Friday, August 17, 2012

Genealogy Class or Genealogy Schooled?!

So, Genealogy Tip of the Day asked their Facebook friends and followers the following question: Who has taken an actual Beginning Genealogy class? I am teaching a class starting next week for 8 weeks.

I began writing my response, but had realized that it was more something that I should post on my blog, since this is another long winded memory that had been evoked, so I just wanted to put this where it really belonged....


I had picked it up quite by accident over 25 years ago. I was just keeping family history, as far as I was concerned, and have always considered myself a Historian and a Linguist, because that is my main point of research and achievement: Ancient Histories and Languages.

At some point someone asked me "are you into genealogy", and I responded something to the affect of "You mean geology? Sure, my dad used to take us rock hunting all the time as kids!"

Boy did I have egg on my face when the definition was provided to me...LOL! Around that point, I began considering myself the Family Historian and Genealogist, and began researching this new word "Genealogy" at the local library.

I began buying a few books here and there and reading all I could on the different aspects of genealogy, but at some point realized it was really detective work that was being done, and so began reading books on detective work, which lead to me watching all sorts of  detective and lawyer shows (like Perry Mason) to reason out how these people think and to make sure I saw things in the same kind of light as detectives and lawyers.

Fast forward a few years; enter the introduction of the personal computer and my first computer: a Fujitsu Monte Carlo laptop, which had a whopping 775 megabyte hard drive and 64 megabytes of RAM!

I began my online activities like most had so many years ago: with America Online. Chat rooms lead to external web pages, which lead me to a company called Broderbund, who made a curious program called Family Tree Maker, which was designed specifically for entering your family's history! I was intrigued and bought my first copy, version 3...when it got to my house, I didn't really know what I was doing with it, so I just kind of put it off to the side. Fast forward another year or so, and I stumbled on the curiously named company once more, but it seemed they had a newer version of the program out, version 5, which I was not going to buy over the phone this time, because I did not want to wait. Instead, I went looking for the software for a few months, but failed to find it.

Fast forward another year, and I was purchasing my first desktop computer from CompUSA: an HP Pavilion, which had an astounding 30 gigabyte hard drive! I was amazed at how fast this computer was by way of comparison to my old laptop!

While I was standing in line, there was a display rack of clearance items, and there I found Broderbund Family Tree Maker 5, on clearance for $20.00! I grabbed it and added it to my cart and began my journey home, excited at what the future was going to hold for me and these new "toys".

However, because I was in the middle of college and my MCSE track, I couldn't really devote a lot of time to genealogy, so once again the curiously named company's software was put to the side. Enter the 1999 to 2000 holiday season. College was out for a few weeks, and I was cooped up inside the home, avoiding the snow and bad weather as much as possible.

I realized that I had never really messed around with the software, although I did install it, so I had finally opened it up and realized "WOW! This is SOOO SIMPLE!!!"

I entered all the data I knew, my parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, grand parents, etc. It was great, I had entered in about a hundred people in one sitting and I was so excited! I began digging into my scrap books, my boxes of pictures and obituaries, finding more and more people.

I suddenly had a friend drop by, in the middle of a storm, because he could not drive in it all the way home, and he asked if he could hang our for a while. Of course I said yes, and he came into my little office where I was working and we began talking about everything that I had been doing and he was really intrigued and then proffered me a bit of sage advice that I had never even thought of: "Why don't you just look for all that information online?"

It hit me like a ton of bricks, "look online"! The words were so simple, yet for some reason I had never thought of them! I didn't think that this kind of information could be found online, but he said he had to just look up his mother's obituary online recently, and so he knows there are places to go, such as the news paper websites for the towns where the family member lived, which would have all that information online, generally for free!

So, there I was, drinking hot chocolate with a friend and finding obituaries online. This was before I even knew what a scanner was, so I thought I had to type everything by hand that I was reading online until my friend suggested something else to me: "Why not just copy and paste it from the website into the program?!"

I could have been knocked over with a feather at this point, because everything he was saying was stuff that while it seemed so simple had never occurred to me whatsoever! Copying the article into Microsoft Word and Notepad became second nature, as did saving the webpages to a folder where I could access their information locally any time I wanted, and so I did not have to mess around waiting for AOL to connect so I could get online to wait for the page to load, etc.

Then one day I had gone as far as I could go, to my great grand father's name and my great grand mother's name...I was stuck at 191 people for about four years, and I was getting rather discouraged by the absence of information about my family members.

Then, in 2004, I moved to Arizona and instead of being cooped up inside because it was too cold, I had cooped up inside because it was too hot! So, I began working on my genealogy again, filling in details to the family tree inside FTM5 that I had not filled in previously and just generally exploring the program more and more, learning the different types of files that it could create, etc.

Fast forward to late 2007: new computer and laptop, same great program. While trying to find more family online, I began searching for tips on Italian Genealogy, since I could never find any books that deal specifically with just ITALIAN genealogy, and I happened upon this great website where the admins and other forum goers had been of great help to me and had opened the floodgate doors for me!

It's now late 2008, and in just a eight months time, I had gone from 191 people in my family tree to over 3,000! I had been so lucky to find great people to assist me with resources, and had even connected with a few distant yet living relatives who were also into genealogy, and who had studied certain aspects of their family and also had links to my family tree, but they did not have what happened to my direct ancestors, they only had their names and parents and siblings, which is what I also had. We all wanted to know what happened to the family, and we all found out, and because I had been working so hard on my family tree for so long, I had not thought to back up any of my data in quite some time -- at least six months that I could remember...

I thought I was safe, I had a test database and I had my real database which is where I entered information to...well, I meant to open the GEDCOM file for the town my ancestors were from that someone had created and I accidentally merged it with my real family file and all most immediately had a brief power surge / power outage, so I could not unmerge the GEDCOM file from my family tree.

When I got back into FTM5, and checked the family file status, I had gone from just over 3,000 people to over 12,000 people! WHOA!!! I DID NOT MEAN TO DO THAT!!! NOOOO!!!!

I felt defeated by my own research, and since I had no way to unmerge the file or to even know which of these people I was related to at this point, I just kind of gave up for a while. I still read about genealogy here and there, and I even tried new software periodically as it came out, but I just wasn't very pleased with anything different than what I had used for the better part of a decade.

I tried repeatedly to rebuild and recreate my family tree, but it was always to no avail, because I tried working on the family histories on so many different computers that it just didn't work...I had pretty much given up...

Then, just this year while I was going through some old CDs that I found packed away, I stumbled on a backed up version of my family tree file that had 1,500 people in it! I was ecstatic!!!

I began combing the file, only to realize that this file was slightly corrupted with relationship mistakes and duplicate individuals, not to mention that it included over 300 people who were extended EXTENDED EXTENDED family! I couldn't let the file be so compromised, not when I was so close to being able to begin working on my family history once more!

So, I began with my father's uncle's wife's great grand parents and began removing and deleting people from there. I followed all their lines back over all the people who I had entered information on over the years, and I began removing them all. The family file status went from over 1,500 to just over 1,100 people, due to merging duplicate individuals and removing incorrect people and fixing relationship mistakes, etc.

I am now just under 1,300 people once more, and I am about to go on a spree of data corrections once more, fixing dates, adding exact instead of approximated dates, et. seq...

I find myself reading over these words and the main question comes back, did anyone ever take a beginners genealogy class? No, I have not, but genealogy sure has schooled me to make constant and regular backups, away from the main hard drive and main computer and main files!

I use Google Drive ( as an offsite storage location for my GEDCOM files as well as my FTW, FTB and FBK files from Family Tree Maker (version 9 was the last version that once it was installed you could just copy the installed folder onto a flash drive and run it from there), I use to upload GED files to, I use email and email them to myself on multiple email accounts, I keep a copy of my most current GED file on one of my flash drives, making sure to date each one, and I also have an external hard drive which I keep regular genealogy backups on.

Yeah, I think I had been schooled...

~ Vince ~ 

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