Happy Thanksgiving!

In the United States we celebrate Thanksgiving today. I hope you all had as great a day as I did. My wife Carrie and I prepared a wonderful vegetarian—almost vegan—meal. We shared it with our children, Logan, and Paige as well as Carrie’s mom and step-dad. We are so blessed! On this day it is customary to consider the things we are grateful for.

You are one of the reasons I feel so blessed this year. Naturally my family tops my list of blessings, but I am doubly blessed by having a fabulously supportive MacGenealogist family too. Thank you for reading my articles, viewing my videos, and leaving comments. I  love it when you learn new things as a result of following along and putting my lessons into practice then tell me about it. Your comments these first four months have been informative and incredibly helpful. Lastly, thank you for supporting this venture financially. You have made purchases through my affiliate links like Amazon.com and bought the first volume of my screencast video CDs. While it doesn’t yet cover the monthly expenses of operating MacGenealogist.com, it helps by giving me hope that I can get it to that point so that I can continue to make informative how-to videos for you.

May the next year be as great for you as this past one has been for me.

Starting with Another’s Data: A Descendant Report, part 1

Sometimes when one starts with the genealogy obsession hobby, it is with information collected by someone else. Ironically, even given some starter material, it’s not always obvious where or how to begin. This article is a case study of such a start. It’s a specific one in that the starting material is real and limited. It should help you if you find yourself in a similar situation. I hope that it will also serve as a source of ideas for those of you well into the hobby. We begin the case study with a descendant report and several pages of additions and corrections.

The Setup

My wife’s aunt Judy was the family historian. From June of 1987 through July of 1998 she (with the help of others) published the “Puglisi Family Tree” and seven annual updates. All together, it is seventeen type-writted pages, one hand-drawn title page, and a cover letter. Unfortunately, Judy passed away in July of 2001. Her cousin Kay inherited the family history materials, but hasn’t had time to computerize them. Fortunately, I was able to obtain copies of all the pages in a set of three PDF files. The project could begin.

Developing Project Goals

I like to begin my research projects by developing clear, concise, unambiguous goals. In this case I started out thinking I needed to replicate what Judy had produced, but on the computer. Some deeper consideration and self-questioning led me to a different primary goal. You see, the Puglisi Family Tree documentation contained only one source citation and it was for the marriage of a couple that didn’t appear to be included in the documented line of descent. Since none of the content was proven fact, it didn’t make sense to duplicate it without verification. After a slight adjustment, the first goal to emerge was:

  1. Document the descendants of Antonio PUGLISI (1878-1942) and Providence MEDULLA (1887-1967), limiting the facts to names as well as birth, marriage, and death (BMD) dates and places.

You may think it goes without saying that the information should be computerized, but we’re after unambiguous goals here. I find that explicitly stating the goal can lead to discoveries of hidden assumptions and possibly issues or other goals.

For example, computerizing the records led me to reflect on how Judy and the Puglisi descendants would use the information. I thought about how they could share the information and update it. In doing so, I discovered that I had been assuming that I would enter the data into one of my Mac genealogy database applications then export a GEDCOM file to send to Judy. Bad assumption! Judy hasn’t entered the data into the computer yet. Why should I think she’d have genealogy software, know how to import a GEDCOM file, or know what to do with it once it was loaded? A refinement of the goal was called for. I revised the second goal and added it and others to the first so that we now have:

  1. Document the descendants of Antonio PUGLISI (1878-1942) and Providence MEDULLA (1887-1967), limiting the facts to names as well as birth, marriage, and death (BMD) dates and places.
  2. Computerize the storage and reporting of the information so that no special genealogy software or knowledge is required to peruse it.
  3. Make the information available to all the descendants to view and update at any time with no special genealogy software or knowledge required.
  4. Ensure that birth and marriage information for living descendants is not visible to the public.
  5. Make the information available to all the descendants in the GEDCOM format.

Fortunately, there are several online systems that support all the goals. I will explore the options and my selection in the next part of this article series.

See How Easily You Can Backup Your Files to CD or DVD

One of the many great things about using a Mac is how many functions that just seem like they should be included in the operating system actually are! One of these is the ability to create (or “burn”) CDs and DVDs. This feature is great for anyone creating and or storing a lot of data as we do in genealogy.

Since our family history data changes frequently, it is important to make regular backups. The setup method I present here need only be done once, then you’ve got a “click to burn” solution that will produce a backup without any fuss.

There are a couple mechanisms for burning CDs and DVDs within Mac OS X: “burn folders” and the “disk utility.” In this video, Backup Your Mac Genealogy Files to CD or DVD, I show you step-by-step how to create and use the burn folder feature to create a backup system for your genealogy files. I also show you how to determine what types of CDs and DVDs your Mac can write to.

Follow along with the screencast to set up a genealogy burn folder for yourself. Make a backup to see just how easy it is. Then consider making a second backup and mailing it to a geographically distant relative or genealogy buddy so that you have an off-site backup.

The disc that is created is what they call a hybrid format, so it can be read on a Windows PC should that need arise. I should warn you though, if you use the MacGenealogist.com recommended folder structure with its aliases (see the Genealogy Toolbox page for the series), Windows doesn’t support this feature. All the files will be in the original places, but aliases to files and folders will look like empty files to our PCGenealogist brethren.

GenealogyTools Members, download this video to your computer for your private use.

50th Screencast

The video included in my most recent article includes the 50th screencast created for MacGenealogists since I launched the site in July! I’d like to take an opportunity presented by this milestone: thank you for the wonderful support you’ve given me.

How to Install Personal Ancestral File (PAF) 5.2

Personal Ancestral File (PAF) is venerable, fairly complete, free genealogy application from the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As such, it is a popular choice as a family history research software on the PC. In this video I show you step-by-step how to install PAF 5.2. Please download the file in your language of choice then follow along with this video screencast

[Read more…]

MacFamilyTree 5.3 Beta Review

A beautiful, capable, moderately priced Macintosh genealogy application.

Product Overview

MacFamilyTree is one of the most popular genealogy data management programs for Macintosh. With it one can store, update, explore, and report on family history data. The data can consist of names, events, sources, notes, and multimedia files (images, video, sound). Interacting with family data is done via nested data entry panels and slick diagrams. A basic selection of charts and reports are provided and can be customized, viewed on-screen, and printed. The application integrates tightly with iPhoto, the web (via MobileMe or a free page hosted by Synium), Google Earth, and the iPhone (via a separate product, MobileFamilyTree).


MacFamilyTree is compatible with Intel and PowerPC Macs running Mac OS X versions 10.4 (tiger) to 10.5 (leopard). There is a graphics card requirement (ATI Radeon 7500 or GeForce 4 MX Graphics Card or Intel GMA 950 or better) due to its stunning graphics. A new copy will cost you $49.00 USD while an upgrade runs $25.00 USD. There is a competitive upgrade incentive that will net you a 25% discount on the regular price if you can prove you bought a competing product. A limited demo version is available for download.


A comprehensive table of features is provided in the Macintosh Genealogy Software Feature Comparison. This section describes remarkable functionality and behaviors observed or found lacking during my evaluation. Each application reviewed in this series was subjected to the same set of scenarios designed to represent normal usage.

Data Entry

The MacFamilyTree interface is generally easy to navigate. The “Navigation Bar” is helpful in this regard. Bookmarks for people and families make returning to commonly or actively researched subjects quick and easy. There are fields for some data that one must navigate more deeply to reach. For example, setting the country for event locations takes an extra step. If you include the country in events like I do you may also find this annoying.


Dates are not automatically formatted upon entry. To me, this is like intermittent wipers on a car—one can manufacture a car without the feature, but why? It’s everywhere else, so the lack in this product makes it stick out like a sore thumb. Dates can be reformatted, but one has to use the “Database Maintenance Editor” to accomplish it.


Event support overall is solid. Events can have associated icons which simplify locating them in a list. There is a notable, additional event type: miscarriage. Unfortunately, one cannot create custom event types. There is an “other event” type that, when coupled with descriptive text, is an acceptable work around. All event types have the same fields, so the type is just a categorization tool—it doesn’t change what data is collected.


Determining relationships is problematic in MacFamilyTree. This may be because parental relationships such as adopted, step, and foster are applied to a family not individuals. This causes inaccurate representation of relationships in the family charts, views, and reports (see the Reports section for details).

That said, the “Person Chart” graphical view of a section of the family tree clearly illustrates relationships and makes navigation simple; although, it could be improved by providing a visual indicator of connected, but un-displayed people. A new feature in the beta version of the software is the differentiation of graphical depiction of relationships in the person chart; a natural relationship is indicated with a solid line while a non-natural one is represented by a dashed line.


Source data entry and citation is generally good, but could be improved by more granularity. Sources are cited at a high level. For example, birth date and birth place are cited together in a “topic” called “birth.” Source citations can be applied to persons, events, families, and media.

Source record types cannot be customized. The source fields are limited to:

  • title
  • author
  • publication
  • page
  • abbreviation
  • date
  • place
  • authority
  • reference number
  • reference type
  • credibility
  • label
  • notes
  • media

There are a couple of wonderful surprises in the supported source data. Sources can be rated “unreliable,” “questionable,” “second hand information,” or “first hand information.” They can also be labeled “important,” “incomplete,” or “noteworthy.” Sources can contain pictures, audio, and video. These media files can also have their own source records. Very nice!

There is no report listing of all sources in the database.

Management Tools

The database tools are minimal. They provide the ability to change date formats en masse, remove “empty entries,” and search for mismatched partners.

MacFamilyTree includes a media browser. I’m not sure that it’s especially useful, but it is pretty. Audio, images, and video can be added to a person or source, but the media browser is limited to images.

There is no automated way to list people who are not connected to others. It can be accomplished manually by looking for isolated people in the “virtual tree.”

Comparing, Merging, and Splitting Trees

There is no facility for comparing, merging, nor splitting databases in their native format. While one can export a database to GEDCOM format, then import it into another database, it shouldn’t be necessary to go through all those steps.


Joining a GEDCOM file to a database is easy and feels natural. There are two approaches that can be taken. Firstly, the GEDCOM can be joined using the “Append GEDCOM File to current Tree…” feature found on the “Special” menu. This is best used when the GEDCOM data does not include any duplicate people. After this merge, one needs only to connect a person in the original database to their parent(s) in the joined data. Be careful to establish these connections by adding the child to the family, rather than adding the parents to the child. Doing the latter will create a duplicate family in the database. Lastly, one can use a feature, also on the “Special” menu, called “Merge GEDCOM File with current Tree…” to do just that. Use this when the GEDCOM file to be joined has, or may have, entries that duplicate one or more already in the database. The software will identify the duplicates and on a case-by-case basis, allow one to indicate which entry to replace.


The GEDCOM export file I generated as a test contained many tags that are not defined in the GEDCOM 5.5 standard. This data will likely not transfer to other genealogy databases.


MacFamilyTree includes support for common charts (ancestor, descendant, family, fan, and timeline) as well as some unusual ones.

The virtual tree is a three-dimensional view that includes ancestors and descendants of the selected person. See the virtual tree glossary entry for more information and a picture.

There is a chart in MacFamilyTree that I was previously unfamiliar with. It’s called a genogram and it’s used to depict a person’s relationships (family, emotional, and social) and medical history. Genograms typically have specific symbols to represent family and emotional relationships as well as medical conditions. Unfortunately, MacFamilyTree’s nascent implementation includes only basic social relationship symbols and no emotional or medical symbols. It also has anomalies in the information it does display. For example, the genogram incorrectly shows my maternal grandmother as deceased. It also did not include adoptive parents even after checking the box in the view options.

The Virtual globe is informative, but faulty. It plots events on a globe that can be manipulated in three dimensions. Unfortunately, the data it gets from the “Look Up Coordinates” feature is often incorrect. Once I corrected the obvious errors (e.g. Saline, Washtenaw, Michigan being on the other side of the planet in Cyprus and Fine, St. Lawrence, New York being in South America) I found looking at the geographic proximity of events on the virtual globe to be intriguing. The events in a person’s life are shown as interconnected dots.

The statistics chart is a multi-function chart that allows one to view the following data in either a bar or line graph:

  • age of living persons
  • age at death
  • children per family
  • year of birth
  • year of death
  • month of birth
  • month of death


Several reports are supported by the application: list of persons, person, place, event, distinctive persons, and birthdays. Several other basic reports are missing. See the Macintosh Genealogy Software Comparison for details.

The Kinship Report does not correctly show half-sibling relationships. Nor does it show adoptive parents. In my tests it listed a woman as an aunt, who was neither the sister of the person’s father or mother, nor the wife of an uncle. In fact, she is the first wife of the person’s biological father. As expected, these kinship identification errors are also in the kinship section of the person report.


Integration is a competitive advantage for MacFamilyTree. One can launch Google Earth from the “General Information” panel. A separate product, MobileFamilyTree, can synchronize MacFamilyTree databases to an iPhone. When choosing images to add to a record, the application can present lists of images in the iPhoto library and albums. This level of integration is one of the aspects that make using a Mac feel so right. It’s great to be able to experience it in a genealogy application.

Help and Support

I’m giving MacFamilyTree the benefit of the doubt with respect to bugs I encountered during my review process since I’m reviewing a beta version; however, judging by the questions and comments on Synium’s online forum, they’ve got some work to do to make this product as solid as Reunion 9 and iFamily for Leopard.

The “Help” menu contains a link to the online forums where any question you may have has likely been addressed. There is a spartan users guide in portable document format (PDF) that is also accessible from the “Help” menu. Its coverage of installation and registration of the application is thorough. The main features and functions of the application are given only cursory treatment. Finally, there is a tutorial document that covers much of the same information in the users guide. It also includes answers to frequently asked questions. Its use of screenshots with call-outs make the information clear.


MacFamilyTree is a promising genealogy database application. It’s well suited to family historians who highly value the way an application looks. It’s a particularly good fit for those who want their data on their iPhone and those who want hassle-free, no cost web publishing.

How to Quickly and Accurately Enter Text in any Genealogy Software

Do you find yourself typing the same things over and over again? How about “birth date” or “death place?” How often do you type the current date? You may not even realize it, but when documenting your research you frequently, needlessly repeat yourself. These phrases are just the tip of the iceberg. In this article and video I’ll show you how to avoid much of this typing and still get the information entered, without typos.

A simple, low-cost piece of software and a little help is the secret to avoiding all this typing. I’ll get you up and running in no time. Simply follow these steps:

  1. Download a (free trial) copy of Typinator (if you’re not the trusting type, watch the video first)
  2. Download the MacGenealogist Abbreviations
  3. Play this video from the MacGenealogist Archives: How to Quickly and Accurately Enter Text in any Mac Genealogy Software, and follow along
  4. Add your own abbreviations

This program is useful for more than just genealogy. There’s a great demo video that will show you other uses. Best of all, it’s on sale now! Give Typinator a try; your wrists will thank you. After you give it a try, leave a comment to tell us what you think and share the abbreviations you setup and use.

GenealogyTools Members, download this video to your computer for your private use.

Switching to the Mac: Leopard Edition Review

No, this book isn’t written for big, spotted, felines. It’s for people who have switched from Windows to the Macintosh or are curious about doing so. Leopard is the friendly name (unless you are afraid of cats) for the operating system. This friendly, book will help switchers and their genealogy and other files make the transition to the Mac.

Much of the content is duplicated from another book in David Pogue’s Missing Manual series, Mac OS X Leopard: The Missing Manual. That’s okay because this book presents the information differently and adds to it, making it a great choice for switchers. If you already own the Leopard Missing Manual you’ll want to skip this one. If not, have a look at this list of chapter titles to get a glimpse of the comprehensiveness of its coverage:

  • How the Mac is Different
  • Folders, Docks, & Windows
  • Files, Icons, & Spotlight
  • Documents, Programs, & Spaces
  • Eight Ways to Transfer Your Files
  • Transferring Your Email and Contacts
  • Special Software, Special Problems
  • Windows on Macintosh
  • Hardware on the Mac
  • Internet Setup
  • Mail & Address Book
  • Safari & iChat
  • Accounts, Parental Controls, & Security
  • Networking, File Sharing, & Screen Sharing
  • System Preferences
  • The Free Programs
  • Installation & Troubleshooting
  • Appendix: The “Where’d It Go?” Dictionary

The first printing of the book contains some small typographical errors. Fortunately, the publisher’s website provides a list of errata. Checking the list and making notes in the book should mitigate the problem.

Regardless of the typos, the book provides just the right coverage of the topic in a witty, readable style. I recommend Swiching to the Mac to Windows emigrants. Have a look even if it’s been a while since you switched. You will likely find information and tips that improve your efficiency so you have more time for family history research.

It Started with a Burglary

At least the October 6, 1892 Rock Valley Register article started there. The event actually started with a man working in a local hardware store, about three years before the newspaper article and the story told therein. The man was named Peter Klein and he was previously employed in the store when it was under different management. At the time of the event the store was called Smith, Rees & Stengle.

On the morning of September 30, 1892 the store was burglarized. Knives, scissors, and spoons valued at $200 were taken. On the evening  of this same day my great-grandparents, John and Ella Dussel, reported the suspicious behavior of Peter Klein to the store owners. Mr. Klein was staying with his brother, Jonas Klein, on a neighboring farm. The store owners came to the Dussel place and set up surveillance. The following morning, while Jonas and his wife were at church, Peter Klein was observed to be burning something in a sack. My great-grandmother and visitor engaged the man in a dialog and “secured the sack.” She took it to her house and discovered that it contained the packaging in which the stolen articles had been stored.

This news was conveyed to town. Two constables followed by “a large crowd” arrived to find Peter Klein attempting to escape at their approach. He was ordered to stop. He did comply and was fired upon “several times,” ineffectually. He fled into a corn field. Fortunately the crowd was large enough to encircle the obscured thief. He was soon captured and questioned.

He led the constables to a hidden box he recently manufactured. The article described the container as “ingeniously contrived containing a false bottom.” During the preliminary examination the box was opened and the stolen goods found therein. The man the paper described as “always [having] been wayward,” was jailed.

On Monday afternoon he escaped. He was discovered hiding in a different corn field, re-captured, and transferred to the county jail. At the time of the article his guilt had not been officially established. In the article’s final sentence, the paper excoriated the man and stated its belief that he was guilty and in a display of concern for his family that is uncharacteristic of our time, took great pains to exonerate Peter Klein’s brother:

“His relations here repeatedly implored him however to lead a steady and upright life, especially his brother here, who has done a great deal for him, but without avail, and it is due alone to young Klein’s perversity that he has reached this end.”

I was delighted to discover this article within the holdings of NewspaperAchive.com. Prior to this, I had no information about these great-grandparents. Now I know them to have been bold, civic-minded, and determined. I feel more complete now that I can imagine Ella Dussel and her friend confronting the man, winning possession of the sack, and reporting the tale to the authorities. Unfortunately, the digging that yielded this treasure unearthed another mystery.

One night in August of 1894, not even two years later, an unidentified person attacked John Dussel’s visiting brother, Henry, outside John’s house. The attacker was fired upon by Henry. Neither Henry nor the culprit were harmed. I do not yet know whether the events are connected. I also do not know if the Dussel family’s departure for South Dakota in 1895 was a result. The answers may be in newspapers yet to be scanned and put on the Internet.