Saturday, April 5, 2014

The methods to my madness and some of my favorite websites

As I stated in a previous post my family tree has a lot of names in it (45,090 as of right now).  I often get asked where I get all of this information.

Let me start by saying that I don't really call myself a "genealogist".  I have worked on my tree for 21 years.  I have helped friends and coworkers with their ancestry.  I enjoy the mystery and hunt of genealogy.  What I don't enjoy are the stringent source citations and rules applied to consider someone a "professional".  I am in NO WAY talking down people that do this or even the reasons and theories behind it.  When I started I found many family trees online and I just willy-nilly slammed information into my tree.  I also found several published genealogies for different lines of my tree and slammed that information in.  My grandmother had this book on the Comstock family in her cedar chest (it's in my care now):
Comstock Genealogy at Google Books

As I grew in this hobby I realized (many times over) the error in my ways.  The online family trees are obviously less than reliable and I've even uncovered errors in several of the books.  I treat them all as guides now, nothing more, nothing less.  As my tree grew and progressed and records became more available I started going back through my tree and verifying/updating my information.  I think I've got a pretty good grasp on a good percentage of my tree.  That said, the process of sourcing is onerous and time-consuming and I'm not publishing my tree professionally so I don't take the time to do that.  It's my tree, for my use and my comfort level with the information is what counts to me.  Judge me if you must but it is what it is.  What I've taken to doing is copying/pasting the transcriptions from some of the sites I list below into the comments section of each person in my tree.  I've even went as far as to copy/paste the census transcriptions to show how the families were listed.  It's much faster and gives me (often) the misspellings that people are indexed under for when I need to find a record later.  It does make my tree a mess when I try to make a file for others but it's my method.  If I didn't have so many people to go through and fix I'd probably update it but for now it is what it is.  Perhaps years down the road if I slow down actual research I'll take the time to start "doing it correctly".  What really matters to me now is that if someone asks about a subject in my tree that I can go to my file and confirm for them where I got the information.  How I source that is my business :).  How do you feel about it?

Without further ado - here are some of my genealogy bookmarks/most frequently visited sites:  - I think this is the site most of us started with - it's free and has many family trees posted.  It's an offshoot of so their information is available there as well but it's free.  Fair or not I am becoming less of a fan of  They are quite expensive and most of what they have available (at least that's of use to me) is available elsewhere for free.  I love their "leaf" feature that leads to the online family trees because it integrates with my Family Tree Maker software but so much of the information is horribly incorrect that it's only a research guide.  I sometimes have my tree uploaded here and have connected with many a cousin by doing this. - this is by far the most useful all around genealogy website (in my humble opinion).  The LDS church has done an amazing job amassing microfilms and indexing them (with the help of volunteers).  They have many of the actual images available for download which is awesome as it doesn't make you rely on the transcriptionist.  Given that most of my family settled in Michigan between the 1850s and 1900 and Michigan births from 1867-1902, Michigan marriages from 1867-1925, Michigan deaths from 1867-1897 and 1921-1952 are available there it's invaluable.  They also have census transcriptions and some images available amongst many other records.  The best part?  It's all FREE. - this has death certificates (amongst other things) for Michigan from 1898-1920 and has the actual certificates.  This site has been amazing for filling in many of my Michigan "blanks" when all I had was census information. - the West Michigan Genealogical Society - they have many Michigan records indexed, the biggest of which is Grand Rapids newspapers from 1910-present.  They have recently started indexing the Holland Evening Sentinel as well but they films for that have to be obtained from Holland.  I have thousands of obituaries that I've procured from the Grand Rapids Public Library which wouldn't have been possible without all of their indexing. - this site has compiled quite an impressive collection of old NY newspapers.  The search feature on it is clunky but given that one of my lines came from NY and many of them stayed there it's been amazing how much information I've gleaned from these free newspaper articles. - most of my ancestry eventually lands in the Netherlands (although you couldn't tell that from all the Comstock posts I've posted - be patient).  The Dutch have done an amazing job of compiling and making available (for free) records, some dating back to the 1600s.  This website covers the provinces of Zeeland, Noord-Holland, Zuid-Holland, Utrecht, Gelderland and Noord Brabant.  Most of my Korstanje ancestry came from the province of Zeeland. - the archives of the province of Groningen in the Netherlands.  Much of my Kraai, Siersema, Dogger, Kock, Kuis and Denhof ancestry can be found here.  This site blows my mind because I've looked at the actual entries for ancestors from the 1600s - pictures of the original parchment paper in the old style print.  Absolutely awesome site if you're lucky enough to have ancestry tracing back to here. - same as the above 2 links except for the Friesland archives.  One line of my van der Ploeg family came from Hantum and Dongeradeel and this site was invaluable for getting me back several generations. - one of the most overlooked genealogical websites.  Do you have any idea how much information can be found with a simple google search?  I have found so many obits and family trees by simply googling "husband and wife, maiden name, married name".  How many obits list "she was born to so and so........"? - I'm shocked it took me this long into my list to mention this website.  I love everything about this site with the exception of people who slam mass cemetery entries in without verification and then are not super helpful when you ask for an update.  The site allows for pictures, family links, biographies, photo requests (I got Barbara Harris Comstock's CA gravestone photo from a photo request) and even allows you to leave virtual flowers and comments. and - I could list 50 various genealogical society websites that I find useful but this blog is about what I reference frequently and given that I'm in western Michigan I find myself at these 2 sites quite often.  Both are well done and chock full of information.  and - hopefully someday more cities will go this route.  It is a time saver for us researchers and it's got to be a cost savings for them.

I am probably overlooking some and will probably add to this as I think of them.  What are your favorites?  Genealogy is all about networking and sharing of not only information, but resources!


  1. One methodology. However, if you are taking the time to copy / paste and index / transcription of an image, I don't see that it takes any longer to capture *the* image and to note where it was obtained. With today's technology we all generally have that ability. If you are working on a PC, for instance, you have the snipping tool (scissors) icon that allows you to capture an image of what is on your screen, save it to your PC and upload to the appropriate ancestor on your tree. There is also 'Snag-it' and other similar tools out there that will capture an entire webpage. And, neither of these things take more time than to highlight an index / transcription, cut and paste. One final note, if you find these records on, for instance, all you do is click save and the image and source information come directly with it. I believe, although not entirely sure, that if you have a tree on familysearch, that if you were to find image documents pertaining to your ancestor, that you could likewise save that to you appropriate person and the source information would come with it as well.

  2. Hi Tracy - thanks for your feedback. I absolutely agree about saving images. I have folders full of these (especially from when they are available). I also utilize the ancestry sourcing when available. I'm not "anti-sourcing" at all - perhaps it's just my family tree program but the onerous part for me is going into the source section, creating and titling a source and doing that for every single entry. For example, when I work on my Dutch families I absolutely can fly through my tree adding names and milestones (I add extended lines so I can eventually work my way to living relatives and network from there). I simply add what the record shows - for example for my 2nd great grandfather:
    Emigrant in 1891 Wolphaartsdijk
    Jan Korstanje
    Leeftijd (age) : 27
    Beroep (occupation) : arbeider (labourer)
    Kerkgenootschap (religion) : Nederlands-hervormd (Dutch Reformed)
    Jaar vertrek (year of departure) : 1891
    Plaats van vertrek (place of departure) : Wolphaartsdijk
    Reden van vertrek (reason of departure) : Zucht naar lotsverbetering en familie in Amerika (Amelioration of existence and family-affaires in America)
    Bestemming (destination) : Verenigde Staten van Noord-Amerika
    Bron (source) : Staten van landverhuizingen (archief Provinciaal Bestuur Zeeland)
    In: Genealogische Afschriften 810/4, pagina (page) 91

    It is so much less time consuming than trying to create a source citation and keep track of which citations go with which records AND I feel it gives so much more - the source is there but so is the rest of the record.

    I'm currently building my tree and I am attaching whatever source records I can find on their site (I'm up around 3000 sources currently). I believe in sourcing when it's not so time consuming it impedes my research......if that makes any sense?