The chronicle of this woman's perpetual game of hide-and-seek with her ancestors
Okay, so maybe I exaggerate a little, but once you see what they can really do to help you with your genealogy research … you might even agree. (Plus, spreadsheets don’t pee on your stuff).
Spreadsheets can be intimidating if you’ve never used them, but they can also be one of the most valuable weapons in your arsenal for organization, research, and analysis.
This is one of my favorites. I was having a hard time remembering which census records I found for which ancestors and which ones I hadn’t. I also needed a way to figure out where else to look. Of course … a spreadsheet!
This is the end result:
I realize it looks a little daunting at first, but once you have a system (yours may differ), I can tell at a glance exactly what is going on. I’ve listed my ancestors according to generations in the leftmost column. Then I listed all the states in which that ancestor lived (you’ll see why in a minute). Then I have a column for each year the census was taken. Obviously, this page is for the United States, but I also have pages for other countries – note the tabs at the bottom. Each page is set up essentially the same way.
Once I had all the columns marked, I began coloring in the cells (or boxes) for those census years during the lifetime of each ancestor … those census years in which that particular ancestor should appear (with the exception of 1890 because I have never been able to find any surviving census records for any of the places where my ancestors lived … but just in case, I left the column there).
I also indicated in the appropriate columns where my ancestor lived if they weren’t in the United States. This enables me to cross-reference them on one of the other pages. For Irish census records, I went to National Archives of Ireland, where there is a (free) searchable index and corresponding images for all census years. Canadian censuses (indexes and images) are available for free at Library and Archives Canada.
After identifying the boundaries within which I should be searching, I began to place Xs in the boxes for each year that I found that ancestor on the census. This made it much easier for me to tell which censuses were missing. I decided to add red squares around the empty boxes to further alert me that I still have missing census records.
Because the national census pages worked so well, I also created pages for each state in which an ancestor lived (only the ones that had state censuses). Using the FamilySearch Wiki, I was able to identify the census years for each specific state – and which years had missing parts, etc. Just having this information available to me visually all in one place has been incredibly helpful and has saved me a ton of time by not having to search through RootsMagic or through the hard-copy file just to see what’s missing.
If you think my spreadsheet might be helpful to you, here is a link. I deleted all my family information, but left the column headings for the state and country census that was already there. You’ll have to download it to make any changes. Be forewarned … it was never intended to be printed, so it will look pretty wonky if you try.
Next time: Timelines!
Do we share any ancestors?