About Deena Coutant


Posts by Deena Coutant:

The Inspiration for My Why

The Inspiration for My Why

I am often asked why I got started researching family history, and that’s a good question.  I suspect for most who ask the question, it is a simple curiosity since I usually do stick out in a room–by being quite a bit younger than the average genealogist by 2-4 decades, give or take.  I used to be able to say I didn’t have any noticeable grey hairs, but that is not really true anymore, so we’ll just stick to the fact that I’m younger than most.

Marie Campagna, Sophomore year at LSU

Marie Campagna, Sophomore year at Louisiana State University

I always answer that it was my last living grandparent, maternal grandmother Marie Campagna Anderson, that was the impetus for my journey down this path.  Without even thinking, I normally rattle off that she “passed the torch” to me, and now I’m the family historian.  And I usually also tag on that my paternal grandparents Weldon & Lucille Darst also did genealogical research, so I got it from both sides.  And that I am the eventual heir to all the boxes of photos and memorabilia from both sides of the family, so it is my responsibility to document all the people and stories that left behind all the stuff.

So how did it all start?  When Grandma Marie turned 80 on 31 August 2007, her six daughters planned a surprise birthday reunion for her.  One of the gifts to be unveiled at this reunion was a scrapbook that documented the 8 decades of her life.  I diligently worked for 9 months preceding the reunion with my mom and aunts to collect all the photos, milestone events, and stories that would go into the book.  My mom scanned 2,000+ vintage photos, and each of the 6 daughters wrote several short stories of memories of their mother over the 6 decades of their lives.  I restored all the faded photos and compiled everything into 2 scrapbooks spanning 130 pages. It was a fascinating experience, because I learned things about my grandmother that I would have never known, had it not been for the massive scrapbook project.

Scrapbook to celebrate Marie's 80th birthday

Scrapbook to celebrate Marie’s 80th birthday

My interest had been piqued, and I was heading down the slippery slope toward genealogy addiction!  After the reunion, most of my visits home to see my parents and grandmother revolved around some type of family archiving, scanning, or organization projects.  When I learned I’d be moving from Texas to Colorado in early 2010, I spent about 3 weeks engaged in curating activities for our family archive.  I began to help my grandmother with her Family Tree Maker software, and then bought my own copy of the software in 2010, because I wanted to start adding new information to the family tree.

As it turns out, my Grandma Marie had inherited the beginnings of her research from her brother Salvador Campagna, who had traced the Campagna and Margavio ancestors and descendants about 3 generations in both directions.  Being from a large Italian family, Marie had about 53 first cousins, so most of the members in the family tree were living descendants of these individuals.  Both Sal and Marie had done most of their research the old-fashioned way pre-Internet:  by writing letters to family members, sending away for records from the National Archives, or renting microfilm to view at local Family History Centers.  Reviewing this information opened my eyes to the existence of entire branches of the family that I hadn’t ever heard of, much less met in person.

I have a tendency to dive into anything I do with full gusto, and genealogy was no different for me.  After I moved to the Denver area, I didn’t know a soul, so began attending local genealogical society events at the rate of about 2 or more per week.  I quickly came up to speed on research techniques, methodology and record types, and soon found myself being the teacher to others.  I began taking week-long trips to Salt Lake City to research at the Family History Library, and brought home stacks of papers usually averaging 2,500 copies!  I was officially addicted!

Weldon & Lucille Darst, 1965 at Driscoll Hotel, Austin, Texas

Weldon & Lucille Darst, 1965 at Driscoll Hotel, Austin, Texas

My Grandma Marie officially handed off responsibility for further research sometime in 2011, and I haven’t looked back since.  I love to share with her the new things I find on her Italian lines.  I’ve even gotten my mother Beth Darst hooked on the gateway drug known on the street as Ancestry.com, and now she is even doing basic research requests for members of her church.  My, how slippery that slope is!

I recall as a child that my PawPaw Weldon always challenged me and my brother to “leave a legacy.”  This was something very important to him, and although I didn’t fully grasp it as a teenager before he passed away, I understand now.  I wish my PawPaw was still alive today so he could share with me in all the discoveries I’ve made on the Darst and allied lines.  I think he would be proud of the legacy of which he and his ancestors are a part.

So as I continue my genealogy obsession, I remember those who came before me and planted the seeds of the trees whose roots now run deep.

This post is dedicated to my grandparents Marie & Nathan Anderson and Weldon & Lucille Darst.






Family Tree Maker Tip: Merging Duplicate Facts

Family Tree Maker Tip: Merging Duplicate Facts

Have you ever noticed a situation in your Family Tree Maker database where you have several different or duplicate versions of a particular fact?  This situation most often occurs when you have merged information into your tree that doesn’t exactly match what you already have on record, so the software creates an alternate version of the fact.  The variation in information can be as subtle as an extra space or punctuation between words, or perhaps spelling out the state instead of using the state abbreviation, as in Texas vs. TX.  Sometimes duplication can occur even if the information is exactly the same, such as in cases where you perform a duplicate download of a record from Ancestry.com that is merged into your tree.  Whatever the cause of the duplication, luckily the information can be easily combined to create a cleaner list of facts and citations in your database.

FTM 20130704 Fig1In the example above, I have two scenarios that need to be corrected.  There are three different name facts, with two being exact duplicates of “Emma Lucille Freeman” and one being a name variant where the middle and first name were reversed as “Lucille Emma Freeman.”  There are 7 source citations linked to the “Lucille” name variant, and 1 citation linked to each of the “Emma” name variants.  Regardless of how I may want to resolve the duplication, I will certainly want to keep my source citations intact, so deleting a duplicate fact is never a good option, as it will also delete the linkage to the citation.

FTM 20130704 Fig2

I also have exact duplication of the residence fact for 1920, which came from the 1920 census record.  I likely erroneously merged two copies of this census record into Lucille’s record from Ancestry.com, even though I had already documented the residence fact.  In this case I want to merge the two duplicate facts and the duplicate source citations.

It is fairly easy to correct both of these problems.  Begin by right clicking on one of the duplicate facts and selecting Merge Duplicate Facts.


FTM 20130704 Fig3

A dialog box will appear that lists all the different variations or duplications of the fact you selected.  Simply check the facts you wish to merge, and leave unchecked the facts you wish to remain separate.  In my case, I want to keep the Emma vs. Lucille names as separate facts, with Lucille as preferred and Emma as alternate, so I will only check the two duplicate Emma name facts to merge.




FTM 20130704 Fig4

Once I click Next, I am given more options that allow me to specify which version of each fact’s date, place and description element I want to become the preferred fact.  Because I am only combining two identical Emma name facts, there’s really no impact to this decision, but if I had opted to also combine the Lucille name fact, I would then be able to choose whether I wanted Lucille or Emma to be the preferred fact after the merge.  The note at the bottom of the dialog box reassures me that all my source citations that are not in duplicate will be retained after the merge.

Once I click Finish, I see that the duplicate Emma facts have been combined into one fact.  Because there is now only one source citation associated with the Emma fact, I know that the duplicate citation was also combined.

FTM 20130704 Fig5

FTM 20130704 Fig6In the 1920 residence example, I also right click on one of the residence facts to begin the Merge Duplicate Facts process.  I am only concerned with merging the duplicate 1920 residences, but I notice that a 1930 residence also appears as a choice to potentially combine.  This is because the 1930 fact is also a residence fact.  I do not want to accidentally combine 1920 and 1930 information, because the information was recorded at distinct times and places!  I take care to only check the boxes to combine the 1920 information.


FTM 20130704 Fig7

This residence fact only contained the date and place element, so there is nothing in the description for me to select to keep.  Because the facts were exact duplicates, the software automatically removes the duplicate choices (for date and place, not for description), so all I have to do is click Finish and the process will be done.

After the merge completes, I notice that I now only have one residence fact for 1920 and my 1930 fact was also left as is.

FTM 20130704 Fig8

I do notice that the 1920 fact now has 2 source citations, meaning the citations differed and were not automatically combined.  I must investigate why the citations were different, since the obvious source of the information would have been the one and only 1920 census.  By clicking on the 1920 residence fact, I see the fact sources in the right screen panel.

FTM 20130704 Fig9

The mystery is solved!  At one time I must have downloaded information from a personal member tree on Ancestry.com, and then later downloaded the 1920 census directly.  It is important to note that downloading information from a personal member tree on Ancestry.com will always generate a source citation to the personal member tree, even if the tree had the 1920 census attached as its original source for the residence fact.  Stated another way, the citation will contain information about where you got the information (the personal member tree), not the source of your source (the 1920 census). Because of this knowledge, I make yet another decision to further clean up this source citation.  I don’t need a lesser quality source of a personal member tree when I have already documented the original source of the 1920 census.  I simply click on the citation to the personal member tree and click the broken chain link icon to unlink the citation.

FTM 20130704 Fig10

After confirming that I indeed to want to unlink the citation, I see that I now only have one source citation for the 1920 residence, so my work is done.

FTM 20130704 Fig11

Word of caution:  If you plan to do a lot of merging of facts, it’s always a good idea to back up your database before you start working, and then periodically as you work so you have recovery points along the way, should you need them.

Going Public

Going Public

Today I’m going public…with my Ancestry member tree, that is! I’ve had a tree on Ancestry.com ever since the fall of 2011 when the Family Tree Maker 2012 software was released with the AncestrySync functionality. Prior to that time I kept my tree only in Family Tree Maker, protected from the online world.

Deena Ancestry Tree

My thoughts on public vs. private trees have evolved greatly over the last two years. This post is a glimpse into my thought processes any why they changed.

When I first began my professional genealogy education quest over two years ago, I had a very narrow view of what I was willing to share publicly. I had inherited the beginnings of my genealogical research from both my maternal grandmother and paternal grandfather, so the 2,000 or so ancestors in my tree had not been researched by me personally. I was nervous to share information that I had not personally verified, especially since the research I inherited did not come complete with source citations.

Because of my concern for accuracy, I was hesitant to share information online that could be freely copied by others and propagate beyond my ability of retraction, should I discover an error. Being the good student of genealogy that I was, I wanted to ensure that every “i” was dotted and “t” was crossed. After hours of pouring over citation models in Evidence Explained, I conjured up images of Elizabeth Shown Mills looking at my tree–heaven forbid there might be a stray punctuation mark or misplaced element in my source citations!

Fast forward a year, and it started to sink in that life is short. I may never perfect the family genealogy 10 generations back on all lines (that’s over 2,000 ancestors!). If I want to make serious progress, I really need to collaborate with others and prevent duplication of research that has already been done.

Sharing is not a one way street, it’s a give and take. How could I expect to collaborate with others if I have not made an attempt to publicly share my information with them? Without sharing information, I am practically invisible to them!

As I battled my inner-perfectionist, I realized something had to compromise if I wanted to make real progress. I had an epiphany when a genealogy buddy explained to me that she had two separate trees on Ancestry: one public and one private. The public tree was smaller than her private tree, and dubbed her “phishing” tree. She had enough information in the public tree to effectively be “cousin bait” and attract relatives who might find her via the green shaky hint leaves on Ancestry. Her private tree was larger, but contained some unproven information or details she was not sure her family members would want broadcast online. What a beautiful compromise: to share what was reasonably accurate, and use the less-than-proven information privately as clues for future research!

I was almost convinced that I needed to make my tree, or at least a portion of it, public. The clencher came when I took an Ancestry DNA test and received my results much faster than I had anticipated. Within a day of being notified that my results were in, and before I was even able to review the matches myself, I had 3 email requests from various matches imploring me to make my tree public so they could determine how we were related.  One email even schooled me that it was a waste of time for me to have taken a DNA test if I didn’t have the accompanying tree to make sense of the results.  OK, point taken.

So in response, I spent the last two days cleaning up my Family Tree Maker data file in preparation for placing a new public tree online. I tediously merged duplicate individuals (5 hours), resolved place names (6 hours), and downloaded and re-linked missing media (4 hours), as well as notated records where I suspected the possibility of errors or the need for further research. The tree is as ready as it will ever be, at this stage of my research. Only one nagging question remained: what if others judiciously copy information that later is determined to be inaccurate?  What if the discovery is 10 years or more down the road?

I have resolved myself to the fact that I cannot be responsible for the actions of others. I cannot force every other genealogist out there to follow the Genealogical Proof Standard instead of just collecting as many names as possible. I cannot ensure that care is taken to retype information accurately or evaluate it with logic and critical thinking. If I cannot control others’ actions, why should I deny myself the usage of a tool such as a public Ancestry tree that could benefit me greatly in my personal research and cousin connections?

So there, I’ve said it. I’ve made up my mind that I will be uploading my Ancestry tree tonight, even though I cannot guarantee everything is 100% accurate (can any genealogist make such a claim?). I now feel the benefit of connecting with other serious researchers far outweighs the chance that an amateur researcher might blindly copy a piece of erroneous information. It is by connecting to other family members that we might actually solve the puzzles together with each of our individual puzzle pieces, resulting in more accurate information for the genealogical community as a whole. And from the DNA perspective, I am related to my high-probability matches in some form, regardless of what the family tree on paper says, but that’s another topic for another day.

As I close this post, I am excited about the prospects of sharing with cousins yet to be discovered!


Building My Website

Building My Website

I am excited to finally devote a block of time to building my DigiDeena website. This work has been a long time comin’ (1.5 years more or less), and I’ve had countless ideas bouncing around in my head for many months now.  Having the house nearly to myself for almost 2 weeks is just the opportunity I needed to seize upon to make this happen!

IMG_4686It will take me many months to get all the content added that I envision will have a permanent home on this site, but luckily I’ve been writing a lot offline so it’s just a matter of organizing the content into a logical order for this site.  I have devoted the last 2 years to my education in professional genealogy, and I’ve learned so much I cannot wait to share it all.

Today is the first day of summer, and I can’t think of a better way to beat the heat and smoke from all the dozen Colorado wildfires that are blazing, than to work on my plan for this site.  I hope you will take this journey with me over the months and years to come, and benefit from the information I will share.


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