Dec 202012

For me, genealogy is often about recovering from “rookie” mistakes. Usually this mean that I have to correct the way in which I had previously added data to my RootsMagic database. With regards to entering birth dates, this has been a two or three step process:

  • In my “rookie” enthusiasm, whenever I had found a precise date for an individual’s birthday I would enter that date into RootsMagic (often with a source citation). Later, if a particular census record seemed to generally agree (the specific date was within the range suggested by the individual’s age as reported in the census record), I would add a citation for that census record as a source for the specific birth date. I know… not too swift on my part! (I certainly wasn’t operating under the umbrella of the Genealogical Proof Standard.)
  • Step two began when I realized that it would be more acceptable to cite multiple sources for a particular information item/fact/event/date only when the multiple sources were in 100% agreement about the item/fact/event/date. I have been reworking the birth date data for my direct line ancestors in RootsMagic. I have removed the multiple citations for specific dates unless the source were in total agreement. I then created new birth events for the additional data pieces with their appropriate citations. Since most census enumerations just list age (not birth dates), I would calculate the year of birth and enter that date with the prefix “about.” In most cases this step is sufficient to provide me with enough data to proceed with confidence.
  • Step three, however, has arisen because my great grandmother Mary Ellen Cole, daughter of George Washington Cole and Sarah A. Renkenberger, wife of Lloyd Brenner, either a) was confused about the year in which she was born or b) chose to confuse others about how old she was. Great grandma Brenner seemed to get younger as the years rolled by. Because of the wide range of possible birth dates (about 1861 to about 1866) in the 9 sources I currently have, I have corrected her data in my RootsMagic database to include the inclusive range suggested by the given age for each census year (see below).

Because I do not have a birth certificate or a family Bible record, I have had to deal with nine individual sources containing information about my great grandma Brenner’s birth date. Not one of them is in complete agreement with any other. It’s time to put on my thinking cap and analyze these data carefully. Continue reading »

Nov 102012

In previous posts, I analyzed evidence regarding my 2g-grandfather’s Civil War service to determine whether he served in the 11th Ohio Volunteer Militia (as indicated by a certificate received from the Office of the Ohio Adjutant General by my 1st cousin once removed). The first post evaluated the evidence without reference to the standard genealogical classification of sources (original / derivative), information (primary / secondary), and evidence (direct / indirect / negative); the second post was devoted to utilizing those classification categories. My more informal process of evaluation (the first post) arrived at the same conclusion as the more formal process (the second post). As I assess my learnings from these two posts, I shall attempt to a) identify my own personal process for evaluating evidence and b) identify what I learned after using the standard genealogical classification standards.

for Evaluating Genealogical Evidence:

Because I am a hobby genealogist / family historian, I have developed my own processes. I have strive to inform those processes with the best practices of the broader genealogical community. As a teen, I helped my uncle re-shingle the roof of our house. As he would lay the first shingle in a row – over-lapping the edge by 1/3 or 2/3 of the shingle – I would ask “Why?” His answer was always “It’s SOP (standard operating procedure).” To which I would always come back with “Why is it SOP?” Standards are important, but they need to be understood. I need to know why a particular standard has been developed before I am willing to make it a regular part of my repertoire. As a result, I tend to develop my own processes and practices, informed by the standards, rather than slavishly following someone else’s formula, even though it has the stamp of being SOP.

This exercise, in two modes, has helped my clarify my own process for examining and evaluating genealogical evidence. That process is:

  • See the Big Picture (individuals and events don’t happen in isolation)

I had clear evidence suggesting that my 2g-grandfather did served in the 19th OVI, the 44th ONG, and the 155th OVI (and no evidence suggesting that he did not). When I looked closely at the 1950 certificate about John Brenner’s service in the 11th OVM, I began to have questions because it didn’t seem to fit the big picture.

  • Remember my Goal (in a more formal process: the “research question”)

I was interested in confirming my 2g-grandfather’s Civil War service, with special interest in assessing whether he served in the 11th OVM.

  • Assess what fits into the Big Picture and Explain what doesn’t fit (painting with a broad-stroke brush)

All the information / evidence regarding the 19th OVI, the 44th ONG, and the 155th OVI fits the big picture; the information / evidence regarding the 11th OVM did not fit (especially the indication of John Brenner’s birth date as 15 April 1843). The issue here is consistency – Does the evidence paint a consistent picture throughout my research? Inconsistencies need to be explained.

  • Assess the Connections between the pieces and Explain the Disconnects (painting with a detail brush)

There was an evidence trail that connected my 2g-grandfather to the 19th OVI, the 44th ONG, and the 155th OVI, but not to the 11th OVM. The only evidence connecting him to the 11th OVM was the 1950 certificate from the Office of the Ohio Adjutant General. Clearly the Office of the OAG had mixed together information regarding two different men named John Brenner (both living adjacent counties in Ohio). The issue here is corroboration – Do the individual pieces of evidence corroborate one another or not? If not, then this needs to be further analyzed and explained.

  • Come to a Conclusion (well reasoned, supported by the evidence at hand; in a more formal process: “proof”)

While I do not know how the Office of the Ohio Adjutant General received information about the removal of my 2g-grandfather’s grave from Oak Hill Cemetery to Belmont Park Cemetery, it is reasonable to conclude that the receipt of this information was the occasion for said information to be mis-filed with the wrong John Brenner. It finally comes down to “What do I believe about the evidence?” I may be wrong, but I must be clear about my conclusions. Others may disagree. The discovery of new evidence may prove me wrong. But my conclusion, for now, is where I stand.

  • Be Open to New Evidence (and perhaps a new conclusion)

It is conceivable that the information regarding the 1843 birth of the John Brenner from Columbiana County could have been the information that was mis-filed (rather than the information regarding my 2g-grandfather’s burial). Were that to be the case, then I would have to re-assess whether or not my 2g-grandfather had served in the 11th OVM. Conclusions can change – by the introduction of new evidence or by the re-evaluation of existing evidence. Conclusions are not meant to be “eternal truths.”


regarding Standard Genealogical Classification of Sources, Information, and Evidence:

  1. Classification of Sources, Information, Evidence does NOT Replace Analysis and Evaluation

Designating sources as original / derivative, information as primary / secondary, evidence as direct / indirect / negative is a task in classification that sets the stage for analysis and evaluation; it is not evaluation itself. Direct evidence gleaned from primary information found in original sources may still be incorrect. As James Tanner (“Primary and Secondary Sources — Genealogy and Hearsay”) suggests “A priori designations may fatally prejudice consideration of valuable clues leading to an accurate picture of an ancestor.” Classification doesn’t replace analyzing and evaluating. At it’s best, it only lays a clear foundation from which to proceed.

  1. Methodological Tools, not Guarantees of Certainty

Classifying sources and information / evidence does not guarantee a result. The classification categories are simply tools to aid in the reflective processes by which we come to reasonable conclusions (“proofs”). It is not always clear, for example, whether a source is a primary or secondary source or whether the absence of information is negative evidence. Michael Hait (in a comment on his blog post, “Reconciling conflicting information–a case study) writes “So whether it is primary or secondary is actually a less important consideration than that it is likely the highest-quality and most reliable piece of information that we have….” Inability to distinguish the proper classification does not necessarily impede good evaluation. Good tools help, but are no substitute for good analysis and evaluation. Another observation from James Tanner (“Primary and Secondary Sources — Categorizing Evidence”): “The evidence is what it is. Whether you believe it or not is really the question. … But whether or not a particular piece of evidence is reliable or unreliable has nothing to do with assigning it to an artificial category.”

  1. Evidence-based or Conclusion-based?

Earlier this year Randy Seaver summed up an interesting conversation about two different approaches to genealogy (“More on Conclusion-Based and Evidence-Based Genealogy“). I followed that conversation with interest, trying to assess my own practice. The current exercise of classifying sources, information, and evidence brought me back to that conversation. As a puzzle solver, I like to start in the middle and work my way out… I don’t think that necessarily fits either category. It probably means that I am some kind of an amalgam, a blend of both approaches. I suspect that it ultimately doesn’t matter which approach one takes, as long as one researches carefully, cites regularly, reasons well, and shares judiciously. Each of us must determine which approaches will aid us in doing our best work in genealogy / family history.

In Summary: When a genealogist / family historian evaluates evidence gathered during research in order to arrive at assertions that bear a higher degree of confidence, the standards defined by the broader genealogical community (e.g., the BCG Genealogical Standards Manual or E. S. Mills’ Evidence and Evidence Explained) are helpful tools, not to be ignored; but, in the final analysis, good judgment and sound reasoning are the most important tools.

Nov 102012

Our US Records Study Group has been studying chapter 4 (“Evaluation of Evidence”) in Greenwood’s The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy. In order to put my learnings to work, I revisited a previous blog post (Did My 2G-Grandfather, John Brenner, Serve in the 11th Ohio Volunteer Militia?”). In that post, I evaluated conflicting evidence about John Brenner’s Civil War service record and came to the conclusion that a 1950 certificate published by the Ohio Adjutant General’s Office was erroneous in listing John Brenner as having served in the 11th Ohio Volunteer Militia for a period of one month in 1862. What I did not do at the time of that post was to classify and analyze the various sources and the information they contained according to the contemporary standards for genealogy research processing (see Mark Tucker’s “Genealogy Research Process”)

After reading Michael Hait’s blog posts (“Reconciling conflicting information” and “Reconciling conflicting information–a case study”)  and  I developed a spreadsheet for classifying each document (and its information) related to John Brenner’s Civil War service. I classified each document as either Original or Derivative; each information item as either Primary or Secondary; each bit of evidence as either Direct, Indirect, or Negative in answering the research question. (Actually there were 4 research questions: Did John Brenner [10 February 1836 – 28 September 1909] serve in the 19th Ohio Volunteer Infantry? the 44th Ohio National Guard? the 155th Ohio Volunteer Infantry? the 11th Ohio Volunteer Militia?)

A photo of a letter (hand-written by John Brenner in 1900) provides primary information and direct evidence of his service in the 19th OVI. It provides indirect evidence of his service in the 44th ONG and 155th OVI (the regiment numbers are not given). It also provides negative evidence of his service in the 11th OVM. Even though it was written almost 30 years after the events it details, I am inclined to classify this letter as a primary source since John Brenner certainly knew about his military service.

Photos of two discharge certificates (19th OVI and 44th ONG) are primary sources (dated on the day of his discharge; one of them indicating “Gov. Print. Office, May 15, 1861”). They provide primary information; direct evidence of John Brenner’s service in the 19th OVI and the 44th ONG; and indirect evidence of his service in the 155th OVI.

John Brenner’s pension records are original sources, providing primary information and direct evidence regarding his service in the 19th OVI and 155th OVI. They provide no information regarding the 44th ONG because that was service to the State of Ohio, not the United States. I am uncertain regarding the status of the 11th OVM. Was it only an Ohio unit (1 month’s service in 1862) or had it been nationalized as a part of the Federal army? If the unit was nationalized, then John Brenner’s pension records are negative evidence regarding his service in that unit; if not nationalized, then there would be no expectation for its inclusion.

I find that the 1890 US Census Veteran’s Schedule to be somewhat problematic as to classification. It is an Original source. Due to the detail (enlistment and discharge dates), I might surmise that John Brenner, himself, is the informant, but I have no way of knowing if that is so. [According to an article in the National Archives’ Prologue Magazine, “Question 2 on the general population schedules inquired whether the subject had been ‘a soldier, sailor, or marine during the civil war (United States or Confederate) or widow of such person.’ … According to enumeration instructions, if the veteran or widow responded ‘yes’ to Union service, the enumerator produced the veterans schedule, marked the family number from the general population schedule, and proceeded to ask additional service-related questions.” ] Whatever the provenance of the 1890 Veteran’s Schedule for John Brenner, it provided direct evidence of his service in the 19th OVI and 155th OVI. Omission of reference to the 44th ONG and 11th OVM must beconsidered in the same manner as with the pension records.

The National Park Service database of Civil War Soldiers and Sailors (a Derivative source with secondary information) lists six entries for John Brenner in Ohio. Two of them (1st OVI and 8th OVI are for units enlisting those living in other parts of Ohio). There are two John Brenners serving in the 19th OVI; one in Company A; the other, Company B. All information about my 2g-grandfather indicate that he served in Company B. The other two entries are for the 11th OVI and 155th OVI (National Guard). This database might indicate that the 11th OVI (1 month service in 1862) had been nationalized. [Note: The information for Ohio Soldiers and Sailors in the database was gathered by volunteers of the Ohio Genealogical Society. That certainly leaves room for mistakes to have been made. Notation on the National Park site regarding the 11th OVM indicates that “’Compendium of the War of the Rebellion’ by Frederick H. Dyer contains no history for this unit.”]

Now to the ‘culprit’ – that is, the 1950 certificate from the Office of the Adjutant General of the State of Ohio indicating that John Brenner served in the 11th OVM. This is clearly a derivative source containing secondary information – developed 89 years after the fact and reflecting records held by the AG’s Office. The name, rank, unit, mustered in and mustered out dates are are direct evidence of John Brenner’s service in the 11th OVM. The birth date (4-15-1843) would appear to be negative evidence suggesting that perhaps the John Brenner referred to is not my 2g-grandfather. His birth date is 10 February 1836. In fact, the John Brenner who is my 2g-grandfather did not arrive in this country until 1856, 13 years after the birth of the John Brenner who apparently served in the 11thOVM. The confusion comes with the listing of John Brenner’s death date and burial location. These coincide exactly with my 2g-grandfather.

Since my 2g-grandfather was originally buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Youngstown, Ohio, but his grave was later removed to Belmont Park Cemetery by his son, Judson, I would guess that the information concerning the removal of his grave to Belmont Park Cemetery was at some later point forwarded to the Ohio Adjutant General’s Office and added to the wrong John Brenner file. This would explain the inconsistencies recorded on the 1950 certificate regarding the John Brenner who served in the 11th OVM.

According to Joshua H. Horton (A History of the Eleventh Regiment (Ohio Volunteer Infantry). Dayton: W. J. Shuey, 1866. Online in Google Books) the 11th OVM recruited from 5 southwestern Ohio counties and one county in northeastern Ohio (Columbiana County). The 1870 U. S. Census records for West Township, Columbiana County, Ohio, shows a John Brenner (son of Michael and Gertrude Brenner), age 27, born in Pennsylvania. His age is consistent with the 15 April 1843 birth date given on the 11th OVM Certificate from the Ohio Adjutant General’s Office.

The evidence is rather conclusive that John Brenner, my 2g-grandfather, served in the 19th and 155th Ohio Voluntary Infantry units, as well as the 44th Ohio National Guard. The John Brenner who served in the 11th OVM was not my 2g-grandfather, but probably was the son of Michael and Gertrude Brenner. He resided in Columbiana County, Ohio, in 1870 and likely was recruited from that county in 1862. The 1950 derivative certificate would seem to indicate an error in the records of the Office of the Ohio Adjutant General.

In a subsequent post, I will outline my learnings from this process of classifying and evaluating the evidence regarding John Brenner’s Civil War service.

Oct 072012

Thanks to Jill Morelli (Genealogy Certification: My Personal Journey) for raising the question about using a Kanban to assist genealogcial research.

A Kanban is “A visual process management system that tells what to produce, when to produce it, and how much to produce.” (see Wikipedia)

the condept was developed by Toyota.   The Wikipedia article lists six core principles identified by David Anderson. The first three seem relevant to a genealogy process tracker (research log) – “Visualize” (make the workflow visible – e.g., a Kanban board); “Limit Work-in-Progress” (do not exceed available capacity); “Manage Flow” (monitor, measure, report).

This seems inherently obvious BUT, for one who likes to chase rabbit trail after rabbit trail while doing genealogical research, the core principle of limiting work-in-progress is the very thing that seems most difficult for me to do. After reading briefly about Kanban development I realize that part one of the reasons that I follow rabbit trails is that I have not conceptually visualized my research process. Will a Kanban approach help? I don’t know, but I am willing to try.

Interestingly, while I had never heard of Kanban boards, I found that my son and I had used the concept as we were setting up our website. In our research wiki (a private MediaWiki installed on our website) we had a “Development ToDo List.” It contained three sections:

  • “To Do” (a fluid listing / tracking of tasks to be accomplished);
  • “For Consideration” (a list of items / issues to be considered before listing as ToDos or dropping);
  • “Explore!” (a list of web sites to be explored as possibly containing information / procedures / ideas that may, at some later time, be added as ToDos).

Each section was populated with an expandable list of tasks. The ‘description’ area for each task was also a place to append notes. Each task was assigned to either my son or me. The ‘status’ area for each task listed:

  • “Pend(ing)” = not yet begun;
  • “InPr(ocess)” – begun, not completed;
  • “Done” = task completed.

It’s nice to know that we were using a ‘tried and true’ process that had a name of its own! I guess we were using a 3rd generation Kanban process (Gen1 = cards; Gen2 = a wall board with ‘sticky’ notes; Gen3 = digital, Wiki). I haven’t done anything with the Gen3 Kanban since we got through the initial process of setting up our website. Jill Morelli’s question (“Can I use a Kanban effectively to improve my genealogical research? ”) has now become my question.

I considered setting up a Kanban log in my Research Wiki but quickly realized that multiple column charts are not easy in MediaWiki markup language. I’ve done it before, but would have to re-learn the task. Not impossible, not even overly difficult, but not necessary when I can set up the exact some process in a spreadsheet. So, I opened LibreOffice and got to work.

 ToDo List:

I created the beginnings of a ToDo List that incorporates the process I am currently pursuing to “tidy” up my RootsMagic 5 data base before I import it into our TNG website.


 For Consideration List:

Last February I visited the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and began my work on German church records for the Baden communities of Adelshofen, Kuernbach, Ittlingen, Sulzfeld, Waiblingen and the Wuerttemberg community of Leonbrun. Now I will have to order copies of microfilms to be delivered to the Lindemann branch of the St. Charles County Public Library for further work. I have listed all these microfilms in the list of items to be considered.


Explore! List:

This evening I visited the Ohio Genealogical Society website and looked at the list of member databases that can be searched online. While I could have put these items in the Consideration List, I have chosen to put them here, as a beginning,


It should be noted that these lists are all fluid. They are to grow as new possibilities arise. Items will be moved up from the “Explore!” and “Consideration” lists as my research takes me in the indicated directions.

This is a trial balloon on my part. Is it enough to keep me from pursuing research “rabbit trails?” Probably not! In fact, I find a lot of pleasure in the serendipity of rabbit trail “finds.” Hopefully, following this Kanban tracking process will help provide a crisper focus for my research. We’ll see. I’ll report on my successes, shortcomings, failures, and learnings in later posts.

Oct 022012

Our US Records online study group has re-invigorated itself after a period of inactivity. We are turning to Chapter 10 in Val D. Greenwood’s The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy. In that chapter Greenwood writes:

“Someone has said that there is little point in digging up an ancestor if you aren’t going to make him live. If that is true –and I believe it is – your job is not finished until you feel a bit of what he felt, have shared vicariously in his joys and heartaches –perhaps shed a tear with him in his sorrow, laughed at the humor in his life and felt pride in his accomplishments.”

Part of our assignment is to reflect upon that statement and share how we go about that task.

Let me begin with a semantic quibble with Greenwood’s statement. While I like the general tenor of the statement, I don’t believe my job is to make my ancestors “live.” Instead, I believe it is my task as genealogist / family historian to tell their stories. My model for such ancestor story telling is based on the novel, Speaker for the Dead. This science fiction novel by Orson Scott Card continues the Ender saga. Ender, now known as Andrew Wiggin, is summoned to speak on behalf of Marcão, who died some years before. The Speaker’s job is to tell the truth of Marcão’s story, from Marcão’s perspective…

“Speakers research the dead person’s life and give a speech that attempts to speak for them, describing the person’s life as he or she tried to live it. This speech is not given in order to persuade the audience to condemn or forgive the deceased, but rather a way to understand the person as a whole, including any flaws or misdeeds.”   (see: Wikipedia)

As a pastor, I would often use this approach at a funeral service. The first time I tried it, I met with the daughter and son of the man whose funeral service I was to conduct. They told me many stories about their dad, a crusty old curmudgeon who found it difficult to make outward displays of caring and affection toward his family. There was always a distance between him and his children. After the funeral service had been completed, the son and daughter came to me with tears in their eyes saying, “You seemed to know our father better than we did.” “No,” I told them. “I only knew your father through your eyes; but your stories gave me permission to look at those accounts through his eyes. It was all there, packed into your stories.”

That is the challenge that I have undertaken as a genealogist / family historian – namely, to do the research that will allow me to unpack my ancestor’s story as she/he tried to live it, to understand them as a whole person, warts and all. Sometimes the needed research is many layers deep; at other times, a single picture / letter / newspaper article / etc. will suffice.

My 2g-grandfather, John Brenner, arrived from Germany in 1856 as an 18 year-old young man sailing alone. He was heading for Columbiana County, Ohio, where his older brother, Conrad, was living. Conrad had come to America a few years before John. According to John’s obituary in Rundschau, the German-speaking newspaper in Youngstown, Ohio, John’s 36 day ocean crossing was a storm-tossed one. His arrival in America was just as storm-tossed… as he was mugged on the dock and robbed of all his earthly possessions. An 18 year old young man who travels alone from Adelshofen, Baden, to LeHavre, France, to book passage on a ship to America has already shown something of a pioneer spirit. The obituary simply stated that, after being robbed, John walked from New York to Philadelphia where he knew of some friends from whom he has able to borrow enough money for train fare to Rochester, New York. After two years in Rochester, John finally made it to Conrad’s home in Ohio. The pioneer spirit and determination that under-girded the beginning of John’s journey in Germany, served John well in the New World.

So, I like to think of myself as a speaker for the dead or, to use another analogy, an ancestor whisperer – one who tells a truer story about my ancestors than vital statistics ever can.

Sep 102012

Yesterday my wife, Susan, and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary.  What a delight to spend the day with family and friends!  In the midst of the celebration, we received a remarkable surprise — a gift from Susan’s three sisters.  The gift is pictured below, a beautiful set of doves.  And the doves come with a 25 year old story and a story for the future waiting to be written.  In short, they represent a new family tradition.

These doves were originally a gift from the four daughters to Susan’s parents on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary…  and that is only the beginning.  Here is what the sisters wrote to accompany the doves:

Dear Susan and Bart,

To honor you on your Golden Anniversary and as a tribute to lasting love and committment, we want to start a new Weaver tradition.

We are presenting these doves to you and to the descendants of the original recipients, Mauri and Peggy Weaver on the occasion of their Golden Anniversaries.  Thee beautiful doves, symbols of peace and love, were originally given to Mauri and Peggy, “Honey” and “Daddy” to us, on June 12, 1987 by their four daughters, Cynthia…, Judi…, Susan… and Janet.

Following this new tradition, the doves would be given on their Golden Anniversaries to the following descendants:  [a list follows of seven couples (children and grandchildren of the Weaver sisters), with the projected dates of their Golden Anniversaries.]

Susan and I will pass the doves on to Cynthia’s son and daughter-in-law in 2024.  The other dates on the list project out to 2060, with the added note “Other names and dates to be added.”  This is truly a gift that will keep on giving as the doves get passed from each each couple to the next.

Many family and friends who were not able to be with us sent cards and letters of celebration.  Lots of memories were shared.  Most touching was a note from my dear friend, Dian, which was read as a benediction for our luncheon gathering with family and friends:

Love and best wishes on your 50th Anniversary! To paraphrase Tom Loder’s prayer:

Gracious God, thank you for this day
and for the mysterious and serendipitous way you have woven
together the lives of Bart and Susan.
Thank you for their families, and for their friends
who celebrate and bless this day.
Thank you for their laughter and tears, thoughts and dreams,
slammed doors and open arms, hard decisions and gentle caresses.
O God, be with them in all their tomorrows
as you have been with them in all their yesterdays.
Most especially grant them
to continue to root their love in trust of your love,
and to know that theirs are not the only resources
at work in their relationship.

To which I can only add Amen! and Amen!

Sep 092012

On Sunday afternoon, 9 September 1962, Susan Frances Weaver and I were joined in holy matrimony at the Riverdale Methodist Church in Dayton, Montgomery, Ohio, United States.  Today Susan and I celebrate 50 years of marriage.  Our son will be in from California; our daughter and her family live about 25 minutes away.  The whole family will go to church together in the morning, followed by a luncheon with family and friends.  Then, on Wednesday, Susan and I leave for Seattle for a couple days of sightseeing before we board the cruise ship for our trip to Alaska.  The bonus for me is that this cruise, sponsored by Wholly Genes (The Master Genealogist), will make 17 hours of genealogy workshops available while we are on the open sea (Thomas Jones, Mark Lowe, Debra Mieszala, Paul Milner, Craig Scott, and Thomas MacEntee).  Genealogy plus the Inland Passage, twin Sawyer glaciers, Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway.  What a way to celebrate!

But, as a genealogist / family historian, celebrations are an opportunity to look back, as well as forward.  So here is a simple pictorial retrospective of our 50 years together…  plus a poem written by my Great Aunt Katie to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her parents, my great grandparents, Lloyd and Mary Ellen (Cole) Brenner.












Susan and I became the parents of two wonderful children, Russell and Cheryl.












The family historian in me cannot resist a few 4-generations pictures:

Me, great-grandfather Lloyd Brenner, Dad, Grandpa George H. Brenner. (about 1943)

Susan’s parents (Maurie and Peggy Weaver);her grandparents (John and Emma Weaver); Susan, Russ, & I. (about 1965)

Cheryl, Dad, Grandma (Grace Mieding Brenner), me, and Russ. (about 1967)

Me, son Russ, daughter Cheryl, Susan, my mother holding Cheryl’s daughter Olivia.(2004)












The final part of this brief family retrospective is from my great-aunt, Katie.  Aunt Katie was my grandpa Brenner’s sister.  Among other accomplishments, she was a poet.  On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of  her parents, Mary Ellen (Cole) and Lloyd Brenner, she prepared the following poem:

They have traveled, side by side,

O’er life’s highway, fifty years.

Helped bear each other’s burdens,

Helped calm each other’s fears.

Thru stormy days and sunshine,

Thru times of smiles and tears,

They’ve climbed life’s hill together

Hand in Hand these fifty years.

‘Tis their Golden Anniversary

And the summit of the hill.

Now they’re standing smiling there,

For you see they’re sweethearts stil

Our wish for them on this day

Is just happiness and health,

For it they have both of these

They possess abundant wealth.

(K. B. Bode)
















Sep 052012

“Migrating to the Cloud – Part 1″ described the process that my son and I have been using to move from a genealogy 1.0 (desktop-based) system to genealogy 2.0 (in the Cloud).  In that post, I alluded to one perennial issue that I face — namely, the use (or lack thereof) of a research calendar / log.  I have struggled with this because I am not over-burdened with repeating searches.  Since I often engage in “rabbit trail” genealogical searches (that is, beginning in one direction and then moving off on one or more tangents – sometimes tangents off of tangents), no repeat search is likely to pursue just exactly the same ground.  In some cases, especially when it involves a direct line ancestor, I will make note of an unsuccessful search, but that has been more the exception than the rule.

Before I get drummed out of the genealogy club, however, I must say that my Research Wiki (see “Migrating to the Cloud – Part 1“) serves as a substitute for a research calendar / log.  It is not a 100% analogous, but it serves me fairly well.  There was, however, one perspective on the data that has been missing – the overall view of what has been found and what is still missing for each individual.  I had developed a check-list in the Research Wiki, but it was too unwieldly to use.  So it is time to go back to the drawing board.

I went to FamilySearch’s Research Wiki and read the article, “Keeping a Research Log.”  I also watched the two videos by G. David Dilts that were referenced in the footnotes (part 1, part 2).  A couple  of things impressed me.  First, this describes an extremely thorough-going approach to chronicling one’s research (more effort, however, than I think would be productive for me).  Second, the system was developed for and dependent upon paper.  Dilts asks that everything be printed to paper and filed, even if you are maintaining the records (and logs) on a computer.  His hesitation about computers is that “100 years from now will your descendants even know how to turn on a computer?”  While I might concede his point that computers may not have a long future ahead of them, I am confident that a variety of forms of digital record-keeping will persist and/or be developed.  And, as new systems are developed, ways of transitioning digital data from older systems will also be available.  I’d rather leave my descendents a more compact set of digital records, transitioned to new protocols as time demanded, rather than filing cabinets full of papers.

I was heartened to read a bit of sage advice on the website which has an interesting article on “Stages of a Historical Research Project:”

“Please remember, however, that if you feel what you are doing is valuable and fulfilling, then it doesn’t matter so much what other people think.  Learn about accepted skills and standards of historical research, be accurate and thorough,build within a historical context, and then do what you think is best.”

So…   taking stock, I would acknowledge that my Research Wiki provides me with a good system for storing and organizing my genealogy documents and images.  It also provides a place for me to list source citations for the data that I have found.  And, while it may be genealogical heresy, I am not interested in becoming a repository for original genealogcial documents.  I am satisfied to work with digital images and to return all return documents to their owners.  One thing is missing, however — an over-all view of what data I have and what is missing — especially for our direct line ancestors.   Also, the article on “Keeping a Research Log” on the FamilySearch Research Wiki, listed a series of tasks to perform after each search (one set of steps if the search fails to find relevant data; another, when the search is positive).   That list of tasks provided me with a base for asking myself “What are the steps I take to secure, store, and organize the data I find in my research?”  This question lead to a productive inner conversation about how I process the data I find (or don’t find).

Two separate tasks began to come together in my mind — processing steps and broad-based overview of the data.  I developed a spreadsheet with Columns grouped under 10 general categories (Birth/Early Years…  Education…  Marriage…  Death…   Immigration & Naturalization…  Military…  Census Records…  Employment…  Estate…  Miscellaneous).  Each category has multiple columns, each describing one type of record within that category.  (See an example below.)  The spreadsheet’s Rows contain lists of direct line ancestors grouped by Surname, ordered by Ancestral Lines Pairing System reference numbers (see my post that describes these numbers).

There are seven possible entries for each item:

  • cop = copied          indicates that a web page has been clipped, a file downloaded, or a document scanned
  • fil = filed          indicates that the information has been copied and filed in the Research Wiki
  • ent = entered          indicates that the information has been copied, filed, and entered into TNG
  • cit = cited          indicates that a full citation has been written for this record  (note: when I am not entering this directly into the Research Wiki or the TNG website, I will put the citation information in Evernote)
  • X           indicates that the information has been copied, filed, entered, and cited.
  • DNF          indicates that relevant information was found
  • blank cell          indicates that I do not have source information, but does not indicate a negative search.

The first speadsheet has been for the direct line ancestors for the Brenner portion of the family tree.  I will also develop a similar spreadsheet for the direct line ancestors in the Weaver side (my wife’s lineage) of the family tree.

I am currently in the process of filling out this spreadsheet. I have found it very helpful in helping me track the migration of information from my hard drive to the Research Wiki and to RM5 (and eventually to TNG).  This system would probably not work for a professional / certified genealogist, but it works for me.  Will I miss some things?  Probably.  Will I repeat searches that I had already completed with negative results?  Likely.  Will I be able to find every bit of data that I know I have.  Perhaps not.  The upside to this approach is that I have already been doing most of it.   I can adapt the process as I go along.  And, I am thoroughly enjoying what I am doing.  That seems to be enough for me.



Sep 052012

Three to four years ago my son (he’s the “techie” member of the team) and I decided to develop a digital system for our genealogical research and its documentation. At the time we stated that our intentions were “to (a) extend our abilities in genealogical research and web development, (b) to develop a web presence where members of the extended Brenner-Weaver families can gather for genealogical research and to share family stories, and (c) make a significant contribution to genealogy’s move from the desktop to the web (web 2.0 / genealogy 2.0).” Ultimately, we envision a wiki-based online system that my son would develop. Since I am retired and he is still gainfully employed, we have sought intermediate solutions.

Phase 1: Desktop.  A key step was developing a desktop storage system for digital images (photos, documents, web clippings, notes) and using desktop software to organize the results. The first major decision was to digitize all our accumulated data (photos and documents) and then to work only with the digitized forms of the data. Newly discovered data was to be digitized and stored as quickly as possible. As I began to survey photos and documents held by extended family members, I would scan the originals and then return them. As I surveyed a variety of organizational systems for storing genealogical data, my growing impressing was that most systems were developed out of a paper-based understanding of genealogical research. So many of the systems I surveyed depended upon colored folders or multiple binders to store forms and documents. There was an inherent logic in these systems as they had been developed out of the experience of practicing genealogists / family historians. But, for me, their logic seemed paper-based, often with a primary emphasis on family groups – store an individual’s data with his/her family of origin until marriage; then, with the affiliational family established by the marriage.

I settled for a simple system, filing all an individual’s data in a folder on my hard drive. Of course, I made sure that those files were all backed up in multiple ways. I settled on long file names to assist in the organization – “Surname, Given Name(s) (Married Surname) (Event).extension.” (As an example, the transcription of my 2g-grandmother’s affidavit that was part of her application for widow’s benefits related to my 2g-grandfather’s Civil War disability pension was filed as “Welk, Catharine (Brenner) (Affidavit – Pension Claim).odt.” It is filed in the “Welk, 17.6 Catherine (Brenner)” folder. The reference number – 17.6 – is the Ancestral Lines Pairing System number that I have added to the folder names of all my direct line ancestors.

After using early versions of Family Tree Maker, we settled on RootsMagic for our desktop software. We found RootsMagic to be a robust software with a helpful interface that served our needs quite well. We are currently using RootsMagic 5.

Phase 2: Designing the Cloud-based System. The second step was migrating our desktop data to the cloud. We developed an online presence using Darrin Lythgoe’s The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding (TNG). Early decisions were based on extensive discussions about the tension between maintaining the integrity of our research results and making our results widely available. While I have posted one tree on Ancestry (to check out how well Ancestry’s “shaking leaf” function works), we have chosen to put our efforts in our TNG site, rather than to post the data to any of the growing number of cloud-based trees. An additional consideration is that I have not found many others who are researching our ancestral lines – the Brenners, Deeters, Miedings, Welks, etc.

We recently migrated this blog and our TNG site to a WordPress CMS system. As we progress, this blog plays a key role in telling the stories of our ancestors and articulating our analysis of data correlations.

An important decision was to develop a wiki-based online storage system to store and organize our images and documents. My son installed MediaWiki on our website and I began to learn MediaWiki markup language so I could develop the site as our Research Wiki. Here our data files are stored by Record Type (Baptism/Confirmation… Birth… Census… Death… Immigration / Naturalization… Land / Deeds / Other Legal… Marriage… Military… Location Files… Signature Files…). The Research Wiki also contains individual files grouped under the surnames of my son’s 8 grandparental lines (Brenner… Deeter… Gregg… Hill… Mieding… Smith… Spitzer… Weaver…). My great-granfather’s individual entry is as follows:

       Brenner, Lloyd (1867 – 1947)     (1.5)

see also, data stored in: BaptismBirthCensus Records (1870, 1880, 1900, 1920, 1930, 1940)… DeathImmigrationOther LegalMarriageMilitaryLocationSignatures
Did a thorough search for the 1910 Federal Census record for Lloyd Brenner in Youngstown, Ohio. No record was found.
1889-90 Youngstown, Ohio Directory (no image) Youngstown, Ohio Directory, 1889-90 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2000. Original data: Youngstown, OH, 1889-90. N.H. Burch & Co., 1889. subscription database, <>, accessed December 2009.

This indicates that I have 6 census records for him (both from his family of origin and his affiliational family), as well as Death and Marriage records. A click on those links will take me to that Record Type where the data is filed alphabetically by Surname (and, for Census records, by Year then by Surname). The Record Types with strikethroughs are ones for which I have not yet found data. This is also a place where I can indicate unsuccessful searches (1910 Census for Lloyd Brenner) and other data. When I enter a data record (either in the Record Type or in the Individual’s record) a citation of the source is also included.

Other Surname lines are filed under the one of  8 grandparental lines to which it is related:

Phase 3: Migrating to the Cloud. So, up to this point in time, our system has been operating in two venues – on my desktop and on our website. That has not been helpful. I have maintained RootsMagic 5 as the primary management software for our data. TNG has simply been a place to display a particular interation of that data. Periodically I will export a GEDCOM file from RM5 and import it into TNG. And then it just sits there. I had separated out “pruned” database of direct line ancestors and their affiliational families (about 700 individuals) for publication on TNG. My full RM5 database of about 5000 individuals (which I have called my “research” database) has remained on the desktop. I am now getting that full database ready for publication on our TNG site. This has meant a thorough cleaning and re-organizing of my Master Source list and my Places list. I have organized my Master Source list with a series of broader categories (Book… Cemetery… Census… Church Records… Civil Records… Court Records… Family Bibles… Family Trees… Immigration… Military… Newpapers… Person… Researcher…). As needed, I can add categories as I go. I am just about ready to export the full database to a GEDCOM which I will import into TNG. At that point, I will manage my data using TNG, rather than RM5.

I have also used the Research Wiki to store source citation templates. I have enjoyed using RM5’s Source Templates and may continue to count on them when I am in a pinch. I will, however, continue to expand my own source citation templates on the Research Wiki. That makes everything a simple copy and paste operation.

I still have data files on my hard drive and in Evernote that have not been migrated to the Research Wiki. That will be the next great task – that is, getting all those files moved. I am still debating whether I want to store my photos primarily in the Research Wiki or utilize an online service, such as Picasa. At this point, I leaning toward sticking with the Research Wiki.

Phase 4: Genealogy 2.0. Once I have migrated my RM5 database to TNG and have moved all data files from my hard drive to the Research Wiki (and, of course, backed up all the files), I will then be able to do my work in the Cloud. Instead of a hybrid of genealogy 1.0 and 2.0 systems, I will have completed the move to a genealogy 2.0 system. I will store all data and citation information in the Research Wiki and do all data entry (with full source citations) directly in TNG. This will probably necessitate my installing TNG and MediaWiki as “localhost” on my desktop. This will give me access to the data when I have not internet access, as well as a backup. I will also update my Gedstar Pro (Android tablet and phone) and GedView (iPad) apps with the latest GEDCOM so that I will have my data available whenever I need it.

One of the features introduced to later versions of TNG was the possibility of integrating Wiki pages for individuals. My son has added this module to our TNG site. I had previously begun to develop Wiki pages for individuals in the Research Wiki. I did this in anticipation of the development of our own Wiki-based application. I have only done this for one individual (my 2g-grandfather, John Brenner) with a Profile page (basic information about the individual), Notebook (extended information, stories, etc), and Research Journal (a check-list of record types to track where research has been done and/or needs to be done). I am in the process of replacing the individual Research Journal with another tracking system. (That will be the subject of a follow-up post.)

Phase 5: Completing the System. As mentioned above, I have developed the Research Wiki with the goal in mind of my son’s developing our own genealogy research and data management application. Since he works full time and has other enduring commitments, I don’t expect that application to be developed soon. It may not be until he approaches retirement. If and when he decides to begin developing code for such a system, we have a good start. If, on the other hand, he chooses not to pursue it, our current system can be further developed within the confines of WordPress, TNG, and MediaWiki. It will serve our needs well for the foreseeable future.




Aug 292012

My son, Russ, and I are collaborators in our family genealogical pursuits…   He is the technologically savvy member of the team and our webmaster.  In addition, he challenges me to move increasingly toward a fully genealogy 2.0 (web-based) system.  When time is available, he contributes to the research.  I am field researcher and data manager.  I try to keep abreast of current trends and directions among the more visible members of the genealogical community (via blogs, etc).  My latest project has been tidying up our research database so it can be moved to our webside.  This is my report to Russ…

Well, Russ, I have been at the task rather steadily for the past couple of months.  This note is to share what I have done and what I have learned.  As you are well aware, I had previously pruned our database down to about 700 people – direct line ancestors and their immediate families.  That is the database we have displayed o our TNG website.  I thought it would be better/easier to keep the two databases separate — adding individuals from the research database to the online database when they moved to a higher degree of being “proved.”  That just hasn’t worked.  So I have moved to a different place, thinking it best now to have the full database online and working primarily onlne in TNG,  rather than on my desktop in RootsMagic 5.  I really like RM5, but trying to maintain two separate systems is more than I want to do.

So, the first thing I did was to merge the two databases.  I had to do this because I actually had added some data in RM5 to individuals who were listed online in TNG.  Of course, that complicated matters because I had been upgrading many of the source citations in RM5.  As a result, when I merged the two, many of our primary people had double citations.  You may remember that I had created a large number of “free form” citations (for example, citations for all the U.S. Federal Censuses).  The hope was that they would transfer better via GEDCOM.  The data on the TNG website included those free form citations.  More recently I have removed the free form citations in favor of the source templates in RM5.  As I have been re-doing the citations in RM5 over the past 8-9 months I have also been naming the master sources in such a way that similar types of master sources automatically group themselves together.  (For example, the U.S. Census master sources all have the format:  “Census, U.S. – YEAR;” for books, “Book – TITLE;”  “Grave Marker – CEMETERY(or PERSON); etc.  The largest group of master sources is data gleaned from Family Trees on — “Family Tree – INDIVIDUAL.”

In order to clean up the master sources and citations I  first went through each of our direct line individuals and checked their citations so I could eliminate the duplicates.  This was fairly easy to do in RM5 since I had previously color-coded each of your 8 great-grandparental lines – Brenner (red), Weaver (brown), Deeter (green), Gregg (teal), Mieding (blue), Smith (fuchsia), Hill (gray), and Spitzer (maroon).  I could simply go through the Person  index in left side bar and choose each name that was in color, double click it, and then run the mouse cursor over the check-mark in the source column for each fact that had been sourced.  A pop-up box listed the title of each master source used to provide a citation for that person/fact.  I could see immediately if there were any duplicates.  Most of the duplicates were either Census citations, “personal knowledge” citations, or “online trees” citations.  Where duplicate were present, I was able to access the list of sources for that person or fact and delete the duplicates that were presented using the older format.

Because I was dealing with all our direct line ancestors, I was also able to check to make sure that I had included (as a “reference #”) the Ancestral Lines Pairing System number for each of those individuals.  I created a master source for Ancestral Lines Pairing System that reads as follows:

The Ref#s in this database are calculated for direct-line ancestors using the Ancestral Lines Pairing System developed by Capers W. McDonald. The number before the period is the unique ancestral line number; following the period the number indicates the generation (begun from the root person). More information can be found at or by viewing the YouTube video (

By the way, I ran a print-out of all direct line ancestors.  There are 305 of them.  Of course, a large number of them have not yet been “proven.”  I have tried with more recent additions of “un-provens” to make sure that our records indicate such.  I have added a note (very visible in RM5) to each of those records, stating:

I have not yet validated this person’s position in my family tree.  The information was added from’s “Family Tree.” While I have included the submission data from, I have not checked out the particulars data events recorded with this person.  The source citations listed are simply a reflection that the data comes fro an unsourced online family tree.  This is neither a validation of the information nor of this person’s connection to my ancestral lines.  Further work is to be done here.

I intend to change the main screen of our TNG website to reflect that fact that we have published both documented and undocumented individuals and events…   encouraging viewers NOT to copy indiscriminately, lest they repeat unproved (and perhaps “wrong”) data.

I not to go person-by-person through the rest of the database.  Instead, I worked directly with RM5’s Source List.  For sources that had been duplicated (such as the Census sources), I could do a screen printout for the source which listed each individual (and their “facts”) which contained the source.  I could then convert the screen printout to a text file which would open in LibreOffice on my second screen.  (Oh, the pure joy of working with double screens!)  I would use that text file to navigate in RM5 and delete the duplicate citations.  After completing that for each master source duplicate, I would delete the master source itself.  One off the nice features of RM5 is that it would warn me if I missed any.  I probably could have simply begun by deleting the duplicate master source, but I wanted to make sure that I did not inadvertently delete a source that had missed being updated.  There actually were a few of these.

At this point I am fairly well satisfied with our list of Master Sources.  There are some that I simply left the way they were.  Most of these came from John’s work.  Where possible I added a note indicating that they came from John.  When we cull out his line and publish it separately on our TNG website, those source won’t be as crucial for our work.  We can, at that time, also cull out the Van Fossan line which my cousin David provided to me.

One of the areas in which I have been remiss, is indicating the repositories for each of the Master Sources.  I hope to go back and fill in as many of these as I can.  Some are fairly straight forward; others will take a bit of searching.

Before I began working on the sources, I had already cleaned up the Place List, merging a lot of duplicates.  RootsMagic 5’s County Chekc function has been helpful in making sue I am using standardized place names and correcting names in keeping with the time of the event — for example, correcting locations from before 1776 to include “British America” (instead of United States), some with the name of the State, some without.  I will probably continue to enter information into RM5 before transferring into TNG so that a) RM5 will perform its County Check and b) so that I can format citations using RM5’s source templates.

My hope is that, by the time you arrive on the 8th, I have have the database in good enough order that I will have transferred it to TNG