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

Monday, October 21, 2019

Expanded Commentary on the Rules of Genealogy: Rule Twelve


I have slowly been going back to the list of the Rules of Genealogy and writing about each individual rule. There are presently 12 Rules. Here is the current list from my blog post of 19 July 2019.
  • Rule One: When the baby was born, the mother was there.
  • Rule Two: Absence of an obituary or death record does not mean the person is still alive.
  • Rule Three: Every person who ever lived has a unique birth order and a unique set of biological parents.
  • Rule Four: There are always more records.
  • Rule Five: You cannot get blood out of a turnip. 
  • Rule Six: Records move. 
  • Rule Seven: Water and genealogical information flow downhill
  • Rule Eight: Everything in genealogy is connected (butterfly)
  • Rule Nine: There are patterns everywhere
  • Rule Ten: Read the fine print
  • Rule Eleven: Even a perfect fit can be wrong
  • Rule Twelve: The end is always there
In this post, I am expanding on Rule Twelve: The end is always there.

I had an interesting telephone call about the FamilySearch.org Family Tree. Someone had found a line that apparently went back more than a thousand years into the dim historical past and wanted to know if the line could be accurate. I indicated that my experience was that these lines ended with the last entry accurately supported by a source citation to an identifiable historic record. Rule Twelve is really the simplest rule of all of the rules in the list above. It would also seem to contradict Rule Four but these two rules are really talking about different aspects of what we call genealogical research. Rule Twelve addresses the historical reality that any particular family line will always come to a point where the existing records are either no longer available or no longer accurate. Rule Four is focused on the fact that no one individual can possibly find or search all the records available for all of his or her family lines. 

The earliest written records date from about 3000 BCE (Before the Common Era). But records about nearly all the families from Europe end in about 900 AD. These are the real, very practical ends of genealogical, source-supported research. Ancestral lines going further back in time cannot be accurately connected to anyone living today. But Rule Twelve addresses a more recent end to all current ancestral lines: they all end at some point and further research is certainly a waste of time and effort. The trick is knowing when that point has been reached. 

As I have written and taught on numerous occasions, after examining thousands of ancestral lines for thousands of people, I have yet to find one that does not end. In every such case, the source records simply run out. Here is an example from the FamilySearch.org Family Tree.


Ann Pross is entered as being born in 1722 and dying in 1694. Hmm. She died 28 years before she was born. Here is here detail page.


Despite this obviously wrong information, her parents are listed as Robert Press born in 1695, one year after his daughter was born and his wife, Mrs. Robert Press, born in 1700, six years after her daughter died. However, Ann Pross is listed with one source which is not a birth record, but a death record. This also means that she died before her husband was born and before any of her children were born.  Of course, there are no sources listed for either of her parents. 

This line actually ends with William Parkinson, one of the listed children, who was born in about 1744 although there is no birth record for him. There are three sources: a marriage record and two burial records. 

This is what is meant by Rule Twelve. The end is always there and I might add if you look and use some common good sense. 

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Expanded Commentary on the Rules of Genealogy: Rule Eleven


I have slowly been going back to the list of the Rules of Genealogy and writing about each individual rule. There are presently 12 Rules. Here is the current list from my blog post of 19 July 2019.
  • Rule One: When the baby was born, the mother was there.
  • Rule Two: Absence of an obituary or death record does not mean the person is still alive.
  • Rule Three: Every person who ever lived has a unique birth order and a unique set of biological parents.
  • Rule Four: There are always more records.
  • Rule Five: You cannot get blood out of a turnip. 
  • Rule Six: Records move. 
  • Rule Seven: Water and genealogical information flow downhill
  • Rule Eight: Everything in genealogy is connected (butterfly)
  • Rule Nine: There are patterns everywhere
  • Rule Ten: Read the fine print
  • Rule Eleven: Even a perfect fit can be wrong
  • Rule Twelve: The end is always there
In this post, I am expanding on Rule Eleven: Even a perfect fit can be wrong

This past week, I once again was faced with this rule. I found two families where the fathers both had the same name, the wives both had the same name and they both had a child with the same name. To add insult to injury every search I did came up with both families and the fathers were both born in the same town. Other examples can easily be found by searching for any fairly common name in any particular country. Using FindMyPast.com, I can search all of their millions of records for a name like Samuel Parkinson, which does not seem to be so common. But the search shows almost 8,000 men with that name. Really common names such as John Smith come up with over 3.3 million men.

Rule Eleven addresses this issue that even if you end up finding a match for most or all of the names of the members of the family, the match might be wrong because the places do not match or because the dates are off or other details show that the conclusion that there is a match is wrong. One way of stating this rule could be that the more common the name, the more likely that the results of a database search will be difficult to interpret and guesses that two individuals are the same will more likely be wrong.

All of this comes about from "name matching." There is probably no completely foolproof way to avoid some same name mistakes, but careful research with a marked emphasis on the places instead of the names will help to avoid all but the really sticky problems. In my first example above, I was finally able to separate the two families by doing additional research and finding different places for similar events such as two different death places. Maybe we should remember this old Zen parable.
Once upon a time there was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.
“Maybe,” the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.
“Maybe,” replied the old man.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.
“Maybe,” answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.
“Maybe,” said the farmer.
--Zen Parable See http://www.awakin.org/read/view.php?tid=1011
Maybe we need to be more retrospective about our research and a lot more careful.  

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Photography Basics for Genealogists: Part One: Orientation


Genealogists accumulate a lot of photos and those who travel and do onsite research end up taking a lot of photographs also. We also accumulate a lot of photos from our family activities. This new series is going to discuss all of the aspects of photography from cameras and lenses to the planning and making of the photograph itself and on to the preservation and display of photo collections. I am going to start out with an example of what can happen to make a poor quality image.


What is wrong with this image? Here is a list of some of the obvious problems:
  • Out of focus
  • Not level or tipped at an angle
  • Underexposed
  • No identifiable objective
  • Bands of light probably from light leaking into the camera
  • There are double images indicating camera movement
How much of this was due to the camera? the lens? the photographer? the subject matter? the choice of the subject matter? or all of these issues? Well, from other photos by the same photographer, I know that she can take adequate photos with none of the same problems. But I also know that she was prone to taking photos where the image was not level. This photo could have been of an identifiable subject, but the lack of focus simply makes the photo unusable. 

It is not unusual to find yourself in a "once-in-a-lifetime" event or situation. Weddings, births, funerals, birthdays, and many other family events will never occur again and it can be heartbreaking to learn that most (or almost all) of the photos of the event did not turn out well. It is also not unusual for people to spend a considerable amount of money hiring "professional" photographers for wedding events. Historically, these special events photos may be the only ones that ever got taken since cameras were rare and film and development costs were expensive luxuries.

Today, cameras are owned and used by a majority of the people in the world. All of the world's smartphones and most of the world's mobile phones have a built-in camera and current statistics indicate that there are more than a billion more mobile connections than there people on the earth. To be more exact, there are 3.3 billion smartphone users in the world today, or 35.13% of the world population and 5.13 billion people have mobile devices or 66.53% of the people in the world. Not everyone has a phone or other device, but many people have more than one so there are more connections than there are people. See "How many people have phones in the world?" 

As part of this series, I will be including some of the history of photography and how to recognize the different kinds of historic photographic processes. Except for the historical perspective, I will primarily be writing about using the present equipment, such as smartphones, for taking photos and archiving records and artifacts. There may end up being some overlap with my ongoing series on digital preservation,

I think I should end today's post with a really good photograph from the same photographer who took my bad example above.


This is a photo of my Grandfather Leroy Parkinson Tanner and his bride my grandmother, Eva Margaret Overson.

Storm over the Salt Flats, Utah


There are a few places in the world where the sky dominates your view. The Salt Flats in the Western Desert of Utah is one of those places. I live on the side of a mountain and, of course, the mountains dominate any view I have from my house. But, from time to time, I like to visit those places where you can see the real majesty of the sky. In this image, there is not a single tree or plant to detract from the sky. I contrast this with the view out my office window at the forest on the side of the bench where I can only see the trees. Try to find a view like this where you live where you cannot see one plant growing and I don't mean inside in a closet.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Cactus and Succulants


Moving from the low desert to the mountains, one thing I miss is the cactus. Technically, cactus, particularly opuntia can grow all the way north to Canada, but the real cactus areas are warmer and drier or cooler and wetter or cool and dry or warm and wet or... you get the idea. Cactus originated in the Americas and only one species is found in Africa (probably an import). It is interesting to watch movies made about ancient times in the Middle East or Mediterranean areas and see cactus growing. All of the cactus in Europe and the Middle East are imports. 

Friday, October 11, 2019

Expanded Commentary on the Rules of Genealogy: Rule Ten


I have slowly been going back to the list of the Rules of Genealogy and writing about each individual rule. There are presently 12 Rules. Here is the current list from my blog post of 19 July 2019.
  • Rule One: When the baby was born, the mother was there.
  • Rule Two: Absence of an obituary or death record does not mean the person is still alive.
  • Rule Three: Every person who ever lived has a unique birth order and a unique set of biological parents.
  • Rule Four: There are always more records.
  • Rule Five: You cannot get blood out of a turnip. 
  • Rule Six: Records move. 
  • Rule Seven: Water and genealogical information flow downhill
  • Rule Eight: Everything in genealogy is connected (butterfly)
  • Rule Nine: There are patterns everywhere
  • Rule Ten: Read the fine print
  • Rule Eleven: Even a perfect fit can be wrong
  • Rule Twelve: The end is always there
In this post, I am expanding on Rule Ten: Read the fine print

As an attorney for about 39 years, I know quite a bit about fine print. The phrase "read the fine print" from The Free Dictionary means:
To make oneself aware of the specific terms, conditions, restrictions, limitations, etc., of an agreement, contract, or other document, which are often printed in very small type and thus easy to miss.
However, the phrase has been generalized into a statement about looking for details. Where is the fine print in genealogical research? The fine print is in all those documents you don't read and review carefully. Some of those documents, such as probate files, are potential goldmines of information about families, others such as census records may look rather ordinary and even mundane, but both types of records can provide valuable insight into how, when, and where your ancestors lived.  Of course, as with my example of reading a probate file, we are all faced with documents that contain specialized language or even documents in a language we do not read or speak.

Here is an example of how one letter can change the meaning of an entire document. Let's suppose that in reading a document in Spanish you run across the given name "Julia." In another place, you find a reference to a very similar name spelled "Julio." Are these two names the same? Is there possibly a spelling error? The answer in Spanish is simple. Julia is the feminine form of the name and Julio is the masculine form of the name.  They are probably references to two different people. This is what I mean by reading the fine print. We need to read and study the documents so that we avoid glossing over the details that may make all the difference in the ultimate meaning of the document.

Granted, my example implies that you might have to learn how to read some Spanish. Yes, that is exactly what the Rule means. You have to gain enough knowledge about the history, the language, and the specialized terminology or jargon of the documents to understand and correctly interpret the details. To do this, you may have to live with dictionaries and other reference materials. Personally, I use Google to quickly verify the meaning of any term I do not understand completely but in some cases, I have to dig deeper to find the meaning of obscure or archaic terms.

Fortunately, there are extensive reference books online such as Black's Law Dictionary and other similar treatises that will help you sort out complex legal documents and other specialized complex documents. The good news is you do not have to become a lawyer or other type of professional to do genealogy but you do have to learn a lot about law and other topics to do an adequate job of reading old or complex documents.

Do not ignore any term or reference that you do not completely understand. This is what is meant by reading the fine print. 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Apple OS X Update Knocks Out Several Genealogy Programs


The new Apple macOS Catalina operating system is apparently a major upgrade and will disable and/or require upgrades from several popular genealogy programs including RootsMagic, Ancestral Quest, and Family Tree Builder. Since I am a really early adopter, I usually upgrade when the new systems become available. I immediately noticed about a dozen programs on my iMac that will no longer work. Most of these programs were utilities that I can simply dump in the trash. But some, are programs I will need to upgrade if I wish to use them again.

As in the past, the developers may or may not decide to upgrade their programs. If you a using any of these programs and you want to continue using these programs DO NOT UPGRADE YOUR SYSTEM until you see if the program will be upgraded to the operating system. Each new operating system upgrade reflects new hardware technological advances. Yes, your computer is now one more operating system obsolete. Because I have been involved in this process since about 1982, I am used to buying a new computer every few years (or even sooner). I am also used to having my programs stop working. But it is like leaves that fall in the Autumn. You may hate to rake leaves, but if you live where the trees drop their leaves, you have to rake leaves. By the way, even when we lived in Mesa, Arizona, we had to rake leaves.

You can rant, tear your hair, scream, curse the world, or whatever you want to do but technology will continue to require upgrades and your programs will eventually stop working as you upgrade. People who develop software programs (including apps) buy into this upgrade world. In the past, the developers would decide they didn't want to support Apple so they would stop upgrading their programs. From a genealogical standpoint, this happened when Personal Ancestral File for the Mac was discontinued and it continues to happen with other programs that still run on some older PCs but were never released for the Apple computers.

It is pretty simple to find out that your program needs to be upgraded. All you have to do is click on it and if it comes up with a message that says it needs to be upgraded, it needs to be upgraded. If your computer is not compatible with the new operating system when you try to upgrade an error message will say that your computer is not compatible. Hmm. You could just keep using your old computer and your old programs but eventually, that will come around to bite you and you will lose your data. You might as well adopt my philosophy: life is tough and then you die. From time to time, I still get people bringing me floppy disks with all their old genealogy data and I can no longer help them.

If you have any questions about a particular program, call the developer is they are still answering their phone.