Q&A: Thomas MacEntee

On Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012, Family Tree University conducted a live Q&A on Facebook with Fall 2012 Virtual

Conference presenter Thomas MacEntee as part of our ‘Meet the Presenter’ series. Here is the full transcript:

Family Tree University: Hello and welcome to our first half-hour, Live Q&A for the Fall 2012 Virtual Conference’s ‘Meet the Presenters’ series. Our first subject is Thomas MacEntee, professional genealogist, tech guru, Geneabloggers creator and all around good guy. Feel free to submit your own questions to Thomas by Commenting on this post. So, Thomas, first question: Give us a clue–What exactly will you be covering in your first VC session, ‘Power Up Your Web Searches’?

Thomas MacEntee:Hello everyone! I am happy to be here!

Thomas MacEntee: The web searches presentation is sure to be an eye-opener for everyone. We’ll cover some of the typical scenarios of searching in Google and where most genealogists go wrong.

Thomas MacEntee: We’ll also cover some other gems such as Mocavo, Wolfram Alpha and even a cluster search engine called Yippy!

Thomas MacEntee:There is a certain Zen to searching in Google and many of us have some bad search habits – such as forming the search as a question – which need to be changed. Remember, you’re not playing Jeopardy here – you’re searching for information.

Family Tree University: That’s great! Next question: Why can searching for genealogy and family history information on Google be such a challenge?

Thomas MacEntee: You have to understand how the Google page ranking and algorithm works. This isn’t rocket science really and you don’t have to get technical about it. If you know how Google works, you can get in, get what you need and get on with your research.

Diane Haddad: Hi, Thomas, could you explain what a cluster search engine is?

Thomas MacEntee: Sure Diane. A cluster search engine will organize your results around topics and themes. This way it can actually help you “chain search” as I call it. Some cluster search engines find commonalities in results that I never realized and then it gives me content for my next search.

Diane Haddad:  I tend to rely on Google–looks like I need to get out there and try other search engines.

Family Tree Magazine: Thomas, what is one common mistake that most genealogists make in their searches?

Thomas MacEntee:The most common mistake is searching “too tight” or “too narrow” – I always recommend you go “broad” and cast a wide net. Then look at the FULL PAGE of results and find what they have in common. Then narrow your search on the second and third passes.

Michele D.: I have relatives that have the family name but then also have another family name after and the parents don’t have my family name. How does that happen?

Michele D.: i.e., Michael Deinstadt Perry – Parrents are only Perry

Thomas MacEntee: Michele – I really couldn’t tell since there could be many reasons – this is why I try to track my research on a research log and then analyze the results. Were there any name changes? Could there have been a falling out and someone dropped or changed a name?

Thomas MacEntee: My surname went from McEntee to MacEntee for specific reasons and I was able to document it through tracking my research.

Diane Haddad:  Is Deinstadt the middle name, or part of a last name? Perhaps he was given the name to preserve a family name in some way. I’ve heard of giving a child the mother’s maiden name as a middle name (wish they did this in my family!).

Thomas MacEntee: Diane – that is what I was going to say about the Deinstadt name . . . sounds like there is a family link there and this was a way to preserve the family name.

Family Tree University: Speaking of tracing your research, you’ll be doing a session at the VC called ‘Research Logs for the Rest of Us”. Why is it so important to record research?

Thomas MacEntee: Oh – what isn’t important about tracking and recording research? For me, genealogy is a constant journey and as a researcher I am constantly evolving in terms of how I travel along the genealogy high seas. Remember that we all start off at a different point and we may visit different ports of call along the way. Many of us know the value of a genealogy plan, a research map for our journey.

Thomas MacEntee: One thing that rings true for every genealogist at some point in the journey: you need a way to determine where you’ve been. Not only does this avoid visiting the same records multiple times, but it also can help determine your next destination in your research.

Family Tree Magazine: What advice do you have for research log beginners?

Thomas MacEntee:A research log is like a recipe for your favorite dish – let’s pick chili. It is your recipe and we can all agree on some basic ingredients that give it its . . . well, chiliness. Beans, meat, tomatoes. But then you get to customize it with stuff to suit your taste – green peppers, chicken, perhaps even peanut butter!

Allison Dolan: Thomas, it sounds like people can use their research log as sort of a road map for their research.

Thomas MacEntee: Your research log has to work for you – it is your favorite dish. Collect basic info like the date you found the record, where you found it, the info it contains, and especially an analysis of the information.

Thomas MacEntee: Options also include things like a link to the online record, the clarity of the record. I always include a transcription or an abstract field for my research finds.

Thomas MacEntee: Allison – you are right! I look at it this way – my research plan is really my overall map with my goals. My research log is my diary of the journey to those goals.

Diane Haddad: Another web search question: Do you find that only the first few pages have relevant results, or is it worth looking on the 5th or 10th or 19th page of results?

Thomas MacEntee: Diane . . . on the search, did you know Google has a feature that lets you exclude sites you’ve already visited? I use this quite a bit. And I also use the Similar Sites feature if it pops up.

Diane Haddad: Thomas–did not know that! On the advanced search page?

Deanna S.: I think I need the basics of web searching, is there places where I could get info on how to begin?

Thomas MacEntee: Deanna – try to read the Inside Search – the Google Search blog.

Allison Dolan: Deana, you might also be interested in Family Tree University’s recorded webinar that walks through the basics of web searching: http://www.shopfamilytree.com/search-engine-tips-and-tricks-webinar-download.

Michele D.: There are no documents that I can find detailing why this is. Could children have been sold even if they weren’t black?

Thomas MacEntee: Michele – perhaps it might not be a blood relative connection – what if the mother had a good friend with that last name? And have you done a total collateral search meaning in-laws, distant cousins etc.? Also look at the geography and find out who lived near the family before the child was born.

Diane Haddad:Michele, an adoption would be more likely. I’m not sure of the time period you’re looking at, but often adoptions were informal–someone would take in a relative’s child but not make the arrangement official in court. The child might have kept his birth surname and added that of the adoptive parents. Or perhaps the mother remarried and the child kept his father’s surname bu added on his stepdad’

Family Tree Magazine: Your doing another session titled, “Tricks for Using FamilySearch.org”. Can you give us a hint as to any of those tricks?

Thomas MacEntee: Sure – in my mind, just like Google, genealogists are not taking full advantage of all that FamlySearch has to offer. First, at Familysearch.org make sure you are using View All Collections and really understand the depth of the holdings there. Then check out features such as the Digital Library with actual PDF books as well as the Library Catalog to see what the Family History Library has available.

Thomas MacEntee: And many beginners get discouraged at FamilySearch when a record set doesn’t have an index. There are two ways to approach this: learn how to browse images effectively to get what you want and VOLUNTEER to be a FamilySearch indexer and help make the index available to everyone!

Family Tree Magazine:In your experience, is there a particular type of record that you find to be the most complex/complicated to look for on FamilySearch?

Thomas MacEntee: Most complex record – for me right now they are some of the state censuses like New York etc. Because we’ve become so used to the fields in the US Federal census, it can take some work to interpret the information in these records. Also, if you do any non-US research like I do – FamilySearch has the 1930 Mexico census for example – you may need to use Google’s Translate functions to understand the contents.

Thomas MacEntee: Also I wanted to point out that the IGI – the International Genealogical Index – has been updated: https://familysearch.org/blog/familysearchupdates-igi/.

Michele D.: ‎Diane – the unofficial adoption was another consideration I did have with no documents. Relatives did live in the surrounding area. Thanks Diane.

Family Tree University: Which brings us back to keeping a research log–when this stuff gets into complicated translations in such, having a work diary seems that much more important. What program do you use to maintain your log?

Thomas MacEntee: I am a spreadsheet fan so I use Microsoft Excel – you could also use the spreadsheet function on Google Docs. I like this because I can sort on column headings, I can search for words and topics, and I can extract data. With Google Docs, you could actually create a user-input form that feeds into a spreadsheet – I’ll cover that in the Research Logs presentation at the Fall Virtual Conference. And don’t forget that some genealogy database programs like RootsMagic already have a research log built in as a feature.

Jill G.: I try to stay stay aware of online genealogy news, blogs, how-to’s and recently added or updated online resources. I track #genealogy on twitter, I have a Link List and I’ve saved a lot of files in my Research Methods file. I’m getting swamped. What should I do?

Thomas MacEntee: Jill – think about a program like Evernote or One Note where you can create notebooks and “capture” items of interest on the Web, via email etc. Then you can do your reading based on search term or category within that program.

Allison Dolan: Jill, have you used Evernote? It’s free software that syncs between your computer, the web and your phone… it’s a really great tool for organizing the kind of info you’re talking about so you don’t get swamped.

Thomas MacEntee: Alison – great minds think alike! LOL

Jill G.: I have Evernote and can’t figure out how to make it work for me. I also have Zotero, which is great, but I quit using it. I can’t seem to make learning curves work, they’re always too complicated and I give up.

Jill G.: Here are couple of resources for learning to use Evernote, including a magazine article and video tutorial! http://www.shopfamilytree.com/catalogsearch/result/?q=Evernote

Teresa A.: Is there somewhere I can look for my 4x’s great grandfather’s death?

Thomas MacEntee: Teresa – you need to specify a location if you know it or a general idea.

Teresa A.: We have tracked him to the Williams count Infirmary in Jefferson Township, Williams County Ohio. He was last admitted in 1896. It would be close to Bryan Ohio.

Diane Haddad: Teresa, deaths that far back may not have been recorded, but in general county clerks would have kept the information. Also check the indexes (by state) at FamilySearch.org and on Ancestry.com. Cemeteries and obituaries are another option.

Teresa A.: Tried all of that.

Allison Dolan: Teresa, FamilySearch has a database of Ohio deaths and burials starting in 1854: https://familysearch.org/search/collection/show#uri=http://familysearch.org/searchapi/search/collection/168100.

Diane Haddad: Teresa, if it was a state facility, you might find admission and patient records with the state archives. If it was a county facility, try the local historical society and the county health dept. Fingers crossed the records still exist. PS–looks like the infirmary may have had a cemetery. The Williams Co. genealogical society has a book including those burials: http://www.wcgs-ogs.com/Jefferson.html

Teresa A.: Allison and Diane, thank you.

Family Tree University: Alright Thomas, our half hour is about up. Thanks so much for joining us today. As a reminder, we will hold our next Live Q&A next Monday, Aug. 27 at 4pm Eastern/ 12pm Pacific with presenter Lisa Louise Cooke.

Thomas MacEntee: Thanks everyone for a great chat. I hope to see you online at the Fall Virtual Conference!

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