Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Census Extractor

Where did you find all that information?” my dear friend Dave asked. “How do you know all that about my family?”

Well, I told him, it’s all right there in the census. Dave has been researching his family for a few years and has amassed a nice database full of juicy tidbits, but he had never heard of extracting a census quite the way I do it. (I will be providing examples in upcoming posts, starting with my dad and mom in 1940 and 1930.)

I think that using the United States census to create a framework of your family—or skeleton or scaffold or building block, whatever your metaphor of choice is—is an invaluable tool. I use and to locate a particular family group and then zoom in on the census to find more details. I think the census is more important in the beginning than vital records. I know, I know: heresy! But the census helps me to put family groups together in a way that a random collection of BMDs does not. Now I am cognizant of the fact that just because a group of people lived together in a specific household, it does not mean that they were related. But it’s a start, a pretty good jumping off point.

I have used various tools to extract the census information. Chicken-scratchings on scraps of paper, forms provided by my local genealogy library in which I handwrite the details, spreadsheets from (one of the best deals in genealogy-dom). I’d really like to check out the database program Clooz which looks promising—Version 4 was supposed to be out at the end of 2018, so I’ll wait for that. But my favorite method remains the one that I have created which makes it so easy to read and understand the data without squinting or tracking my eye across a number of columns. (I just turned 58 and my peepers are fading fast.) It makes the information almost like a story, and I do like my stories. I’m looking forward in my next post to getting into the meat of my genealogy research!


Coming Up Next: The 1970-2020 Census Predictor for Christine Jane UNDERWOOD

Coming Up Soon: Ahnentafel #2: Introducing My Father, Stephen Alexander UNDERWOOD, Jr.

Of Census Predictors and Custom Facts

We’ve all been there. Hunched over our computer keyboard in our jammies, our wretched fingers clutching the mouse, the clock striking two in the morning, our bleary-eyed gaze perusing the census form. “Where are they?” we mutter. We know that our ancestors were alive in that census period, but they elude our grasp. My personal quest is to find my FLAHERTY family in 1880. I have located a few siblings in Michigan of all places (on a minus-60 wind chill day in the upper Midwest like today, I wonder why anyone would live in Michigan), but my great-grandma Sarah and great-great-grandma Margaret are still hiding from me. How can a huge Irish Catholic family vanish into thin air?

So, what’s a genealogist to do? I’ll tell you: Provide a road map for researchers who will follow you that notes where people are living now and in the last half of the 20th Century. Enter my own invention: The Census Predictor! I haven’t seen any other genealogists doing this before, but I think it’s a good practice. 

Chances are you know where your relations were living in later census years that have not been released yet, thanks to the 72-Year Rule. Leave that information for other researchers in years to come. Wouldn’t you have loved to find a listing of who-was-where to guide you in your census searches? You, yes, you, can be the foresighted relative future genealogists praise for leaving a trail of breadcrumbs (Ginsu knives sold separately). All it takes is a simple table in a Word document—even a handwritten one works. Feel free to tweak it to suit your needs. And if you think of anything that would be good to include that I left out, be sure to let me know!

Who Was Living There? + Notes








In one of my next posts, I will share my own Census Predictor so you can see how it works in practice. Oh, and one more thing that I like to do. In my genealogy software program, I create a Custom Fact called Census Predictor and place each census year as above in the facts for each person. I even did this on my public tree as a favor to other researchers. My personal philosophy? I believe that facts regarding our genealogy research belong to our families and to the world and not to us. Be generous and share your pearls. Also, be sure to keep reading this blog so that you will see just how valuable a Census Predictor is when it comes to finding my family in the 1950 census—they could be anywhere! Imagine searching for them a hundred years from now without the information that a Census Predictor can provide.


Coming Up Next: The Census Extractor

Coming Up Soon: The 1970-2020 Census Predictor for Christine Jane UNDERWOOD

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

My Philosophy Regarding GEDCOMs

With apologies to Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II and their wonderful “I Won’t Dance, Don’t Ask Me” ditty, I publish this manifesto:

“I Won’t GEDCOM, Don’t Ask Me!”

I have seen way too many family history files corrupted by the dreaded IACs, to coin a term—the Indiscriminate Ancestor Collectors. These are the people who seem to have the idea that he who dies with the biggest pedigree, wins. They download GEDCOM after GEDCOM from and, putting them into their own genealogy software files, and creating family history abominations where, as the great Dwight Latham and Moe Jaffe song goes, “I’m My Own Grandpa!” In these files, mothers are born after their children; fathers become potent at age 6 to sire their litters; and family groups are neither family nor a group.

Now, of course, these pedigree files never have sources, never leave clues as to how another researcher can follow up on their investigations to verify a fact independently. So, I declare that I am going to be a different sort of source for other family researchers who are tracing the UNDERWOODs, AHERNS, McCORMACKs, and STAPPs. I am going to cite my sources to the best of my ability so that my kissing cousins can say, “Well, at least I know where Christy came up with that fact.”

So, that leaves me with my manifesto:  "I Won’t GEDCOM, Don’t Ask Me!" I will not provide a file which someone can download to increase their ancestor collection: Sorry to tell them but in fact, size does not matter. What I WILL do, however, is leave footprints and breadcrumbs to help you in your search. I will share with the world whatever I find out. And I will do so knowing that somewhere out there is another family history hunter, happy to find what I have to offer and willing to put in the work to type or copy/paste my tidbits into their genealogy software program so that the family groups which I have worked hard to recombine will live on, without the click-of-a-button GEDCOM combining that so many people seem to do without thinking. I know that if I had found a site giving me clues to my ancestorsinstead of doing it all myselfI would have been thrilled. I'm banking on it that at least one other researcher feels the same way.

I wish you happy hunting and hope that you will share with me your favorite finds so that I may share them on this blog. Together we can find out more about the UNDERWOOD—McCORMACK clan than we ever could have done apart!


Coming Up Next: Of Census Predictors and Custom Facts

Coming Up Soon: The Census Extractor

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Genealogy Software—Gotta Get It Now!

I am very excited today as this is the day that I download some new genealogy software to my computer as a belated birthday present and reward to myself for starting this blog. (BTW, sorry for no posts the last week. The virus that is going around Kansas City got a hold on me and didn’t let go for a whole week!) I don’t upgrade to new versions of software every time something comes out, so I am woefully behind in my software acquisitions.

I used Family Tree Maker back in the day, but I found that we were star-crossed lovers, completely incompatible. It just didn’t think the way that I think. I discovered this when my local genealogy society, the Johnson County (Kansas) Genealogical Society [JCGS] asked me years ago to offer a series of classes on using FTM. I kept wanting to do something specific with FTM, and it refused utterly. (In full disclosure, I have absolutely no memory of what that thing was. Ah, the joys of becoming a senior citizen.)

So, I switched to RootsMagic and have been in love for a long time. I have been waiting for them to release RM 8 but have given up and am buying RM 7. For Members, RootsMagic is offering a discounted price of $20 for its current software. I plan to download RM 7, upgrade it to 7.5 immediately to take advantage of the software’s new capabilities, and then get an upgrade as a free download of RootsMagic 8 when it comes out. All this for just $20! I should mention that I have absolutely no financial connection with RootsMagic besides using their product, and clicking on the link will not be an affinity purchase where I make any money whatsoever. I just love their software and want to promote it.

Speaking of promotion, one year I cornered a nationally-known genealogy speaker in the ladies’ room at the National Genealogical Society's “NGS Family History Conference” in Chicago and asked her what genealogy software she used. She said that she could not promote it as an expert, but between us, she used RootsMagic. If it was good enough for her, it was good enough for me! I was pleased that she used the software I had chosen for myself. I went ahead and bought a copy in the exhibit hall and have been very happy with RootsMagic ever since.

I hope that you will find a genealogy software package that you love as much as I love RootsMagic. If you wish to try it out before buying it, they do have RootsMagic Essentials as a free download. Someday, when funds allow, I hope to purchase other RM products: Personal Historian, Family Atlas, and Family Reunion Organizer. When I do, I will let you know what I think.


Coming Up Next: My Philosophy regarding GEDCOMs

Coming Up Soon: Of Census Predictors and Custom Facts

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Genealogy Research Conventions

Oh, would that time travel be possible! What I wish I had known when I first started my family history research was the conventions used in genealogy. It would have made my life much easier, so I hope to help my blog readers out as well. These conventions keep other researchers and family members from misinterpreting your data.

Dates: Be consistent with how you write out dates. The convention is to use the date month year format, such as 11 January 2019. This will alleviate the confusion over dates from another country where, instead of writing the numerical date of 1-11-2019 as people who live in the United States do, they may write 11-1-2019. Writing out the date, or an abbreviation such as 11 Jan. 2019, will really help you keep your dates straight.

Place Names: Locations are listed from smallest to biggest entity. So, my hometown is listed as Kansas City, Jackson Co., Missouri, USA. I put the “Co.” in there as a service to readers of this blog. When I put that place name into my RootsMagic genealogy software, I list it as Kansas City, Jackson, Missouri, USA, for brevity’s sake, as well as for convention. For folks who don’t use genealogy software, one thing that is nice about it is that the software guesses or predicts the rest of the location once you start typing so you don’t have to type it in repeatedly. Saves time, frustration and really cuts down on the typographical errors!

People’s Names: Just type them in as their name is given; for example, Christine Jane UNDERWOOD.

Nicknames: If a person used a nickname, put it in quotation marks after the first and middle names. As an example, my great-grandfather Stephen Alexander UNDERWOOD always went by “S.A.” in every source I can find for him, so I list him as Stephen Alexander “S.A.” UNDERWOOD to differentiate him from the other Stephen Alexander UNDERWOODs in my tree. Likewise, I am Christine Jane “Christy” UNDERWOOD.

Surnames: It is correct to list me as Christine Jane Underwood, but I prefer the convention where last names are listed in all capital letters, such as Christine Jane UNDERWOOD. For my name, it’s not a problem knowing which one the surname is. But I have an ancestor named Smith Jones. The only way to keep him straight is to notate him as Smith JONES. Likewise, my friend’s father is George Martin. Names can get scrambled, so having him listed as George MARTIN helps a lot. Plus, it helps the surnames stand out in a long paragraph or in charts and forms.

Maiden Names: Women should be listed in genealogy software as the name they were born with. So, my mother is always listed as Corinne Jane McCORMACK. Sometimes I refer to her as Corinne Jane (McCORMACK) UNDERWOOD with parentheses surrounding her maiden name, and that is okay, too. But the important thing is to have that maiden name. In print, I refer to my great-grandmother as Estella (ELLIOTT) McCORMACK BARR since she took the name of her second husband, but in my genealogy software, she is Estella ELLIOTT. All surnames are capitalized. Note on Estella’s example how a second husband’s name is just tacked on to the first husband’s name (and third, in the case of my great-grandaunt Tealie!): Tealie (UNDERWOOD) BARKLEY GRIFFEY DeWALT.

Aliases: If someone has another name that they were known by, list them as follows, like my great-great grandfather, Hein Pieter STAP (aka Henry Peter STAPP).


Coming Up Next: Genealogy SoftwareGotta Get It Now!

Coming Up Soon: My Philosophy regarding GEDCOMs

So, What the Heck IS an Ahnentafel?

In my last blog post, I referred to myself as Ahnentafel #1. (You may notice that in the navigation menu to the right of this post, there is a link that says Ahnentafel.) German for “Ancestor Table,” an Ahnentafel is a genealogy convention for numbering a person’s direct-line ancestors. In this numbering scheme, every person has a number. Their father is twice their number, and their mother is the father’s number plus one. So, all males are even numbers; and all females are odd numbers. The person in the #1 position can be either male or female, though.

For example, in my case, I am #1; my father is #2 (2x1); and my mother is #3 (2+1). My mother’s parents would be numbered as follows: She is #3; her father is #6 (2x3); and her mother is #7 (6+1). Another example is for my paternal grandfather. He is #4; his father is #8 (2x4); and his mother is #9 (8+1).

To be fair, I have not seen anyone list their Ahnentafel table the way that I have presented mine on this blog. This construct is purely my own invention. I wanted to be able to see the father and mother and the children of a family group all in one place, with all ancestral lines together. So, I created a table where they are all listed side-by-side as follows (see the "Ahnentafel" link to the right for a larger table; I have made this one smaller for demonstration purposes only):


Christine Jane UNDERWOOD

Stephen Alexander UNDERWOOD, Jr.
Corinne Jane McCORMACK
Stephen Patrick UNDERWOOD
Katherine Patricia UNDERWOOD
Douglas Alan UNDERWOOD
Christine Jane UNDERWOOD
Stephen Alexander UNDERWOOD, Sr.
Mary Frances AHERN
Jerrold Edward UNDERWOOD
Stephen Alexander UNDERWOOD, Jr.
Richard Anthony UNDERWOOD
James Vincent UNDERWOOD
Albert Joseph UNDERWOOD
Elliott Hartford McCORMACK
Inger Dorthea STAPP
Carol Hartford McCORMACK
Corinne Jane McCORMACK
Stephen Alexander "S.A." UNDERWOOD
Sarah Angeline "Anna" WHITWELL
Jerrold Roscoe UNDERWOOD
Franklin Mason UNDERWOOD
George Arthur UNDERWOOD
Herbert Whitwell UNDERWOOD
Stephen Alexander UNDERWOOD, Sr.
Daniel AHERN
Mary Frances AHERN
Daniel Edward AHERN
Margaret Justine AHERN
Henry William AHERN
John Findley McCORMACK
Elliott Hartford McCORMACK
John Seldon STAPP
Inger Christine JENSEN
Anna May STAPP
Esther Belinda STAP
Inger Dorthea STAPP
Lillie Viola STAPP
Hester Ann WALDRIP
Stephen Alexander UNDERWOOD

For me, this works. For others, they may shy away from something that is different from how they may have seen an Ahnentafel displayed before. I invite you to research on your own and decide for yourself how to display your own family line.

I want to make one point, though. Even though this table focuses on the direct-line ancestors, I don’t make the mistake of researching only those people. I like to research collateral lines because I find that branching out from my straight-line pedigree affords me the ability to put family groups back together and determine whether a person happens to belong to my family. This has been called cluster genealogy by some while the great genealogy guru Elizabeth Shown Mills calls it the FAN Principle: researching the Friends/Associates/Neighbors of your ancestors.

If you wish to follow my Ahnentafel table example for your own genealogy, please feel free to do so. Everything on my blog is here for your use. I simply ask that you credit my work. You may copy-and-paste the citation formula at the bottom of the page, and all you must do is change out the dates and post titles. Good luck in your research!


Coming Up Next: Genealogy Research Conventions (This will explain why I used capital letters for the surnames above.)

Coming Up Soon: Genealogy SoftwareGotta Get It Now!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Ahnentafel #1: Or, Who I Am and Why I Am Writing a Blog

My name is Christine Jane UNDERWOOD, but you may call me Christy. I was born in January 1961 in Kansas City, Jackson Co., Missouri, and have been “doing” genealogy for quite some time. I enjoy researching my family history and have decided to share my research with my family and with the world, hoping to find others who are researching some of the same family lines to share our information. Because my own family is spread out over the United States, I decided that a blog was the best way to keep people informed of my research because 1.) it’s easy to write a blog since there is no coding, and 2.) the immediacy of feedback will keep me on my toes and pushing me forward in my research.

I have been inspired to write a blog by Amy Johnson Crow, a professional genealogist and blogger, and by Janine Adams, a professional organizer, blogger, and family history enthusiast. They have set up challenges on their Web sites that have made me think that I, too, could write a blog that would be a good outlet for my research. Links to their Web sites are under the heading “Links” to the right of this post.

For those of you who may be wondering (or are beginning to fill out a family group sheet on me!), I have never married, and I have no children – except furry ones, my dog and cat. I have other interests such as quilting, reading, and traveling besides family history. My plan is to begin to scan family photos each day so that I will be able to add a little sparkle to this blog, but I have not done so yet. Baby steps, right? 

I want to have my blog and family history in cyberspace because I have had computers crash and lost all my data, and I have had some physical loss of records as well. Having a bit of redundancy and information saved in a few places online hopefully will keep me from wailing, “Noooooooo!!!!” again. Do as I say and not as I do: Backup, backup backup.

Oh! And I will be writing this blog in my own voice. I don't take myself too seriously although I do take my research seriously. I plan to blog a couple of times a week, so be sure to check back frequently for more tasty tidbits. Thanks for visiting my blog and I look forward to seeing you again and hearing from you soon.

You may email me at christine.jane.underwood(at) (I'm trying to fly below the radar so that spammers, spiders, and bots -- oh, my! -- won't deluge me with unwanted messages.)


Coming Up Next: So, What the Heck IS an Ahnentafel?

Coming Up Soon: Genealogy Research Conventions (This will explain why I used the capital letters for my last name above.)