Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Using FTM's "Web Search"

I've had FamilyTreeMaker genealogy software for almost 10 years, but have never pressed the "Web Search" button to find information on the Internet about a person in my database. I don't know when that became an option, but it's in my FTM 2005 version.

Of course, you need a http://www.ancestry.com/ subscription to take advantage of the "Web Search" capability. I finally subscribed to Ancestry back in November so it's only been the last 8 months that I could have used this feature.

I had two reasons for checking this out - the first was that I need to put some screen shots from this capability into a Powerpoint presentation for the CVGS FTM class. Secondly, I was curious if I could find anything useful, especially for some of my elusive ancestors.

So that I didn't mess up my database, I created a new entry for my grandfather, Frederick Walton Seaver (1876-1942) and then pressed the "Web Search" button for him in FTM. After maybe 20 seconds, the program found data, stored on http://www.ancestry.com/, from One World Tree, the WW1 Draft Registrations, and the 1880 to 1930 census records. I chose the One World Tree database, and followed the screens until I had captured his parents, his wife, and four children into my database. You have to pick "Preferred" or "Alternate" for each person to bring into the database. Sure enough, when you press the "Merge" button, you get the family data. I captured all of those screens and now have a Powerpoint for the FTM class to demonstrate how the feature works (since we don't have Internet access in the classroom).

Next, I decided to see if there was any data available for one of my elusive ancestors - Hannah Smith (1767-1827), the wife of Josiah Sawtell of Brookline NH. I pressed the "Web Search" button for her and the system found over 175,000 matches! I went through the first 150, and there was only one that pertained to my Hannah Smith - it was a One World Tree database for her daughter, Hannah Sawtelle (1789-1857) who married Zachariah Hildreth.

I looked at the online database by pressing the "View Online" button, and the family came up - pretty much as I have it. I clicked on the "2 User Submitted Trees" button, and then on the trees listed, and found that a Bill Zehm had contributed one of the trees. It looks like he has more information on the extended family than I do, so I may go capture some data later on.

However, the Web Search did not reveal the parents of my Hannah Smith (1767-1827). Oh well, another dead end - but I'm used to them.

My judgment about this Web Search hooked into FamilyTreeMaker is that it is both wonderful and dangerous. Wonderful in the sense that the software finds lots of information in a short time - some of which is pertinent and useful - and you have to decide whether to accept it and incorporate it into your database.

Dangerous because someone could easily incorporate erroneous data into their database. For instance, my Hannah Smith (1767-1827) was in the list of possible matches (but as a Hannah Smith with no dates - down around #174,000 - I didn't search that far!). But there were plenty of Hannah Smith's born around Brookline NH in the 1765 to 1770 time frame - and a researcher might be tempted to pick one of them, merge the data, build a fine Smith pedigree, and be totally wrong.

I think I'll go query the system for the even more elusive Thomas J. Newton now. See you later! I'm having fun ... however, it would be more fun if I got some help from all this technology.

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