Genealogy Virus Continues to Spread

I was disappointed yesterday to hear of another outbreak of the virus that’s sweeping through genealogy. A new GEDCOM (GEnealogy Data COMmunication) file sharing site sprang up. I’m disappointed because this nonsense undermines the practice of genealogy. Mostly this is because many (if not most) GEDCOMs being shared contain incorrect conclusions. Sharing incorrect conclusions is the single biggest threat to our hobby. It wastes an incredible amount of research time.

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Researching Distant Records Now Easier

Geographically distant genealogists have been helping each other find records for years. It’s a service referred to as lookups. It works like this: if you’re looking for a record that you haven’t been able to locate locally nor online, you arrange through email or a forum, to have a genealogist who is local to the record do the lookup for you and send you a scan or photo.

Finding and transacting a lookup has gotten easier since has become available. This service connects genealogists and providers of lookups, handles payment, notifications, service ratings, and document delivery. It has the promise of a centralize source of lookup providers. This helps those of us in need of distant record location as well as those who are willing to do lookups.

In this video: Getting Distant Records Through Genlighten, I show you how to find a provider, request a lookup, and how to retrieve the resulting image.

GenealogyTools Members, download this video to your computer for your private use by control-clicking and choosing “Download Linked File As” or “Save Link As” (depending on your browser).

Find Sources with’s Explore by Location

You can discover sources of information about relatives you may not have been aware of. has a feature called explore by location that will show you research resources by location. These resources can give you ideas about sources of information you hadn’t thought of or known about. In this video: Explore by Location Feature, I show you how to see these resources, how to conduct a location specific search, and view brief historical information about a location.

GenealogyTools Members, download this video to your computer for your private use by control-clicking and choosing “Download Linked File As” or “Save Link As” (depending on your browser).

Is the Virtual Globe Bloat?

I’ve been working on a MacFamilyTree screencast this evening. It’s related to geocoding which is related to the “virtual globe” feature. As is usual for me when I explore features, I asked myself, “What value does this offer genealogists?” I’m having a hard time coming up with something nice to say about this one.

Yes, I get that you can see points on a globe for events in your database. And, that lines indicating the direction of movement connect the points. So, what? How can this help you with the fundamental activities a genealogist undertakes? Does it help you plan or carry out research? No. Can it help you identify or locate sources? No. Can you turn evidence into sound conclusions with it? No. Does it make preserving information more efficient or effective? No. I can’t imagine a single way that this “feature” improves, in a material way, what you can do already. [Read more…]

Handling People with Multiple Names in the MacGenealogist File System

People change names for many reasons. What’s surprising, at least when new to genealogical research, is that it’s relatively common for a person’s name to change during their lifetime. Since it’s common and adds complexity to our practice, I devised a solution with respect to storing computer files. There are three predominant problems that it eliminates.

The Problems

There are countless people in your genealogy with more than one name. Trying to remember all the name variants and which folders contain the files for each is unnecessary. The computer excels at such things.

Storing duplicates of each file for all the name variants wastes disk space and creates a maintenance problem.

Files relating to one person, but scattered across folders can cause confusion, duplicate effort, and conclusions based on incomplete information.

The Solution

The MacGenealogist File System deals effectively with changing names—both person and place names—by making use of the power and elegance of a little known feature of the Macintosh operating system: aliases. [Read more…]

Parallels Desktop 4.0 Build 3844 Released

Parallels released a bugfix build for their Paralells Desktop 4.0 product.

Bugfixes and improvements in Parallels Desktop 4.0 Update (build 4.0.3844)

  • Improved 3D graphics in Windows virtual machines.
  • Problems with Palm synchronization in Windows virtual machines — fixed.
  • Random disconnection of USB 1.1 devices in Linux virtual machines — fixed.
  • Invisibility of the text mouse pointer on black background in Windows virtual machines — fixed.
  • Problems with SMB shares in native Windows Boot Camp installations that have Parallels Tools installed — fixed.
  • Problems with Shared Networking on Snow Leopard host computers — fixed.

Keeping a Genealogy Task List, Part 2: TaskPaper

The first Mac task list software I have for your consideration is TaskPaper from Hog Bay Software. It is simultaneously a simple and powerful task manager. It meets both of the criteria I outlined in the first part of this series of articles, Keeping a Genealogy Task List, Part 1:

  • Unobtrusive storage
  • Simple, powerful retrieval

The developer has created an elegant design that enables entry of tasks in a natural way. Projects are inserted by typing a line of text followed by a colon. Tasks are lines of text preceded by a hyphen and a space. Anything else that’s typed is a note. It doesn’t get any easier than that. [Read more…]

Free Resource Essentials CD

I got a nice little package in the mail today. The Generations Network sent me a package that is the “first in a list of upcoming benefits” planned for for World Deluxe Annual members. It’s a CD containing PDFs of six reference books produced by and a 20% off coupon for my next purchase in the Ancestry Store. The coupon expires January 1, 2010. The “books” on the CD are nice to have: [Read more…]

Keeping a Genealogy Task List, Part 1

Knowing What to do Next

Do you know what task you can do next to move your genealogy research forward the most? How about all the searches you need to do next time you’re on These and other questions are best asked of and answered by an effective genealogy to-do list. Such a task list serves two purposes critical to family history research.

Unobtrusive Storage

The first purpose is to capture all those opportunities you discover while you research one subject, but are too disciplined to go chasing after. We’ve all experienced the peculiar temporal slippage that happens when we succumb to temptation and follow lead after lead; time seems to compress. Hours later we break free of the phenomenon only to find that we haven’t accomplished anything except perhaps entertaining ourselves. [Read more…]

Documenting Unknown Dates in Your Genealogy Database Software

Genealogists and family historians often find themselves with unknown dates for events they have researched. How to capture this in a genealogical database is not immediately apparent to many of us. We think, “Perhaps I should enter ‘Unknown,’ or a question mark, or omit the date entirely.” After all that work, it seems like something should be documented to indicate that research has been done and no conclusion reached. Trying to force the date field to do more than it’s intended or capable of doing isn’t the solution. It could be an indication that we’re not confident that our research is well documented or that our plan is recorded. What should one enter in a genealogical database when the date of an event is unknown? How should one deal with that feeling of unease that’s causing them to look at the date field as a cure-all? This article will answer both questions for you. Let’s start with what to do with the unknown date.

Omit the Date

The best solution is not to enter anything at all in the date field for an event when the date is completely unknown. Naturally, if parts of the date are known, enter the partial date. This answer is more a matter of style than a rule, but it will serve you well for the reasons below.

Omitting Works with All Software

Omitting the date is the only approach universally supported by all genealogy software. Some genealogy software will allow you to enter something that’s obviously not a date, such as a question mark or the word “unknown.” Personal Ancestral File (PAF) 5.2 and The Master Genealogist will display a warning dialog if the date is non-standard. Legacy Family Tree will change the entry of a question mark to the word “Unknown.” Other software will steadfastly refuse to accept any entry it cannot understand as a date. There’s a good reason behind the applications preferring or requiring actual dates; any reasonably sophisticated genealogy software checks dates as they are entered. Typically the format of the date is checked to ensure that it is valid when entered. For instance, the program would refuse to accept 32 Jan 2009 as a date because there are never 32 days in the month of January. Most software also performs date feasibility (or coherence) checks. These checks are for conditions that ought to be impossible or extremely improbable and issue a warning or prevent the entry. An example of such a condition is a death date that precedes a birth date. These types of checks are meaningless for entries like a question mark or “unknown.” Omitting an unknown date prevents validation and feasibility checks as well as date calculations, like the person’s age at an event, from being confounded. Unfortunately, it doesn’t prevent us from forgetting what research has been done. So how does one keep track of what’s been researched?

Log Your Research Efforts

The date field for an event isn’t the best place to indicate what you’ve investigated already. It’s better to keep a research log containing the subject being investigated, the research performed, and the results of the search. This approach ensures that you or other genealogist can know, potentially years later, what research was performed, how, and what evidence resulted. It makes it easy to have a colleague check your work to uncover missed opportunities. Finally, it makes preparing your proof statement easier as all the information is preserved and contained. This is important to do whether you find conclusive evidence or not. Even with your painstaking research efforts safely preserved for future consideration, you may be wondering, “Wouldn’t the date field still be a good place to indicate that more research is needed?” It could be, but for the reasons above, it isn’t the best way. Besides, future research to-do items have a better place to reside.

Identify Next Research To-Dos in a Task List

Research tasks are best kept in a task list. Using the date field, or other event attributes for that matter, cannot compare to the benefits of using a dedicated to-do list. The list could be within your genealogy software, if that’s a built-in feature, or a stand-alone task manager. A modern task list application will enable you to filter and sort tasks in ways that will make your work more efficient and ensure you don’t forget what remains to be researched.

Feel Confident and Leave the Date Field Empty

Keeping a research task list and logging your research efforts will give you the confidence you need to leave fields unpopulated for unknown dates. You’ll solve more genealogical puzzles and leave even more helpful family history documentation for future generations. It will also make working with your genealogy software more pleasant because you will be working with its features, rather than against them. Wouldn’t it be great if our genealogy software were trying this hard to cooperate with us!