Rules of Genealogy

James Tanner often writes about the Rules of Genealogy. These aren’t rules in the sense that you must follow them. They’re common sense parameters for doing genealogy. Natural laws rather than rules of the game, if you will.

  • Rule One: When the baby was born, the mother was there.
  • Rule Two: Absence of an obituary or death record does not mean the person is still alive.
  • Rule Three: Every person who ever lived has a unique birth order and a unique set of biological parents.
  • Rule Four: There are always more records.
  • Rule Five: You cannot get blood out of a turnip. 
  • Rule Six: Records move. 
  • Rule Seven: Water and genealogical information flow downhill
  • Rule Eight: Everything in genealogy is connected (butterfly)
  • Rule Nine: There are patterns everywhere
  • Rule Ten: Read the fine print
  • Rule Eleven: Even a perfect fit can be wrong
  • Rule Twelve: The end is always there

The video version explains each point.

My favorite is the first one: when the baby was born the mother was there. The first time I read that, I got a rush. Such an easy way to phrase something so obvious, yet so widely overlooked by genealogy newbies.


So. I was using Genome Mate. It was a lot of work for not much result. There was an update. Always more work. I never got around to doing it, and never went back.

So now I’m looking at DNAPainter. Worth taking a shot, or will it just be extra useless work?

Roberta Estes says, “DNAPainter is one of my favorite tools because DNAPainter, just as its name implies, facilitates users painting their matches’ segments on their various chromosomes. It’s genetic art and your ancestors provide the paint!

People use DNAPainter in different ways for various purposes. I utilize DNAPainter to paint matches with whom I’ve identified a common ancestor and therefore know the historical ‘identity’ of the ancestors who contributed that segment.

I wonder. Painting is fun, but I’m more just a genealogist. Cousins are fun, but they’re not the entire game. I’m going to always lose interest in any tool that doesn’t help identify new ancestors.

Preserve First, Scan Second

This blog post stopped me in my tracks. I’m doing a huge scanning project right now. Drawers and drawers and more drawers of old paper files. All my genealogical correspondence and papers from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. A lifetime of work, and omg I was active. And now I’m helping Mom clean out her storage units (yes, units, plural). She’s giving me boxes of stuff, some of it originals of copies she has given me, some of it copies I’ve given her, and some of it stuff I’ve never seen before.

So, you can imagine I was in no mood to hear someone say I should stop scanning, that I should, apparently, backtrack and start preserving. Might be good advice for someone, but not for me.

Then I took a few days to think. Maybe I’ve being over-reactive. INFJ. You have to know I’d be over-reactive to anything that challenges my organizational process.

On reflection, preservation first makes a lot of sense. You don’t have to fix all the problems, but at least get it organized, do some triage, and get it put in archival boxes. I have mine neatly organized into file folders, staples and paper clips mostly pulled, crumbling papers photocopied. So, I’ve already done most of what Denise recommends as the first step. The way I see it, I’m good to continue with the scanning.

I don’t have it all in archival boxes, and I’m not actually sure I want to do that. I have a bunch of lateral files, and a largish closet we call “the file room”. I use those for the papers. Then I have the photos in bankers boxes. I fret about those boxes. If I died right now, today, the lateral files would stay where they are are for 20 years, but the boxes would go to my sister, who would likely stash them in storage for lack of space.

My sense is that climate control is an important element here, as well as keeping a clear vision about what is practical and what is probable. I could put everything in archival boxes now, but my sense is doing that would increase the risk of eventual destruction.

Today’s thoughts aren’t my last word on the subject. Now that I’ve read about the problem, I’ll be thinking about it every morning when I go into the file room to grab today’s scanning project. And I might eventually change course. Just not today.

Use Your Phone for Negatives

From Janet Maydem at Family History Daily:

Wouldn’t it be nice to see what’s really on all those old family photo negatives or slides you’ve been carefully collecting and storing? If so, you might be ready to try out a negative scanner app (also known as a film scanner app). These free apps are designed to quickly scan old black and white and color film negatives and positive slides and turn them into digital photos.

Read more: You Can Now Use Your Phone to Turn Old Negatives and Slides Into Photos

GEDCOM is not the Answer

James Tanner warns us about using GEDCOM. Info stored in a way that it is only portable by GEDCOM might be lost.

Even if you were successful in having someone in your family accept the information in GEDCOM format, it is very likely that much of the value of the information would be lost.

This is exactly what I see. Use GEDCOM if you have to, but you’d be better off getting away from the idea that your info is so special it deserves to be isolated in an inaccessible format. Get your data out of your standalone program and into one of the online programs pronto. You’ll never recover some of it, because you used a bad technology too long.

Update Nov. 5, 2019. Same warning from Dick Eastman, Bob Coret, and Nigel Munro Parker:

Edited to fix broken link.

DNA Color Clustering

This looks interesting. It also looks obvious. (So why didn’t I think of it myself?)

Unsure of how other people were sorting their Shared Matches from AncestryDNA, I developed my own method: the Leeds Method of DNA Color Clustering. This simple and quick method helps you easily visualize how your close cousins are related to you and each other.

Compare a Face

Which Ancestor Do You Look Like? Use Compare-a-Face at 

Looks like I need to upload more family photos.

“Unfortunately, there are no menu links to this Family History Activities section of the website. You can most easily find it by doing a Google search for FamilySearch activities. A link to the Activities page is also missing from the Site Map.”

Edited Oct. 1, 2019 and Oct. 2, 2019 to add navigation information from James Tanner.

More Information

Cousin Baiting

I love the title of this blog post.

A zillion years ago, so say maybe about 2007 or 2008, there was an article somewhere about “Cousin Bait”. I wish I could find it again. It was my first introduction to the idea of genealogy as marketing.

Jennifer, the “Occasional Genealogist”, explains “The purpose of cousin baiting is to attract research cousins. You’re looking for people that have information on your genealogy and are willing to share.

Our chum Jennifer has some points to think about when you’re deciding what kind of bait you want to use. I don’t want to steal her thunder. Go read her blog.

Two points I want to pull out:

First, you want to get enough info “out there” so people know you are interested. Ironically, that might mean you don’t put it all out. If you put out “too much”, people just copy your info but never contact you to share their info. That’s where I am with baiting. It doesn’t bother me, not much anyway, because it helps me avoid the kind of electronic chit-chat that just wastes time. There are very few lines I’m actively researching, where want to hear from people. On most lines, I’m just as happy to sit tight with what I have until I’m ready to work on that other line.*

Second, a query will attract some people. You’ll get some responses, but often not the ones you want. My experience is that you get a lot of fishing expeditions — “I saw your query, and I’m wondering if you have any information on my line.” Not worth the time. Somehow the person they’re looking for has same last name, but is 100 years off and from a different part of the country. I am working on scanning my paper files right now. I’m find that a significant number of papers in each file are old responses to online queries in the 1990s.

My own approach for almost 20 years now is to be active in the genealogy community. Not just one site. Not just one topic. If I’m looking for certain information, I leave breadcrumbs. I want to make sure you’ll find me if you’re working anywhere near what I want. You don’t need to put out a lot of info, you just need enough that there is something with your name on it and a way to get in touch.

* Putting all your info online always means that you’ll get messages for the rest of your life that send you something you wrote yourself. Your name will have been long ago stripped away. Putting all your info online also means you’ll be hearing from every nutcase who has fallen for old fakes and is now fighting a rearguard action to preserve the fantasy. Bah.

Documenting Royal Ancestry

From Nathan W. Murphy at FamilySearch:

“Everyone descends from royalty, right? So why make a fuss about it? In spite of this truism, many of us, especially Americans, are fascinated by the thought of documenting royal ancestry. We come across kings and queens in online family trees and wonder – are these trees accurate? Let’s walk through the process royal hereditary societies use to judge whether or not an applicant for membership has a documented line.

From You Back to the American Immigrant

“First, check to see if the immigrant ancestor in your purported royal line can be found on accepted gateway lists. A finite number of American immigrants can be documented as descendants of royalty. These immigrants are known as “gateway ancestors” and are the focus of intense scrutiny and study by expert genealogists. Approximately 650 gateway immigrants are known to have arrived in what is now the United States during the colonial period. One such list of gateways, which I help maintain, is on the Order of the Crown of Charlemagne website.

Read More: Documenting Royal Ancestry