My 2nd great grandmother, Eliza Bourke Lanctot, was born in Illinois … or was it Michigan? Well, she was born on 2 February 1861 … or was it 1862 … or 1859 … or 1860?
Clearly, I have some work to do.
My most pressing research objective for Eliza is to determine where and when she was actually born. (See my previous post from earlier this year) so I can get her birth certificate.
I didn’t have any luck with any of the Catholic Diocese in Illinois, as their records are filed by parish, so I would need to know the parish where they lived. Great. Back to square one. But I DO have those really cool photos from the Douglas County Historical Society – those won’t really help me here, but I’m still excited that I have them 🙂
This little problem was starting to get out of hand. I had to figure out some way to take all of this information and chop it up into bite-sized bits and maybe shake it up a little.
Enter the Excel Spreadsheet.
I entered every piece of data from every source I currently have into the spreadsheet:
I basically broke my sheet down into these columns under “What I know”, which lists all the data contained in the source, and “How I Know It,” which gives the source information. I have another section called “How Reliable Is It?” where I make comments on why the document was created, who created it, who provided the information, and also what information I have assumed or calculated, and if there are any conflicts within the document itself. I have color-coded the “calculated” dates (blue) and the “assumed” relationships, etc. (yellow) just to make it easier for me when I’m looking at the big picture. I’ve listed the source and the date of the source, then sorted them all according to date.
Here is the reliability section:
In preparing this spreadsheet, I realized that I was missing 2 state census records for Eliza. They may or may not help in answering my question, but it was good to know that I was able to recognize that documents were missing and be able to fill in those blanks.
Okay, I’m going to let my geek flag fly here for a second … I LOVE EXCEL! Truly. Here’s why: When I get ready to sit down and put my brain to work on this problem, I can show/hide columns, I can sort the data however I want, and basically manipulate this spreadsheet any number of ways to see the picture from a different angle. Hopefully, this will help me determine where I need to look for her birth certificate, or where to look for more documents that may get me closer to an answer.
This is still a work in progress, and I will likely have to add more columns as new documents present themselves containing different data, but the beauty of it is that I can add as many as I want and still be able to focus on whatever data is pertinent to the instant problem, just by hiding what I don’t want to see and revealing it again later when I need it (which means I only ever have to enter it once!).
So maybe this only seems to work with my brain, but on the off chance that someone else out there will be able to use this tool to visualize their work in different ways, I’m happy to share my template. Just let me know 🙂
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