Monday, December 22, 2014

Cleaning Up Your Genealogy Files

The ongoing process of cleaning up genealogy files will be never ending. No matter what you do today there will always be changes to the formats used and information requirements involved. Thomas MacEntee is currently embarking on a program called a Genealogy Do-Over. This is something I have done for several of my family lines from time to time. Creating clean files, especially within online genealogy family trees, is critical to our ongoing research. Using a systematic format of recording information is the basis of researching.

Today I discovered that someone has extended my Tidd family back several generations. The changes are recent and yet there are no sources or notes to indicate how the information was accumulated. In hopes of starting a dialogue about this family information an email was sent to the contributor. The chance of a response is about 50/50. Within five hours there was a response and it was very interesting. The responder noted that they are only related by marriage, but "simply put all the pieces of the puzzle together that were already there." The person is "an unofficial full time volunteer who tries to fix things when I can." They, "put much effort into this, and it is refreshing to receive thanks instead of hate mail for their efforts."

While some of the new information included birthdates in the 1500s, it is probable that the information either came from parish registers, probate records or other community records. Some of these records were microfilmed years ago, but recently were digitized and provided online to researchers. There were records from Norfolk, England for the family that were recently noticed on These more recent ones are from Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, Hampshire, England also from Now it is important to go back and compare the information from both locations.

After forty years of researching the Tidd family my collection includes over fifty pages of records listed by locations. The family surname is fairly uncommon and found in only a few places in England. Once they came to New England the family is easier to follow. In preparing an application for the Daughters of the American Revolution it was only a matter of compiling what is already in my collection. The two records that were needed were for my parents.

That is how it usually is in our genealogy work. The first few generations are relatively easy to follow, but then we come to crossroads where we can be lead down the wrong road by innocent mistakes. That is when we need to step back and clean up our genealogy files. It is critical to maintain our own personal database to ensure that when changes are made online we can explore which are the correct records or links in our tree. That is what Thomas is attempting to do in his Genealogy Do-Over. It is admirable that he has the time to pursue the records and ensure that the sources are clearly cited. While online trees may provide information we are unable to locate anywhere else, these need to be used with caution. As with the new information on the Tidd family, where no source is identified and a full date and place are provided one needs to locate the origination of the information.

Every time when using lately there is another tree with information that needs to be investigated. Back when we used much of my time was spent cleaning up those files and adding the sources behind the work. Now that we have moved on to the family tree at the process begins again. Some of the complications are the results of computers merging individuals and families; of course people can make the same mistakes. It takes people who truly know and understand the family units who can verify that the records and information are correct. This all makes me very tired.

Recently someone attached my mother to her step father as a daughter. That bothered me as she never was adopted or claimed him as her father. This was corrected by bringing the family unit up and changing the relationship from biological to step. After the change was made an email was sent to the person who had entered the original information. This time there has been no response to my email, but there is now a watch on my mother's information for any possible future changes. Sending hate mail is not helpful, as noted above. We need to work together and appreciate the efforts of others, communicating as needed when problems arise.

For now my time is limited to what I am able to do with my personal genealogy, but observing the process that Thomas and others use in cleaning up their genealogy files will be educational. The best gift we can give each other is a clean family tree with sources identified to ensure accurate records. The serendipity moments come when one explores online trees and finds connections, good or bad, that lead us to open our minds to exploring other possibilities. May you all have a very Merry Christmas and a great New Year collaborating with fellow researchers.

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