At the end of 2014, Thomas MacEntee began a new journey with genealogy— the Genealogy Do-Over. He planned to “hit the reset button” on his research, restarting from scratch with an empty tree. The premise was that now, as a smarter, more experienced genealogist, he would produce a more correct, better documented tree.
It was a bold and scary decision, and he invited the rest of us to journey with him.
I was not that bold! I didn’t have enough time to devote myself to rebuilding my tree, and the thought of living with a marginally functional tree was unacceptable.
Fortunately, Thomas recognized people like me existed, so he offered a “lite” version—a GO-Over. Instead of starting with an empty tree, I would apply the method to my current tree.
So I registered for the monthly email, found the Facebook group, and acquired the book.¹ It was a semi-fresh start, if you will.
It’s hard to believe it’s been 5 years! What, if anything, have I accomplished in that time? Let’s be honest, my tree is still a work in progress, but improvement has been made.
In December, 2014, Evidence Explained² was my reading material on a 15-day cruise to Hawaii. Yes, all 800+ pages of the (then) 2nd edition! I bought the book earlier, but never had time to sit down and read it. I figured 10 sea days would be a good opportunity. While Ms. Mills recommended reading the first chapter or two, and then using it more as a reference, I did read it cover-to-cover. Twice, actually, because I bought the 3rd edition in 2015, shortly after it was released.
It was worth all the funny looks from other passengers as I lugged the 3-inch thick tome around the ship. The book provided an amazing education in research, in addition to source citations. I discovered sources I had no familiarity with, and learned more about ones I was familiar with. I thought about research and sources more in that 2 weeks than I had in my entire life!
So proper sourcing of my research was the initial focus for my go-over. I had become more diligent in adding source citations when Family Tree Maker improved that area of their software. I realized they did not, however, meet the standards put forth in Evidence Explained. Family Tree Maker now had templates based on Evidence Explained, so I began the the process of converting the sources, one at a time.
The learning curve rivaled Mt. Everest! Despite the templates, a lot of trial and error was involved to get my citation looking like the sample in the book. Finally, success! That was one. It had taken maybe an hour, with the back and forth between the software, the book, and the record image. This was going to take forever . . .
Another one of my goals was achieving consistency with my sources. How could I accomplish that, particularly across files? I can have 2 files open simultaneously, so I could reference one while crafting the other, but there is a risk I mix them up and change the wrong one. Placing each file display on its own screen might minimize the risk, but that’s a luxury I don’t have. Side-by-side windows, which I use compulsively, doesn’t accomplish the same thing.
So, back to the internet, to see what ideas others had. Thomas seemed to use a spreadsheet. I use lots of spreadsheets, but that didn’t seem like the solution for me. Then I saw someone using Evernote, and that made sense. I already had an under-utilized Evernote account, and being synced in the cloud meant I wasn’t locked into being on my computer when I needed to build a citation.
I created a “sources” notebook, giving each source its own note. The title lists the exact database name, so it’s easy to find. If it’s coming from a maga-site, I attach that to the front:
- Ancestry – U.S. Census 1880-1940 (by Census Year and Location) or
- FamilySearch – United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918
Below the title, I type the section in Evidence Explained talking about that particular source type, including the specific page number. If I have questions later on, I don’t want to have to thumb through 800 pages for the right section!
Most importantly, I list the exact template I finally decided on from Family Tree Maker, followed by the SOURCE fields I use (it’s never all of them!). Those might have a specific value (the database name) or just a note about what goes in there (film number or year), so I know what to look for.
The citation detail section follows, describing the information needed to locate the record, again. It, too, is a combination of specific text and placeholders, reminding me to retrieve information from the record:
[civil division], e.d. _______; Page ___; dwelling number ___; family number ___; line ___; [person of interest] household; accessed __________ note: just household number in 1940
Citation text finishes up any other information needed to cite the record. I have one place to go to for my citation layout. Currently I have 205 notes. The early ones took a little time to piece together, but the up-front cost has paid off. I can create a citation for an existing database pretty quickly. Even new databases can be added more quickly, because I’ll look for a similar record type, copy the entire note, and modify it to be appropriate for the new database.
With citations easier to write, I’m more likely to attach them right away, rather than leaving the fact(s) undocumented. Do I ALWAYS cite EVERYTHING new going in my file? No, not always. BUT that happens less and less, which is progress! I’m making steady headway through the old, non-standard citations, updating them to proper format. I love seeing the little star in the source’s icon.
Tied in with that project, is cleaning up my digital records. When a proper citation is created, I attach a digital image to it, giving me easy access to the actual document if I have it. I also settled on a naming convention for files. Unfortunately, I have files still NOT named according to the plan. I have duplicates of images scattered throughout my computer folders. When files weren’t named consistently, it wasn’t easy to check if I already had it. I was safer to download a new image, rather than risking NOT having it. So I need to gather all the genealogy record images together, delete the duplicates, and rename the “keepers.”
An significant component of my go-over has been the 52 Ancestor challenge. In the course of writing blog posts, I frequently find myself going through the old research for the people involved. “Since I’m there” I try to make the time to check their information, look for missing information, and put their sources in order. Tackling the task in smaller bits makes it more manageable.
The other area I’ve been cleaning up has been my locatons. Consistency is important here, too. Sometimes the county was left out, sometimes there was a typo I missed. Going through the locations and eliminating duplicates (or near-duplicates) tidies up the file. If I’m doing local research, it means I don’t miss looking for a record because that event didn’t show up in the list I generated.
Am I satisified with the progress made? Sure. Is my file perfect? Certainly not! Do I wish I was finished with the do-over? Yes, just so it was done. But I’m smart enough to realize that if I had waited until “I had enough time to do it,” my file and computer records would be in far worse shape. I don’t have the kind of life allowing me uninterrupted genealogy time. Waiting for the perfect time would mean it never happens. So I’m content with chipping away at it. Doing something is better than nothing!
¹Thomas MacEntee, The Genealogy Do-Over Workbook (Lexington, KY, 2016).
²Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. 3rd ed. (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2015).