Monday, January 27, 2014

Dear Randy: Why Do You Write the 52 Ancestors Friday Posts?

An email correspondent asked me that question the other day, and added that she "...just skips over them because they were not of interest to her."

My email response was:

"I create the 52 Ancestors Friday post because it helps me add content (events, sources, notes, media) to my genealogy database, improves my research skills, helps me organize further research, and leads me to writing a better biography for my ancestors.  What's not to like?"

That was all I sent back because I was busy working on next week's 52 Ancestors post.  I could have added the following (but it probably wouldn't have impressed my correspondent):

How do I achieve all of that with one post each week?  Here's what I do, using my RootsMagic 6 database, in which I try to include names, relationships, events, research notes, event notes, event and relationship sources, source detail notes, and attached media:

1)  Add content to my genealogy database:

By reviewing my database information for each ancestor, I can determine what information I don't have in my database and can go search for it, either online or in a repository (on microfilm or paper).  I can see which events don't have an event note, or a source, or a media item.  I can determine which events use the preferred name or alternate names and add source citations for those names.

In the process of determining what I don't have, I can concentrate on searching for more sources that have information about my ancestor.  I use online search engines to see if, FamilySearch, MyHeritage, Fold3, FindMyPast, Mocavo, American Ancestors and GenealogyBank have more information about my ancestor.  If possible, I download an image of the record or the record summary.  When I find something, I add it to the database as a source, event item, event note, source citation, event source citation detail note, and media item.  So I manage to do a focused search for a specific person; the search sometimes expands to parents, spouses, children.

The other research opportunity is to determine what resources are not available online, and need to be searched for in a repository (library, archive, historical society, courthouse, town hall, cemetery, funeral home, school, etc.).

Then there is the opportunity to correct previously entered information.  I have data dating back to about 1990 in my database.  I did not write notes in complete sentences for a long time.  I did not add source citations for a long time.  There is a lot to correct and improve!  This is a chance to upgrade the notes, add more content, add sources and media, etc.  I am in the process of adding my record transcriptions from the Amanuensis Monday and Treasure Chest Thursday posts to the person note and the event note in my database.

2)  Improve my research skills:  

I learn something about searching almost every time I use an online search engine.  Sometimes in my searching I find a record in an online database that I had not seen or knew about before - something like the Mason Membership Cards on

I usually go into the FamilySearch Library Catalog to see what research opportunities exist for the locality (town, county, state) in book or microfilm format at the FamilySearch Library.  If I find something of interest in the FSLC, I add it to my research To-Do list.

If I need and want a vital record, probate record, land record or court record that has to be obtained in person at a repository, I add that to my research To-Do list.

3)  Helps me organize further research:

Adding items to the Research To-Do list for each person in my database leads me to find further information from printed, microfilm or online resources.  I can list those To-Do items by repository or locality, and use the list when I go the next time to the place, repository or website.

If I keep on top of my To-Do list items and keep them updated, they can be transferred to the Research Log I have for many of my Surnames when tasks are completed.

4)  Write a better narrative about my ancestor's life:

All of the above contributes to improving the Person Note, research notes, event notes, etc. that might add to a biographic narrative of my ancestor.  These are still working documents, but what I end up with is more complete and in better form than what I had previously.  So it's an improvement.  And if, for some reason, I can't continue, it's in a readable form for whoever picks up my research work in the next (or later) generation (if they can find it.  One reason to have a blog is so that someone can find it!).

5)  I can hear some readers saying "Why haven't you been doing this all the time?"

I plead inexperience and lack of knowledge... I've seen it said that it takes 10,000 hours or more of dedicated effort to be a competent genealogy researcher.  I probably have that many hours over 26 years of research.  I spend at least 3,000 hours a year doing genealogy activities, but it isn't all research - maybe only 20% of those hours is research, and 95% of that is done online.

I'm not a professional researcher.  I'm trying to do a better research job - use a list, find information, cite sources, add database content, etc. - every day.  Continual genealogy education is critical.  I'm still learning the best ways to accomplish that by attending seminars and conferences, watching webinars, reading books, periodicals and websites, using software and apps, going to local society programs and meetings, etc.  This education process is not "instant education" and application of knowledge - it's a gradual and lifelong process.  I know very little about researching and resources in some localities (the U.S. South, Canada, Latin America, Asia, Europe, etc.).  On the other hand, I have some expertise with New England, online resources, etc.

It takes me at 4 to 8 hours of research to do one person the way I have set it out above.  With over 40,000 persons in my database, and over 2,000 known ancestors, I'll be doing this the rest of my life.  My emphasis right now is getting my ancestor narratives improved and written one person at a time.  By the end of this year, I should be through my great-grandparents, my 2nd great-grandparents and almost done with the 3rd great-grandparents.  And I should be well into the 4th great-grandparents during 2015 doing one ancestor each week.

I have found that I am a more complete and focused researcher if I do research knowing that I will probably write a blog post about the research.  It may be a "look what I found..." post about one record find, or it may be a more comprehensive 52 Ancestor post.

So I appreciate having the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks theme that Amy Johnson Crow dreamed up - it makes me focus on one ancestor, improves my research work on that ancestor, and improves my biographical narrative for that ancestor that, hopefully, my descendants and other relatives will read.

The URL for this post is:

Copyright (c) 2014, Randall J. Seaver


Linda said...

It also helps to find cousins - I have done several posts for 52 ancestors and so far have found 2 cousins... It helps us folks unrelated to the bloggers by reading the other 200+ blogs to find out about sources that we may not have known about or considered and helps improve our writing skills but most importantly it gets my immediate family stories about their ancestors which is more interesting to them that a pedigree...several have actually read them and responded! Which is a small miracle :-)

Yvonne Demoskoff said...

Your reasons for writing for "52 Ancestors" are about the same as mine, Randy. One of the unexpected, but certainly welcome, benefits of getting an article ready for my blog (and I've only been blogging since August 2012), is that I find myself being more careful about how I research and compile the information I find. It makes me more accountable as a researcher and that's gotta be good :)

Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...

Great reply, Randy. It is very satisfying to hear your candid comments of your approach, recognized limitations, and attempts to continue to improve and "do things better," even with all you've done to date.
One thing I've added, for my own benefit, is to also check and improve my entries on WikiTree, as I pass by each of my "52 Ancestors." Thanks for the post! ;-)

Anonymous said...

Excellent response Randy. Wish I had time to join in - I blog infrequently and only when I have time.

I hope to have more time to do personal research when I finish study at the end of this year (yay).

Nancy said...

Randy, your database for Thomas Richmond is an absolute inspiration to me. Seeing it is just the boost I needed to worker harder at entering information about my own ancestors. Thank you.

Lisa S. Gorrell said...

I've enjoyed doing the 52 Ancestors as well because it gives me a chance to focus on one ancestor at a time--making sure I have thoroughly researched them, and if not, then to create a research plan to continue the research. I don't always write the ancestor's whole story, as I did with my last post. But it is very time consuming as you say. I want to create a story with sound source citations and sometimes that takes going back to create them correctly. So this exercise does help me be a better researcher, analyzer, and research plan creator. Those are all plusses!

True Lewis said...

Love your Concept! I've been enjoying reading this series. I'm glad you posted the WHY's. That is something I can do. Hope in the future without to much commitment. I'll join this! Thanks for doing this. It's been Awesome.

Jana Iverson Last said...


I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in my Fab Finds post at

Have a great weekend!