Rube Goldberg genealogy

I’m a great fan of the eccentric machines cartooned by Rube Goldberg in the US and Heath Robinson over here. They are wonderful parodies of the supposed benefits of automation, the little man blowing a raspberry at the pomp and self-importance¬†of the Machine Age.

How the wizard was written

They also sum up pretty accurately a fair amount of my working life, at least on the software development side. Most of it still feels like having to stand on my head in order to comb my hair. But there is a genuine satisfaction in seeing one of my software contraptions chug into life like a piece of homemade clockwork.

The reason for going on about this is that I’ve finally put up a step-by-step wizard on this site, taking whatever someone knows about their Irish ancestor and producing an unthreatening summary of sources and links to get research going.

The old Irish Times/Irish Ancestors site had something like this, popular enough, but dating from 2012, the era when dinosaurs roamed the landscape of Irish genealogy. When I started re-coding for this present site, the wizard was high on the to-do list but¬†it’s been in production on and off for more than a¬†year.

The wizard start page

The problem was that records were coming online faster than I could incorporate them into the wizard. And every new set of records changed the relative importance of all the others. Rube Goldberg on steroids.

Over the past week, I’ve found myself tinkering with bits of punctuation and wording and realised it’s time to make the thing public. It will always be a work in progress (a euphemism for Rube Goldberg if ever there was one) but it has to be tried out by real researchers.

So give it a go. Try to break it. Make it come up with ludicrous suggestions. Just let me know when you do.

24 thoughts on “Rube Goldberg genealogy”

  1. I filled out the questions but the program hung up when it shows all the variations of my surname. There were no buttons displayed for continuing. I had to abort the program.

    I am interested in seeing what the results would be.

    Larry Foley

  2. Congratulations on this latest addition to the site. I tried two ancestors. Two suggestions–
    1–Please add ‘Don’t know’ to yes or no as answers to such questions as, “Were they married in Ireland?” Otherwise the results are not accurate.
    2–Please add ‘Farmer’ to the list of occupations. I found ‘Tenant Farmer’ by reading the whole list but not everyone will look for farmer under ‘T’. And some will have farmers who were not tenants–or think they do. You could phrase it ‘Farmer, tenant’.
    But thanks for this great project and looking forward to exploring it further.

  3. Hi John, I gave it a trial run, using an ancestor I’d already researched, feigning ignorance. It led me to the right sources and correctly told me that certain records weren’t available. The search also correctly informed me of two townlands of the same name in the same county, which was originally confusing to me. This will be so valuable to anyone starting their Irish ancestor search.

  4. Tried two searches as a wee tester, entered 2 of my more difficult ancestors to find.. it came back with over 30 name variations for one of them and 10 variations for the other. This could be helpful.. I’m going to have a blast at researching some of the surnames I haven’t tried before.

  5. Tried it, tried to fool it by putting in his birth @1940, his wedding @1882 (the wedding is correct).
    It didn’t choke. Understood that if not yes, click next. Stone Cutter by trade presumed you allowed for globs a la mason. In the real word never did find a baptism for Paul, just one of those things.
    Returned a list for further poking & prodding.

  6. I tried it. The new information that I received were variants of a name. I could not select maid or domestic in the occupation category because their was none. By the way, I believe I saw you on American TV. The housewives of Orange County. Was that you?

  7. After getting to add three of nine children I clicked on the page background instead of the active green dialog form and the green form disappeared and took everything I already added with it. I’ll give it another try.

  8. Works nicely. I was amazed to have the children I was entering as being born outside Ireland pop up in a window, along with their year of birth. Trick of the wizard or too intelligent an operating system (Windows 10)?

  9. It would be handy to have a “go back” option to the previous screen. I accidently entered the wrong year for a birth date and there was no way to go back and correct it. I second the person to request an “I don’t know” option so that you don’t automatically exclude records. I know that makes your job infinitely more difficult as I’m a programmer myself.

    Awesome software. Thank you and keep up the great effort.

  10. I got thru the kids and place of birth and death. The screen informed me that there are many variations on the name ‘Murtagh’, and gave me no forward options… and therefore no information other than what I had entered.

  11. I also accidently clicked on the background and lost all which I had entered and found no way to get back to where I had been nor to the beginning of the questions without clicking on the link in your blog.

    1. If the form disappears, you can recover it just by reloading the page – I’ve added a note to point this out.

      Thanks for letting me know

  12. I entered the requested info. and at the end it produced a summary of what I entered and a note saying that there were two versions of the surname I entered (which I already knew), but nothing else. So there were no hints or suggestions of any kind? Did I miss something while entering the data? Thanks.

  13. I had very little information on a relative born in Ireland. Your program has given me a direction and hopefully the brick walls will tumble. Thank you for your work

  14. I don’t think it gave me more information on the particular line I was searching, however it did remind me of a website I hadn’t checked on lately. So going into that website I did find a whole lot of information on a few different lines in the Belfast area. Thank you!

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