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The Joys of Inveterate Button Pushing

Genealogy Essays:

Recording Adoptions
How do you draw adopted children in a family tree? (2011)

Those Elusive Edes
9 lessons learned about finding people in the census. (2009)

The Joys of Inveterate Button Pushing (2004)

Who's Your Daddy?
Genealogy versus family history. (2004)

Suspicion Meters
Your program doesn't have one, but you do. (2004)

Estimating Dates (2002)

A cautionary tale (2002)

Count Your Blessings
1988 and now (2002)

The Grand Chase
How my individuals connect (2002)

What makes a family? (2001)

A genalogical detective story (2000)

Eben J. Cady
Musing about a tombstone (2000)

Related Sections:
Main Genealogy Page
Beginning Genealogy
Intermediate Genealogy
Biography questions

Other Sections:
Christmas Letters
Misc. Essays
Peace Corps
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(This article appeared in RootsWeb Review, 1 December 2004. Jerald Wyssman, my third cousin, helped write it.)

I love to push buttons to see what will happen. Sometimes this leads me to wonderful discoveries. Sometimes it doesn't.

Several years ago four people I work with went to lunch together in one lady's car. She knew me. I pushed the "Open sunroof" button just as she was saying, "Please don't push any buttons." Her husband had been meaning to fix the problem in the "Close sunroof" button for a month. My mistake and the rain that weekend just gave him an incentive.

Most genealogy programs have a number of features some users haven't discovered because they don't push enough buttons. Reports, for instance. Most people will generate "Descendants of" or "Ancestors of" reports and let it go at that. However, there are other, very helpful reports hidden in your program.

Your program probably has a data-checking report. In Family Origins for Windows, and its successor, Roots Magic, the report is called "Problems." If you push the right buttons, it will list all of the problems it can find in your data. (In Family Origins, click on Reports -> Lists -> Problem List.)

It can't find white people born in Ohio before 1797, but it can find women who married or had children before age 15 and men who married before age 16. It lists people who were buried before they died, married after they were buried, born after they died and so forth. Most of the errors it catches are typos, like the man I had who lived to be 1,772. He was born in 1888 and died in 1960, but I had his birth year as "188." If someone lives 1780-1850, but gets typed as 1780-1750 or 1880-1850, he dies before he was born. The report lists the odd facts as "problems," not "errors." Some of my ancestors married at 14, some had children before they were married and a few were born after their father died.

Whenever someone sends me a GEDCOM, I import it into its own temporary data base (file) and run the problem report on it, then send a copy to the person who sent me the GEDCOM. They are usually amazed at how wildly their fingers flew.

For example, my third cousin recently sent me a GEDCOM of Wyssmann descendants. I ran the problem report. One of our cousins married in 1955 and had children born in 1957, 1959 and 1960, as average as you could be. They probably drove a Chevrolet and drank Budweiser beer. However, someone's fingers had slipped to the right and entered their marriage year as 1966 instead of 1955. There they were, according to the GEDCOM, living in Oklahoma and going to the Lutheran church with three children born out of wedlock, as brazen as Hollywood movie stars. The problem report highlighted them and we fixed the error.

Your genealogy program should have a similar report, even if it isn't named "Problems." Poke around; push some buttons.

Jerald Wyssman adds:
I use Family Tree Maker (v.9). To generate an error report in it, click on View -> Reports -> Data Errors. I find this report helpful. There are other reports to choose from, including a customized one.

Why hadn't I used that feature before, you ask? The answer is that I did not find the time to study the 200-plus-page manual; I seem to go for the sure thing and I am not a "button pusher." I guess that comes from growing up on a farm around large machinery. You don't just push a button to see what happens -- it's dangerous and expensive.

Ted again:
Many websites have features you can discover by clicking, Take one of the most popular genealogy sites on the net, the IGI portion of the Church of the Latter-day Saints (LDS) mega-site at: familysearch.org.

A gentleman on the CADY mailing list was looking for information about Reuben Cady, born in Vermont in 1816. I found Reuben on the IGI, born 27 August 1816 in Ludlow Township, Windsor, Vermont. His father was Reuben too. The citation is for ". . . birth information from statewide indexes for Vermont . . ." Reuben is in batch 7450044. If you click on the batch number down at the bottom of the screen, you get a new, slightly different form with the batch number and region obligingly filled in. This form, unlike the main one, lets you fill in the surname and father's name alone. With Reuben I found four births:

ZILLAH LEONORA CADY -- 15 JUL 1811 Ludlow Twp., Windsor, Vermont
MILTON SMITH CADY -- 25 OCT 1812 Ludlow Twp., Windsor, Vermont
NATHAN MACKINSTRY CADY -- 13 JUL 1814 Ludlow Twp., Windsor, Vermont
REUBEN PAIN CADY -- 27 AUG 1816 Ludlow Twp., Windsor, Vermont

They are all Cadys, their father is Reuben, and they were born in a pattern that suggests -- not proves -- they are siblings. If the record extraction includes the mother's maiden name, you can add it to the search arguments and be 80 percent sure you have siblings.

If you try to find people with last name (surname) and parents' names alone in the main "Search" form, you get the error message, "If you enter a last name without a first name, you must not fill in any other field except a country."

I found the specialized form by being curious -- and pushing buttons.

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This page updated: June 21, 2014