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Sourcing on

Entering information directly onto is often frustrating with the occasional stab of fright. While the site does offer unprecedented access to millions of transcribed records, the way it handles that information is unpredictable and sometimes scary. For the purposes of this article, I’m not going to address the misapplication of Marriage and Marriage License dates (bugs me), Birth and Baptism dates (really bugs me), and the site’s inexplicable desire to create multiple instances of the same marriage within the same record (really, really bugs me). Today, I just want to talk about sourcing. Sources, for the uninitiated, are the blocks upon which family history projects are built. Without good, reliable, detailed, and verifiable sources, all you have is a jumble of names and dates that may or may not be true. is brimming with these “junk trees”, Frankenstein-like projects cobbled together from the parts of other trees. The site makes it easy to import information from others’ trees regardless of whether they’re supported by good research. These unsourced projects are like Red Light Districts. They’re interesting to look at, but if you get too close you’re going to catch something. Which brings me back to sourcing, the cornerstone of building a vibrant, disease-free tree.

Given that the site prides itself on providing original (i.e., scanned) sources, you would think they would hold the information gleaned from those sources as inviolate. They do not. Each individual’s profile page has a “Edit this person” button. That opens a tabbed page with options for Vital Information, Facts & Events, Relationship Events, Relationships, and Notes. For the purposes of this article, I will be addressing the Name, Birth, and Death facts. There is no point in talking about Marriage facts, because you’re only allowed to have one date, place, and description for a given marriage, even if you’ve found multiple sources for that event. The problems with Name, Birth, and Death sourcing are identical. If you choose “Preferred” for one of these, not only will it overwrite your existing information, but consequently your original source will then be attributed to the updated information. Clear? No? Let me give you an example. Let’s say in an interview with your grandmother she indicated that your uncle’s name was “Joe Bob Smith”. In Ancestry, you can create a source called “Interview: Grandma Smith” and attach that source to your uncle’s name. Later, you find him listed in the Social Security Death Index, but he’s named “Joseph Robert Smith”. Thinking that you’d rather use his full name, you select “Preferred” (instead of “Alternate”) and click OK. Everything good? Not quite. If you click on “Edit this person” and then “More Options…” (to the right of the name fields) you’ll find there are no alternate names, and both the “Social Security Death Index” and “Interview: Grandma Smith” are both attributed to his full name. What did Grandma used to call him? If you don’t have it written down somewhere, it’s gone, because Ancestry assumes that “Preferred” means you don’t care about the other version. That, to me, is scary. I don’t want a research tool that erases my research. A name or date that might not seem important or correct now, might be both.

To confuse matters, if you do have a person with name variations, you can click on “More Options…” and “Make this the preferred name”. This option does not overwrite anything. For this reason, users should ALWAYS use the “Alternate” option when entering new data (e.g., Name, Birth, Death) rather than “Preferred”. It might also be helpful to create an unsourced alternate name, birth, and death fact that incorporates elements from multiple source citations. I guess that’s my take-home message. Remember to use the “Alternate” option, always. You can make it preferred later.


I’ve had this idea for a while now, but wasn’t sure how I should present it. The idea was to take a snapshot of my research status, broken out into each of the major surnames of my family tree. I limited the snapshot to great great grandparents, to keep the linked spreadsheet from ballooning in size. The result looks quite a bit different than I was expecting (which is why we do these things in the first place). Each column represents one surname. Each surname column is divided into three sections (let’s call them drums). Blue drums indicate the number of generations from myself to the first appearance of that surname. Red drums indicate the number of direct ancestors with a given surname that for whom I have research that supports their place in the tree. Green drums indicate the number of direct ancestors with a given surname for whom I have no sources (other than others’ assurances).

Snapshot: March 2014

Snapshot: March 2014

I hope to revisit this chart every year or so and update it with new findings. That being said, don’t expect the height of the red drums to change any time soon. Hopefully, I won’t lose the spreadsheet between now and next time the chart needs updating. :(

Find A Grave

A couple months ago I registered at Find A Grave. I have a large number of photos and transcriptions that I’ve compiled over the years that would be more useful on a public website than in my private database. Find A Grave has been around since 1998, almost as long as THIS website! :) I’ve visited Find A Grave a few times in the past, found it less useful than I was hoping, and continued on my way to other resources. Sadly, I missed an opportunity to share the information I had. In the meantime, thousands of other volunteers have been creating and managing memorials in my absence. Late to the game, I’m now trying to squeeze my way into the project and create or enhance my family’s memorials. What I’m discovering is that there are large gaps in my family tree where I have no idea where my ancestors are buried. What I’ve also discovered is that there are people who transcribe massive amounts of graves (100s of 1,000s), add them to the database, and then have no time to address the management (e.g., corrections, links, photos) of every grave they’ve contributed. You can submit a request for a memorial transfer, but that’s up to the person who created the record in the first place. This is more than a little frustrating when you have information to add. One of the best things about the project is that it’s an easy (and free) way to find other researchers. Now I just have to find some free time to start walking cemeteries again.

Christmas 1932

I have probably made more family tree progress in the last week or two, than I have in the last few years. Sadly, most of this hasn’t involved any real research (free time eludes me). On the positive side, I have managed to find an hour here and there to scan and begin cataloging hundreds of old photographs from my wife’s family, and few from my own. I spent this past Monday afternoon scanning 80 year old photos that I didn’t even know existed before this week. The photos should allow me to expand the Boddice pages of this site, which is great because I have so very little from that branch. The originals are owned by a 76-year old first cousin twice removed, who was able to identify 28 out of 30 people in a group photo taken on Christmas 1932. Very, very cool. Hopefully, I’ll be able to set-up some more scanning sessions with relatives in the nearby area sometime soon…


I’ve officially started uploading scanned pictures, setting-up ancestor pages, and organizing surname directories. I’m also learning (slowly) how to customize WordPress. Thanks need to be given to Ravi Varma for his excellent theme (i.e., PrimePress) and blog. Not sure if I’ll keep the theme long term, but it’s more than serving its purpose for now. While I haven’t done any actual research in a while, I have been getting lots of correspondence from researchers (new and former contacts), which is putting a small fire under my butt to get out there and find new connections, scan more photos, &c. I’ll be posting all new and exciting finds here. Thanks again for visiting.


And so it continues… Welcome to the latest reincarnation of my family tree web site (“The Genealogy Bits” was first posted in May 1996). As the days, weeks, and months unfold, I will be populating this site with the latest genealogical information and photos that I’ve been able to collect. I hope you have as much fun reading and viewing the results as I’ve had collecting them. As always, if you have any questions (or even better: contributions!), please e-mail me . Thanks!