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Family history software helps your research

Some people do not use family history software and manage well without it, but there are a lot of benefits in using such software. Family history software provides a structure for storing your data and for recording the links between people, places, events and sources. In doing so, it helps you analyse the data and see patterns, gaps or inconsistencies.

The examples provided here are from the software which I use – Legacy Family Tree.

There are general patterns in families and Legacy notifies you if those patterns are broken. Here, for example, the red exclamation mark alerts me to the fact that there were five years separating the birth of two children, where the usual pattern is less than two years. I need to confirm whether there was another child or look for an alternative explanation.

LegacyPotentialProblem

Legacy has a standard list of potential problems and this can be handy for identifying where wrong conclusions may have been reached. My great great grandmother, for example, is reported on her 1931 death certificate as having been 101 years old. However, her last child was born in 1880 when the death certificate suggests she would have been aged 50. Although it is not unheard of to have a child at that age, it is enough evidence to make me suspect her supposed birth date.

LegacyPotentialProblemList

The Chronology view generates timelines which are another useful analytical tool.

LegacyChronologyextract.JPG

Changes in the location of events may highlight an error in your research or, in this case, indicate that a family moved around looking for coal mining and gold mining work. In another family, a discrepancy in the location of the births of children led me to conclude that one child had been included in that family by mistake.

These are just two of the many features of family history software that can help your research. I’ve only ever used one family history software program, so I cannot provide an opinion on which is best. From discussions with other genealogists I have come to the conclusion that they all do a great job. However, one thing that is great about Legacy Family Tree is that you can download a free version to try before you decide whether to buy it. It is for that reason that I usually recommend it to people who are just starting family history. The free version is completely functional, it just doesn’t have the fancier features activated.

If you haven’t tried using family history software yet, I would recommend that you do. If you already use it, learn more about the analytical tools it provides and you will not regret it.

Excel and family history are natural partners

Excel seems to be made for family history. It is designed to manage large amounts of data and one thing we can say about family history is that it generates a lot of data!

Let’s see…. If you had 5000 individuals in your family tree with just the basic data for each one (two names, birthdate and place, christening date and place, death date and place, burial place and date, and one source for each of those), that’s 20 bits of data; plus say five events for each person, with age, type, date, location and one source, that’s another 25 bits of data; some certificates and images for each one, with sources, another ten bits of data; alternate names, cause of death and identifier, add another five…. say 60 bits of data for each person, that makes a total of 300,000 bits of data in your family tree. And that’s a conservative estimate, as many of us have a lot more than five events per person.

One of the key reasons to use Excel in family history is that it not only stores a lot of data, but it has numerous ways for you to manipulate that data. This means that it is a really important tool for analysing your data and solving family history problems. By having a lot of data in one place, you can play around with the data and see patterns that you wouldn’t notice if your information was just in a family history database, a word file or a paper file. Plus, Excel lets you have thousands of columns and rows, which means you are not limited by what can fit on an A4 or A3 page.

GenerarationsGenealogyExcelexample

Excel is great for research plans. The sort and filter features allow you to create subgroups of your data by where the records are held, which tasks are incomplete, by the location of events and so on. It is also great for timelines and lists of references or photographs. This example is an extract of the table I use to track how and when each of my ancestors arrived in Australia.

I will be running a workshop on using Excel for family history at the Society of Australian Genealogists on 28 July.

Cite your sources

I have a photograph of my great great grandparents that I found on Facebook. At least, I have been told that it is a photograph of them but it was posted without a citation so I do not know where it came from, when it was taken, who took it – all those details that would convince me that it really is them. I keep the photograph because it is the only one I have, but it bothers me that they may not actually be my family at all.

generationsgenealogy_willCiting your sources is important if you want to share your family history with others, so that they can trust what you have found and so that they can take a look at the records themselves. It is important for your own research for the same reasons. A source citation also makes it easier for you to take a second (or third) look at a source because, let’s face it, we rarely understand a source fully the first time we look at it. How many times have you copied a page from a source, then realised you needed the page before or after it? How many times have you transcribed a handwritten document or taken notes from a source, then gone back to your notes later and found that they no longer make sense?

If you do not cite your sources because you do not know how or it takes too much effort, then here are my tips:

  • If you use family history software, learn to use the source citation features.
  • Unless you are writing for a publication, do not worry too much about whether it complies with APA, Chicago, Harvard or other formatting styles – you just need a citation that you and others can understand!
  • The general rule is that a citation has four main elements – Who, What, Where and When. Analyse each source with these questions and note down your answers. The order doesn’t matter very much, but the author usually goes first and the date usually goes last.

Who wrote it or created it? Who published it? What is the title? What format is it (a book, a certificate, a microfiche etc)? Where was it published? Where is it stored? When was it written? When was it published?

  • Include as much information in the citation as you would need if you wanted to find it again. More is better….
  • Many online repositories and websites, such as Ancestry and NSW State Archives, provide suggested citations or guidelines on how to cite their sources.
  • If it is a source that is often found in libraries, consult a library catalogue and copy their citation.
  • If you want a handy guide with examples of the main types of sources, try Noeline Kyle’s Citing Historical Sources: A Manual for Family Historians (available for purchase at sag.org.au).

History revealed by an illuminated address

Illuminated addresses are hand-illustrated manuscripts presented to a person to mark an event or to celebrate a person’s achievements. Typically contained in a leather-bound gold-embossed folder faced with red silk, they contain hand-written text surrounded by a wide decorative border, illustrations, a statement of appreciation and signatures of the presenters. The term ‘illuminated’ derives from the use of gilt, but many addresses use gold or bronze paint rather than gilt. Illuminated addresses were popular in Britain and Australia from the 1850s to the 1930s, with a peak in popularity in the 1880s and 1890s.

General consensus appears to be that illuminated addresses were derived from illuminated books and manuscripts in medieval Europe. Australian examples commonly contain native flora and fauna – a trend which was also evident in art and buildings at that time.

Illuminated addresses were presented in a ceremony and were often accompanied by a purse of sovereigns and an announcement in the local newspapers. They had an important symbolic role, creating and reinforcing social links, and generating expectations of reciprocity.

Bean addressThis illuminated address is in the collections of the Society of Australian Genealogists. It was presented to Dr J. W. B. Bean Esq. M. D. of South Kensington by members of the Medical Magazine Club in Waverley New South Wales on 14 May 1914.

In later posts I will be exploring the details of this object and the life of Dr Bean, to demonstrate how objects can contribute to family history.

Vaucluse House

Few of us will have ancestors who lived as grandly as the occupants of Vaucluse House, but visiting it always sends my mind back in time to imagine what life was like back then.GenerationsGenealogy_SydneyVaucluseHouse1

The imagination is stirred by the heat of the kitchen fire and the smell of basil leaves burning; by the damp and cold as you enter the larder; by the games on the table waiting for their players; and the clothes lying on the bed ready for the children after their baths.

GenerationsGenealogyStove Vaucluse House

Vaucluse House is situated on Wentworth Road, Vaucluse, New South Wales, Australia. A small cottage was built in 1803 by Irish convict Sir Henry Browne Hayes. The cottage was extended by William Charles Wentworth after he acquired the property in 1827. If you know your Australian history you will probably recognise the name. The house is managed by Sydney Living Museums, which is part of the NSW government.

When I used to visit museums as a child, there were signs everywhere telling you the history of the place and describing the lives of the people. They told us why the places were important, what the object were and when they were made. There is almost a complete absence of signage at Vaucluse House now. The curators prefer to let the visitors interpret things for themselves. I found that confronting at first – I like to read information about the places I visit. However, it does make it easier to let your imagination flow. If you want the information, the guides are happy to talk to you or you can buy books in the gift shop or browse the stories online.

If you are in Sydney, I recommend a visit.