RootsTech 2014

Mocavo

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

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Upload your own documents to Mocavo.com for free storage and indexing

Not only is Mocavo.com adding its 1,000 databases a day, it is also allowing its users to share every family history book, photo, letter, pamphlet, brochure, or directory you’ve ever gotten your hands on; they want to help you bring it online for your relatives to discover, near or far, close or distant. That's every single piece of it online for free. In addition, Mocavo.com has expanded their free scanning program to add the ability to upload documents you already have scanned.

Here is what they offer to do:
But what about the content you’ve already scanned in yourself? How can you get that added to our index? We wanted to make it even easier for you to contribute content to Mocavo, so we’ve completely redesigned the Contribute section of our site.

Now, all it takes is a few simple clicks to upload your documents to Mocavo! We will process your content, add it to our index so that all of the text within your documents is completely searchable, and then you can show off your hard work to your loved ones and collaborate with family members to make even more discoveries!
This is getting really interesting.

New Utah Genealogical Association Board Members

I am honored to be among the newly elected Utah Genealogical Society Board members along with Adele Marcum and Peg Ivanyo. Patsy Hendrickson, a current Board member will also be returning for a new term. I thought as long as I was moving to Provo, Utah and have been a member of the UGA for several years, that it would be a good idea to get a little more active in the organization. You will be able to read about the new Board members at ugagenealogy.org shortly.

Is genealogy a hobby?

Tammy Hepps of Treelines.com wrote a thought provoking blog post entitled, "In Defense of Genealogy as a Hobby." Tammy says the following about genealogy after referring to this book
Peterson, Carla L. Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2011 :
In short, our field is belatedly undergoing the standardization that pharmacology and every other respected discipline has had to undergo to enter the ranks of academic fields of study.
Is this correct? Is genealogy belatedly undergoing standardization? At this point, I might suggest reading another book I have referred to several times. This one talks about the history of genealogy in the United States: Weil, François. Family Trees: A History of Genealogy in America. 2013. The history of genealogy as both a pastime and a profession is much more complicated than a simple characterization of a dichotomy between, as Tammy states,
Experts who believe that the only way to do genealogy is GPS-guided research don’t understand what genealogy is. Like most liberal arts, it falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. It is about truth and meaning. Denying the role of meaning altogether rejects much of what makes genealogy a distinct discipline.
The reference to GPS is the Genealogical Proof Standard. There is a very extensive discussion in the comments to Tammy's post that I recommend to anyone even vaguely interested in topic. What caught my attention was Tammy's link to a post by Drew Smith that was essentially aimed at some of my own earlier comments.

I would like to make a few points. First of all, unlike other hobbies and even professional disciplines as a genealogist, I am not dealing with an abstract concept. I am dealing with my family and my relatives. Let me go to my usual hypothetical situations. Let's suppose that I would like to build a house and live in it. Do I care about the standards to which the various components of the house are constructed? Do I care if the electrical wiring is "up to code" or conforms to some standard? Sure, I could hire someone off the street who thought it would be "fun" to build a house. But would I want to live in the house that resulted from this fun activity?

The difference between genealogy and other avocations, interests, hobbies or what not, is pretty simple. I have to live in the family tree house built by the other genealogists. I do not have an elitist or scholarly viewpoint about the standards of construction of my genealogical house. I have a very basic practical issue. When there are people who are either related to me or claim to be related to me and they make up information or do sloppy work, I have to live with the results. We are not talking about someone's efforts to sew or make their own woodworking projects, We are talking about a shared inheritance of information. The fundamental issue is one of accuracy; am I really related to these people or not? I understand that you may think I am overly fastidious about my efforts to convince people to be accurate, but they are building my genealogical house and I have to live in it.

There is a pretty good review of the issues involved through Tammy's post and extensive comments. But all this talk about whether or not there is a place for "hobbyists" in genealogy misses the point. Of course people are entitled to participate in their own activities. But as we live in complex societies, we limit those activities that impinge on the common good and interests of the group. Out here in the Southwest, we have a lot of people who have the hobby of riding All Terrain Vehicles or ATVs. I don't happen to one of them. But do we allow people who have fun riding ATVs to drive their vehicles anywhere and at any time they please? No, we set some standards for their participation in their "fun" activity. Why do we do this as a society? Because what they do for fun can impinge on what we perceive to be a greater good; the preservation of our wilderness areas. Because, like genealogy, we all have an interest in the general environment. Is there a heated dispute between the ATV riders and those who wish to preserve the wilderness? Of course. Likewise, there are the same kinds of interests being disputed in the genealogical community.

If you are an ATV rider, you may think my objection to your "sport or hobby" is elitist and academic. But even though you don't like my viewpoint, my answer is the same, too bad. I have my viewpoint and you have yours. I will not give up my standards and if I had my way, ATVs would be even more limited than they are presently. Do those who ride ATVs have a right to ride their machines? Yes, of course, but only so long as they maintain certain standards. For example, do not ride in a National Park off of designated areas.

My example is not a contrived as you might think. The question is this: do I have some kind of expectation that my ancestors be correctly and accurately identified? This issue becomes one of more than academic interest when you factor in the issue of a unified family tree such as FamilySearch.org's Family Tree. Does some hobbyist have the right to go in and change my mother's birthdate to the wrong date just for fun? Should ignorance be an excuse?

Most of the discussion by the various parties on Tammy's post talk around this issue but regardless, it is a basic issue. When we share the genealogical road with each other, we should have some expectation of conformity to an established standard. We do share this road because we are related to one another. Are we really prepared to let the genealogical ATV riders go anywhere they please at any time?

From my standpoint, the issue is whether or not accuracy in family history really matters. I happen to have deeply held philosophical and religious beliefs that say that accuracy does, in fact, matter. So you can brand me any way you like, but I will still go on teaching and writing as long as I am able and trying to help anyone interested enough to listen to aspire to higher standards of accuracy, hobbyist or professional alike.

Of course, I am not a certified expert and my opinion does not count in some circles but I do think I know a little bit about what genealogy is and is not. This brings up another issue, probably the topic for another post, who is and who is not an expert genealogist? How do I place myself in the community? Is community validation important? Isn't the issue one of self-awareness and even self-promotion rather than any particular level of competency? I am certainly not always "right" as my readers and detractors are quick to tell me.

I would like to end with an excellent comment by Drew Smith to the original post cited above.  I quote,
And the one thing that *all* aspects of genealogy share is that they are about establishing relationships (parent to child, sibling to sibling, spouse to spouse), whether those are biological or legal or some other variation. It may involve all kinds of other things, too (family stories, photographs, historical context, and much more), but at its heart, it is still about establishing the relationships. And if those relationships cannot be established with evidence to justify the conclusion, then it all falls apart. It may be wishful thinking, but it isn’t genealogy. It simply doesn’t qualify under any reasonable definition of the term.
Sorry for all the mixed metaphors.




Beginning your search for your Swedish Roots with Rötter

I have found that even among experienced genealogists doing research in specific countries, that they are often not aware of the resources available to them merely because of the language barrier. A good example of this is the fact that nearly every country in Europe and many other places around the world, has a formally organized genealogical society and in many countries in Europe there are huge dedicated genealogy websites. As I look at lists and recommendations by researchers here in the English speaking world, I seldom see references to these helpful websites.

Here is one such website that may be new to you. It was certainly new to one Swedish researchers who had been active in doing Swedish research for years. It is called simply "Rötter," or Roots. Here is a screenshot of the startup page:


If you click on this image and look at the top of the page where the big red arrow points, you will see something interesting. Google will automatically translate the text on the page into your language. This, of course, means that you can read most of the page in English. Here is another screenshot of the page once Google has translated the text portions of the page. Remember, Google cannot translate images.


On this website, there is a wonderful section on getting started with Swedish research. I think that we spend so much time with our "time tested" resources, we fail to spend much effort finding out what is unknown to us that may help with our learning and research. Here is the translation of the getting started page in a screenshot:


Now, guest what? There are similar websites, as I already stated, for almost every single European country.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Is it easy to do genealogy?

I had a very interesting comment that reminded me of a conversation my friends and I used to have in high school many years ago. The conversation went something like this: is it better to be dumb and happy or smart and unhappy. Variations on that conversation included whether it was better to be rich and unhappy or poor and happy. I have learned over the years that life isn't quite that simple. I would also make the same observation about the following comment:
Quick question: Is it more important to teach people easy but less accurate ways of doing family history (so people will get hooked), or to teach them correctly from the beginning, which may create a barrier for some? In many recent messages, we have been told that family history is easy and something that everyone can do. We have many inaccuracies on the Family Tree, but are these coming from people who are taught "easy" ways of family history, or is there another cause? Anyways, what are your thoughts?
 I guess the more fundamental question is whether or not there is a right way or a "correct" way to teach genealogy? Is there one "correct" way to do genealogy? I think not. There are some principles that help the process of doing research, but the last time I checked there were no "genealogy police" enforcing the correct way. But the pertinent question is why would you teach a "less accurate way" of doing genealogy. Is quick and dirty acceptable?

I suggest that getting people "hooked" by dumbing down genealogy is simply a way to increase the tsunami of poor research already evident in millions of online family trees. What are they getting hooked on anyway? If the proper teaching of genealogy is a "barrier" to some, so be it. Do we really need more poorly done genealogy at the expense of including people who can't or won't do it in an acceptable manner?

Well, the message that family history is easy and something everyone can do is only true at a very, very basic level. I agree that with help, "everyone" can enter information about themselves, their immediate family and perhaps one or two further generations back. There are even exceptions to this rule, where there are circumstances that make finding a parent or grandparent to be difficult if not impossible, but most people can do this minimum amount of data entry with some effort. Is that what we are talking about?

I remember the four and five generation Family Group Sheet challenge from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints some many years ago. For some, this was relatively easy, but for others it was a major challenge. I was of the age where I had to do the sheets myself and not rely on my parents to do theirs. Notwithstanding my family's long time membership in the Church, this turned out to be a major challenge for me. Why was that the case? Simple. Almost all the work done before me had not been done "correctly from the beginning." There were many issues that I had to resolve. Not because I knew more about genealogy (I knew almost nothing at the time) but because I was used to doing research and I could tell when what had been recorded did not make any sense. Even with this background, some of the errors in the original submissions were not corrected for years and years, after I had more extensive experience and checked the dates and places.

I guess the final answer is a question, do we want to accept a mediocre genealogical product? Is inclusion of everyone in genealogy such an important issue that the quality of the work does not matter?

Think about it.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Let the computer do its work of organizing your genealogy

It seems like every so often someone comes along with another "wonderful way to organize your genealogy." Usually, the systems involve some series of folders, color coding or some such method that will be "guaranteed to keep your information organized." I am also asked from time to time, which system I use. My answer is always the same, I let the computer do what computers do and I do what I do. I don't try to do the computer's work. Why use a computer to do genealogy if you don't use it?

What do computers do? Find things quickly. What are organizational systems used for? To find things.

Let's suppose you have ten documents. How quickly could you go through all ten documents and find the one document you were looking for? Would it help to put each document in the separate folder? Maybe, but why spend the time? Now, what if you had a thousand documents? How long would it take you to go through the stack of documents and find the one you are looking for? Would it help to put the documents in some kind of order and perhaps in file folders to "keep them organized?" Yes, very likely. What if you put the document you are looking for in the wrong folder? Then what do you have to do? Go through every folder and look for it. What have you gained?

In this I speak from years of experience. As an attorney, we created file folders for each client and then other folders for each case for the client. This worked just fine, until we put a document in the wrong file and then disaster. I cannot tell you how many times over the years we spent days and days looking through files to find one document.

All paper filing systems rely on an imposed set of criteria. We call this a cataloging system. Whether you use dates, names, colors, numbers or whatever, you have to impose this cataloging system on the separate documents in order to find them again once they are filed. You have all probably seen a doctor's office filing system with movable shelves and color coded files. Did your doctor ever lose your file? It has happened.

All genealogical file systems, and I mean all of them, depend on this same system of cataloging entries and filing them away by surname, family, geographic area or some such organization. Oh, these systems can get complicated, think of the Dewey Decimal System and the Library of Congress Cataloging System.

Now, I have this nifty computer with a whole series of programs. Why should I reproduce any manual system of filing in my computer? Does the computer care about color coding or file folders? Not at all. Computers deal entirely with numbers. So why do you create new folders on your computer for your files? Not for the sake of the computer, but merely to make you feel good and because you don't understand how a computer works. In fact, an elaborate file system on a computer makes things very hard to find using your own methods. How many of you have "lost" a file on your computer? How many of you have any idea where that last file you downloaded disappeared to?

So how does the computer work to find things? It looks for strings (series) of characters (letters and numbers). That is it. That is all it does. So how do you organize things? Name them with unique numbers and/or letters. If I name a document with today's date and with a distinguishing name such as

2014-04-12 Birth Certificate John Doe

If you are so inclined and feel it is necessary, you can also name the file like this:

2014_04_12_Birth_Certificate_John_Doe

This comes from old limited operating systems and limitations on the number of characters allowed in a file name. Both of these concerns are pretty much out of date.  But if it makes you feel better, you can use all sorts of archaic types of naming systems. You might want to check and see what characters are reserved by your operating system and how long the names can be. You might want to look at a document such as this  "OS X: Cross-platform filename best practices and conventions" I use white spaces because all the systems I use recognize these spaces. Yours may not.

If I use this naming system, I automatically have three ways to find the document; the date, the name and the type of document. I could also add a place to make the title of the document like this:

2014-04-12 Birth Certificate John Doe Salt Lake City Utah

I don't use commas, periods or other characters because they are all characters and they are taken into account or reserved by the computer's operating system. Can I then find the document? Yes, in a matter of a few seconds, no matter where it is stored on my computer. But what if we want more of an explanation about the document?

Well, documents come in two basic types; text files and image files. A text file, by its nature, is completely searchable. So any string of characters (words etc.) can be found by the computer. Let's suppose I wanted to find a transcribed letter from John Doe to Helen Roe. Well, I could simply ask the computer to search for a few of the words in the title or body of the letter and find in in a matter of seconds. But images can only be searched by their title or by added words stored with the file called metadata. This starts to be complicated and the subject of other posts, some of which I have already written in the past.

One thing is sure, the more levels you have in your "filing" system the more complicated it is to find anything. Now, whatever system you use, if you become proficient in it, becomes your preferred system. If you are of a evangelical bent, you then try to convert everyone to "your system." If you are inclined to try and make money, you develop you system for sale or in kit form. But if you have a computer and use it, you can save your time and money and let the computer do the organizing.

Now really, what about genealogy? It is really quite complicated. A simple naming system probably won't give you all the information you need. Guess what? For just a few dollars, you can purchase a genealogical database program that will do all the organizing you will ever need. Any one of dozens of programs all allow you to enter information about your family and attach documents; both text and images. Once the documents are attached, it doesn't really matter where they are stored on your hard drives as long as the program can find them. The trick here is to keep all of the documents in the same file at the same level and make sure you copy the files with the program when you make a copy. That's it. That is my system entirely. I put everything in one huge pile in one huge folder and let the programs all find the particular documents attached to every individual in my file.

Now, no system is perfect. Files will always be lost. But trying to "organize" the already organized computer is silly. Use the programs to attach documents to individuals and families. Use the names of documents to find them on your hand drives. That is it.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Even more new features for Mocavo.com

The full court press is still on with Mocavo.com. There are even more new features to aid your searches. Here are some summaries of the new features from the Mocavo.com blog
First & Last Name Search Sliders 
Sometimes the missing piece to the puzzle is found when using an alternate spelling of an ancestor’s first or last name. To make sure no stone is left unturned, Mocavo.com has added another search slider to both first and last names on the search form. 
First Name Search Slider 
If you're looking for Elizabeth Shaw, who potentially went by Liz, Lizzy, Beth, Eliza, etc., then drag the slider to the middle ("Similar Names") to reveal results that have alternative versions of your ancestor’s first name. Also, sometimes our ancestors only recorded their first initial when creating a record. To account for similar names and initials, simply drag the slider all the way to the left ("Initials & Similar Names") and your results will show records that contain E Shaw, Liz Shaw, Elizabeth Shaw, etc.  
Try the first name search slider now 

Last Name Search Slider 
In the past, it was common for surnames to be recorded with multiple spellings. For example, Krieger could also be: Krueger, Kreger, Kroeger, etc. Make sure you're not missing any hidden records by dragging the last name slider to the left ("Sounds Like") to display results with alternate spellings and pronunciations for your given last name.

Try the last name search slider now 

Cut Your Search Time in Half by Saving Your Filters 
Do you find yourself selecting the same search filters on a consistent basis? Now you can save yourself time by saving your custom filter settings. Simply run a search on Mocavo the way you always do. Select your favorite category, date, and location filters and click the save filter button. Then give your filter a title so you can easily reference it in the future. Once you click save, your custom filters will appear on the bottom left side of your search results page. You can create as many filters as you would like, helping you customize your Mocavo experience to make discoveries faster than ever.

Bring Your Ancestors to Life with Our Database Photo Viewer 
Part of researching your family history is finding images of your ancestors and the places they lived. Locating such images can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack, so we found a way to use our photo recognition technology to simplify the process for you. We extract all of the images from a particular database and display them on the database’s search page. Now you can easily browse hundreds of historical images in more than 2,000 historical books; and we’re adding more every day! Simply scroll to the bottom of a database cover page to find the link to review all of the images from that book, saving you time and effort. If you are looking for something specific, you can also use our image search engine to help narrow your image results even further.