Finding and solving gaps in our research.

Remembering that stories are important in family history, not just the birth, death, marriage dates and places. So how do we find information to fill in the gaps in the stories was what was discussed at this #ANZAncestryTime chat.

422737 / Pixabay

How do we identify gaps in our research? Is it important to do so?

I use timelines to work out where I need to look for more info eg school records, employment records etc

If you use good desktop software it may have a way to let you know what is missing

I am currently redoing my database and have queries to help find what is missing.

I have two ways of identifying gaps: (1) is writing up my research which makes clear where I’m missing information. (2) checking against my preferred sources to ensure I’ve included them.

To find gaps in knowledge/evidence about an individual … start writing up what you know about them as a sourced biographical narrative. This soon highlights the gaps which you can then set about trying to fill

Starting with what you know is a great tip Jane @Chapja It’s much easier then to see the gaps

Yes, Jane, I can get on board with this method, because my goal is a story, not a full database.

I like to try to fill in the gaps in my research. Often when traditional family history records leave gaps you can fill them using newspapers. DNA has helped me also

Love me a good timeline! Plus checklists, making sure I’ve covered at least all the basics.

For brickwalls I use mindmaps (from FreeMind) to review and identify what I might have missed

I love creating mind maps. I picked up that tip at Rootstech a few years ago. It’s amazing what can jump out at you as missing

Mindmapping – you could do this with pencil and paper I’ve also used Freemind Mindmaps for preparing museum exhibitions What’s really nice is that you can collapse sections or open then up

Using a research log or prompt sheet can help to identify gaps

To visualise gaps in tree … the DNAPainter ‘Ancestral Trees’ function enables you to visualise tree completeness so you can decide where in your tree you may want to focus next –

I create detailed timelines for individuals and families – it’s a great way of spotting both gaps and connections I hadn’t noticed before. Creating bios for Wikitree also made me go back and look for things I’d missed, so I could tell a coherent story

As Australia doesn’t have its census records available, we have to utilise different record sets and not get caught in the decennial gap trap.

Identifying gaps in our research is important if we’re to gain a full view of the lives of our ancestors. Learning what records are available for place and time, and using them, is critical.

I find using a spreadsheet to set down timelines of each person useful. Columns represent list of possible records they would be in, when I locate I tick it in the column. Records BMD parish records and census.

As with so much in family history, it’s finding what is most intuitive for each of us that helps productivity.

When looking at gaps in our research we need to look at regional, national and world events to see how they affected our families.

Ancestry’s DNA match colour coding and DNA Painter’s chromosome mapping have filled gaps for me

When new records become available work through them to ensure you have not missed someone GRO site helped me

I use timelines. I include place as well as dates. For example, is it possible that my research people were in e.g. New York for 1910 census and then enumerated in England a few months later in 1911? (Yes, it is, but confirming it opened new avenues)

Yeah Sophie’s “negative space” is basically the same idea, although her approach is more colourful. I’d like to be able to do a 3-D version that layers people on top of time/place. Best I can do for that is Visio/process maps

Visio is a lovely little microsoft package – very easy to use. I also use it for presenting smaller family trees – extracts

It was inspiration from the talk given by @ScientistSoph on Negative Space that really started me thinking more about this topic, including mapping events. Read her blog post here.…

timelines are really helpful, as is writing up a person’s life. Often realise I’m missing something crucial.

Interesting how many of us find narratives helpful to identify missing research.

I tag my Legacy trees as I find supporting sources so I know which ones I need to find.

i do a timeline sheet in my Research Log (Excel). I add date in first column then age, event and place for each person in the family with a diff colour for each person. Then i can scroll and see where each family member was on a date.

Different formats for diff research questions, but usually just a table in a Word document – year in one column, date in next, then a text field with whatever info I want to record. I find that little bit of visual organisation just enough to work for me

Ancestry’s DNA match colour coding and DNA Painter’s chromosome mapping have filled gaps for me

Yes … Delay no further! DNAPainter has so many useful tools and functions to help find and fill gaps in our research

I have loved DNA painter since Jonny Perl first introduced it at a RootsTech conference. He is brilliant

something I do with my students often is get them to fill out a blank direct ancestor tree just to see where they’re missing bits.

viarami / Pixabay

Do you use a timeline to identify research gaps? Do you use your genealogy program, Excel or another program?

I use mainly Legacy but sometimes go with spread sheet

Funny you mention it, because I created one today about a great grandfather, using a table in WORD. I’m including citations from the many sources I have found about him. He never seemed to stay in one place for long – trying to put all the pieces together.

Those wanderers can be a lot of work to trace. I have a few of those. Timelines do help to see where they’ve been

I have a bigamist who disappears after he serves time in Victoria. Not found anywhere yet.

I suspect some bigamy with my American born Adams 2xgt gddad too. Disappears from Grafton & NSW. Then emerged close & shared DNA matches descended from Tassie man of same name who appeared in Tassie little after Grafton man disappeared. Same man or close family?

I find that now I am writing up the family histories (part of my downsizing project) I am finding gaps and then I just fill them as I go. If I can

Yes writing narratives is a great way to find gaps in information … it also helps to spot inconsistencies in the information you have too

I can be in the middle of a blog post about an ancestor and realise I have a gap. Then it’s off down a rabbit hole before I finish the blog post. That’s where I am now

Writing is the best way to spot gaps! Writing seems to trigger all sorts of analytical processes in your brain that regular research does not.

Yes, and why it takes me so long to finish a blog post, let alone a research report for myself (loved your presentation on that!)

I found an infant death in Ireland following naming patterns and a gap in the births.

Tracing 19th century Aussie wanderers, it’s helpful to put the gold rushes on the timeline. A ‘missing’ person may have gone to try their luck. Check other colonies.

Good tip Brooke to add to the timeline. Also perhaps expansion of an occupation eg railway construction?

Gold rushes impacted just about everybody’s family – follow the gold. One of mine moved from Sydney to Victorian goldfields then up to the Gympie rushes in Queensland and finally over to the Western Australian gold rush. Over generations and not all moved.

Yes, my West Coast NZ gold rush ancestors all started mining life in Victoria. Most of them left family there, though contact has been mostly lost. I hope to re-establish some one day!

Another one of my mining families ducked across to Reefton for a while then back to Queensland. Have to look both sides of the Tasman

I realised one of mine did when I mapped the births of all his (many) children. Another way of spotting gaps. Map the babies.

This timeline was created for a specific research question: where was she living when she got pregnant with her children who were born out of wedlock? The timeline helped me formulate a hypothesis about the probable father, later confirmed with DNA.

My genealogy program allows you to export any query to a spreadsheet so you can work on it outside the program

Freemind is what I use for MindMaps…

Timeline but also my online tree with Ancestry where I can see on their facts or story what might be missing

Also when I write my biographies I have particular sections of their life to include which means I might need to do more research with newspapers etc to find that info

combination of Excel for checklist and offline family tree program for timeline. This then helps with writing up in more details in a blog.

If I’m looking at a timeline, I will use Excel to analyse what I have and what I’m missing. I always use date, month, year in separate columns. Alternatively I use Word document gaps. I don’t use my genealogy program for this.

my genealogy program is good for seeing gaps in the research plus you can add notes and reminders. I used to have lots of sticky yellow notes but using a program helps keep me focused.

I will write or look for other queries to identify other gaps once I have added census information

While I don’t always use a timeline I do identify gaps as I write up my research. I am using a timeline for my troublesome McSherry family. I also compare my checklist of record sources to see what I might have missed.

I’m constantly using timelines and use Legacy family history software. Occasionally I use excel for timelines

I look at my genealogy software & files for reference, but I create it in MS Word.

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What key facts do you include in your timeline? What records do you use to fill the gaps?

vital records (including addresses/occupations on children’s births), the census, any known migrations.

after looking at all possible records I then look at newspapers and overseas records. Sometimes the ancestor could be a witness or informant in a record.

BDM, children, grave or cremation, residences, any info from Rolls or Census records, newspaper stories

It depends on time period – early 19c Irish ag lab/working class leave very little trace in records so there are often big gaps, especially if they never married/had kids. Newspapers/migration/institutional records may fill gaps but often have to accept gaps

If I could just fill in the gaps in my lots of Irish ancestry I would be very happy. Wills have been useful

If you can find them, if they survive – I’ve yet to find more than a calendar entry and that for only a handful of people. The swines!

So inconsiderate of them! 🙂 I got my English 4GGF’s will. One line sums it up: “to my beloved wife, executor of this will, all my assets” – thanks Grandpa!! 😀

I like to record as many facts as possible in my timelines from cradle to the grave. I also include major events like war, famine, depression, pandemics. These events can trigger ideas for more records to search

If I am trying to find someone who is missing I will search in Newspapers or look for them travelling

Censuses and BDMs are the anchor points. Otherwise it could be anything – church records, entries in the street directory, newspaper reports, appearances as witnesses/registrants on other BDMs, court records – as long as it can be tied to a date

I like to track my ancestors’ locations, and kin, where possible to get a full picture of their lives. For immigrant ancestors I also want their immigration records – where available.

At the moment I’m including day, month, year, event, location, notes and citation. I’ve used newspaper articles, police records/gazettes, BMD certificates, electoral rolls. The guy I am researching went interstate and overseas enough to confuse us all!

Birth, Deaths Marriages, other key events in the life of the person. Also historical events at a certain time, for context

Trove is great for filling gaps we didn’t know we had – totally unexpected events and activities. I like to use Education, land, occupation, military records, immigration, clubs/societies inter alia.

I include every event for which I know a time and place for that ancestor. So vital events, military service, prison time, births of children, etc.

My excel sheet columns include for the names such First & Mid Name, Last Name, Full Name then vital record dates. The ID for the person. I split the dates to a columns for date, month and year. Finally the columns for the specific data I’m working with

vital records (including addresses/occupations on children’s births), the census, any known migrations

www_slon_pics / Pixabay

Can you give examples where you or others have successfully plugged research gaps?

One thing that timelines can hide is contradictory activities. eg An ancestor is recorded being in one place for his child’s birth, & having a business. a legal case showed he was also working on the gold fields a distance away: there were regular coaches.

lots of those for my Dickson family. Currently working on Rev Dr David Dickson’s children A few more than in official bios

I used timelines to disprove a family legend (two men) but extending the FAN (family, associates, neighbours) research actually demonstrated there was a foundation for the legend – multiple timelines.

another TL piece: sometimes, not often, RC priests recorded both birth and baptismal dates. RC baptisms usually took place ASAP but there was a 6 week gap. Made me look more closely at godparents. They’d travelled quite a distance, another chink in brickwall

I used timelines to disprove a family legend (two men) but extending the FAN (family, associates, neighbours) research actually demonstrated there was a foundation for the legend – multiple timelines.

Our genimate @luvviealex wrote recently about her life in 12 censuses. It made me think more closely about my own presence in the records and how I wish I’d been able to see my parents’ and grandparents’ census returns.

Tried this today in a timeline but discovered it left out great chunks of our lives even our overseas postings, seems we were always in Aus. Made me think of ancestors gaps

Exactly! I don’t want to share all the nitty gritty but I think it can help highlight the challenge for the next couple of generations while privacy rules apply.

How cool! I have never been enumerated in a census in my life. The Netherlands stopped taking them in 1971 since we have a continuous population registration and they know where we live. 👀

Using DNA Trove BDMs to help adoptees to find their bio families and Collins Leeds method too

My longest running project is the collection of Electoral Data from NZers in my tree. Add another cousin to my tree creates gaps for Electoral Roll entries. Having such a large collection of addresses helps with a diverse range of other research questions

Trying to find out what happened to a woman from when she returned to Scotland in 1868 until her death. For that time period looked at censuses, deaths in her family & mapped them in time & space. Found her. Went to live with her son in England & she died there.

Timelines have been very useful me to find out where ancestors were fighting during WW1. I start with enlistment date and place and then do a timeline of their war service

I hadn’t thought do to a wartime timeline. what a great idea @SharnWhite I intend to do it

It helps to know what battles to research Jennifer and what war diaries to look for

It is always worth looking to see if there were births before a marriage one turned up this week not a relative but the person they married was

I have been trying to find out how a man in Bathurst met a woman in Hill End and how she had 4 children to him. There were no family connections between the places. Today I found on Trove his license to drive a coach from Bathurst to Hill End.  Yes unfortunately he never married her. I must do a timeline to see if his coach trips coincide with the births! I expect they did

Doing a timeline of where members of a family were in census records helped me to find a missing person

I find researching between the census records for missing children has turned up a few who died young

using census records – when I can’t find them I try all variants – Price was indexed as Grice – sometimes gaps are caused by indexing errors, bad handwriting or human error

Or search by a family member with the most distinctive first name. That worked for me.

All of my ancestors start in UK. When they emigrated to New Zealand, I found them passenger lists and rest of the information in the newspapers, even when they then moved to North America, especially the journalist ancestor, which was the subject of my blog

I’ve set up web pages with blog post sections for all my ancestral lines- sometimes cousins read these and make suggestions that I’ve missed something or drawn a wrong conclusion

My ancestors lived in a place in the Netherlands that kept mill tax records in 1700s that listed everyone in the household. I used these to see when children entered the household and prove that one child was baptized under a different name than used later.

I’m using a spreadsheet of every single event I can find for my McSherry family in the hope of breaking down my mysteries. Very clear for a 25 year block, then nada.

Timelines + checklists = winner!

Blog posts relating to the topic

Kerrie Anne – using mindmaps,

Alex – my life in censuses,

Legacy – mindmaps webinar,

Sue – examples of biographies written,

Readers: How do you find the gaps in your research? How do you find the info to fill those gaps?

How do you keep a record of your research?

This week #ANZAncestryTime chat looked at Family Tree software and online tree services.

  1. For your main family tree, what software or online tree service do you use and why?
  2. What other software or online tree services do you use or have used for your family tree and why?
  3. What important features or functionality do you look for when choosing a home for your main family tree?
  4. Do you prefer a program that interacts with online services such as FamilySearch, Ancestry, etc?

Some participants have their main tree offline on their home computers, but might have a basic pedigree type tree on online websites. But if they have DNA tested they have a well built tree on the site where they tested as well as a GEDCOM uploaded on other sites where they have also uploaded their raw DNA data.

jplenio / Pixabay

Main online websites for creating and/or uploading trees: Ancestry, MyHeritage, FindMyPast, FamilySearch, WikiTree, Family Tree DNA

Offline family history software: Family Historian, Legacy, Family Tree Maker, RootsMagic,

Allie: Offline I use Family Historian, having tried out a few different ones. I have bits of my tree online, as a back up of sorts and to take advantage of record hints, but they are all private. Also have part of my tree publicly on WikiTree.

Maggie: I use Family Historian, but really only for generating large charts. I should spend a bit more time getting to grips with it.

Allie: Tbh I tend to put my research mainly into documents rather than the software, but it’s useful for quick reference and producing gedcoms. I probably don’t use a tenth of the features.

Pauleen: Ah, another narrative person 🙂

Allie: Definitely! I use a combination of text, timelines and tables depending on what I’m researching, I find it a much clearer way of recording the info as I go and easier to pick up again when I come back. Gedcoms are more of a quick reference tool for me.

Pauleen: Strange as it may seem I really don’t like FH software much except for the basic genealogy descendancy. The software makes me feel boxed in and I prefer narrative and using spreadsheets etc as tools. DNA, on the other hand, necessitates using a tree.

Michelle: I use the Person Notes space in FTM to write a biographical narrative and the Research Notes space for thoughts observations, questions, hypotheses etc Combined with timeline view and task list it keeps me on track even if I have a break from it 🙂

Michelle: It is much easier to find errors and do data cleanup in the offline tree and then I can just push the changes to my online tree. So much better for consistency.

Michelle: I like my offline tree for confidentiality, to keep sensitive information private and to store images/documents that are subject to copyright. I like the online tree for DNA matches, collaboration. I prefer offline tree for ability to group, filter and colour code people, generate reports, find errors and do database cleanup, see linkages between people by location. Lots of power that the online sites don’t have.

ANZ: Sometimes it’s best to stay with what you know. It’s so time consuming to learn a new program entirely I’ve found

Hilary: I am trying to update my file with better sourcing so trying to figure out how best to do it before I add too much not quite there yet

Michelle: It is definitely worth doing. I restarted my tree a couple of times in RootsMagic as I learnt more about how it handled citations and decided I wanted to change how I had set them up.

There was quite a bit of discussion about how to add weblinks to Ancestry so you can extend the story with other sources than those provided by Ancestry.

Dara: I do that occasionally too, though not consistently. Must get better at it !

Sue: I try to research one person at a time and after putting in basics look for newspapers etc and include links straight away before I forget. Do that with library clients as well so they get whole story.

Jennifer: There is so much I need to learn about Ancestry. I don’t spend much time there at the moment mainly due to the dreaded time issues

Sue: Also add Trove article URLs to same place as web links

Jane: I sometimes add links to images of a record from FindMyPast where Ancestry has the record but not the image

Sue: I add those weblinks so anyone checking the profile of person they are researching known I have done lots of research on my own not just relying on Ancestry hints.

Jennifer: I’m using Legacy and their Timelines work well. The early FTM had great time lines. I haven’t used the later versions so unsure

Dara: I started with Legacy, easy to use. Now I use Ancestry as my main ‘tree’, but I don’t usually attach sources. I save them down in my ‘filing system’, which acts as my pedigree chart.

Jane: I do tend to work in Ancestry and sync to Family Tree Maker rather than vice versa. I should take some time to learn to use FTM more proficiently rather than just using it as a syncing and merging tool

Pauleen: One reason for choosing RootsMagic was its online links. However I don’t load my tree from there to Ancestry etc. I don’t load sources found elsewhere into Ancestry, just the ones on their site. I prefer to keep my sources and data separate to my software.

Hilary: I prefer a standalone desktop program as less risk of introducing errors. My software has good matching capability which is one of the reasons I like it

Jane: Sometimes it gets to the point where the additional trees at places like GEDmatch etc. are best taken down and a new more up-to-date GEDcom uploaded from your main tree

Hilary: I love @WikiTreers as it allows a narrative and photographs to be added that I have control over so is main place for my online tree I can also add links to blogposts

Jennifer: I keep saying that I must check out wikitree. Time always seems to get in the way, but I’m putting it at the top of that ever growing list

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Fran: Yes the online trees are great if you are sharing / collaborating with family in distant places.

Fran: Ancestry has got us more entwined with trees and DNA as we get more matches.

Sue: I only put public tree on Ancestry when I was doing DNA, prior to that, kept on my computer and rellies could request charts etc especially as they had helped with data at family reunions

Sue: Where is everyone else? on Ancestry, also where I have DNA tested lots of rellies, great hints, ability to add sources and weblinks as well as add to a timeline. Great support help area

Allie: Ease of use. I like software that is easy to navigate and fairly intuitive/WYSIWYG. I’m not going to be using it much for anything other than producing gedcoms & recording sources, so lots of extras like reports, charts and maps aren’t that important to me.

Maggie: I look for ease of use, good search facility, reporting features. Plus good support from company.

Jennifer: I was drawn to Legacy because of their sources capability. It took me ages to get my head around how to use it. When I was almost about to give up I figured it out and know that I made the right choice for me.

Margaret: I was talking about merging FamilySearch entries within the Legacy FamilySearch box as against going to the website and doing it. Merge in Legacy is easy.

Pauleen: Confidentiality, compatibility with online databases and especially flexibility in relationships. Same sex marriages, pre-marriage childbirth, divorce and separation are part of many families

ANZ: I tried out the My Heritage app recently and liked it. I use family search and Ancestry apps regularly

Fran: I also use Family Tree Maker with it linked to Ancestry and Family Search. It’s linked to various persons DNA i manage. Plus I save Ancestry sources I find – good when I do not have time to source immediately. Risky however better than not saving them at all.

Jane: I used to use Legacy years ago and really liked using it but in recent times I have switched to Family Tree Maker because of the way it syncs with Ancestry. My Ancestry tree has a very broad base with lots of DNA matches connected

Fran: Moved back to Reunion when the app came out. Like having everything on my ipad when I go away. Before I used to duplicate all the sources on Evernote with digital images so needed the paid version. Evernote had a big price increase so it cemented the change.

Maggie: Use Heredis for some of its reporting features, plus Family Historian for when I want to print large family trees. Use online private unsearchable trees on Ancestry for figuring out DNA matches. Plan to put a basic tree up on Findmypast.

ScottishPerson / Pixabay

ANZ: I found Legacy really difficult for a while. While in lockdown I decided to learn it properly instead of just trying to wing it. I love it now that I know what I’m doing

Jane: Main tree on Ancestry synced with Family Tree Maker on laptop. Smaller direct line tree in a few other places e.g., FindMyPast, MyHeritage …

Sue: I have main tree on Ancestry but basic trees for DNA mainly on MyHeritage, Family Search, FTDNA. Often just pedigree trees then as match made, add to the tree

Margaret: A lot of my work is added to @wikitree. I spend a lot of time correcting entries on FamilySearch. So I have trees there as part of the global trees

Jennifer: I have a basic outline of my tree online at @Ancestry and @FamilySearch mainly for the hints and as cousin bait. I do it because I know I should, not really because I want to

Margaret: I use Legacy for all my many trees offline. It syncs to FamilySearch. I load Gedcoms elsewhere. I contribute to my nephew’s research tree on Ancestry (back that up to my computer)

Sandra: I use RootsMagic for my offline tree because it’s simple and easy to use and reasonably priced. I have 2 trees on Ancestry, one is for DNA matches and one for general research.

Hilary: I have my own database that can’t be altered by others on my computer but find collaborative sites good for cousin connections

Fran: for my main tree I use Reunion on my Mac. It suits my lazy sourcing, images collections, transcripts and more. It is not connected to any online service so is a secure as my computer

Pauleen: When so many people had my tree online I defaulted and made mine public on Ancestry. I find it useful as a reference and as a way for people to see how my DNA links. I use RootsMagic offline which can sync with Ancestry.

Sue: I used to have The Master Genealogist but since it is not updated I moved it all to both Ancestry (Online) and Legacy (on my laptop) I add to the one on Ancestry more than Legacy

Readers: How do you keep a record of your research? Do you have it online or solely offline?