Researching Sources, Organizing Genealogical Records, Fixing Mistakes
& Family Group Sheets 100 years from now
Rooted deeply in our curiosity and desire to connect to our ancestral history, dwells the inherent need to discover the truth. Finding the records that tell us an ancestor existed and had a life within the context of his or her era is incredibly rewarding to those who have made the genealogical journey to find them. The desire for accurate records about our ancestors grows out of the time spent digging through stacks, searching through online records, or discovering the clues found in family bibles or treasures stored in the closets of great aunts (Thank you Aunt Dorothy). The choice to rely on evidence rather than the easily passed along and poorly sourced online family trees that can trip up genealogists is an important one. Organizing and presenting our records and genealogical research in a way that will transcend the present is even more important.
Truth and Accuracy
Establishing genealogical integrity is built over time. Genealogists all start out as novices to some degree. The mistakes made along the way, along with self-reflection and correction, cement the notion that truth and accuracy in researching our family histories is essential and important to genealogists. I'm not talking about perfection, but taking the steps to make accuracy a priority by working for quality rather than quantity is necessary. The question of how many ancestors you can add to your tree, has to be coupled with are they the right ancestors?
Knowing that mistakes are going to happen is the first step in getting closer to the truth.
Many years ago, while my cousin and research partner, Linda and I were researching our Converse family line, we found another researcher's post on a family tree online with the assertion that my 3-times Great Grandfather, George Converse was the son of Elias Converse. In an effort to see if this was accurate, I connected it on my tree. It's an easy thing to do because of the convenient button click. It makes it easier to research the individual as well. We planned to do further research on him later.
From that connection, many more generations popped up and soon I was back to Edward Converse the progenitor of the Converse Family in America. Somehow, Elias became an overlooked individual on my tree. We began researching the individuals up the Elias line. Over time, we became so familiar with Elias that he started becoming our truth.
Years later, Linda and I were at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah researching. We sat across from each other at one of the many polished wooden tables that were situated just in front of the many rows of bookshelves. With a look of dread, Linda peered up at me from the source she was reviewing and uttered, "oh no...look at this." Knowing Linda as I did, I knew that it was about something I needed to lose my place in my research over immediately.
She had found evidence that our George Converse's father was clearly Horace Converse and not Elias. Years of believing that Elias was our ancestor, getting to know his story and even having visited his father, Pain Converse's grave and taken turns having our photo taken with it (embarrassing!) was a lot to let go of, but our mistake needed to be corrected. The truth was Horace, not Elias.
The truth, as I can attest to was much more important to us than the number of ancestors we had to painfully take off our tree because of it. It wasn't easy. We had become attached to those folk.
Perpetuating false information by continuing to click that button to get that next person on your tree is coming dangerously close to drowning out the truth for future family historians. It really has to be addressed. That day, Linda and I, feeling foolish and regretting the Elias incident vowed to each other to be better genealogists and avoid making that kind of mistake again.
Record, Build, and Maintain Accurate Family History
I have realized that while online databases are phenomenal game changing resources when used with a critical eye, storing information on them about family history does not always lend to accuracy. Even with my vow to be better at it, keeping it all straight has been difficult to do online. My online family trees, for my purposes, need to be a work in progress. Where then, do I keep my verified information? Storing my information is super important to the quality of my work. Keeping an online tree for the process of research is fine, but I needed something more reliable, that I had more control over. Better access, more organization and of course accurate records were a must.
I know there are plenty of software applications for storing trees and other family history information. What I wanted was something that is right in front of me, easy, durable and not attached to a subscription. Sorting through endless web pages to find out if I have one or two sources on a specific piece of information was on my list to eliminate. A workbook seemed to be a possibility, but I didn't like the idea of flipping pages. Reinventing how we store records was not something I was interested in. So I went back to what genealogists have been doing for a very long time, Family Group Sheets. Ah! That felt like home.
I liked the idea of how the Family Group Sheets organized a family and you could see all you need to on the page. Writing all that information out on a photocopied page that I would shove into a folder and then into in my file cabinet, however, did not appeal to me. The idea of not having to depend on a subscription for the rest of my life only to end that subscription upon my passing with no future for my lifelong research was growing on me. A framework for an updated Family Group Sheet to organize my information and tell me right away what I was missing, what sources were attached to each fact and what I already had completed would help me tremendously.
I have definitely benefited from the work genealogists before me have left for us to find, so of course I want to be able to do the same. My 2-times great aunt Elizabeth Crowell Kolb left her records for future generations and they were the foundation for the research Linda and I were able to do. My research is important to me and I believe it will be of benefit to someone in the future. Note: Very sadly, in December of 2020, Linda passed away. On her shoulders I stand in all things family history. Her 40 plus years of research is held by me and I am determined to leave her legacy and the work I continue to do to our descendants.
Building a Bridge to Future Genealogists
For me, I wanted the spoils of my research as well as Linda's to still be accessible 100 years from now. Who knows where technology will be then. In terms of storing family history, there is a huge difference between 2023 and 1923. Many sources I have used were books, vital records, microfilmed church records from libraries and genealogical societies or online archives. Many were written over 100 years ago. If I think forward into the future, how will our genealogical records fare? Will they still be accessible in 2123?
A while back, I created a website for my family history and put years of work into it. Will it stand the test of 100 years? I can tell you the answer is probably not. Who will maintain its cost and maintenance once I am no longer around? Will it become the VHS tapes of the future? I can't expect that anyone will have the same commitment about keeping it functional and paid for like I do. The reality is that it's just not going to happen and my website will likely become a casualty to the next great thing like the DVD did to VHS before being replaced by streaming.
I thought a lot about how to create a functional Family Group Sheet that would withstand ever changing technology and tried several different approaches. After some research, trials and experimenting I landed firmly on Google Sheets for recording Family Group Sheets and PDFs (Portable Document Format) for making them accessible in the future for some important reasons.
Google Sheets are free and can be accessed wherever you are. While they are
generally used as a traditional spreadsheet, they have great value when creating a Family Group Sheet. It is like filling out a form and is very easy. The cherry on top is that they can easily be turned into PDFs.
PDFs that have survived the exponential growth of technology since the 1990s and have become a standard in our lives. While they are not flashy and trendy, they are the reliable. For the sake of archiving valuable information, PDFs are the best choice. The amount of PDFs created in the world already necessitate a way to access them in the future.
Once a Family Group Sheet is complete, it can be downloaded as PDF. PDFs can be stored on your computer, stored online, can be made into an online book, published as a hard copy book or as a webpage... There are lots of possibilities.
If you would like to know more about how to create a Family Group Sheet in Google Sheets for your family history research, click the button below to CuZens Family Group Sheets.
Robin Stewart is the founder of CuZens Genealogy. She is a retired teacher and school administrator and lives with her family in California. She has been involved in genealogy since 1983. Her passion has always included the pursuit of her family's history.
For more information about CuZens Genealogy visit: www.cuzens.com