Friday, September 7, 2012

Questions about Beginner Books, AKAs, Starting From Scratch and Unrelated People

Question from Dave:
"If you have to pick ONE book to recommend for beginners what would it be?"

If I am limited to just one it would have to be The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy by Val Greenwood. It includes explanations of all of the major types of records you will be using, how to analyze the records, definitions of the new vocabulary you will encounter etc. It is great all around book. I still refer to it often.

Question from Dwyer:
"I have an ancestor who has 6 different variations of his name in the records. How do I chose which one to use as his name and which ones do I pick to go in the AKA fields?"

You have to weigh the different records. Some records are more reliable than others for different types of information. For the sake of argument, let's assume all of your records have the same weight (like census records). I am making this example up but you will get the idea.

1790 census - Jas. P. Davis
1800 census - J. P. Davies
1810 census - Press Davis
1820 census - J. Price Davis
1830 census - James Davis
1840 census - Preston J. Daviss

Looking at these names I would put James Preston Davis in the name field (without a source because I don't have anything that spells it out like that) and then I would put everything else as AKAs. I personally don't have a problem deducing what his correct name might be and going out on a limb by recording it. If I am looking at different types of records then I put them on a scale and weigh them. For a persons name I would give a marriage license more weight than a census record. I would give a birth certificate more weight than a death certificate. I would give the person's will more weight than a census record. You have to look at what the record is, the reason for the record and who wrote the record to decide it's weight.

Here is a fun example of AKAs. My great grandfather was James Elexander Simmons. I have his full name from his son's Bible so I am pretty confident on its reliability. Here are all of this man's AKAs. Some of the AKAs will make sense to you if you know that his nickname was "El." If you say "El" out loud it sounds like "L"

E. L. Simmons
Ell Simmons
Ell E. Simmons
Elmo Simmons
J. E. Simmons (this is the name that I found the most in the records)
J. L. Simmons
James Simmons
James E. Simmons
James Ellis Simmons
James L. Simmons
James N. Simmons
L. Simmons

Question from Nan:
"I really want to research my family tree but I have no idea where to start. I have read a lot on the internet but I am completely overwhelmed. HELP!"

This question needs an entire blog post and I promise to do this in the near future but I will give you a couple of quick tips. You obviously have a computer so get a genealogy database program to keep all of your research organized from the very beginning. All of the top programs are just fine (Legacy, Family Tree Maker and RootsMagic are a few examples). I like Legacy but that is just me. They do have a completely free program that you can download which is a great starter program. You can see it at Legacy Family Tree. Look for the Standard Version link. Always start with yourself and work backwards in time. Fill out as much as you can about a family before you go back to the next generation. The basic information you need to put together a skeleton (your direct line pedigree) is:
Date and place of birth
Name of spouse
Date and place of marriage
Date and place of death

I say skeleton because there is a lot more information you will want to get if you can. You should get into the habit of writing a short bio on every person in your tree (or at least all of your direct line ancestors and their siblings). This brings your research alive. You want to place them in context of where and when they lived. ALWAYS document WHERE you got EVERY piece of information. All genealogy programs have a built in way to record your sources. This is the single most important piece of advice that I can give you.

There really is a lot more to it than this. I would like to eventually post a series of genealogy 101 type articles for complete beginners to get them started off on the right foot.

Question from Pat:
"What do you do with people you think are related but you aren't 100% sure?"

I add them to my computer file as an "unlinked" individual. Unlinked is the term that Legacy uses. The other programs may use a different word. You can easily add a person that isn't linked to your tree. You can research them fully and do everything to them that you can to anyone in your line. You can link them to other people and then they will have their own mini tree in your database program. If the time comes that you CAN link them to your family then the genealogy program will allow you to do that and then they will be part of your main tree. Your program will tell you how many separate trees you have in your file. I just checked and right now I have 10 separate trees. One is my main line and the other nine are family lines that I am pretty sure fit in somehow but I haven't found the exact link yet. Ten is actually a low number for me. Apparently I have been able to link a few trees lately. Here are how many people are in each tree.
1) 8560, this is my line
2) 160, obviously I have done quite a bit of work on this group of people
3) 8
4) 5
5) 3
6) 3
7) 2
8) 2
9) 1
10) 1

Keep those questions coming!

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

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