Happy 20 Year Anniversary, Genealogical Do-Over!

In February of 2002, I decided to change from a paper system for my genealogy to a computer system. The road to that decision was actually fairly smooth, except….

I was in grad school and would graduate in the Spring. My daughter was off to college and I was wondering what I was going to do with all my “free time” as an empty-nester once I graduated.[1] As a Roots genealogist, I had done some genealogy in the 1980s and maybe now was the time.

Things had changed—computers were prevalent and there were even some software programs out there for genealogy. I researched the options, and purchased The Master Genealogist (TMG) because they offered the best option for citations. It was an leap of faith in 2002–the program was still in development and had no report options.

The learning curve was steep with TMG and at first we had a love/hate relationship. I remember throwing the manual across the room during the first week, but I persevered, and persevered and persevered.

Using TMG was like driving a Lamborghini—at first it drives you, but then you learn to control the car and would have it no other way.

On that first day with the new program, I started the Do-Over. I assumed nothing, but my own personal information and that was suspect! I took all my sources and stacked them up. I took the first source, entered the data and cited the work. Then, I picked up the next source…wash, rinse, and repeat, repeat, repeat.

So many nights I would look up and be surprised it was 2:00 in the morning! I had to go to work the next morning and go to class that evening.[2] I still had a quarter to go of grad school, but all I wanted to do was genealogy. It’s a good thing the last project was a team project and my partner was an employee!! (She said I pulled my weight.)

I still have my paper file (See photos above). I had 104 people identified on family group sheets and pedigree charts. I had 85 sources. I used a dot matrix printer to print out my two reports: a list of sources and a list of people. I came to love TMG and it was sad the day that the developer said he was retiring the program. (Many people still use it.) I switched to RootsMagic.

Table 1
Comparison of growth of content in Genealogical Database of Jill Morelli, CG, CGL[3]

To this day, I still subscribe to the principles I established when I worked on paper, writing letters and sending SASEs:

  • A fact is never entered onto the paper or into the computer without a citation linked to it.
  • The primary name is that given at birth.
  • I link the source to my 3-ring binders like an archivist, not in files, with a number on a slip sheet.
  • My goal was to find a record in the 3-ring binder in less than 5 minutes; I actually can find any source in about 1 minute.
  • This is only possible because my computer files are coordinated with my software program which is coordinated with my binders.
  • I am horrible in linking digital records, but rely on my citations instead, except for unique items.
  • I do descendant work as well as ascendent work. I have reaped the rewards of this principle. Often a DNA test taker is already in my database.

Is the database as tidy as I would want it? No. When I was in TMG, I could customize the citations and I did. The convention TMG used was a double vertical line || between elements of the citation. RootsMagic uses that convention for something else. My citations no longer print pretty, but because of my reference number system I can find the source and clean it up. I try to do a one direct line ancestor a week. All new citation work is, of course, is complete.

So how has this all helped me? I feel more confident in my work; I know that my work is cited and I can find the source easily; I also can assess which of the choices are more reliable and of a higher quality. When it was time to write my Kinship Determination Project for my Board for Certification of Genealogists portfolio, I was more efficient because I didn’t have any Rubbermaid tubs to go through. As an example, I couldn’t get an original church record of the birth of a critical person. I had 12 different entries that supported his birthdate. I picked the two best sources and used them. One was a 1978 letter and one minute later I held it in my hands.

I have changed how I do work lately. My pedigree chart (and database) is mostly to the end of the traditional records, so now I am writing proof arguments for all my end of the line Scandinavians. I write a report, file the report electronically, enter all the discovered facts and cite the report. By using some unusual sources, I can often extend the line by at least one generation. Unfortunately my Germans were flooded disastrously in 1717 making the ability to push that line into the 1600s almost impossible.

Happy anniversary, Do-Over! You have served me well.


What I have done since the last post: The course “Write As You Research!” I teach for Applied Genealogy Institute will end soon. I will then begin prepping for the Certification Discussion Group (Winter 2023) and writing the syllabus for my next AppGen course “Just Do It! Self-Publishing Your Work.” (spring 2023)

[1] I still had a more than full time job as an Assistant VP/University Architect at The Ohio State University!
[2] Little did I know that the experience of looking up from my genealogy and finding that it was after midnight was a common malady of all genealogists!
[3] The huge jump in # of people by November 2002 was due to the procurement of an Ortsippenbuch for Twixlum, Ostfriesland, where I am related to about 50% of the village.


2 comments on “Happy 20 Year Anniversary, Genealogical Do-Over!

  1. Carole Ashbridge says:

    Hi Jill,
    This is a great post. Have you ever done a presentation on the process? It would be so valuable.

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