Putting The Pieces Together

pastarchives I remember my great-grandmother, Catherine Bannon Kollros. She was in her 90’s when I was very young and she died when I was about ten years old. Her family had lived for over a hundred years in Louisville, Kentucky beginning with the arrival of my great-great grandfather, Richard Bannon and his brother in 1843. Other than this, I knew very few facts about my great-grandmother’s family.

When I first started recording my family’s history, I did everything on paper. I used charts that I had ordered from the LDS library. I used a pedigree chart to show two lines extending from myself to my mother and father and then to their parents and so forth. That first pedigree chart probably only had no more than 18 people on it. I also had family group sheets. I made up a family group sheet for each of my grandparents and for my great grandparents. If anything, this served well to illustrate how little that I knew of my family history.

Sometime in the 1980’s I received a letter from a Roman Catholic nun in Kentucky, distantly related to me on my mother’s side. She had contacted me by way of a cousin of my grandmother’s who was living in Florida at the time. My grandmother’s cousin, Betty Ann Bannon, knew of my interest in family history and passed along my name and address to Sister Mary Catherine. In the correspondence that followed, Sister Mary Catherine gave me a nearly complete picture of the Bannon family of Louisville, Kentucky. She also provided me with maps of grave plots showing where various Bannon and Kollros family members were buried in Louisville cemeteries. This was more information than I previously had. I was very grateful for what the good sister gave me, but it made me realize that trying to maintain it all on paper alone was not going to be easy.

In 1985, I made a trek to the National Archives branch in southern California. At the National Archives I was able to find census records for both my mother’s and my father’s side of the family. I was amazed at how simple this all seemed. All I had to do was to look-up the name in the census index, make note of the microfilm roll, request the roll from the librarian, and then find the image on the microfilm. Within the first two hours at the National Archives, I had found the family of my great-grandmother, Catherine Bannon, in the US census of 1880 and the family of my great-grandfather, August DeBacker, in the US census of 1900. This is where I first learned that my great-grandmother, Della DeBacker, had been born in Ohio.

It all seemed so easy, but of course, it was a little too easy because I really did not know what I was doing. I knew that my great-grandmother’s maiden name was Gaum (at least that is then how I then knew it to be spelled) so I figured it was only question of looking for Gaum in the 1870 census in Ohio and her family would be found. That was my first mistake… assuming too much. I did find a Adeline Gaume (b. 1867) in 1870 Stark county, Ohio as daughter of Louis Gaume and without much more than that I made the mistake of assuming that I had found my Gaum family in Ohio.

Around the time that I visited the National Archives, I also paid a visit to the LDS Library in Santa Monica, California. I was not sure what I would find there and I really did not know what I was doing there. After a few hours of testing the waters in the LDS Library, I managed to find, in a book titled “The History of Kentucky”, a biography of my maternal great-great grandfather’s brother, Patrick Bannon, who had been on the City Council of Louisville in the 1880’s.

Looking back, I realize why the Bannon family was so easy to find and to trace. It was primarily because the family had a presence in the city of Louisville from the 1840’s when the Bannon brothers first arrived from Ireland down to the 1960’s when my great-grandmother was moved to Houston, Texas to be placed into a nursing home. The family operated a number of factories in the city, the owned houses in the city, they attended church in the city, and many are buried in the city.

With the information provided to me by Sister Mary Catherine, some newspaper clippings & copies of letters sent by Cousin Betty Ann, from census records, and from photographs that belonged to my great-grandmother and my grandmother I was able to put together a nearly complete history of the Bannon family in Louisville, Kentucky.

After making the trek to the National Archives and the LDS Library in 1985, my family history research effort search pretty much dried-up and I settled into trying to make my documentation readable and understandable by future generations. Being a computer programmer and interested in databases, I tried my hand at a couple of different methods of maintaining the information I had collected, and as I went along it was very much a learning process.

Back then, the computer that I had was a Commodore Amiga and wanting to learn about databases, I purchased some database software for the Amiga and proceeded to build a database to hold the genealogy data that I had collected so far. I do not recall exactly what that database looked like, but given what I know now, it was not sufficient to the task. The time spent entering names and dates into that database turned out to be pretty much a waste of time.

After I purchased a PC (or as they were called then an IBM clone ) I wound up having to re-enter all of the data that I had previously entered into the Amiga and as it turns out that was not the first time that I had to re-enter everything from scratch. On the PC, I wrote what I thought was a rather clever database application for managing a family tree. The program that I wrote had a few bugs and it never did what I originally thought this type program should do. Other than the learning experience of writing a database application, this effort was also a waste of time.[1]

Around this same time, I was a subscriber to the CompuServe dial-up service. I frequently visited their genealogy forum and that is where I began to learn about different genealogy software and the GEDCOM file format. I realize that if I was serious about documenting my family history research then I needed some serious software. In addition, I learned that whatever software I bought it needed to be capable of exporting my data out to a format that readable by other genealogy software in case I ever wanted or needed to switch to some other software package. That common format turned out to be the GEDCOM file format. In simple terms GEDCOM is a standardized method of formatting genealogical data into a text file which can be easily read and converted by any genealogy software program. The GEDCOM specification was originally developed in 1985 and is owned and managed by the Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS). Therefore, after a little research into the topic of genealogy software I bought Family Tree Maker (FTM) and started using it to keep track all of my genealogy data.

Around 1994 CompuServe made the Internet available to its users and I built my first web page. Realizing that I could actually publish something to the world-wide-web, the first thing that came to mind was to publish my family history and so I came up with the idea of calling the web-page(s) “Gathering Leaves”. In December of 1994, the Gathering Leaves pages first appeared on CompuServe’s OurWorld. Around November of 1997, I moved these pages to a local ISP (internet service provider) and remained there until December of 2000. I was limited to a very small amount space at this site. Because of this, I constantly had to move things around. In March 2001, I decided to contract with an IPP (internet presence provider) and move my pages to a more permanent location complete with a domain name (gatheringleaves.org).

When I first started using Family Tree Maker, I thought that it was a great product. In hindsight, I guess that came primarily from the fact that I did not know any better. I made two very big mistakes in the beginning and I partly blame the software that I was using for making these mistakes. The first mistake was in not recording sources for all the information that I was entering. The early versions of FTM did not have a good way of tracking sources. The second mistake that I made was submitting my data to the Family Tree Maker World Family Tree web site. At first, it seemed like a good idea to publish this information to the web, and, in a way, it was a good idea – I could share my data with other people. The mistake in uploading my data was that a good deal of the information was incorrect and it eventually made its way on to one of the FTM CDs.[2] So at this point, I had bad information without any sources floating around out there on the internet and I had no control over it. As a result of this I feel as though I have been ripped off in a way as Genealogy.com now charges people, under the catch phrase of “Trust Your Family History To Us” to look at bad information that I previously provided them free of charge. Having had enough of the Family Tree Maker / Genealogy.com nonsense, I eventually decided to restrict my publishing to an internet site that I had complete control over; thus solving the problem of not having provided sources. Yet then taking the next step of ensuring that I recorded all my sources was a little harder to overcome.

When I first started publishing my genealogy on the web I was restricted in two ways – limited space on the web site and the actual format in which I presented the information. Originally, I was publishing my information in a format that is known as a Descendency Register. This is a standard report that lists all of the descendants of a particular progenitor in a long, winding format, indented at each generation. Some of these reports can be quite long and difficult to read.

For a long time I struggled with both the data entry and data presentation problems. My main goal all along was to get something down on paper regarding these research efforts that would be understandable by folks close to me and who were not involved in genealogical research, but who were definitely interested in the work. Each time I got deeper and deeper into finding more information I kept coming up and asking: “How am I going to explain all of this to anyone else?”

The web-site was one of my answers to this question and my goal all along has been to eventually put the contents of the web-site on CD-ROM for future preservation, but the more that I looked at electronic publishing I could see all sorts of problems. For one thing, I was having trouble seeing the day when the computer would replace the printed page. I think that most people prefer to read a book rather than stare at a computer screen. They want to hold a piece of paper in their hands and not have to sit in front of a monitor if they have a lot of information to absorb; hence, my decision to compromise and to write this book.

By now, I had switched from using Family Tree Maker and was using another genealogy software package produced by FamilySearch.org. Personal Ancestral File (PAF) was free and had a number of features that Family Tree Maker did not have. One such feature was the ability to produce reports in the HTML format. At first, I thought that I had found exactly what I was looking for. I did prefer the data entry interface in PAF over the one offered by FTM, but I found that the HTML output produced by PAF was lacking in a number regards. After searching the web, I found a few programs out there designed specifically for reading a GEDCOM file and producing output in HTML format. After trying out a couple of them I decided that I would just go ahead and write my own GED-to-HTML program. The result of this was a program that I titled UncleGED. I used UncleGED as my publishing tool for nearly five years and I think that it served me very well. Since UncleGED worked well for me, I thought why not offer it on my website and let others use it. Over the years the application has been downloaded by thousands of users. One of the very first people who downloaded UncleGED has been using my product to produce his website since the year 2000.[3] Both his website and my product received a mention in a how-to book for people wanting to create their own family history web site.[4]

Around 2003 I switched genealogy software once more and started using The Master Genealogist (TMG) produced by Wholly Genes, Inc. The learning curve for TMG was quite steep and it took me about a year before I was fully comfortable with it. As far as publishing went, I continued to export my data out to GEDCOM and then used UncleGED to generate the web pages. This ended when I discovered, SecondSite, a companion product for TMG produced by John Cardinal. SecondSite interfaces directly with the TMG database and produces HTML output in a variety of styles and formats. The current version of the website was produced using SecondSite.

[1]. This early database program was written in Borland Paradox (PAL – Paradox Application Language)

[2]. The genealogical data that I originally uploaded to Family Tree Maker around 1994 can be found on World Family Tree (WFT) volume 13

[3]. Don Knibb’s website that uses UncleGED can be found at http://knibbs.family.users.btopenworld.com/

[4]. Howells, Cyndi. Planting Your Family Tree Online. Nashville: Rutledge Hill Press (2003). Pg 86