Research Like a Pro Week 5: Research Planning

Here is the latest instalment in my series about the Research Like a Pro process. I’m serving as a Peer Group Leader for this study group.

Our assignment this week was to plan our research phase, including:

  1. Summary of known facts based on our timeline
  2. Background information about the locality based on our locality guide
  3. Working hypothesis
  4. Identified sources
  5. Prioritized research strategy

During research planning, I discovered that I had not included everything I knew in the timeline phase. Since the James Stokers were often confused, I knew more about Edward Stoker, the father of a James Stoker, so I returned to my timeline and added information about Edward Stoker.

Writing up these sections forces the researcher to consider how they know what they know and what is needed to answer the research question. I’ve noticed that documenting middle name origins is particularly problematic. They seem to appear out of nowhere in authored sources. In a same-name project, they could be useful if records over time demonstrate consistent use. 

Writing a working hypothesis creates a tension between confirmation bias and keeping an open mind. It’s more likely that researchers do have a bias, so writing the hypothesis is one way to get it in the open. Since hypotheses are meant to be disproven, writing is the safest step for the researcher and a good reason to have peer review of finished products.

Prioritizing is valuable because it avoids the distractions that genealogical research so often inspires! I am not always certain of which sources will most efficiently answer my question and appreciate thinking that step through.

Research Like a Pro Week 2: Timeline and Citations

This is the second entry about my experience doing a research project while I serve as a peer group leader for the Research Like a Pro Study Group hosted by Diana Elder and Nicole Dyer of Family Locket.

Updating the Research Objective

With the assistance of my peers, I revised my research objective to be:

This project seeks to uniquely identify each James Stoker in Bourbon County, Kentucky from approximately 1820 to 1880. 

  • James Stoker filed a bond to marry Polly Ross on 9 December 1822 in Bourbon County.
  • Jas. Stoker, age 79, lived in the household of his son-in-law, Silas. Cleaver, in 1880 in Millersburg, Bourbon County. 
  • James H. Stoker, presumed age 40-50, lived in Bourbon County in 1830.

The task this week was two-fold: create a timeline of known facts and to cite them properly.

Timeline

Creating a timeline involves taking everything already known about the research topic and arranging it in order. This provides an opportunity to see new patterns and identify gaps in the research. I am using Airtable to organize my research.

I entered the documents I had about the various James Stokers into the timeline tab in Airtable. My timeline has the following fields (columns): Event, Stoker as named in record, Stoker sorting tests (more on this later), Date (text field YYYY-MM-DD with as much information as is known), Place (Single-select field type written State, County, Town using 2 letter state abbreviations), Type (of event, another single-select field with choices like birth, census, death), URL (to the source document), Source citation (yes, the entire citation. This is the master location for the citation), Details (an abstract of the information in the source), FANS (link to the FAN Club table), Notes (thoughts about the source).\

I included all the known events for my ancestor James Stoker since I had eight census records for him (two are state censuses). I have a birth state, birth date calculated from his cemetery marker, marriage date and place, death and cemetery information.

Since this is a project to distinguish different people of the same/similar name, I am testing using two columns for name, one as it appears in the record, and the second column to try different ways to sort the James Stokers. Place and time will guide the sorting.

Citations

Complete source citations form the foundation for genealogical analysis. Fortunately, I formed good habits citing my sources starting in 1998 when I was enrolled in the certificate program in Family History and Genealogy at the University of Washington. Citations weren’t as exacting then as they are now. Citation is also required in my other field, health care, and I worked in research for several years and co-authored scientific publications. Transitioning to the professional genealogist role meant switching to humanities-style citations and meeting genealogical standards. I frequently refer to the Chicago Manual of Style to manage the mechanics of humanities writing and citations. I refer to Elizabeth Shown Mill’s comprehensive book, Evidence Explained, and Thomas Jones’ Mastering Genealogical Documentation as needed.

Using a template for genealogical citations made it easier for me to meet the genealogical standards. I have an Airtable Citation Guide accessible from my bookmarks bar. It is based on the Research Like a Pro templates. The fields in my base are Name (type of source, like Birth Certificate Original, FindAGrave, Pension File), Category (birth, cemetery, military, for example), template (see example below), Citation Example (a completed citation of that type), Short Form (when citing the source multiple times.) I tend to put more in citations than others (like complete dates instead of just years and complete stable URLs) because I can always shorten the citation if needed.

Here is an example of a template for FindAGrave:

Find A Grave, database and images ([Stable URL] : accessed [DD Month YYYY]), memorial [NNNNN], [Name As Appears], ([BBBB-DDDD]), gravestone photographed by [Contributor], citing [Name of Cemetery, Town, County, State].

And the 1921 Canadian Census at Library and Archives Canada:

1921 Census, [Province], [name] District [#], Enumeration Sub-district [#], page [#], dwelling [#], household [#], [Name as Written]; database with images Library and Archives Canada ([stable URL] : accessed [DD Month YYYY]); citing LAC microfilm [#].

Creating the timeline and the source citations supports the next part of the research process, analyzing the evidence.

A New Feature in the FamilySearch Family Tree: Other Relationships

In August, FamilySearch added a new feature: the capability to link non-relatives to someone in their Family Tree. The FamilySearch Family Tree is a shared family tree where everyone works on the same tree. WikiTree, one of my favourite genealogy websites, is another.

This feature benefits anyone doing FAN Club research. The FAN Club are a person’s friends, associates, and neighbours. Elizabeth Shown Mills coined the term and it revolutionized genealogical research. One of the best ways to solve documentary genealogical mysteries is to focus on others who interacted with our ancestor. Seeing the same neighbours, witnesses, bondsmen, and chain crews (people involved in surveying property) can help us be sure the person we are researching is the person we are interested in, or help us distinguish two people of the same name. To see another post on FAN Club research see here.

The feature can also associate people linked through slavery. The best effort to do this is the US Black Heritage Project at WikiTree, which I’ve written about here. The WikiTree effort differs from the current “Other Relationships” Feature at FamilySearch because there are standards and project teams working to support the effort. Nevertheless, FamilySearch’s “Other Relationships” Feature will benefit researchers.

Here’s where you find “Other Relationships.” First you need to be using the “New Person Page.” To find that, click on the upper right “Go to New Person Page” when viewing any person in the FamilySearch Family Tree as shown below. I’m using my 3x great-grandfather, Thomas Adam Walker, as an example.

FamilySearch Family Tree location of New Person Page link

The New Person Page features a new banner, is organized differently, and provides easier navigation. In the view below, I’ve collapsed the sections so that the “Other Relationships” is visible (red arrow).

“Other Relationships” Section in the New Person Page

When you click on “Add Other Relationship,” a dialogue box appears.

“Add Other Relationship” Step 1

Clicking the “Relationship” drop-down menu provides the following choices, shown below: apprenticeship, employment, godparent, household, neighbor, relative, slavery.

Relationship Options

My ancestor was an enslaver, so I wanted to add a slavery relationship. (I’ve already done this on WikiTree, which has a more robust system to describe relationships and categories. I decided to put it on the FamilySearch Family Tree because many people use it for their research. Thomas Walker’s WikiTree profile with the link to Mary Jane is here. ) When I choose “Slavery” from the drop-down menu, I see the the linkage shown in a diagram, below.

Slavery Option

When I click on “Save” at the bottom right, I get a new dialogue box and I can either add a new person, or use the FamilySearch Family Tree unique identifier to link to them. Since Mary Jane doesn’t seem to be on the Family Tree (and I don’t know if she survived to emancipation, or the surname she used after emancipation if she lived); I will enter her as a new person. She can be merged later if a duplicate entry in the Family Tree is found.

The next step is to enter what I know about Mary Jane, which isn’t a lot. It is enough to help someone who might be searching for her.

Dialog Box for Details

I’ve filled in the details I know below. I used Walker as her last name. WikiTree has the ability to provide multiple last names, which is another reason to make sure this information is on WikiTree. I decided to not guess that she was born or died in Tennessee, which is likely.

Details Complete

When I click “Next,” FamilySearch has checked their database and found someone with a similar name and dates.

Reviewing a Same-Name Person

Since I’m sure Mary Jane was not born in Ireland and I know Walker is a provisional last name, I click “Create Person” as shown by the red arrow. Another box comes up, providing me an opportunity to make sure I have the linkage done properly, showing Thomas Adam Walker as the “Slaveholder” and Mary Jane Walker as the “Enslaved Person.” (Perhaps FamilySearch will reconsider their terms at some point. Slave Holder doesn’t begin to convey the nature of this relationship. “Enslaver” would be a better term. I acknowledge they may be using this term to allow search engines to find this information. Our terms will continue to evolve over time. WikiTree has an explanation about terminology, and why they use the terms they have chosen here.)

Review the Direction of the Relationship

When I click “Save” in the lower right of the dialog box, I am taken back to Thomas Waker’s profile and I can now see the relationship to Mary Jane.

Other Relationship shown in the Profile

I haven’t been asked to add a source at any time, so I need to do that. The Bill of Sale between Thomas Walker and Holloway Key, another of my 3x great-grandfathers, is on FamilySearch, so I navigate to the document. The “Attach to Family Tree” button in the upper right is what I need.

Attaching a Document to a Person in the FamilySearch FamilyTree

This opens a bar on the right.

Creating a Source

I next add in some details about how this record is linked to Thomas Walker, as shown in the upper red arrow in the image below. When I’m satisfied, I click the blue button to choose the person in the FamilySearch Family Tree that I want to add this record to.

Creating the Source and Continuing by Selecting the Person

FamilySearch then asks me to enter the person’s ID (their unique identifying number, which appears near their name on their page) or if I’ve been working in FamilySearch, I will see a list of people below. Note: I’ve placed a grey box over the rest of the list to preserve the privacy of clients I am currently working with.

Attaching the Document to a Person, Select Person Step

I’m almost done. FamilySearch asks me to check my work and asks for an explanation next to the red arrow. This is an important step. Linkages form the foundation for genealogy.

Checking the Linkage and Providing a Rationale

I write about the enslaver-enslaved relationship in the box provided.

Completed Rationale

I like to check my work, so I go back to Thomas Walker’s profile and check the Sources list. The date for the Bill of Sale is missing! It doesn’t show up in order in the Sources list.

Missing Date in Sources

This is a quick fix. I click on “Add” (circled above) and a dialog box appears.

Entering the Date

I add the date and recheck. It’s now in the right place.

Updated Sources list

My final task is to add this document to Mary Jane. Since she is linked on Thomas Walker’s page, I can repeat the above process for Mary Jane to create a source, and on Holloway Kee’s page, I can add the “Other Relationship” along with the source. It’s much faster the second time since I have a model to follow.

The result is that Mary Jane now has a Page on the FamilySearch Family Tree, shown below.

Mary Jane, provisional last name Walker

This is a great step for FamilySearch and will help researchers in many ways. The functionality on WikiTree US Black Heritage is superior. For example, the category search that would allow anyone looking for an enslaved person in Benton County to find Mary Jane. A person could also search the Benton County Tennessee Slave Owners (see note about terminology above.). The ability to give her multiple provisional surnames also aids any researchers looking for Mary Jane.

Thanks FamilySearch, for adding this feature!

Research Like a Pro Week 1: Getting started and the Research Objective

This fall I am volunteering as a Peer Group Leader for the Research Like a Pro Study Group hosted by Diana Elder and Nicole Dyer of Family Locket. Making the transition from family historian to professional genealogist required me to become a more disciplined researcher. The team at Family Locket supported me on my journey through their podcast, books, courses, and presentations at conferences. I’m a process person likely due to my background in quality improvement. Throughout my healthcare career, the Model for Improvement guided our efforts with the message “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” (Paul Batalden, often quoted by Don Berwick). To improve as a genealogist, I needed to change my system. In this case, that’s the research process. For the next ten weeks, I will share my insights into the Research Like a Pro process. This course is focusing on documentary research. As a peer group leader, I will be completing a project with the participants. It’s a great opportunity to work on my own family history.

Pedigree Analysis

Identifying potential areas for research is the first step in making the most of your research efforts. Analyzing your pedigree accomplishes this step. DNA Painter provides multiple ways to visualize your family tree. The first thing I checked was my tree completeness. This tells me where I have gaps in my tree and also reminds me about pedigree collapse, which is a subject for a different blog.

Tree Completeness Report from DNA Painter

I’m missing two 3x-great grandparents and sixteen 4x-great grandparents. A fan chart, like this example from DNA Painter is another way to look at the gaps. On DNA painter, hovering over each colored shape brings up the name of the person represented in that space on the chart. That feature isn’t shown in the image below since I can’t capture the hovering. You can use this link to see it for yourself. My father’s side of the family is on the left and my mother on the right. I’ve coordinated these colours to resemble the coloured dots I use on Ancestry to mark my DNA matches.

FAN Chart from DNA Painter Showing Location of Mattie (Childres) Fisher Pike Adams

The arrow indicates the location of the most recent ancestor whose parents I don’t know. Many refer to this as a “Brick Wall.” I could continue documentary research on Mattie for this course. During the Research Like a Pro with DNA e-course I completed, I identified several families that could be Mattie’s parents.

Another opportunity is my 3x-great grandfather, James Stoker, shown below.

James Stoker in DNA Painter Fan Chart

My grandmother believed he was the son of Edward Stoker, a Revolutionary War Veteran. During ProGen 46, I took a look at the link between generations from Edward Stoker to my 3x-great grandfather James and realized there were multiple men named James Stoker who could have been his son James, as noted in a Stoker family Bible. Several of them left records in Bourbon County, Kentucky around 1820 where my ancestor James Stoker married Polly Ross on 9 December 1822. I also noted that the birth date of James Stoker in the family Bible of Edward Stoker (found in his Revolutionary War Pension file) did not match the birthdate of my 3x-great grandfather. Many family trees shared on Ancestry confuse the James Stokers, and the Ancestry hinting algorithm points to Edward Stoker. WikiTree has my James Stoker linked to Edward. The FamilySearch Family Tree has a note about the confusion: ” Be aware…. Another Individual, ‘James T Stoker’ was born in Kentucky and resided most of his live [sic] in Nicholas County, KY. Married Sytha Ann McDonald 20 Dec 1827 in Nicholas Co KY.” I didn’t fully analyze the same-name people when I first discovered the confusion. Thoroughly researching the men and writing up the results would be a contribution and help me correct the WikiTree entry.

Another way of analyzing my pedigree and determining where I could focus is using Yvette Hoitink’s Level Up Challenge. I started working on improving my genealogy based on her approach after she published this idea in her blog in January of 2021. The levels describe the completeness of your research for each ancestor. In some cases I’m not sure which level to give because I write a biography for everyone on WikiTree. I may not have researched all property records (some parts of my family were very mobile) or know every church denomination they attended over time. I used DNA Painter’s Dimensions “Research Level” feature to create this chart.

Research Level at DNA Painter

Based on this diagram, my efforts would be to continue researching my mother’s family, particularly Andrew Jackson Pike and Mattie Childres that I designated as Level 2. (Note: See the YDNA and mtDNA haplogroups? That’s a neat feature of the tree on DNA Painter, and another project is to complete my YDNA and mtDNA tree like Roberta Estes does). I spend a lot of time researching my mother’s family and have neglected my paternal grandmother’s family including James Stoker.

I haven’t written up a same-name case before, so that’s my choice for this project. I expect that writing clearly will be the biggest challenge. For reference, I have two National Genealogical Society (NGSQ) articles I reviewed during my NGSQ Study Group. One is by Shannon Green, who was my mentor in ProGen 46. The other is by Allen R. Peterson and Stephen J. Allen. Both are found in the December 2019 NGSQ

File Organization

Our assignment this week also asks us to describe how we name and organize files and how our choices support our research.

I organize documents in two ways depending on where I am in the research process. My basic family history files structure relies on folders for the surnames of each of my sixteen 2x-great grandparents. Within those folders there are sub-folders for individuals. Women are filed under their maiden name, since it is the only constant. While I am working on a specific project, I create a project folder within the surname or person. Project folders start with a number like 01-Mattie Childres Father so that it will sort at the top. Within each project folder, there is a sources folder.

I use the following naming conventions for files (.jpg, .pdf, .docx, etc.) so that the folder becomes a timeline:

YYYY-MM-DD_LASTNAME_Firstname_Middleifpresent_STATE_County_Town_type.file

  • Dates: YYYY-MM-DD format keeps them sorted. I include as much detail as I have. It could be year only, year and month, or all three. If I don’t have the exact date, I use the best information I have and put “ca” after the date so I know it is approximate and the sorting order is maintained.
  • Names are written as they appear in the record with the surname in ALL CAPS. The caps help me scan the files for surnames and variations.
  • State is the two-digit state or province abbreviation.
  • Type is the type of document
  • File is the extension (pdf, jpg, docx).

Examples:

1840_STOKER_Jas_KY_Bourbon_census.jpg

1882-11_SMILEY_James_KY_Floyd_court.jpg

1955ca_DAVIS_Alvon_AK_Kodiak_letter_to_DAVIS_Edna_transcription.docx

When I complete a project or identify a document I know I want to cite in Reunion (family tree software for Mac) I make a duplicate and add the source number that Reunion assigns to the beginning of the name and file it in a a digital folder in my Reunion folder.

Filed in Reunion:

2622-1882_11_SMILEY_James_KY_Floyd_court.jpg

I keep any useful paper copies in plastic sleeves in 3 ring binders in numeric order of the Reunion citation. I should invest in some archival safe plastic sleeves for the few originals that I own.

Research Objective

A possible research objective is:

The goal of this project is to identify which of multiple James Stokers known to have been in Kentucky was the son of Edward Stoker. Edward Stoker served in Capt. John Lemon’s Company during the Revolutionary War and died 7 May 1846 in Nicholas County, Kentucky.

Another option is:

The goal of this research project is to clarify the identities of men named James Stoker in Bourbon County, Kentucky from approximately 1820 to 1840. James Stoker filed a bond to marry Polly Ross on 9 December 1822 in Bourbon County. Jas. Stoker, age 79, lived in the household of his son-in-law, Jas. Cleaver, in 1880 in Millersburg, Bourbon County. James H. Stoker, presumed age 40-50, lived in Bourbon County in 1830.

I have additional information about the men named James Stoker in Kentucky but I think it would confuse the objective. I can put it in the next section of my research project document, summary of known facts. The objective identifies Edward Stoker, because I realize he is the person I can identify at present. I look forward to receiving feedback from my coursemates!

FANs and WikiTree

This week, the WikiTree Family News (an optional newsletter for WikiTreers) highlighted a blog by Kathleen Hill Tesluk with the following quote:

Elizabeth Shown Mills reminds us to study in depth each friend, associate, or neighbor our ancestor interacted with in order to learn more about the context of their lives and break down brick walls. WikiTree is the perfect platform to record this information in a convenient place. … it combines the power of analytical narrative with the visualization of a tree.

Kathleen Hill Tesluck, “WikiTree and the FAN Principle,” Voices from a distant past (https://voicesfromadistantpast.blogspot.com/2022/08/wikitree-and-fan-principle.html : accessed 9 August 2022).

That had my attention right away. I recently started a Free Space Profile (FSP) on WikiTree to share the letters my 3x-great grandfather wrote in the middle 1800’s. Throughout the letters he mentions neighbors and colleagues, particularly from his two chosen fields of endeavour, medicine and religion. (He also farmed, and I suspect his wife Elizabeth kept that going!) As part of my certificate in the University of Washington’s Genealogy and Family History Program, I researched the letters and created a spreadsheet of everyone mentioned and did preliminary research on them. The final result is available here. (Note: This project was written when the Genealogical Proof Standard and Elizabeth Shown Mill’s amazing contributions around citation and evidence were just beginning to take hold.)

Uploading the letters to the FSP will take time, since I need to adjust the images of the letters, turn them into PDFs and review my transcriptions. Creating the FSP gave me the opportunity to learn some new formatting techniques on WikiTree and I am grateful for the opportunity. And thanks to Kathleen’s blog, I can begin to link the people in the letters or his biography to other WikiTree profiles. I connected the first one today, Col. Thomas Baker, who was a California Senator.

I am simultaneously working on upgrading Thomas’ WikiTree profile to Level 3. For more about WikiTree biography standards, check out this post from the Profile Improvement Team.

The power of WikiTree to capture information, share knowledge, and connect people continues to grow.