Tuesday, April 26, 2011

To Assume or Not to Assume

"In logic, more specifically in the context of natural deduction systems, an assumption is a proposition that may be used to prove further propositions, in the expectation that the assumption will be discharged in due course by proving it via a separate argument." - definition by Wikipedia

Sometimes we make assumptions when researching our own family history. For example, the 1850 census records the names of everyone in a household, but doesn't provide the relationship between those individuals. So, if there is a man and woman listed, same last name, close in age, we tend to assume they are husband and wife - and hopefully we continue to collect data that will support or disprove that relationship. It's not always easy to find a way to record those assumptions you are making along the way, and what still needs to be done to prove or disprove those details so they don't show up as proven facts.

I am finding that I have to make more assumptions than I would normally to keep my one place study moving along.  For example, if I find the same name in multiple year censuses, and the ages look compatible, and the family make up looks compatible, I record all of those findings under one person in my pioneer database.  If I find someone in a cemetery located within Homer's boundaries, I am currently adding them to the database with the assumption they lived in Homer at some time (that's a big assumption, I know).  As I am working on the 1850 census, if I find children with the same last name, and reasonable ages, listed in a household, I am making the assumption that the adults are the parents of these children.  When I find cemetery records that indicate that someone is the wife, daughter, mother, etc. of someone else, I am going with that assumption in my data base.  Are all of these assumptions going to be right?  Certainly not.  But I also do not want 5 different records for the same person (maybe) in my database - one for each record I find.  I am going to boldly make assumptions - source all of those assumptions, of course - and work towards further proving them (or disproving them) as I collect more information and records.  I feel if I didn't work this way, I would just have a lot of disjointed records and individuals with no clear picture of Homer's settlers.

I am trying to list the types of assumptions I am making on my website so that visitors are aware of the possible errors.  Hopefully some fellow researchers will come forward to share some of their sourced family history to help correct any errors and add information as I reach out to more and more people.

So, To Assume or Not to Assume - I now have to hope that my assumptions don't come back to bite me and prove the old adage - when you assume you make an ass of u and me.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Building A Research Toolbox Webinar

I watched a very interesting webinar today presented by Legacy Family Tree and Thomas MacEntee - entitled Building A Research Toolbox .  The webinar will probably not be available for viewing after today, but can be ordered on CD.  This is not a sales pitch, I just found the webinar to be inspiring.  It focused on options for creating an organized list of personalized links to favorite research sites (a simplified description). 

Some of the options presented included:  using Microsoft Word or Excel, Microsoft Explorer shortcuts and folders, creating a free web site at Weebly, using your blog pages, Diigo, Evernote, wikis, and more.  If you have numerous online research sites you need to keep organized in order to work efficiently and not lose track of them - or forget about them - then I highly recommend this entertaining webinar to get your creative juices flowing to create a research toolbox that works for you.

One of the options Thomas presented was to create a "toolbox" page on your blog site.  This option appealed most to me because it meant I could access it from any computer with internet access, or my iPad or iPhone, and I could easily share the links with my husband and any fellow researchers with similar interests.  It was a cold, rainy day in Central New York today, so I jumped on the project while doing laundry and catching up on some recorded television programs.  I love multi-tasking.

If you look at the header of my blog, just below the pictures of Homer, you will see a new page listed:  My Research Links.  On that page I have categorized many of my genealogy research links, and added some from Thomas' page that were new to me [and it helped that Thomas and I share 2 states of interest - New York and Illinois].  While I am sure I will still use my saved bookmarks in my browser, I like this new format much better.  Here I can see the full name of a site, add comments, etc.  I chose to organize my links under topics, so I duplicated some sites under more than one topic.  My list is tailored to my specific research interests and is not meant as a general list for anyone else, although it is open to the public and may be used by others.

As I was adding sites, I found myself browsing sites I haven't visited in awhile and uncovered information I have to go back and visit again.  This was a fun organizational project that I recommend for any researcher.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Data Tracking Challenges in a One Place Study - 1 - [Homer-NY.com]

This will no doubt be a reoccurring subject of this blog. As I start to piece together the puzzle of the individuals who founded and contributed to the growth of Homer, I am using genealogy data bases in a different way than their creators originally intended. Most genealogists are tracking their own family lines, which means most of the individuals in their database have connections to someone else in their data base. A One Place Study is a collection of many families and individuals with fewer biological connections. So when I enter a new individual in my data base, I use the option of adding a new unrelated individual most often.

I have worked with databases for much of my career and really enjoy them -geek alert! When I started working on my genealogy using a computer, I knew I had to find a data base that allowed the user to creatively add their own data sets to track, flexible viewing options, great reporting options -you can see the theme -it's all about me and how I want things. I also wanted the ability to easily set up web pages since I do not have html skills (yet).  After a great deal of research and testing, I started with The Master Genealogist -a great product with a super users list. After several years some other products caught my eye and I tested them. As much as I like TMG (versions 5 and 6), with limited time, I felt I could be more productive if I could speed up my data entry and citations. Hence I switched to Legacy Family Tree a couple of years ago. This is not a product endorsement, but as I work on this project the tools I use are relevant and I will share them here.  I hope readers feel free to share information about the tools they are using as well.  I think either of these great programs would work for a One Place Study or One Name Study (another type of project I hope to be involved in one day).

In addition to traditional vital statistic information about the individuals in my study, I need to set up special data points to track to make it possible to do analysis and reporting later on. To effectively use any data base, you have to know what you want to get out of it. Without a doubt, later on I will wish I had tracked some piece of information that I didn't, or wish I had entered it differently.

Just recently I realized I needed to create some special events (Legacy speak for customizable data tables) to track things like:
  1. ethnicity;
  2. arrival year in Homer; 
  3. age upon arrival in Homer; 
  4. marital status upon arrival; 
  5. did they come with family, friends, alone; 
  6. religious associations in Homer; 
  7. where did they move from; 
  8. occupations; 
  9. original lot location...and more.   
Yes, I could track this information in text within established traditional genealogical fields of information, but I need to isolate them as individual data fields if I want to pull statistics on a large number of individuals at once. For that I need a data base that will let me create those custom fields. Not all genealogy data bases provide that flexibility. You can use spreadsheets to track some of this data, but then you lose the relationship tracking and citation features of a genealogical data base.
I will discuss these data points in more detail in later blogs - I am still mapping them out and coming up with a strategy to fill them in.  Not all One Place Studies include a database as I am describing and I am not proposing that all One Place Studies be conducted the same way I am conducting mine.  There is no "right way" - which only makes a project like this more challenging, creative and fun.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How To Capture Tables of Information From the Web-And Why Would You Want To?

As you do research online, there are times when you want to capture tables of information to use in the future, sort and analyze, or use as a checklist to make sure you explore all of those records.

I use Mozilla Firefox as my primary browser, so this method works with that browser.  If you haven't tried Mozilla, you can download it for free from:  www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/ .

There is an add on called Table2Clipboard that can capture table information so you can paste it into other software on your desktop [I usually use Microsoft Excel] without losing formatting and links.  The add on is free, but the author does appreciate donations to support their work.  I cannot guarantee that this add on works on every computer, but I have personally used it with Windows XP and Windows 7 without any problems.  I have used it to capture tables from sites like Ancestry (search results), cemetery transcriptions, etc.  Please be sure to respect copyright rules and provide recognition and citations for any data you acquire using this method.

Example of Use in the Homer NY One Place Study

I am currently adding vital statistic information to individuals in the pioneer database, as well as new people, and their relationships to spouses and children through the transcribed records of the Atwater and Glenwood cemeteries (all sourced with recognition to these web sites and their awesome volunteers).  I have had to make some assumptions with this data, which I have recorded on the web site and will probably discuss in this blog at a later date.

Using Table2Clipboard I copied the cemetery transcriptions into Excel spreadsheets - you could use other products - there are some good free spreadsheet applications available.  Since I use Excel for work, it is my program of choice for home as well.  It is possible to import some lists of information into your database, but I am not going that route for this data.  I put the cemetery transcription up on one side of my laptop screen and my Legacy database on the other side, with some overlap.  I can scan the index of people in my database and compare them to individuals listed in the cemetery transcription to find possible matches.  I manually add information into the database, sourcing each detail as I go, and I can copy and paste the exact transcription text into my source detail.  I then mark the records I complete in an extra column I add into the cemetery transcription spreadsheet, and use color codes to indicate individuals I am not putting into the database right now - for example, individuals who are born after 1890 or infants who can't be tied to parents yet. 

Having these tables of information available on my computer allow me to use this information in ways I couldn't if I was accessing them only online.  If you have other means of transferring information from the web into usable tables, please share.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The World of Blogging-The New World of Oz

So I've landed in Oz with a jolt, and I've started along the yellow brick road -eyes wide with amazement. When I decided to include a blog on my website, I confess to not knowing much about this unique form of communication. Sure I've been reading blogs for some time, for work and for fun, but that didn't really prepare me for being on this side of such a creative medium.

I've gotten followers this week, and some e-mails - what excitement! I'm over the rainbow and skipping along - trying not to trip. My one place study has had me pretty jazzed on it's own, but I'm beginning to see how much fun networking through blogs can be. Every blog I have been led to has an interesting slant to it and there are so many creative individuals with stories to tell. It's easy to jump from link to link and get lost for hours. I am humbled and inspired.

In addition to creating a steady stream of new content for my web site, my goal this month is to get linked into sites where like minded individuals might be visiting. The information on my site isn't of any use if no one finds it. I also hope my site will inspire other people to create similar projects. I've made some progress, submitting either the web site or the blog to several places, including Geneabloggers, Cyndi's List, the One Place Study web site, and a few others. I've created reciprocal links on this site or my web site as appropriate. I can already see that this type of networking is a science in itself. For example, if I hadn't read about submitting my blog to Geneabloggers in a Dear Myrtle blog, it might have taken me months to realize I could do that -even though I read their tweets several times a week. Sometimes I have straw for brains. Thank you to all those individuals who share their knowledge with others - a small post can be a big revelation for a reader.

I can see I have a lot to learn about this world. Other blog sites are a feast, offering rotating pictures, interesting links, awards, badges - it's a whirlwind of wonders like the Emerald City. I hope I can get up to speed without someone sending the flying monkeys after me for a mistake. And then maybe I should add a Facebook page - and there goes Toto after a squirrel (or maybe a lion). Oz is a good place to be.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Pick A Direction or How Do You Stop Chasing Squirrels

I admit it. There I am, diligently transcribing or researching in a particular direction when suddenly I spot an interesting target, much like my dogs when we are moving briskly along in one direction down a trail when out pops a squirrel. Pandemonium! The chase is on! Adrenalin is pumping. Everything else is forgotten. We have to take pursuit.

Research has to be a mix of serious concentration of effort - sticking with a course of action even when it seems to go on and on - as well as fun jaunts that present themselves along the way. The trick is not to lose sight of your goal, where you've been, and where you still need to go.

I've been working on using cemetery transcriptions to add information and people to my Homer pioneer database, which I just updated online from my Legacy Family Tree database. I have transcriptions in Excel for the Atwater and Glenwood cemeteries. I already have all the heads of households entered from the1800 and 1820 census records. At this point I am using the hypothesis that people buried in Homer cemeteries once lived in Homer (I know that won't turn out to be true for everyone, but by carefully sourcing all entries we can piece that information together later). So, I have been adding death, birth and burial information to the database -as well as people - by going through the transcriptions. In some cases I am picking up relationships to spouses and children.  Thank you again to those volunteers who put transcriptions online! I color code the lines in Excel after I finish with that individual to keep track of what I've completed. At this time, I don't work with individuals born after 1890, or individuals who died as children unless the transcription indicates who their parents are and the parents are already in my database. I may be able to include these others later. I usually work on this when I am watching television because it gets a little tedious after awhile otherwise.

I try to keep a log of all other research avenues I want to travel, people I want to contact, and places I want to go.  Writing them down sometimes allows me to go back to sleep when I wake up at 3AM with an idea, and reminds me of the fun I am going to have in the future which is helpful when the current project takes a long time.  I will get to chase those squirrels someday and perhaps some other folks will show up to help.

As logical as those systems sound, they don't work all the time.  For example, I started with the Atwater cemetery, but then I saw a surname that I had spotted elsewhere in an interesting context, so I started looking at some other sources.  And then I looked at the Glenwood transcription, and added some entries from there.  Now I am bouncing back and forth between them, and I want to look into some of those interesting occupations I found in the business directory (see previous post), and I just got a digital copy of early biographies of individuals in Cortland County, and if the snow ever subsides I want to spend a Saturday at the Cortland County Historical Society, and ... darn squirrels.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

1869 Homer Business Directory

Digital copies of historical publications are a wonderful thing.  There are only a few existing copies of many historical publications, and only a few people can own them.  Creating digital copies makes them available to many others, and I am very appreciative to those companies and individuals who find these gems and make them available to purchase or to view online.

I have a digital copy of the 1869 business directory of Cortland County.  I have spent a number of hours over the past week transcribing the Homer section of this directory and putting it on my web site.  It is not just a list of businesses.  Many individuals are listed in the directory, along with their occupation and general address.

While there are many individuals listed as dairymen and farmers, there is a surprising number of other occupations and businesses.  Many people have multiple occupations.  Here is a sampling of the many occupations included:
justice of the peace
insurance agent
freight agent
telegraph agent
dress and cloak maker
proprietors of lumber yards, saw mills, cider mills, cheese factories, carriage manufacturer, flax mill, grist mill, brewery and malt house, cheese box factory
church pastor
ornamental painter and paper hanger
manufacturer of axes and edge tools
clock and watch maker, jeweler
honey dealer
gardner and florist
Internal Revenue collector

hair dresser
book and stationery dealer
prop. of hotel and billiard room

And remember, this is 1869.  Fascinating reading even if you don't have a family connection here.  Take some time and look through this interesting picture in time.  Imagine living at this time and how you would obtain what you need for you and your family.  1869 Homer Business Directory.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Launching Web Site and Collaboration

Woo hoo!

Officially published the Homer-NY One Place Study web site at the beginning of this month.  I've been getting it ready for the past month.  What a feeling of accomplishment.  I could have continued to wait until I had more content, but I really felt I needed to get it out there to keep my momentum to work on the project - and how else can I reach out and hopefully work with other individuals if I can't show them that I am serious about the project.

Now I can  make a list of people and sites I want to contact to link to as well as collaborate.  Collaboration is one of my key words for 2011.  I read a blog by Chris Brogan, and he wrote a post about picking 3 words each year to guide and inspire him.  I liked the idea and chose collaboration for one of my words for the year.

It is my greatest hope that this project will benefit others and provide new opportunities for collaboration on this project and others.  

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Starting the Homer Pioneer Database

I use Legacy Family Tree software for my own family genealogy files, so I created a new Legacy database to start recording all the pioneers of Homer.  Legacy has a feature to create web pages, which I will use to attach the database to the www.Homer-NY.com web site for the one place study.

To get started, I found a nice index of the 1820 census on the Cortland County NYGENWEB site:  http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nycortla/ - thanks to the volunteers who worked on that project.  By importing the names into my data base it saved me creating each of those records and typing in the names and gave me a base to start with.

Next I went to Ancestry to read the digital copies of the census.  I wanted to be sure I agreed with the interpretation of the names by the volunteers, plus I wanted to record the transcriptions of the composition of the households for future use, and source the information.  I also looked at the name interpretations on Ancestry's name index.  I have never compared the records of an entire town to the indexes before and was surprised by the number of errors I found.  Ancestry does allow you to record your own record interpretations to correct the indexes, and I found myself reporting quite a few errors.  Hopefully those corrections will help some newcomer find their ancestral records.  Some mistakes were repeat misinterpretations of handwriting conventions of the time.  Other mistakes made me wonder if Ancestry had used non English speaking volunteers to create these indexes - or individuals who had not lived in the United States.  I got that impression when I saw names that even beginning US genealogists would have recognized without error recorded incorrectly, and these did not appear to be typographical errors, just interpretation errors.

Once I felt I had a good representation of the individuals on the 1820 census, I went backwards to record the individuals in the 1800 census.  I had to remember that Homer was part of Onondaga County at that time.  Another caution, when browsing the Homer census records, the beginning page is not under Homer, but under Fabius.

Accessing the digital copies of the 1810 census has been problematic.  You can't browse the records - Homer doesn't come up.  You can't search for Homer under the residence for individuals - it doesn't come up.  You can search for Onondaga County and get Homer records, along with all the other towns.  I'll let you know how I deal with these problems afterwards.  I think I am going to go in a different direction next for variety sake.