lisa louise cooke

Lisa Louise Cooke of the Genealogy Gems Podcast recently interviewed Chris Whitten, WikiTreer-in-Chief, about the GEDMatches feature of WikiTree.  Check out the interview by downloading Episode 155 of the Genealogy Gems Podcast here. Chris appears in the last 10 minute segment.

GEDMatches at WikiTree

The GEDMatches tool enables anyone with a GEDCOM to compare their family tree with the worldwide family tree at WikiTree.  GEDMatches performs an automatic search for each individual in a GEDCOM file (up to 5,000 individuals) and compares the names and dates with each of the more than 5 million people in the shared tree.  Suggested matches are then presented in a sorted table.

Genealogists can compare each suggested match side-by-side with the person in their own GEDCOM file.  When a match appears, the user can post a comment on the WikiTree profile or send a private message to the profile manager. 

GEDMatches, along with every other feature and function on WikiTree, is completely free and open to the public. Take it for a test drive today!



WikiTree for Genealogy Research Storage

[Editor’s Note: Lianne Lavoie of WikiTree shows how she uses WikiTree as the primary storage database for her genealogy research.]

A couple of weeks ago, Wikitree team member Elyse Doerflinger wrote about organizing your digital genealogy files. Like many genealogists, I’ve often made New Years resolutions in order to be more organized. But with all the tools out there, and all the different ways you can structure your filing system, I could never put something in place that really made sense to me, and that I could easily maintain. That is, until I joined WikiTree.

WikiTree for Research Storage and Tracking

WikiTree is what I use to store and track most of my genealogical research. As I research, discoveries are entered directly into my WikiTree profiles. Since WikiTree is accessible from any computer with an Internet connection, I can work just as easily on a library computer without worrying about syncing any files. The Changes page of each profile and my Activity Feed mean that I can easily see when I made a change; if I make a mistake, I can fix it without having to look through backup files or other materials.

What about Documents, Photographs, and Other Media?

Documents and photographs are also easy to organize using WikiTree. Rather than having to keep duplicate copies in folders for different families, I can just upload a photograph or PDF document to WikiTree and link it to all the people that are in the photograph or mentioned in the document.

That pretty much covers the basics, like photographs, documents, and the basic information in your family tree. But what about research logs, to do lists, and all the other tools of the truly organized genealogist?

Research Logs, To Do Lists, and More

Every WikiTree profile has a “free text” area. By default, it contains sections for a Biography and Sources, but you can put anything in there.

On some of my profiles, especially those pesky brick wall ancestors, I’ve started adding Research Progress sections. I outline the goals of my research, what records I’ve already found, what records I’ve searched without success, and where I still need to look. That way, I don’t waste time checking the same sources over and over again, and if someone else comes along and wants to help, they can easily see where their efforts would be most appreciated.

A Research Progress section on a WikiTree profile

For research that applies to a surname or place, rather than an individual, you can create Free-Space Profiles. These are great for family mystery pages, transcriptions of censuses or cemeteries, historical pages about cities, schools, etc., and pretty much anything else you can think of.

WikiTree and Data Backups

As for backing up my data, it’s as simple as occasionally exporting my GEDCOM. Everything other than images is contained in that single file. So all I have to worry about organizing on my computer are my scanned photos and other images, and my GEDCOM. My non-digital genealogy system consists of my original photos and documents, and a few books, so there are no overflowing filing cabinets or stacks of papers.

WikiTree: One Stop Genealogy

Using WikiTree to organize all of my genealogical data keeps everything in one place, easy to find, and easy to back up. Plus, all I have to do to share everything I have on one of my ancestors with a fellow researcher is give them the link to that person’s profile.



[Editor’s Note: Elyse Doerflinger of WikiTree explains how to get your digital files in order and also how to start using the cloud for your genealogy research files.]

Nearly every genealogist has organization on their New Year’s Resolution list and most people are focused on getting their paper files organized.  Digital files, while not as obviously messy as paper files, also need to be organized properly in order to improve your research efficiency and effectiveness.

Many people approach the project of organization with the idea that it is a one time event: put everything away once and you are somehow magically organized forever.  The reality, however, is that organization is a process that requires a commitment to find and follow a system of giving everything a home.  If you don’t commit to following the system you put into place (and to re-evaluating that system to be sure it is fitting your needs), then it won’t be long before you are back to being disorganized and unable to find the file you need.

Organized File Folders

The first step to organizing your digital files is to create a “Genealogy” folder on your C-drive, desktop, or within a cloud service (like DropBox or Google Drive).  The goal is that the “Genealogy” folder is easy to find so you can easily save files in their proper place.  If you also do research for other people (like your spouse), then create a genealogy folder for that person’s research as well.  Next, add folders for each of your family surnames to your genealogy folders.  Within each surname folder, add folders for each couple with that surname.  All of these folders will now serve as your organization system for your digital files.

But how should you name your files?  When naming your files, give each file a name descriptive enough to identify the contents of the file but concise enough that you can still read it.  Information to include in your file name may include name, date, record type, or location.  Try to find a consistent file naming pattern that works for you.

What happens when a file applies to more than one person or could qualify for more than one folder?  Since hard drive space is inexpensive, you could save a copy of the file to every folder it applies to.  This will make it easier to find the file, no matter which folder you think to look in.

But where do you put photos?  Create folders for photos based on family or event to help you easily sort photos.  Give each photo a descriptive file name and save it to a relevant folder.  Then use a photo program like Picasa to view, edit, and organize all of your photos.  With Picasa, you can add tags for people, places, and other keywords.  Using the tags feature, you can organize your photos in multiple categories and easily find them.

Are you looking to find a way to organize all of your notes, research plans, to-do lists, and other charts in one place?  Using a notetaking program like Evernote or Microsoft OneNote can help organize all of it together and make it synced across all of your internet connected devices.  Both of these programs allow you to save text, pictures, videos, screenshots, PDFs, and other types of files in one place.

Protecting your files from disasters like hard drive crashes or electrical surges, create and implement a backup plan.  There are lots of different options to choose from.  For extra protection, use multiple types of backup methods to cover yourself if one method fails.  Backup options include DVDs, flash-drives, external hard drives, and cloud programs like Google Drive and DropBox.  Do your research to find the back up method that fits your needs.

Now that your digital files are all organized, spend more time researching and less time searching for files.


An Effective Research Plan - Your Genealogy Compass

[Editor’s Note: Elyse Doerflinger of WikiTree explains how to find family history success by creating and using a research plan.]

How many times have you started a search with the goal of finding the birthdate of an ancestor on your maternal side, only to end up on a random census record for someone on your paternal side?  It happens to all of us, especially in the early morning hours.  While it may seem fun to search this way, it isn’t a very effective research strategy.

In order to fill in the blanks on your pedigree chart, you have to create a research plan.  A research plan identifies the exact question you are trying to answer, the information you’ve already gathered, and the places you plan to look.  A research plan is like a roadmap; it helps you identify all the places you’ve been, the destination you’re heading to, and all of the stops in between.

What Do You Want to Know?

The first step to creating a research plan is to pick an ancestor and one specific goal to accomplish.  This goal could be to answer a specific question or a hypothesis you want to test.

What Do You Already Have?

The next step is to carefully re-examine all of the documents you’ve gathered for that ancestor.  This is the time to carefully analyze every piece of evidence you have to be sure you’ve drawn out all the details you can.  Often as time has gone by and your genealogy education has expanded, you will notice something in the document that you may have missed.

List each fact in a format that is easy to read and follow.  Many researchers use a timeline, list, or chart format.  Don’t forget to write the source citation and any comments about the source or document that you feel are relevant.

Where Will You Look?

Next, list all of the resources to be checked for evidence to prove or disprove your hypothesis.  Don’t be afraid to try new sources or new research strategies.  Spend some time reading FamilySearch’s Research Wiki to learn more about specific resources available in a given geographic area and time period.

Time to Research!

Now the fun part… start searching for your ancestor!  Don’t forget to record all searches, including those with positive and negative results.  Recording all of your searches will prevent you from repeating a search.  And don’t forget that negative results can also serve as a form of evidence.

Your Research Plan is a Living Document

As you perform  more searches and gather more documents, you will want to update your research plan.  You can add to your research plan, create hypotheses, and refine your research strategies at any time.

Do you create research plans?  Do you find that research plans make you a more effective researcher? Let us know how you use research plans for genealogy and your tips and tricks for tracking research.


Citing Your Sources: The Road Map to Your Information

[Editor's note: Elyse Doerflinger of WikiTree shows why citing your sources in genealogy research is important and how WikiTree can help.]

After researching your family history for a while, you begin to put together the pieces of your family tree puzzle.  You’ve got names, dates, and places that you’ve found in census, military, and vital records.  But do you remember exactly where you found great-great grandma Bessie’s marriage date?

Why Cite Sources?

When researching family history, it is important that you keep track of where you got your information.  Not only does this help you verify your information, but citing your sources also serves as a road map for you or other researchers to follow if you ever discover conflicting information. This is why it’s part of WikiTree’s Honor Code. Sources are essential for productive collaboration.

In genealogy, it is important that every statement of fact – whether it is an occupation or date of birth – have its own individual source. Giving each fact a source not only leaves a trail to follow, but it also allows other researchers (and potential cousins) to analyze your genealogy connections and assumptions.  In addition, citing your sources also makes it much easier to pick up your research where you left off after a research break.

A Lesson Learned

When I first began researching my family tree, I was far too concerned with finding records and I didn’t care about citing sources.  But it wasn’t long before I ran into conflicting information and I had no way of backtracking to where I got the information to sort it all out.  It was then that I realized how important it is to cite sources and since then, I always take the time to cite my sources.  When a cousin contacts me asking a question about where I got a specific fact, I can easily pull up the source citation.

Types of Sources and Information

There are two different kinds of sources.  Original sources are records that contribute information that is not derived from another record.  Derivative sources are records that have been copied, transcribed, or abstracted from a previously existed source.  Original sources generally carry more weight than derivative sources.

Within each source, there are two different kinds of information.  Primary information comes from records created at or near the time of an event and the information is contributed by a person with knowledge of the event.  Secondary information is information found in records after a considerable amount of time has passed from the event or when the information is contributed by a person who was not present at the time of the event.  Primary information generally carries more weight than secondary information.

Source Citation Formats

While there are many different styles to cite sources, what matters is that there is enough detail in the citation for someone else to find that exact document.  In the genealogy world, the standard is to use Elizabeth Shown Mill’s Evidence Explained Style.  Other people choose to use APA format or MLA format.  At the end of the day, it isn’t where the comma is located, but whether or not someone can find that document based solely on the information in the citation.

WikiTree Is Source Citation Friendly

At WikiTree, it is simple to add sources and footnotes to profiles.  The sources on the profile help prove the information you list in the biography section.  When other WikiTreers (and potential cousins) have conflicting information, the sources will be able to help resolve those conflicts.  At WikiTree you can easily customize the profiles to display information and sources in the way you see fit.

Do you cite your sources?  Do you follow a style and if so, which one?

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