Tuesday, March 20, 2012

How I use my Genealogy Software

When I started library school and sat in my first archives class my classmates and professor were appalled when I disclosed that I filed copies of my genealogy records in more than one place. For example, a marriage record was filed in both the groom and the bride’s family’s folders. I simply had not decided upon a standardized methodology for filing my paper records yet. At least not one I could remember and subsequently recall within a few seconds. I’m sure many genealogists have elaborate filing systems and treat brides and grooms as “couples” or a specific “family unit” to which only ONE copy of a marriage record would be attributed. But in my mind, that would require remembering who each bride or groom married, more specifically, the groom’s name and without that, I wouldn’t be able to put my hands on the folder. So early on I decided to treat each person as their own individual and thus, they each got a copy of their marriage record.

So as you can see, redundancy is not new to me, nor is it necessarily a bother or inconvenience. So with that said, I would like to share a little bit about how I use my genealogy database. I have evaluated Family Tree Maker, Legacy Family Tree and RootsMagic and found them to be very similar in what I like to do with my software. I eventually settled on RootsMagic because of the ability to take it with me on a flash drive. The way I use my genealogy software has been evolving and continues to evolve throughout the years. Which is one reason why I have been hesitating to share what I do with everyone. I didn’t want to come across as a mad woman. Because frankly, I still haven’t decided how I want to do things yet. But oh well, you got to start somewhere and I think it’s important to share and to read about what others are doing and how they are doing it.

Speaking of, Susan Clark of the Nolichucky Roots blog originally started this thread with her “Getting Down to Basics” post in which she asked for people to offer their reasons and ideas for using a genealogy database. She got a lot of great responses. Check out the comments to her post to see what others had to say. I have posted links to other blog posts below.

Ok, so here goes my whackamole approach at trying to give you all of the reasons why and how I use my genealogy database:

1.       It’s a database and it’s searchable. So when I need to look someone up, I just type in their name and it finds them. It does it much faster than Ancestry.com’s online family tree.

2.       My  place names are indexed in addition to my last names. So if I am attending a conference or planning a research trip to Oregon County, Missouri, I can run a report that will tell me all of the people I have associated with Oregon County, Missouri or in Missouri, period. Be sure to watch the Legacy Family Tree video or webinar on how to enter your place names in such a way that cities and towns in Oregon County, Missouri will also be captured in the report. This applies to all software packages. I, unfortunately, have not implemented this organization schema yet, have you?

3.       I use it to manage my sources to document each event. Here is a screenshot of a birth fact for my 2nd great-grandfather, James Franklin Lasiter. I have 9 sources for his birth date and place. A lot of people wrote about their wish lists for software. If I had to request a change for RM4, it would be that they include the detailed text in the summary box here at the top where it says “Details.” And for all I know, this may be different in RM5 that was just released. As it is now in RM4 you have to click on the source in order for the detail text to be displayed in the bottom right hand box.

4.       Linda McCauley mentioned Research Notes in her post “How I Use my Genealogy Database” using Legacy Family Tree. We have a similar feature in Rootsmagic 4, which is a report called Research Notes that you can run for each person. It is a breakdown of each source and how it relates to each fact and includes notes and so forth. The only problem I have with it is that it puts the name of the source as a footnote and the report itself lists simply a date and place and then a note. For this to work, you would have to include the name of the source in the actual detailed text of the footnote. So I don’t use this feature. But if it worked the way I would like it to work, it could probably be very powerful. Here is a screenshot of what it looks like:

5.       One thing I’ve started doing is adding census reports as events, in addition to birth, marriage, death, burial, and occasionally occupation. This makes for easily being able to determine when and where my ancestors were enumerated and this event shows up ok on the narrative report. I have tried to add other source-like events such as obituaries, but found they did not display well (or at all) on narrative reports. This could be rectified if I played with my custom settings more. What RM4 lacks in being able to copy and paste citations between family members, it gains in being able to assign a census report to multiple people in a family. I have found this feature to be very helpful and time-saving. I enter the census as an event for the head of house. I then share it with the other members of the household. I enter the information for the census into the census notes and I add a source. When this event is shared with other members of the house, the census note and source citation is automatically entered into their events list. The only difference between the head of house and the rest of the household is that the census note for the head of house is displayed on his or her report, but not on the report of those that the census is shared with. The report simply says “He appeared in the household of John Riley Lasiter in the census in Jun 1880 in Tomlinson, Scott, Arkansas, USA” with a footnote pointing to the citation. Because of this, I make sure to copy the census note information into the general notes of the household members. I usually do this anyways. This is one of the reasons why I say I engage in some redundancy!

6.       Speaking of redundancy. When I first started working with my database back when I was using Family Tree Maker, I used to put all of my information into the citation/footnote, including my analysis and the full text of the item being cited. This is what it used to look like. And unfortunately I still have a LOT of these left in my database:

When I transferred my database over to Rootsmagic, something happened and now I am no longer able to run reports using footnotes that are “that long.” So I have been trying to chop things up a bit more and use the event notes, general notes, and footnotes as separate entities. Unfortunately because I had been doing things for so long and had accumulated so much data, it is very difficult to change it all even if I were to come up with a standardized way of doing things. The two concerns I always had were this: I wanted to be able to easily pull my research notes and analysis out of my database quickly. And if it is scattered between birth notes, death notes, source citation notes, etc., that always seemed like a daunting task. I also wanted to be able to site my sources on my own just in case my footnotes did not work; as was the case when I transferred to RM. So I often built my source citations and then copied them into my notes. But that just cramped the readability of my reports. Especially when the demand to share with others increased. So now I use a hybrid system. I copy everything into my general notes, that way I can easily extract the information and copy and paste into a word document if I have to. Information entered into the rest of the program relies on my program's ability to export to a report. 

7.       Census Reports: When I used FTM, I used to include the entire census report in my citation because it was easier to copy and paste the citation to each member included in that household. Now I only include the line relating to the person being cited. I include information about a census report in the general notes always. This is what my census report looks like:
1910 Big Apple Twp., Oregon Co., MO
Taken 28 Apr 1910, Line 67, dw 130, fm 133
William Peters, head, 35 yo (b. abt 1875), M1 10 yrs (abt 1900), IL Unk IL, educated yes, rents a house, farm laborer, can read and write
Dora Peters, wife, 35 yo (b. abt 1875), M1 10 yrs (abt 1900), 5/7 kids living, AR Unk unk, cannot read or write
Herbert Peters, son, 9 yo (b. abt 1901), MO IL AR, can read, but c/n write
Danie Peters, dau, 5 yo (b. abt 1905), MO IL AR
Vibert Peters, son, 3 yo (b. abt 1907), MO IL IL
Nova Peters, dau 1 8/12 (b. abt 1908), MO IL IL
Mary Peters, dau, <1yr (b. abt 1909), MO IL IL
NARA Film T624, Roll 804, FHL Film 1374817, Page 7B, ED 117
[The last 3 children's mother's place of birth is listed as IL, but this must be a mistake as Dora was born in AR]

This format is easy for me to read. I add the approximate year of birth in parenthesis. Now that I include my census report information in my general notes, I no longer need to include all of the information for each household member in my citations. Now I only include the information pertinent to that household member. 

And this is what my citations look like:

It clearly states her name, age, and place of birth. I can click through each census that is cited to see if there are any differences. If I did not have this information included in this footnote, I would have to go back to this person’s general notes to see what this particular census report said for her name, age, and place of birth.

With regard to redundancy and census reports, the head of house inevitably will have the census report show up twice on his or her narrative report. This is fine by me. I would rather have too much information than not enough.

8.       I’m guessing this post has gone on long enough, so I will summarize here.
·         I add everything I know about a person in the general notes, including transcripts of death certificates and obituaries, census reports, land records, etc.
·         I have just started entering census reports as their own events and I “share” them with household members.
·         I provide source information for items included in my general notes, although the citations are not complete as I leave it up to the footnotes to do that job.
·         I cite every source for every fact.
·         I include my analysis of evidence (ie, review of sources) for each fact’s sources in that fact’s notes. This analysis is usually NOT copied to the person’s general notes.
·         I only enter a fact once. If some sources point to alternate information, I pick the best one, or a range, and I cite them all. 

I do use my database to create narrative reports for myself and to share with others. But I have found that most people I share with do not care about source citations. And the narrative reports give way too much information. So I guess I would have to admit that it is used mostly for me. I think most of the below posters have come to a similar conclusion. 

Another example of how I use my database to cite my sources and use the fact notes can be found in my “Am I an Evidence-Based Genealogist or Conclusion-Based Genealogist?” post.

Here's what other bloggers are saying:

Shelley Bishop’s How I Use Reunion for Mac as my Genealogy Database at A Sense of Family
Randy Seaver's Ten Reasons Why I Use a Genealogy Software Program at Genea-Musings
Linda McCauley’s How I Use in My Genealogy Database at Documenting the Details


  1. Applause, Ginger! Love the detail. If I'm reading this correctly most information is entered in the notes, but census, birth, death and burial are entered as events? That makes sense to me.

    When I thought about using the software and what I need, managing sources and locations were at the top of my needs. Standardizing locations is a challenge with border changes, but with out it, the search features are far less useful.

    Sources are a whole 'nother issue, but I'm making some headway designing my systems. I'm hoping it's worth the time to rework this after all these years.

  2. Hi Susan, yes, I enter all the vitals as events/facts and I source them all. (They are called "facts" in Rootsmagic). I discuss discrepancies between the sources in the notes of each event/fact. In the general notes, I include information on most of my sources that I cited. So if I cited the death certificate for the name, birth, death, and burial events/facts, then I include the entire transcript of the death certificate in my general notes. (Sometimes the entire text of the death certificate is also copied in the death notes, depending on my mood).

    I don't know if every program has a general notes section or not. I guess this is associated with the name fact.

    About locations, just watch Geoff's video or webinar because it's confusing. Or I will watch the video again and post. The problem is that you can enter them as State_County_Town and that will make a nice report which will include all towns in that county and state. However, this goes against the "right" way to create a place name. So there is a certain way to do it. Might be a Legacy only thing though...I think it's a "reverse place name," RM has that too, but it doesn't help pulling out all the towns in a county if they are listed as town, county, state. To be continued...

  3. I use RootsMagic too, but haven't done much genealogy lately. Can't wait to get back to it!

    1. I hope you can get back to it soon too Lesley!