Thursday, January 12, 2017

Leaving 2016 Behind, Moving on in 2017

2016-17 by Philip Barrington, source: Open Clip Art

It's that time of year. Time to look back and see how many additional ancestors I have been able to identify sufficiently to feel confident in adding them to my family tree. That is something I had done each January for the past three years after reading Randy Seaver's blog post and watching Crista Cowan's YouTube video.

My method has stayed the same and has been the subject of a previous blog post.  As always, I continue to be grateful that I can simply generate an Ahnentafel Report of my direct ancestors by using my genealogy software, Family Tree Maker. Here is what my report for 2016 looked like.

DateGenerationRelationship# in generation# identified% identified2016 increase
4Great Grandparents88100%
52 Great Grandparents1616100%
63 Great Grandparents323197%
74 Great Grandparents645891%2
85 Great Grandparents1286148%4
96 Great Grandparents2563815%?
107 Great Grandparents512398%10
118 Great Grandparents1024364%36
129 Great Grandparents2048251%25
1310 GreatGrandparents40961212
1411 GreatGrandparents819288
1512 GreatGrandparents16,38488
1613 GreatGrandparents32,76822
1714 GreatGrandparents65,53622
35147% *109
* Percentage of those identified in Generations 1-10

I realize that some of the totals in my table may seem strange. For starters I have no increase in known ancestors for Generation 9 because I obviously had a typo in my previous year's report. It is possible to remove or change a relationship or two based on new research, but I know that I certainly did not lose almost 30 ancestors in that one generation during the year! I would probably still be shaking my head in bewilderment if that had actually happened.

In the report for 2016, I also stopped trying to determine the percentage of ancestors identified after Generation 12. The percentages were just too small to have any significance. Instead, I will continue to just look at the increase in numbers over the previous year's report.

Similarly, I decided to use those ancestors in Generations 2-10 as my basis for determining the percentage of ancestors I have now identified. Identifying ancestors in Generations 11-17 or beyond is just a unexpected bonus in my research.

But it isn't just a numbers game. The report prompts me to try to analyze where I found information, strategies that worked, and questions that still linger.

By using the Will and Probate Records available through as well as browsing similar records on, I was able to identify with some degree of confidence a number of ancestors in generations 11-17. By studying names of beneficiaries listed in a will and comparing them with known children, siblings, and/or spouses, I succeeded in pushing my family tree back additional generations through information found through these will and probate records.

Looking back, I knew that during this year a lot of my personal research had focused on ancestors who had lived in New England. Bless the clergy and town clerks of those areas who had maintained such detailed records of births, marriages, and deaths from the mid-1650s and forward. These records, combined with will and probate records, kept me dancing around. Sometimes going one step back, then a few steps sideways, backwards and forward a lot, but eventually these records helped me identify more of my Massachusetts ancestors.

For me there is real value in doing this report each year. It isn't just about the total number of ancestors I have identified, although it is nice to document. It is more about seeing where and how I was able to learn about these new people in my family tree. And yes, it continues to bother me that I still cannot find the name of the wife of my 3 Great Grandfather William Vaughan. But it also convinces me that there are additional resources I haven't used, strategies I haven't tried, more hints to prove - or disprove. All part of trying to learn more about my ancestors.

Lessons Learned in 2016
  • I spent enough time studying wills and probate records that I actually got where I could understand the terminology and learned more about how our the legal system functioned in earlier times. These records also spoke volumes as to the nature of slavery as well the legal status of  women in the past. This prompted me to write several posts about the slave records I found in wills, posts that are now linked with the Slave Name Roll Project developed by Schalene Dagutis.
  • Ancestry's indexed Will and Probate Records were easy to use, but I frequently found additional information by browsing the unindexed will and probate records on Browsing page by page, section by section continues to provide fruitful information.
  • There have to be some new strategies for learning about women in the 1800s. I plan to use some techniques suggested by Jennifer Dondero of The Occasional Genealogist. Finding the elusive Mrs. William Vaughan is a research goal for 2017.

Monday, January 2, 2017

My Genealogy Bullet Journal, Day 1

Between Pinterest, Instagram, and Feedly, most of us have seen the explosion of people using bullet journals. Some track fitness. Some focus on gratitude, religious, or inspirational topics. Some are a type of To-Do List. And some focus on genealogy.

Through the month of December my husband and I used an old notebook to help us track all we wanted to accomplish during the time available between traveling to various family gatherings. We actually did everything on our lists and even had time to relax. That was enough to convince me to give bullet journaling a serious try in the new year.

What started my decision to use it for genealogy was watching Dear Myrtl's Google Handout on What's Bullet Journaling? Her guest Tami Mize showed how her bullet journal was organized and suggested a variety of ways to use one. Then, Dear Myrtle had a series of blog posts detailing how she was setting up her bullet journal. Dear Myrtle even included a link to  a wonderful, easy to follow video by Ryder Carroll, the "father of bullet journaling". I was hooked. And yes, I even went so far as to set up a Pinterest board on Bullet Journal Basics as I was starting to get into it.

So here is where I am after Day 1.
  • I'm using a simple spiral journal given to me about 10 years ago by a former student. It had been sitting on my genealogy bookshelf, just waiting for the right moment to come along. Last week I started getting everything ready so I could begin using it January 1. But a great aspect of bullet journaling is that you don't have to wait for a new year to begin; you can start anytime you want to and for any reason.
  • As Ryder Carroll suggests, one of the first things I did in my bullet journal was to number the pages, all 160 of them.
  • Crafter and scrapbooker that I am, I decided to NOT let this become a craft project but just to try to maintain it as an organizational tool. I admit, I did find a roll of washi tape with the days of the week printed on it among my craft supplies. That roll is already being used in my bullet journal. And I tied some ribbon scraps to the spiral to be used as bookmarks. I'll admit, it is still tempting as I pass the entire aisle of my local craft store and gaze at the variety of papers, pens, stickers, etc. all designed for use in a planner or journal. I tell mystelf to just keep walking. Again, how ornate or minimalistic you make your journal is an individual choice.
  • I decided on the keys / graphic symbols to use in my journal. They are basically the ones Carroll shows in his video together with a few others I've used for years.
  • An index is a necessity for a bullet journal. I allowed a page and a half, probably should have allowed more, but I know I can always add an index entry for "Index Continues, p 100-104".
  • Instead of New Year's Resolutions, I chose to write some specific goals, calling it "2017, My Year to ..." I have five things listed, all things I had thought about, or started but laid aside, or else spent money on but not used sufficiently. Actually writing them has made me feel that accomplishing them is must more likely than when I had previously just thought about doing them.
  • I love, make that LOVE, the Future Log spread. I've already noted when various subscriptions and memberships expire, what events are scheduled for the year, and some specific deadlines I am setting for myself. Later, I'll add some personal things like trips, vacations with family, etc. This will help me more realistically allot time to various projects and goals. I've always been one to get the big picture first then develop the steps to get there so the Future Log fits the way I think.

  • The next two pages are for the Monthly Log. Each day is noted on a separate line. There is also room for me to list specific things I want to do for the month. Some people rave about the monthly log. Right now I'm ambivalent as to how much I will use this feature. Time will tell.
  • For my Daily Log, I settled on a two page spread, each page divided into four blocks. I use one block for each day of the week and block eight for things I want to accomplish or address this week. Across the top of one of the daily pages, I added a box to check daily for my 3F project. I'm trying to First spend Fifteen minutes Filing (the 3Fs) some of the stuff that gathers in my never empty file trays.  Each daily block will be for quick notes about what I researched that day, questions I want to check on (also listed in my Collection section of the journal), other genealogy related information for that day. Today's block includes the note "started writing Bullet Journal post!" After the first four weeks of January are covered in my Daily Log, I'll add a Monthly Log for February, then start another series of weekly spreads for Daily Logs and add February to the Index.

  • The last 30 pages of my book have been reserved for my Collections. I appreciate the versitality of the Collections section. It is MY collection, those miscellaneous things I want to keep up with, remember, check into. And when I use all these 30 pages, I'll just add another Index entry for each new collection page, selecting pages in another section toward the back of my bullet journal. My first collection page contained information about a library I plan to visit this year, things like address, phone numbers, reminder to set up an appointment specifying my research needs, and of course, the persons I will be researching. Back in the Index, I listed the name of the library and page on which I have the information. Last week I also started a page of Research Questions. In the middle of researching a relative, I realized the need to clarify something about another relative. I quickly added it to the Research Questions page then returned to my original research. Later I'll go back over this page and try to find answers to these questions. Another page in my Collections will be a list of Correspondence. Previously I have tended to add this as a note in Family Tree Maker but then to forget about it. Out of sight, out of mind. This way I can keep closer tabs as to when I ordered a record, e-mailed someone, etc. 

So there it is. My bullet journal. Part calendar. Part planner. Part diary. Part catch-all for things I need to remember. Part motivator. I can already see the value in reviewing my research and in having a specific place to record information in a simple format. Much as I feel I could not manage without my laptop, my smartphone, my genealogy software, Google Drive, the internet, and so much more technology, it is also satisfying to put a lovely journal to a constructive purpose.

And I plan to post in the future on tweaks I've made to my first bullet journal. It is just day two, and I already think I may highlight on the Daily Log the name of the family I'm researching. I might replace the ribbon bookmarks with sticky tabs from an office supply store. Here we go ...

What has been your experience with bullet journaling? I hope you will share some of your ideas.