Sunday, November 24, 2013

Genealogy 101

Over the years Gorse Fox tried a number of different approaches to gathering, recording, and storing genealogical information. Some of these have worked some have been less successful. This guide is his reference to his current view of best practices.

Types of Information

There is a wide spread of information sources, and many components come together to create the genealogical map that build up, fact by fact, over the years.

  • Family Stories
  • Family Papers
  • Photos
  • Press cuttings
  • School reports
  • Birth Certificates
  • Marriage Certificates
  • Death Certificates
  • Census entries
  • Entries from Parish Registers
  • Military Records
  • Employment Records
  • Will and Admons
  • Invitations
  • Change of Address cards
Each of these (and no doubt many other sources) can be a rich mine of family information.

Keeping Records

But what do you do with this information?
1.     Identify

  • Create a reference number that will uniquely identify the source, whether physical or digital. 
  • If the artefact comes from an official source (such as the GRO), then retain is call number as part of the reference.
2.     Mine

  • Mine the source for all relevant information. 
  • This goes way beyond the obvious data regarding the subject of the material. Don’t forget to look for addresses, witnesses, parents, siblings, occupations, and so forth.
3.     Record

  • Enter each separate fact gleaned from the document in the Genealogical Facts spreadsheet or database as a separate entry. (So a change of address card for a married couple would probably have two entries, one for each of them. 
  • Each entry would contain the data, the identity of the document, the person, and the address.
4.     Store - Store the source material.

  • Retaining the paper copy if it is available (that goes in the archive box in the folder pertinent to the subject family).
  • Scan the paper copy and save in /Public/Doculib on the NAS[1] using the reference id discussed above.
  • If the document was already a digital image, then store it in /Public/Doculib, renaming it with the reference defined above.

Having kept the raw information, it is now imperative that it is recorded in the master database. (For the Gorse Fox this is currently stored on the PC using Family Tree Maker). Start FTM and navigate to the person for whom you wish to provide additional information. Add the information then use the CTL-S key to create a reference to the source data. Whilst you are reviewing that individual – check the notes that you have on record. These may need updating or embellishing now that you have further facts.


Photos provide useful information and best of all they put faces to names. Photos are handled slightly differently from other sources.
The Gorse Fox's photo library is managed by Google’s Picasa. Photos are filed by date, with a folder for each year and within each year a folder for each date for which we have photos.

Paper Photographs

Traditional Photos can be easily damaged, mislaid, or fade over time. The first thing to do is to digitize them. Scan the photo at a minimum of 300dpi.
Name the photo. I have used a number of schemes for this. Sometimes the event, sometimes the name of the event, other times the names of the people featured. Whatever you choose, store the photo in the folder for the correct year in /Public/Photolib.

Digital Photographs

Digital photos are stored in a similar fashion within the Picasa library. At the time of writing we have over 27,000 photos filed.

Organisation of Photos

As explained above, photos are filed by date. However, there are further mechanisms in play to help with retrieval.


Picasa supports the concept of Albums. This means that any photo can be part of an album or multiple albums. For example if I have a photo of John, Paul and George, the photo is filed by the date it was taken, but also it can feature in an album for John, and album for George, and album for Paul, and an album for the Beatles. (Though there is just the one copy of the photo).

Face Tagging

Picasa has a feature whereby it can identify object in photos that it believes are faces. You can then assign a name to that face and it will remember it and if it detects the face elsewhere, in other photos, it will ask you to confirm it to be the same person.
The face tags are organized such that there is, effectively, and album for every person you have identified.


Modern cameras and smart phones are able to save a GPS tag in the EXIF data that accompanies photos. This means that the location at which the photo was taken can be accurately identified.
Picasa will show pins on a map to identify the locations of the photos – if known.

Older photos will not have the Geo-tagging data, but that does not mean they cannot be located. If you know where the photo was taken you can drop it onto a map and the appropriate geo-tag will be generated and stored with the photo.

[The Gorse Fox will continue this at a later date]

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