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29 December 2016

Resolutions, Productivity, and More Research

It's time for resolutions! Get excited, genealogy resolutions mean you're going to do genealogy. That is so much more exciting than getting up at 5 a.m. to try and run when it's freezing outside. I'd rather do genealogy than plan a healthy diet. Hey, if you want those things, slap your laptop on a shelf across your treadmill or just forget to eat while you're engrossed reading newspaper records from 1887. That's some serious multi-tasking.

But let's talk seriously about genealogy resolutions.

26 December 2016

How to Pry Family History Out of the Willing but Vague

Finally cornered Aunt Nadine only to be unable to make chronological sense of her tale? It's a chronic problem for genealogists. Inaccurate answers in oral history interviews have nothing to do with the mental acuity of the interviewee, it's human nature. Luckily, there's a pretty easy fix, one often employed by professional genealogists on their clients.


Instead of trying to get dates out of your relatives, rely on markers they won't get wrong. This means you'll need to ask some additional questions and it's best if you have some historical knowledge you can use to supplement the timeline. Also, you'll want to "verify" your markers because we all get things mixed up sometimes.

How do you do all this? Simple, relate an event that is chronologically unclear to something the person finds fixed.

The problem is, you don't know what they find fixed.

On top of this, some people have no problem lying and others essentially lie because they answer and won't tell you they are unsure. There are of course people that won't give you a direct answer if they are unsure.
21 December 2016

More Genealogy Lists for Occasional Genealogists

Happy Winter Solstice. It's the shortest day of the year so I'm thinking about shortcuts and quick tasks I can do. A quick way to start is with a list.

I'm still working on that bullet journal concept I mentioned a few months ago. I have a really hard time putting unrelated items on consecutive pages and the appeal of a bullet journal is not having preset sections. However, I'm still loving the idea of using bullet journal "collections" for genealogy (in other words, keeping lists of genealogy "stuff"). You can keep your list wherever and however you want.

The suggestions in this post are inspired by genealogy resolutions and planning for the New Year. I'm a huge fan of not limiting resolutions to January but I often find mentally setting a date to start resolutions helps. This can let you plan (or procrastinate) for a SHORT time and still get that warm fuzzy feeling of kicking off some new phase of your life.

Below are three more genealogy collections to consider. I think the second and third could be pretty long lists (maybe you'd like to sub-divide them) so three is more than enough to keep you going through the cold dark winter.

14 December 2016

Genealogy in 45 Minutes a Day: The Lunchtime Genealogist

This post is for (what I consider) the quintessential Occasional Genealogist. It is for the busy person who's only chance to do genealogy is on their lunch break (or perhaps during naptime if you're a stay at home mom with children who still nap).


This series is tips with advice and encouragement to achieve real research results in a whole bunch of small segments of time (your lunch break). You will need some supplemental research sessions but you don't need to know any details about that ahead of time. You'll figure it out when it's time.

This post isn't going to lay out all the tips. I don't think that would be the easiest way to achieve results day after day (and I know there will be days you don't do genealogy, so don't worry!).

Instead, I've started a "series" via my Instagram account. Each work day there is a tip posted around lunchtime (eastern time).

These are bite-sized tips, something you should be able to accomplish in a 45-minute lunch break. For some of them, you will need to plan what you're going to do in subsequent breaks. Others should be achievable the day you read the tip.

I'm aiming for a mix between planning and spur of the moment tasks. Also, these aren't meant to be a sequence. Some might make sense in order, others are random.

The nice thing about Instagram is you can search for the hashtag associated with this series, #lunchtimegenealogist, and pull up all of them and pick and choose. I hope you'll follow @theoccasionalgenealogist so you get the tips as they come out. If you miss a day, want to see one again, or just need different inspiration than that day's tip, searching for the hashtag will help you.

The tips are also automatically posted to Facebook for those who don't use Instagram. On The Occasional Genealogist page you can search for the same hashtag (#lunchtimegenealogist). There's also a photo album that is just the tips.

For now, this series will be limited just to Instagram and Facebook. Follow The Occasional Genealogist on your chosen platform to get notifications of the tips.

I'll consider other methods of delivery in the future but not until sometime in 2017 and only if the series is popular.
If you like this series, tell your friends, tell me you like it, and tell your friends to tell me (if they like it).

I hope this will provide inspiration and actionable tasks so you do more genealogy, no matter how little time you have.

What would you need to do more genealogy in the next year? Leave a comment.

08 December 2016

Automated Searches: Dealing with the Wrong Person

Last week I wrote about using automated searches as a shortcut instead of a cheat. This week I want to go into detail on how to deal with records for the wrong person.
Saving the wrong person to your online tree can actually save you some time, if you do it correctly. Why would I save the wrong person? Glad you asked.


I use Ancestry.com's online trees so some features might be specific to that site. In general you can do this for any online tree (and even adapt the concept for offline).
07 December 2016

Find Every Clue in U.S. Census Records

This post was originally published on my blog for my research business, J.P. Dondero Genealogy.

For U.S. genealogy research, census records are a key record. If you aren't from a location with centuries of vital records, census records might be the first record you used.

There's a good chance if you're reading this, you consider yourself pretty familiar with U.S. Federal Census records. So let's test your knowledge. Answer the following questions based only on census records.

About a specific family

  • Did your family own a radio?
  • Did they rent or own their home?
  • Did they live on a farm?
  • Did they have a mortgage?
  • Could they read or write?
  • Did they own land?

If you see it on the census

  • What race does "Ot" stand for?
  • Do you know what "Pa" means in the naturalization column?
  • What occupation is "Secy.?"

Did you know you could find this information in census records?

Do you know how to find out what the abbreviations mean? 

You can find this information, and much more.
01 December 2016

Automated Searches: Shortcut or Cheat?

Did you know genealogists are argumentative? I've been in this industry so long I don't know if this is something "special" about genealogists or (more likely) something you'll find in any group full of passionate people.

One "hot topic" I've heard being argued is using automated searches. The example I think most people are familiar with are the "shaky leaves" that appear on Ancestry.com trees (I mean, they feature them in their t.v. ads, how can you not know about them?).
Are automated genealogy searches a shortcut or a cheat? Do you even know the difference?

Sometimes, if I'm with a group of professionals, it's not an argument you hear. Instead, it's more of a gripe fest. Why? Professional genealogists see a LOT of cases of "cheating" using automated online searches. It can make your job really hard.

However, I actually love using automated searches as a shortcut. It's important you understand the difference and use automated searches as a shortcut and not a cheat.
... use automated searches as a shortcut and not a cheat.