Sunday, September 09, 2012

Analyze This ...

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 :)

Do we share any ancestors?
Please email me at lostancestors [at] gmail [dot] com


Tonia said...

Jenny, I love your reliability column! Especially the questions about the record's creation. Good job!

Claudia said...

To find records in a Catholic Diocese you need first to determine where the family lived at the time of the birth. Usually up until about the 1940's, each ethnic group had their own church with Mass celebrated in their native language. You will need to look for a parish that will fit.

Then, look at the parish foundation dates in area you have chosen and if the records have not been destroyed (flood, fire or just disappeared) you can narrow down the search and hopefully find what church they attended.

Jenny Lanctot said...

Thanks Tonia! It's pretty much the only way I'll remember to ask these questions :)

Claudia - that's where I'm running into a catch-22. I was hoping the diocese would have all the records so I could narrow down where to look, but instead I have to figure out where they lived first. It's quite frustrating.

Valerie Craft said...

I really like your spreadsheet! I always want to sit down and re-do all my sources and evaluate my data, I might try this out.

Jenny Lanctot said...

Thanks Valerie! Good luck with that (it's something I need to do too - but I'm thinking one person at a time will be good for me).

Julie Cahill Tarr said...

Jenny, here are some ideas. My initial response was similar to Claudia's in that if you knew where they were, you could then use the information at to find churches in the area (once on the site, click Browse, then choose Browse by "Collection," then choose "Roman Catholic Churches"). Be prepared, there are a LOT and they are plotted on a map. BUT, even if you don't know WHERE they were, you can still eliminate a huge amount of churches, especially because of your time period. You can narrow it down in two ways:

1. Use the tool I just talked about and look at each church individually for their establishment date. Churches established after your 1860ish date would obviously not be the right place to look.

2. Number 1 will help to narrow the churches, but the better route is too look at the Chicago City Directories for the time period. This will not only show you the churches that were there at the time, but may also indicate what type of church is was, such as German, Irish, etc. This way is a lot quicker since you can pick a year and have the choices narrowed, and then determine which of those is the most likely based on ethnicity. City directories for Chicago are on Fold3. I've downloaded a copy of the listing for 1864 that should get you started. If you want it, email me genblogjulie (at)

Jenny Lanctot said...

Thanks for the tips Julie! Unfortunately, I don't even know where in Illinois they lived, and it turns out Louis Burke/Bourke/Burk isn't as uncommon as I once thought. If I discover that they indeed lived in Chicago, I'll definitely be putting your tips to work for me! Thanks again!

Julie Cahill Tarr said...

I misread that...I saw "Catholic Diocese in Illinois" and thought I saw Chicago (I've evidently been working in the Chicago Catholic church records on FamSearch for too long!!).

Jenny Lanctot said...

No worries Julie! My brain frequently sees things differently than my eyeballs do. (Which is another reason why it's good for me to have a spreadsheet) :)

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