RootsTech 2014

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

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Using Google Translate in Day to Day Research

Online research is likely a daily activity for most family history researchers and it is common to run into entries, documents and Websites in a language foreign to the researcher. Although there are several online translation services, Google Translate is one of the most convenient and one of the most likely to easily give a useful translation. Google Translate supports 34 languages.

The instructions for the use of Google Translate are simple; copy and paste your text into the Google Translate gadget and click the translate button. Single words will often come up with a number of alternative translations. One of the options is to detect language. If you do not know the language of the word or phrase, Google Translate will automatically detect the language and give you a possible translation.

If you are familiar with using an iGoogle page, you can insert a gadget on your iGoogle page for Google Translate and have the program always available.

Although we have had some discussion about the appropriateness of the end product translations, if you are trying to understand terms in a document or discover the term for "baptism," or other similar terms in a record, you may wish to try this Google program.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Google Reader helps family history research

Google has a number of tools/applications that are extremely useful for genealogical and family history research. The first of these tools is the Google Reader. This application is generically known as an aggregator. This term is also known in computing, as a feed aggregator, a feed reader, or a news reader. It is client software or a Web application which aggregates syndicated web content such as news headlines, blogs, podcasts, and vlogs in a single location for easy viewing. Wikipedia.

Although there are dozens of feed aggregators, Google's Reader is conveniently interfaced with iGoogle. Essentially, as you subscribe to blogs or other feeds you merely chose Google as your Reader preference and the sites will be added to your Google Reader. I have found sites that Google Reader will not recognize, but by and large the application works well and seamlessly with my personal iGoogle page.

Now, why would I want a reader program? Simply put, to watch for content either pertaining to genealogy generally or to watch specific sites containing on-going information about my research interests. I could simply have a list of sites in my favorites in my browser, but then I would have to remember to check the list periodically and that would probably not happen.

Since Google Reader works as an App on your iGoogle page, you have to have a Google account, a very simple process, and then set up an iGoogle page, also a simple process. You then find the Reader App in the Google Apps site and add it to your iGoogle page.

I might caution anyone from going overboard in subscribing to feeds. Some news outlets can issue dozens of feeds a day and overwhelm your time with processing feeds. Of course, you may wish to add my own blog to your list!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Dates for Introduction of New FamilySearch in Utah and Idaho

Dates have been announced for the introduction of New FamilySearch in three more Temple Districts, Rexburg, Idaho on May 5, 2009, Manti, Utah on May 12, 2009 and Vernal, Utah also on May 12, 2009. No other Utah and Idaho Temple Districts have received instruction to begin preparing for the release of New FamilySearch, as yet.

Finding your black sheep ancestors

It would be unusual if a family did not have a few "black sheep" somewhere out there in the past. In my own experience, one great uncle disappeared from the U.S. Census records with his family and was later found in a list of prisoners on a subsequent Census. Finding these individuals has always been a challenge, especially when the family members refuse to talk about the person.

One Website is dedicated to locating these errant ancestors. Appropriately named, BlacksheepAncestors.com is described as follows:
Welcome to BlackSheepAncestors.com! Here you will find genealogical prison records and insane asylum records for the US as well as genealogical prison records for the UK. You will also find numerous links to historical court records, execution records and biographies of famous outlaws & famous criminals across the US, UK and Canada.
The categories of records include prisons and convicts, outlaws and criminals, court records and executions searches. The site also has an extensive list of pirates, buccaneers and privateers.

Sources such as the Family History Library have extensive records of Civil War Prisoners, but lack records such as those of the Arizona State Prison, as an example. The Black Sheep Website claims to have the Arizona Inmate Register of over 30,000 prisoners between 1872 and 1972. This Website may just solve one of those persistent mysteries in your pedigree.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Determining what is actually new in genealogy

One of the challenges for long time genealogists is determining what is actually new and what is being only reported as new. As Ambrose Bierce said, "There is nothing new under the sun but there are lots of old things we don't know."

For example, U.S. Census records are not new. Microfilm copies of the Census have been available in various repositories, like the Family History Library, for years and years. So a careful researcher could have investigated the Census records years ago. Does the fact that the U.S. Census records have been digitized and are available from various sources online, constitute new records? Not really, although the availability of the records is certainly increased, the records are exactly those that have been available for years. In this sense, very few of the records becoming available in digital format are truly new, they are certainly more accessible, but they have existed since their original creation. However, the ready availability of original records is certainly new. The fact that I can access U.S. Census records anytime of night or day in my own home is certainly a new development.

I consider any significant additions to the online pool of original source records to be an important new development. For example, whole libraries of books are being transferred to digital format, many of these books are specifically limited availability books of genealogical and family history importance.

So what else is "new" in the genealogical community? One thing that is certainly new, is the ease of communication with family members and other researchers. It is and was very difficult to maintain a dialogue concerning a particular research issue in the days when the main method of communication was standard mail. With the advent of almost instant communication, research collaboration can happen in almost real time.


The ability to view digitized copies of original record, gives a new window into the research process. Although the records themselves may not be "new" the ability to preserve a private copy of the record and share copies of the record with others virtually instantaneously is a new development and one that is ongoing and becoming more prevalent every day.

Another new development, is the commercialization of genealogical records. Huge companies are making a profit selling research time on their collections of records, almost all of which are technically in the public domain. The service provided and the quality of the information certainly are worth the cost, but the existence of these huge organizations is a new phenomena.


One thing that is definitely new is the ability of researchers to use digital technology instead of hand copies or even photocopies of original documents.

Hopefully, we can all adjust to this newness and continue to do good old traditional genealogy and family history.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Digitizing Life

I probably decided that one of the major functions of my life was to act as a private record repository when my great-grandmother's records showed up in my living room. For years I had heard about my great-grandmother's extensive genealogical research. Many trips to the Salt Lake Family History Library had proved fruitless in finding her "extensive records."

One day my mother asked me if I was interested in obtaining some family records from my Aunt in Salt Lake? Since few of the family members I knew had any interest in genealogy, I said sure, I would take all the records. Eventually, four large boxes of records showed up in my front room and I began a life-long project. I decided to scan the entire collection of records.

Little did I realize how much work that was going to entail. I spent thousands of hours organizing her life's work and scanning each document into a computer file. I you would like to see the results, the collection is on the Family History Library computer database. The collection is described as:
Family history collection of Mary Ann Linton Morgan who was born 11 February 1865 in Nephi, Juab, Utah. Her parents were Samuel Linton (1828-1916) and Ellen Sutton (1832-1909). She married John Hamilton Morgan, son of Garrard Morgan III (1806-1889) and Eliza Ann Hamilton (1815-1901), 7 June 1888 in Salt Lake City, Utah. They had three children. John died 14 August 1894 in Preston, Oneida, Idaho. Mary died 16 March 1951 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Ancestors, relatives and descendants have lived mainly in the United Kingdom, Denmark, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Alabama, New York, Arizona, Idaho and Utah.
However, that is just the beginning. Whole collections of other relative's records showed up at my door, tens of thousands of pages of documents, journals, photographs, letters, books, paper without end. I went from using a flat bed scanner (too slow) to using a high resolution digital camera on a camera copy stand (still too slow) to using a Canon High Speed Digital Scanner, now finally getting fast enough to make a dent in the pile.

Fortunately, the pile is still growing faster than my ability to scan. As of the latest count, I had 28,017 images and photos on my iMac and another 146 MB of scans and photos on a PC, probably around 40,000 images, so far. With the Canon Scanner, I will likely add another thousand or so scans a month to the collection.

If I have to explain why I am doing all this you wouldn't understand anyway.

Friday, April 24, 2009

New Collection and Update on Record Search Pilot

FamilySearch's Record Search Pilot has a new collection, the New York State Census for 1892. The collection is available with browsable images only. The counties included are Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Chemung, Clinton, Cortland, Delaware, Dutchess, Erie, Genesee, Kings, Monroe, Montgomery, Niagara, Orleans, Otsego, Rockland, Saratoga, Schenecctady, Schoharie, Steuben, Tioga, Tompkins, Washinton, Wayne and Yates.

In addition, the Spain Avila Diocese Collection of Catholic Parish Records of 1530 to 1935, has had more images added.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Introduction of New FamilySearch in Utah

Map from the New FamilySearch Web Site Utah and Idaho Release Information:The Twin Falls, Idaho Temple District went live on April 14, 2009 and the Monticello, Utah Temple District went live on April 21, 2009. Three Temple Districts are preparing to go live; Rexburg, Idaho, Manti, Utah and Vernal, Utah.

Three different issues are being addressed to the Family History Consultants in Utah and Idaho in preparation for the implementation of New FamilySearch in those areas.; missing data, missing ordinance dates and mispelled names of incorrect dates. Quoting from Ancestral Information Issues:

Missing data.
Information from many separate Church family history files has been combined into one place, the new FamilySearch Web site. A small amount of information from these church files may not yet appear in the new FamilySearch Web site. This information is continuing to be added to the new FamilySearch Web site.

Missing ordinance dates.
You may find that dates of confirmation and initiatory ordinances do not appear for an ancestor, even though dates do appear for subsequent ordinances performed on behalf of the ancestor. You may see the word “completed” rather than a date. In some cases, this may be because the dates of confirmation and initiatory ordinances were not always recorded. Be assured that the confirmation and initiatory ordinances have been done. They do not need to be done again.

Misspelled names or incorrect dates.
You might see that ordinances have been performed on behalf of an ancestor, but the ancestor’s name is misspelled, or the date of birth is incorrect. The ordinances are still valid. Do not redo the ordinances just to correct spelling errors or incorrect dates. You can edit or add another opinion about genealogical data in the new FamilySearch Web site.
Those of us outside of Utah and Idaho, who have been working with New FamilySearch for some time are concerned that our relatives in Utah and Idaho avoid all the mistakes we made.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Brazil Collection Expanded

FamilySearch's Record Search Pilot announced the expansion of the Brazil, Rio de Janeiro Civil Registrations 1889 to 2006 collection. The collection has been expanded by over 50% to nearly 4.5 million images. The images can be browsed by municipality. These records were available previously only online by paying a fee.

I have mentioned this previously, but these collections from the Record Search Pilot constitute the first time South and Central American records have be generally available in digitized format on the Internet.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Individuals of Unusual Size -- Part Two

Because I live in the Mesa Temple District, we have had access to New FamilySearch for almost a year and a half. It was recently announced that Temple Districts in Utah and Idaho would start to be added to the New FamilySearch network. Because we were instructed to combine records and dispute incorrect information, many of us spent considerable time working through our online files and disputing and combining. It is evident that this strategy did not do what we expected it to do. First and foremost, it did not correct any of the online information submitted by others. What this activity did do, was to crash the system and make a mess of a lot of files.

As a result, I stopped disputing information and stopped combining individuals. In fact, I began taking off all my disputes. Over the past year or so, the system had definitely settled down. However, with the introduction of hundreds (dare I say thousands) of my relatives in Utah and Idaho, I suspect that we are in for another round of disputes and combining. This is likely to happen unless the Utah and Idaho folks can learn from our mistakes.

Some of the users of New FamilySearch likely never see an Individual of Unusual Size (IOUS). I happen to have a whole pedigree chart full of them. In researching the issue, I believe that the instructions contained on Document ID: 104186 in the New FamilySearch Help Center summarizes what should be the correct approach to the entire problem and particularly to the IOUS.

The Document states:

STEPS FOR CORRECTING IOUS

1. Separate out those records that clearly have been incorrectly combined. (Please do not separate records from an individual’s combined record simply because you think some of the information is incorrect. If the records are about the same individual, leave the records combined. If you separate the records, temple ordinances and research might be duplicated.)
2. Once they are separated out, a note could be added to each asking that they not be combined again, but do not combine them together and dispute.
3. Carefully check your records against those of the "correct" individual to make sure there are no errors. Do not just assume there are no errors.
4. If you find a submitter that you can communicate with, do so. If the person is a legacy contributor, you will not be able to communicate.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help from others when you have a particularly difficult IOUS problem.

REMEMBER: To separate records, click on either Summary or Detail at the bottom left of the Pedigree with Details page. At the very bottom, click on Combined Records to see the individual records that have been combined. On the left, all of the combinations of births, deaths, parents, spouses, and even those who "died before age 8" are shown.

As soon as the incorrect record has been separated, the erroneous information on the left will also be gone. If it is not gone, another record has the erroneous information also. Since patrons cannot access children as they separate records, it is important to be aware that you may be separating out children that belong to this family and have been attached to the wrong spouse or parent.
I would recommend this procedural approach to the entire database, not just to those IOUS files. It is a good idea also to refrain from adding any more information to New FamilySearch until you are absolutely sure your information is not already somewhere in the database. Please consider using one of the semi-automated programs that assist with finding information in the file, such as FamilyInsight, Ancestral Quest or RootsMagic.

More later

Monday, April 20, 2009

Contributing to the Pedigree Resource File

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) has long maintained an online database called the Pedigree Resource File (PRF). This is a user contributor file to which all are encouraged to contribute and upload files. The uploaded files have been published on a series of CDs (now DVDs) essentially in the format they are contributed. An Index of the uploaded files is contained on the FamilySearch.org Website.

With the introduction of New FamilySearch (NFS), some of the files contained in the PRF were incorporated into the huge NFS database. In a NFS Help Center document, "Understanding How Information from Ancestral File, Pedigree Resource File, and the International Genealogical Index Was Added to FamilySearch" the Church said:
  • Information that was published in Ancestral File, including corrections, will appear both as it was originally contributed and as it was later merged and displayed in Ancestral File. You will see notes and sources if they were provided in the original contribution. In addition, information and corrections that were never published in Ancestral File are also included.
  • Many contributors provided the same information multiple times to the Pedigree Resource File. They often did this to provide additions and corrections. These multiple contributions have been combined in FamilySearch. If information changed, you will see the most recent version of the information. You will also see notes and sources if they were provided in the original contribution.
  • Information from the International Genealogical Index has also been added to FamilySearch. You can correct the genealogical information but not the ordinance information.
There are currently over 140 discs of PRF files. But Document ID: 102740 of NFS states that the PRF was only loaded into NFS up to disc 85. This Document goes on to state:
Although all of the Pedigree Resource File discs have not been added to the new FamilySearch, you may still submit to the Pedigree Resource File through www.familysearch.org. It is a great research tool that can be purchased by anyone from Distribution Services.
Unresolved is the issue if future submissions to the PRF will be incorporated, in the future, into NFS. Also unresolved is the issue of the future of the PRF.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Place Names -- U.S. vs. United States

Regularizing place names has become an issue with the introduction of huge international databases like New FamilySearch (NFS). One of the obvious issues is whether to use the designation "USA" or "United States" or nothing. NFS has a "Standardized Place Names" function built into the program. Anytime a place name is edited or added the program suggests a standardized place name. This list of standardized places is also available separately and outside the program in the FamilySearch Labs Website. The program is called Standard Finder and it is a simple look up program with some very useful added features, that gives the standardized place name for any location typed into the find box.

If Standard Finder is able to locate the place, there is a Resources tab that will look for the place in Google Earth, Google Maps and ArcReader. The maps have clickable links to the holding of the Family History Library Catalog.

Other programs use different standards. RootsMagic has one of the most elaborate geographic database programs. The program not only links to standard place names but also geo locates any place name in the database by latitude and longitude. Ancestral Quest allows some editing of place names, but is not nearly as versatile. Legacy Family Tree is somewhere in between.

None of these standardized programs deals with the idea that an event should be placed at the location that existed as of the time the event occurred. This rule preserves the historical names rather than the modern name. One reason for preserving historical names is to reflect the possible jurisdictional location of the original records. If you arbitrarily select the "standard" name, the original location and its historical context will be lost.

This is a subject that needs more development and discussion.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Individuals of Unusual Size -- Comments on the Issues Part One

New FamilySearch classifies individuals by the number of composite submissions that have been combined by the program and by users into one collective individual. Early in the release process some New FamilySearch users experienced a phenomenon where certain ancestors turned out to be composites of hundreds of combined files. The program managers refer to those users as "legacy users" referring to their huge legacy of historical data submissions. The combined individuals are referred to as "Individuals of Unusual Size" or IOUS [an oblique reference to Princess Bride, by the way].

These IOUS files are entirely unmanageable. About a year ago, after New FamilySearch had a serious impact from additions to these already large files, the programmers placed a cap on the number of files that could be combined. Presently, New FamilySearch imposes an arbitrary 80 file limit on combining files. If a user attempts further combinations after the limit is reached, their is a file error message explaining that the limit has been reached.

The effect of this limit is that many individuals still have unconsolidated duplicate copies floating around in the master file which cannot be combined into one individual. Further, if the uncombined file happens to be the one with "correct" information as opposed to the incorrect combined files, there is no way to show the correct information in all of the files that may be encountered.

Let me give an example. A hypothetical "Sidney Tanner" is shown in New FamilySearch as an ancestor of the user. When the Combined Records button chosen, the results indicates that there are 281 combined records. The effect of this number is that even though a search for duplicate records shows an additional ten or so records, the program will not let these additional records be combined. It is conceivable that all of the 281 combined records have incorrect information and the only one of the ten or so uncombined records has the "correct" information, none the less, the program will not allow a combination of the two records. Although this scenario is extremely unlikely, it does happen.

One of the by products of the introduction of the New FamilySearch program in Utah and Idaho is that many more Legacy Users will be accessing the program. It is certain that additional information will be added and that the number of existing duplicates will increase.

The present Help Menu Item ID 104186 makes the following statement:
Although you will often not be able to do anything because of errors when dealing with Individual records Of Unusual Size, in certain cases you will be able to fix some of the problems until Data Quality and Engineering fix the problems.
More later.

Small private efforts in family history add up

A reader contacted me about a small Website called Bookscanned.com dedicated to scanning and publishing online copies of genealogy books. Given the huge Websites that do scanning and Web publishing, like Google Books , the Family History Archive, and sites like Project Gutenberg, this type of site may seem insignificant in comparison, but if more family historians used their Websites to publish their own family histories, the effort would be significant.

On obstacle to this happening is the belief that putting such a work on line will somehow cause the owner to lose his or her copyright. That could happen, putting a work into the "public domain" can cause the work to lose its copyright, but are most family histories really works where the writer thinks they are going to make money and that need copyright protection? Are they really worried that their death defying prose will be copied and sold for a profit? From my own experience, when my father financed a newer family history publication, he ended up with boxes of the books and no one, even in the family, can be induced or even bribed into taking them. By putting the books on line, at least they would have a distribution to anyone who might be remotely interested in the information.

One drawback to the publishing a book through a small Website, is the transient nature of Websites in general. Websites have a tendency to come and go. Sometimes the information can be resurrected through Web archives, but many times when site goes down, it is gone forever. We don't visualize sites like Google and Project Gutenberg as being transient, but that is only a matter of perspective. We have no history to study about online services to give us an idea of how long information will persist on the Internet. However, the very fact that any piece of information may be copied again and again, helps to insure its perpetuity.

Nothing is truly free. Even a "free" service, like Google, has an underlying cost. Users pay daily to use the Internet, either to a service provider or by purchasing items through the Web and thereby adding to the total of advertising income generated online. Users also buy equipment like computers, monitors, iPhones and other devices that help support the Web structure. We cannot imagine this structure collapsing, but it might. Just as print media is undergoing a revolutionary change, the Internet may also go through some unanticipated changes in the future. This fact mandates that any preservation of information, especially family history (and historical information in general) be maintained in a variety of formats, print, electronic and whatever new formats might become available.

All in all, the idea of creating small private archives on the Internet is a good one. Given the limitations we should always remember not to rely on just one method of preservation. This is why I don't trust online backups.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Family History Archive passes 32,000 volumes online

The Family History Archive passed the 32,000 volume mark with 32,056 volumes this week. This sizable collection continues to grow, adding new digitized volumes from the participating libraries each week.

Substantial update and corrections to FamilySearch Record Search Pilot

FamilySearch's Record Search Pilot's collection of databases has had a substantial correction and update. Announced in a statement dated April 15, 2009, eighteen different collections were updated and corrected.

The collections updated include the following:

1920 US Census -- now 21% complete (no images)
Arizona Deaths 1870-1951
Arkansas County Marriages 1837-1957
California, San Francisco Area Funeral Home Records 1835-1931
Florida State Censuses for 1855, 1935 and 1945 (images only)
Illinois, Cook County Birth Registers 1871-1915
Louisiana War of 1812 Pension Lists (images only)
Michigan Marriages 1868-1925
Ohio Tax Records 1816-1838
South Dakota State Censuses 1905, 1915 and 1925
Utah, Salt Lake County Death Records, 1908-1949 (no images)
Wisconsin State Censuses, 1855, 1875, 1885, 1895, and 1905 (images only)

Also

Brazil, Rio de Janeiro Civil Registrations, 1829-2006 (images only)
Costa Rica Church Records, 1595-1992

As a researcher who does work with in Hispanic records, I would note that these Latin American records are some of the first to be readily available in a major digitized collection.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Family Tree Project?

I recently received a copy of a statement attributed to the New FamilySearch/Family Tree production team that seems to contradict much of the information about the FamilySearch Labs Family Tree program, we have been told for the past year. I decided to post the questions raised by the document and see if anyone out there had any further information.

The first issue raised by the statement is that the program on FamilySearch Labs, is now correctly referred to a "the Family Tree project." I did a search in New FamilySearch Help Center and found nine documents using the term "Family Tree Project." The earliest document was dated 13 April 2009, only two days ago. Apparently, this is a very recent designation of the program. In a search on the term "Family Tree" there were 90 documents, most of which referred to instructions on how to use the program, which are, by the way, entirely missing now from the FamilySearch Labs Website. The gist of the statement I received, was that the "Family Tree" program was not equal to the New FamilySearch program and should always be referred to as "a project on labs." By the way, the "What's New in FamilySearch" page on the New FamilySearch Website hasn't been updated since February of 2009. Apparently, there may be a newer version of the "What's New" page circulating waiting for final publication.

Over the past 18 months, I have been present at a number of briefings on the New FamilySearch program from representatives of the LDS Church who have consistently lead me to believe that the the program called "Family Tree" (the Labs program) was ultimately (or close to it) the way the whole New FamilySearch program would look at the time the program was finally introduced in a release version. It is my understanding that New FamilySearch is still considered to be a "beta" version or pre-release version of the program.

Based on the idea that Family Tree was close to what the New FamilySearch program would become, we have been watching the program development closely and starting to introduce the program to new users as the "way the program will look when it is introduced." This was especially true lately, with the beginning of the introduction of the New FamilySearch program in Utah and Idaho. I was also lead to believe that there was a goal to have the final (or close to final) version of the New FamilySearch program available for introduction about the same time the program went live in Utah.

It appears that this whole idea may now be out the window. Apparently, there has been an abandonment of the idea to substitute Family Tree for the New FamilySearch interface now in operation. [As an aside, it is somewhat comforting to know that our relatives in Utah and Idaho will have to go through he same learning curve we went through with the New FamilySearch program and won't get a revised version, you know, misery loves company].

Resorting to rank speculation, it may well be that the so-called "individuals of unusual size" have done in both the New FamilySearch program and any plans to supplant the present interface with FamilyTree. Anyone out there have more information or something more concrete?

More later if I get any more information or comments.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

PAF is not dead -- yet

Personal Ancestral File (PAF) is one of the most used lineage linked database programs in the world, but its utility is being challenged by the developments within the LDS Church's own online programs. In my last two posts, I discuss transitioning from PAF to a different database program in order to take advantage of the information being provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in its New FamilySearch database. Although New FamilySearch is only presently available to certain geographic areas of the Church, last week's announcement of the introduction of New FamilySearch into Utah and Idaho, presages its introduction throughout the Church. Also, since the very beginning of the New FamilySearch it has been the avowed goal of the Church to allow access to the program, "at some time in the future," to those outside the Church membership.

As it is presently developed, PAF does not support any of the additional features implemented by New FamilySearch without intervention by third-party (read non-Church) programs, such as FamilyInsight, RootsMagic 4 and Ancestral Quest 12.1. Ohana Software, the publishers of FamilyInsight, have developed a whole company around the concept of providing add on features to PAF.

As one reader commented to the post on Transitioning from PAF, "PAF is a wonderful, straightforward, program. What I liked best about it is that there were still many things that I hadn't learned about its capacity. It had layers of interesting challenges for me. I can't bring myself to uninstall it from my computer."

I would have agreed with that assessment ten years ago, but with today's higher standards, especially in the area of source citations, I must say that PAF is very much lacking in desirable features. For example, PAF provides the ability to cite a source only for selected events, none of the events entitled "Other" such as Title, Married Name, Nickname, Cause of Death etc. have source links. Also, there are no source links for common dates, like Death, Burial, Birth and Christening. The link is on the place field which makes the unfounded assumption that both the place and date records were obtained from the same source. I could go on and on with issues with the program, but either you recognize its limitations and are willing to live with them, or you are oblivious to the limitations. It is interesting that many of the newer programs preserve this lack of distinction between dates and places, possibly passing on their relationship to the PAF program.

As long as there is a huge body of PAF users and so long as the Family History Centers around the world continue to teach and implement the program on people's computers, it is highly unlikely that the program will disappear anytime soon.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Transitioning from PAF -- Part Two

Economically, free is hard to beat. The fact that Personal Ancestral File is essentially a "free" program makes for a difficult sell. As it states on the FamilySearch Website:
Personal Ancestral File (PAF) is a free genealogy and family history program. PAF allows you to quickly and easily collect, organize and share your family history and genealogy information.
It also helps that FamilySearch has a Google Page Ranking of 7 out of 10, and according to Statbrain, gets about 44,000 visits per day. It also helps the popularity of the program that thousands of LDS Church Family History consultants help people download and use the program.

As a volunteer in the Mesa Regional Family History Center, I teach many classes supporting PAF and commonly find that PAF users are not even aware that they can use an alternative program. Many of the users are older computer users that only have a vague concept of the whole idea of computer programs. Even if the PAF users are familiar with purchasing software, one of the very first questions asked is how much will it cost me every year to keep current. By and large, at least from my perspective, genealogists are not wealthy people and they are mostly very budget conscious. This seems like a huge obstacle for third party program promoters to overcome.

Another issue with PAF users is that they are accustomed to the program and cannot visualize how some other program might be better or easier to use. When I demonstrate third part software, many PAF users comment that they didn't know what they were missing. If I teach a large group of people and ask how many use some other program besides PAF, I might get one or two out a group with most of the students not understanding what I am asking.

Although the LDS church has a link on its New FamilySearch Website that is called "More Great Products," most of the users of New FamilySearch in my classes have never clicked on the link. It is interesting that the New FamilySearch Website has this link, because as long as the PAF program is readily available for free, there is little incentive for any of the users to purchase the new programs, even if they are demonstratively superior in almost every way. I assume that this fact has been discussed by all of the parties involved.

One issue that will become a factor as time passes is the incompatibility of PAF with other programs and with the New FamilySearch program itself. For example, New FamilySearch uses a Person Identifier Number to specify each individual copy or file of an individual stored in the database. Two of the newer programs that synchronize with New FamilySearch, RootsMagic 4 and Ancestral Quest 12.1, automatically incorporate those numbers into the local file when the file is synchronized with New FamilySearch. However, when you export the file from either program and import the subsequent file into PAF, PAF has no field for the number and so the information is lost.

One program that has partially solved that issue is Family Insight from Ohana Software. As a PAF add-on it creates a special field in PAF for the Person Identifier Number.

This may not seem like much of an issue, but the whole New FamilySearch program is keyed into using these Person Identifier Numbers. Obviously, you solve this problem by moving to a third part program.

More to come.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Transitioning from PAF -- Part One

Personal Ancestral File (PAF), a lineage linked database program, was first released in 1983 in a text only version. The current version of the program for Windows is 5.2.18.0. (There is a multi-language version, 4.0.4.18). The Macintosh version of the program no longer works with the most recent Apple operating systems. The last update to the program was released on July 23, 2002.

There are no statistics available as to the number of PAF users but it is undoubtedly the most used genealogy program available. Many PAF users are totally unaware that other genealogical database programs even exist. There are two main reasons why PAF has achieved such dominance, first it was distributed for free or for a very nominal price by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and secondly it was extensively supported by the LDS Church Family History Centers. There are also numerous PAF Users Groups scattered across the world.

The official position of the LDS Church is that FamilySearch is developing Web-based genealogy systems. A search of the help system for New FamilySearch gives the following statement:
What is the future of PAF?
  • Is PAF compatible with the new FamilySearch?
  • Does the new FamilySearch replace PAF?
  • Is PAF dead?
  • Is PAF being dropped?

PAF Is Still Needed
PAF is one of the genealogy database programs that can produce GEDCOM files, which can be uploaded to the new FamilySearch.While there are no plans to further develop PAF, it remains a dependable and easy-to-use program. Users of PAF can receive support by telephone or e-mail, as well as through the knowledge base in the Product Support section of www.familysearch.org. Local support may also be available at a family history center or from a family history consultant. There are also inexpensive utility programs that provide enhancements. These include PAF Companion, PAF Insight, and PAFWiz. PAF Insight and PAFWiz do not receive technical support from the Church. For more information regarding these products, go to the respective Web sites.

If a PAF user later decides to switch to a different program, his or her data can be exported as a GEDCOM file and then imported to any commercial genealogy database program that uses GEDCOM. Some of these programs have the ability to import a PAF file directly so the data does not have to be reentered but can simply be loaded into the new program.

PAF and the New FamilySearch Are Complementary Products
PAF stores a wide range of data with sources and voluminous notes. With it, users can perform advanced searches of data and can print a variety of reports, including books. PAF has a built-in "Print-to-file" (RTF) feature, which allows users to create electronic copies of reports and charts that can be sent as e-mail attachments. If a free PDF writer such as PrimoPDF or CutePDF is installed on the computer, PAF can use it to create PDF copies of reports and charts that could then be e-mailed or even posted to a Web site. PAF has a Preview feature that allows users to see a report before they print it. Users can also link multimedia files to their PAF data. Many of the personal genealogical databases on the Internet were created using PAF.

The New FamilySearch Will Play a Different Role
The new FamilySearch will replace TempleReady. You will be able to prepare names using the new FamilySearch and then take them directly to any temple (you willnot have to take them to a family history center anymore). The new FamilySearch will make it easier for you to work with others on ancestral family lines since you can all access the same information. You will be able to see where individuals fit in the context of their whole family, unlike the IGI, which shows only individual births, marriages, and deaths. The new FamilySearch will also allow you to challenge errors that have been made and to work to correct them. As the program continues to be developed, the role of the new FamilySearch will certainly increase.
The transition from PAF to third party programs is well along the way. Unfortunately, there are some severe obstacles for present PAF users, many of whom lack even the concept of a different program. Future posts will explore the challenges faced by present PAF users and give suggestions about the transition.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Welsh Mormon History -- "Pa bryd y cawn fyned i Seion?"

Brigham Young University's Center for Family History and Genealogy is rich in online resources both for research and for instruction. During the next few posts, I will highlight some of the resources that get little or not mention in the vast Web world.

One of the most interesting sites in the Center is that of Welsh Mormon History. To quote the site's introduction, "During the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, converts from the British Isles played a crucial role, providing much-needed strength and leadership to the fledgling church. Among these, the Welsh were prominent, with influential figures such as Dan Jones and others making significant contributions to the growth of the work."

The Website contains a searchable database of 6058 immigrants, including their birth dates and birthplaces, death date, death place, departure date, arrival date, marriage information and sources and comments when known. The list also has a lot of digitized images of the individuals. There are also 135 journals with photos, books, biographies, and other writings.

The site explains that it "is the product of Dr. Ronald Dennis' research into his Welsh Mormon ancestry and his subsequent translation of many early Mormon publications from Welsh into English. An in-depth article about his work has been published in the Fall 2002 edition of BYU Magazine. This article has been reproduced here for your convenience"

I found that the site had a number of broken links and did not appear to be actively maintained. Despite these limitations the information is interesting and useful.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

New FamilySearch in Utah and Idaho

The Ancestry Insider has updated his map of the introduction of New FamilySearch in Utah and Idaho. We had heard from friends that the Vernal, Utah Temple was getting ready to implement New FamilySearch but had not had any confirmation of when that would happen. It now appears that Temples in Vernal, Monticello, Manti and Twin Falls will all have New FamilySearch in near future. Apparently, some of the Temples have already begun processing Family Ordinance Request Forms (FORs) such as Idaho Falls, Provo, Bountiful, Ogden and St. George.

Those of us outside the Utah and Idaho area are not sure how the system will adsorb the thousands of new users. We are also concerned about the impact of having family members who are new to the program, undo a lot of the corrections and combinations of duplicates we have done over the past year or so. With the introduction of synchronization software in Ancestral Quest 12.1 and in RootsMagic 4, the process of dealing with the influx of new users will be more manageable but it may still be difficult to deal with the challenges.

Presently, New FamilySearch has an upper limit on the number of duplicate individuals that can be combined. With the addition of the Utah and Idaho families, it may cause an overload for certain individuals on the system with a lot of descendants. I frequently find duplicates with both Ancestral Quest and RootsMagic that result in the error message telling me that I cannot combine anymore individuals. It may turn out to be very challenging to have a large number of new users. For example, when I first went onto the program I spent a lot of time disputing what I considered to be inaccurate information. I eventually realized that disputes were not going to accomplish anything except aggravation until the entire Church was online.

As a result, I began removing all of my disputes and marking the preferred entries through the Summary view portion of the program.

I have been told that the Family Tree version of the program on FamilySearch Labs, will be the format for the final program. This version is now at .24. I understood that the Family Tree program would be implemented at about the time of the introduction of the entire program into Utah and Idaho. Although Family Tree has come a long way, it is not yet a full featured program and it will need substantial additions and work, like a help menu for example, before it can replace the present New FamilySearch interface entirely.

It will certainly be interesting to see what happens in the next few months.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Google Maps Street View a Boon to Genealogists

Google Maps Street View gives genealogists an on-the-spot look at historic and other sites of interest. Apparently Google has people all over the world driving around taking pictures of thousands of towns and cities, first in the United States, and now all over the world. I began to really take notice of the power of this program when Google got street view in the small eastern Arizona town where many of my ancestors lived. I could virtually drive through the streets and look at the ancestral homes and neighborhoods.

You might want to start looking at Street View in a larger city, where you know the service is available. I suggest downtown Boston, New York or San Francisco for a start.

Street View is a integral part of Google Maps. If you open the Google Website in your browser, you should see a list of Google options along the top of the window, including Web, Images, Maps, News, Video, Gmail and more. By choosing Maps you enter the Google maps program. When you make a map search, there will be a slider bar on the left side of the map screen. At the top of the bar, sort of like a paddle or marker, is a small icon of a person. If you drag that person over your map, you may see a lot of blue lines appear. These are the lines marking the areas that have been photographed by Google Maps for Street View.

You can sweep the little person over the map and if you hold it steady for a few seconds, there will be a little picture of that portion of the map. It you drop the person onto a street by clicking, the map will change to a photo screen showing the view at that location. Most of the photos are movable and you can drag the photo around to show 360 degrees of view.

When you click in a screen, a line appears showing you the road with arrows in both directions. By clicking on an arrow you can virtually drive down the road. When you come to an intersection, if the road has been photographed, you will see another line going off down the street, which can then be followed to turn onto that street.

To exit Street View, all you have to do is click on the minus sign on the zoom bar.

One of the difficulties of doing on site research is finding out-of-the-way places. With Google Maps Street View, you can virtually investigate and familiarize yourself with an area before you actually drive there. I have used this feature a number of times to "see" places before I drove there. It sames time and aggravation. It is also convenient to see the places where relatives lived the way they are today.

The more you use this program, the more useful it seems to become.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A copyright cautionary tale

A friend of mine received a threatening E-mail message. She had been researching cemetery records in Oklahoma and found a Website with a list of names from a cemetery removal project. Apparently, the Army Corps of Engineers, in building a dam for a large reservoir, had excavated and moved an entire cemetery. The Website had incorporated a list of the people in the moved graves. My friend decided to republish the list on one of the major gravesite finder Websites.

As a result of copying the information, she received the threatening E-mail, accusing her of copyright violation, dishonest conduct and making a number of claims about her morality. The Website where she obtained the information posted a huge warning, in red, telling anyone that they would violate copyright law if they were even tempted to use the information in another publication.

When the story was related to me, along with a copy of the E-mail exchange, my first question was about the source of the information. I immediately saw a problem with the claimed copyright; the information came from the Army Corps of Engineers, a government entity. I told my friend to contact the Army about the list.

The next day she said she had talked to the Army and they would not release the information to her without a substantial payment. I reminded her about the Freedom of Information Act, and told her to ask for the information again using that language. She reported back in a day or two that the Army had immediately sent her the full list, free of charge.

In examining the list from the Army, she discovered that the Oklahoma Website had done nothing more than copy, verbatim, the government list. Government documents are not subject to copyright, neither are lists of facts or otherwise public information, such as births and deaths, including burial information. I pointed out that the Website was way out of line and uninformed to have claimed any copyright interest in the first place.

Although there are a more than enough instances when legitimate copyright interests are infringed, there are also instances where people use the threat of litigation over copyright to gain an advantage where none legally exists. I understand that all of the copyright claims have subsequently been removed from site. My friend published the information on the grave location Website and cited the source, correctly, as the Army Corps of Engineers.

Be careful to understand your real rights before threatening someone with litigation or worse.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

1920 US Census Update on Record Search Pilot

The 1920 U.S. Census has been updated on FamilySearch Record Search Pilot to add 6 additional states. The 1920 U.S. Census is now 21% complete with data available for Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois and Massachusetts. The records contain only the index, there are, as yet, no images of this Census.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Rare books and special collections at the Library of Congress

Sometimes we spend so much time with names, dates and places we forget the history part of family history. An extensive online history collection of books, maps, manuscripts and other digitized print material is available through the Library of Congress, Rare Book & Special Collections Reading Room. The online collections include the following:
These are extremely interesting materials and could be useful for historical background to your own family research.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Library of Congress digitized map collection


The Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress holds more than 4.5 million items, many of which are digitized and available in copyright free formats for viewing or downloading from the Library of Congress Web site. These maps date back to the 1500s they are useful in locating old place names as well as boundaries of counties, cemetery locations (see the map above) and other uses. This collection comprises one of the largest high quality, freely accessible digital collections of historical maps presently on the Internet.

It is interesting to read the description of how the images were created. To quote the Library of Congress:

The digital images were created by staff in the Geography and Map Division by scanning the original map on a large-format (24 x 36 inches) flatbed scanner using a RGB (red-green-blue) 24-bit CCD color sensor (16.8 million colors). The scanner is manufactured by Tangent Image Systems. The Geography and Map Division has two Tangent scanners. One scanner is on indefinite loan from Tangent Imaging.

Each raster image is produced by scanning the item at a resolution of 300 dots-per-inch and converting the resulting proprietary file format to TIFF format. These TIFF files, which average approximately 180Mb, are transferred over a network to a Unix server for temporary offline storage.

Following scanning, the TIFF files are enhanced using the WindowsNT version of image processing software Adobe Photoshop 5.0, to rotate, crop, adjust brightness or contrast, and stitch together TIFF images for items requiring multiple scans.

The enhanced TIFF files are compressed, using a wavelet-based image compressing software called Multi-Resolution Seamless Image Database, or MrSID. This software integrates multiple resolutions of an image into a single file which enables Internet users with a standard browser to zoom in, getting more and more detail. Although MrSID is a "lossy" compressor, the images were compressed at a ratio of 22:1 without experiencing any loss of information. LizardTech (http://www.lizardtech.com) of Seattle, Washington donated the license for the compression software.

The final step is the use of Alchemy Software to create a small GIF file for use as the initial thumbnail display of the item along with the bibliographic information.

After completing the scanning, an Archive TIFF file along with the SID and GIF files are stored on the Library's RS6000 World Wide Web server.

Translated into English, this means that the images are high quality in the TIFF format, however, they are saved in JPEG 2000 format for use online, which may not be compatible with some software programs. I would suggest that the downloaded files be opened and saved in a more compatible format if necessary. It is also interesting to note that even though the files are initially saved in TIFF format for archive purposes, they are disseminated in JPEG format for actual use on the Internet.

You may also want to see over 6000 maps of Scotland, The University of Texas Libraries Perry-Castaneda Library Map Collection, The David Rumsey Map Collection, and Digital History. There are many other specialized collections as well as maps available from subscription Websites.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Challenge of Using Online Records

A patron at the Mesa Regional Family History Center asked a question that pointed out one significant challenge in doing online and microfilm research. She asked me about some land records in Maryland and was puzzled by a reference to the "folio" number. In doing online or microfilm research there is frequently a dislocation between the physical condition of the source and the records viewed. This question by the patron is a good example, she had no idea that likely the land records consisted of separate pages of deeds and other documents which could either be bound in a book or kept together in some sort of folder. The folio number is usually the number of the page of the document in the collection. Folio could also refer to the size of the documents and historically a folio could be a large piece of paper folded in half to make four pages.

In the case of land records the most likely use of the term was to number the various documents that were deposited in that particular Maryland Court record.

Now, that said, the challenge presented by electronic viewing of records is that we miss the association with other records of the same type which may be physically located next to the ones we are interested in and we also miss the seeing exactly how the documents appear in their actual physical location. Both of these pieces of information are extremely valuable to researchers. For example, if I am looking at land records online, I find the one document I am interested in and may even have a scanned image, but what if right next to this document, in the repository, there are several others dealing with the same transaction? Many times the physical association with other documents is lost entirely through the electronic scanning.

The same thing can happen in a cemetery photo, I may find the photograph of the gravemarker of my relative, but lose the fact that there are several family graves in the same location. I must depend on the person taking the photo or scanning the document to give me this additional information. Unfortunately, the larger databases have a tendency to obscure any associative information that could have been obtained from looking at the actual physical record or document or gravemarker.

What all this means is that there is still no complete substitute for going places to look at original records. The bare transcription of the written word or even a photo of the page will not give us all the information that may be available by looking at the documents themselves. So when people ask me whether or not to travel to a remote location to look at records, I tell them to make sure they know what is online first, but that there is sometimes no substitute for seeing the record, the gravemarker or the having the deed in your hand.