My Tools & Tips

Everyone has an opinion about what is best. Here is what is working for me now. This has changed over time and I'm sure it will continue to evolve!

Genealogy Database Programs

I use PAF (Personal Ancestry File) 5.2 as my database format exclusively for research, because this database is very portable and meets my needs. However, I use the program PafWiz 2.0 for all data entry because it's much better at handling the database entry and generating reports, especially with source images. It is fully compatible with my PAF database, and, after several years, I trust it not to corrupt my database. PafWiz has a much nicer "Individual View" which is more like a family group sheet of the person (both as a child and as an adult). This allows you to move more rapidly around between members of a family, adding all the common sources very rapidly. Source image attachment is now much easier because PAFWIZ 2.0 has implemented a very nice source copy and paste function that actually includes the source images. This was something missing (or broken) in PAF 5.2. I helped with the best testing of this program.

Database Fields I Use

Here are some additional specific ways I use PAF and PAFWIZ database:
Custom ID Numbering: Everyone in my database has a unique number that relates them to my children. I use a modified Dollarhide numbering system and put this in the Custom ID field of PAF. I have created a brief tutorial on this numbering system.
Sources: I enter a source for every fact entered into PAF on people or marriage page. I include a source for every note I enter into PAF in the notes section. PAF doesn't support this directly so I just state: Source: such an such document, pxxx (See source list and other citations for actual text.)
Citation Text: I enter the transcribed citation text for every source. This is a lot of work but pays me dividends when I start looking into confusing or conflicting data sources. I have developed templates for sources I commonly transcribe as well as some guidelines and a style for source transcription suitable for computer programs.
Source Images (Scans): I attach the image to every source (even it if is just a jpeg copy of a web page).  I use an HP5500C scanner for large items and to scan stacks of photos and 35mm negatives. I use a HP 5500 for many other documents. I usually ask a friend to scan large format negatives for me.
Source & Photo Data File Numbering: I start all file names with the Custom ID I have assigned in PAF (although some character transliteration is required since Windows doesn't like all the Dollarhide characters). Then I describe what the file is and finally I include the person's name. However, all my large source collections that I scan I simply denote by the source name and page.
User Specified Fields: I try not to put new user defined special fields into PAF. However, I have found two useful: Social Security Number and Confidential Sources. Both are marked as confidential so that I may restrict publication. To define a new special field. you must run PAF directly. PAFWIZ doesn't create new fields. However, once special fields are defined in PAF by yourself then you can manipulate them with PAFWIZ.

   1. Run PAF 5.0
   2. Open your database.
   3. Select Edit menu sub-item Edit Individual List
   4. Select New button
   5. Enter information for special field (see below)
   6. Click OK
   7. Save database
   8. You may now add this special field using PAFWIZ to anyone in your database.

Social Security Number -- Click on the image to see how I setup this special field.

Confidential Sources -- Click on the image to see how I setup this special field.

Unsubstantiated data from other researchers: I enter this into PAF but I don't include a source. I am still looking for a good way to include the researcher into the database without adding what looks like a definitive source. This is not to state that I don't believe other researchers. This is to respect them and not republish their work to the web without adding any new sources. It is amazing how fast your own data gets copied on the web without any value-add.

Research Tools

General Searches: I use as my search tool usually. But I love county and state sites that include searches.
Paid Subscription Searches: I currently rely on "hints". I have a full subscription and have been very satisfied with the recent improvements they have made. I helped with the beta testing and features of their new Family view. I think it's great. You can now also get a list all all the people in your tree for which Ancestry has "hints". And finally, you can now link records to all family members at one time for most records, saving a lot of time and confusion.
Research Assistance Programs: This is a new category that seems to have recently emerged. I have purchased a tool called GenSmarts that I love. I helped with the beta testing. This program reads my PAF file directly and makes suggestions for any records that I have not found for primary info like birth, marriage, death (date and location). It puts together a sketch of every persons, estimates any missing dates or locations, and then gives you suggestions. It knows how to access many of your paid subscriptions so I just double click on an research suggestion it and does the search for me. I found lots of missing records this way. GenSmarts also helps me cleanup my database by seeing people who have impossible time lines, showing me locations that it cannot figure out, etc.

I also like to use for research recently. This is because they have greatly improved their "hints" feature by combining familiy members into a group and search for family related records. I worked with the programmer their to show hints on the new Family view and to add usability features to this view. This is a great way to find all records in a family group. This is a very valuable research technique to break down brick walls, by finding every record you can for every person in an extended family group.
Mapping programs: I like to make maps of where each ancestor or family group journeyed to help me understand their migrations across the US. This helps me know where to look for records that I'm missing. I use Family Atlas. It's not perfect but it gives me the ability to create migration maps to aid my research as well as the ability to look up where just about anywhere is. It does not have historical mapping capability. I have made suggestions to the programmer to improve usability but no progress so far.

Time line programs: I like to create time lines for family lines that shows my direct ancestors across time. I highlight manually the census records that I have found. This helps me focus in on gaps and find them. I use  Genelines (the universal edition which reads PAF databases). The most important use I made of this is to create a research aid that I call the group census tracker. I print out a family time line for ancestors in a line or a time line for all members in an extended family. I then mark each census record that I find on the time line. This helps me find the gaps. I actually use the annotated images in my published gift books. I use this to create timelines of individuals for special reports, also.

Web Publication and Reports

I use PAFWIZ to create my web site and to create reports with source images and photos.
I export names only on living. I filter all my export looking for people for whom any source exists. This prevents me from publishing my speculations and copies of other people's work on the web, unless I have my own sources to add as well. I also run GEDMARK on the GEDCOM file before uploading. This allows me to sometimes see when people have imported my own data into their databases more easily. I don't mind this at all, I just like to know it is my own data and not actually a new corroborating source.

I use mapping and time line programs for reports, as already mentioned in the research tools. They are both great research tools and good report elements.

Gift Books

I like to make family line books for family members on special occasions. After trying several different things over the years, I really like the publish feature for this. I use their on-line book publication editor to make the pages and download them to my own computer for printing. In particular, I used their trees, their time line, their family group pages, their military pages, as well as their source pages. I have never tried their printing service, but I'm sure it's nice. I upload my own map and group time line images to add to my book, as well as lots of photos and personal sources. 

 I create the group time line and map images by first printing a PDF using the programs described above. Then I crop and save the PDF as a JPEG using a PDF file editor. I use Adobe Acrobat Pro but many others are available today.

Eye on the Future

I'm really keeping on two projects: the eventual release of Family Search 2.0 for the general public, and the improvements might make that would allow me to stop using a local database altogether. I would love to have an account for Family Search 2.0! I correspond with ancestry about the limits that prevent me from doing this today. They say they will work on those items, but it's not ready for me yet!