After two years spent studying Elizabeth Shown Mills' Evidence Explained, our group needed a break. We decided that there is no better way to discover all that The Master Genealogist (TMG) can do than to explore its powerful custom report writer. If you would like to participate in the Tri-Valley TMG User Group's adventures as we examine the best ways to input data to make full use of TMG's wide range of reporting possibilities, please feel free to comment and share your ideas.

The Tri-Valley TMG User Group is associated with the Livermore-Amador Genealogical Society (L-AGS), and we meet in Pleasanton, California. Information on our meetings - location, date, time, and topic - is always available on the home page of the L-AGS web site. Our three-hour meetings are actually hands-on workshops in which up to fifteen computers are connected to a digital projector allowing customized personal assistance to attendees. In the past, the group has systematically studied Lee Hoffman's Getting the Most out of The Master Genealogist, Terry Reigel's A Primer for The Master Genealogist, and Elizabeth Shown Mills' Evidence Explained.

For further details on the reports we create, please visit our website. The section dealing with TMG reports begins at the page, "Exploring TMG's Report Menu."

Start following our new blog, "The Continuing Adventures of the TV-TMG User Group." This will detail our 2014 project.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

It's Only a Hypothesis - Part Two (A)

Although our ultimate goal in genealogical research is to prove identity and relationship, to do so, we must find evidence documenting many different events - what happened, where it happened, when it happened, and who was involved. That leads us to the second question arising from our data entry party.
  • What do you enter when you don't know a date? How do you show that you're not sure of a place? How do you enter a marriage when you have no evidence that it took place? What do you do when different sources provide different dates for the same event? What do you do when a source says one thing, but you think that source is wrong?
First, there are established protocols that answer most of these questions with respect to publishing a genealogical article or family history. Perhaps by reviewing publication protocols, you can determine your own ways of entering these bits of questionable data. Always be aware of the software's subtle pressure to make a conclusion before the evidence justifies that conclusion; and always remember that a questionable bit of information entered into your database requires an explanation.

What do you enter when you don't know a date?

There are lots of established protocols for handling this problem, and TMG allows you to use most of them. Most of the time, the explanation of your reasoning can be placed in the Citation Memo field. If you want the explanation to appear in a narrative sentence, make the appropriate entry in your Memo field or create a custom sentence. Common qualifiers include before, after, between, circa, say, and or. All of these are allowed in TMG's date field. Note that all of them will require explanations of their use, either in the narrative sentence, the Citation Memo - or both. Consider these examples of journal output. It may help you decide how you will deal with these situations when entering data in TMG.
  1. Molly died before 17 January 1899, the date of her sister's diary entry mentioning her grief over Molly's death.
  2. Philip died between 22 November 1814 (the date he deeded land to his son-in-law, Aaron Pennell) and 18 February 1815 (the date probate was begun on his estate).
  3. Andrew was born circa 12 June 1797, as calculated from age 83 years 9 months 2 days at his death.
  4. Mary was born say 1822. (This would require a statement of reasoning, such as, "Her marriage to John took place in 1840, her first child was born in 1842, and her last child in 1861 ...")
  5. Jonathan died 10 May 1859 (the date entered in the Smith family Bible) or 10 May 1860 (the date on his tombstone). Note that this requires a statement of your analysis of both sources cited, as well as a statement of all relevant research performed with obvious negative results.
What happens when you create abbreviated reports, such as a a family group sheet or a GEDCOM file containing qualified dates? TMG includes the qualifiers with the dates, but make sure that the report designs include your explanatory statements, as well. What happens when a TMG-created GEDCOM file is imported into other genealogy software? I don't know, but don't be surprised if qualifiers don't make it into the new database. This is one of the many reasons why I don't send GEDCOM files to other researchers. It's a very easy way to lose control over the quality of your research.
Example of Death tag showing date qualifiers, explanatory memo, and sentence output

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Did You Know?

Did you know that you can change the length of the Reference field in the Individual Detail screen's "Other info" box? I didn't realize that until I started playing around with using that field to mark possible identities after our December meeting.
  • The "Other info" box is that area in the top right-hand corner of the Individual Detail screen.
  • Right-click anywhere in this box and select Customize 'Other info' box ... from the pop-up menu.
  • There are six fields that can be visible in this box. You can enable or disable any of these.
  • You can change the order of the fields by highlighting each one and selecting Move up or Move down.
  • Highlight the Reference field and the Customize button becomes active. Select it.
  • Voila! You can change the length of the Reference field. Note that the length is "limited by available screen space."
  • Save the change by clicking OK.

Screenshots showing pop-up menu, "Other Info" customization, and "Reference Field" customization

It's Only a Hypothesis - Part One

I love data entry parties! Someone always has a problem that provides a new opportunity to make TMG dance - or at least make us think a little. Here's the first of the questions asked at our data entry party.
  • I know that Subject A is my 3x-great-grandfather. Given the location and all evidence found to date, his grandfather must be Subject C, but I don't have any direct evidence that states that Subject B is his father. What do I do? How do I enter this in TMG?
Although we search for names, dates, and places in our research, what we're really trying to prove is identity and relationship. Everything else is simply accumulated evidence to help us reach a conclusion as to those two aspects. Unfortunately, no matter how flexible the genealogy software might be, there is always a subtle push to force that conclusion before we're ready. We need to use our software to track our in-progress research, but if we're not careful, our software might turn those nebulous, in-progress hypotheses into solid conclusions. TMG offers many ways to clarify the difference between our hypotheses and our conclusions. You can pick and choose among established ideas - or create your own.
  • Although the various -Can[didate] relationship tags (Father-Can, Mother-Can, Daughter-Can, Son-Can, Parent-Can, Child-Can) are custom tags, they were created so long ago and were so quickly adopted by everyone that they feel like standard tags. If you have settled on a probable parent or child relationship, but still lack direct evidence, consider linking people via one of these tags.
  • Do you want to create a Parent-Child link between two people, but you don't want to create any reports that show that hypothetical link? Consider using the appropriate -Can tags, but do not mark the parents as primary parents. You will see the connection in your database, but reports won't show it.
  • You want to create a hypothetical Parent-Child link between two people and you want to see all the proven and hypothetical sibling connections, as well. You will need to mark the parents as primary parents and you will need to come up with a marker that appears in all reports you publish. This isn't as easy as it sounds. Pedigree charts do not show the relationship tag label and family group sheets only show the label for the subject's and his or her spouse's parents. GEDCOM reports don't differentiate the -Can relationships at all.
    • Since this practice is okay in database use, but not so great in reporting, one possible solution is only publish Journal reports. Send your Journal reports to a word processor and make hypothetical connections emphatically obvious. Don't be surprised to find that others reading your reports ignore the hypothetical nature of these connections, though, and reproduce the report with that emphasis removed.
    • Mark all candidate relationships in some way that appears in all reports.
      • One of the options in both pedigree charts and family group sheets is the inclusion of the Reference field, in parentheses, next to a name. This works for those reports. The Reference field can also be exported in a GEDCOM file. Enter something like Candidate or Hypothetical in this field and all your hypothetical connections will be marked.
      • TMG contains several name parts that are seldom used. Create a Name style that is reserved for at least one of the members of these hypothetical relationships and use one of these name parts as a marker that is always printed.
      • Nothing is perfect, and you should never forget that those reading your charts are very good at ignoring even the most obvious attempt to show doubt.

Individual Detail screen for Chloe (Cooper) Wakefield

Individual Detail screen for Chloe (Cooper) Wakefield

  • Many times, my problem is not necessarily the parent-child link. In the illustrated example, I know that Sherman and Mary (Powers) Cooper had a daughter named Chloe. I am not certain, however, that this daughter is the same Chloe who married Amos Wakefield. This is an identity problem. Until I can write a well-documented proof argument of an identity, I maintain two separate persons linked by a custom Identity tag. I merge the two persons, with the proof argument, when I'm reasonably happy with it.
Identity tag in use
Identity tag in use
  • Whenever doubt exists in a TMG entry, you must include a source-cited statement that explains why you have entered the information in TMG or have made a hypothetical conclusion.
Brief proof statement documenting hypothetical parent-child relationship
Brief proof statement explaining hypothetical relationship
Continue with "It's Only a Hypothesis - Part Two (A)"

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Customizing Your TMG Workspace - A Summary

At our last meeting, we investigated customizing our personal TMG workspace. There are many possibilities. What windows do you want to see? What information should each contain? Do you want lines or not? What colors do you like? What fonts? What toolbar style do you find most comfortable? Would a custom toolbar help you work more efficiently? With so much to consider, it became obvious that a cheat-sheet summary might be helpful. Try this: "Customizing Your TMG Workspace - A Summary."

Patrick sent everyone a link to the topic, "My New Favorite Layout," on the Wholly Genes Support Forum. Check it out! If you fall in love with one of these layouts, try to recreate it. It would be a good exercise. Here is my usual layout. Blues and greens are my favorite colors; for some reason, I love this font; I like small toolbar buttons; and I have a custom toolbar that includes my most frequently used reports.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Creating and Saving a Copy of Your TMG Serial Number

I know that we decided to add creating a trouble.txt file to our agenda for next month's meeting, but since we also decided that everyone should update to TMG version 8.08 some time this month, I decided that this little tip shouldn't wait.
  1. Select Help from the menu.
  2. From the drop-down menu, select Technical Support. This opens a dialogue window.
  3. Click the Trouble Report box on the bottom left. This creates the trouble.txt file.
  4. Answer Yes to the question, "Would you like to open the file in your word processor now?" This opens the file in Notepad on my computer. Do you see your serial number?
  5. Select File and then Save As. You can now save the trouble.txt file in a readily-accessible location on your computer.
I save a copy of all my serial numbers and program registration information in a folder called "Registrations" and I keep copies of this folder on all computers, my backup drive, and online on Dropbox. This way, my serial numbers are handy when updating programs. Of course, they're also handy if - HORRORS! - my computer crashes.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Find-and-Replace and Less Easily Solved Problems

When writing in Register format, many abbreviations are used in the child-list sections: b., m., d., and bur. are used instead of the words born, married, died, and buried. Any month with more than five letters is abbreviated - with a period after the abbreviation: Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov., and Dec. Notice that the abbreviation for September adds an extra wrinkle; it's four letters long, not three. The names of states are abbreviated - with the standard abbreviation, not the postal abbreviation. None of these abbreviations can be easily programmed into TMG's output. Editing these can be automated in Word, however, with a Find and Replace feature many users don't know.

Take a look at Word's Find and Replace dialogue screen. Did you know that you can add formatting to the words or characters you want to find or replace? Since the child-list is the only text formatted with the 11-point font size, adding that criterion to the "Find what" area limits all changes to the child-list. It won't take long to replace complete words with the appropriate abbreviations.

Did you notice the brackets around the footnote reference numbers in the Register report? This quickly differentiates a footnote reference from a generational number, but it's another thing that cannot be programmed into TMG's output. It's very easy to create a Word macro, though, that reproduces these brackets with a simple keystroke. It doesn't take long to go through the report and quickly add these brackets to each footnote reference number.

There are some differences between this report and ones created automatically by TMG that can only be corrected by manual editing. The most significant, in my opinion, is the fact that the vital events in a person's genealogical summary follow this order in all publication style reports: birth, death, burial, followed by marriage, then birth and death of spouse. TMG's genealogical summary output is controlled by the sort order, which is chronological by default: birth, marriage, death, burial - and spouse events are written in a separate paragraph. There are cumbersome ways to get around this, but I'm a lazy person and find it easier to simply edit my report. This topic has been discussed on the Wholly Genes forum, and readers might find it interesting.

TMG produces the correct typography in the parenthetical lineage lists: italicized names and standard type for generation indicators in Register format, standard type for names and italicized generation indicators in NGSQ format. In the latter format, generation indicators are attached to the given names of all persons listed in a parenthetical lineage list, and TMG reproduces this correctly. In Register format, this generation indicator is placed after the birth surname of a married woman. This must be manually edited in the final report, if one wants to faithfully reproduce the Register format.

I use TMG for its database and analysis features, but there are many users who love exploring ways to make TMG create the perfect narrative. One of the best online examples is the study done by Terry Reigel. His report, "Producing a 'Publishable' Article," compares an actual NGSQ article with a TMG report reproducing that article, and it covers the problems he encountered and the solutions he discovered. If you want to produce a "publishable" article, you must read Terry's report.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Improving a Register Report: Microsoft Word Tips

Do you use Microsoft Word? If so, have you experimented with Word templates and Word styles? Templates and styles are not unique to Word, so if you use another word processor, the principles in this blog will be applicable, but the details will probably not be.

Take another look at the NGSQ-NEHGR-TMG styles comparison chart. Do you see all those references, "Apply styles," in the Suggestions column?
  • Both the Register and the NGSQ have specific methods of formatting the first appearance of certain names in a subject's biography and in the genealogy's child lists. Although one can specify some name formatting in TMG's Report Options screen in the Names tab, one can't specify the different formatting required throughout the report. By creating styles that reproduce the required formatting, it's a fairly simple matter to apply those styles to TMG's Journal report after it's been sent to a Word file.
  • Although TMG does allow one to define the fonts used in a report (Report Options > Fonts and Colors), one can't differentiate between fonts used in the report's biography section (12 point) and the report's child list section (11 point). One also can't differentiate between the font size of Memo fields used in sentences in the text (12 point), Memos that appear in footnotes or endnotes (10 point), or footnotes/endnotes themselves (10 point). Applying Word styles specifically designed to reproduce the proper formatting for the various sections of each Journal report allows the user to convert those sections to true Register (or NGSQ) style quickly and easily.
  • One can also create a style for the report's title, for the author's name, for all the headings and subheadings, and even for page headings. Group all these styles together and create a Word template, with margins and everything, and save it under the appropriate name. The next time you want a professional-looking Register report, copy your TMG report into this template, and apply the appropriate styles. Voila!

Helen Schatvet Ullman was my inspiration for creating Word templates for my TMG reports. Her updated Register style template is available on, and it can be downloaded here. My template starts with Ullman's, then adds additional styles for all parts of the TMG report. It also includes this example report and detailed instructions on converting a TMG-formatted report to one that matches Register style. I've also created a Word template that converts TMG's NGSQ-style Journal output to something that comes much closer to the formatting used by the NGSQ. If you would like a copy of either template, please feel free to contact me. My e-mail address is available in my Blogger profile.

Manual editing was still required to get this report to this final stage. The final blog on this topic gives a quick overview of some of the editing that should be done on each report and a few tricks to make that editing go a little faster.

Improving a Register Report: Important TMG Features

There are three modifications that can be made to your TMG database that will bring your TMG Register style report closer to the format of an actual New England Historical and Genealogical Register article.

The first modification is simple and can be done when creating your report. TMG's default method of indicating a missing name in a Journal report is: (--?--). Unknown names in a Register article are indicated by an underscore, _______. (I haven't been able to determine the exact length of this underscore.)
  • This modification is easily made. When defining your Register style Journal report, in the Report Options screen in the Names tab, enter an underscore in the "Empty name text" box.
The Register's standard presentation of event information is place followed by date. This sequence will vary depending on whether or not all the information is known. For example, "John Smith was born in Danville, Vermont, 11 February 1866," is unambiguous. On the other hand, the statement, "John Smith was probably born in Danville, Vermont, 11 February 1866," is ambiguous. Was John Smith probably born in Danville? Was he probably born in Danville on 11 February 1866? Is there a John Smith who was born in Danville on 11 February 1866, and you think this is the correct person? When uncertainty exists, this order of information might vary to make the situation perfectly clear. "John Smith was born 11 February 1866, probably in Danville, Vermont." "John Smith is probably the John Smith who was born in Danville, Vermont, 11 February 1866." TMG's default sentence structure for most events presents information in the sequence: date followed by place. This is also the sequence used by the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. How can one cater to both sequences without editing every sentence in a Register report?
  • One of the coolest features in TMG is its Language feature. In TMG, languages are not just English, French, German, etc. Languages also includes sentence structure and formatting. If you have a report that requires an unusual sentence structure, you can customize a new language for use in that report. By creating a Register Language, you can define default sentence structures in which the place precedes the date of any event. A report's output language is specified in the General tab in the Report Options screen.

When reporting an event that took place in a New England town, Register articles drop mention of the county. Of course, one can fix this with manual editing - and manual editing will be necessary, no matter how many TMG tricks one knows - but is there any way to do this in TMG?
  • The user can define a "Short place template" in TMG's Preferences, under the "Current Project Options > Other" option. When defining a report, in the Report Options screen in the Places tab, one can choose "Use Short Place field." Of course, if you define your "Short place template" as City, State only, your report will be accurate and complete for events that occurred in New England towns only. This TMG option is not your best choice for this report!
  • Did you know that you can edit the "Short place" field for any place listed in the Master Place List? If your report is designed to "Use Short Place field," TMG will use the "Short place template" you defined in Preferences - unless you edited a location's "Short place" field in the Master Place List. The former is the global definition of a short place; the latter is the local definition of that place, and local definitions override global definitions. By editing the "Short place" field in the Master Place List for all New England town locations, you can tell TMG to "Use Short Place field" in your Register style Journal report, secure in the knowledge that any Ohio or Pennsylvania town reference will include the county, as well. Warning! If you do this, you'll need to be aware that a New England town's county name will be omitted in all reports defined to "Use Short Place field."

Given the fact that you will still want to edit your report to minimize redundancy, editing the "Short place" field in the Master Place List may be something you decide isn't worth the effort or the potential confusion. Still, this is a very nice TMG feature, and many users are not aware that it exists.

Our Register style report still doesn't match the actual journal articles, but one of TMG's most powerful reporting features is its ability to export reports to several word processor programs. That way, one can make use of that word processor's features. The next post will demonstrate the final steps in converting our TMG Journal report from so-so Register style to something that almost matches the real thing.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

TMG's NGSQ and NEHGR Reports

Have you ever printed a Journal report using TMG's default settings for Register (NEHGR) or Record (NGSQ) style? If so, you might have said to yourself, "This doesn't look much like an article from one of those journals." Face it. No matter how sophisticated and powerful your genealogy software is, it's designed to help you think. It cannot do your thinking for you. If you want to create a professional genealogy, you need to engage your brain in the process. TMG and a word processor, though, can help. We investigated both the NEHGR and NGSQ styles in our January 2013 meeting. Because it requires a few more interesting tricks, this blog will report only our NEHGR findings.

We first created a two-generation genealogy Journal report using TMG's default Register (NEHGR) style options. This style choice restricts some of the available report options. These are the unrestricted options we chose.
  1. In the Sources tab, we checked "Footnotes" and "Combine consecutive footnotes/endnotes."
  2. In the Memos tab, we checked "Footnotes."
  3. In the Tags tab, we checked "Selected" and checked only "Birth," "Burial," "Divorce," "JournalConclusion," "JournalIntro," "Marriage," and "NarrativeChildren."
  4. In the Dates tab, we checked "Months spelled out."
  5. In the Places tab, we checked "Use place styles."
  6. In the Names tab, we checked "None" under Identifiers.
  7. In the Fonts and Colors tab, we changed all fonts to 12-point Times New Roman, with the exception of the Title, which was changed to 14-point, bold, Times New Roman.
Comparing that output to articles in the October 2012 issue of the New England Historical and Genealogical Register led to some quick changes in these default options. To change these options, it's necessary to change the style from Register (NEHGR) to Custom.
  1. In the Names tab in the Report Options screen, we checked "Include surname" under Child names.
  2. In the Miscellaneous tab in the Report Options screen, we checked "Include spouse events" under Format.
Here's a PDF of the resulting report. Although the generation numbers and the generation line in this report are (almost) correctly formatted, it still doesn't really look like an article from the NEHGR. The differences are really too numerous to list in this blog, but most of them are enumerated in this comparison chart. Note that this is not an official comparison chart; it's one I compiled after studying the references listed at the end of the chart and comparing them to TMG's NGSQ and NEHGR reports.

Although creating a professional genealogy report in an approved style will always require manual writing, or rewriting, combining some great TMG features with the styles feature in Word (or your own favorite word processor) will allow us to come much closer to that approved style. Here's our final computer-driven report. Doesn't it look a lot more like an article in the NEHGR? Check out the next post to see how this report was created.