Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Genealogy - Then and Now

I started doing genealogy back in the early 1990's. In the early years of my research, I discovered a fair bit of information about my ancestors. But after a few years, other interests grabbed my attention, and I put my genealogy research on hold. Two years ago, twenty years after beginning, I resumed my research. In this tome, I'd like to take a look back and compare how I did genealogy back then with how I do it today.

Back then, I used a DOS based program called GIM. Most programs at the time supported the GEDCOM 3 standard. Today, I use a program called Gramps, which implements fully the GEDCOM 5 standard, still under development in the early 1990's. As far as I'm concerned, the most important improvement of GEDCOM 5 is robust support for sources and citations. Back then, if you recorded source information at all, it was done using notes. Today, you have no excuse for not including citations in your database.

These days, I don't add any fact to my database unless I can cite the source. When I restarted my research, one of the first things I did was go through my data, adding sources and citations to every fact. I also cross-referenced my hand-written notes by adding the citation id to every event in my notes. Using a filter in Gramps, I was able to locate every event without a citation. I had to be brutal, but some facts had to be deleted since I had no idea where they came from.

Back then, the general public just started getting access to the internet. This was a great boon to genealogists since it allowed us to better share data. But we still needed to visit the local LDS Family History Center to view microfilmed records, and record the data in hand-written notebooks.

Twenty years later, the technology continues to improve. There are a couple of incredible on-line resources that I take advantage of on a daily basis. The first is, which hosts jpeg images of almost all of the LDS's collection of civil and church records from the Netherlands. Since half of my ancestors were born in the Netherlands, I fully take advantage of this incredible collection. Whenever I find a record of interest, while working at my desk at home, I download the image, crop and scale the image, and then include the image in my database as part of the citation. You can't support your facts any better than that.

Another incredible resource is, an index site for the Dutch civil registration. There are a few holes in their coverage, such as Gelderland births, but otherwise, it's the first place I visit when searching for people. As far as I'm concerned, if for whatever reason I can't find a scanned image of a record, cutting and pasting WieWasWie data into a citation is an acceptable alternative.

For the German side of my research, the on-line resources are still lacking. has the images for the 1867 and 1900 censuses of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, which helped me connect with my Ludwigs ancestors. However, to view the Mecklenburg-Schwerin church books, I still need to visit the local LDS Family History Center. It's a 20 minute drive, and is never very busy. But since the Dutch on-line resources are so much better, I haven't done nearly as much research on my German ancestors.

There is hope, however. There is an effort underway to digitize the German church books and put them on-line. Hopefully, the site will be as easy to use as And more importantly, I hope that the quality of the scans will be as good. Once the Mecklenburg-Schwerin church books are on-line, I expect to spend a lot of time downloading those records. (Of course, the LDS are working hard digitizing all of their microfilms, but who know when they'll get to the books I need.)

Finally, here's a summary of what's in my Gramps database as of this morning:
  • Number of individuals: 8196
  • Number of families: 3167
  • Unique surnames: 2375
  • Number of unique media objects: 5909
  • Total size if media objects: 1592 MB
The last number is significant. The vast majority of media objects are jpeg images of scanned source records. As I mentioned before, you can't have better citations than scans of the original civil and church records.

Cheers! Hans