Here is a summary of our most recent Genealogy Program at the Schaumburg Township District Library on Tuesday evening, August 9, 2011. Our guest speaker for the evening was Ginger Frere. Ginger presented a program titled “Searching Electronic Databases”.
Ginger was kind enough to allow me to post her handout she provided at the program onto this blog post. You can access this handout here:
We had a great turnout for this late-Summer program. We had 72 participants in attendance! Whenever Ginger makes a speaking appearance at our library, attendance really jumps up. Ginger, I hope you realize how popular you are and how good your programs are!!
I started the program at 7:30 PM with the introduction of new participants. We had an incredible 13 new participants who shared with all of us their name, their description of the their newness to genealogy and some of the surnames they were researching. Each new participant received a Welcome package from me with some good tips on how to move forward on their research journey using a variety of resources both within and outside our library.
I indicated to the group that I would like to forego reviewing some of the handout material so that we could get to our speaker by 7:45 PM rather than 8:00 PM and allow more un-rushed time after the speaker should anyone want to talk to me or the speaker. Because the material is all available online everyone can take a deeper look at it on their own. I just briefly reviewed some upcoming program dates and topics for a variety of groups in the area.
Please feel free to ask me any questions you may have on the material contained in the Newsletter or the Handout material.
Ginger then started her presentation at around 8:00 PM, a little later than I had hoped, but this was due to the high amount of new participants I had introduce themselves to all of us. Starting a little later was fine as long as we could all hear from our new participants.
Please take a good look at the handout higher up in this post that Ginger allowed to include in this post. It is a good guide to help you in your own use of online databases. Give the suggestions provided by Ginger a try. It still may not be easy but then again where has genealogy research ever been that easy!!
Ginger indicated that there are generally 4 types of databases to search. These would be:
- Full Text
- Think of bibliographic like a library online catalog in which you are trying to find some book material.
Think of full text databases as the Chicago Tribune Historical Archive in which you may be researching newspapers that have been digitized and have an all word index because the full text of the paper is in the database.
Think of abstract databases as a short version of full text. Perhaps only a small summary of a full text item is what has been “abstracted”. Your searching of these abstracts will only give you results if your search term word is contained in the abstract. If you get hits as abstracts you will have the hope that the full text of the material may contain further information for you to discover.
The Data Database is what we all like to search to find the details on our ancestors. Think of the Census data from Ancestry.com. Think of graves found in FindAGrave. Each of these databases may have different methods to search them because the data contained in each differs from each.
Ginger provided some great background material on becoming aware of how to best access material in a database. She also indicated how important it is to know something about the database in general. Very often this information is contained in a text description from the provider of the database in text format as a general description of the material. Discover such things as:
- Who Created the Database?
- What’s Included?
- How Often Is It Updated?
- What Features Does It Provide?
Just knowing some of the basics like the above can often answer why you may not have been having any successful discoveries from the database. If the database contains birth information up until 1875 and your grandfather was born in 1882 then that would explain why you are not finding information on your grandfather. If the database is only 7% completed, that may explain why you are not finding anything and will need to return at a future date to try again. If the database is intended to have a certain kind of information covering all Illinois counties but Cook County is not yet included, that may explain why you are not finding your Cook County ancestors.
Know the database you are searching and what is in it and what is not in it when you are searching.
Ginger also gave us some background on tools that are available to use within the database that we often do not take advantage of. Tools such as Plurals, Truncations and Wildcards. Again, know the database and the Tools that are available for using or are not available. A good database provider will indicate all of this at the beginning of the database or under a “help” link that will give all of the details. Look for this help.
If you can use Plurals, Truncation or Wildcards then learn how to use these. Know the symbols to use and the manner to use them. Plurals may allow you to find “apple” or “apples” by inserting a “+” sign in your search term.
Truncation will allow you to retrieve multiple hits without having to enter in multiple search terms. If you enter in “genealog*” you will get hots for all words that being with the letters “genealog”. So you will find genealogy, genealogist, and genealogies. Learn how the database requires you to use this tool. In one search you can get all of your hits that may apply to your research.
Wild Card searching can be great for surnames in which you have seen many ways to discover an ancestral name where one letter or multiple letters may have different occurrences. Ginger used the example of the surname “SMITH”. Maybe you have seen this as “SMYTH”. With Wildcard searching you can find all of the occurrences of either spelling by setting up a Wildcard search like “SM?TH”. The question mark symbol is often used but the database should spell out if some other symbol is used. For searching Polish females in my own research, their surname often reflects the feminized naming conventions. A Polish female name often ends in the letter “a”. If I were looking for “SANTOWSKI” I may want to consider also looking for “SANTOWSKA”. I could do each search on its own and discover the results but with wildcard searching I can get all of the results for both in one search by setting it up as “SANTOWSK?”.
Ginger also provided us with insight on using Boolean operators within database searches. We all know this more as using “AND”, “OR” or “NOT” commands within our searches. Some databases imply an AND command if you enter in multiple words without them being in quotes. Again, know the database and what it does.
Ginger also emphasized that it is important that we do not enter in too many terms in our search, especially using AND because if any one is not contained for your ancestor then you will not get a “hit” on your ancestor and think that your ancestor is not in the database. Always start with the “broadest” and simplest search first using maybe a SURNAME. If you get thousands of hits then start adding in additional search terms like YEAR OF BIRTH or IMMIGRATION YEAR or OCCUPATION or COUNTRY BORN. These search capabilities often give you the ability to specify a range of years for birth or immigration. Take advantage of using this range because even though you may be sure of when your ancestor was born, how it was recorded on the documents that comprise the database may be an entirely different story.
Ginger ended her presentation at around 9:05 PM and stayed until about 9:30 PM addressing questions from those that spoke to her directly after the program itself was completed.
Our thanks go to Ginger for coming out to give us a great overview of accessing databases in an effective and efficient manner. The data you seek may be in the database but it does not often give up the material as easily as we would hope. With Ginger’s insights your successful searching may greatly improve.
Thank you again to Ginger for also allowing me to post your handout of the program in my blog. You are so gracious to allow us all to benefit from your handout.
Incorporate Ginger’s suggestions into your research. Learn from the expert!
Good luck with all of your future searching!!
Schaumburg Township District Library