Miscellaneous Odds and Ends

Other odds and ends of potential interest to our fellow family history enthusiasts are listed on this page.  You can either follow the links below to the section of interest to you or just browse down the page.  So, in no particular order:

Family Tree Building
Sharing Family History
Data Reporting Conventions
Technical Information
System Requirements
Pet Peeve
Favorite Links

The author hopes, by presenting this information, that he may help other family historians with some ideas they may wish to incorporate into their own efforts.   Researching your family history is a great hobby and a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction follow from your efforts, but the author believes it should be taken seriously and done well.  There are plenty of professionals out there as well, who can provide the beginner with excellent ideas.  What follows here is the result of the author's experience after almost 30 years of research, off and on.

Family Tree Building

The family historian, starting out on a project that may well take years to complete, has to decide how they want to approach the basic task of building their family tree.   At a minimum, the family historian will want to uncover all they can about their direct ancestors, going back as far as they have interest [or perseverance].  The author will not attempt to "reinvent the wheel" here by presenting some exhaustive treatise on this subject, but simply present two critical aspects of building your family tree, which you may want to consider:

Branches - It won't take the beginning family historian long to realize that the scope of the project they have undertaken is tremendous and they could quickly find themselves lost in "endless" genealogies.  So, the first temptation is to limit your research strictly to your own direct ancestors; not even concerning themselves with siblings of their direct ancestors.  The author suggests you resist that temptation.  Why?

From numerous examples, he has learned the hard way that almost no branch of any family ends up with all the stories, pictures, etc.  They each have a portion to offer of the big picture.  Particularly important to you is when the particular bit of the big picture someone else has is the missing link needed to solve a years-old mystery.  We all reach "brick walls" in our efforts to get past a certain point in our family histories.  The author believes it is presumptious to think there are all kinds of clues out there waiting to be discovered, which will help you solve the mystery.  There may be only one!  And what if your branch of the family doesn't happen to have it?

So, this family historian takes the extra time necessary to log into his master database all that he finds about a given family group, up to and including the parents of the people who marry into the family, if they can be uncovered.  Often times, particularly when doing work on Census records, this information is relatively easy to come by, once discovering where your direct ancestors are located.

With this information recorded and then "published" somewhere, say on RootsWeb's World Connect pages, then you can establish contact with other branches of the family, who may provide the missing piece of the puzzle for which you have long been looking.   If you want to go the extra mile, you may even choose to not wait, but follow other branches of your family tree down to the present to establish contact with living distant cousins.  The author did just that recently, in a visit to west Texas, and made contact with a 97-year old relative who just happened to have some very old pictures.   The writing on these pictures provided the necessary clues needed to push back his knowledge of one branch of his family history several generations to the eastern seaboard.   He had not succeeded in several years of effort previously in accomplishing this goal.   So, you never know where that "needle" is going to be in the "haystack!"

[Note:  As a bonus, to be of service to others in the family history community, the author has recently begun to take the little extra time necessary to log in information about other families uncovered in his own research into courthouse records, census records, or the like, particularly if they appear to have a good possibility of providing a link to your family, but the connection hasn't been proven yet, one way or the other.]

Sources - Most family historians begin, as the author did, with going around talking to older members of his family, gathering facts, stories, pictures, etc.   After a while, you can have a lot of information that needs organizing.  If we don't start out this way, we soon realize the task of organizing is a big one!   Well, the good news is the availability of personal computers has revolutionized this task.  If you are serious about family history, you simply have to get one and start working with a good genealogy program.

Then, as you begin the arduous task of entering all this information, you come face to face with your second temptation.  While you figure someday it might be nice to enter some kind of information about where the data you are entering came from, you'll get to it later, as you just don't have the time right now.  Besides, you have an excellent memory.  Right?  Don't do it!

Entering good source information is where we "separate the men from the boys" in building family histories.  Much has been written on this subject and the author strongly advises the beginning family historian to read up on it and commit, from the beginning, to take the extra time and effort to record the necessary information, in a good, conventional, detailed format.  The author can't imagine a single family history enthusiast anywhere, who has spent any real time working on this, who would not wholeheartedly agree.  You won't be sorry!


Sharing Family History

We have been working off and on to put together our family history for almost 30 years.   During this time, we have been blessed with the help of many unselfish and friendly people.  We have also encountered more than what seems a reasonable share of those who are only interested in what you can do for them.  These people remind us a lot of our children as babies, who early on seem to have a view of life that says basically "what's mine is mine and what's yours is also mine."

While it is tempting to do otherwise, our approach is to share our information with whoever asks for it.  We choose to follow the wonderful example of those who have been so helpful to us in the past.  It is just the right thing to do.  We do limit information shared to those in our family tree who are deceased, unless we have a very good reason to do otherwise (you can read on our Introduction page how we handle the delicate matter of privacy).

As a practical matter, to encourage others to join us in mutually beneficial exchanges of family information, we do not publish all the information we have in our databases.   We have put enough "out there" to assist others in their efforts without contacting us at all.  But, if you would like more detailed information about our family tree, e.g. notes, sources, etc., we always welcome the opportunity to meet a distant cousin!


Data Reporting Conventions

Upon spending some time with our family tree, there may be some questions about how we have organized our data or how we report it.  Over time, we have adopted the following conventions:

Names - Our approach is to find and report the full given name at birth.  Period.  Many times, however, we cannot uncover the full given names at birth of the individuals we find, especially considering that most females take the surname of their husband.  Therefore, we use ?...? in the place of information on names which we currently do not know.  We never put "unknown" or anything like that in any of our information.  It is simply left blank.  This format eliminates any possible confusion over whether a single name entry is a first name or a surname.

Also, it is not uncommon to uncover more than one spelling or some other permutation of names.  We attempt to report every reasonably uncovered permutation of a name, i.e. those found in good solid sources, so that search engines can still find our particular family groups that others may be searching for.  They may have information on this person from another source which differs in spelling from our own.  We don't want to miss the connection!

Places - While names can and do change over time, that is nothing compared to changes in the naming of locations.  While we confess we are not very good at it yet, our ultimate goal is to report on location names that were accurate at the time of the event!  This is not easy to do, but it is possible and a very good habit to get into.  All facts should ultimately be verifiable and accurate reporting of lcation names is an important part of the process.   The only exception we make to this practice is in the naming of cemeteries.   There we want current information, so others can find the same place we've found.

Just like the full given name of an individual at birth, we report the "full given name" of locations.  This means we always report the legal entity in which the record keeping for any event is likely to have taken place, along with the local name of a location.  In the United States, this means we report on the city, county, and state where an event took place.  Internationally, this may include the name of a parish or some other variation on the general idea.

Where we cannot find any support for a name we have uncovered, most often coming from other people's data, we put the name in quotation marks.  This means so far we can find no record of such a location existing, but still are reporting it as found.   Ultimately, this may mean it is simply misspelled, that it never actually existed, or that it is now named something else.

Also, it happens from time to time that more than one location in a general area has the same name.  If we cannot clearly distinguish from the original source which one is correct, then you may find our data looking something like "Anytown, ?...?, Anystate"  This would indicate that there are two or more locations in that state with the same name, in differing counties.

And last, we do not put USA or anything like that at the end of any of our data for locations occuring inside the boundaries of our beloved country.  We only report the name of the country if it is an international place name.

Dates - Originally, if we could not find a date for an event, we simply left the date field blank.  More recently, as our efforts have taken us more in the direction of working with original source documents, e.g. census records, probate records, etc., we may report a date as before or after, e.g. "bef 1 January 1900."   Along with the date, we will report our source for reporting that date.  So, a date like the example could indicate that we have found a probate record which indicates a person died before 1 January 1900, which was the date the probate record was generated, but we still do not know exactly when death occurred.

Also, as the author is an engineer, he has a strong preference for dates reported in the day / month / year format, with the name of the month spelled out.  Yes, this goes against convention in our country.  But dates in the 6/4/1900 format leave too much margin for error to this author's taste.  There can be no misunderstanding of a date recorded as 1 January 1900.

Sources -  Like most family historians, we did not start out really understanding the value of sources.  And like most family historians, we have learned the hard way that we should have taken better notes about where we got this or that piece of information, when years later we are drawing a blank!  So, our approach is very simple - we record very detailed source information on everything.  Period.   It takes a little more time, but it ultimately pays big dividends.


Technical Information

Some of you may want to know something about the applications we use for our family history efforts.  This will be short and sweet.  If you would like further information, more than what is listed here, please feel free to ask.


System Requirements

It may seem strange to find a "system requirements" section here.  It could also be "minimum requirements."

Browser:  To browse through these pages without any problems, you will want to be running the latest version of your favorite browser.  This shouldn't be asking much, since they are freely available to the public.  The author uses Internet Explorer, Version 8.0, in which these pages render just fine.

Monitor:  The author uses a 19 in. monitor with a screen resolution setting of 1,024 by 768 pixels.  Monitors larger than the old 15 in. models should be able to handle a resolution like this just fine.  The color setting is "true" 32-bit color, which gives you a very nice display, but these pages would render well enough even if your color setting was only 256 colors.

Initially, the author worked on getting these pages to render on his old 15-inch monitor, running at 640 by 480 pixels resolution, with a color setting of 256 colors.   The primary problem was with the framing of these pages and the fact the "banner" and the "index" would not fit in their respective spaces without scrolling.  The main body of the pages, however, could still be read.   After a short time, the effort was abandoned.

The primary purpose of creating these pages is for our children's benefit at some point in the future.  Therefore, the author has chosen to invest his time in getting this site built and not worry about whether everyone can read it perfectly.

Oh yes, one more thing!  If you don't like the music, simply turn the volume on your speakers down or off.  The music will only be in the background on these introductory pages.


Pet Peeve

OK, these are the author's pages, so he can write what he wants.  Right?   Freedom of expression and all that.  Well, he has to get on his soap box just a little bit and address his pet peeve.  And that is the number of people who pass into eternity and never jot down a single note about their life experiences.  Not one thing!

Actually, the author's pet peeve is specifically addressed to those who are expressly asked to do so, and still will not be bothered.  Once realizing the value [see Historical Perspective], he has asked numerous elder members of the family to take a few minutes to jot something down.   Yes, even thirty minutes writing down a few stories would be worthwhile!

The comon refrain is that, "well, my life has been pretty boring ..."   Well, maybe this is true to you, but not everyone will agree.  And here is the one thing I believe people don't appreciate.  Your life may, in fact, have been pretty routine and unremarkable for anyone reading it today, but what about 100 years from now?  What about 300 years from now?  Anyone with any kind of appreciation for history enjoys reading personal narratives, the "real life" glimpses into what it must have been like "in the olden days."   Especially, when they come from your own people.  This is part of your story!

So, take a little time and put something down.  No one is expecting the next Pulitzer Prize winner here.  So, relax, take a little time and record for future generations some of your favorite memories of your early years growing up with Mom and Dad.  Maybe throw in some special memories of visiting your Grandma and Grandpa or times spent with some favorite Aunts and Uncles.  If you really want to "swing for the fence," put down whatever you can remember of facts about times and locations of big family events.  Then make sure you get this into the hands of someone who will properly respect it and will take care of it for generations to come.  The effort will never be forgotten!

'Nuff said ...


Favorite Links

And last, but not least, what site would be complete without some reference to favorite links!  Here are some of our favorite Web sites for expanding our knowledge of our family history [click on the graphic of your choice and a new window will be opened in your Web browser, taking you to that Web site]:


RootsWeb. Click Here!  RootsWeb

The author's favorite place to "browse," especially on their World Connect pages.  With every new additional twig on the family tree, he goes there to see if he can make a new "cousin connection."

 Family Finder.  Click Here! Family Tree Maker

The vendor of the most widely used genealogy program  makes free Web pages available for their customers, then makes the information available to everyone through their search engines!

GenForum. Click Here! GenForum

Genealogy.Com, producers of Family Tree Maker, hosts these pages where 10s of 1,000s of surnames are supported.  Be sure and check these for informaton you may not find anywhere else!

USGenWeb.  Click Here! USGenWeb Project

The power of the Internet provides the platform for an effort like the USGenWeb, where every county in the U. S. is supported.  There is even a WorldGenWeb forming!

 FamilySearch.  Click Here! Family Search

The LDS church hosts a Web site, where the family historian can access the records of their Ancestral File and their International Genealogical Index [IGI].  Don't forget to check here!

cyndiplak2.gif (2587 bytes) Cyndi's List

How does she do it!  There must be a hundred Cyndies ...  Well, if you want to find "one-stop shopping" for family history info, you don't need to look any farther.   This one has it all!


Well, that's it!  The author hopes these pages have helped his fellow family history enthusiasts in some small way.  All the best to you in your continued efforts to build your knowledge of your family history!

Author: Roger L. Roberson, Jr.   •   Last updated: 06 December 2009