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Rhonda's Tips: Genealogy Questions Answered
by Rhonda R. McClure

August 15, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Sharing Research from Program to Program

Q: We have a family genealogy on a Mac using the Reunion software program. It includes some fairly detailed text about some exemplary individuals. Is there a procedure for translating it into PC software so we can view it in Family Tree Maker running under XP? -- Bill and Wendy

A: You have brought up one of the biggest questions in genealogy — how to share information via computer.

In the past we spent time putting new information on family group sheets and pedigree charts which we then added to our ever growing notebook of charts and forms. Duplication was the word of the day for anything we did. Of course, then came computers and genealogy software.

As you have discovered, when receiving information from a cousin who uses another program, getting the information is not always easy. In your case this is somewhat compounded by the addition of the different computer platform, the Macintosh.

The easiest way to get information from your cousin in Reunion is to for them to create a GEDCOM file and then e-mail it to you. The GEDCOM should include all the text you described. The only thing presently not supported by GEDCOM transfer in images. Using e-mail to transfer the file keeps you or them from trying to read a disk that is not supported by your system. Of course this may not be as big an issue if they are using a newer Macintosh system, as many of them have begun to emulate PC systems allowing the owners to load PC software.

When you get the GEDCOM file and begin to import it to Family Tree Maker, be sure you spend a little time looking at the facts that will be imported and where they will go in Family Tree Maker. Because of the differences in genealogy programs, not all of the information will end up where you want it upon import. You can save some headaches with this by looking at where the facts are going and what fact Family Tree Maker thinks it should use for the fact in question. Also, be sure to read the exceptions report. This is a report that is generated when a GEDCOM is completed detailing the problems encountered with facts or other details in the GEDCOM that could not be recognized or imported into Family Tree Maker.

Document Preservation

Q: We have in our family some original records of my great grandfather: a written history, pages with names of his parents, grandparents, birth, death, marriage dates, etc. They are old and starting to tear and wear away. Do you have any suggestions as to how I might preserve them better? I have scanned them into digital images, but still would like to preserve the originals somehow. -- Ken

A: The air is probably one of the biggest factors in the deterioration of the records in question. Also, if people are handling the records, the oils on their skin are adding to the problem.

Ideally if you must use the originals,anyone touching the records should use cotton gloves (given that you have the digitized images, though, this should no longer be an issue). If you use manuscript collections in archives and libraries you are often required to put on special cotton gloves before they will allow you to touch the materials. This is to keep the oils and dirt on your hands from coming in contact with the documents.

Another way to protect the documents is to put them in protective sleeves. Be careful when you are purchasing the sleeves to be sure that they do not have any harmful ingredients. Many of those that are designed for document preservation will say on that they free of PVC or other harmful chemicals.

Finally, you will want to do a search on the Internet for sites devoted to document preservation. There are many and some will list companies where you can get the best sleeves or cotton gloves and other document preservation items, such as boxes. A search in any general search engine for "document preservation" (including the quotation marks so the search engine knows you are looking for the phrase) will reveal articles and companies that will have the information and products you need.

Just Learning

Q: I have names and dates of ancestors who came over from Ireland in 1851. I would love to do a family tree on my direct line and would also love to find out about the relatives not in my direct line. What would you suggest that I use to help me? I have no genealogy experience. -- Virginia

A: The first thing you will want to do is to begin educating yourself about family history research. A great place to begin is the Learning Center here at Genealogy.com. There are many articles about getting started and working with different records and information you'll find on the Internet. You will also want to check out the online lessons through the Learning Center. They are free and are full of useful information for anyone, but especially to someone who is just getting started.

The most important step in researching your family history is to begin with yourself and work backwards. Work from the known to the unknown. As you begin to gather records on the names and dates you know about, you will find that these records include information about individuals you may not have known about. For instance, a marriage certificate may include the names of the parents of the bride and groom, in addition to the ages of the bride and groom and their places of birth. Armed with this you will have a new place to look for additional information.

There are a number of good books available on this subject. If you are interested in learning how to use the Internet along with getting started on your family history, I wrote the The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy. There is also The Complete Idiot's Guide to Genealogy by Kay Ingalls and Christine Rose that looks at many of the traditional records used in researching your family history.

You mention that you have names and dates of ancestors who came over from Ireland in 1851. While this is good, it may cause some problems. It is tempting to jump to those ancestors instead of working back from yourself. By working back from yourself you get the practice and training you need so that you are less likely to get frustrated or make mistakes. Once you have traced your family history back to those immigrants, if you wanted to you could begin to trace those immigrants forward, finding out what happened to the siblings of your direct ancestry.

You are about to embark on a lifelong hobby. It is hobby full of fun with a little frustration thrown in from time to time. When I have been up against a frustrating problem though, I find that I appreciate those ancestors all the more because of the work necessary to find them. The good news is that there is a lot of useful information available on the Internet through articles, online classes and more to get you started in the right way.

Trouble Finding Anything

Q: I have been searching for quite some time for ANYTHING to connect my great-grandfather to the rest of the family. My great-grandfather's name was Townsend Weeks and his wife's name was Mary Lucretia (last name not known).His son, my grandfather, Franklin Tucker Weeks was born in Babylon, NY in August of 1857. This is as far as I have been able to get. I have no names of my grandfathers siblings and absolutely nothing on my great-grandfather. I would appreciate anything, such as birth date, death date or marriage date. I have tried census, but nothing has come up. -- Dolly

A: I suspect that you got your grandfather's birth date, August 1857, from the 1900 census. However, the fact that you know the town in which he was born has me wondering what record you have that listed that. Generally when we have trouble finding an individual it is because we have not spent enough time on the previous generation, in this case your grandfather.

What records gave you the name of your great-grandfather? If it was your grandfather's death certificate then you need to pay attention to the informant. Many times the information given on a death certificate is inaccurate. The informant has done the best they can, thinking they are sharing correct information. Additional research, though, often reveals this is not the case.

You mentioned that you had searched the census and come up empty handed. It is unclear how thorough your research of the census has been. Did you search the census index, such as the 1860, in search of Townsend Weeks and come up with nothing? If so, you may need to look again at the index and investigate all the Weeks entries for the county in question. It is possible that Townsend has another name that he went by on the census and that this is why you have not been able to find him. It may also become necessary to do a line by line search in the census itself. While indexes are great, they are not 100% accurate. It is possible that Townsend is sitting on a page waiting to be found.

Finally you may need to branch out in your research. If you have searched the census for the county in which Franklin Tucker Weeks was born, it may be necessary to extend that research to surrounding counties.

Also, if you have done so already, see if there is a town historian for Babylon. You will find this information by going through the USGenWeb Project page for your county in New York. Town historians are a bonus when researching in New York. In many cases they have spent time compiling records or information about certain family names or individuals. Contacting them may reveal information about your Weeks family.


Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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