When to enter data into your Genealogy Software?

Since returning from Roots Tech 2012, the above question has been on my mind. In reading Blog posts this morning, I ran across this:

Michael Hait, “What is a conclusion?,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 20 February 2012 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed 02/20/12)

Actually, this issue, for me, has been around for a while. There are terms that are used within the genealogy community that I am trying to understand. Terms like Conclusion Person, Evidence Person are the other terms that I have been wrestling with.

In Michael’s blog, he makes this statement: “every fact is a conclusion”. There is where my question comes into play as the subject of this blog post.

While working with two friends and Genea-Bloggers, I realize that they enter data into their genealogy software different that what I do. I suspect that the Conclusion Person, and Evidence Person terms fall into about the same area.

Michael goes on to talk about “reasonably exhaustive search”. I have listened to him talk about that topic as well. I think that Dr. Thomas Jones, in the Inferential Genealogy program, that I have blogged about is the same subject, just a different title.

While at Roots Tech, I think I understand why I enter my data into my software as soon as I find it. It appears that my two blogging friends may not enter the data as soon as they find it. But backing up a moment, I think it may be that I started doing my family research and documenting it, with a genealogy software database. The other terms mentioned above came from work done as Genealogy Software was first being developed. I think that point would have been when PAF was the only game in town.

So, the question remains, When to enter data, and maybe what data, into my program. Every fact that I enter into my program is NOT a conclusion. I may never have a conclusion. In my “reasonably exhaustive search” I am collecting evidence as I go, in hope that I am able to reach a conclusion. But I can not say that everything I enter is a conclusion. So, does that mean that I don’t enter that data into my program.

To be fair, maybe the other issue here is that “they” are professionals, and I am a hobbiest. I am trying to find the stories about my family / ancestors.

The only way I can look toward a conclusion, is by looking at the evidence that I have found along the way. What records have I looked at, what did I see, have I looked everywhere? I record and cite the data and review that data. Look for conflicting information, information that doesn’t look right, but, for me, my program lets me SEE what I have collected. It also allows me to select the “preferred” fact. That would be the current Conclusion for that fact, but it may change with the next record I find, in my journey toward the reasonably exhaustive search.

From what I can tell, my two Genea-Blogging friends may NOT enter each bit of information that they find. I don’t know for sure, but that it what it appears to have happened.

Perhaps the real issue is the Genealogy Pre and Post Genealogy Software programs. I can see that in the many family group sheets that a cousin shared with me. Nicely hand written or typed, then one could say that what was on the family group sheet was full of Conclusions.

My question is, When do I enter data into my software? I guess that would also mean What Information goes there. OR am I confused between the Paper world of family research or the Paperless world of family research. OR is it that the professionals have an “end” to their research, for a client for example, and my work may never be “done”. I am still looking for more about the people hanging out in my tree.

Still would like to know what an Evidence Person is, and a Conclusion Person is, with the Genealogy Software Programs that we have available. OR should I just not worry about it.

I would be very interested in hearing other’s take on this “data entry” topic, either in comments here, email to me, or in your own Blog.

Thanks for listening.


44 Responses to When to enter data into your Genealogy Software?

  1. This is a great question! When I first started on my family genealogy, I entered literally every scrap of data I could find into a database, just to keep track of it. My original database included every cousin, nephew, niece, brother, sister, etc. that I could track down, including as much of their data (dates, etc) as was available. I have since gone the “clean data” route, meaning I started a new tree that only includes direct ancestors, and data that has actually been sourced/proven. The clean tree, as I call it, is the one I sync to on ancestry.com, and I use the other one just to keep track of random facts. Actually, I haven’t entered much into the original database so it’s pretty outdated. I like to think of it as a scratch pad of sorts.
    So basically, I’ve tried it both ways, and I think both methods have merit.

    • Karen,

      Thank you for your comments.

      I have kept one file, probably like your original database, but it is the one that I will keep. There are some interesting characters hanging out in this tree.

      Again, Thank you,


  2. Susan Clark says:

    I’ve two approaches, depending on whether I’m certain the data is for the “correct” person. If it’s for one of the folks I am sure I can identify (ie not for a John Jones) then the data goes into the database with source.

    However, there are many people I’m researching with common names where it is not at all clear the data is referring to the individual I am researching. In that case the data goes into a surname research log spreadsheet. When I feel sure (and here a conclusion has been made) I’ve a piece of information about the correct individual that data is entered into the database.

    The database is still just a tool to collect information. It doesn’t make conclusions. I haven’t fully evaluated it all as I don’t consider the project(s) complete. Like you, I’m focused on my own family. There is no stopping point. It’s a snapshot of my research at the moment.

    When I write about an individual (usually for the blog or in response to a request from someone else) I do evaluate the data I’ve collected. But it’s the writing process – the laying out the data and sources myself in coherent paragraphs – where the analysis takes place and conclusions are drawn.

    • Susan,

      What a great response and very helpful to me. I like the idea of that external spreadsheet. In fact, I started that way, but was quickly able to establish 4 database files, as I was able to identify 4 very different Surnames who entered the colonies. I do still have a couple of folks that I don’t have enough information on to put them into one of the files. I’ll have to think a little more about that spreadsheet idea.

      But your statement about the database being a tool was very helpful and it’s in the writing process is where what Michael’s blog post was talking about.

      Thank you very much.


  3. I put absolutely everything into my database because if I don’t, I’ll lose track of it. That is not to say that everything goes in as a proven fact. I agree with Susan – the database is the tool to collect information, conclusions are what you make after analyzing that information.

    I use research notes, private events/facts, the “to do list” function and unlinked people/families to organize my findings until a conclusion is researched. Waiting until something is proven to add it to a database seems like a serious waste of a genealogy program’s functionality to me. Most genealogy software can organize and track your findings while you are doing that reasonably exhaustive search but it can’t do that unless you enter the data.

  4. Russ,

    That’s the problem with genealogy software today. It is person-based data entry. You add the infromation directly as “assumptions/conclusions” as you find them, and *if* you feel like it, you then add your source reference.

    I’m pushing the concept of source-based data entry. You enter your data first as source details, unconnected to your people. Then you find the people, places, dates and events within those sources that may help assert or conflict with your current assumptions/conclusions. You then attach the source reference from the source to the individual and update your information about the person.

    No program today does that. This needs to change. I’ve got 5 boxes of source material waiting for me to enter it. I want to do it source by source – rigorously and not missing anything along the way.


    • Louis,

      As you might tell, some of our discussion over the past year or so on the BetterGEDCOM project is one of the drivers of my lack of understanding.

      My concern is, will our genealogy database management software change? From what I can tell, the major Windows Based programs and Mac Base programs use data entry about the same way, and not Source Based.

      In reality, in many cases, I do Source Based entry. I do start with the Source (let say a book). I create a Citation (page in the book) then I do link that to a Person and Event for that person. If that person isn’t in my file, I add them.

      Please understand, Louis, that I am a simple End User and not a developer.

      Thank you for your comments.


      • Russ.

        Your concern is: “will our genealogy database management software change?”

        See: http://www.beholdgenealogy.com/blog/?p=805


        • Louis,

          Will it change? Who knows?

          I am really looking for a good reason that is should change. I still don’t know the difference between Evidence Based vs Conclusion Based.

          I can contend that the way I enter data, its Evidence Based. I rarely am able to jump to a conclusion based on one Fact / Event that is based on a piece of Evidence that I find.

          I’ll check your blog entry shortly.

          I do appreciate your comments however.

          Thank you,


        • Louis,

          Read your blog post. Guess what, I do that now with my genealogy management program. I find a Census Record, generate a source for that Census Year, if I don’t already have one, generate a Citation for that specific Census Record (page), then link to, or add new Facts to the data found on that Census Record.

          I can always go back to my list of Sources, Citations for that Source, and see what Facts or Events are associated with that Citation.


        • Russ,

          So I look at how Family Historian does it, e.g. at:

          Are you saying you are able to enter the Source Record first, without the need to attach it to the Individual Record? If so, then you are doing source-based data entry.

          But if Family Historian requires that you enter the Individual Details first, and then select or create a source to attach to an event or fact, then you are not. You are doing Person-based data entry which requires you enter your conclusion prior to the source it came from.

          True source-based data entry should allow you to enter just sources, source details, and repository information. Theoretically you can enter all your sources first. Later you can go back and enter your conclusions from them.

          Do you see the subtle difference?

        • Louis,

          Rather then tell you, please check this blog post out.


          You will note that in that post I have NOT linked that Citation to any Fact / Event, but the Record is in my file.


        • Tim Forsythe says:

          Louis, Family Historian allows you to enter a source and all the data for the source (notes, citations, publisher, etc), but it does not allow adding claims directly from the source that can be linked to persons, which is what I gather you are proposing with Behold and promoting as a new and better paradigm. If so, I am completely on board with that. For my money that is the best possible way to enter genealogy data.

        • Russ:

          That example in Family Tree Maker is “almost” there. But it only allows entry of source-level information. It does not allow specific source-detail information within the source. You may find 100 items on one microfilm tape, but you only get the one entry.

          The data itself (with multimedia for it) should be able to be recorded on each source detail entry. These 100 source details would point to that one source.


          That’s the idea. I still am flexible on how to best implement it, so all your comments and suggestions are very much appreciated.

          I’ve followed your blog/GREnDL/Adam/VGed/Ancestorsnow with great interest for years. Why don’t you get more involved in BetterGEDCOM/FHISO/GedcomX etc.?


        • Louis,

          The intention of the Blog post was NOT to get to the Citation Level. In reality, when the process is complete I am able to add the Citation level, for Citation Details (film, roll, page), Citation Text (Record for … other details), and you see the Reference Note being developed as you go. ALL BEFORE you associate a Fact.

          Actually, the Web Merge process, does link to the Facts, but you can always add additional Facts once the Citation has been completed. There may be facts in a Census Record that are NOT included in the Web Merge process.

          For example, I have a cheat sheet for each Census Record that I have found. What data in on the Record and What fields do I want to capture. (by census year).

          Your 100 items on a microfilm, WOULD be ONE Source, with 100 Citations.

          Oh, did I mention that it requires very few keystrokes? Which to me is very few errors to correct. However, I DO review what as captured and manually add any Facts that ths process missed, based on my cheat sheet.

          My Application does this for me, and I don’t have to worry about the transfer of data between the website and my program. It also works with other websites, using a Web Clipping feature.

          Thank you for your comment.


        • Tim Forsythe says:

          Okay Gentlemen, I’ve thrown my hat in with my on post on this subject at http://ancestorsnow.com/press/news.php?item.50.1 . Spoiler: ANow has added support for displaying source claims.

        • Tim,

          Thank you for the link to your blog post.

          Discussion is always a good thing.


  5. Janet says:

    –To be fair, maybe the other issue here is that “they” are professionals, and I am a hobbiest. I am trying to find the stories about my family / ancestors.–
    Great Comment. I’m a committed family historian. I drive myself nuts trying to accurately find, name and cite Sources. I collect every scrap and never dismiss one that contradicts something I thought I knew. I enter everything and keep copious notes in my program. I follow professional genealogy blogs and Lists because I’m beyond the initial learning stage and believe I can learn much. But I’ve been thinking a lot about where to draw the line between my dedication, and a professional’s occupational responsibility to be meticulous about Citations, or how to find obscure records. That doesn’t mean I’m careless, or don’t want to know more, or that I don’t analyze what I think I know. But I catch myself criticizing myself because I’m not precise and professional…like a professional. Sounds like maybe I’m not alone.

  6. Jeff Hodge says:

    When I get a bit of information about a person, I enter it into my genealogy program. Example, if I first find a person, say 20 years old, in the 1860 census, I’ll enter a birthdate as a fact – born abt 1840. I’ll enter the source. If I find that person in the 1870 census and the birth calculates as “abt 1838” I would probably change my single birth fact to “abt 1839.” If I next find a Bible entry that says June 8, 1838, I will use that exact date for the birth. Again, all of these will have proper citations. And if the Bible entry looks like the 8 was written over by a 9, I will note that in the citation. The point is, I’m zeroing in – or perhaps circling around – the real birthdate. There’s only one birth per person and my job is to find it out. Collecting evidence and weighing it as I find it. If I wait until I’ve done that “reasonably exhaustive search,” I’ll never get much done, given that I have a full time job and I’ll probably have to work until I’m 75. Perhaps symantics is involved, too. Some genealogy software call these “facts” and some call them “events”. Also, importantly, I have a “source” that I simply call “Evidence analysis” with myself as the author. I can attach this source to a fact and explain my conclusion-in-progress.

  7. Comment from reading another Blog this morning.

    I was reading the Blogs that I follow and ran across this one.


    I hope that you take a moment to view it. I certainly hope that this topic did not cause the Genea-Blogger to make her Blog private and configure her Blog so that her followers can’t post comments.

    This topic has been hot and heavy this past day, but hope that the dialog didn’t cause her to take the steps that she did.

    Thank you,


  8. Tim Forsythe says:

    Russ, I am an evidence based person and like you enter the data as it comes in. I enter everything, even if I know it is absolutely wrong. Mind you, I include copious notes when there are conflicts and indicate when claims have been disproved. Like Loius Kessler suggested, I always enter the source first, and then go through the source looking for claims. Every claim is attached to a person and then gets a source reference. I’m not sure what software Louis uses, but I use Family Historian and it works well for this type of entry. My sources are also categorized based on these guidlines http://ancestorsnow.com/press/news.php?item.9.1 .

    Here is a profile page from my website showing a typical well documented ancestor. You’ll see it includes source references for all claims, and when on occasion I’ve forgotten to add the reference, you’ll see the certainty assessment states “unsupported”


    • Tim,

      Thank you for your comments. I wasn’t even aware that I was an Evidence Based Person until Randy Seaver of geneamusings.com pointed it out. Just not a term that I learned.

      Louis Kessler is the developer of the Behold software application, recently announced. It is his program that he was talking about and his system has been talked about for a while in the GEDCOM community.

      I will check out your website shortly.

      Thank you,


  9. Greta Koehl says:

    Fascinating discussion. I hope that amateurs – especially “dedicated amateurs” – are not intimidated to the point that they do not feel comfortable exposing their research to public scrutiny. On the notes pages of my genealogy database, I assemble the various pieces of (often conflicting) evidence, cite the source for each piece, and follow this with possible explanations for/resolutions of the conflicts. However, I am aware that any new piece of evidence could blow all of these explanations to smithereens.

  10. Katie says:

    May I pose a question, rather than an answer? I will take the silence as a “yes.” 😉 What do you include in a publicly accessible location (if anything) or in files shared with some cousin that asks to see what you’ve got? Do the kinds of methods you mentioned in your post and in these comments tranfer effectively?


    • Katie,

      When I “publish” information online, I very much control what is “out there”. For example, I am working with a cousin and have put a private tree on Ancestry. It’s only the portion of the tree that I am asking help on. Only the cousin and I have access to this tree.

      It’s very easy to update, with FTM2012.

      Does that help?


  11. Russ, great topic.

    Clearly, one may use genealogy database software as they wish. However, I believe most who are new to genealogy and who are researching and searching online as well as offline [but online first] have a different workflow than, say, someone who has been doing it for a while and who was originally doing it offline only.

    I, personally, would like to be paperless. I want all of my data to be digitized wherever possible. Therefore, not everything I put into my database is a fact, and, thus, it is not a conclusion. [Unless, of course, one says that the conclusion is that it is not a fact, but a clue.] Today’s software allows for this in that it allows you to enter multiple facts, notes for each of these facts, and some software allows you to rate the fact.

    The internet has definitely changed the way genealogy research is performed, and subsequently it has changed the way genealogy database software is used. It is no longer an end product to organize your data so that you can print a report in order to email or snail mail it to a cousin. [Although you can certainly use it this way.] Rather it is a tool to be used throughout the research process as evidenced by the rich feature sets that the software companies present in order to sell their products.

    Neither method is better than the other. However, as time goes on and as younger folks start researching their family’s history both online and offline, this different type of workflow will need to be addressed as a methodology.


    • Caroline,

      I agree with you.

      It appears that there needs to be two changes, How we Input our research findings and How we Output our findings. Is it a “clue” or is it “real”? Here is my “conclusion” based on the Evidence.

      The best example that I am struggling with right now is “How to handle an Index result?” I would consider that to be a Clue. I have seen folks say you should NOT Cite an Index result. I can see the logic in that, but I am going to cite it, but I also need to put that Index “Clue” on a ToDo List.

      I had a result for an Index, pointing to the Godfrey Library in CT. CT isn’t that far from me and I may actually get there this spring. In fact, I have been there before, but that was before I really knew what I was doing. So, I want a way to gather all of those Clues that are in that Repository so that I know specifically what I am searching for when I stop in for some research time.

      I don’t have that feature in my genealogy management software. I have a work around for it, but it’s not clean.

      The output is similar. How do I restrict my output to only those facts or events that I am pretty sure about, Or, how to eliminate those facts or events that I really need to research more. The only option that I have on this one is to not to enter that information. I can’t do that. So, I think I need more control over the output.

      If I had those features, then the Education on how to use them would begin. Would all of those options scare a new researcher away, because “this is too complicated”?

      Thank you for your comments.


      • Russ,
        I think Legacy’s To Do List function can do what you are talking about in regards to gathering clues for a specific repository. In addition to entering a category, location, task name and several other fields, there are two notes tabs – one for “description” to elaborate on what you are looking for and one for “results” to document where you have already searched and what you found or didn’t find. There is also a third tab for the “repository” where you know (or think) you can find the information. To Do reports can be created by repository so, when you are ready to visit, everything you have already identified for that place is easy to find.

        • Linda,

          I use the ToDo list all of the time. I am creating a Category in my ToDo list with the Repository Name, so that I have that list to take with me AND it will be linked to the Person.

          I think, based on your comment, that I will have to do a Blog Post, not here, about how to do this.

          Thank you for your comments.


  12. I agree with you Russ. You shouldn’t have to use a workaround in your software that way. And, yes, a newbie would be scared away by this topic.

    Also, for those who are SO concerned with erroneous data online, let me ask a question. When you come across information online or offline that is not sourced, what do you do? Assume it’s true? Assume it’s false? Assume nothing because you don’t have enough information to make a decision?

    When I research both online or offline, any information that I come across that is sourced OR not sourced I immediately assume nothing until I can vet the information. So why is everyone so upset when they come across unsourced information? Wouldn’t the first ever genealogist have come across unsourced information? Should he or she have thrown a tantrum because it was unsourced?

    Instead of getting upset at those people who do not publish sourced information both online and offline and instead of training new researchers to never publish unsourced information, perhaps it would behoove our community to instruct or suggest to question everything no matter the source [if there is one]? Wouldn’t this yield a better researcher in the long run?

    Just a thought and a controversial one at that.


    • Caroline,

      RE: I rarely took at any personal trees. If and when I do, I am not looking for data, but for Sources. Perhaps that tree owner has a Source that I hadn’t looked at to date.

      I agree with your ‘sourced’ / ‘unsourced’ comments. In fact, this year I am focusing on cleaning up of my 10+ year old file. Wow, has things changed. BUT I have found “unsourced” facts in my own file.

      Dear MYRTLE and I did a Webinar last night on the Integrating Software with Online Discoveries. Both of us pointed out reasons for getting our research Online. We used the word Collaboration several times. That’s were we are being taken, which is not a bad thing.

      If you look at the WikiTree tab on this Blog, you will see how I am doing this Collaboration for my own family. The “Facebook Generation” is helping me to gather family information, even as we speak.

      As you mentioned in Randy’s Blog, we are spending our research time Online. Let’s use that to our advantage. That also suggests that we may have a responsibility to Educate the “Newbies”, when we find the Undocumented information, and encourage / education them on what they might consider doing and not throwing a tantrum. (Encourage them)

      So, I think we agree on this.

      Thank you for your continued dialog on this topic.


  13. Katie says:

    Thank you Russ and Caroline! I think we need to have ways to show the acuracy of our efforts to ourselves as we go along in the process – no matter where in the process we are. If I am just starting a new line and only have an old IGI file to start the musings. Am I going to ignore that as a clue to help guide some of my efforts of research. No way! Am I going to throw that in my files as dead certain truth. Not a chance! I want to cover the almost likely incorect sources as well as the ones that I consider reliable and be able to analyze things within my program. Then I can share it with someone else and have them be able to jugde the value of my research for what it is. I want to be able to have ToDo lists for repositories, for various topics, for… and have my program get what they are and why I have them there too. Anyway, I just love the ideas you are both throwing around, it makes me thrilled for the future of this field! Thank you both for getting me so excited about it today! 🙂


    • Katie,

      I do think that the evaluation process needs some beefing up in our genealogy management programs. I can rate my citations using a 1 – 5 Star scale. I’d like to have the option to NOT SHOW any 1 or 2 star rated Citations, because I have concluded that the Source where those Citations came from is un-reliable. I don’t want to toss them, because they may help identify Negative evidence or Conflicting evidence.

      From the programs I have used, we don’t have a good way to mark conflicting evidence and tools to resolve those conflicts.

      Thank you for you comments.


  14. […] Worthington, “When to enter data into your Genealogy Software?,” A Worthington Weblog blog, posted 20 February 2012 (https://worthy2be.wordpress.com : […]

  15. […] Russ Worthington When to enter data into your Genealogy Software […]

  16. […] When to Enter Data Into Your Genealogy Software?, Russ Worthington […]

  17. […] Russ Worthington When to enter data into your Genealogy Software […]

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