Sunday, October 23, 2016

Digital genealogy organizing project Step 5: Folders for individuals

So far, I've worked my way down from the !Genealogy folder, to the !!Research - personal folder, to the Paternal grandfather folder, to the Smith folder.  Now it's time to create folders for the individuals.

The individual folders will normally have files that pertain to a particular person (even if they also refer to others). I want an alphabetical list of these individuals that looks a lot like the list of individuals in my genealogy software. So my folder list might look like:


Notice that there will be at least a first name, but sometimes there will also be a middle initial or even a middle name. A first name alone is fine if it's unique, but I add the middle initial when I know that I have more than one person with the same first name. And if the middle initial isn't sufficient to identify a unique individual, I provide the entire middle name.

In some cases, when I have more than one individual with the same last and first name (and perhaps no middle name at all), or the same middle name, I'll have to add something additional to uniquely identify them. Typically, this is going to need to be something like a birth date (for instance, b1917) or a location (such as a state abbreviation).

I see nothing wrong with starting with a particular form of the name, and then adding more identifying information (changing the folder name) if I discover that I've got more than one person with a similar name. For instance, I'm sure that I'll have more than one Catherine Smith, but I'll worry with changing the folder name when I reach that point.

The Smith folder may also include other documents that pertain to that surname but that aren't about a specific individual.  So I may include a !Misc folder that sorts to the beginning of the Smith folder in which to put those random Smith files.  But I can leave it out until I need it.

In previous posts I've mentioned issues with changes in spellings of surnames, and that would apply here as well. My Bodie/Boddie folder is going to include some individuals whose surname is spelled Bodie and others whose surname is spelled Boddie.

A question might arise as to how to handle individuals whose surnames are spelled differently depending on the record. To keep it simple, I would choose to use the most common spelling, or if the most common spellings are equally common, to use the earlier spelling.

At the individual level we also deal with individuals who use different forms of their first and/or middle names, as well as nicknames. Again, it would make most sense to use whatever is found most often in the records, or to use the earlier form of the first/middle names if there is no clear winner. I would normally avoid using a nickname, unless the nickname is useful in distinguishing two individuals who otherwise would have the same first/middle names.

In the next posting, I'll be dealing with the last (and in some ways, most complex) step, the naming of the files themselves.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Digital genealogy organizing project Intermission 5: Records with more than one person in them

Let's face it: Most genealogical records we deal with make reference to more than one person of interest. The typical birth record may name both the individual being born and their parents. The typical marriage record will name both spouses. The typical census record will name all the people living in the same household. While there are certainly records that refer to only one person (a photo of a single individual, many military records, possibly the tombstone, just to name a few), we are normally going to be dealing with a digital image of a document that pertains to more than one person.

And this means that we have an issue when it comes to naming that digital file and filing it in one of our folders.

At least, it's an issue if we have only one digital copy of the document. But in the modern world of cheap computer storage, why would we want to limit ourselves to a single copy? I can't think of a good reason, but I'd be interested in hearing from you if you can come up with one.

So let's go forward with this idea of having multiple copies of such documents. Two copies for a married couple (let's assume, just for the sake of argument, that we're not interested in researching the witnesses or the person who conducted the ceremony).  Three copies for a birth (child plus parents, ignoring for now those records that also identify grandparents or godparents).  And possibly many copies for a census record that identifies a large number of related people.

This means that each copy can have its own name, using the name of one of the people of interest, and that each copy can be filed in the appropriate surname folder (if you are organizing by surname folder, as I am now doing).  And it means that an individual's folder can contain documents dated after their death, such as those where the individual is mentioned as a parent in a child's later death record, or where a father dies prior to the birth of their last child.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Digital genealogy organizing project Intermission 4: Thoughts about surnames

In the modern Western world we may experience some people hyphenating their names upon marriage. But apart from some celebrities adopting entirely new surnames as they enter the public sphere, our most common experience is that males have the same surname from birth to death, and females may change their surname only upon marriage.

History is messier.

Anyone who has been doing genealogical research for any significant length of time has discovered that surnames are complicated things. A person may be born with one surname and in later life adopt a new one, or at the very least a new spelling. Or they may have no consistent spelling of whatever surname they use (sometimes to blame on their illiteracy and sometimes to blame on the recorder's unfamiliarity with the surname). And, of course, there are surnames altered by immigrants as an attempt to fit in with their adopted country and to improve their chances of employment in a country that may otherwise treat non-natives from some areas of the world as being less desirable for hiring and doing business with. There are also stories of individuals adopting surname changes in order to avoid legal problems or to disassociate themselves from relatives who they are at odds with.

And we must deal with all of this as we label our digital files and folders, as part of our genealogical research. What spelling do we consistently adopt for a surname that may have spelling variations in the records? What name do we file documents under for an individual who may have changed their surname over time? (I don't have time in this posting to address the first name issue. That will have to wait for another posting.) The spelling variation that occurs only in a small percentage of records, in my opinion, can be essentially ignored, at least for purposes of creating the surname folder.

Three of my grandparents' surnames are extremely common, and as a result, are not as likely to result in spelling errors or variations: Smith, Martin, and King. While I may find different spellings for those surnames hundreds of years ago, I'm not there yet. But my 4th grandparent (Weinglass), and the remaining great-grandparents (Bannon, Bodie, Foshee, and Grodovitz) present interesting problems.

The Bodie family of South Carolina is descended from the Boddie family of North Carolina and Virginia, and even some of the South Carolina family use the Boddie spelling. The branch that left for Louisiana also spells it Boddie, and some of my direct ancestors can be found using both spellings. Because both spellings are very common, I plan to use Bodie/Boddie (while the order isn't all that important, my more immediate ancestors use the Bodie spelling) to identify that family.

Bannon is similar to Bodie in some ways, in that more recent records seem to have standardized on Bannon, while earlier records frequently have Bonnon. I plan to start by using Bannon, but I may switch to Bannon/Bonnon if I discover a large number of records with the other spelling.

Weinglass appears in a variety of spellings in the records (Weinglas, Wineglass, etc.), but all of my most recent relatives have standardized the spelling as Weinglass, so I expect to use that one for the surname folder.

Foshee is trickier. Lots of different spellings for people who are probably related to each other. Because my most recent relatives seem to have standardized on Foshee, I'll stay with that one, to keep it simple.

I have very few records for Grodovitz so far, so I will probably adopt one spelling for now, with the idea that I may need to change it if I find that another spelling is more common in the records.

My major point in this posting is that there is no hard-and-fast rule as to how to create surname folders for surnames that may appear different ways in the records, and you'll have to consider a number of factors before deciding which spelling to use and whether or not to use multiple forms of the surname. Whenever possible, keep it simple, but don't get hung up on doing it "right" the first time. It's ok to change your mind later.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Digital genealogy organizing project Step 4: Surname folders

So a few weeks ago I posted about using surname folders. It's time to go into a bit more detail about that.

Because I'm not a beginner, I don't have the luxury of creating a folder here or there as I need it.  I have already accumulated a great number of files that pertain to a variety of individuals, and even if I am starting over with my documented research, I still want to file away the things I already have.

At the same time, I don't want to create a folder for every surname in my current family tree, in part because I know that I won't have files for some of those, and in part because I'm more interested at this point in working strictly with my direct ancestral lines.

So at this point I'm going to create just enough folders to get started, giving me enough variety to organize the content that I already have (and to better document my immediate direct ancestors), but not so many that I'll have a lot of empty folders for a long time to come. A nice starter number is 8, corresponding to the surnames of my 8 great-grandparents. For my mother, her 4 grandparents were Martin, King, Bodie, and Foshee. For my father, his 4 grandparents were Smith, Weinglass, Bannon, and Grodowitz.

This structure will encourage me to move more slowly through the generations, finding all of the necessary documents for my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.

My step after that will involve creating sub-folders for each individual, and naming the individual files appropriately. But that deserves its own blog post.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

A quick and easy way to show your support of my genealogy work

If you enjoy the things that I produce (books, podcasts, this blog, my face-to-face presentations, and my webinars), one way to express your support is by voting in this poll:

And thanks in advance for your support!


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Digital genealogy organizing project Intermission 3: Thoughts about a hierarchical folder structure for personal research

In my previous posting, I described a folder structure based upon Ahnentafel numbers, and pointed out how it would be difficult to work with once it become complex, or if it involved a descendants project instead of an ancestral project.

In this posting I'll describe the structure of a hierarchical folder/file system. As I mention in the book, I know that some folks use color-coding for the 4 lines of their grandparents, but one drawback to this is that there may be interrelationships among some grandparent lines, especially when they are in the same geographic area.

For my own needs, I have my set of maternal grandparents from a several county area of upstate South Carolina, my paternal grandfather from a Newark, NJ line that goes back (eventually) to Ireland (with some ancestors taking a generation stop in England), and my paternal grandmother's family from Manhattan, and before that back to Poland.  This means that I can divide my ancestry into essentially 3 major geographic areas, which means that I'll be dealing with 3 sets of records.

So what would this look like in practice as a set of folders?

First, I'll use surname folders (much the same way that many genealogists have traditionally used surname binders for their print records), and group them into 3 overarching folders:

Paternal grandfather
Paternal grandmother

In this way, I'll encourage myself to focus on one part of my tree at a time, whenever I open one of those folders.

Is there anything that I can think of in regards to my personal research that doesn't fit neatly into one of these 3 folders?  Yes.  My personal DNA test results.  So I will include a 4th folder to hold any documents relating to that.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Digital genealogy organizing project Intermission 2: Thoughts about an Ahnentafel folder structure for personal research

Although I am not yet finished with filing all the files in the previous step, I figured that some of you reading were already ready to move to the next step, namely, to structure your personal research folder.

Some of the people I talk to like to organize their personal research using an Ahnentafel numbering system. If you're unfamiliar with that system, let me briefly describe it. In such a system, you take the starting person for the personal research (usually yourself, but it could be a spouse or child if you are working on their ancestors instead) and assign them the number 1. You then number that person's father as number 2, and the first person's mother as number 3.

This continues such that the paternal grandfather is number 4, the paternal grandmother number 5, the maternal grandfather number 6, and the maternal grandmother number 7.

You may now realize that these numbers match the numbers you usually find on a published pedigree chart. However, these numbers would continue as far back as needed, and you can quickly generate the new numbers by doubling someone's number to get the number for their father, and adding one to that to get the number for their mother.

This numbering system can cause a bit of confusion if there is any documented pedigree collapse. In other words, the same people can appear on different lines of the ancestry. In short, at some point, cousins (at any distance) married cousins.  This means that the same people will have multiple Ahnentafel numbers. In this case, you normally use the lowest number available, and leave the others essentially blank.  Personally, I have not encountered this yet, at least not within my own documented ancestry, although this might eventually be a problem for me if I can link back to documented royal lines (where people certainly married their cousins).

So how might you organize your genealogy folders with this system? You could create a folder for each ancestral couple, starting with their pair of Ahnentafel numbers. Your parents would have a folder whose name would begin with 2-3 (followed by their names), your paternal grandparents would have a folder with a name starting 4-5, and so forth.

I also talk about this kind of system in my Organize Your Genealogy book (pages 84-87).  You can even see a photo on page 93 of an example of this kind of system used to organize hanging folders, but putting the Ahnentafel numbers at the end.

This would be a good time for me to mention that, in the book, I talk a bit about adding leading zeros to force the digital folders to sort in alphabetical sequence. At least, this is something you *had* to do prior to Windows XP or Mac OS X. But it was brought to my attention recently (thanks, Mike Scozzari!) that it is no longer necessary to artificially include leading zeros, because modern microcomputer operating systems use an "intuitive" sorting order, such that numbers in a file or folder name are treated as numbers instead of characters. So Ahnentafel number 2-3 will sort automatically before 10-11.  (Although this is probably helpful in most situations, this does upset some folks who want to treat numbers as characters and not numbers.)

Unfortunately, an Ahnentafel system has some drawbacks. For one thing, it is designed to work with ancestral research, not descendant research. It's fine for going from yourself backwards in time through your direct ancestors, but doesn't work nearly as well for collateral lines, and certainly not really at all with a research project that begins with a distant ancestor (say, an immigrant ancestor) and that then attempts to locate all known descendants. Yes, there are other numbering systems that are intended for numbering descendants, but almost all of these cause problems as soon as you identify a previously unknown descendant who isn't the youngest among their siblings. (Suddenly everyone else after them needs to be renumbered.)

The other drawback is that it means that your folders jump around from one side of your family to another, instead of all closely related families being somewhat closely filed.

Who should still use an Ahnentafel folder numbering system? Perhaps those who are just getting started, and working on a beginner's project, such as identifying the 8 great-great-grandparents, or taking a single surname line all the way back in time.  But it's not currently my favorite for more complex ancestral projects or for descendant projects. What would work better? Let's see...