Monday, October 19, 2009

Another Date with RootsMagic

This weekend I had the house to myself. I used the time to add more to my fantabulous well-documented RootsMagic family tree. If you remember, I recently started building a database from scratch, also taking the time to learn the ins-and-outs of RootsMagic 4. Every bit of information must have a source before it can be added to my new tree. That's the rule.

Given the amount of detail required and the few chunks of free time I get, I haven't made it very far back in my fancy new database. I was born in California and in my tree I'm still there, documenting records from the 1920's thru 1960's.

On Saturday morning, I browsed through some Los Angeles city directories, available online from the Los Angeles Public Library. I didn't realize how much history I had there, including seven surnames to search. I was able to find a source template to use on RootsMagic, so the entry of information was easy. It just took three hours to get through all the books and names.

I love, love, love city directories because they tell me where people lived, what they did for a living and even sometimes when they died. Always check out the city directories in your research areas.

After lunch, I started on California Voter Registrations: 1900-1968, available at Depending on the year, these records can tell you the names an addresses of registered voters, occupations, political affiliations and even neighbors if you scan the page. These records also are helping me narrow down a timeline of marriage, divorce and remarriage for one of my ancestors. I had some trouble finding a ready-made source template for this type of record in RootsMagic. I don't quite understand how to make my own, either. I ended up using a template designed for local records that allowed me to include film roll numbers and voter precinct numbers in my citations. Sort of like duct-tape source citations, I just pounded on that square peg until it fit in the round hole.

Getting through Ancestry's index of California Voter Registrations was easy, though through a little browsing, I noticed that the index is far from complete. For example, a search through the index of voter records for John Smith might give results in 1940, 1946 and 1950, but a manual search (page-by-page) shows records in 1942, 1944, and 1948 as well. I got what information I could through the indexes. Now I am going page-by-page looking for ancestors' names. Sometimes it's easy to find them by precinct. Sometimes it is not. This is just another lesson on why we can't rely solely on Ancestry indexes to provide leads to all the information in a given record set.

Anyway, my marathon session went really well. When RootsMagic users add a source to a particular fact, a check mark pops up on a given person's timeline. It makes it easy for users to see which facts have sources and which do not. In my own experience, I find it very rewarding to look at my own ancestors' timelines and see check marks all the way down the list. That's why I'm staying disciplined with this source rule, and that's why I keep turning those digitized California voter records page by page by page.

The devil is in the details, but so is the family history pay off.


  1. What a great and productive weekend you had! I've got to find myself a research-only weekend...


  2. Sounds as if your weekend was uninterrupted and very productive...if only I had some ancestors who were documented in city directories!

  3. Janice, check out my website, Online Historical Directories. While it is far from complete, it'll give you an idea of what's out there. If your ancestors did not live in cities, check out the nearest city directories anyway. Many times, at the back of city directories, there was a list of county residents. There were also county directories, farm directories, rural directories, and residential directories in county gazetteers. You'll be amazed at how many times your ancestors appear in directories!

    If the county of your ancestral location isn't available, subscribe (for free) to my related blog, in which I post updates and new pages to my website.

  4. Don't you love RootsMagic? I ordered the new book for RootsMagic 4 and can't wait to see what I've been missing since I upgraded from RootsMagic3.

    The best research advice I ever got was when I first started and my father-in-law told me "If you can't prove it, don't write it down." I've always been strict about recording my sources and it really helps. Keep up the good work!

  5. I switched to RM4 just a few months ago and am methodically (and slowly) going through and converting my sources into the correct format using the templates. That might be my favorite feature of the whole program. I wrote about my "escapades" with it here.