Wednesday, December 12, 2018

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

An email correspondent recently asked me that question, 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 7 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, American Ancestors, and GenealogyBank have more information about my ancestor.  If possible, I download an image of the record or the record summary, and can use it in other blog posts like Treasure Chest Thursday or Amanuensis Monday.  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 still 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)  Add content to online family trees:

When I have improved a profile by adding events, notes and sources I try to add that information to my online family trees, especially:

*  My Ancestry Member Tree (a personal tree) using RootsMagic's TreeShare feature.  My RootsMagic tree on my computer and my main Ancestry Member Tree are usually in sync.

*  I add information to the FamilySearch Family Tree (a collaborative tree) every week after I write the 52 Ancestors post.  A life sketch, events, sources, fact notes, media and more are added to the Family Tree.

I have other trees on MyHeritage (a personal tree), Findmypast (a personal tree), RootsFinder (a personal tree), and several other sites that I do not update on a regular basis.  I can delete the current tree on these sites and add a new tree whenever I want using a GEDCOM file exported from RootsMagic.

3)  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.

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

4)  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.

5)  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 because of life challenges, 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!).

6)  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 twice that many hours over 30 years of research.  I spend at least 2,000 hours a year doing genealogy activities, but it isn't all research - maybe only 20% of those hours is research, and 98% of that now is done online.

7)  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, Africa, etc.).  On the other hand, I have some expertise with New England, England, some northern states, online resources, etc.

8)  It takes me at least 2 to 8 hours of online research at home to do one person the way I have set it out above.   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 almost done with my 6th great-grandparents.  I have about 215 known 7th great-grandparents, so that will take over four years to finish.  
With over 50,000 persons in my RootsMagic tree, and with over 2,000 known ancestors, I may be doing this the rest of my life - I'm now 75 - for one 52 Ancestors post a week, that's another 35 years to do just the known ancestors!

If I complete the known 7th great-grandparents, I will have almost 500 ancestor biographies in "rough draft" form  posted on the Internet, and in the Notes of my Ancestry Member Tree, my MyHeritage tree, and the FamilySearch Family Tree.  For posterity, for what they're worth.

10)  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, a newspaper article, a Treasure Chest post, an Amanuensis Monday post, or it may be a more comprehensive 52 Ancestor post. 

11)  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. 


NOTE:  An original version of this post was written on 27 January 2014.  I have updated it in this post.

Copyright (c) 2018, Randall J. Seaver

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Linda Stufflebean said...

Randy, You left out cousin bait! Many of my family line posts aren't widely read, but cousins find me. I've recently been in touch with Stufflebean 2nd cousins and my Slovak Patorai second/third cousins who I knew nothing about.They found my blog because they google our common ancestors or the surname.

Diane Gould Hall said...

Well said Randy. I cannot emphasize enough how much blogging improves my research skills. Exactly as you state. We have to review what we’ve done, what we’re missing and what we can do better. It is a very valuable process.

DNA Comment said...

I appreciate both your 52 Ancestors posts and also your thoughtful and helpful response to the person who asked the question. You have inspired me to write profiles of our ancestors. I've been working on it, and appreciate your sharing your process. Keep up the good work. The "peanut gallery" might not respond to you often, but we're out here enjoying your work and improving our practice because of you.

Linda said...

Randy, you also put out a roadmap for the rest of us to follow -- If only I had the time and organization! However, I'm going to tryout some of your ideas. Thank you.