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…]

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…]

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!

How Reunion 9 Users Can Find More Relatives Faster

How You Can Find More Relatives Faster

If you don’t have enough time for your genealogy research and would like to have more, the MacGenealogist Archives may be the best solution for you. You see, genealogy research is subject to Parkinson’s law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

You Can’t Afford to Fiddle

In other words, once you start fiddling with your software you waste big chunks of time that could have been better spent pursuing your genealogy research goals. If your primary hobby is being a computer geek this isn’t so bad, but you’re a genealogist. That means that you’re in pursuit of ancestors and you don’t find relatives by tinkering with your computer.

Robbing Yourself of Time

To make matters worse, Parkinson’s law suggests that when you start fiddling you’re likely to use up lots of your valuable genealogy time. Playing with your software—even when your intent is learning to use it more effectively—robs you of precious research time that will get you to those thrilling discoveries. Don’t get me wrong; I know that you are well served by learning to be more effective with your tools. Mastering your tools will save you time, but you can’t be all day about it.

You Have Undiscovered Ancestors

I know it’s hard to strike a balance between time spent learning and researching, but it’s worth doing. There are ancestors waiting for you to discover that one piece of evidence that will lead you to them. You need time to meticulously focus to uncover them and their relatives.

Discover Your Ancestors Sooner

We can’t make more time, but we can use it more efficiently. You need a tool to help you learn how to better use your Mac so you have the time to enjoy more genealogy breakthroughs sooner.

MacGenealogist Archives Will Help

The MacGenealogist Archives will help you develop mastery of Reunion 9 for Mac while protecting your valuable research time. The archive contains 50 videos–over 459 minutes of helpful video. And they’re only available to GenealogyTools members. Click this link to go become a member.

MacGenealogist Videos Create More Research Time by Focusing Your Learning

Following along with the step-by-step video tutorials in the MacGenealogist Archives will help you free up time to find your relatives. It will focus your learning so you’re not just poking around. And that’s not all!

The MacGenealogist Archives Does So Much More

  • Simple step-by-step video tutorials make you more efficient and effective
  • Reading and seeing details on the videos is easier because they’re large
  • You can take the videos with you and view them without being dependent on an Internet connection
  • See at a glance which videos go together with series color coding

Okay, So What Does It Cost?

The MacGenealogist Archives are only available to GenealogyTools members. You set the membership dues. Pay what you can.

100% Satisfaction Guarantee

I want you to be completely satisfied and I don’t want you to rush through the videos. Take as long as you need to go through the videos. If after you’ve followed along with all the videos you can honestly say the lessons haven’t made you more effective with Reunion 9 for Mac, send me an email and I’ll refund your money.


You can find more ancestors faster by learning the techniques covered in these screencast videos. Using the videos on your computer is even more convenient than on the website. Click this link to go become a member then download the MacGenealogist Archives videos today.

How to Download Your Family Tree from to Your Macintosh is a great service. They make searching for and accessing records about our relatives very simple. They also have a very nice online family tree management system, but even if you maintain one or more family trees on, you’ll probably want to get that data onto your Mac. If you don’t have an Ancestry subscription, click here to try FREE with a 14-Day Free Trial.

The good news is that the service supports exporting in a standard format called GEDCOM. The bad news is that while they’ve made it relatively simple to do, the functionality is sort of buried in the site. In this video, How to Download Your Family Tree for Use in Your Mac Genealogy Software, I show you where it is and how to use it to get the genealogy information you’ve captured in onto your Mac.

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

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 and bought the first volume of my screencast video CDs. While it doesn’t yet cover the monthly expenses of operating, 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.

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.