31 March 2014

Correct vs Incorrect

I often pull topics for my blog from genealogy pages and groups. Whatever question is most often found for the week is the question I will try to answer. About a month ago, the question became "How do I do this right?" People were asking how to rate a source to determine it's accuracy, how to cite their sources, how to create research notes, how to make family charts.......... but it was all about doing it "right". Often, I answered the query as honestly as I could based on genealogical standards and personal preferences. Then someone else would come along and accuse me of being the Genealogy Police and saying I had no right to tell people how to handle their family history. Every. Single. Time.

Did they not notice the original question was asking how to do this right?

In the end, I came to the conclusion that I would devote more time to breaking down records and showing people what facts were available and how to source those records for themselves and others. Between the online conversations and a few tutoring opportunities (including teaching an aunt how to research for adoptees), I realised the new direction I wanted to take with my blog was going to be important for many who were just starting out or wanting to take genealogy more seriously. And that others would think that I was talking down to or otherwise insulting people "doing their own thing." So before I start my new format, I want to take a post to explain why there is a correct way of doing things and an incorrect way.

Now, in reality, there is only one truly incorrect way in genealogy: Clickophilia. If you start building your tree by turning off your brain, you're doing it wrong. Genealogy is "the study of generations" and does require your mental engagement in order to be successful. Whether that means you're going to draw your tree on the wall with crayons or write it out in a ten volume book set including glossy photos and detailed bibliography doesn't matter as long as you are willing to put on your thinking helmet. If your entire tree is made out of blindly clicking on leaf hints on Ancestry.com, uploading and merging other family member's Gedcom files, and entering in compiled genealogy books you find in the library (or more likely, Google Books), you are doing this wrong. So very wrong. But what is the "right" way? There is no *one* right way. There are no genealogy laws, so there are no Genealogy Police............. but there are genealogy software programs.

Now, I've said before, if you're going to have a paper research format, or keep your online work private, go ahead and add undocumented lines or links to Adam and Eve (or Odin or Hercules). You don't need to take research notes or write down your sources if you don't want to. I mean, you'll end up with loads of mistakes and no way to know if you looked at this record or that one, but that's your deal. When you collaborate with others, however, there is the unspoken agreement that you are both trying to be as accurate as possible. The other person won't grill you on your sources, but it's good to be prepared to give them as proof of your conclusions. Despite the connotations some would give it, a genealogist gets used to crafting a "Proof Argument". Basically, it's "I've found these records that prove my theory that X person lived in Y place and married Z person with these kids. I've also considered these records, but they can't be X person due to such and such reasonable doubt." The sources don't have to presented in MLA format and the argument doesn't have to be written out like a thesis. But when I talk about my grandfather being born in Morganfield Kentucky, I can "prove" that with his birth record, 1930 and 1940 U.S. censuses, World War II enlistment form, and SS5. I can argue that a similarly named fellow living at the same time in Arkansas is *not* my grandfather, because that man's death record doesn't have the same parents listed as the records I've found for my grandfather. That man's census records don't intersect with the rest of grandpa's family, and is miles away from any place he ever lived. But if I didn't have those sources, if I didn't craft a compelling argument, another cousin who only knew grandpa lived in Arkansas when he died may mistakenly believe this other man is our grandfather and start clicking away. They'd have to seriously shut off their brain, but it happens.

And that's the point: people have to shut off their brains to make a mistake and perpetuate it to others. Computers don't have brains. Remember the old adage "Garbage in, garbage out". If you're getting wild hints for an ancestor, it could be the algorithm pulling up records based on part but not all of your information in an attempt to find you records............. but it's more likely that a relative has connected that record to your ancestor in *their* tree and the computer system is giving weight to the record based on their attachment. Computer systems are built on the information that humans give them. Which is important to remember when crafting a search, too. How someone decided to index a record can affect how it shows in a search. If women are indexed with their maiden name, and you don't know it, having listed them in your tree with their married name won't help you. If an ancestor was born in, say, Orange County NC, but the part of the county he lived in became Caswell County by the time he died, you may be able to search for his death in Caswell and find it easily, but there won't be a birth record for him there! On the other hand, if you're using the system's mapping tools, those are based on today's landscape........ so listing his birthplace as Orange County will make it look like he moved when he didn't. Or if his town/county no longer exists, the map won't know where to pin him down. If you don't know a first name or a surname and you add characters like ? or * to indicate that, you could be using the search tool's wildcard characters by mistake and now come up with completely different results versus leaving the field blank. And while I'd like to agree with people who say that a couple that never married should never be listed as each other's "spouse", I've had unmarried couples identify each other as "spouse" in a record (for whatever purpose) and be indexed as such. Not having their profiles attached simply because I don't want to identify them as "spouse" means their names won't be included in a general search for each other and I may miss the very record I'm looking for. The computer system may ignore the record and not return it at all, or it may have it 10 pages in because it isn't weighted higher in the algorithm.

Search algorithms........ a computer programmer sat down and decided what fields would be included, and how close to the data input a record needs to be in order to be included. Without getting too technical, each field gets a score range and results are "weighted" based on score ranges. If I look for John Smith, I could get returns for John Cooper and Rob Smith just as much as I get John Smith. If I look for John Smith in Virginia, my first results should/could be for John Smith in Virginia, but could also be John Cooper in Virginia and John Smith in Maryland. If I look for John Smith born in 1940 Virginia, I get that and John Cooper born 1940 in Virginia, John Smith born 1900 in Virginia, John Smith born 1940 in Carolina............... with the most matched fields coming up to the top. And what I attach to my John Smith affects other John Smith searches (think of how Google will bring popular websites to the first page of search results). If a person is attached to me via Ancestry's Member Connect, that is taken into account by the system and the computer shows first what I've attached to our common ancestor. If 100 people attach the same photo to the same/similar John Smith, then that is ranked higher in the algorithm than the 1 person who attached the right photo to *my* John Smith (which I find on page 3 if I am willing to click through).

To better illustrate this: John Kemper of Fauquier County Virginia, born 1692 in Germany, died abt. 1758 in Virginia, married abt. 1716 to Ailsey Utterbach. Several hundred trees on Ancestry can be found. Hundreds of descendants connect to him. He's my favorite. His wife is alternatively listed as Alice or Alce, Otterback or Otterbach or Utterback. We all agree this is the same person and we attach the same familiar 9 records. One day...... or rather, one week, I decided to do a full search of Ancestry. The results were 70,000+ even with all the information I have available on him. Were there really only 9 real hits for this man in all of those 70,000? I made it about halfway through the results, I admit it. But I found 70 more entries for John Kemper than anyone else had attached to their tree. Many of them were genealogies of other surnames that connected to him via a child, but still. So now, when my aunt searches John Kemper with the same information, instead of the hundreds of descendants who couldn't think of a better name coming up first, she gets more of these lesser known hits. And the next cousin sees them higher up on the list because my aunt and I have attached them. And the cousin who's connected via Member Connect doesn't have to do a search because the system sends them an alert that we've attached the record first.............. and so on. But of those hundreds of trees, at least half of them have added census and land records for John Kemper II to his father John (I told you they had no imagination). So while the correct records are out there, census records are weighted very high and many will blindly connect to them. Now, those of you who have your thinking caps on are already aware that John Kemper d. 1758 couldn't possibly be listed in the first U.S. census of 1790. And while it may make sense to believe John had land, digging into the records would indicate he wasn't legally eligible to own land and records stating he lived on land owned by his son back this up. But the land records are only indexed online, so people see the name and the location and click click click............

So for the sake of the computer systems that know no better, there are some things we must consider a "rule":
- Date format: whether you put the month first or the day first, the month must be SPELLED OUT to avoid confusion. I've gotten so used to putting day first that in my everyday American life, I often confuse the dates my friends and coworkers write down (until the 13th day of a month, I lose my mind). If you don't know the exact date (or can't find documentation of a date for a fact) add Abt. for "about or around", Bef. for "before", and Aft. for "after". A baptismal record isn't proof of birth, so a birth year would be "qualified" by adding Abt. to the year or Bef. added to the date of the baptism. Same philosophy for burial records and censuses. If it doesn't directly describe an event, it isn't concrete proof of a date and qualification must be made.
- Locations: the old genealogy standard is to use the location name as it was at the time the record was made. Go ahead and keep that standard if you wish, but any location service provided by a computer will not put the results where they actually need to go. I use the current location in the field, and the original location in the description. I also put in my research notes a timeline of when the change happened. If you have FTM, you can add events to a general timeline that you can view for your person. It already has world events and will add family events (like the birth of children), so adding one for the change of a county name could help remind you.
- Maiden names: A woman should always be listed in a tree by her maiden name. ALWAYS. If you don't know a maiden name, I recommend leaving it blank. Some say dashes or underscores work for them ( - or _ ) without ruining the search algorithm and keeps them in some kind of order in their name index, and that's fine. But don't use any character that is a wildcard in the search tool! And LNU and MNU shouldn't be used as there are actual surnames Lnu and Mnu. Unknown shouldn't be added as the search tool will try to find that as a surname and when it can't, it will give extra weight to names that start with U or possibly sound like Unknown.
- Unknown first or last name: Like I said, no wildcard characters. If you don't know parents, but want to add siblings you do know, add a father profile with the surname but no first name. That's enough. You don't need to add a mother too, so there's no reason I should be getting tree hints for John being married to Unknown Unknown or my personal favorite: Mother MNU.
- Cite your sources!: When you attach a record from the search tool to your tree, Ancestry does the citing for you. Same with any tree service that also provides a search tool: you find the record and attach it to the profile, the company makes the link for you. But if you find records on one site and transfer the information to your tree on another site (or on paper/computer program if you aren't an online tree person), then you have to make some kind of citation for that source. WHY? First for yourself: if you know where you've looked, you won't look there again. And for others: you can save someone else a step. You don't have to put up images of a document you paid money for, or just hand over your research to complete strangers, but giving at least a citation of "found this death record on Missouri's Digital Heritage collection" could be enough to keep someone going. How detailed you make that citation is up to you (and I'll give you a couple of alternative citations in my upcoming records series).

There are more ways to create and maintain a family tree than there are flavors of ice cream at Baskin Robbins. But no one walks around with a lump of ice cream in their naked hand.

24 February 2014

Speak to What You Know

Some time ago, a friend of mine directed me to a review online about Ancestry.com. She was amused at the misinformation and misunderstanding from the blogger himself as well as the claims made in the comments by others. Much of what was said were things I had seen a hundred times already and I took it upon myself to comment. I received notifications on occasion that a reply or new comment had been made and I'd go back to it if I felt it warranted another go. After a while, I pretty much gave up on the comments as they all seemed to just want to pat themselves on the back and agree that Ancestry.com was horrible. This weekend another comment was made and it was full of ridiculous statements that only proved that these people continue to not know what is going on or read what has already been said. That the reviewer didn't give the site a fair trial is ignored by these people who seem to believe that all the information they need should be and is somewhere free on the internet "if you look hard enough". So instead of continuing to argue with them on that page, and knowing that there are many who aren't on that review (now very old, like 2010) who spew the same silly things, I thought I'd address the objections here for a moment. I'm going to quote and breakdown the argument from the most recent comment.

"The whole setup is a huge earner for many companies as people business, is big business and they are simply cashing in on it.
Firstly, most of the information found in their public records can be found online if you are persistent and know where to look and even a lot of that data is either not precise or incorrect.
The parts that would be of interest to me is the public member trees, photos and scanned documents which of course is only put up by people, these are not official public records and I am not going to pay hundreds of dollars per year just for that, because it`s simply not good value for money.
So in fact
ancestry.com and their subsidiary companies change a fee to subscribed members to place their data onto their site and others have to pay subscribe in order to access that information, then all the owners do is sit back and watch all the paid subscriptions coming in, or in other words, this racket is a nice little earner.
Also there are probably many of our details on the ancestry.com site or as parts of others family trees, without our knowledge and without our permission and if discovered ancestry.com gives the complainants a real hard time trying to have the stuff deleted. People can publish a lot of private material about others on ancestry.com without permissions or concerns about copyrights as in many cases they are protected under the auspices of these so-called genealogical companies, which means many people unbeknown to them are making contributions to these companies and the only ways to discover if we are listed on their sites is to pay subscribe ourselves. These huge companies are in a win, win situation.
I have no prejudices against any companies making achievements and becoming successful, but my grievances are; is that anyone can place data about anyone on there with virtually no questions asked and I ask; why should I or others have no say with our details being publish on those sites and why should people have to pay subscribe to access information about themselves?"
My responses will be highlighted:
"Firstly, most of the information found in their public records can be found online if you are persistent and know where to look and even a lot of that data is either not precise or incorrect." Since Ancestry.com compiles records from other repositories, yes you can find many collections elsewhere. Vital records, for instance, but not every state/country provides their own online database. As for the information not being precise or correct, welcome to genealogy, the microfiche is to your left and the pots of coffee for your midnight searches is on the right. Use pencil in your notes, because you'll be making a lot of adjustments to what you "know" as you learn. But please don't ignore the many collections digitised and compiled by Ancestry.com itself and available nowhere else.
"The parts that would be of interest to me is the public member trees, photos and scanned documents which of course is only put up by people, these are not official public records and I am not going to pay hundreds of dollars per year just for that, because it`s simply not good value for money." If anyone is paying hundreds of dollars to take the photos and scanned documents from public member trees, they are wasting their money. Mundia.com allows you to see the same public trees for free. You pay Ancestry.com for the records that are not found elsewhere online or not found elsewhere for free. And if all you do is pull your information from other people's research, no wonder you find so many errors.
"So in fact ancestry.com and their subsidiary companies change a fee to subscribed members to place their data onto their site and others have to pay subscribe in order to access that information, then all the owners do is sit back and watch all the paid subscriptions coming in, or in other words, this racket is a nice little earner." Again, you pay for records access, not to steal/borrow/take/collaborate/whatever off a public member's tree. And since you can upload and build a tree for free, subscribers aren't being charged to "place their data onto [Ancestry.com]". You want just public member tree information? Try Mundia.com, same trees, same fluff, no records.
"Also there are probably many of our details on the ancestry.com site or as parts of others family trees, without our knowledge and without our permission and if discovered ancestry.com gives the complainants a real hard time trying to have the stuff deleted. People can publish a lot of private material about others on ancestry.com without permissions or concerns about copyrights as in many cases they are protected under the auspices of these so-called genealogical companies, which means many people unbeknown to them are making contributions to these companies and the only ways to discover if we are listed on their sites is to pay subscribe ourselves. These huge companies are in a win, win situation." First, searching is free, it's accessing records that is a charge. You can search yourself out to see if you are listed. As said before, Mundia.com shows public trees, so you can search and view public trees from Ancestry.com for free to see if you've been placed in someone's tree. Second, facts are not copyrighted. The fact that you were born in Oklahoma is not copyrighted and anyone can place a profile of you with that fact on it. Now, a photo of your first birthday taken by your mother is copyrighted by your mother and must have permissions from your mother prior to upload *if it bothers your mother* but you have no copyright claim to that photo and cannot request it's removal based on a copyright claim. If you write a story about your life, that story is under copyright, but the facts *inside* that story are not and can be used. Living people are supposed to be private, so if you were to find yourself on a public tree and clearly visible, you can have the profile removed or privatised in the tree as a breach in TOS. This whole paragraph seems to be the commentor's effort to prove how greedy genealogy companies are without actually knowing how they make money or what copyright means.
"I have no prejudices against any companies making achievements and becoming successful, but my grievances are; is that anyone can place data about anyone on there with virtually no questions asked and I ask; why should I or others have no say with our details being publish on those sites and why should people have to pay subscribe to access information about themselves?" Just one more paragraph illustrating that this person, much like others who commented, have no idea what genealogy is or how these genealogy sites really work. That they chose Ancestry.com for this particular review doesn't matter. These complaints are out there for every site.

This is just one seemingly rational person making the worst mistakes of assumption about Ancestry.com. I see these same arguments a hundred times a day. Right up there with the charge per month being too much (which is still the cheapest out there and much cheaper than offline research), bashing Mormons (there is some serious misinformation about Mormons and genealogy/Ancestry.com that never goes away), and automatic subscription renewal being unethical (I would seriously love a list of the websites for any service that don't autorenew your subscription). And I'll close this brief rant with two problems I had with the initial review:

1. The reviewer never does the 14 day trial, because he won't put in a credit card number. That's all well and good, but it's not a fair trial of the site. He could've gone to the library to use their edition for free. He could've used a prepaid credit card if his worry was protecting his privacy and financial accounts. He could've done as normal people do and tried it out for a day or two and then cancelled the trial prior to charging (saving his cancellation number should a charge go through anyway). I would never accept the review for any product from someone who didn't actually use the product. He doesn't even seem to attempt to check the card catalogue for the hundreds of free databases that could've been of use to him without a subscription. He doesn't even acknowledge they exist.
2. The reviewer seems to think that one day we'll have this large crowd sourced site that will take over for the pay sites. An interesting idea........ that's already been tried. Rootsweb, Geni, Mundia, MyHeritage, and even the one Family Tree on FamilySearch.org all try to put researchers in the driver's seat. And we all know how those user submitted parts of sites do, don't we? (One World Tree ringing any bells?) There is nothing more frustrating or error-ridden than user submitted information without source citation. What I also find confusing is where he and his supporters think all the documents for this crowd source are going to come from. Obviously they believe most of the information available anywhere is completely free if you just search hard enough. But anyone who's done genealogy for even a few months knows how much is payment only, even offline. I may be able to get a free copy of a vital record in many states as long as it's 100 years old or more, but I'm going to have to pay for my grandparents', parents', and my own certificates. And don't get me started with sites like ScotlandsPeople, which I love but have to pay for each search page and each image I want to view on the search page. And while I enjoy sharing my paid research with family so they can save some money, I'm not about to break copyright laws just so complete strangers don't have to pay money. People who believe genealogy should be free seem to ignore how many of the sources we use weren't made for the benefit of genealogists (census, anyone?) and we are lucky they exist! Just because your family is listed doesn't mean you own the records. The cost of housing, digitising, transcribing, indexing, and protecting these sources have to be covered somewhere. And no, not every source of genealogical information is paid for with your tax money since not every source is governmental in origin (baptismal records?). But the reviewer keeps insisting that one day this will be possible. One day we will have a Wikipedia style genealogy site that is totally free and totally user submitted public information.
You have fun with that, Sunshine. I'll pay to actually get somewhere in my research.
(I considered not linking to the review so as to not give this man more traffic, but I thought others should have as much fun as I have: http://shoutsfromtheabyss.wordpress.com/2010/03/18/ancestry-com-can-eat-my-ass/ )

17 February 2014

More Than One Road to Roam

It happens in every skill: you reach the level of expertise that you forget the basics. Trying to explain to a beginner how to start isn't as easy as it used to be. You do the first steps by instinct more than conscious action. Math teachers were hounding us as children to "show the work", because they wanted to make sure we had the fundamentals clearly in hand. Sometimes you found a faster route; other times you just "knew" the answer. When you have to split a restaurant bill between your friends, do you pull out a pencil and do it longhand or do you figure it quickly in your head? This is why professionals and enthusiasts in every hobby will recommend a frequent and regular refresher on the very basic rules of any endeavor. Genealogy is no exception. Once you've gotten your tree on a healthy growth spurt, you just "know" what the next steps will be. You know what paths to take in your research even when the evidence isn't conclusive. Explaining either the conclusion or the road you travelled to anyone else is made difficult because you've forgotten how to "show the work". And when you forget the starting steps, you can sometimes get into a rut of which road you take.

One of the most popular ruts is the census. For most people, outside of interviewing family, this is the first document one will try to find. It's a good document! Every 10 years, family names and relationships, occupations, birth years and locations...... lots of information. A snapshot of  your family unit. But some people become so blinded by the need to find a census, that when one is not available (1890 US census, anyone?), they are at a loss for next steps. Their usual route is washed out and they're lost in the woods. So they relearn the need to look at siblings and neighbors for clues. They need reminding to review city directories, newspapers, military history, land deeds, or occupation. They know of the other records, to be sure. But they are used to a different starting point, so starting somewhere else is too foreign a concept. It takes a minute to readjust.

My own personal genealogy has seen a boom in activity thanks to new digitised records (one less trek in the snow!!!), DNA tests, and more receptive family. I've never pestered any family member to share information and always believed that was the best way to go about it. I want people to feel comfortable talking to me, not feel interrogated. But I'm always excited to find someone finally willing to open up. Until we start talking and they can't remember names or dates. Or they leave things out, because they don't think it's "important" and I spend two hours prying stories out of them to hopefully glean some sort of fact out of it all. My fiance, who has done research for his lines but never really gotten the "genealogy bug", is slowly sharing what he knows. Suddenly I've got a new to me country with new to me relatives. And I've got new to me hurdles.

You see, my fiance is British. His family is English and Welsh. I've got a lot to learn about what I can find long distance and what I need local access to work. I need to work around a 100 year privacy law and an ocean. And I need to start at the beginning. He was smart enough to ask relatives for their information and share what he had already researched. I am smart enough to take this unsourced information and verify. As I worked on the information, I often found myself texting or calling my fiance to ask for clarification. Having already done the work, he was giving me a lot of conclusions without the show.......... which meant we had some problems remembering how we got where we did.

Just part of the conversation:

N: So grandpa Ken, what have you found out?

A: Ken? Your mom's dad.

N: Yeah, Kenneth. Mum's dad. He was nice. (family story time)

A: Okay, when did he die? When was he born? When did he marry your grandmother? Was your mom their first kid?

N: (to all of them) Dunno. Can't remember.

A: Okay....... um, how old were you when he died?

N: 11 or 12 I think. Grandma moved. (New family story time)

A: Oh? Moved to where?

N: I dunno....... they used to live in .......

A: Okay, I have a Kenneth James who died '88 in that town. Maybe?

N: I dunno. You're the genealogist.

A: Good thing I love you.

Now I'll use this to illustrate my point (thank goodness, right?). I work backwards, so first I want to know when Ken died. My fiance couldn't remember exactly, but he was there. Okay, so I can either ask if he remembers how old grandpa was or if he remembers how old he was. Adding in the little tidbit about where he remembered visiting grandpa and where grandma moved to after his death helped me narrow down where he possibly died. Being a recent death, my access is limited to an index, so without a little bit of information, I would never be sure who was *my* Ken and who wasn't. For those of us who've gotten into that rut of research, we could give up. We could start aimlessly looking for his birth record instead. Or maybe I could hope to recognise his name in a census. But the last UK census released was the 1911 census......... would Ken even be old enough to be on it? He wasn't. Thankfully, Ken died where he lived so I was able to get his birthdate on the death index. Sadly, he wasn't born there. So how to know which birth record was his? The index available to me would show his name, his mother's maiden name, location of birth, and the quarter of the year he was born in. Was that enough? No! The index doesn't even narrow down male and female..... what if his name is misspelled? What if he's actually James Kenneth, not Kenneth James? It didn't specify month nor day of birth. No father's information! And I didn't have his mother's name, so how would I know which maiden name was hers?

After we get "good" at genealogy, it's actually very easy for us to fall into what is usually a "newbie" mistake: attaching records that are close enough without researching them. There was a birth close to his death location..... I could add that one and assume his family didn't move far. Or, I could make a map. I took each maiden name and searched for marriage records. I found the names of the husband/wife and where they were married. I then found them in the 1911 census (alone or married). I then tried to find their death index entry. I could now see who had moved and who had stayed put. Couple #1 never left Yorkshire, already had tons of kids by 1911, and didn't fit Ken's life (spent mostly around London). Couple #2 wasn't too far outside Kent, but never left their little town either. Couple #3, however, started south of London, and moved slowly North and West to where Ken ended up living most of his adult life. I was pretty sure I had the right folks. I also searched birth entries for other children with that mother's maiden name and was able to find possible siblings who were born either where Ken was born or where Ken lived later in life. I've tasked my fiance with original records gathering, but I feel that the initial work is good.

I'm also really excited by all this research. My family has mostly been in the US for hundreds of years. My last immigrant ancestor is from Scotland. Something like England, but not the same. I am feeling the thrill of being a new researcher again. I am not only having to learn about his family's life, but my fiance's country as well. I mean, I've learned the basics to be sure. But now I've got to really understand the county lines, the privacy rules, the records available, the records lost, wars fought, illnesses suffered......... I'm at the beginning of the beginning all over again. I can do US research in my sleep. I am fairly good at Scottish research. But England? And Wales? Please. Fish out of water time, my friend. Suddenly, I'm attacking history books. I'm searching out wiki pages. I'm rewatching old videos from Crista Cowan's learning series. I love Crista. I watch all her videos, even when I don't need that specific topic. At least I think I don't. But I usually get reminded about a little trick that will help me in my regular work. Or I later remember that I saw a video that will help me with my new work. Like this new venue of family research. Crista has videos dealing with how to use UK records and next steps. Some of the tricks are the same the world over, but other's aren't. My fiance did ask me why I wasn't done yet and I just laughed. When I told him it wasn't the same kind of research, he said, "sure it is." No, it isn't.

Every branch is a new journey with an old friend.

10 February 2014

Passive Research

"Hey, ya'll. Looking for my <relative>. He was born <date> and died <date>, I think, but not sure. Thanks!"

"Looking for relatives of <chain of surnames>! If you are related, or know someone who is, pm me!"

"<random person's full name and vital statistics>"

I'm sure we've all seen the half dozen or more daily posts like these. What are they hoping will happen? Some random post on a random page on a random website is going to be seen by someone who is related to them and then they'll message the OP to share years worth of research and photos? I'm sorry, not "share". They are looking for people to "give" information, because they don't have a lot to go on themselves. They want someone else to break the brick wall by already having the missing information and recognising the random name thrown out there. If we're lucky, they post this on a forum where people can see it years after it's creation when there's been enough work done to make the connection. But we're not that lucky, are we? It's usually posted like spammy flotsam on Facebook pages that aren't searchable or groups where the topics move fast. Sometimes you get to play the game of "Where Do You Think You Are?" as the request is nested as a comment to someone else's unrelated thread. Most of the time, there's not even enough in the request to try to help the poster find relatives. Other times, you point out how the post will be lost within a day or two. They respond that they had to take a shot in the dark. It's not a shot in the dark, it's lazy nongenealogy.

What is genealogy? It's the study of generations. It is the personal history of your family. Your effort determines your outcome. Want to just interview living family and work with hearsay? Fine. You won't get too far back, but you'll be well informed on recent additions to the branches. You want to only work with online databases? I get that. Some folks don't have the luxury of traveling to research. However, you hinder the depth of your research and install your own brick walls when local laws keep the documents you need offline. You want to work diligently on records and what you can prove via real documentation (on and offline) and aren't interested in connecting with all the distant cousins you have that are also researching? Okay, maybe you trust only what you can find or aren't very good talking to others. It's still solid research. On the other hand, a second set of eyes or someone to bounce ideas off of can help you work when faced with the absence of definitive records.

But if your plan includes just throwing out a handful of names and dates and "hoping" someone will stumble along and want to compare notes, GTFO. You aren't doing genealogy. You're expecting someone to do genealogy and give you the results of their efforts. More than that, you want it free. Free of money or effort spent on your part. I have a public tree. I put as much documentation I can on it. I share photos, albeit watermarked to protect my photo from being misused. I cite on my online tree other sources I use so people can find the same information or just ask me for a copy of the document they now know I have. I have no problem with people contacting me and asking for watermark free images of better quality on photos and documents I've already found. I have no problem sending my entire tree in a Gedcom to someone so they can quickly add it to their own work. I keep purchased documents offline to protect the rights of the archive I got them from, but I share them freely with anyone who asks me for them. I don't even care if I have more than the requestor does information wise. Heck, there are times when I'm the one at a loss and I am always grateful for those who can fill in a few blanks. These people are working on their tree and happened across information that led to them finding me, whether it was an old forum post, Ancestry's member connect, or my name on a Google search. What really gets my tights in a twist is the idea that out there is someone just waiting for me to come across a random request and give them what I have. They aren't looking for the information I have readily available on Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Geni.com, MyHeritage.com, Genforum.com, or half a dozen files in Facebook groups. No. Not only do I have to find the information about our common ancestor, I have to find the person and contact them. I have to say, "Here! Here is my work! I'm so glad I finally found you, because all this effort has finally paid off as I can now hand you the whole of my knowledge that I was sure someone was wanting but not participating in looking for!" I can't get my own father interested in genealogy for more than 5 minutes straight, but I'm going to be so relieved when a complete stranger shoots off the shortest, laziest missive they can on a public internet page.


20 January 2014

You've Got It So Wrong, You Don't Want To Be Right

There comes a time in every life when we have to admit we made a mistake. Some errors are "small". Transposition of numbers in a birth year (how did 1795 become 1975?), and we don't even break a sweat. What really keeps us up at night are those mistaken identities. You know the ones. Only a few generations back, you have the wrong person. And after that wrong person, you've gone back several generations more. You've added their "aunts" and "uncles" and second cousins........ to remove this person means an entire entourage needs to go too. To make matters worse, this wrong person is also your link to that famous or infamous relative you just love to show off. Ugh. When this happens, there's usually one of two camps you'll land in: The Pronials or the Blangers.


What makes you a Pronial? You'd rather rip out your own eyeballs than have to delete each person out of your tree one by one, so you ignore that mistake "for now". You know you have something to fix, but it's on that "unimportant" line. I mean, you've just found some really great info about your mother's father's 2nd great uncle! You will get back to fixing this. It's just going to be so much work. And work isn't fun. Genealogy is fun, dang it! When you're ready for the not fun part of genealogy, you'll clear this whole thing up. Promise.

How long can you put it off? Forever!!!!! As long as no one points it out. Then comes the defensive, "yeah I know, but I've not had time to fix it." You've had time. Just no motivation. Some people are so ensconced in this Pronial culture that they'd rather take their tree private so other people can't find the mistake rather than fix it! There's just so much to do........ anywhere else but on that line. You'll even *gasp* stop working on your tree and do housework instead! But every day you don't repair this mistake, the true relatives aren't found. Every week that passes is one less week you have to find them. Soon enough, you'll get confused and frustrated with your work. You'll avoid challenging yourself by fixing this error and it will fester. A dead limb on an otherwise vibrant tree.


The Blanger takes no responsibility for the mistake. They've used other people's research. They can't afford to get a copy of the original, so they had to make a best guess from the index. They may have even paid someone else to do it, so how dare you suggest the mistake is theirs! What about all these other people that have the same information? Huh? Are you going to hound the others as much as this one person??? How dare you criticise their work! You must be an unemployed fat loser with lots of time on your hands that you use only to tear other people down. For shame! It's their tree and if you don't like it, then just don't look at it! That's it, if you won't leave them alone, then you are blocked.

Is anyone else's left arm going numb? Seriously, what is with the rage? A mistaken ancestor isn't going to bring about a nuclear war or kill puppies. It isn't a critique of you as a person for someone else to point out the mistake. It's not a big deal. But Blangers think it is a very big deal. And it's someone else's fault! Unless another person has access to your tree and is randomly inserting people without your knowledge, then how is someone else to blame? Even if you have invited a crazy realtive to your tree who is desperately (and incorrectly) trying to connect you to the House of Stuart, doesn't mean you can't just go fix it. And what is with the blocking? I see people on the groups and forums saying, "Just block them and don't worry about it." Really? Because if you ignore them, the mistake goes away? Unless someone is threatening you with bodily harm or calling you names, there's no reason to start blocking people. Keep in mind, disagreement isn't bullying, it's a healthy exchange of ideas.

You're wrong today, You're wrong tomorrow

One thing I have noticed from the folks completely unwilling to even consider the errors in their tree is a knee-jerk reaction that this one error calls into question their entire tree. Rarely is this true. Yes, you will now have to erase (or at least call into question) a portion of your tree. But isn't it the thrill of the hunt that drives us? Instead of imagining all the work you're going to have to put into fixing this problem, how about focusing on how you'll feel when you finally know the right answer? It's not actually about the error, is it? It's about admitting you're wrong. I know, it's hard. We all struggle with the skill of admitting our mistakes. Even I can first take a defensive posture on a discussion if it calls into question any "fact" I believe in firmly. Sometimes I've dug in too hard and come out with egg on my face.

Which is why I've learned to take a "question everything" approach. If I haven't seen it with my own eyes, I now qualify any statement to include "supposedly", "according to", "so I've heard", or some variation. If I wasn't a witness, I question the sources about their reliability. Were they there? Did they hear it from someone else? Is it written or oral history? Do separate independent witnesses confirm the report? And this goes well beyond genealogy. I'll rarely share a Facebook post without checking two or more hoax sites to make sure I'm not perpetuating a lie (much to my trigger-happy friends' dismay). I don't spread celebrity gossip. And I sure as heck wheel away from political or religious debates. Seriously, those last two are no-wins. I may point out a falsehood or misconception, but I love my friends and family enough to stop short of shaking the pillars of their faith. Forget about getting me to talk about ongoing criminal investigations. Police and lawyers don't make every discovery public, so unless I'm on the jury, it makes no nevermind to me. I can't tell you the number of times my dad and I will start talking about an actor only for both of us to stop and head to IMDB to "settle it". The point is, if you can't back up an assertion with consistent evidence, then there's no solid footing to stand your ground when conflicting stories come to light.

In genealogy, you won't always be able to prove definitively the facts that make up your tree. Sometimes it will be an absence of evidence that speaks volumes. Because your case may be best made by circumstantial evidence, the most important phrase for many genealogists can be "a thorough and reasonably exhaustive search". Before you make any "solid" claim about any ancestor, ask yourself if you've made a thorough and exhaustive search. If someone comes around saying you've got it wrong, consider their evidence. Did you review those materials and dismissed them due to overwhelming evidence in another direction? Or have you never seen them before? Does the other person even have evidence to the contrary of your case? And what is a thorough and exhaustive search? It's all about available records. Have you looked for all census records, birth certificates, death notices, land grants, newspaper articles, etc. that could possibly exist for the relative in question? Online only research isn't thorough or exhaustive. Censuses used as the only residence evidence isn't thorough or exhaustive. And while I appreciate volunteer researchers (and count myself among them), I question the exhaustiveness of any research I haven't done myself, especially if I'm not paying for it. Research I pay for has to come with evidence of where the person has looked, even if nothing was found, in order to prove the thoroughness of the research (or at least should if the researcher is worth their salt). A volunteer usually just plugs the names and dates you give them into a database and pulls the best match for you. Not always wrong, but there's going to be that possibility that one of the other matches is better. My biggest peeve on the volunteer front is when a person requests information on a relative and all they give is a name, no dates or locations, but volunteers start flooding them with "possible" record matches. It's so easy to get it wrong in such a situation. And when your less than exhaustive research proves to bear poisoned fruit, it's not the volunteer that chokes on it.

There are many many times in my own research that I've been wrong. I may still be wrong on some maiden names that are proving to be my brickwalls. If someone comes along who can tell me what the right name is, and can provide even a small amount of evidence to support their claim, then it's time to consider it. I know that my so-called "brickwall" in my maternal line is due to a less than thorough search. But I either have to pay a local researcher or make a research trip as the information isn't available online. And I am a total "thrill of the hunt" genealogist. I'll wait til I can look for myself, thank you. But if a relative comes along who says, "hey, I have that information as I've already made that trip," I'm not going to look in that gift horse's mouth, even if the trip proves I'm on the wrong path.

I will pretend my grandmother is right behind me and accept these clues with grace.

13 January 2014

Oh the Games We Play

Well, hello there! Thanks to some professional endeavors, personal genealogy triumphs, holiday parties, and the general malaise of writer's block, it's been a while. As I start this new year with new energy for my work and research, I dive back into my blog with hope of new exciting topics to propel us further in our shared passion for genealogy! Now, if you're like me, you've spent a great deal of your holiday season with family, talking about family, sharing stories about family........ boring your family to tears with genealogy. I honestly can't remember the last time I didn't "genealogify" a conversation. At my father's Christmas dinner, I became acutely aware of just how much I had talked about the family tree or the family history discoveries of my friends. I also found myself nearly cutting my tongue in two biting down to keep from "correcting" a relative who insisted we were royalty or that their aunt had traced their other side's native history in a weekend. It was a bit disheartening to think that, as of now, I have no young successor in my immediate family to receive the benefit of my research. My younger cousins haven't built the skill set needed to patiently research, nor the enthusiasm for family. I also realised that my research was beginning to feel more like a chore I had to do, rather than the fun game of "hide and seek" I'd always enjoyed.

That's what I was missing. The fun of a game. Suddenly, I lit upon a new idea. When I was a child, the family get-togethers often included board games. A great deal of my favorite family stories start with "So there we were in the middle of the most intense Monopoly game of the century...." or end with "...then your uncle accused your father and aunt of conspiracy, vowed to never play Risk again, and stormed out of the room." Many members of my family still have personal game nights. I'm going to make more of an effort to join them. More than that, I want to start a few to engage those relations that have lost the tradition. But I also have a very sneaky reason: I can "genealogify" anything. Here is a perfect opportunity to get family together for story and photo trading and build up the skill level of potential future researchers! Hear me out.

I am the Clue Queen. Admittedly, I'll have to let a few wins slip past to keep people playing this one, but there is no better illustration of genealogy research. Seriously. Okay, so the rules of Clue are so simple. Someone has been murdered. You have a list of suspects, murder weapons, and rooms that the actual murder took place. Each one is on their own card. You shuffle the suspect cards and select one without looking at it. You do the same for the weapon and room cards. The three selected cards are placed in an envelope in the center of the board. No one knows what's on those cards. The rest of the cards are shuffled together and distributed to the players. Using the process of elimination, you are then supposed to guess who, what, and where of the murder. Obviously the cards in your hand aren't involved in the murder, but what about everyone else's? That's where "suspect" and "accuse" come into play. As your piece moves about the board, you "suspect" a person, weapon, and room. If other players have one of those things in their hand, they can privately display them to you so you can eliminate them. When you are sure of how it all went down, you "accuse". If you accuse, you check the envelope. If you are right, you win. If you are wrong, you are out the rest of the game as the other players suspect and accuse without you.

Skills learned: Everything in genealogy is a process of elimination. Every search is going to have multiple potential records for your one ancestor. Is it this census record or that one? The only way to confirm the right one is to evaluate the evidence. Is it the right name? Is he approximately the right age? Are others named on the record known family? Do the ages of other family members coincide with what you know? Is the location correct or within a reasonable traveling distance from his last known residence? In the ideal situation, there is a list of records that you easily eliminate, because only one meets all the criteria. In real life, however, you are often going to find yourself looking at records that have the same name, around the same time, and in the same place. Which one is your guy? Could it be he was recorded more than once? Is this his father, brother, cousin, or an unrelated man? This is where it's best to "suspect" rather than "accuse". For Ancestry users, you have a Shoebox option that allows you to save the record for later viewing. I never let the Shoebox get too full without reviewing and eliminating records. What I try to do is search one ancestor at a time and then review my potential records before moving on to another ancestor. For those who don't have Ancestry, don't use the Shoebox, or are paper people... bookmark the link, write the info down, print it out. Whatever you do, don't save it to your tree or source it as fact in your notes. Yes, it's so easy to say we'll one day go back and reevaluate that potential record. But when did you last look at that record? I bet it's been a while. While you're putting off confirming that record, others are taking your potential record as gospel and one day you'll stumble across their work and think "oh, they found the proof" when what really happened was the snake eating it's own body. Then we all lose the game.

Pictionary and Charades
Oh this is so much fun! You group off into teams or pairs and take turns choosing a word or phrase. One member of the team then draws a picture (Pictionary) or acts out a scene (Charades) about the word or phrase, but they can't speak or give verbal clues. The rest of the team must guess what's going on within a time limit. Sometimes it seems the team is psychic and just knows. Other times you'd think they had never met before. I know there's some kind of point system, but usually this one goes on in my family until someone is hoarse from screaming their answers or frustrated that their team "doesn't get it". My brother usually wins this one. He sits back while the rest of his team shouts out a guess at every line and squiggle ("A circle! Uh, a line! Is it a cookie????"). Suddenly he calmly states the answer while the rest of them are still trying to figure out if it's a car or an elephant (seriously, my dad cannot draw to save his life).

Skills learned: Ah the power of assumptions! What often defeats the Pictionary player is their own assumptions. My brother wins because he asks himself "what does this drawing mean to the other person?" When looking for clues on your ancestor, ask what the records mean to them. Why would someone bother creating said record? Why did they move? Why did they leave their family? Why did they join the military (or decline service)? Why did they chose the names they did for their children? Let's consider that last one. There's always the traditional names passed down from generation to generation. But just like today, celebrity can influence names. In a fit of patriotism, your family starts naming the children George Washington, Ben Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, John Quincy. They chose to name their children after their favorite authors or actors of the time. Or maybe they chose a famous religious leader like Lorenzo Dow. If you didn't know better, you may assume there was a familial connection that they were honoring. Or it would just be a "weird" name. But knowing that Lorenzo Dow was an author and well-traveled preacher may clue you in to your family's religious beliefs (and the potential records to be found in their churches). Knowing what famous people may have influenced their lives enough to gain immortality in a namesake may hold clues to the one thing a genealogist loves the most: the true heart of another human being.

While many games are held aloft as the end all be all of family warfare, I truly believe that no other game can tear a family apart like Risk. The board is a map of the world. You chose a color for your army and are given a set of units to start the game. The players take turns placing one unit on a country/region to "claim" it. Once all areas are claimed, you use the rest of your army to fortify your defenses. But choose carefully. You don't want to spread too thin, or have too much of your army surrounded by itself. For as the game commences, you are given cards that you can trade in for more military and you begin a campaign to conquer it all. You choose another player and challenge their army adjoining one of your territories. You each roll a number of dice based on the size of your army (and how much you choose to invest in the attack) to determine the attrition. If you eliminate the enemy army, you move part of your army into the new territory. If you lose the battle, you could abandon the attack or lose your territory. At the same time you are plotting to destroy, your opponents are plotting to destroy you....... so watch your six. I've seen Risk games last hours, even days. On more than one occasion, the winner was determined by who had the most territory before my uncle flipped the board and declared the unfairness of playing with cheaters. Dad usually one this one, because of his deep love for military history and tactics. He usually only lost when relatives made peace accords and ganged up on him. My fiance, who is not a board game player, was the only one to legit defeat him. When my dad complemented him on his win, he shrugged and said "British". And it's true. He is British and there is a reason why a small island ruled so much of the world!

Skills learned: When you play Risk, or at least classic Risk, you are learning military strategy, geography, and migration. Australia is an excellent place to start your campaign because of it's defensibility. There's usually two ways in, but both require you to control Indonesia. Forget about early control of Russia. As the largest landmass, there's just too many fronts for a beginning army. Best practice is to gain control of the rest of the world and push back opponent armies into Russia. Once their numbers are reduced, it's all clean up. Now, using a classic version of the game is an excellent way to teach geography to children. The paths allowed between continents also follow traditional (albeit basic) migration routes. So it can be an excellent way to discuss why the family may not have come directly to the US from the Ukraine. Or it can illustrate why your family may have always identified as German, but your DNA results suggest some Western Asian or North African DNA. And of course, it can foster an interest in military history for you or your children. Like I said, dad won most often because he knew military history. While one player was deciding where to place his armies, dad would tell us about the Civil War, Vietnam, War of the Roses, Spain's colonization of the America's........ He'd discuss Sun Tzu, Hannibal, General Grant, Napoleon, Julius Caesar, and other influential leaders and strategists all while the game raged on. I know the military history of a few of my family members, so I could personalise the "history lesson" with the next generation. How fun!

Stratego is another military game. The board is a territory that is divided between your army and your opponents. The point of the game is to capture your opponent's flag. But be warned, besides the randomly placed army, your opponent also has placed a few mines in your way. Each time one of your pieces advances, trying to discover the flag, it could run up against a more powerful enemy or mine and be removed from the game. Each piece looks the same in shape and color, so the only way to know when you've reached the flag, is to plow ahead and try them out.

Skills learned: I like two things about this game. The first is that it can teach you about ranks. There are privates, sergeants, generals, etc. The higher the rank, the more "powerful" the piece. Highest rank wins. So you can use this time to discuss rank hierarchy in military. Talk with relatives about what ranks your ancestors held. Dad was Navy, my uncle was Marine, and my grandfather was Army, so we often discussed differences in rank by military branch and who would overrule whom on the field between them. It got us discussing enlisted versus officers and their experiences with "the draft".  And these discussions often led me to wonder if there was a document out there related to an ancestor's promotion to a higher rank or discharge. The second thing I love is that this is another example of process of elimination. The flag could be any place in their army. You could just plunge ahead and hope for the best, but your best strategy is going to be knowing your opponent. Where would he place his flag? And when looking for your ancestor in a record collection or choosing between similar documents, it can help to look at them not from your perspective, but your ancestor's.

MadGabs and Telephone
Most children have played Telephone at some point in their school lives. Everyone sits in a circle. One person whispers a sentence into the ear of their neighbor. No repeats, so you hear what you hear. The neighbor turns to the person beside them and whispers what they heard. The last person in the circle then proclaims what was whispered in their ear and everyone laughs at how a simple sentence has been convoluted and changed in the end. MadGabs is similar. You pull a card and read a nonsense sentence out loud. The more you do it, the faster or slower you do it, the more you piece together the real meaning. The example from the commercial (so as to not ruin the fun should you play) is "eye mull of ma sheen." Say it out loud and you quickly hear "I'm a love machine", which gives you a nice ear worm for the day. The game has a time limit of course, and points awarded for correct guesses to choose a winner.

Skills learned: I doubt there is any family historian who has never had a name misspelled in a record. My 2nd great grandfather Briody was listed as Brady in a census. My 2nd great grandfather Eonas was listed as Jonas on a birth record for one of his children. And there's still some debate if my 3rd great grandmother's maiden name was Colby or Covey! When looking for relatives, it's often good to say their names out loud. Say them fast. Say them slow. Say them with an accent. Spell out each possible misrepresentation. Spell them phonetically, even. Then check the records against those "alternatives". You may be surprised to find them in plain sight! I also like this particular game as an illustration about what we "hear" and what is "true". I had a friend ask me to help me with her Native American research. She had heard her great grandmother was Cherokee (aren't they all?). Well, her great grandmother was not. At first this upset her greatly, but soon came a pleasant enough surprise. Since we knew more about her great grandmother, I decided to dig up some "real" information about her family (to cheer her up). It turned out that there was a Native American line. Her 3rd great grandmother was in fact native. After we talked for a while, she began to realise that she had heard the stories about her great grandmother from her grandmother. So grandma was most likely saying "great grandma", meaning her great grandmother, not my friend's. It was all in how she heard it. When I get lost in a line, I will often go back over what I've "known" and try to "hear" it for the first time again.

Monopoly is a fun game and if you've never played it, I am so sorry for you. The board is a series of squares representing "land". Your piece travels around and if you land on a square, and if no one has yet done so, you can purchase the property from the "bank". If the property is owned, you pay the owner rent for landing there. If you own property, you can add houses to increase the value (and subsequently the rent). You win by bankrupting your opponents. Many families add different rules, like the "Free Parking" rule. There's a square marked "Free Parking". If you land there, in a normal game, you don't have to worry about paying a rent. But in an "advanced" game, you get a pot of money for landing there. What money is contributed to the pot? Well there are penalty cards you can land on. In the advanced game, you put your penalty fee in a pot instead of just paying the person designated banker. Some games require a player to own the complete collection of a series of properties before adding homes to any of those squares. In any case, it's not always the player that runs the board buying all the properties first that ends up owning everything at the end. And some times, the winner is the one who was willing to forego a property with high rent in favor of a series of properties with cheaper upkeep.

Skills learned: What can a genealogist possibly learn from Monopoly? Only the most important skill! Monopoly has always been a great way to teach younger folk the power of budgets, and it works for genealogists too. No one place will hold all the records for all of our ancestors. Heck, no one place will have all the records for one of our ancestors. And no matter how hard we try, eventually we are going to have to pay for something. It could be a subscription to a pay site, a membership to a society, a record from an archive, or a professional researcher. In the game of Monopoly, a player could go around buying up all the properties they land on. But it could leave them in the lurch should they land on an owned property or receive a penalty card. And if no one lands on the properties they own, they won't get any of their money back. In genealogy, you could pay for websites and records willy-nilly. But you could end up bankrupting your budget on unrelated records. You could be short the cash needed to buy that one packet from the courthouse that could solve your brick wall. So it's all about budgeting and patience. And just like Boardwalk (the most expensive rent on the board), you could run across a really great packet of information on your relative that may not be worth the money........ at least your first go 'round the board. An example of this is a recent trip to the state archives taken by a friend of mine. She found a court document about her relative that was 500 pages. 500! The detail was amazing. The information was dizzying. The copy fees were insane! In the end, her desire to possess this record was outweighed by her desire to be able to continue to feed her family. Does it mean she'll never own it? Probably not, but it's gonna take a few passes over "Go" first. When you are choosing where to spend your money, take the time to consider how often you'll "land" there as well. Boardwalk is the most expensive rent, this is true. But it's also less likely to be landed upon by renters, so you'll make less money on it than a spot more middle road. When looking at genealogy pay sites, browse their collection titles. I may love looking through old newspapers, but if GenealogyBank doesn't have editions from areas my family lived in (or at the time they lived there), there is no point in paying for their records. And pay per view sites like ScotlandsPeople are best when you have enough information on your ancestor to narrow the results down to more specific possibilities. If I want just one record on one ancestor, I may wait to pay for access until I have more information or relatives to work with.

This last game is really just a lot of fun. No specific skill set to practice here. In Life, you start off as a single person in a little car. You choose to go to college or head directly into the workforce. You get married and have a random number of kids. You buy stock and insurance. You may even go back to school for higher education later in Life. Eventually you retire. Winner gets to retirement first, has the best financial value at retirement, or (if it's my family) is the one who declares "I'm bored now!" when they land on a car accident for the third time.

So why is Life on the list? Why, because it is Life. Your player does things that many of our ancestors will have done. My niece loves this game (she names all her daughters after me, and yes, we have to name our children- her rule). And the whole time we're playing, I'm thinking about the records. My player chooses college..... there would be yearbooks. Maybe I could find an announcement at their graduation. Oh, married! There'll be banns, bonds, and licenses. Yay, twins! Birth record, newspaper announcement, possibly a naming pattern. Dang, a fire. News articles, Sanborn maps, and maybe medical/death records. Stock investment payoff? Business records, tax records, and maybe deeds. Next time you play Life, try to list the records you may find. Do it in your head if your family thinks you're crazy like mine does. If you have an awesome family that loves history and genealogy, engage others. Every time an event happens, have everyone call out possible records and give points or "cash" as a prize to tally in the game.

Actually, that last bit sounds like fun. I need to find the awesome family that does that.