (region, province, county, parish, state, etc.)?
> What drives the local economy and how has it changed over the years?
> What ethnic groups are most common in the area
> What newspapers served or serve the area?
> Is there a local history or genealogy society?
> What is the name of the local library?
> What are the names of the local cemeteries and houses of worship?

All these things will prove helpful, because it is very likely that your ancestors left some sort of 'paper trail' with clues along the way.

You can start by using Google Maps to get more precise information about the place name or possibly conduct a general Google search for other information about the place.

By understanding the PLACES of our family, we'll have a much better understanding of what may have served as motivation for decisions they made. Decisions to move, who they married, family friends, and more.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Jumpstart Tip #22 - Holiday Cards for Family History

So, Happy New Year! If you live in the United States, you've likely had about five consecutive weeks of holiday and family. Starting with Thanksgiving and into December with Christmas and Hanukkah, there were certainly many times for family gatherings, traditions, food, and more.

As you get your house 'back to normal' (whatever that means), you may be tempted to take down the holidays cards and toss them in the trash. Well, think again . . . and think ahead for next year and the year after. Certain family cards AND THEIR ENVELOPES contain valuable clues for future family historians. Names, images, descriptions, sentiments, addresses and return addresses, stamps and postmarks.

Think of it this way - if you could have a collection of holiday cards sent to your grandparents from the 1950s or 1960 or even the 1970s, wouldn't that be a special collection for you?

Family history is made each and every day. Don't dismiss the things we have now. A photo or document doesn't have to be 100 years old to be family history.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Jumpstart Tip #17 - Dating a Photographer's Mark

Ditota Family, Cleveland, OH

The best way for me to share this tip is to describe a challenge that I faced with a photograph from my own family. The image (shown below) is a formal portrait of four adult men and a young boy. The men are all dressed in 3-piece suits and holding cigars. The first clue I had was that it was among my maternal grandmother's possessions and passed to me upon her death. So, I could somewhat safely assume the photo belonged to that 'half' of my family tree (meaning, not my paternal half). Now, it's entirely possible this isn't a family connection at all - it may be a portrait of some special friends, but in either case I'll want to understand why it was given to and then saved for all those years by my grandmother.

My family was/is from Waterbury, Connecticut. As far as I knew, all my research had shown arrivals from Italy coming straight to Waterbury and staying there, not traveling or migrating to any other part of the United States. The photograph has a photographers stamp on the cardboard mounting - it reads:
Fine Art Studio Co.
2096 Murray Hill Rd.
Cleveland, Ohio
(S.A.) Garfield 534 R.

Certainly photographic experts (see Maureen Taylor's website) can tell you the likely time period based on the photographic technique and clothing, but there is a also a relatively simple way to narrow the timeframe when the photo was taken.

Consulting a collection of City Directories for Cleveland, Ohio, you can find a listing for the photographer and match the address to a date. Some businesses operated for decades, but moved multiple times for various reasons. You may find that you can narrow the date range to within just a few years.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Jumpstart Tip #9 - Interview A Family Member This Month!

Don't wait, think it through, come up with a list of potential candidates, and promise yourself you're going to complete at least one family interview before this month is over. After all, October is Family History month!!

Your best candidates are those that are older than you and, ideally, among the most senior members of your extended family. Be mindful of health issues that may impact their ability to help, but if you can identify one or more senior members of your family that are in reasonably good health and with a clear memory, as well as an interest and ability to speak with you, then you're in good shape.

If you've not been in touch with someone in a while, it is best to announce your call with a card or letter. Let them know you're interested in your family tree and wondered if they might be able to help.

Prioritize what you'd like to know for each call. In some cases, finding out just one piece of information can well worth the time. Keep in mind what you hear is personal recollection and so it will need to be verified using other sources, but it's a great starting point. You may simply want to inquire about a maiden name or the names of brothers and sisters for a member of your common family.

If you can get permission, record the conversation (audio or video, in person or by phone). It will make it easier for you to listen without missing something. Even if you take careful notes, recording the call for later playback will be a great help.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Jumpstart Tip #8 - Reading Obituaries

Anna Orsatti Ditoto - Obituary
If you have a collection of family documents and photographs tucked away somewhere in your home, chances are good that there is at least one obituary or funeral notice for a member of your extended family. In the example shown at left, this clipping was given to me in 1991 along with other documents that had been saved by my maternal grandmother.

You can see that even a relatively brief obituary is rich with detail about family history. Even if you have read them in the past, you should take out any obituaries in your collection and carefully read them once again.

> Who are all the family members listed?
> What is their relationship to the deceased?
> Are there people missing that you thought would be listed?
> Are there other place names mentioned?
> Are ages or dates mentioned?
> What newspaper and date did the clipping come from?
> Is the name of a cemetery, Church or funeral home mentioned?
> Are Pall Bearers named and, if so, who are they?

You may be surprised how many more clues you can obtain by simply going back and reading obituaries that may have been tucked away for a few years. Each clue can lead to other family discoveries.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Jumpstart Tip #7 - Chronology Documents

In all the world, there are just two different groups of family historians - those who have hit a brick wall with their research, and those who will. It doesn't matter how experienced or how long a person has been doing research, the circumstances of our families will challenge the best of us.

One thing I find particularly useful in breaking through a brick wall is to develop a Chronology Document from the point of view of the particular ancestor that is challenging me. I start by collecting and then writing (or typing) all that I know and ordering events by date. Anywhere their name appears, I place a date or partial date, a description, and the source for the information. As I continue to add information, I continue to sort and resort. Include birth information, baptism, appearance in a census, reference as a sibling on other birth certificates, mention as a surviving relative in an obituary . . . basically anything you can get your hands on.

This will serve as a quick reference as you continue in your attempt to unravel the mystery for this individual. Perhaps it is his or her parents you are trying to locate and you don't have a birth certificate. Knowing the information for siblings can be helpful since one of those certificates may list the parents names.

These documents can also be useful later if you choose to write a biography for a particular ancestor. I have several such documents created in Microsoft Word and for events that I 'assume' or 'suspect' happened, I sometimes will enter them in my document and change the font color to red to highlight that it is work that remains to be completed.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Jumpstart Tip #6 - Back Up Your Computer Files

If you're wondering how this is a 'Jumpstart Tip' then you have clearly never lost a computer hard drive or had your computer stolen or damaged. It can take years to recreate all that work you may have done - even if you've just recently started.

Here are a few tips to help. Among the many folder on my computer hard drive, I have ONE main folder named 'Genealogy' and EVERYTHING dealing with my family history is in there. Sub-folders by surname, place name, data type (census, naturalization, etc.), presentations, correspondence, photos, and more are all organized within. I even have a folder called 'To File' with items I'm either still working on or have not yet decided where to file. I will frequently copy the entire contents of this GENEALOGY folder to a separate USB drive (or two). I keep one in my fireproof safe and will also often bring a copy and leave it at my brother's house 90 minutes away.

There are also online services if you prefer that will automatically back up your entire computer hard drive. I choose to copy my files by major folder because I can then just take the USB drive with me quite easily to family functions, libraries, archives or other places.

If you have not backed your files up recently, stop reading my tips and go back your files up now! This blog will be here when you are done.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Jumpstart Tip #5 - Name Files Carefully When Sharing Online

Mary Phelan, Waterbury CT


We all likely recall the story of Hansel and Gretel who left breadcrumbs to mark their trail. Well, in this age of Google and other search engines (yes, there are a few others), we can learn a thing or two from that childhood story.

You see, on the Internet, keywords are the name of the game. Search engines 'crawl' web pages searching for words and phrases, scoring various elements of the page for their relevancy based on those terms. Then one day, a user comes along with a query and - Presto - the search engine responds with precisely what they are looking for. BUT, where does all that content come from to begin with?

If you have a blog or family website or are submitting photos, articles, or other documents online to be viewed and shared by others - be sure you are leaving a careful trail of breadcrumbs back to your door. Here's what I mean.

Digital photos and scanners are wonderful tools and now very low cost, therefore enabling just about anyone with a computer to convert photos and documents into a digital image (this is referred to as 'digitization'). You may have already done this. Perhaps you've scanned entire batches of your family photos for safe keeping, preservation, and sharing. Now I want to ask - how did you name those files? The scanner may offer to name them for you and will result in files named scan001.jpg, scan002.jpg, scan003.jpg - that's a problem. When was the last time you searched the web hoping to find someone with the surname scan001? In fact, I just did a quick Google search while writing this tip and found more than 10,000 images named 'scan001.jpg' so that's not going to help much.

You should go back and rename your files. If just one person, then I suggest leading with surname then lastname. Example using my grandfather's name, call the file lynch_patrick_1945.jpg or lynch_patrick_connecticut.jpg or something similar. Use either an underscore (_) or a dash (-) to separate words so that search engines will be able to index the file and ultimately connect future searchers back to you and your photo.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Jumpstart Tip #4 - Explore A Family Story

If you've not read this before, let me be the first - every family has a story or two or three. Sure, some have more than others and yes, some are more interesting than others. Bottom line, if there is a story that has been shared for a generation or two or more in your family, chances are good that there is some element of truth at the foundation of the story.

Certainly any story will have been embellished over time, whether intentionally or not. Memories fade, as the story is told and retold, it changes in many ways. The great news for family historians in this new millennium is that many of these stories stand a good chance of being unraveled. Many, but certainly not all.

I have been able to unravel two family mysteries over the years, both before the advent of the Internet as we know it. Both were solved first by obtaining death certificates for the individuals in question (the family legends in each case had to do with their cause of death). Upon reviewing the cause of death for each, I knew there would be something more than a simple obituary in the newspaper. With an exact date of death, I then turned to the local newspapers (on microfilm in this case) and filled in the missing pieces. The 'fractured skull' which led to the death of my great grandfather was the result of a fall from a forth floor veranda during a heat wave. The 'traumatic decapitation' was, as you might expect, covered in extremly gruesome detail in the newspapers of 1912. The article headline read, "Man Decapitated By Iron Weight In Local Factory."

The 'legend' was that he was hit and killed by a trolley car. As many historical newspapers are being digitized and still other documents are being shared online by individuals, historical and genealogical societies, libraries, archives, and others - you never know what you may be able to find . . . but it's certainly worth a look!

You can click on the image below to view a full-size death certificate. Note the primary cause of death is listed as 'Traumatic Decapitation' and the secondary cause of death is 'Leg & Arm Severed' - certainly not something you want to find for your ancestors.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Jumpstart Tip #3 - Create A Family Birthday List

This may seem a bit simple, but I wonder if you have considered how a birthday list can help you with your family tree?

Start with a sheet of paper or preferably a new document on your computer. The computer makes it so much easier to correct mistakes and to reorder things in case you get a date wrong.

Start with your name and birth date. Easy enough. Then work sideways, then backwards. By sideways, I mean list the names of siblings and their birth dates. Then list your parents and THEIR siblings. If you know an exact date, list it (i.e. - 10 May 1948). If you're not sure, record what you think and include a question mark (i.e. - 10/11 May 1948 or 10 May 1948/49 or May/June 1948). You can also use abbreviations commonly used when dealing with dates in family history - ABT for About, BEF for Before, AFT for After. So, if you know a cousin was born before your, but you're not sure when, you can record the date as BEF 1950 (assuming your year of birth is 1950 in this example).

Once you have this list, identify two or three people on the list with birthdays in the next month or two. Send them each a card a few days early when the day comes, even if it has been several years since you last had contact. As part of your message, let them know you've been thinking about your extended family and are beginning to work on your family tree. They will certainly be in touch with other family members on their birthday and will likely mention your surprise card to others. Word will travel that you're working on the family tree.

Be sure to include your current mailing address, phone number, and an email address if you have one. If you use Facebook, you can also let them know to seek you out there as well. If the person you're contacting may not immediately know who you are, then be sure to introduce yourself and include a little detail explaining how you are related.

I've never met a person who didn't enjoy getting a surprise birthday card in the mail!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Jumpstart Tip #2 - Matching Folders

Over many years, I've seen that family historians fall into at least one of two camps, but sometimes both. In the first camp are those who use 3-ring binders to organize all their family history notes and documents. In the second camp are those who use folders. Then there are people like me who use a combination of both, sometimes duplicating items intentionally.

Which ever method you choose is fine, as long as you do something to keep your ever growing collection of content organized. One benefit to using folders (meaning physical folders) is that you can replicate your folder system online as well. Use Surname, Placename, and other folders on your computer desktop, as well as in your email client, and also to keep your web browser 'Favorites' or 'Bookmarks' organized.

Don't forget too that you can nest folders inside one another just like in your physical file drawers. This can help you keep like groups together.

There are many benefits to this type of online foldering system and it's never too late to start. You can always create folders and gradually move files to where they belong. If you're not sure how to start, simply create a folder named GENEALOGY or FAMILY HISTORY and gradually move all your related files and documents into that main folder. Then you may wish to create Sub-Folders, perhaps one for your paternal line and another for your maternal line. Gradually move files into one of those two folders. Continue creating sub-folders and moving files until you can quickly locate and save your documents and files. You'll find this takes time to set up, but will save you a LOT of time in the long run.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Jumpstart Tip #1 - Share 3 Things This Week!

As I begin work on my next genealogy book, Jumpstart Your Family Tree, it seems only appropriate that I fully leverage the technology at my disposal for the benefit of any interested readers.

My Jumpstart Tips will be a way to keep the community engaged with new ideas relevant to family history research. Whether you are just starting out or need a periodic reminder to keep you motivated . . . I'll try to cover the spectrum of ideas. If you use Twitter, then you may wish to follow these tips there too!

In some cases, the tips may be from friends of mine, many of whom are expert in certain aspects of family history throughout the world. I'll certainly give credit where and when it is due. Enjoy and spread the word!

So for my first tip, I'll simply remind you to GET MOVING! Family history isn't something you will finish in a week or two. Or even a year or two, but you can make progress EVERY DAY if you try.

One of the best ways to find things is to actually let them find you. I'd suggest finding 2 or 3 of the most interesting photographs, letters, documents or other items in your possession. Scan or photograph them, then send either via email or some other means to a few carefully selected family members - those you think may have similarly interesting items in their possession. By GIVING first, you will likely find that others will be more willing to SHARE what they may have. The more unique the items you share, the more likely they are to generate something interesting in return!