the database analyst discovers genealogy

Before going back to school in 2015 to pursue a career change in broadcast television, I was a database analyst for Sheridan Nurseries. The database analyst typically maintains data storage, assesses company information and suggests a custom database design for tracking purposes. One aspect of this job involves determining how information is stored to retrieve individual records. Even before I worked for Sheridan, I have long used these skills wherever possible to improve efficiencies in the workplace.

More recently, I used these skills for something more personal. Since 2003 as more and more information became available online, I have been tracing my family tree. In the beginning I used free software and it worked quite well for tracking family information. Genealogy is probably one of the best hobbies for someone who loves to analyze and validate information. The following year I went to England to visit multiple graveyards and to gather as much information as I could find. The easiest way was just to photograph the gravestones when I recognized a name and match it against my genealogy software when I got back home. This was very effective because I was gathering information that wasn't available online and it worked like a charm.

Over the years I made a bunch of online connections and it was fascinating to realize how much information was available online with more and more being added all the time. Around the same time, I was learning about coding in Visual Basic and I built a very simple, yet very useful tool to help me research and I called it The Census Calculator.

The census calculator

Having to cover a period of sixty years, it became a little complicated trying to figure out who you were looking for. Different sites had different ways of searching and you either had to remember the year they were born or their age based on the census you were searching through.

So using Visual Basic, I came up with an idea. I would start with the first census in 1841 and enter the age of the individual I was looking for. Then the program automatically calculated the year they were born and the age I would be looking for, depending on the year of the census. Simple, but very effective when doing multiple searches for multiple people.

With over fifteen years of research, I had compiled almost ten thousand individuals and over two thousand different families. Not all of these people are related to me, but I decided early on to enter the names of extended family members. In England, the census returns are allowed to released to the public after a hundred years have passed. 2022 was the year they released the 1921 UK census and it gave me a new subset of data to research and... a new project.

Because I had so much information in my family tree software, in the back of my mind I always thought the software wasn't quite good enough for tracking and displaying the actual census information easily in a visual format. It was great for names and places but if I wanted to track specific individuals and track where they were living from census to census, nothing I tried did what I wanted. So I spent some downtime during the pandemic to create my own database.

I wanted the first tab to display the family unit and I would enter each name from my genealogy software, then go through each census year by year.

The main form has two different sections. The top section represents the "Main Family" (parents with children) and the bottom section displays whether that individual was married and had children. The bottom section changes as each child from the top section is selected and shows related information. This allowed me to track another generation within the census returns at the same time.

With the 1841 tab selected, I entered the address information into the top section along with the occupation and some notes. The bottom section displays only the family members I was unable to find thus flagging records to track down why they were missing from the census. Reasons for missing are usually a death, a name change or they emigrated to a new country. Sometimes it can be a simple transcription error.