How to pick a Client Report? or….don’t do what I did.

You might have numerous client reports available from which to pick.  I didn’t.  My friend and I are trading services….she is making me a quilt and I am researching one of her family lines.  I really like the product I have been working on for her but, I do believe I “bit off more than I can chew!”

This has been a labor of love but it has been intense.  I have been fascinated by her ancestor who fought in some of the bloodiest of Civil War battles, was hospitalized for “malarial fever” and was in Confederate prison for seven months.  I have learned so much about the Civil War!  While I love the project, I think I should have defined the project a lot smaller.  I have two documents:  one a lineage report and the other a graphic narrative.  I loved putting both together.  But I admit I got so “into it” that I am sure I am doing more than what was anticipated.

Nevertheless, I have a few more hours of coordination of the footnotes between the two documents and the attachments and I will feel that I am very very close to being done.  One thing I cannot forget to do is to review the rubrics and make sure I am address each of them (or at least if I think I am.)  Whoo wee!

I am getting eager to work on my other projects such as the kinship determination report.

So, if there is a lesson here, it is to “think small.”  I am sure this is a classic “beginner” pitfall.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting:  incorporated the pension record material I got from Veteran’s Affairs into the report, standardized all the footnotes in the Narrative, reviewed the lineage report and noted the footnotes that needed adjustment, accepted a position on the SGS Board as publications chair after September 2012, worked on the program for the Ostfriesen Genealogical Society of America’s conference in Rockford iL in August, did the registration spreadsheet (we already have 7 people signed up…we usually get ~130.), went to NARA Seattle and checked whether my gggrandfather was on a passenger manifest coming into New Orleans (he wasn’t) and worked on my assignment for class which isn’t due until the end of the term on 15 March.


When you have trouble at the beginning, how do you start writing?

I have a couple of techniques that have worked for me and I thought I would share it with you.

I seem to have a hard time starting the paper…you know, those pesky first couple of paragraphs where you want to engage the reader to read more and, Heavens, to not be boring.  I absolutely struggle with this and have found that sometimes I should just start writing in the middle or “the body” of the work, rather than trying to start with the first word.  Sometimes tho’ I find it better to just sit back and let the words “stew” a little and play with them in my head.  The challenge with this latter strategy is that if you are under a deadline, you may not have that luxury.  Both of these work for me under different circumstances.

I have been working on the Client Report for the past week, very hard.  There are to be two parts to this work.  The first part is what I call a graphic narrative.  This is a very readable, but fully cited, document that is not in NGS standard form but rather is more like a magazine article.  The second part is the traditional lineage report.  Both of these comprise the presentation to my client.

You may know that the Pacific NW experience a heavy snowfall and ice storm on Wednesday through Friday.  Although I worked some of each of the days at my job that really pays me, the rest of the time I spent working on the graphic narrative.  I had great fun with this.  The words seem to flow; I had more information than room and so the language by default became tighter and more efficient.  I printed it for the first time on Friday and am quite pleased with it.  The challenge with this document was to blend the Civil War day to day experiences of Jens T. Dahle of his battles, and providing the historical context of medical care and prisons.  (For example, did you know that the Civil War was the first time that there was any systematic focus on trying to save the wounded and to contain prisoners.  In previous wars, except for occasional single individuals (see Florence Nightingale), the wounded were left to shift for themselves and prisoners of war were eliminated.

Today, I turned to the lineage report and realized that I had the formal lineage writing done but not the opening paragraphs.  Arrrrgh! I again had several false starts, until I remembered the first lesson of a beginning genealogist, “Start with what you know”.  🙂  I realized that was where I needed to start because I had not even provided the genealogical proof  that Jens T. Dahle of Waseca County, MN was the same person as Jens Torkilson Tjøn of Sogn og Fjordane County, Norway.  I have now written the proof and while I am not fully satisfied with it, it is a very good start and “a keeper”.  Yeah.  I certainly do not have it cited; that will take some time.

So, I hope your writing goes smoother than mine.  I also hope that you may find some hints/techniques here when you have that “begin the paper” syndrome that I exhibited in both of the papers associated with the client report.

Do you ever have problems starting?  What techniques do you use?

Happy hunting!


What I have done since the last post: LOTS! Wrote the graphic narrative which I feel is now in a final draft form, rewrote the beginning the Lineage Report associated with the Client Report.  Worked on my class assignments (note: I did pass this last quarter!) for this quarter and visited the Fiske Genealogical Library here in Seattle which I had never been to before.  I even found some very interesting information about prisons and hospitals in the Civil War.

So, where am I with BCG certifcation?

I had gotten so engrossed in the development of the client report (perhaps too much so) and the class assignments, I had lost track of where I was in the certification process.  So, this is my check in on my progress.

I have taken a list of the materials that are needed for the portfolio and described where I am with each:

  1. Genealogist’s Code:  While this is “just” a signature on a piece of paper, it is actually a contract for ethical behavior in all that you do as a genealogist. It is a commitment no matter whether you are working for someone else for pay (or barter), or working on your own family for satisfaction.  I consider myself a highly ethical person so I do not find myself in conflict with the Code in my past or present work.
  2. Background Resume:  I have a draft of this roughly laid out but do not like what I have done at all.  I need to work on this.
  3. Document Work (BCG-supplied Document): The BCG supplies you with a document in the area of your interest to transcribe and develop a research plan. BDG does not send this until one actually applies, which I have not yet done.  I have decided I am going to declare my era/area of interest to be the 19th century Midwest.
  4. Document Work (Applicant-supplied Document): I did this work prior to starting this blog.  I consider the transcription to be in final draft form.  The Research Plan is very weak and needs a lot of work.
  5. Research Report prepared for a Client:  I have been working on this for some time as you know.  I have the lineage report in maybe final draft form.  I have the narrative portion just about ready to start the citation process (30% complete).
  6. Case Study: Conflicting or Indirect Evidence: I have this pretty close to final draft form.  I will want to revisit this again before saying it is in final draft form.
  7. Kinship Determination Project:  I have this close to final draft form.  I will want to revisit this again.

Wow!  I am further along than I thought.  Lots more to do, but I think it is possible that I will be requesting the application in February or March of 2012 and then doing the final submission in April or May of 2012.  That would be pretty cool!

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last post:  worked on the list of assignments for my class (see next post); attended the UW women’s basketball game which we won,

Part 3: How do you incorporate your data from the computer to the papers you write?

The only right answer is “It depends!”  For me, it depends on what I am writing and who is my audience.

I used to think that making good genealogy reports was only a function of the computer program I bought.  I now think differently.

I had always believed (and still do) that the computer program is for storing evidence about my ancestors and their descendants.   This evidence is the result of the compilation of information that has been analyzed by me and connections/relationships have been identified and recorded.  I used to believe that if I just worked the information cleanly enough then I could “punch a button” and out would come a really good report I could use in all situations.  I was wrong.  The information is sterile; the stories are repetitive….this doesn’t make them bad, but they are just not acceptable in all situations such as the books I write or for the requirements of certification.  I also admit that my requirements have changed over time; I never started doing genealogy because I wanted to write the family book or get certified!

I am now careful about when I use what is “canned” in the computer.

This is what I do:  while I gather the data I try to think of the good “stories” that each person could tell.  Is there anything unusual, such as a very young or old person getting married? …a solo emigration at a young age?  …anything odd about the timing of children (my grandfather was a “1 day baby”….his parents married the day before he was born!  It was a miracle!)?  Or, did they work outside the parish frequently?   Did their parents die when they were young?  All events tell you something about their lives.  Because I am an architect, I also think that our physical environment shapes us, so I ask questions about the land and how it might have influenced decision making.  Lacking our ancestors direct communication, we have only our own analytical abilities to rely upon.  These questions can sometimes be answered by looking very closely at the “public” information provided.

Let me give you an example of information you can gather which is a great story:

  • the Christmas Day Flood in 1717 struck the entire North Sea coast of Holland, Denmark and Germany and affected all families living in it’s path.
  • this is documented in a beautiful map (see below)
  • Also in 1719, to pay for the improvements to the Ostfriesen dike, the officials conducted a tax census and counted households.
  • All my mother’s ancestors were within the flood zone.
  • I have over 80 identified family members who are survivors of this flood

In my computer program, I can create a tag that allows me to link people to the flood and tax census events. But, the repetitiveness of that story for each person is mind numbing and implies that each had the same experience.  If you look closely at the map, one can see that those closer to the dike break had a different experience than those further away and others ended up with a ship in their backyard!  It’s a great story and it’s all on the map or in the census! If I were to use just the computer program’s suggested language it would tell the same story for all but not a true story.

When I wrote books on two of my immigrant families, Bengt Peter Anderson and Ryke Rykena and their families ( I quickly found that I was using the information stored in the database but very little of it was “canned” from the computer, the notable exceptions were the pedigree charts and family group sheets at the end.  Of course, I could have written it differently, but I wanted the books to be for a family audience not the NGS, BCG and not even other genealogists.  I also knew that the more graphic rather than narrative information I could include, the better the book.  This approach would not be suitable for the types of reports needed for BCG.  For certification, the format of these reports is so prescribed, it takes me less time to rewrite then it does to use the “canned” report and modify.  (I admit that because of my internal set up with my MAC, the latter is not even a possibility.)  The writing style is better if “fresh,”  rather than relying on the repetitiveness of a computer.

How do you work?

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last post:  Added 500 words to the Dahle lineage report and have the narrative completed.  Now to start the footnoting.  Worked on my class assignment for the Bibliography.  We have to find 15 different sources and annotate them.  I have all but 3 or 4.  All relate to Dahle’s Civil War service and his stint in the hospitals of Washington DC.  Also found some very interesting photos.

Part 2: What is your physical set up for working back and forth between the data and the narrative?

I have a double screen set up.  I cannot imagine doing this without that duality.  On the left side I have my genealogy program always “live” and on the right side, I have the browser open.  I use FireFox, but I am not sure it isn’t because it’s got a cute logo.  The browser has the following tabs open as I write this:, 1801 census for Norway from DigitalArkivet, the 1875 census for Norway, findagrave, David Rumsey historical maps, Pottery Barn and…and, of course, WordPress for this blog.  I have had more open at a time but that is what I have right now.  I work on a MAC so I the option of 4 complete set ups.  What I have described with software/browser is one.  The other set up is my e-mails and the third has the documents that I am working on such as the lineage report for Jens, the bibliography for class and/or the chronology.  Sometimes if I really get to multitasking, I have the materials for the conference I am chairing in 2012 open also, but not often.  I don’t generally use the fourth.

I will often move the document I am actively working to the primary set up of the data and internet.  That way I can click between people and record the data right from my software program, The Master Genealogist or TMG.

I also have my reference materials at hand.  We have to use Chicago Manual of Style for footnotes for the class and I use Evidence! for the certification reports.  These are just to the right of the keyboard.

Do you do something similar or different?

Happy Hunting!

What I have done since the last post:  made Halloween cookies and gone to the UW football game which we won but now I am hoarse.  Also started reading, Civil War Nurse, the Diary and Letters of Hannah Ropes.  Hannah worked in the DC hospitals during the Civil War until she too contracted  typhoid pneumonia and died in 1863.  She would have been in the hospitals at the same time as Jens but she was in Georgetown.

When to stop researching and start writing?

Good afternoon from the Northwest!

OK, I have identified a serious personality weakness of mine….I love the research but I am less wild about the writing!  So a little discipline is necessary.  Check out Michael Hait’s comment on this blog about “passion” and the confines of the client request.  In response to that comment I went back and read my contract and what I said I would do.  I agreed to work on my client’s Jens T. Dahle family line but it was a little vague. Here are the components of what I said!  (Michael, you were so right!)

  1. “to investigate and report on your great grandfather, Jens T. Dahle, of Waseca County, Minnesota, his family and his ancestors and those of his wife, your great grandmother, Anna Oline (nee Seim) Dahle.”
  2. to produce a graphic narrative “This graphic narrative will be similar to what I have published of my ancestors with limited citations.”
  3. to also produce a lineage report: “The lineage report will be fully documented three generation ascending lineage report starting with Jens T. Dahle, adhering to approved citation and reporting standards.”

I have been very busy this past weekend working on Jens T. Dahle.  So busy that I have his lineage back about 5 generations.  While I stopped myself from checking out all the siblings, I have got both his line the three generations I said I would in the contract as well as his wife’s, Anna Oline.  So it appears that it is now time to stop researching and start writing the lineage report and start the graphic narrative.

An interesting development is that while the report for certification will include the Civil War information about Jens, I have decided to also use Jens T. Dahle’s Civil War experience in the Lincoln General Hospital (LGH) as the topic of the report for my class.  This paper will be about the development of nursing as a profession.  It became more visible as a profession at the time of the Civil War (think Clara Barton, Dorothea Dix) and so there is quite a bit of information available.

It is important to note that these two documents will be very differently focused.  The one for the client (and certification) will be about Jens T. Dahle and include his Civil War experiences.  The paper for the class will be about the history of nursing and bring in the intersection of that with Jens’s experiences in the hospital.  Note:  Clara Barton was at the battlefield of at least 3 of his battles after he got out of LGH.  The latter is due after I have the report for my client completed.

So, I am back to writing but still have some great resources coming my way that I have ordered.

Happy Hunting!


What I have worked on since the last post:  I have read a book called Norway to America: a History of the Migration and done a lot of parish and census work for the various parishes of Norway associated with Jens and his wife Anna.  I have started bibliography and a Research Log (should have started earlier!) for both Norway and US for Jens.  I ordered the latest Stephen Oates book on Women of Valor: Clara Barton and the Civil War and done a lot of “noodling” around the internet finding resources on nursing, Norway, migration etc.  I also took pictures for 3 researchers wanting tombstone pics for FindaGrave.

Do I need to take expert genealogy classes?

Maybe.  Do I think you need to take continuing education seriously….YES!  To me the point of certification is to obtain some definable minimal standard of competence.  Notice the word “minimal”.  I certainly do not think that education ends with certification.  What I do not know is whether taking some of the comprehensive courses such as BYU, Boston U or Samford’s are necessary.  In looking at the literature from BCG attendance at a series of the expert classes is not required but it certainly might be valuable.  I have decided at this time not to; I am going a different direction.

I have started taking the University of Washington’s “Genealogy and Family History” year long series of classes.  It is obvious, based on the composition of the class that they accept the full range of genealogists (“never evers” to very experienced).  There are many more “never evers” than experienced.  That’s not so good for me, but….one of the teachers is an historian.  He wants to add historical context to our family stories.  This enrichment is something I have done with the two books I have published on my family (more about that later).  For example, one immigrant landed in NYC in 1864.  Who would immigrate in the middle of the Civil War?  Think about what the reaction of the family would be to landing in NYC, the supply depot for the Union Army at the time.   Knowledge of this historical context can allow us to make educated suppositions about motivations and their resultant actions.

I will keep you posted on the class and its discussions.

Right now I have four projects going on:

  1. Client report on Jens T. Dahle of Norway (active)
  2. assignment which will lead to a major paper at the end of the class on Grietje Wientjes (active)
  3. Case study on Grietje Wientjes for certification (at rest)
  4. Lineage report on my Swedish side of the family (at rest)

I have ordered the naturalization papers for Jens and his Civil War Record.  I have three books on hold at the UW library on Minnesota regiments in the Civil War and three items on order through inter-library loan on Norwegian immigration.  Can’t wait for the Civil War records to come.  I ordered an historical newspaper of Stephenson Co. IL through inter-library loan for  one of my class assignments.  I have a friend looking for the death certificates for the Case Study because the obituary wasn’t in the paper.  I am confident that the reading of these documents will make me a more knowledgeable writer of the various reports needed for certification, my client and my class.

Caution:  Certification requires that the portfolio be only of your work.  I cannot use any of my papers for the certification process in the assignments for the class.

It is great to have an academic library available to me.  Not only to be able to access such great resources but, because I work at the U, they deliver to my office!

I have digressed a bit, but maybe not as much as it might seem….it is important, I think before, during and after that one continue to expand your personal body of knowledge about whatever you are passionate about.  I might find I regret not taking one of the high powered series of classes, and maybe I will change my mind later, but so far I am content with my decision not to.

Happy hunting!


What I have done since the last post:  attended my first two classes of Genealogy & Family History at UW.  Ordered a lot of materials, documents, books and manuscripts.  Gathered more vital record information about Jens T. Dahle and his lineage.   Jen’s family is getting harder to track; I would like to get three full generations of all of his lines for my client.  I am back at the late 1700’s right now.  I did find out that my client’s grandmother’s middle name was my client’s grandmother’s great grandmother’s given name.  (good luck sorting that out!j)