Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Moving data -- The Genealogical Quandry

I estimate I have approximately twenty thousand or so record hints on four major, online genealogy programs. Some of those thousands of record hints might be extremely valuable in extending my ancestral lines. The only practical way to advance my research is to focus on one person at a time and evaluate and add the sources for each person, essentially one at a time. The problem is that I do not know which of the thousands of hints and thousands of people they apply to are vital to the objective of extending my research. In addition, I would have to move the information, one field at a time in order to consolidate the information from all four programs.

Guess what? Presently, despite the tremendous computer programs that provide these record hints, there in no efficient way to either review and evaluate them or transfer them to a central consolidation program. In fact, it is very likely that I do not have enough time left on earth to process all of these record hints. What can I do to resolve this predicament?

I have been analyzing this issue as I watch the numbers of record hints mount skyward. At the moment, my only alternative is to ignore this avalanche of information and continue with my present research objectives. The only thing I can do is to check each of the programs for any data relevant to my research objectives. Essentially, each of those record hints, no matter how seemingly helpful, is really little more than a distraction.

In addition in those programs that match me with potential relatives, I likely have close to 100,000 potential matches in other online family trees. I cannot even begin to think about how to handle those additional invitations to ignore my present research objectives and start off on a tangent.

Can this issue be resolved by me? Not at this time. What is needed is a way of ranking my own research objectives. I need to be able to prioritize research hints and "watch" or receive notices for only those hints that fall within parameters I set for investigating my ancestors. For example, suppose I am investigating the "Parkinson Line" (which I am, by the way) I should be able to set some preferences that says I only want record hints for this line or this group of people. I should be able to modify and add individuals to my "research objective group" at any time, but meanwhile, I only get record hints that are relevant to that defined group. My experience tells me that right now, I would not be getting any or more likely, a very small number of record hints. If I moved my attention to another line, I could then redefine the watch group and glean only those record hints that pertained to the new research objective. In addition, I need a what to quickly and efficiently move all the information I find in all of the programs into one central collection program of my choice.

Given the fractured nature of the online, commercial, genealogical community, I see no way that this solution will become available. So my only strategy is to create the filtering system artificially, by ignoring all the record hints on all the programs unless they are directly in my research path. Yes, I am wasting the vast potential of the programs but do I have a choice? The only other alternative is to randomly jump from individual to individual as I see record hints and spend all my time ploughing the field over and over again. In effect, I feel like the sorcerer's apprentice, I did get my wish, but now I am drowning in the data.

As I utilize the various programs I will continue to pick off record hints for people I am reviewing, but meanwhile, I will stick to my pre-defined research objectives and harvest only those record hints for the lines I am investigating. I fully realize that there may be valuable information I need to know waiting for me, but if I jump around any more than I regularly do, I will make no progress at all.

What is needed?

To summarize, we need a very effective and easy way to transfer information between programs. I also need a way to establish research goals and set filters that will alert me only to record hints on my pre-defined objectives. I don't want much, do I?

The last word, I fully realize that I find myself in a very, almost unique position. Some researchers would be glad for any record hints. Some reading this post probably don't have any idea what I am talking about. But to those of you out there that see the problem, perhaps you have some additional insight that might help me and the few others that have this problem.


  1. To expand on your wish list, I wish I could export my hints list to a spreadsheet where I could then sort the list and pull the individual(s) I am working on. I have become hint blind by the list of hints either because there are so many or because the hints only take me to undocumented trees. My current solution, I check out the hints for my research person first then proceed to my normal research methods. However, I know I don't utilize my hints like I could.

    1. That's pretty much what I do Thanks for the comment.

    2. You have described so well my situation and reaction to dealing with the long lists of hints. I can't offer any alternatives to your method of sifting down to the current research objectives. That's the route I've taken lately to stay on my research path. But I wanted to say thanks for assuring me that I'm not just inept. Now, how about developing app for that?!

  2. I think you have a good start to a solution. To me, the most important approach starts with prioritizing goals. Hints follow. By this I mean that "if you don't know where you're going, any road will do." Hints are a distraction and diversion to someone not self-directed to a goal. Once the goals are defined and a priority set for each, hints then can become help. Of course, this is much easier said than done.

  3. I, too, have such a large number of hints that they are very distracting. So I decided to continue searching as I have been; one RIN number at a time. Then I can look up the person on MyHeritage's Family Tree Builder and go to "Profile" and see if there are any record matches or hints for that person.

  4. Thanks for the post - my dilemma is not unusual after all. I realised recently that I'm being driven by the hinting process and that, instead of working on those things important to me, I am knocking off the hints as quickly as possible and adding to my knowledge of 3rd and 4th cousins! I need to clearly define what is important to me and ignore those hints irrelevant to that.

  5. I am at the point after almost 40 years of research (since I was a teenager) that I recently subscribed to three more services so I also am getting lots of (repetitious )hints. I have done two things to deal with the onslaught of hints. In ancestry, I search only a selected database for hints using a method developed by Russ Worthington and Randy Seaver. In fact, Randy updated the technique yesterday in his blog. The other thing I finally did was make only a "brick wall tree" iand uploaded them to ancestry, my heritage and FMP. Now I only get crucial hints that matters in my current research.