Monday, July 13, 2009

When you start losing whole counties, it's time to buy some software

Earlier this week, I noticed someone had linked on their GeneologyWise to Adams County, Illinois. And I thought, "Hey! I've got someone in Adams County, Illinois! Wait. Who do I have in Adams County, Illinois?" Which sent me on a fifteen minute quest to figure out what was up with Adams County.

(For the record, my great-grandmother, Mabel Bennett, lived there for about seven years of her childhood, and the family still had connections there once they moved across the border to Missouri. It was one of those small towns with newspaper articles like, "Miss Helen Wooten is spending the week in Monticello, Mo. with Misses Elsie and Mabel Bennett. The latter gave a party Wednesday for Miss Wooten.")

My point is, I shouldn't be losing track of entire counties. So it's time to buy some software.

Fortunately, the topic for Geneabloggers this week is software, so I can spend the week reading the reviews of people who like (or don't like) their software. Here's what I'm going to be watching for.

Help me sort it all
I really don't care one way or the other about producing pretty family trees. But I want to be able to quickly figure out who is from Adams County. I want to quickly find all the newspaper articles referring to the Bennett family. I'd like to be able to pull up all the women who were over the age of 30 in 1902. (I'm not sure why I'd want that last one, exactly, but you have to admit would be a really cool software if it can do that.)

Help me cite
I bought a copy of Elizabeth Shown Mills' Evidence, because if I'm going to do this genealogy thing, I'm going to do it right. And for now, I don't mind terribly flipping through the book trying to figure out the correct format and all the necessary information for every source I use. It's probably good practice. But I'd like it if I had a software that gave me prompts for my citation.

What I really want is something powerful enough to cite everything. I've noticed that sometimes I get a person birth day from one place and their birth year from somewhere else, and I'm really sure of, say, the date, but not so sure of the year. I want software that will let me keep track of that.

Let me organize facts and let me tell stories
It's a given that my software will help me track marriage dates and birth dates and where the family was for the 1920 census. But I also want plenty of space to write out narrative stories, and I want to be able to cite what I say in the stories too.

Help me keep track of what I don't know
I've got this really inelegant thing happening on Google Docs right now, where every person I research has a file for what I think I know but am not sure about, and what I don't know but would like to. I want software that's at least a step up from my Google Docs method. I'd like some way to enter information about my thought processes and theories and places to check next, and not just the confirmed facts.

Eek! Subdue my research log!
What I really want is something that will help me out with a research log. I dutifully keep a research log, but it's cumbersome and confusing and does not, I think, live up to its intended purpose. My research log is so unwieldy that I rarely use it to go back and look at what I did. I need a better method.

What else? To those you use their software and love it, and to those who use their software and hate it, what should I watch for (and watch out for) when I'm making my choice?
What else?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Why I mailed chocolates to Iowa

I've been wanting to start a genealogy blog for awhile, but I couldn't figure out what of value I could contribute. Although I, of course, am very excited to discover that my great-great-grandmother's maiden name was Buzzard, you probably don't want to hear about this discovery in great detail unless you share my Buzzard ancestry.

And I'm new to genealogy in general, so I don't have brilliant tips and tricks and resources to share.

So I've decided that I'll share not my discoveries or my research methodologies, but my adventures. I'll write about the things that, as a new genealogist, confuse me or excite me or freak me out. And if you're new too, maybe you'll take comfort in the fact that somebody else is confused or inordinately excited. And if you're experienced, maybe you can share some words of wisdom.

To that end, here is my dilemma of the week: I am not very good at collecting records that are not online.

Oh, I know how to find them, of course. I know that if I would like the death certificate of my great-grandfather, who died in Iowa in 1949, I should contact the Iowa Department of Health, or possibly the county clerk in the county he died in. I know these things. But I am overwhelmed by protocol. Can I actually ask the Department of Health for a death certificate? The website says that I can receive a certified death certificate if I'm a grandchild, but I'm a great-grandchild. Will I go to all the trouble of getting an application notarized and sending fifteen dollars only to have my request turned down?

Well, I don't really need a certified death certificate. Does that mean I can just ask the county clerk? Is it the county clerk I'm asking? I know how to find the address of the Lucas County Courthouse, but I feel silly sending a letter to the wrong person asking for something they might not do.

So the death certificate thing remains a mystery, pending a trip to a notary, but I think I've got one success. On a whim, I emailed the Lucas County Historical Society, asking if their newspaper index included the year 1949, and if so, did it include an obituary for Orlan Wells.

Why, yes, they responded, their index includes 20 articles about Orlan Wells, with tantalizing descriptions like "blaze destroys residence north of Russell," "family injured in runaway," and "candidate for clerk of District Court." (Ah ha! My great-grandfather my have been at one point the county clerk. I wonder if he got letters from confused genealogists.)

So this sends me into my perpetual, "Well, what's the proper protocol here? Do I just ask how much it would be for copies? Maybe they don't do copies. That would be rude to ask for a price when they don't even do copies to begin with." But of course I asked about copies.

And now I'm sending the Lucas County Genealogical Society the fifteen dollar check they asked for. And a little box of chocolates, which they did not ask for, but I'll be contacting the Lucas County Genealogical Society a lot. I figured it can't hurt to begin the relationship with chocolate.