Sunday, August 16, 2009

Barbara Renick at CGSSD: "Online: How You Get There Does Make a Difference"

The speaker at the Computer Genealogy Society of San Diego (CGSSD) meeting today was Barbara Renick, from Orange County CA. Her subject was "Online: How You Get There Does Make a Difference." Barbara's website is She provided a four-page handout that covered much of her presentation details.

In this presentation, Barb showed that there were several paths to solving research problems. Anyone who heard this talk will be a bit more skeptical of any researcher or any database provider that claims that they have found "all" records pertaining to a search target. It was an eye-opener for me, as it was for many other attendees.

Some of the "take-aways" that were new for me:

* The "New Search" is available only in the personal subscription, not in the Ancestry Library Edition or Ancestry Institution edition.

* Wild card use in's "New Search" is unreliable - use name variations and localities to narrow searches.

* The PERSI index on has about 1.8 million entries, while the one on HeritageQuestOnline has 2.1 million entries.

* The CDROM versions of the LDS Personal Resource File and 1880 US Census have more search features than the online databases on

* The FamilySearch Record Search has a maximum match number of 5,600 - many matches might be missed for common names.

* The Family History Library Catalog (FHLC) may give different numbers of matches if you do a "Place" Search or a "Keyword" Search. The "Keyword" search usually provides more matches.

* For a "Surname" Search in the FHLC, you should do five searches - in "Surname," "Title," "Author," "Subject" and "Keyword."

* You can see what the Family History Library has on the shelf for a particular state or county by finding the Dewey Call number in an FHLC listing, and then searching for the Call number in a "Keyword" Search. Her example was 976.872 will find all entries for Campbell county, Tennessee.

During her talk, Barbara demonstrated differences between results from several different commercial database providers, e.g.:

* Surname searches in Census records on and HeritageQuestOnline for the same year and state/county. Different indexing, different search criteria = different results. in one case, 3 matches on HQO, 1 match on In another case, 18 matches on HQO, 24 matches on Ancestry. The message here was to learn to use both of them! [And Footnote and FamilySearch Record Search too!]

* Newspaper article for a specific name and event. She searched, and for John T. Renick. She found the article on GenealogyBank.

This was an intense presentation with much savvy information from a true expert in the field of online genealogy research, tempered by the need to use classical resources (books, manuscripts, periodicals, CDROMs, etc.). Barbara's presentation title is very accurate!

For the record, I recorded these notes in longhand, and they reflect my understanding of what Barbara showed and verbally described. I didn't tweet or live-blog this talk because I would have missed too much content.

If you have the opportunity to attend one of Barbara's talks at a conference or local society meeting, I encourage you to go. She is a dynamic, informed and fun presenter.


Family Curator said...

Thanks for posting your notes from this lecture, Randy. I wish I had driven down from L.A.; sounds like it would have been well worth it.

Laura Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RS said...

Oops, I was accidentally signed in with my other email.

I just wanted to say thank you for posting this info. What an informative post.

Elyse said...

Great post, Randy! I definitely wish that I was at the talk. I'll have to look around to find her talk.