OneGreatFamily Blog

  • Genealogy: Remember the Power of One

    The following article is a sample from Barry J. Ewell's book "Family Treasures: 15 Lessons, Tips, and Tricks for Discovering your Family History." He is the founder of MyGenShare.com, an online educational website for genealogy and family history. 

    It's very easy to start researching one line of thought, become interested in another, and change direction, all in a matter of a few minutes. Soon you're surrounded with papers, documents, names, dates, and locations and are left with a head full of swirling questions.

    You will find your research more productive if you clearly identify your research goals, develop a research plan and focus on their completion. The following are a few ideas for keeping your research on track and manageable.

    1. Focus on specific sections of your genealogy at a time. This can

    • A specific family line or surname,
    • A specific time and place,
    • A specific family unit, or
    • A specific question to solve.

    2. Once you have focused a specific area to research, create a log to help you develop a big picture of what you have and where you want to go. Keep the log up-to-date-it will save you time and energy. Note when and where you viewed the information. The log can include, but is not limited to, the following:

    • Who you have talked to and information provided,
    • Information you have found and citations,
    • The questions you still seek answers to,
    • Thoughts of where to research,
    • The answers you have found, and
    • Ideas and assumptions you are making and why.

    3. Keep a to-do list-a plan as to what research you seek to per¬form. Organize the plan so the most important research gets done first. Often you find that when you focus on top priority research, many other items on your list are completed also.

    4. Group your to-do items by the source you will use to conduct research.

    5. Create a "future research" file. As you are conducting your focused research, you will always come up with ideas for research you want to conduct that is outside the focus of your current line of inquiry. Record it-whether it's an idea, a paragraph, a printed document, a photocopy, or whatever else-put it in the file, and forget about it until you are done with the task at hand. You can then go through the file at a later date, organize your notes, and start the next task. Don't be surprised if you begin doubling your accomplishments.

    6. Keep track of your progress.

    7. Reach out for help as you need it.

    8. If you have a hard time finding time or are spending too much time doing research, schedule time with yourself to conduct your research. Make your appointments start and end on time. There is something about a deadline that helps keep you on track.

    See the big picture. While focused research will help keep your genealogy work organized and streamlined, it's important not to get so focused on finding a single individual or piece of information that we don't look at extended family, neighbors, and the migration patterns of the entire community. Often the missing person (or piece of information) will pop up in someone else's family in a completely different geographic location.

    Sometimes the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line. There are many instances where researchers come to a dead end on an individual and, through researching related people (siblings, aunts, uncles, and so on), are led back to the individual of interest. Think outside the box. If you're stuck, find unusual ideas and places to look for information.

    Read more great genealogy tips in Barry Ewell's book "Family Treasures: 15 Lessons, Tips, and Tricks for Discovering your Family History.

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  • Famous Ancestor Of The Week: Clara Barton

    Clara Barton (1821-1912) organized the American Red Cross. Her name was actually Clarissa, but she went by Clara throughout her life. She was born in Oxford, Worcester, Massachusetts. Her great-aunt was the midwife Martha Ballard, of A Midwife's Tale fame. Clara became interested in nursing early in her life.

    In 1862 she got permission to go behind enemy lines to care for Union soldiers wounded in the Civil War. In 1864 Union General Benjamin Butler appointed her as the head of hospitals for the Army of the James, a Union army composed of regiments from Virginia and North Carolina. In 1865, President Lincoln commissioned her to search for missing Union soldiers. With the help of Dorence Atwater, a list of 13,000 Union soldiers killed in action was published.

    After lobbying for years to create an American charter for the International Committee of the Red Cross, Barton succeeded in 1881. She became the first president of the American Red Cross.

    You can see whether or not you are related to Clara Barton by going to the Relationship Calculator on the Family Dashboard Page when you login to OneGreatFamily.

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  • OneGreatFamily Tip: 'Did You Know?' Sidebar Tells You More About Your Ancestors

    Learn More About Your Ancestors At OneGreatFamily


    For most of our ancestors we know only names, dates, and places of important events. OneGreatFamily has created a way to expand your knowledge of your ancestors life. When you login to OneGreatFamily and come to the Family Dashboard page, click on the "Family Tree" tab:


    A pedigree chart showing 3 generations will be shown on the page. You can also select a different anchor by clicking on the "Change Anchor" link under the tab.

    If you click "Edit" on any ancestor, a box will pop up:

    The gray "Did you Know?" sidebar will give you several very interesting facts about your ancestor and what life was like while they were alive.
    Information will include:

    • Popularity of their name
    • Worldwide events that occurred on their birthday and death date
    • Famous people born on their birthday and death date
    • Average cost of gas, home, car, milk, income, etc. the year they were born and also the year they died
    • Entertainment news (movies, music, sports, etc.)
    • And much more!
    We hope by providing this information it will help you to see what life was like for your ancestor. The more we can learn about our ancestors the more connected we will feel to them. Explore the "Did You Know?" sidebar today to learn more about your ancestors.

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  • Genealogy: Cite and Verify Every Source

    The following article is a sample from Barry J. Ewell's book "Family Treasures: 15 Lessons, Tips, and Tricks for Discovering your Family History." He is the founder of MyGenShare.com, an online educational website for genealogy and family history. 

    I was given copies of genealogy for Christmas in 1990. I didn't pay to much attention to the information until 2004. As I reviewed the information, I found one line that ended in the late 1700s in North Carolina. I began the process of becoming familiar with the line and finally decided that I would like to see if I could extend the line. Within a few weeks of research, I cracked the puzzle and was able to start extending the line. Over a period of two years, I had extended it several generations. I had carefully documented my research and was quite proud of the work I had done.

    On one of my genealogy field trips, I had made arrangements to visit a distant cousin and collaborate my finding with hers concerning this line. Within two minutes of looking at my research, she told me that person from whom I began my research was not the right person. With further discussion, she explained that the person I had listed was in fact in England at the time I had her marrying her husband in North Carolina. She would not arrive in American for another ten years.

    Where had I gone wrong? I should have taken time to confirm the information that I had been given in 1990. I just assumed it was correct. There was no documentation. That assumption was a costly but valuable error on my part. I learned the value of analysis and hoped I would not make that mistake again.

    What exactly is analysis? It's the dividing of information into its six parts: who, what, where, when, why, and how. Each of the six parts can be applied to every document or source that you acquire.

    To quote Sir Conan Doyle writing as Sherlock Holmes in The Beryl Coronet, "When you eliminate the impossible, whatever you have left, no matter how improbable, must be the truth." Let's look at what each of the six parts means to genealogists.

    • Who. You can define the who before you start your search by asking who created the source.
    • What. What do you want to know? What information does the source provide?
    • Where. "Where" is probably the most important fact after "who." Are the records in national, state, county, parish, town, or precinct records? Where did you find the records?
    • When. Determine a timeframe or time period so you know where to search for records.
    • Why. Why was the source created? Why did your ancestor emigrate from Germany to the United States? Why did they move from Illinois to Wyoming? Why are there so many German (or Irish, or Italian) people in the area?
    • How. How does the information agree or conflict with information from other sources? How do I answer all these questions? How do I find the records I need?

    As you analyze your data, you will be able to make good decisions about its value and accuracy. It's not necessary to write the answers to the above questions, but writing your conclusions will help to clarify your thinking and reveal any inconsistencies.

    Take time to carefully review your research. Look at the sources. What is the artifact? What documents did you use? What books did you use? With whom did you speak?

    Look at information gathered from oral or recorded histories. Review previous research.

    Correlate unrelated information by categorizing your information. Is it primary information (participant, eyewitness) or is it secondary (non-participant)?

    Look closely at the evidence. What does the evidence say to you? How relevant is the information to your research? Does it provide direct answers to the questions you are researching? Does it provide indirect answers that help answer the question but do not stand alone? Does it provide negative answers or no answer at all? Is there information missing? What are you seeing that you didn't see before? New insights? Different conclusion? Same answer? Different clues?

    Ask for documentation. Never be shy about asking for documentation from another researcher when they have shared information with you. Again, without the paper records in hand, nothing is proven.

    Always verify. There is never a time when you should not verify information you have received. You can go to almost any Internet search engine today and within a few minutes find hundreds of questionable "facts." I've seen the same birth recorded as happening in Florida in the 1600s and in Utah in the early 1800s. I've seen records of mothers who supposedly gave birth to children at the age of five, as well as twenty-two-year-old grandfathers. It's frustrating, to say the least.

    Through the years, I have found critical errors in what I downloaded. It often appears that genealogists wanted so desperately to extend the line or make a connection that they jumped to conclusions in their research, which caused other genealogists to research someone else's family lines. Often the answers they were looking for were right before their eyes. The following are a few examples of experiences that other genealogists shared with me about the value of verifying information:

    • "I verify everything for myself. I once used someone else's info and there was a huge mistake that cost me about a year of work."
    • "Great-Granddad's marriage certificate had wrong occupation details on it, which caused me no end of problems with my searching."
    • "Family myths are just that, myths, unless you check and double-check. I was lead to believe that my father's family was from Suffolk County in England. Everyone swore that this was right. It took me five years and a trip to Utah to find out that they were not right. In fact, the family was from the county of Essex."
    • "I do not automatically accept a version of ancestry from another person-I check everything out, because people sometimes will create their ancestries to fit their own conceptions. When creating a family history, make it a masterpiece of accuracy. Inaccurate information will lead you away from where you want to go."
    • "Make no assumptions. The family has always stated that my mother's family was from Germany because of the heavy accent. However, in North Carolina, an Irish or Scottish accent could also have been considered 'heavy,' as could Welsh. Don't dis-count anything until you've proven it can't be."
    • "I learned some time ago after receiving a family CD from a genealogy company that the information was incorrect on the family line. I called the company and found that they never asked the person if all their information was documented. Today, the new genealogist seems to rely on information over the Internet."
    • "Do not assume something is correct. This is a real time waster. I spent a lot of time seeking my great-grandfather who supposedly died in South Africa, when in reality he died at his home in Scotland. I have many examples of wasting time-now I'm almost too skeptical. Nothing should be taken at face value. Humans make errors."
    • "Don't believe everything you read; adopt a "show me" attitude. I'd heard for years that there was a fire in the Martin County Courthouse (North Carolina) and all records were destroyed. I visited the courthouse and was informed that wasn't the case. Yes, there had been a small fire that damaged a few land records, but that was it."

    Searching online presents many of the most challenging issues when it comes to verifying sources. The following are a few of the lessons I have learned from searching online:

    • Search for the source. It would be nice if all web resources included a source. Whenever you find a record on the web that relates you to your family, look for a source of the data. This can be in the form of source citations and references (often denoted as footnotes at the bottom the page or at the end of the publication), notes or comments, or an "about this database" section for websites like Ancestry.com. You could also send an email to the author or contributor and politely ask for source citations.
    • Seek to find the referenced source. If the website or database you are using does not have digital images of the actual source, you can search to find the source references. For example, if the source of the information is a genealogy or history book, look for a library in the area you are searching that has a copy and is willing to provide photocopies. Expect a small fee. If the source is a microfilm record, you will most likely be able to secure the original from your local family history center, where the film can be borrowed and viewed.
    • View the original online. There is a growing trend of many online databases to provide access to scanned images of original documents. The vast majority of Internet resources have been copied, abstracted, transcribed, or summarized from previously existing, original sources. Understanding the difference between these different types of sources will help you best assess how to verify the information that you find.
    • Primary sources were created at or close to the time of the event by someone with personal knowledge of the event (for example, a birth date provided by the family doctor for the birth certificate). Primary evidence usually carries more weight than secondary evidence.
    • If the record you are seeing is a photocopy, digital copy, or microfilm copy of the original source, then it is likely to be a valid representation.
    • Compiled records (which include abstracts, transcriptions, indexes, and published family histories) are more likely to have missing information or transcription errors. If you find these records, it's in your best interest to track down the original sources.
    • Think about the possible source. When you find information that doesn't provide you a source for the database or website, ask yourself what kind of record could have supplied the information. For example, if it's an exact date of birth, then the source is most likely a birth certificate or tombstone inscription. If it is an approximate year of birth, then it may have come from a census record or marriage record.
    Use the "sanity checks" built into the better genealogy programs! The exact name of this feature may vary from one program to another, but all the better genealogy programs have the capability to find suspicious data within a database. These built-in quality checks help you quickly identify questionable data, such as very young girls or elderly women giving birth. When your software identifies such data, examine the evidence closely.

    Whether the source provides good, limited, or no information- write it down. Citing sources gives credibility to your research, helps others understand where you have been, and aids during your analysis.

    Read more great genealogy tips in Barry Ewell's book "Family Treasures: 15 Lessons, Tips, and Tricks for Discovering your Family History.

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  • Famous Ancestor Of The Week: Emilio Estevez

    Emilio Estévez


    Emilio Estévez was born in 1962 in Staten Island, New York. His ancestors were from the region of Galicia in northern Spain, and Ireland. Unlike his brother Charlie Sheen (born Carlos Estévez), he did not take the stage name of his father Martin Sheen. At the age of six, his family moved to Malibu, California, where he grew up.

    His first major film role was in The Outsiders, in which he played as Two-Bit Matthews. He appeared in The Breakfast Club, Young Guns, and St. Elmo's Fire. He also starred as Coach Gordon Bombay in The Mighty Ducks, which was so popular that two sequels were made.

    Emilio Estévez has two children with his former girlfriend Carey Salley. He was married briefly to Paula Abdul, from 1992 and 1994.

    Son of actor Martin Sheen and brother of actor Charlie Sheen.

    You can see whether or not you are related to Emilio Estévez by going to the Relationship Calculator on the Family Dashboard Page when you login to OneGreatFamily.

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