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.


  1. says

    Getting started on a genealogy project is always difficult but you've broken down the first steps which is great! I especially like how you've used this case history to make clear the goals. Thanks!

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