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

Friday, November 22, 2013

When all you have is a hammer...

...the solution to every problem looks like a nail. This is one of those sayings that rings true for genealogists. I find that a paucity of tools directly affects the ability we have to resolve problems. There is a similar statement attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, "All the thoughts of a turtle are turtles, and of a rabbit, rabbits." We are limited by our experience as well as our tools. Let me give some examples of what I am thinking about.

Let's suppose that I am looking for a specific ancestor born in the late 1800s somewhere in the United States. I watch a TV commercial that tells me that a certain online genealogical database program will help me to locate my ancestors. So I pay a few bucks and now I have this wonderful tool and guess what? I find my ancestor. But then I have another more difficult problem, I need to find that ancestor's father. Unfortunately, the marvelous tool doesn't readily supply that information. So now I am stuck, I think that since I paid some money, I should have the solution to my problem. No one has told me that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of different tools out there, each of which may have a solution to my problem. Since I don't know about all these different tools, I lose interest in the whole project.

It would be nice if someone would come along and give that person another tool or two to look at, but I think that does not happen that much. I was looking at the map that shows how many people they have subscribed to their family tree program worldwide. I am fascinated by the number for Arizona. According to the map, there 201,845 subscribers in the Arizona. This gives be great pause. Who are these people? Apparently, they have enough of an interest in family history to have a family tree online but the statistics we have from the Mesa FamilySearch Library and elsewhere, such as attendance at conferences etc. certainly would not lead me to believe that there were that many people interested in genealogy. Not that I doubt the number, but I think that there are a lot of people out there who may need help finding a variety of tools.

Are you a one or two tool genealogist? Sometime when I talk to people about where to look for their ancestors, I see their shoulders sag and they become despondent. The thought of looking in all the places I suggest seems to regularly have that effect. I have a photo at the beginning of this post. It is an actual photo of my screwdriver drawer. I like tools. I use tools. At some time or another, I have used every single one of those tools. Each one does its job better than anything else in the drawer. I have collected tools all my life and now I collect computer software and online database tools. I find that each database I locate has something to offer and when a challenge arises, I have the right tool for the job.

In genealogy, we have tools that tell us what tools to look for and use. One such tool is a Record Selection Table. Here is one from the Research Wiki called the United States Record Selection Table.

1. If You Need 2. Look First In3. Then Search
AgeCensusVital RecordsCemeteriesMilitary RecordsTaxation
Birth dateVital RecordsChurch RecordsBible RecordsCemeteriesObituariesCensus
BirthplaceVital RecordsChurch RecordsCensusNewspapersObituaries
City or parish of foreign birthChurch RecordsGenealogyBiography,Naturalization and CitizenshipSocietiesVital RecordsObituariesHistory,Emigration and Immigration
Country of foreign birthEmigration and ImmigrationCensus,Naturalization and CitizenshipChurch RecordsMilitary RecordsVital Records,NewspapersObituaries
County origins and boundariesHistoryMapsHistorical GeographyGazetteers
DeathVital RecordsCemeteriesProbate RecordsChurch RecordsObituaries,SocietiesNewspapersBible RecordsMilitary RecordsTown Records
EthnicityMinoritiesAmerican IndiansSocietiesChurch RecordsEmigration and ImmigrationNaturalization and CitizenshipPeriodicals
Historical backgroundHistoryPeriodicalsMinorities
Immigration dateEmigration and Immigration,Naturalization and Citizenship,GenealogySocietiesCensusNewspapersBiography
Living relatives (and adoptions)GenealogyDirectoriesCourt Records,Obituaries, Internet, AdoptionsCensusBiographySocieties,Church RecordsProbate Records
Maiden nameVital RecordsChurch Records,NewspapersBible RecordsCemeteriesMilitary Records,Probate RecordsObituaries
MarriageVital RecordsChurch RecordsCensus,NewspapersBible RecordsTown RecordsCemeteriesMilitary Records,Probate RecordsNaturalization and CitizenshipLand and Property
OccupationCensusDirectoriesEmigration and ImmigrationNewspapersCourt Records,Biography
Parents, children, and other family membersVital RecordsChurch RecordsCensus, Phone Disc, Probate RecordsObituaries,GenealogyBible RecordsNewspapers,Emigration and Immigration,Adoptions
Physical descriptionMilitary RecordsBiographyNaturalization and Citizenship,Vital RecordsEmigration and ImmigrationGenealogy
Place-finding aidsGazetteersMapsHistorical GeographyHistoryPeriodicals
Place (town) of residence when you know only the stateCensus (indexed), GenealogyMilitary RecordsVital Records, and other records with a statewide index, SoundexBiographyProbate Records,HistoryDirectoriesSocieties,Taxation
Places family has livedCensusLand and PropertyHistory,DirectoriesMilitary RecordsTaxation,Obituaries
Previous research (compiled genealogy)GenealogyPeriodicalsSocietiesHistoryBiography
Record-finding aidsArchives and LibrariesSocietiesPeriodicals
ReligionChurch RecordsHistoryBiographyBible RecordsCemeteries,Genealogy
Social activitiesHistoryBiography NewspapersSocietiesTown RecordsCourt Records,CemeteriesDirectoriesObituaries
Now, you can see right here that we have quite a few tools to look for and maybe not all of these tools will be in a big online database. Some of them just might be stashed away in some library or courthouse. It is time to collect a few more tools.


  1. Nice blog and information . With the help of database tools you can Browse/Edit/Manage database objects such as schemas, tables, columns, primary and foreign keys, views, indexes, procedures, functions, and more.

    1. Yes, you can. But most people don't even know the tools exist.