Monday, May 31, 2021

ProGen Study Group - completed!


The Cat Box Genealogist has been busy.  I have several posts in draft form, and I promise to post many of them someday soon.  After completing Boston University’s Genealogical Research program in the Fall of 2018, I had my sights on joining a ProGen Study Group.  After hanging around on the ProGen waitlist for over a year, I was finally selected and volunteered to co-lead for a group of stellar genealogists.  Assigned to ProGen 46 (Tuesday), I spent the next 14 months studying the text Professional Genealogy, Preparation, Practice, & Standards by Elizabeth Shown Mills.  This was a fantastic experience!  As a group, we sharpened our professional skill sets through challenging and detailed assignments and monthly online discussions.  Our mentor Shannon Greene, C.G., was an invaluable asset to our group, lending considerable value and encouragement. 

For anyone considering becoming a professional genealogist – or wishing to acquire the requisite skillsets – ProGen is where you want to navigate to.  I would recommend completing the Boston University program first and having considerable research experience and materials done before starting.  I highly recommend ProGen!

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

COVID 19 Concerns at your local Family History Center?

UPDATE:  During the summer of 2021, FamilySearch did a security upgrade to the FHC portal.  This changed the URL to  If for some reason this URL does not work for you, get the correct URL for the FHC you are at by looking for it on one of the center's computers.  Remember, all you are doing is accessing FamilySearch from within the FHC WiFi.  The functionality is identical to using one of the center's computers.  

My local Family History Center (FHC) reopened on the 7th of July 2020, after being closed for several months.  COVID 19 had the Placerville, California building closed for months.

Now that we are open again, new safety guidelines are in place.  Social distancing, face masks, and surface cleaning are the new norm.  There are nine computer workstations, but with the six feet of social distancing in place, only four stations can be used.  And these are public computers, used by any number of people throughout the week.  Sure, the volunteer staff clean everything well - before and after each patron - but they are still public.

The good news is there is an option.  I asked around and tested this myself.  The FamilySearch portal can be accessed from within the building with your own computer.  As long as your laptop computer has WiFi, and most do, there are two steps needed to enable your own computer to reach the FamilySearch portal.

First, from within the FHC, login to the FHC WiFi.  If you need help with this, ask one of the friendly volunteers.  Second, direct your web browser to .

Now you are signed on to the same portal as the public computers and have the same functionality.  Any FamilySearch digital film that is locked from viewing elsewhere can now be viewed.  Remember this only works while your computer is connected to the FHC WiFi.

Bring your own computer to the FHC, get your family history research done, and help keep everyone safe with social distancing.  You'll also be opening up a public computer for someone else.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Ancestry DNA Tests - Samples and Resamples

I've read and seen in various forums the suggestion a person should give their Ancestry DNA sample (saliva) first thing after waking up.  The reasoning being there should be the maximum number of cells, formally part of the tissue of the inside of the mouth, suspended in the saliva.  This made sense to me until a met a person who followed this approach - twice - and had her sample rejected twice.  Upon inquiry with Ancestry, she learned this 'first thing after waking' approach can present too much bacteria in the saliva.  Yes, that makes sense too.  The suggestion from Ancestry was to eat a meal, wait 30 minutes or so, and then give the sample.   

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Tick, Tack, Toe - or Time, Place, Person

Airplane pilots will tell you one of their basic skill sets involves the ability to determine Time, Speed, and Distance.  Each affects the other two when getting to a destination on time, and safely.  For the genealogist, we have something similar, Time, Place, and Person. 

The Social Scientist in me always strives to state the obvious.  So here goes.  I'm not at all certain I've heard this explained like this (directly) before, although the concept is omnipresent in the genealogical research process. 

When setting out to answer a research question, we need to know these three things (Time, Place, Person) and look for the intersection where each cross the other.  Think of a horizontal line representing Time, and a vertical line representing a Place.  On your horizontal line, you can establish the date 25 November 1863.  Intersect this with a place, say, Missionary Ridge Tennessee.  If you happened to find yourself at Missionary Ridge Tennessee on 25 November 1863, you would have witnessed a deadly battle during the Civil War! 
Time, Place, Person(s)

The Historian stops there.  Time and Place = History.  The Genealogist adds a person.  Now think of the third line, intersecting the first two; a participant in the battle.  Having these three items of
information the researcher can go forward and look for the information meeting the requirement of 1) 25 November 1863, 2) Missionary Ridge Tennessee, and 3) Colonel Augustus G. Tassin (Union, 35th Indiana). 

Without any one of these three pieces of data, our efforts at research are lost.  With each in mind, we can formulate a research strategy involving perhaps published works, government documents, etc. 

This can be expanded to more than one person or even a family.  In adoption and EPE cases, the intersection of these three is very necessary (think back to that awkward High School class for more information on the biology involved).  Two persons in the same place at the same time.  If one of the two can be shown to have been at another Place, at a given Time (like off to war for instance), then all lines do not intersect. 

By the way, Time and Place can be dangerous in some situations (like driving a car). The retired policeman in me cautions against sharing Time and Place with fellow motorists!       

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

My Secret Weapon.

I've posted elsewhere on this Blog my approach to visiting a research library...its all about the books and other written materials.  Anything on the computers I can get at home, and nowadays even information found on films (microfilm and microfiche) can typically be had either online or at the local Family History Center.  So when I'm in the library, every second is devoted to the stacks.

So what about all the time when I'm not in the library?  Well, I'm making a list of what I want to see when I go back.  Generally, I'm preparing for a visit to the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City, but there are other libraries I use, such as the Sutro in San Francisco and university libraries.

The time between library visits is where you will find me using my Secret Weapon - but it is not really secret at all.  Underused, perhaps altogether forgotten, but not secret.  I'm talking about the Inter-Library Loan, or ILL for short.  I use the heck out of this - two books at a time!

Most every book we encounter in mainstream genealogy can be found at the FHL.   Some are digital, but most are not at the moment; others will not be digital because of permissions and copyright.  Still, others can't me had at the FHL for some reason.   So for those hard to find books, I make an ILL request.  Likewise, books out of the mainstream of what we think of as Genealogy books, are not going to be found at the FHL.  History books for instance.  You will need the ILL if you're not taking a road trip.

In a recent example, the FHL didn't have the book.  The closest copy to me was in Fresno (four hours away by car) and it was in-library use only.  ILL to the rescue!  I think the copy I ended up getting was from St. Louis.

Even if I can see a given text at the FHL, my time there is limited.  There just isn't time to sit down and really read at the FHL.  Typically, I'm taking scans of what I need from the book, and moving quickly to the next.  Not so when I have a book on ILL.  In every case, I've been able to read - really read - and this always yields data I didn't even know I wanted.  In the research process, one item should move you forward to one or more other items.

So my process goes like this:
1) Research identifies a bound volume that may be useful or interesting.
2) Create a Task List assignment to view the item; tagged to a person or family in most cases.
3) Check WorldCat for the book's availability
4) Check on Amazon or eBay.  If the book is something I'd really like to own, I will buy it.

After these steps, I will eventually see each book on my list.  The ILL or short trips to local repositories could do all the work given enough time.  My visits to the FHL just puts everything into fast forward.

A few tips about ILL:
1) Turnaround time will be less for books you get from ILL.  Your local library needs to have the book back to the lending library by a certain date - so your time will be shortened.   For this reason, pick up the books as soon as they become available.
2) Drop any other research you are doing and focus on getting as much out of the time you have with the ILL book.
3) Return the ILL book as early as you can.  This shows the librarians you are responsible.  They will get to know you.
4) Have a new ILL request in hand when you make a return.  Keep the cycle going.
5) Keep track of the requests you've made.  I track them on my Task List.  Here is where I record the date I made the ILL request, when I got the book, and when I return it.
6) If you have to pay a fee (my library gets $3 a book) get a receipt.  At least in the case of my little local library, ILLs are not routine.  There seems to be some confusion as to when a patron pays for the book.  If I keep my receipt I can avoid the confusion.
7) Try to get a receipt for the return of the ILL book.  My library refuses to do this for me - though I always ask.  Things get lost and in an ILL transaction, there are several hands in the mix.  I always note on my Task List the date I returned a book.

So that is my Secret Weapon.  I've been working this system for about two years now; only once was a book unavailable.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

According to Microsoft Excel, the World began on January 1st, 1900 - My Ancestors will disagree

In a previous post, I demonstrated the power of using the date format YYYY.MM.DD in Microsoft Explorer to place anything contained in one folder in chronical order.  This is a very powerful tool.  But, when working with Excel the rules change. 

Recently I added several Civil War battle dates to an Excel sheet wishing to sort them in date order.  Nope!  After troubleshooting this, I discovered something interesting.  Excel actually converts dates to serial numbers starting 1/1/1900.  These numbers are then displayed as dates (in various formats) to the user.  The result is no valid date can exist in Excel before 1/1/1900.  That's not good for the genealogist or course. So what to do?

Well, you could use 1900 dates.  Instead of 12/16/1863 one could use 12/16/1963 for the purposes of sorting.  Being 100 years off just seems weird to this genealogist.

Not wishing to have my Civil War dates in the 1900s, I dug deeper and found this fix.  Inasmuch as Excel refuses to recognize DATES before 1/1/1900, let's use simple NUMBERS.  For this workaround the date, 12/16/1863 is represented as 18631216.  Now Excel is forced to take your date; more precisely it doesn't know it is a date. 

Here is how is use this method: For every application where a date is involved I use the YYYY.MM.DD format.  For example, 1941.12.7, or 1961.7.9, or in the case of a Civil War date, 1863.12.16.  This is my standard, but using 12/7/1941, 7/9/1961, or 12/16/1863 works fine too.  Any date format that you like can be applied. 

First I create an Excel document and enter data.  Record #, date, event, etc.  Now, because Excel is not DATE friendly, we need a NUMBER column also.  I label this column as "Sort" and place it to the far right of the Excel page.  For me, the number 18631216 doesn't quickly translate into the date 1863.12.16, or 12/16/1863, or even 16 December 1863 (for you Purist).  But for Excel, in this application (pre 1/1/1900), it is required.

In practical application, I start out with my standard YYYY.MM.DD column and do a Cut/Paste to a far right column when all my work is entered.  I then painfully remove all the "." and add "0" before any month or day less than 10.  The result is a column of eight numbers per cell.  Now I label this column as "Sort" and try not to look at it.  It's ugly in my humble opinion.  Now I sort using the "Sort" column and if asked, Expand to the entire worksheet.  Now my "Dates" are sorted in date order - not under their own power (unfortunately) - and the product works for me.

I've read that OpenOffice's version of the Excel tool does not have this limitation but I have not tested it yet.       


Monday, November 13, 2017

FamilySearch - FamilyTree, a love hate thing.

I've had this post bouncing around in my head for a few weeks.  If it is written down, maybe I can get it out of my head and move on?  Let's see.

I'm a big football fan.  My teams are the New Orleans Saints and LSU Tigers.  I also follow certain players, not necessarily on my two teams.  Cam Newton, the quarterback of the Carolina Panthers is a player I follow.  I love Cam Newton, and I don't.  As a player and a QB, I just love to watch him drive his team down the field.  But, off the field...not so much.  Love him, and then not so much. I feel the same way about FamilySearch's Family Tree...I love it and then, not so much!

FamilySearch's Family Tree is a global 'one tree' online tree.  You already know how I feel about online trees!  But I really like the way FamilySearch has built Family Tree, and how it is continually being improved for the better.  The person-centric Bow Tie view is a favorite.  Hinting, source attachments, family view layout, person watch.  All of it, I love.  A huge plus is the integration with Roots Magic.  Up to this point, I'm a big fan.  But...

Family Tree is ONE tree.  We all add, modify, delete, source, edit, add again, move, edit again, restore...the same data.  In theory, each person has only one record...their record.   And in so doing, there is a rub.  The information you add can be changed by anyone else.  This has been the main criticism of  Family Tree.  Another one tree is Wiki Tree.

By the way, I know of people - generally members of the LDS Church - who use only Family Tree for their genealogical work.  I understand the reasoning - Temple Work - and if this is your sole mission, then I guess it is okay for that.  But for everyone else, having all of your work up on any online platform is crazy.  Even if all you have is PAF (Personal Ancestral File), use it as your data platform.  NEVER make any online platform your sole repository for all that family history you have been collecting for so many years!  The best practice here is to have some software on your own computer and have it backed up redundantly.  I use Roots Magic plus a maze of back-ups.

Back on topic, ideally Family Tree would be a great way for family historians to collaborate.  I haven't seen this.  What I see are people changing what other's have put in, and then having it changed back.  A genealogical tug-of-war.

Recently FamilySearch added a messaging component to the Family Tree experience.  I think the idea was for people to work out their 'disputes' amongst themselves.  Maybe that works, but in my experience, some family historians don't like being confused with facts.  And a few weeks ago, I was contacted (through the Family Tree messaging system) by one such person.

My reason for putting anything into Family Tree in the first place, it simply to share my research.  If I add anything, it is sourced and this should help others working with the same person or family.  In 2015, I changed an unsourced birthdate (1703) to a new birthdate (1707) sourcing to a derivative secondary source.  In the area provided for an explanation, I explained myself.  Again, the only motivation here is to help someone working on the same family into the future.  My note said the change was based on the given source, and for now it was the best information available.  I even said the birthdate should be changed later if a better source is uncovered.  That was in 2015.

In 2017, I received a message.  It was short and curt.  Had I even taken the time to check the changelog before making my change?  Of course, I did.  I checked everything, the first date was unsourced; nothing supported it.  So I responded quickly (and much more politely) reiterating my 2015 justification in making the change.  Then a second message came in.  "By the time you read this, I may have already made the change" and "please consider deleting your comment [2015 change justication]".

Being the professional that I am, I didn't respond - and haven't.

Then a third message, saying the reference 'belonged' to a tree on World Connect.  Without saying anything, I followed up on this.  Yes, the same person with the 1707 birthdate was out on World Connect, and it was sourced the same.  The Point?  I'm not sure.  I found my information in the original volume during a visit to the Family History Library.

I still plan to continue adding and modifying Family Tree with my source-based research but have turned off messaging.  No time for the negativity.

So what about the birthdate in question?  It was changed back to 1703.  That date remains unsourced.