Monthly Archives: February 2013

Going Back to the Start

When I first started with genealogy, I mainly researched my dad’s side of the family.  These ancestors are from the Smoky Mountain region of the United States in eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina (and just a little bit in Virginia).  The families intermarried a lot and it quickly gets difficult to sort everyone out.  Therefore, incorrect and unsourced information for these lines is EVERYWHERE!

Headstone for Julius Dugger, Samuel Dugger, and Hannah Potter.  Photo from FindAGrave and taken by Aleta Stafford - used here with permission.

Headstone for Julius Dugger, Samuel Dugger, and Hannah Potter. Photo from FindAGrave and taken by Aleta Stafford – used here with permission.

Admittedly, when I first started researching, I just copy and pasted information into PAF, started printing reports, and sat back in the glory of having my ancestry go back to the 1700s.  The problem?  None (or very little) of it was sourced.  A lot of it (read: 95%) was incorrect.  In short – it was a mess.

In the last 2 years or so, I’ve been mainly focusing on my other family lines.  In some sense, I think I just needed a break from trying to sort my Smoky Mountain ancestors out.  I craved something different and began focusing on my  Indiana, Washington, Ohio, and New England lines.

Recently, however, I’ve become inspired to tackle my Smoky Mountain ancestors again.  I want to start getting these ancestors organized – sorting out who is who, what documents are available, and knowing where every bit of information comes from.  I want it all sourced and documented.  To tackle this project, I’ve decided to use WikiTree – having a collaborative tool will hopefully attract cousins and others with interests in the area to pitch in.  I can use all the help I can get for sorting and sourcing these ancestors!

So it seems after all these years, I’m going back to the start.

What’s your latest genealogy project?


Busting Down Brick Walls: Organize Your Project (Part 2)

Here is part two in the blog post series all about busting down your brick walls by organizing your project.  If you missed part one, you can read it here.

Busting Down Brick Walls Part 2

3.) List Your Hypotheses.  What are your educated guesses to answer your research question?  What do you think may have happened?  What is your reasoning behind your guess?

4.) Create the F.A.N. List: When researching your ancestors, it is super important to keep a list of the people your ancestors interacted with throughout their lives.  These people are called F.A.N.s – friends, associates, and neighbors.  These are the people your ancestors did business with, sat next to in church, and signed documents as witnesses.  When you get really stuck with an ancestor, it is often the friends, associates, and neighbors that will have more information – research the F.A.N.s and you might find the missing piece of the puzzle to your research question.

5.) Create a To-Do List: Now that you have all information about your ancestor and the research problem laid out in a clear and organized manner, it is time to create a research to-do list.  Carefully look at the information and begin to brainstorm the records and resources you want to check.  Maybe you need to employ a new search strategy – like trying different naming spellings or checking the surrounding counties – to a resource you’ve already checked to find your ancestor.

6.) Collaborate: Collaborating with other researchers is a great way to find new perspective and get new research ideas.  Whenever I have a research problem, I share the problem with others – two heads (or more!) are always better than one!   I love to write blog posts about my brick wall ancestors – this will hopefully attract unknown cousins that might have information to share, and other researchers can have a chance to make recommendations or share resources I hadn’t thought of yet.  Someone else might look at your research and have a fresh perspective to offer – like maybe you read a word incorrectly or didn’t know that geographic boundaries had changed and you should be looking in a different jurisdiction for that record.

If blog posts are you’re style, use a message board to share your problem.  Like a blog post, other people can comment with ideas and fresh perspective – and you might just find a cousin!

Also look into using collaborative websites like WikiTree (my fav – and not just cause I work there!) or WeRelate.  Both of these options allow for multiple researchers to collaborate on one ancestor profile.

7.) Re-Evaluate & Repeat: As you finish steps 1-6, you’ve hopefully gathered some new information.  Now repeat the entire process, entering in all new information, until you have successfully answered your question.


So that’s it for this blog series – have you busted down any brick walls lately?  Tell me about it in the comments below!

[Photo: Flickr User Jayel Aheram, text added by Elyse Doerflinger]


Busting Down Brick Walls: Organize Your Project (Part 1)

Every genealogist has a brick wall ancestor – that ancestor with the record trail that seems to just stop.  One of the keys to busting down that brick wall is to organize your project in a way that lays out what you already know about the ancestor, your research problem, and a research to-do list.  Having this summary and plan written up, will make it super easy to follow through and bust down those brick walls.

Busting Down Brick Walls: Organize Your Project

There are 7 steps to organizing your brick wall project:

1.) Write Down Everything You Know and How You Know It.  I prefer to do this in a timeline format – starting from birth and listing every event I have my ancestor until their death and/or burial.  Under each event, I list the source from where the information came from.  I also like to write a summary sentence or two about the weight of each piece of information.

A source is where you got the information from.  Original sources provide information that is not derived by another source.  Derivative sources, just as the name suggests, is a source that has been abstracted, transcribed, summarized, or in some way derived from another source.  It is usually best to see the original source whenever possible to be sure exactly what it says.  Derived sources like transcriptions and abstractions can sometimes contain errors.

There are two types of information that can be found within a source.  Primary information comes from records created at or near the time of the event with information by an person with close knowledge of the event.  For example, a birth record (unless it is delayed) will contain primary information about the birth of a child.  This information was probably provided by the parents that were present or the midwife/doctor that was present during the birth.  Secondary information is information found in records created after a long period of time has passed from the event or was contributed by a person who was not present at the event.

The complicated part is that one source may have multiple types of information within it.  For example, a death certificate is an original source with primary information regarding the death date and place, but secondary information regarding the names of parents and date of birth.  The secondary information will need to be assessed and it will probably be best to search for more records created closer to the time of the event.

2.) Identify the Problem: Now that you have a clear picture of what you know about your ancestor, it’s time to identify exactly what question you want to answer.  If there are multiple questions, list each one separately and clearly.

Examples: Where was George Monroe Rogers born?  What was the name of his parents?  Where was John N. Morris living during the 1900 census?  Did Adolph Doerflinger become a naturalized citizen?  Where was Julia Morris Rogers buried?

Stay tuned for the next post in this series of blog posts about busting down your brick walls!

[Photo: Flickr User Jayel Aheram, text added by Elyse Doerflinger]