Monday, January 25, 2016

Genealogy Do-Over Year 2 or 3 and Some Lessons Learned

I'm participating in the Genealogy Do Over again this year.  This is my second year doing the actual event and my third year after starting over on my own personal data.  My method of participation is not by the book but I find that the event is helpful because I've got the encouragement and support of hundreds of other participants and I get lots of good ideas from it.

If the goal were to map my ancestry back to the dinosaurs, the do-over would put me "way behind.  It might "take me forever" to re-do "my 15 years of pain staking research".  But the object, for me, of genealogy, is discovery.  I love to learn new stuff about my ancestors.  I get a bounce in my step when I drop another tiny piece into the puzzle of me.  The do-over has just made that all the more enjoyable.

Outside of my own research skills, so much has changed in 15 years.  The first generation that I researched was my grandparents.  When I started this research, most of the information on them was still restricted because it was so soon after their deaths.  Going back to where I started 15 years later has resulted in a whole new wealth of public information about them.

15ish years ago, when I started my own research, it was the year 2000 (Y2k!).  I was hanging on to my Windows 97 install because Windows ME sucked so bad.  The world around me was just starting to get it's internet feet under it.  Banking was still completely paper based, you had to actually drive to the grocery store to get groceries and to do genealogy, you still had to travel to the location you wanted records on and like... actually... physically view them.

Fast forward to now - the world is zipping right along on the interwebs!  Federal, state and local governments are indexing vast collections regularly that are available from your home via the internet.  So it's no surprise that I find new information on relatives on the regular - even if I only researched them a few short years ago.  Further, the stuff I find sometimes changes the narrative altogether!  For instance, in a recent search on a recent relative, I found evidence of an ancestor living in a state I never even would have considered because there previously was no paper trail that lead there.  How could one NOT want to get to the root of the real story when new story-changing evidence surfaces?  The idea of NOT doing a do-over is almost ludicrous.

I suppose if you're one of those that hoofed it across the country or even across oceans to research records locally to the area your ancestor lived, there might be a bit of resentment for this newfangled internet research and perhaps a part of me would put my nose in the air at it, were I someone who did most of my research prior to the internet.  But it's real - the stuff off the internet.  Just as real as looking at microfiche in person.

 Just last night, as I was emailing with a cousin over a new bunch of clues about a family connection, I sent her this post about Alexander Yarbrough.  That post was written based upon pre do-over information, much of which was over 10 years old.  In it, I say "I found, in someone's family tree, that Alexander was a farmer.  I do not have a source or any proof for this information..." but within 15 minutes of sending her that link, she'd already unearthed a census I didn't have physical access to when I first did the research that showed his profession as a farmer.  Alexander, my great great grandfather is still about a generation away in my do-over list.  Although I'm itching to rewrite that post, I'm in no real hurry because the process of the do-over is fun.

Lessons Learned

Anyhoo, aside from all the new information that's available, my own skill set has changed quite a bit in 15 years and the do-over event is doing nothing but help me reinforce better habits. Here are some of the things I've noticed in my do-over that I would tell my 15 year younger self. My lessons learned, so far :

Turn the Page

At least 10 times in the first 3 generations of my father's side, I've found an image of an original that had a second page or text on the back that I didn't see before.  In some cases, it was because I didn't have access to the actual image, only the index.  And in some cases, it was probably the impatience of a young researcher.  In others, I'm not sure the entire collection was even online yet.  I found handwritten letters from brides' parents on the page after the marriage certificate, another line on a census that spilled over onto the back page and 10 pages of military records, giving dimension to the one line of service information in my ancestor's record.

Spend Time With Every Single Resource

In my family, it is well known that I am not Carrie the Patient.  I don't suffer fools gladly and slow shit makes me itch.  So, during the do-over, one of my my motto is to love and caress each and every piece of evidence until I do actually itch.  What I'm finding are little bits of information that I might have otherwise looked over.

Last night, for example, the family connection I was emailing with the cousin about, was a random Turner relative that appeared at the very bottom of the census page for my Maynard family on my father's side.  This was a 14 year old niece, born in Kentucky named Bettie Lou Turner.  She appeared on 1940 census record I didn't have from my previous research (they were released in 2012), living with my great grandparents and my grandmother.

You know - Turner connection.  Turner.  The family on my mother's side I've been obsessed with for all 15 years.  It's most likely not a Turner family related to my mother's Turner family - but here was a connection that would make it possible for a person with Turner family to be related to me on my father's side!  Only through a comprehensive internet search covering all 50 states was it possible for me to discover that Millie Yarbrough, Alexander Yarbrough's daughter, married in Montgomery County, Tennessee, had two children, married a second time, moved to Detroit Michigan and had a third child.  That child wound up living with my great grandparents in Tennessee when she was 14 and her two other children eventually changed their last names from Arms to Turner.

Pay Attention to Collateral Relationships - At least a Little

In my mad rush to document my families to the dinosaurs, and not being Carrie the Patient, in the past, I have really glossed over the families of brothers and sisters to my own ancestors.  I still don't want to spend a ton of time with them.  But frankly, even having names of their spouses and children is awfully helpful in piecing together where I might be related to someone.  In the above Turner/Yarbrough situation, Millie Yarbrough is is something like a great grand aunt to me, not a direct ancestor, so I never paid much attention to her or the other siblings.  Had I previously followed Millie Yarbrough Arms to becoming Millie Yarbrough Turner, I would have known about the Turner connection.

Do it Over All the Time

I previously wrote about being ok with being wrong in drawing conclusions about genetic genealogy, and it is equally important in plain old genealogy.  Not only does more information become available or exposed all the time (like this holy grail of genealogy research) that might prove or disprove family stuff, sometimes, in looking at a record a second or third time, I just see something I didn't see before.  Looking at the same census once every few years never killed anyone and I have learned the value of constantly going at my research with do-over eyes.


  1. I just found your blog and am enjoying it - very much. I've been struggling with maybe starting over, maybe switching genealogy software programs, maybe...

    Your comments and your progress have pushed me to start over and switch. Thank you!