The Genealogy Journey

The newbie genealogist's resource for books, mags, databases, and -- of course -- any free research stuff to be found on the Internet.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Four Reasons to Avoid Using Unsupported Sources in Your Genealogy Research

This blog entry is for the newbie genealogists, so you pros just lean back in that cushy desk chair and roll your eyes at my naivety.

Here’s the short lesson:

Unsupported Information (online databases, word of mouth stories, written family histories) = Bad

Supported Information (double-checking facts, documented sources) = Good

Here’s the longer lesson:

Let’s say a member of your husband’s family has graciously given you a copy of their family history. You’re all set to plug the information into Family Tree Maker, but wait! You’ve almost committed genealogical sacrilege!

Thou shall not mix supported information with unsupported information.

Why? What’s the big deal?

1. Genealogy is a science. You know, “genea” (race, family) + “logy” (science, theory, study). As you know, you can’t just go around proclaiming the world is flat or your ancestor wrote the Star-Spangled Banner without proof. So, unless you have verified all of the family tree data you gathered, your results would not hold up in a court of genealogists. Or, to be more serious, you may be able to pass it off on your family, but not serious genealogists.

2. If you do use unsupported sources without double-checking their validity, you risk incorporating information into your family tree that is just plain wrong. And if someone comes along after you (remember, part of the reason you’re tracing your roots is for your descendants) and finds out that some of the data is incorrect … well, how can they trust the rest of your research?

3. If you do this naughty unverified thing, you also risk researching the wrong ancestor or family line. I recently read that to properly research a family tree, you need to create a firm foundation. That means you can’t move up from researching one generation to the next one without being absolutely sure you’ve got the right people. Researching the wrong ancestor is just plain embarrassing (if you tell anyone you did such a silly thing) and a waste of your time.

4. Using someone else’s research without their permission or knowledge is considered plagiarism. Before you automatically dismiss this idea, read the following article: Using someone else’s research without giving them proper credit is the same as if you copied and article off the Web and claimed you wrote it.

This doesn’t mean you can’t use online databases or Uncle Bill’s self-published “Book of McGradys,” but you should use these sources as a starting point, not the final answer. If you want me to find out more information about what a “supported source” is, let me know. Remember, I’m still learning, too.

I’ve got to admit, this experience has really opened my eyes. I’m glad I ran into this issue and resolved it before I dug into researching either side of my family or my husband’s family. Who knows what kind of mistakes I would have made?

~Mary Kaye

Friday, February 03, 2006

PBS Documentary on African American Lives -- Part 1

Did anyone else watch this? All I can say is: Wow. What fascinating, tumultuous stories. Families torn apart by slavery. Families struggling against all odds to hold on to their land – and the promise of freedom it guarantees. That’s exactly what I love about genealogy – the stories.

Note: You can get more information on the documentary at:

This first part of the two-part documentary examined the lives of the ancestors back to the Civil War (or the “War Between the States,” as they call it down here). Many of the show’s guests had ancestors who were slaves that lived through the turmoil of Reconstruction.

I’m trying not to get too dramatic here, but watching this show I was struck by how little control all of us have over our own lives. Social conventions, laws, and events shape, mold, and even sometimes imprison us. If you really want to feel like you know your ancestors, you must learn about the historic period when your ancestor lived.

Whoopi Goldberg, one of the guests of the documentary, said of her ancestors:
“If they were born in this time, what would they have been?”

That’s the rub, isn’t it? No matter what we think we could have been if this or that hadn’t happened in our life, there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it. To get the most out of our life, we have to do the best we can with what we have. This seems obvious when written down, but I’m sure you know many people who still can’t accept their reality.

A saying I made up is:

“It’s not who you are or what you do; it’s what you do with who you are.”

Think about your own life. Are you denying or ignoring certain realities? Is it keeping you from reaching your goals? Remember, we still have the power to change. We may not be able to change reality, but:

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” – Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Free (For Now) Access to Some Ancestry Databases

To celebrate Black History Month, Ancestry is offering free access to the 4 databases listed below. These databases will be free for the month of February 2006 with registration. Registration requires your name and e-mail address.

- 1870 US Federal Census - Index & Images
- Civil War Service Records Database
- WWI Draft Registration Cards
- African American Research Center

For more information, see

During a tedious Atlanta commute yesterday, I thought about how it appears that the number of men versus women who are researching their genealogy is about equal. (This is based on my new membership in various genealogy forums, so I could be wrong. But if I am, I’d have to chuck this whole blog, so let’s assume I’m right.)

For men, I think the appeal of genealogy has something to do with figuring out a puzzle, shining a light on origins that are shadowy. Most men don’t like vagueness; they like their world straightforward and organized.

I’m on more solid ground speculating about why women research their genealogy. I believe it’s more about connections. Whether a woman has children or not, she feels compelled to reach back in time to link the threads of ancestors with those she loves.

But for both sexes, I think tracing family roots is a matter of pride and fulfillment. One thing is for sure; as our lives become more “worldly” with the Internet, phones, and travel, many of us are determined to maintain our connections with the past. This comforts me. It demonstrates that despite our 21st century sophistication, there’s a little bit of rough-around-the-edges, fresh-off-the-boat pioneer in all of us.

~Mary Kaye

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Stiff Book of Genealogy

Yesterday “The Stiff Book” arrived. No, it’s not about dead people. My husband’s last name is Stiff. His Aunt Mary sent the genealogy information after I started asking questions of his side of the family. What’s shocking to me is that my husband never even knew this material existed.

It was great to watch Todd get absorbed in the Stiff story. Since you don’t know Todd, let me explain that he’s not a big fan of books. In fact, he just recently discovered how much more tolerable Atlanta traffic is if you listen to books on tape while you commute. It’s not that he doesn’t like a good story – he just doesn’t like to sit still to read. For him to pause to read about his family – that’s important stuff; whereas I'll read the back, front, and both sides of cereal boxes.

I have a theory on the lack of knowledge about “The Stiff Book.” Todd’s parents divorced when he was ten or eleven years old and he lived with his mother until he moved out. He saw his father often, but not on a day-to-day basis. To make things more complicated, Todd’s Grandpa Stiff was divorced from his Grandma Stiff. I think that communication gaps from the divorces are to blame here. But who’s blaming anyone? Not me! We’re just happy to have it and find out where such a funny name comes from (Gloucester, England, if you’re curious).

I never would’ve thought that Todd would be interested in his ancestors. In fact, I wouldn’t have expected that of myself. But maybe it’s not so much about personality and preferences as it is about getting older, having children, and being able to look both forward to our children’s lives and backwards at our ancestors at the same time. I guess getting old does have some positive points! (If anyone knows any other ones, please let me know.)

Also ...
On February 1, Wednesday night at 9 p.m., PBS will air the first of a two-part documentary called, “African American Lives: Discovering Roots, the Promise of Freedom.” You can get more information here. And you can check your local listing here. This documentary will look into the lives of prominent African Americans (Oprah Winfrey is one, of course) and trace back their lineage. On the February 9th program, they’ll also discuss how you can trace your own lineage. Hope you can catch it.

Note: If you think you'll never remember to watch it, you can have PBS send a reminder e-mail to you. If you view your local listings for February 1 and click on African American Lives, you'll see an option to do this.

~Mary Kaye

Monday, January 30, 2006 -- A Powerful New Genealogy Tool

One of the great things about a blog is that complete strangers will contact you with helpful information. (Of course, some will also contact you with lewd suggestions, but that’s why Blogger has the comment moderation feature.) The other day I received an email from Hagit Katzenelson letting me know about a new site that’s currently in its beta stage. (That's programmer speak for, "We haven't worked all the kinks out yet.") The site is:

Note: When the site is more open to the public, I’m sure the URL will be just promises to be a huge timesaver because it searches across more than 400 (and growing) reliable genealogy databases worldwide. Even better, it can search for up to 10 spelling variations at one time. Other features include the ability to:

  • Store and annotate search results for later research.

  • Save your searches and schedule them to occur automatically so that you’re notified of new findings.
Some features, like the “Community” tab, aren’t running yet, but has a really cool feature that makes up for that: a face recognition search. You can upload your picture and have compare it to both family and celebrity faces.

I’ll admit I couldn’t get this feature to return any results, but once it’s bug-free I’ll try it again:

(If you get this to work, leave a comment and let me know about your results!)

One thing I’m worried about is that I don’t see how plans to support their business. I didn’t see any obvious signs of advertising support, so I hope they’re not offering free access for a bit and changing to subscription mode later. Of course, other companies do this all the time and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that – I would just be disappointed if it were true.

~Mary Kaye