Introduction: In this article, Jessica Edwards gives a tip for how she organizes data on her family tree and prepares for follow-up research. Jessica has had a lifelong interest in her family’s history – especially on her father’s side, which goes back to the first settlers in Pennsylvania, Jamestown, and New England – and has documented and added more than 37,000 people to her family tree!
Today I want to share one of my tips for doing genealogy. Let me state: I do not import other people’s trees. The names on my family tree are what I can prove and show where I got my information – so when you see that my tree currently has 37,132 names, it is from hard work and documenting everything.
Some of the genealogy tips I know have slowly evolved, some ideas came from others, some were the result of frustrations I got in trying to go back and retrace steps, etc.
Here’s one genealogy tip. I determined years ago that I function better when I set “place values” in my tree entries. What are “place values”? For example, I find an obituary that says Mrs. Mary Gordon Meshersmit was living in Renovo, Pennsylvania, when her father died. I add her married surname after her maiden name until I can either find her husband or else have exhausted all my sources in trying to ascertain Mr. Meshersmit’s first name. If I can find his first name, great, but if I can’t I set a place value of (Unknown) Meshersmit as Mary’s spouse.
Periodically I will pick a few of these unknown people to try to research again because sources are always being added to genealogical websites. If I am in a hurry I just list the place values and then later go back and search for them. This is what I am currently doing to my tree; this approach helped me add more than 78 first names of spouses, and I’m just starting to look at the H’s.
Another place value for names that I use is one for unnamed babies and infants. I decided long ago to mark each entry separately. Recently I came across a FindaGrave listing for the Gill family with a tombstone that said there were two unnamed sons and two unnamed daughters.
I could have made it just one listing but I decided to separate them in my tree by listing them as: (Unnamed Boy 1) Gill; (Unnamed Boy 2) Gill; (Unnamed Girl 1) Gill; and (Unnamed Girl 2) Gill. I copied their place of birth and death for that county, and for dates I used the place value “unknown.” This reminds me that I have looked for a date on the tombstone and also searched for death and/or birth certificates but haven’t found any dates yet.
Another place value I use deals with the names of places. Long ago I decided I would use the format of: city (if known), county, state, USA. This might involve Googling that place’s name, as I am aware that many areas have possibly changed what county a certain city or town is located in. For example, I have found Williamsport, Pennsylvania, listed as a part of both Clinton and Lycoming Counties in different documents – but in actuality it is part of Lycoming County, so I entered it as: Williamsport, Lycoming, Pennsylvania, USA.
In researching a place, you may find the whole name was changed since that area was first colonized. A few examples of this in Alaska are: Barrow was renamed Utqiaġvik in 2016, after its original Iñupiaq name; Black River was renamed Draanjik River in 2014 after its original Gwich’in name; Chandalar River was renamed Ch’iidrinjik River and Teedrinjik River in 2015 as replacements for the North and Middle forks of the river; and Sheldon Point was renamed Nunam Iqua in 1999 after its original Yup’ik name.
I also periodically go back to my place names to make sure they are spelled correctly (those dratted typos sneak in when I’m tired). One genealogy program I used to use had a tab where it alphabetized all place names, and you could drag and drop various names for the same place into one name for clarification. For example, I may have one entry that says Lock Haven, PA, one that says Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, one that says Lock Haven, Clinton County, Pennsylvania, etc., so I could drag and drop them all into a unified “Lock Haven, Clinton, Pennsylvania, USA” name, and the program changed all the related entries at the same time – a real time saver.
Using place values helps me to organize myself and my tree – and if using them can help you, I’m glad. A good genealogy tree is one that you can sit anyone down and they can follow where you got your information and come to the same conclusions on this person’s life.
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