Saturday, January 21, 2017

BLM and spreadsheets

I love the Bureau of Land Management’ s General Land Office Records. I do lot of research is in the state of Mississippi which is a public land state so the BLM records are invaluable. I am working on a FAN* project involving my favorite brick wall, James Simmons (1764-1843). James’ first known land purchase in the Mississippi Territory was in 1816 (the BLM records show 1820 because that is when the note was paid off but the transaction was in 1816). I want to to see who bought land in the same township/range as James but I want to narrow it to the same time period. James’ property was in T5NR11W. I can easily do a search for everyone in that township/range but I get a list that is 6 pages long. I can get a consolidated list by clicking the Printer Friendly button in the upper right corner which is better but the list is alphabetical and not in date order. It is easy to miss something when you just scan the list. Here is what it looks like:


This table is screaming, “Put me in a spreadsheet!” I simply copied and pasted the table straight into an Open Office spreadsheet. MS Excel is my normal go to but in this case no because of the dates (MS Excel does not recognize pre 1901 dates). It pasted beautifully. I had to do two things first.

1) Format > Merge Cells
2) Highlight the date column and then Format > Cells.  Change the date so that you can see a 4 digit year.

Now I can sort. Highlight the entire spreadsheet and then go to Data > Sort. Sort by Column C (the date column) and choose Ascending.

And here is what it looks like now:



My James is right at the top. I can cross reference this against everyone that was in the same section or the adjacent sections if I wanted to. It is important to know that Section 33 happens to be on the border between townships so I need to do the same thing for T4NR11W to pick up those sections to the south that border Section 33, namely Section 4 of T4NR11W. I am a visual person so once I have my names and dates I use History Geo to show my the layouts and the proximity of the plats. You can see that the dates are on the map but I prefer to have the names and dates in my hand up front because again, if I just scan the map I might miss something.

ss2Screenshot from History Geo

* FAN = Friends, Associates, Neighbors.  This acronym was coined by Elizabeth Shown Mills.  It is a research technique where you look to the people that surround your ancestor in hopes of finding out information about your ancestor.  You can read more about it HERE.

Copyright © 2017 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

My FamilySearch experiment Part II

You can read Part I HERE.

I think Legacy has the most advanced error checking tools of any program so I was pretty excited to see what all Legacy would find. I did clear out a couple of global errors manually because I didn’t want the Potential Problems Report to be artificially inflated. Before I got started, I did a check/repair on the file. For Legacy users this would be File > File Maintenance > Check/Repair. If you are using one of the other programs make sure you do whatever maintenance/compacting your file offers.

The second thing I did was globally sort all of the children’s lists by birth date. If children are not sorted by birth date this will appear on the Potential Problems report but in the grand scheme of things this is a minor error and I had no doubt most of the lists would be out of order. For the Legacy users, go to Tools > Other Tools > Sort Child, Marriage and Event Lists.

The third thing I did was globally changed all of the surnames to initial caps (my preference). I could have just as easily changed the surnames globally to all caps. For Legacy users, this is Option 3.3 in the customization menu. I wanted all of the surnames in one style so that it didn’t trigger a Potential Problem.

Next is the Potential Problems Report itself. For Legacy users this is Tools > Potential Problems. I reset everything to the default using the Reset button. I did want to change one of the defaults. On the “Gaps” tab I deselected all of the options. Legacy will alert you to any unusual date gaps in your children indicating possible missing children. This would have artificially inflated my problems report so I simply turned that part off. Legacy checks for 29 other potential problems/errors. You can customize the error checking quite a bit but for now I left everything at the defaults other than turning the “Gaps” off. There are other error checking tools built in and I will get to those in a moment but for now we are going to work with this main report.

I had 260 pages of errors which is over 3,300+ errors. Ouch. Some of the errors are standardization problems but a lot of the errors are quite serious such as people dying before they were born.

A separate error checker is the “County Verifier.” This only applies to US locations. These are errors where a place didn’t exist at the time of the event or the place never existed at all. I have 26 pages of errors here. You can find this at Tools > US County Verifier > US County Verification.

A really fun one that I found was someone that had 126 marriages. I am emailing FamilySearch about that one. Most of them are to the very same person (same FSID) or to a duplicate (same person, different FSID). Legacy was able to merge the people that had the same FSID number so I didn’t see as many in Legacy as what was on FamilySearch.

Even though I had Legacy check for duplicates on import I still have 9504 possible duplicates using the default settings. I am not surprised because when Legacy is looking for duplicates on import it is looking for the exact duplicates. Anything more than that would slow the import down too much.

I then took a look at the Master Location List. This was pretty frightening. I have 5829 different locations but many are duplicates because it is the same location entered differently (and this would be why there are standards for data entry). Many of the entries aren’t even locations. I have “murdered” as a location. I have some weird numbers such as 24-1352 and 40-1592 that I have no idea what those are. Some of the other things I found in a location field are, “alternate birth name,” “Rhydderch ap t, “John’s wife,” “he was a carpenter,” ”3rd Lord of Berkeley,” “A convent,” “wp,” “Scotsman,” and it goes on and on.

Another search I can do is “All Records With Bad Dates.” This is found at Search > Find and then click the Miscellaneous tab.  Only 36 people had bad dates which is better than I expected.

Here is another fun one. I looked at the File Statistics which is at Tools > Statistics. This one had me rolling on the floor. The individual that lived the longest in this file was someone that lived 675 years, 6 months and 13 days to be followed by someone that lived 364 years and 9 months. The longest marriage comes in at 94 years, 11 months and 6 days.  Not bad.  The most popular given name in the file is “?” (you knew that was coming didn’t you).

Three points:

1) Don’t believe everything you see on FamilySearch
2) There is still a lot of cleanup needed (please help!)
3) If your program can’t do this kind of error checking it might be time for you to switch to Legacy (shameless plug)


Copyright © 2017 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

My FamilySearch experiment

Before I tell you what I did, I want to say that I am a big supporter of FamilySearch’s Family Tree and always have been. Even though I am not LDS I was a beta tester for Family Tree’s predecessor, NewFamilySearch. I am a long time FamilySearch indexer/arbitrator and I work for Legacy which can sync to FamilySearch directly so that is why I was allowed to beta test.  I love the idea of a collaborative tree. I am the first to admit that there are problems as there are with any of the online tree type websites. FamilySearch has a few unique problems because it is a  collaborative tree. Time will make it better as more data gets cleaned up. I educate as many people as I can about the correct way to use FamilySearch through my blog and through lectures that I give to genealogical societies. Please see:

I will also say that I upload but I don’t download. Every single person in my One-Name Study file is completely sync’d to FamilySearch. In my regular file only my absolute direct line (and siblings of my direct line) are sync’d as well as select brick walls that I am working on. I make sure that I keep these people cleaned up. Legacy makes it easy for me because I can immediately see if my sync’d people have been edited. I can then check the edits. I know how to work with duplicates and I know how to merge people correctly. There are a lot of other people out there like me that make it their business to make FamilySearch the best that it can be.

So now on to my experiment. There was a post on the Legacy Users Group Facebook Page about downloading your entire tree from FamilySearch. The person that posted was remarking about the large number of people that downloaded. Even though I have only sync’d my direct line ancestors and their siblings these people are linked into FamilySearch’s FamilyTree so when I download, I get all of the linked people, not just the ones that are sync’d to me. I decided I would download my entire tree from FamilySearch just to see what would happen. You can do this directly through the three programs that are authorized to directly sync, Legacy being one of them. If you decide to try this, make sure that you download to an EMPTY file and not to your real genealogy file. 

I told FamilySearch to use my dad as the anchor. I did this because my mother’s line is 100% European and I am the one that uploaded her line. No additional people have been added by anyone else because no one else works on these lines. I told it to download 100 generations of ancestors. I figured 100 generations would capture everyone no matter how deep the tree is.  I wanted to see how long it would take to download and how many people there it would be. I also wanted to see how many obvious errors there were in the file using some of Legacy’s error checking tools.

The options I chose for the download were:

  • 100 generations of ancestors
  • 0 generations of descendants
  • Assign source citations to imported data
  • Include spouses of children
  • Check for duplicates (This will slow down importing)
  • Include only preferred parents [there are some people on FS have 15 sets of parents because of bad linking.  I didn’t want to go there]

These are the options available in Legacy. The options available in the other programs that can directly sync may be a little different.

It took 8 hours to download. Why? Because of all the endless loops and other linking errors. With every relationship Legacy (or RootsMagic or Ancestral Quest, the other two programs that can directly sync) has to calculate that relationship. If there is something wrong with the relationship it has to calculate, and recalculate and recalculate. I ended up with 6,856 people.

In my next blog post I will tell you what errors Legacy found in this tree.

Copyright © 2017 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Friday, January 13, 2017

Ida’s grandfather Stephen Perry

You can read about Ida, one of my favorite people, here:

The Story of Ida Perry
Thank you, Mary!
Ida Perry

John Ames has in his possession a photo of Ida’s grandfather (my 3rd great-grandfather) Stephen Oliver Perry. He was born about 1819 in Robeson County, North Carolina and died between 01 December 1873 and 03 May 1878 in Pascagoula, Jackson County, Mississippi. He was a Civil War veteran.

Perry, Stephen Oliver 01Photograph courtesy of the John Ames collection, used with permission


Copyright © 2017 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Ida Perry

You can read about Ida Perry, my 2nd great-aunt and one of my favorite relatives, HERE. You can see her nursing diploma HERE.

One of my second cousins once removed emailed me a couple of days ago.  I knew who he was but I had never spoken to him. He wanted me to see some photos that he had, some that I had never seen before.  He had several of Ida, most of which I had seen but not this one.  By now you know that I have been a registered nurse since I was 19 years old and that is one of the reasons I am so drawn to Ida and her sisters Dona and Mary who were all nurses.  Here is one of the coolest pictures ever.

Perry, Ida 03Photograph courtesy of the John Ames collection, used with permission

Ida is the woman on the far right.  This picture would have been taken at Charity Hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana circa 1905 when Ida was the nursing superintendent there. She and her sisters were absolutely beautiful. John is the grandson of Dona Perry (Ida’s sister) and I am the great-granddaughter of Ida and Dona’s brother, Walter.

Copyright © 2017 Michèle Simmons Lewis

Monday, January 2, 2017

My genealogical New Year’s resolution

So what is my genealogical New Year’s resolution? 

I will not procrastinate

What this means is, I will deal with each piece of information as it come in instead of shoving things off to the side to do later (or not do later).

I am going to do a few things that will help me with the above.  I have too many obligations going on as a general rule. I am unsubscribing myself from some email lists that I don’t have time to participate in. I going to allow my membership to lapse in a couple of societies that I am not active in. I am going to have to curtail some of my pro bono work (definitely not all, I am a big believer in giving back to the genealogical community but sometimes I have a hard time saying no). I am going to limit the number of active cases I am working on at any one time.

Even though I have made a commitment to no longer procrastinate, I still have a backlog that I have to deal with and I am vowing to deal with it on a daily basis. Even if I only tackle one small item per day I will eventually get the backlog caught up. I think getting into a consistent routine is the key. Another thing that will help is simply keeping my desk clean and orderly.  Every evening before I leave my office I will tidy up. One of the things I am really bad about is pulling reference books out and not putting them back on the shelf so most of the time I have a pile of books at my feet.

I am tired of always feeling like I am behind.

Copyright © 2017 Michèle Simmons Lewis