6 Steps to Choreograph Your Research Across the Internet

July 30, 2015  - by 

Think about the last dance you attended. It may have been last week or thirty years ago, but in a crowded room, dancing is almost impossible because you keep running into other people, or furniture or walls get in your way. And in a dance, others may laugh at your dancing style or clothes.

Now think about your online genealogy as a dance that you are trying to navigate, but you keep running into other people, walls, others’ opinions, and other obstacles. Janet Hovorka addressed this in her presentation at the BYU Family History Conference on July 29, 2015, titled “Six Steps to Choreograph Your Research across the Internet.”

A common complaint about FamilySearch Family Tree is “Why do people come in and mess up my tree, change the information, set aside what I have done, leave me out of the family tree, and stop me from changing what I know to be correct?” Frustrations abound in these public family trees. Hovorka clarified this when she defined a public tree—making life and comprehension easier.

What is a public tree? She called it a “community” or a “public conclusion tree.” These trees are found in FamilySearch.org, MyHeritage.com, and Ancestry.com, among many others. Many people contribute to these online trees, giving hints, sharing sources, showing pictures, and telling stories. But there are problems using these trees if you don’t know how to interpret these databases. And, of course, when your conclusions are changed or questioned, you want to throw up your hands and say, “I’m not going to do this anymore!” Don’t stop!  Hovorka said, “The six steps [below] will keep you moving and dancing around brick walls in your family history research.”

These “personal conclusion trees” are great for collaboration, but these six steps will help you to have fun with your “dance” in genealogy.

Step 1: Know what you are really looking at online. Distinguish between the quality conclusions of others and original documents about your ancestors’ lives.

The sources and good interpretation are the keys—dig deeply into those sources, compare them, find them, and interpret them. She said that “good researchers dig down deep into the sources to come to the original documents of a person’s life.”   Make use of helps about sources, and study the many different places you can find them.

Step 2: Create a personal conclusion tree and know how to sync it and what you can attach to it from websites across the net.

This is the key to keeping the frustration level down: Make your own tree, offline, on your own computer by using your favorite program.   Hovorka says that offline software solutions offer clear copyright application, more features and reports, no privacy issues for living people, and usually more speed. Some software packages synchronize with online tree and easily compare databases. Some of the most popular software applications include: FamilySearch – Legacy, Ancestral Quest, and RootsMagic; MyHeritage – Family Tree Builder, Family Historian and RootsMagic; Ancestry – Family Tree Maker. She suggests choosing one place to start a tree and look for information on the other websites.

Step 3: Know the best search strategies and where to go if you aren’t finding what you need.

Planning—the word sometimes is daunting, but creating a plan is absolutely necessary. She suggests clear research objectives, a plan to find the sources, learn about records, ask others in Wiki, use social networking, try different spellings of your names, and other research tips. BUT, keep track of everything you do so you and those who follow you don’t have to do the same work again and again.

Step 4: Use tabs, windows, and multiple screens to quickly work between sites.

Learn how to use the online features of your computer.   Check on tutorials for your particular computer.

Step 5: Use timelines to constructs a bird’s eye view of your ancestor’s life and keep track of everything you find.

Make up a chart, using your program, Excel, or other sources, and write down all the material you have about, for example, the birth of your ancestor—maybe there are conflicts, but get everything, and put it down by date or event. You will find much information on your public conclusion tree. Put everything on your personal record that you can find. Then continue with Step 6.

Step 6: Record what you find with complete notations and analysis so that you don’t create any unnecessary brick walls.

As Hovorka said, “Good researchers dig down deep in the sources.”   They document, collect all they can find, keep everything traceable by citing good records, and remember to use the all-important analysis in the notes section of their source citations.

Don’t create any unnecessary brick walls, and keep dancing!

This presentation was presented by Janet Hovorka at the BYU Family History and Genealogy Conference held July 29, 2013 held at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. You can contact Janet Hovorka at the following email addresses: JanetHovorka.com; ZaptheGrandmaGap.com; FamilyChartMasters.com; janet@familychartmasters.com.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. The example you give of FamilySearch being a public tree is correct. Anyone can visit and make changes, additions, etc. However, Ancestry and MyHeritage are NOT public trees. They are individually owned and managed trees where only the creator can do edits. An owner MAY allow individual requestors to view the tree and to make edits. An owner may also allow the tree to be publicly viewable but that is very different from it being a public tree where anybody can add, revise, upload, etc.

    1. Thanks for clarifying Mac. You are right. I taught that Ancestry and MyHeritage are fine places to “plant” a conclusion tree because you do have control over what you have created there. You can also “plant” a conclusion tree in one of the offline softwares because again, you have control over who you share it with and what you do with it. But with FamilySearch being a wiki based system, when you plant a conclusion tree there, you need to be aware that others can change the information. Thanks for making that more clear.

  2. I see you mention roots magic twice in the off line programs “personal Conclusion” list to maintain your tree. Many patrons at our family history center have had many issues with that program. I would recommend Legacy over Roots. But it is a personal choice. but should have been mentioned just once.

  3. i do believe a better policy be established to gain control over what is happening with a persons personal family tree. Yes we can work together to build a history of our fore fathers. Yes we need to be mindful that there are various levels of experienced people and less experienced, novices, etc.
    i am upset with a lady in Texas, who is compiling tree data, for families in 17-18oo’s in Newfoundland. you need to understand the culture of life in 1700’s in Nfld, or England, or Russia or anywhere foreign.

    the system should have some protection settings for the tree builder. If you wish to change a Tree then the Tree builder should be asked to make the changes. Not allow any one to make changes.

    Bottom Line get control or loose control and loose support.

    Got to go Now

  4. On https://www.familysearch.org/blog/en/duplicates-familysearchs-family-tree-theyre-find-resolve/ you have a typo, second paragraph about mistakes. It currently says “be beginners” and I think you meant “by.”

    Now, beyond that, I am running into many records that have [example] a husband and wife, and for some reason, a second marriage, same wife, same PID, everything except kids. There seems to be no way to get rid of this false seconds marriage. Do you know a way?

    1. Thank you for pointing out the typo! It has been corrected. It’s possible the second wife is a duplicate– if that’s the case, you can merge the two IDs. I hope this helps you!