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How Should I Format Names on Ancestry.com?
For genealogy in general, and Ancestry.com in particular, I prefer date month year: 12 Jan 2020 vs. Jan 12, 2020, but either of these is clear and works well. Be sure to include the spaces - they are necessary for Ancestry. I avoid writing dates as 12/1/2020 because that date is ambiguous and can be interpreted as either 1 Dec 2020 (American) or 12 Jan 2020 (European).
We’re always looking for ways to find new folks who would like our help. We provide a range of services, including Genealogy and Photo Restoration, and some more loosely related services - PC administration and instruction, Web Programming and Development, Software Development and Graphic Design. We reside in the Houston, TX area, and we would love to help you whether you live locally or across the US or around the world. Our profile on ThumbTack is here.
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Ancestry.com, FTM and Treesync Update (Continued)
The journey Julie and I have been on has been one of the more frustrating I’ve encountered. This fact makes the anticlimactic nature of it’s conclusion different relative to many other similar situations. It seems like we SHOULD want to celebrate. While the Media files are still trickling in (complete now), FTM 2014 THINKS we have a synchronized copy of her tree on my PC. Yay. Why don’t I FEEL like saying YYYYYYAAAAAAAYYYYYYY!!!!!? I think mainly it’s just going to take a few days to sink in. I do feel pretty good about it, but if I’m going to feel really good about it I’m going to have to put the “journey” behind me and try to repress it. I usually find documenting goes a long way toward that end so here goes.
I believe where I left off on the story was that I had received a FTM Backup (.ftmb) of Julie’s tree back from Ancestry on the Thumb Drive I sent them per agreement. The next step was unclear, but I had suggested that I send the Thumb Drive yet again, and I was receiving inconsistent feedback from them on what and whether they were willing to support. I was digging in more deeply to see what I could figure out and had just sent the assigned support person more information to chew on. He sent me some hopeful signs that the developers were trying some new software and asked for patience. About a week later he reported too many errors, suggested we split our tree, and indicated he/they wouldn’t be able to help any more.
Yes, it was frustrating to be cut loose like that. I tried one more time on my Windows XPVM, and noticed/realized that the software wasn’t taking full advantage of my new MAC Mini (4 core hyperthreaded, 64 bit, 16 GBRAM), so I investigated and figured out Microsoft has a Windows 8.1 64-bit Pro evaluation on-going. I downloaded this software, and configured it to use 4 cores and 8 GB of memory, and tried downloading Julie’s tree without linking using FTM 2012. I think it worked first time, which seemed like a pretty major step forward.
At the time, I was considering a deep dive into GEDCOM as a method to get around the problems Ancestry had been causing us, so I then started attempting to Export portions on Julie’s tree with an eye toward splitting the tree as instructed, and toward extracting GEDCOMs to manipulate using Python. It wasn’t something I was looking forward to, but it is something I am able to do and was willing to attempt. FTM2012 was able to export some but not other portions of the tree.
Back-to-basics time - I decided to call the support line and ask what I do in such a case. The advice out of the chute was “have you updated Java on your system?” Well, no. That hardly seems like it would help. “Sir, that’s what we recommend for starters and it often resolves this type of issue.” Okay, I’ll bite. Short story - I did, and it did! Now I had a fairly recent tree on my system that I could work with. Do I GEDCOM Deep Dive or press my luck and see if by some stretch TreeSync might work?! She had also told me that FTM 2014 was currently available, and that one of the things they’ve done is enable 64-bit operation, and improved things broadly.
Back to “Okay, I’ll bite.” I downloaded FTM 2014, and started a TreeSync. The initial sync took about 18 hours if memory serves, and the media finished sync’ing after just under 3 days. So far, the only thing I’ve been unable to do is perform a full backup of the sync’ed tree. During that process the program crashes, but it doesn’t seem to mess anything up.
Do I feel like saying “YYYYYYAAAAAAAYYYYYYY!!!!!?” Hmmmm. Frustrations documented and mostly behind me. Tree fully sync’ed. Only 1 minor issue remaining.
Okay - YYYYYYAAAAAAAYYYYYYY!!!!!
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Family History Entertaining? I Don't THINK So!
What, if anything, “trips YOUR trigger” about Genealogy? For Julie, it’s detective work, solving puzzles, investigating relevant history, finding evidence, cleaning it up and putting in all in order. I enjoy helping people with research and related technology issues. I’m also very keen on making Genealogies more accessible and enjoyable for a broader audience. Julie and I are also big fans of history, which is a key part of the pursuit of family history.
Many people hear the word Genealogy and joke about having spent their lives breaking free of their family and wondering why they would want to know more and not less. Others complain about the pursuit being centered around names, dates, records, etc. I don’t have the time it would take to learn and sort through enough of it to get to the point where it would be interesting to me, etc., etc.
There is a big emphasis in the industry now centered around finding/putting together the stories in genealogy - recognizing that a bunch of names/dates/places/etc. is of limited interest to some individuals. The current thinking is that these details are key means to understand and attempt to fit past family members into their historical context. We feel pretty strongly about this as well, but if one doesn’t already have the information for their family, then there probably aren’t reasonable shortcuts to gaining it.
Hopefully your family has a historian and you know who that is or you discover him/her/them as you get into the process. This will make the endeavor much simpler, but whether that is a good thing really depends upon what interests and entertains you.
For us, we have a very large family history and trove of information. We also have a large number of collaborators - mostly coming from Julie’s efforts on Ancestry. We have yet to figure out what will make the history more accessible to the bulk of our family members, however. As it stands, it takes engagement to learn your way around Ancestry, and patience not to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information.
For some, that’s entertainment. For others, not so much.
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Ancestry.com, FTM, and Treesync Update
Julie’s tree was problematically large - around 50,000 people or so - when we purchased FTM 2012 with Treesync in October of 2011. That is precisely why we bought the software. As it turns out, we didn’t quite realize just how problematic it was going to be. When we finally convinced Ancestry that this wasn’t a problem with our computers, internet connection, etc., they made a copy of her tree - approximately 20Feb2013 (yes, you are reading that right - more than a year). It contained 72,215 people at that point. I finally got that file - through a circuitous process - and got it loaded up in Family Tree Maker around the middle of July.
What they ended up doing - and I fully understand this is extraordinary and above-and-beyond on their part - was to let me send them a 32 GB Thumb Drive. All electronic transfer methods failed due to the fact that at that point the zipped file set was ~ 16 GB. There were several attempts using Dropbox and other credible file transfer services, including attempts to break up the large .zip into smaller pieces. I suspect if we had stayed on that track we would have found a way, but with “life going on” here and at Ancestry, each attempt tended to take several weeks.
Now that we’ve had a success, my thinking is I’m ready to try it with the new file set, which has advanced to 87,739 people. Unfortunately, when asking the question I am reminded why Ancestry assigned someone to work with us through this process - things like “we don’t send out files on thumb drives” and “we don’t recommend…”. I’m sort of surprised they didn’t tell me to clear my browser cache and cookies - wait, that’s a new problem and new set of responses. I’ve resent the request - hopefully with the proper secret decoder ring settings - suggesting perhaps that in addition to the possibility that we try the new file set, we might even try to sync there on their “mainlined” computer using Julie’s account, and then copy/send those files to me to see if this might result in a synchronized tree on my computer. Given the amount of time we (well, mostly Julie) have invested in this family history, my next suggestion is going to be for me to buy a new laptop and send it to them so they can “mainline” it to the data center, get it synchronized, send it back, and maybe we can then keep it sync’ed. We can hope, can’t we?
For the record, Ancestry has STRONGLY recommended that we break the tree up into smaller pieces. This is a valid suggestion certainly - at least from a synchronization manageability perspective. Sorry - I can’t seem to avoid digressing - this particular discussion with the support folks ended up being particularly ridiculous - “Sir, you really need to break this tree up.” “How are we supposed to do that - there are no tools on Ancestry to make it happen.” “Well sir, we’ll send you some articles that will explain how to do it on Family Tree Maker.” “WHAT?! Isn’t this entire discussion centered around getting this tree into FTM in the first place…” Sorry, but some of my interactions with their support have contained some real classics (end of digression). In any case, while we wouldn’t mind having smaller trees for specific purposes, the large tree shared fairly openly is really what we are looking for. It’s pretty surprising how many people approach Julie to collaborate and to offer/request help, information and records. Julie can manage it, and it likely avoids a quite a bit of duplicate effort trying to figure out overlaps and such.
Yet again, I am dangerously close to sounding like I’m Ancestry bashing. I guess I am a bit at least. BUT, their tools are so powerful and useful for our purposes - the sharing platform being one of the biggest - that we really don’t see why we need another tool for maintaining our tree. Not having a backup on our own computer, however, is a non-starter which is why I’ve focused so much of my time on making that happen (and intend to continue until we’re satisfied).
Ancestry tackled a monster problem and are doing a respectable job at it!
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Transcribing Family Published Works To Ancestry
One of the interesting things Julie has been faced with is putting previously published Family Histories onto ancestry.com. It is often amazing how accurate even the older works can be, and perhaps more interesting to consider all of the work which must have gone into making it so… She hasn’t transcribed that many complete Histories, but she has done significant portions, and those tend to be surprisingly correct relative to currently available records. Understand that the older works particularly had to be done “the hard way.” They didn’t have ancestry and other online tools that are starting to spoil Genealogists. There are still many more of these histories out there, and we’d like to suggest that families who care about specific histories bring them to genealogists to place online. The process of placing these histories online and performing basic fact checking can result is some relatively quick and productive research avenues to pursue. This can sometimes result in dramatic progress, and often clarify many lingering questions.
We’d love to help anyone with this process, so give us a call.
We have to be some of ancestry.com’s biggest fans. Julie spends countless hours building and fleshing out her monster tree using ancestry as the focal point. Our household is 100 % in terms of world members. We both own a copy of Family Tree Maker with TreeSync - one for Windows and one for MAC. Unfortunately, we purchased FTM with TreeSync primarily to backup Julie’s opus (her now 72,000 person + and counting family tree). The postmark on the Windows version - which was available first - is 25Oct2011. If I started right away - which is likely - then that says I started calling Ancestry support on 27Oct2011 or so - let’s call it 1Nov2011. It is now 24Sep2012. TreeSync hasn’t worked on MAC or Windows one time for this tree despite repeated frustrating calls and a surprising lack of communication. I believe 1 year is way more than you need to fix this problem, so I’m starting a countdown to 1 year.
So, today is t-38 and counting. If I counted correctly (and I’m sure I’ll hear about it if I didn’t), that says that 1Nov2012 will be day t-0, or one year from the day I started trying to get a good backup from FTM with TreeSync. I’m going to send a tweet once per day with the hash tag #tangledrootsbu and the day count, and will report success on the day we receive a backup of Julie’s tree that we can run it on Family Tree Maker - either MAC or Windows - and see that the numbers are at least close and the resources (records, photos, etc.) appear to be present. We don’t intend to be rigorous in verifying every detail - this is a monumental tree, and achieving a backup of such a tree is non-trivial. But it’s not something that should take a year from the release of a product advertised as doing just that, for goodness sake. I really don’t care if this is done through TreeSync, or if you send me a stack of CDs or DVDs or a hard drive with the data. It just needs to run in an FTM instance. We have GEDCOM Backups and they do run so we know your software can handle a large tree.
Now for the “please don’t misunderstand me” part. We think ancestry.com and Family Tree Maker are fantastic tools - not the only great tools available, but the ones we happen to use and like. Your tools and ones like them have absolutely revolutionized the pursuit of Family History. TreeSync is a tool that qualifies as revolutionary. I do appreciate the gesture you just made in saying that you are not planning to release FTM 2013 - I assume that is because you still need to finish FTM 2012. I have some experience with the type of thing you are trying to accomplish in my past endeavors, but I must say I don’t envy you the year you have likely had trying to make everyone who bought a TreeSync equipped product happy. These are records of their families, and they are their labors of love. They care deeply, and I’m pretty sure the people you have working at Ancestry do as well. Let’s get this thing finished so you can get started on a fantastic FTM 2014!
And thanks for your contribution to making the pursuit of Family History so fun and rewarding!
Until fairly recently (within the past several years), we were fairly skeptical of tools like ancestry.com, and opted for desktop Family History tools. We may have experimented with it before a bit, but Julie joined in early 2007, and she’s since built one of those mega-trees I was talking about in a prior post. She’s done her best to make her trees models of good practice, with lots of stories, photos, documentation, and alternative explanations where necessary. The resources available here - repositories of records, hints systems, collaboration tools, etc. - have been invaluable and have made the experience of documenting our family history more than rewarding (read addictive perhaps). There are many, many other fine sources of information and tools that add to the experience, and we try to use them all while ancestry.com remains at the core. Fairly recently, we’ve been suffering from one limitation that started to concern me as the administrator charged with resolving technical issues. There wasn’t really a good way to copy/synchronize a tree elsewhere. We were using FTM 2009 which basically relied on GEDCOMs for moving things around. We found out as I was investigating that starting with FTM 2010 you could at least copy your tree to your desktop. We are pretty excited about a feature in FTM 2012 called TreeSync, which is supposed to allow you to synchronize your ENTIRE trees between your devices and work “seamlessly” between all of them. In our case, devices means online and desktop. The iPad and iPhone versions don’t work very well with mega-trees yet - at least not the last time we tried. It appears they would have worked very well with smaller trees, however. We have pre-ordered FTM 2012, and are anxiously waiting to try to sync our online tree with our desktop system. If that works, it will bring peace-of-mind, and will improve flexibility significantly for the Genealogist.
ancestry.com is not without flaws, but we can certainly say that it’s transformed Family History for us and we highly recommend it. If you want to try any of these products out, please go to our start page and follow the links for offers from ancestry. One thing I’d like to make a particular point of here is that Ancestry does not currently require you to have a paid account to maintain or view a tree on their site. It appears you pay ancestry for the use of their collaboration tools and to research using their records. You can still use their site to create a tree and use that tree to organize your own research as well as sharing your tree with other family members. Ancestry could certainly change this policy to require paid accounts for this service, but I’m not sure why they would as it is a great way to virally collect potential future paid subscribers.
I started this post a few months ago, and given my recent complaining, I thought it best that I resurrect it asap.
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Meet Our New iBook on the Revolution in Online Genealogy Research
As I’ve said before, I hope it is clear how much we love Genealogy. I think it comes through in this book. The book was written in iBooks Author for iBooks. That’s where you can read it to best effect. While I would accept credible offers to publish, right now we’ve decided to use the book for the benefit of our Genealogy Consultancy customers primarily. If you would like more information or to request a copy, please use the contact information or form on our site home page. I can also make the book available as a .pdf, but it loses the active content - some photos, the Table of Contents, and the active glossary.
What I’ve attempted to accomplish with this book is to communicate some real sense of the profound changes that have taken place in the pursuit of your family history. Julie has spent “countless” hours on her own tree, and on helping others pursue their efforts - particularly in the past 3 or 4 years. The newest tools available are pretty amazing. The pursuit is not for everyone and I spend a fair amount of time talking about that as well.
Again, ask, and I don’t see why I wouldn’t provide you with a copy! At this point we’ve decided not to charge for the book, although if you absolutely must send money I can let you know how best to do that as well. Most of our efforts to this point have been for our own family gratis as it’s what we like to do. Julie’s tree is at 72,000 people and around 100 collaborators and counting, so the experience she’s built that can be applied to your situation is quite impressive.
The cover photo is one of Julie’s photo montages. She’s done quite a few of these mementos for various branches of our family, and a few for others. We call it a Re:Montage, and we’d love to put together one of these heirlooms for you and your family, too!
Google called me this week to talk me into placing some ads using Adwords Express. Since I was already thinking along those lines, they didn’t have to talk long. The $100 incentive didn’t hurt either. It was surprisingly simple, and traffic on our web site is noticeably higher, although we aren’t receiving as many calls as we would like to receive. If you’re here, and you’re reading this, and not asking us for assistance, it would be very interesting to know why that is. If you would, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or use our feedback form on our home page. Feel free to put “Do Not Contact Me” in the message section if you like. We’re quite interested to know how you think we should best reach those folks out there who need some assistance at whatever level, but simply don’t want to ask us for that help.
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Have You Given Up On Your Ancestry Tree?
Can you tell yet that Julie and I are very big into Family History? Well, we are. I like it, and am quite capable, but Julie REALLY enjoys it. Her large tree puts her in touch with and provides collaboration opportunities with people from all across the US and sometimes around the world. She helps a lot of people in the course of her research, and in the process they help her as well. I call the progress made in Genealogy Tools fairly recently (past 20 years or so) profound. Unfortunately, it’s not always a simple matter to take advantage of these tools and get to the point where progress is being made where you desire.
This brings me around to the original question. Have you tried to build a tree - primarily on ancestry.com, but there are other places - and abandoned the effort for some reason? We’ve encountered several people in this situation, and typically Julie can either get them jump started and back on track or just do it for them. While it is possible that your dead end is just a - well - dead end, it is also possible that some adjustments in your approach and a new perspective can get you back on the right track. It’s also possible - although it’s hard for us to imagine (joke alert) - that you want the family history, but simply don’t like the pursuit. We can definitely help here.
Whatever your situation, we hope you will contact us here at refamily.com and give us the opportunity to provide the assistance you need.
I reported earlier today that ancestry sent out an update to Family Tree Maker 2012 for Windows, and Family Tree Maker for MAC. I tried to sync Julie’s tree, and, well, it kind of makes me wonder if they even tried to fix our problem with very large trees. I had pretty much given up on calling the Ancestry support line, but being a bit obsessive, I decided to give them another try. Understand that things seem to work just fine until we get to Julie’s “Monster” tree.
My call went pretty much as expected. First level support first needs to talk to Julie since this is her account. Then they start the process by flailing at problems that I’m not reporting. Then they figure out that I actually HAVE reported the problem before, and that the development team IS actually aware of the problem. Given the fact that I’ve done this nearly 10 times, I’m getting pretty frustrated on these calls by this time. We finally get down to it, and she says “sir, this problem has been reported many times, and uninstalling and reinstalling the program has fixed it every time.” I think I hurt my credibility with the poor first level support person by refusing this suggestion - which, by the way, I’m HEARINGFORTHEFIRSTTIME from Ancestry support. I regain a bit of credibility when she is able to go offline for a bit and verify that indeed I actually have called in before and my problem is actually being actively worked by the development team - or so she says.
Recreation/Paraphrasing on dialog from this point:
Ancestry Support: “Sir, if you refuse to uninstall/reinstall - which is what the support team recommends - then would you please send them your crash report so that they can see what’s wrong.”
Me: “Well, it wasn’t actually a crash - it ate up all my ram, and then proceeded to consume my swap space - and then it just stopped consuming CPU cycles.”
Ancestry Support: “Okay, please just send them the crash report.”
Me: “Well, the crash report has already been sent to Apple - can’t you get it from them?”
Ancestry Support: “No, sir, we’re not the same company.” (really?! my goodness, now that’s a surprise - you’re names both begin with “A”)
Me: “Well, can you help me find the existing logs?”
Ancestry Support: “No sir, I really don’t know how to do that. Please just recreate the problem and capture the new log report and send that to email@example.com in reply to our email telling you what to do.”
Me: “You sent me an email. That’s the FIRSTONE I’VEGOTTEN from Ancestry on this matter - why is that?! Anyway, you realize that will take me around 2 hours?”
Ancestry Support: “Yes, sir, that’s what we need you to do.”
Sooooo, I did a quick google search and figured out how to find my log reports - I had 2 spin and 2 hang reports, so I zipped them up and forwarded them along.
NOW I’m uninstalling and reinstalling - I’m torn as to which outcome I desire most. If it works, hooray and we have our backups. The downside is that this would encourage ridiculous suggestions from support people. What it says is that their software would have been self-corrupted by their own updating process - I guess anyway. I can’t think of any other half reasonable answer.
I guess I’ll let you know how that goes. AND, I’ll try not to turn this into too much of a crusade here in this blog - although it’s tempting…
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Family Tree Maker and Our Family Tree
Family Tree Maker and the tree Julie maintains for our own family don’t play well together. Late last year - early October 2011 I think - they first offered up the newest version. We jumped on it because, frankly, we were afraid that something might happen to Julie’s work on ancestry.com. Good news - nothing has happened. Bad news - after nearly a year and lots of trying and complaining and we still don’t have a synchronized tree between ancestry.com and either the MAC or the Windows version.
I’m writing this because I tried both versions of FTM - MAC and Windows - today and both have updates. I try running trial syncs every few weeks in the now seemingly futile hope that they will have fixed whatever is keeping us from using their programs as defined on this massive tree. I am in the middle of an attempt to sync on the MAC as we (or maybe that’s I) speak. I believed prior to the MACFTM implementation that MAC programs are usually more capable and that it would work first there if anywhere. It actually does look like it’s going to work, but then I check memory use and as the program consumes all available memory and starts to consume swap space it’s pretty clear that - whoops, crash. At that point you have to go clean up after the ancestry software - not too bad since the only “ill” effect seems to be the fact that they THINK the trees are in sync when they are not.
So far we haven’t lost anything. I really hope that continues, because - well, it’s really beyond contemplating. We do have the more standard GEDCOM backups and such, but her tree goes so far beyond what you can download from ancestry using a GEDCOM that it’s not even funny.
We hope they hurry. For my part, I’ve given up on calling them about it - they are nice but that are also a black hole - lots of input but no output beyond a random update now and then. It’s fairly shocking they get away with it, but I guess when you’re the BIGDOG…
All of that said, I want to be clear that the tool appears to work quite well for smaller trees and the ancestry.com tools are great for what we need. We just want to have a representative backup in our hot little hands for goodness sake!
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FTM 2012 Treesync Seems Like It Was Quite A Project
We were working on a consulting project, and I was working under the assumption that we could build a tree on Ancestry.com, and then just copy it and keep the old tree while we worked on a new tree. We wanted to do this so we could share the work we’d been paid for, and then work privately until the client was ready to pay for the new work. This seemed like a logical way to do business. After we passed a pay point, I noticed Julie was taking a long time to get to work on the next one. It turns out, she was having to copy the tree person just about from scratch the hard way. “Do you mean to tell me there is no way to copy a tree?!” “That’s right.” Well, that’s mind boggling.
I started researching the issue, and I quickly got to some Rootsweb discussions talking about synchronizing trees between Family Tree Maker (desktop) and Ancestry.com (web). We had FTM 2009 (painfully on a Windows XP virtual machine on my MacBook) and at least with that version all transfers seem to be via GEDCOM transfers and were very limited. FTM 2011 was touted as having the ability to copy a full tree to and from Ancestry.com, but there was a lot of discussion about the fact that when you copied the tree, it became a new entity both on the desktop and on the web. What folks in this thread were clamoring for was the ability to synchronize the trees, and work with either and be able to reconcile the two (between desktop and web). That way things like hints don’t start from scratch when you copy the tree, etc. There are lots of implications.
Not long after I began to investigate (it may actually have been before I started to investigate), Ancestry announced their FTM 2012 with Treesync. I soon learned why they were doing it (see above), and it turns out that is seems like it’s just what the doctor ordered for our purposes. We pre-ordered a copy, and proceeded to wait for our copy. I put that line of research on hold to see what happened. We finally got our copy around the 3rd week on October (I could talk about the failures associated with this delivery, but…), and after sync’ing a couple of smaller trees (< 2000 people), I proceeded to attempt the big one at ~ 53,000 people. As soon as I told it to start, Julie hollers “WHYCAN’T I ACCESSMYTREE?!” “Well, I imagine it’s because they need to lock it while they’re analyzing it to see what needs to happen to it to transfer it.” About a half an hour later, an error message pops up saying it was unsuccessful and to try again later and/or contact customer service. I give it a while, and try again. More complaints and a half hour later, failed again.
The first call to customer service was kind of disastrous. I think it might work if you uncheck “Sync,” copy it from Ancestry to FTM, and then copy it back. Oh, you do, do you? Well, that’s not what I bought it for, and have you read the threads with vociferous complaints about what happens when you do that?! Then “Oh, I see what it probably is. There are non-letter/number characters in Media captions - we only allow letters/numbers and maybe a comma in Media captions. Why don’t you try removing those from captions, try Sync again and call us back if it doesn’t work?” I’m thinking “like h*$$ I will” but I was tired so I let the guy off the hook. It turns out that was the right thing to do, because when I called back a week later, I got someone on the phone who was very helpful, and agreed that the suggestions I had received were strange. He tried to sync Julie’s tree, and got the same error, which was great, and so now they are supposed to be working on the problem. I hope they will resolve it, because having a full copy of that tree is worth a lot to us, and we didn’t actually pay a lot to make it happen.
There are features available on FTM (2012, 2011, etc.) that are for whatever reason not available on Ancestry.com. One of the stranger ones is that you can NOT search for text on Ancestry in your tree. You can search for people, but if you don’t know where you put something on Ancestry, good luck! On FTM, you can search for free text (so I’m told, anyway - but am waiting for success on the above to try it).
I hope no one thinks I’m particularly complaining about the time this is taking for Ancestry to get this working. While they probably should have gotten things working before they released the software, as long as they make it work over a reasonable period of time, I think we’ll be happy. I’ve done a lot of work with databases, and I understand that this is a very large and complex project. I don’t see Ancestry backing down on making this work here - this means a lot to them, and it means a lot to their customers. For our part, we would like to thank Ancestry for putting themselves out there and tackling the hard problem! Now if we can get them to tackle free text search within a tree on Ancestry… ;-)
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A name, by any other name, is still a name. Or is it?
There are so many opportunities for names to be, not just misspelled, but completely butchered. What a mess as far as researching family lines goes! Too bad they didn’t have computers “back then.”
I’ve been researching my family for over forty years and have found some errors that leave me wondering about the common sense of record keepers, census takers, and the original transcribers - and some leave me laughing.
My 2nd great-grandfather’s name, Xavier Thomas Prentis, was transcribed from the 1850 census as Havier Runtz! I kid you not. No wonder it took so long for me to find it. The name of his widowed mother, above his, was correctly transcribed as Mary Prentis. Ten years later, the 1860 census was transcribed correctly - but his name is incorrect on the original as Exavier Prentiss, handwritten with the long s: Prentiſs. In 1870, it’s transcribed as Xame Prentiss, again handwritten as Prentiſs, but reads Xavier on the original. According to my family, he typically used only the initials, X. T., and no wonder! Also living with them in 1850 and 1860 was Mary’s unmarried, older sister. In 1850, she was Philona R. Edwards. In 1860, she is Philora. (Was it Philona or Philora?) On the Iowa WPA Graves Registration site, Xavier’s name is recorded as Xaviert Prontis! and on Findagrave.com, his name was Xavier T. Prentice (until my correction was accepted), while his actual headstone, the first in the cemetery, was correct according to my father. (Thanks to a volunteer photographer, this was eventually verified). Even his name in his obituary printed in the Ringgold Record was misspelled and the “surviving widow” it mentioned had actually predeceased him - AND while the year of death in the obituary is 1884, by golly if the year of his death inscribed on his headstone photo isn’t 1885! Transcribers for WGA blessed my great-grandfather with the Prontis alias, too, and in the 1870 census, he was Elizier E. Prentiſs.
My grandfather, with the same name as his grandfather - except he didn’t know it for about 40 or 45 years - used only the initials, even as a child. Oh, he knew he was named for his grandfather, but he apparently thought his grandfather’s name was only X. T., too. Anyway, in several census records, all handwritten correctly if you look at the actual documents, Granddad’s name is transcribed incorrectly as A.T. Prentice, K.T. Prentis, and N.T. Prentis. Only in the social security death index is he X. Prentis. If I hadn’t known the names of others in the family, I would probably still be looking for those records.
Besides errors like those - and the fact that there have been three predominant variations of my maiden name in this country since the 1600s (PRENTIS, PRENTISS, and PRENTICE - all here at that time believed to be somehow related to one another), there were also a few “creative” variations with extra t’s, s’s, or e’s thrown in here and there for about the first hundred years in America (PRENTIES, PRENTTIES, PRENTS and others - possibly even some colonial familes called PARENTS and PRINCE may be related too). Prior to 1600 in England there were yet more variations of the name with z’s instead of s’s (PRENTZ, PRENTIZ, PRINTZ), etc.
Before my great grandfather, who complicated matters more with the spelling of his first name (was it Glasier or Glazier?), the spelling of our surname varied even within generations, or in one instance between husband and wife! The headstones of my 7th-great granduncle and his wife, side by side, show two different spellings of the couple’s last name. Yes, really. Their children’s and grandchildren’s headstones in the same cemetery show other variations, as do those of other relatives. Many of these were educators, doctors, businessmen, community leaders and politicians, so it wasn’t a case of uneducated people misspelling their own names.
Names in church and parish records weren’t always recorded correctly, or spellings sometimes changed depending on who entered them - a name on a birth record may be spelled differently on a marriage or death record. The same minister could have even written it different ways at different times. Further complications arose with errors on deeds and military records and when typesetters for newspapers made mistakes in obituaries. I’ve even seen records with the names in the body of the document reading Prentiss and/or Prentice, then signed Prentis - or vice versa. That’s not even accounting for nicknames or being called only by initials or a middle name rather than a given name, or the delivering physician (who happened to be an uncle) filling out a name on a birth certificate incorrectly - and forgetting to correct it - then realizing 40-some years later when you lose a bet because the birth certificate you thought didn’t exist does, and you “suddenly” have a full name by which you’ve never been called.1
I’m not even going to get started with my TENNANT, TENANT, TENNENT fiasco… yet.
One thing after another, and something as simple as a name can get pretty complicated!
Granddad was always “just X” or “just X. T.” and didn’t know he had any name but the initials until when serving in the Iowa Senate, a news reporter asked his full name. Like the many other times he’d been asked, he told the man his name was “just X. T.” The reporter bet him that he had a full name on his birth certificate, but Granddad didn’t think he had one of those either. The reporter had done his homework and had either already found a copy, or then went and searched for it, but a birth certificate bearing a full name of Xavier Thomas Prentis was produced. Apparently when he was born, his uncle Percy was the doctor who delivered him, and when he asked what name he should write in the register, my great grandfather told his brother to “name him after Dad.” “Uncle Doc” wrote down the full name of his father, Xavier Thomas Prentis, but Granddad was only ever referred to thereafter as X. T. On all other official (and correctly transcribed) records - besides his birth certificate, apparently - he was “just X. T.”
I was speaking with a Genealogy Research industry participant the other day. It was pretty interesting to hear the perspective. One of the points he emphasized with me was that buyers of research tend not to know what they are buying. He also said they have more business than they know what to do with. That seems to me to be 1) good news for the industry, and 2) trouble brewing for this particular participant at a minimum. It seems better that people who are paying you money to do something for them also know what the work product will be.
That said, I do actually believe I understand the point. With all of the publicity out there - ancestry.com ads, Who Do You Think You Are TV shows, etc., it certainly seems like interest should be growing. What do people who are newly motivated to investigate expect? That’s a difficult question since the answers I’ve heard seem to vary almost as much as the personalities of the folks offering their opinions on the matter.
The Genealogy industry seems to think you want facts and they’ve geared up to provide those facts and the documentation to go along with them. The process of hunting down these facts and resolving the mysteries that come along with them can be part of what you think you are buying. Detective work and solving puzzles and mysteries is compelling to many. If that’s what you are looking for, then you are in luck. You can get lost in the mazes and come out in a couple of years with lots of rewarding experiences and lots of good family history and documentation.
Along your journey, you’ll likely find at least a few, and perhaps many people who will be willing to collaborate with you in your efforts. This is also something the Genealogy industry seems to think you want. This seems a safer bet than the prior paragraph for most people. For our part on our own family research, this has been the biggest benefit. The connections we’ve established in our research have been rewarding in communication value and in terms of the information people have been willing to share with us. These things take time as well, but they are rewarding to say the least.
In more than one case, we’ve gotten “spare me the details, I just want the interesting stories” about where my family is from, and what they did while there. You can’t really get to the point where you can credibly tell these stories without the details, and, so, the DIY (do-it-yourself) industry hasn’t quite gotten there for these folks.
There is lots more than can be said on this topic. It’s crucial to any supplier/customer relationship. We hope you won’t be bashful about what you want from us or anyone you choose to help you. Our goal is to delight you as our customer throughout the process, and this demands your feedback and involvement.
Understanding that Genealogy is generally a search for information that may or may not exist is crucial. In the not-so-distant past, pursuing a Family History tended to be a life endeavor that one handed down from generation to generation, finding tidbits and very occasionally troves here and there along the way. The new computer-based tools have made finding many of the tidbits simpler, although there are often (always) many more that these new tools can’t find yet. Someone must make the information available, and there are a great deal of records out there. Some haven’t been made available and some, unfortunately, are even still guarded from view for one reason or another. Some of the more interesting troves come about when you find a family member (close or distant) who is also researching and is willing to share and collaborate with you. Since people are not all interested at the same time, it can take some time to make these connections if they are going to happen, but it can certainly be very rewarding when it does happen!
Happy hunting and story telling - we hope that you will honor us by letting us help you immerse yourself in the history of your family.
on September 22, 2011
and Updated on May 5, 2020
I made a loose reference in my last post to the quality vs. quantity dilemma faced by many genealogists today. The Genealogy community in general seems rather conflicted on the subject. On the one hand, all of the new records and sharing add huge opportunities to learn things that it would otherwise take much longer to learn (much of what we learn might not even be possible for many). On the other hand, this same thing propagates inaccurate and even “stolen” content at the same lightning pace. My intent here is to present issues - there are few answers because much of the pursuit depends upon what exactly one is pursuing.
One thing is very clear - if someone uses the work of another - online or otherwise - that work should be properly cited. If someone uses a small segment of the work of another that is publicly available, permission is not generally required. If someone uses a large segment of a given work of another, permission is appropriate if permission is possible. The rules surrounding this are more complex than I am stating, but if one is not using something like these rules, then I question their technique and perhaps even their motives. Beyond the rules is logic - if you wish to go back and be able to retrace your steps at any point, you will have saved yourself a great deal of time if you cite your sources.
With appropriate citation chains, the task of determining the credibility of information is made more feasible. The question each Genealogist needs to ask is “if the citation chain is broken in some, or even all items in a given collection, does it make the information useless?” The recommendations I often see for this topic seem to say “throw it out, because the bathwater is tainted.” I’m not really sure what this is telling me. Perhaps this is simply folks out there saying “I refuse to work with someone who violates copyright rules (or replace “copyright rules” with your choice of reasons).” For my part, I am doubtful that there is much work out there that does not contain some level of original content gleaned from family members and personal experience - this at a minimum is probably valuable primary source material. That’s normally how anyone gets started in this process and tells me that even work that lacks proper citation probably contains nuggets of information that are worth finding.
This brings up another interesting related discussion. There appears to be a strong tendency to pursue only direct lines. Our experience is that there was great deal of information out there on our direct line - and much of it was from indirect lines. This seems pretty clear, and yet we encounter the tendency over and over when talking to folks who are thinking about pursuing the history of their family. It seems likely that this comes from the extreme difficulty folks have historically encountered with family history - a largely obsolete concern for those able to use computers and navigate the Internet.
All of the above points to more information than many will know what to do with. Take your time with it, and search for the best information available. Don’t throw things out just because there are some questionable items within, but also don’t accept things at face value. Cite sources and document your trail so that you and others can retrace your steps and move forward instead of rehashing or throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In this case, I think quantity will lead to quality, but only if quality is your goal and quality is what you actually strive for.
The pursuit of one’s family history beyond the basic chart of child/parents/grandparents/great grandparents can be a big job. In the past, it was often a lifelong hobby as records tend to be scattered across large areas. The family historian tended to spend time in libraries, writing letters to relatives, churches, governmental organizations, professional genealogists, societies, etc. and planning/going on trips to gather more information. Making connections to other family historians pursuing related family histories, or possessing histories gathered in the past tended to be some of the more rewarding experiences but these connections likely didn’t happen frequently. The goal of these efforts was likely a book and decorated charts illustrating histories that would be passed around or reproduced for a limited number of family members. The result was often quite impressive, especially considering the available tools.
With the advent of computers - and more particularly the Internet - the pursuit of one’s family history is changing dramatically. Records that in the past had to be physically searched for and interpreted are increasingly being made available online (fee and free) in computer/human readable form. The tools to search for them are developing to the point where they come to you with suggestions. You simply search and begin entering your tree, and after you’ve shown the program what you are interested in, the suggestions start popping up. The better tools will also suggest people who are researching similar family histories. They will help you find errors, weaknesses, and even help you determine your plan of action.
Simple, right?! Well, maybe. For the highly motivated, experienced, knowledgeable and technology savvy DIY family historian, the answer is probably yes. These folks can situate themselves to drink from this fast developing technological fire hose to satisfy their needs at pretty much any level. Make no mistake, though - it is a hose that not everyone is inclined to drink from. Accessing these mega-collections of records can be quite rewarding, at least in terms of creating mega-trees. If you are after a mega-tree, then all is good. If not, then you’ll need to think further.
In the end, we all need to decide for ourselves what we’re looking for as the product of our efforts. Hopefully at a minimum we’re looking for a work that we can treasure and share with our family members and friends, and preserve for future generations to treasure, share and improve. As a pursuer of family history, one would be wise to seriously consider making things interesting and entertaining as well - and I don’t mean just for a genealogist. We’ve been particularly surprised in our case just how difficult it is to get people interested in their family history - even when handed to them completed. Perhaps that’s because the attraction is the quest, or perhaps it is because the work is either uninteresting, difficult to understand, overwhelming, or perhaps all of the above.
Tool builders have made efforts to help you with this problem. They build automated charts and summaries to provide interesting facts, and location data, time lines, etc. None of the above changes the fact, however, that it is up to the historian to make the history interesting. As we work with more clients and family members, we are reminded just how important this is and we’ll be focusing proportionate effort on this aspect of the work going forward. It’s not easy and not everyone is interested and entertained by the same thing. We’ll let you know how it goes.