Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Mesa FamilySearch Library Conference still to be held

 Despite the fact that the Mesa FamilySearch Library is temporarily closed, the staff is still going to proceed with the annual conference. Here is the announcement received:
ANNOUNCING THE 2015 Family History Conference sponsored by the Mesa AZ FamilySearch Library on Saturday, October 24, 2015, at the Tempe Institute of Religion on the ASU Campus in Tempe, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:10 p.m.  The Library may be closed, but family history work goes on!
This year’s conference will feature a keynote address by Todd Powell of FamilySearch.  Mr. Powell is a Senior Product Manager for the FamilyTree Department at FamilySearch.org.  He graduated from BYU and has over 25 years working in technology and business leadership.  Todd is a native of Phoenix and the Gila Valley and enjoys visiting extended family in Arizona.
This year’s theme is “Putting It All Together” and provides a wide variety of over 50 class choices for all types of learners, from beginners to the most advanced genealogists.  Come and learn how to be more effective and efficient when doing your research.  Learn to trace your roots with DNA.  Learn to document your sources.  Get specific information on various ways to research in specific countries.  If you are new to family history, come learn the basics.  Some of the most popular classes are repeated in an effort to accommodate everyone.   Spend all day or come for a single class or two; you may attend a maximum of five classes.
Registration will begin online on Wednesday, September 9, 2015.  At the time of registration, registrants will be given the opportunity to purchase lunch from Jason’s Deli.  Otherwise, the conference is FREE.  See you in October! 
 I would strongly suggest registering as early as possible if you are considering attending the conference. Last year, the registration was closed because all of the classrooms were filled. They have expanded the conference this year but it is still wise to register early.

The Digital Impact on Genealogy -- an updated perspective

I have been reading an interesting book. Here is the cite to the book:

Edwards, Andrew V. Digital Is Destroying Everything: What the Tech Giants Won't Tell You About How Robots, Big Data, and Algorithms Are Radically Remaking Your Future. 2015.

I realized that many of impacts of the digital world were also spilling over into the genealogical community. I have mentioned a few of these before, but, while reading the book, I have been thinking about the subject and realized that the effects are even more far reaching than I had previously anticipated. 

One observation; I am old. I will not live to see all of the changes that are occurring. The analogy is that I am like on of the people who lived in St. Johns, Apache, Arizona back in the early 1900s when the first car came to town. They, like most of us today facing the digital revolution, could not see the impact that the technology, in their case, the automobile, would have on their lives and their town. We are essentially in the same condition. We are facing a time of huge changes due to the digital world invading almost every aspect of our lives. 

One of the observations made in the above book is about large music performances. The author makes the observation that in 1994 there were more than 200 music stadium shows around the United States, but by 2004, there were only 46. The author attributes that decline to the decentralization of the music industry caused by the availability of online, digital music. He goes on to discuss the impact of the digital world on newspapers and other aspects of our world. 

What are the main indications of the impact of the digitization of genealogy? Well, for me, the most obvious is going on right now with one of my friends. I am helping with some research in Mexico. So far, all of the records he has needed to look at for his family have been found online on FamilySearch.org. No visits to a Family History Center to look at microfilm. No searching online. No writing letters or visiting dusty archives. All this was done from his computer in his home. 

Let's suppose that FamilySearch achieves its goal of digitizing all (or nearly all) of the microfilm records in its collections. I would guess that at the present rate of digitization, this will occur in the next few years. Let's further suppose that the other large online genealogical database programs continue increasing their holdings. Going even further, let's suppose that many other institutions and archives continue their digitization processes. As I have observed previously, why would I need to go to a library? The return comment is, what about personal help? Don't I still need to go to classes? Don't I still need to ask questions?

Well, think about webinars. The genealogical community has already been substantially impacted by the common availability of webinars. Every single week there is a webinar from someone in the genealogical community. Just as the musical industry and the newspaper industry have been dramatically decentralized, eventually the genealogical community will begin to feel this impact even more dramatically than it has in the past. I have made observations about the effect of these changes on the genealogical conference circuit. I was reminded of this this week with a discussion among some genealogists about the impact on a local conference here in Utah. Just as some local retailers are having difficulty competing with Walmart and the online giant Amazon.com, through blogs, webinars, online conferences, and other digital offerings I have access to almost any genealogist in the United States. Why would I travel and pay money to go see a prominent genealogist if I can read her blog, listen to her speak, watch a recorded class and read her online digital book?

I admit, there is some "celebrity" attraction. But how many superstar genealogists do we really have?

Although there are some of us who know the reality, the general impression in the genealogical community is that "everything is online." In my opinion, the point where this was true for most people happened years ago. So, what I see today when I go to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City Utah is a bunch of people sitting at computers. I still go to the Family History Library because there are things there that I cannot easily obtain online. But, as I observed above, what if all the microfilms and other documents were available online? How often would I need to go to the Family History Library then?

From my own very personal perspective, I am primarily teaching at the Brigham Young University Family History Library. Many of the classes I teach here are being "digitized" and made available on the BYU Family History Library YouTube channel. I have been regularly putting up new presentations. Some of these online videos are receiving thousands of views. From the standpoint of reaching a large audience and further from the standpoint of saving scarce resources, i.e. my time, it is far more effective for me to do a video than to teach a class at a conference.

If you're reading this blog, you are being affected by the digital revolution. Think about that.

An Example of Digging into Records: The Georgia Land Lotteries

From time to time, I like to write about records that are not generally known or used for genealogical research. These types of records are usually mentioned, if at all, in a class about a specific type of records or records from a specific location. My current example of such records are collectively known as Georgia (the state) Land Lottery records. Here is an explanation of this particular class of records from the North Georgia, Georgia's Land Lotteries website.
Seven times between 1805 and 1832 Georgia used a lottery system to distribute the land taken from the Cherokee Nation or Creek Nation. These lotteries were unique to the state; no other state used a lottery system to distribute land. Lot size varied widely, even in the individual lotteries. The largest lots distributed were 490 acres in the 1805 and the 1820 land lottery. The smallest lots were the 40-acre gold lots distributed during the Gold Lottery of 1832.
These records could be valuable in identifying the exact location of an ancestor. The records contain the names of thousands of people who were awarded land by this system and, I should mention, at the expense of the members of the Cherokee Nation who lost their land. Some of the worst events in world history can generate valuable genealogical records. Be sure and check online for digitized copies of the books and/or lists on database programs that might exist. I found some of these records on Ancestry.com. I found lists of those who were awarded land on the Georgia USGenWeb Archives Project and information about the lottery system on the Georgia Archives website. I even found an extensive PowerPoint presentation on the subject from the Mesa FamilySearch Library.

Here is a list of books about the Land Lotteries and many of these contain extensive lists of the awards.

Andrea, Leonardo. Georgia Lands. Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1974.

Blank or Prize What You Need to Know about Georgia’s Land Lotteries. Arlington, Va.; St. Louis, MO: National Genealogical Society] ; Jamb Tapes, 2011.

Bleakley, Hoyt, Joseph P Ferrie, and National Bureau of Economic Research. Up from Poverty? The 1832 Cherokee Land Lottery and the Long-Run Distribution of Wealth. Cambridge, Mass.: National Bureau of Economic Research, 2013.

Cherokee County Lottery, 1832: 1805 & 1807 Land Lotteries, Baldwin & Wayne Counties; 1805 & 1807 Land Lotteries, Wilkinson County,. Atlanta, Ga.: Georgia Secretary of State, 1986.

Daughters of the American Revolution, and Georgia State Society. Historical Collections of the Georgia Chapters. Vidalia, Ga.: Georgia Genealogical Reprints, 1968.

Davis, Robert Scott. The 1833 Land Lottery of Georgia, and Other Missing Names of Winners in the Georgia Land Lotteries. Greenville, S.C.: Southern Historical Press, 1991.

Davis, Robert Scott, S. Emmett Lucas, Georgia, and Surveyor General Department. The Georgia Land Lottery Papers, 1805-1914: Genealogical Data from the Loose Papers Filed in the Georgia Surveyor General Office, Concerning the Lots Won in the State Land Lotteries and the People Who Won Them. Easley, S.C.: Southern Historical Press, 1979.

Dorsey, James Edward. Georgia Genealogy and Local History: A Bibliography. Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Co., 1983.

Gentry, Lelia Thornton. Old Bible Records and Land Lotteries. Baltimore, MD.: Clearfield Co., 1995.

Georgia. Court of Ordinary (Decatur County). Estrays 1828-1867, 1894-1927, and Persons Entitled to Draw in Gold and Land Lotteries (dates Unknown) [Decatur County, Georgia]. Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1961.

Georgia Historical Society. The Georgia Historical Quarterly: Volume LXXIII, Fall 1989, Number 3. Savannah, Ga.: Georgia Historical Society, 1989.

Georgia. Land Court (Liberty County). Land Lotteries and Land Court Records 1803-1837, Liberty County, Georgia. Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1958.

Georgia, and Surveyor General Department. Georgia Indexes of the Various Counties to Land Grants and Lotteries. Atlanta [Georgia]: State Dept. of Archives and History, 1955.

———. Index to People Entitled to Participate in Land Lotteries from the Various Georgia Counties, 1805-1806. Atlanta [Georgia]: State Dept. of Archives and History, 1967.

———. Land Lotteries Surveys and Grants. Atlanta [Georgia]: Georgia Department of Archives and History, 1967.

Georgia, Surveyor General Department, Fiscal records, Georgia, and Comptroller General’s Office. Grant Fees Paid, 1836.

Georgia, Surveyor General Department, and Land lottery records. Manuscript Lottery Indexes, 1807.

Gold and Land Lottery Register. [Milledgeville]: [Grieve & Orme], 1833.

Graham, Paul K. Georgia Land Lottery Research. Atlanta, Ga.: Georgia Genealogical Society, 2010.

Graham, Paul K, Jr R.J. Taylor, and Foundation. 1805 Georgia Land Lottery Persons Entitled to Draws. Decatur, Ga.: Genealogy Co., 2005.

Hitz, Alex M, Georgia, and Surveyor General Department. Authentic List of All Land Lottery Grants Made to Veterans of the Revolutionary War by the State of Georgia. Atlanta: Secretary of State of Georgia, 1966.

Ingmire, Frances Terry. Georgia’s Land Lotteries: 1805-1807-1820-1821-1827 & 1832, Counties & Districts. [Place of publication not identified]: [publisher not identified], 1980.

Karan Pittman. “Lotteries Leave Clues - Part 2.” GenWeekly, 2005.

Lucas, S. Emmett. The Third and Fourth or 1820 and 1821 Land Lotteries of Georgia. Easley, S.C: Georgia Genealogical Reprints, 1973.

Meyers, Christopher C, and David Williams. Georgia: A Brief History. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2012.

Prizes Drawn in the Cherokee Gold Lottery: Of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Quality, with Their Improvements, and Drawer’s Name and Residence. Milledgeville [Ga.]: Printed at the Times Office by M.D.J. Slade, 1833.

Surveyor General Department, and Georgia Archives. [Georgia Land Lottery Records]. [Place of publication not identified]: [publisher not identified].

The Third and Fourth, or 1820 and 1821 Land Lotteries of Georgia. Easley, S.C.: Georgia Genealogical Reprints : Southern Historical Press, 1973.

Williams, H. David. “Gambling Away the Inheritance: The Cherokee Nation and Georgia’s Gold and Land Lotteries of 1832-33.” Georhistquar The Georgia Historical Quarterly 73, no. 3 (1989): 519–39.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Is Voice Recognition a Viable Alternative?

 For the past couple of years, I have been using voice recognition software more frequently. Some of you may have noticed my use because of the insertion of random words that seem to make no sense. As I have written about previously, my use of voice recognition goes back to the introduction of primitive system for the IBM Selectric typewriter back in the 1960s. I probably tried and purchased almost every program available. From time to time, I have written posts about my experience in using voice recognition.

Just recently, I purchased another update to the Dragon Dictate program from Nuance software. This is the Macintosh version of the Windows program called "Dragon NaturallySpeaking." To give you an idea of the accuracy of voice-recognition I am going to dictate the remaining portions of this post without making anything except voice commands. In other words, if the program makes a mistake in transcribing my voice, I am going to leave those mistakes in the post.

 I am painfully aware that smart phones and tablets have implemented primitive voice recognition. The most annoying of these is the Apple Siri program. But Google has also implemented a rather limited voice recognition option and voice recognition is showing up in many other places. The question from my standpoint is not whether I can get my smart phone, in my case an iPhone, to respond to my voice commands but whether or not I can use voice recognition as part of my normal activities of writing huge amounts of text. As I've often noted in the past, the issue is accuracy. If I have to spend as much time editing the text as I spend writing it, I might as well type the text and make the corrections as I go along. As a side note, I note that one of the skills for which I am often cited in the LinkedIn website is editing. If you are a daily reader of my blog you probably realizing that editing is not necessarily my greatest talent.

I am also aware that both Windows and the Mac operating system have built-in voice recognition software. I would view both of these programs as rudimentary. For text that requires a great deal of formatting, voice-recognition is not much of a help unless you are physically limited in your ability to enter text by a keyboard. I must admit that I do not use voice recognition to control my computer, primarily because I am so much faster with a trackpad.

I am always surprised at the accuracy of voice recognition programs in recognizing names. But this does not mean that I would use them to enter data into a genealogical database program. For example here is a list of names of some of my ancestors:

  • Henry Martin Tanner [correct]
  • Ovi Christian over some [Ove Christian Overson]
  • David Thomas [correct]
  • Jens Christiansen [Jens Christensen]
  • Carol Morgan [Harold Morgan]

You can probably see, that I would spend as much time correcting the entries as I would entering them.

One thing I have learned, is that it is important to read the text that you dictate and in effect, do your editing at the time that you are reading the text. It is also important to take the time to train the programs.

Actually, I am pretty much impressed with the increased accuracy of the Dragon Dictate program. Because the program has been constantly improved, I have been willing to spend for the cost of the upgrades. The point at which voice-recognition software became a viable option was when its accuracy became essentially the same as my accuracy while typing. I must admit, that it does a much better job of spelling words the first time that I do. Without the built-in spellchecker in my computer, my spelling would be much worse than it appears to be.

Well this is the end of the post that has been entirely dictated with the Dragon Dictate version of the program for Macintosh OS X operating system. Oh, I almost forgot, voice recognition didn't even begin to work until computers got fast enough to process vast amounts of information in a very short period of time. If you are using an older computer you may not experience the full capabilities of the programs.

Where are the state-by-state resources for genealogy?

Did you know that some of the large online genealogy websites has a state-specific resource pages? Did you know that many of these specific links are part of the new website called "The Family History Guide?" State specific resource listings are not a new development. FamilySearch and its predecessors published paper Research Outlines starting many years ago. These paper editions have been incorporated into the FamilySearch.org Research Wiki. See the Research Wiki articles entitled, "Research Guides Now in the FamilySearch Wiki" and "Research Outlines." Because they went out of print in 2009, in most cases, the actual Guides have disappeared except in libraries, but the content was long ago incorporated into the Research Wiki. If you still want to see the original Outlines, you can find a link to PDF copies on the BYU Family History Library Research Wiki article.

FamilySearch.org has the following Research by Location map located through the "Search" link or menu item:


You begin by clicking on an area of the world, in this case, the United States. You then choose a location:


I will use Arizona as an example of the page that results from choosing a state:


Here is a similar page on Ancestry.com that is linked by The Family History Guide:


Here is the Arizona page from MyHeritage.com, once again available from a link on The Family History Guide.


Here is yet another Arizona page from Findmypast.com as linked by The Family History Guide.


Here is the USGenWeb page for Arizona:


Again, another Arizona genealogy research page. This one is from Cyndi's List:


What about the FamilySearch.org Research Wiki?



Each of these websites give a different twist to the research in any given state or country.

Friday, August 28, 2015

No Change in Status of Mesa FamilySearch Library

Last evening in a meeting held with the volunteers and missionaries of the Mesa FamilySearch Library (formerly known as the Mesa Regional Family History Center) the attendees were essentially told that no decision has been made. The reason the attendees were told to attend the meeting was to hear the decision about the Library from FamilySearch.

The Mesa FamilySearch Library was housed in a building located at 41 South Hobson in Mesa, Arizona. It is one of about 15 very large Family History Centers of over 4600 such FamilySearch operations and has had tens of thousands of patrons during an average year. At the end of November, 2014 the Library was closed for renovation and remodeling and found to have serious water leakage problems with the resultant mold. As a result, the entire collection of books, microfilm and other items was put in metal storage boxes and stored in the parking lot. Because of the extreme heat in Mesa, finally, the stored items were returned to the partially deconstructed building. Although there is a second annex building, it has not been used to continue most of the functions of the old building.

So, the Library is closed until further notice and the missionaries and other volunteers have been given no idea of the final decision to be made. I am trying hard not to make my own speculative conclusions.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

What is the core value of online genealogical database programs?

The question in the title of this post may seem puzzling. Wouldn't the core value of the large online database programs be their large databases? Well, you might that this would be an obvious conclusion, but if you view the websites' startup pages and the links to get to their digitized documents, you might begin ask the question. It is hard to think about the answer without comparing and contrasting the various websites, but I am going to ask some questions. Here is my list:

  • How easy is it to find a copy of a particular document on the website and how many clicks does it take to do so?
  • How do you find out whether or not a particular type of database is hosted on the website? 
  • If the digitized documents were not on the website would you still visit it?
  • How many other services and programs are offered by the website?
  • Would you be more likely to use a program with an integrated family tree or one without an associated family tree program?
  • How important is the ability to print reports, including fan charts, pedigree charts and family group records?
I am fully aware that the different websites all use a different approach to providing digitized documents. Some have an integrated family tree, others rely solely on their database to attract users. But the issue I am approaching is which of all the activities offered by these larger websites is the deal maker or breaker? What if I decided to create the largest online database of actual digital records in the world (assuming that is now still possible); if I reached my goal, would I then have the most visited website?

My analogy here is the question we used to ask ourselves almost everyday in the retail computer business: what business are we in today? Because we have the technology to do all sorts of fancy things, does that mean that a website needs to be all things to all people? What if I just provide a whole lot of valuable digitized records in a very efficient way? How much more do I need to do?

How important is the integration of photos and text files with a family tree? I sometimes feel that new features are added to programs and online websites merely because they can be, not because they are in any way needed. If a website is getting millions of hits a year, it is very difficult to determine why people are coming to the website. Even if you analyze in detail where they go on the website and what seems to interest them, the real reason for visiting the website might be something entirely different. It appears that some websites are like large department stores with various "profit centers." The add a service to see if they can increase the bottom line of the business. 

In all of this, where are the genealogists? Are we all just "customers" or "users?" I would guess that genealogy has become more like the overall theme of the website rather than a particular concern. The website creates a virtual "Genealogyland" with different sections devoted to DNA, Media, Education etc. 

Now, back to the main question, what are the core values of the various online database programs? Perhaps, we have been faced with the shopping center approach for so long, we no longer want or need the specialist.