RootsTech 2015

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

Thursday, September 30, 2010

I am Australian (yes, I actually am, in part)

Some of my ancestors came from Australia. One of my sons found this song on YouTube and I thought it appropriate. Anyway, we have been up in northern Arizona taking pictures of Antelope Canyon, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and Lee's Ferry and watching the giant condors. A little genealogy and a lot of spectacular scenery.



Thanks for reading my posts.

Monday, September 27, 2010

When is large, too large? Another look at Ancestry.com

It seems that Ancestry.com's acquisition of Footnote.com have engendered a measure of disagreement and controversy. My recent comments on the subject elicited the following response from a commentator identified as "Geolover":
"Economy of scale" rather depends on the product and method being along a continuum, rather like expanding an assembly line to accommodate more production.

Ancestry.com is rather a hodgepodge of enterprises. It disposed of its publishing sector, neglects others (cutting resources available to them).
It would seem that the large number of databases in the money-making subscription sector is an economy of scale, but in fact the databases are also a hodgepodge of different sorts of things. Some databases are not indexed at all, some were only partially keyword-indexed by OCR (some interference caused by foxing in books).
Some databases are themselves hodgepodge partial extracts of compilations by subcontractors, whose sources often are not even fully listed. I had an exchange recently with a subscriber who wanted to find the source-record that was indexed in one of these compilations; Ancestry.com customer service refused to tell the seeker what publications had been indexed by the subcontractor, told the seeker to post a query on a message board.
The diversity of indexing types poses major problems for the ten- or 15-year-old primitive search engine. Recent tinkering with user interfaces has not greatly improved its basic logical failings. Some of the tinkering, such as adding "soundex" searching as a hidden part of default searches, produces hugely greater numbers of simply-wrong search results.
A labor-intensive fixing of database indexing inconsistencies should have commenced some 5 years ago when problems were becoming apparent. This would have contributed to the "economy of scale" principle.
Instead, the outfit is engaging in new directions without fixing old problems and oversights. It can't figure out how to allow customers to search only databases "about" a given geographic area. Its Learning Center has no subject outline with links to content, only a combination of articles searchable only by keyword, non-searchable videos, and a poor installation of two books (the footnotes deleted from one) in a wiki format that is not user-friendly. The little-publicized mirror Tree site awaits some sort of search interface that would integrate with Ancestry.com marketing plans; it has been in "beta" for a year with few discernible changes in that time.
Perhaps leadership will grasp the difference between size and scale.
I would note that economies of scale apply to any organized activity where the fixed costs of the production or service can be spread over a larger revenue base. In the case of Ancestry.com, both their own organization and any acquisition would have fixed costs associated with the business organization, not just manufacturing. For example, both Ancestry.com and Footnote.com (technically iArchives) have higher level administrative costs. Arguably consolidation and acquisition reduce these fixed or nearly fixed administrative overhead costs. In addition, advertising costs can be consolidated as well as any potential sales costs. There is also the possibility of reducing employee expenses by consolidating jobs between the two organizations. So, there are possible real cost savings involved for both the acquiring company and the company the is acquired.

Ancestry.com is not a "hodgepodge" by definition. A hodgepodge is defined as odds and ends, a motley assortment of things. Ancestry.com has a very defined collection of specific resources, all of which are related directly or indirectly to genealogical and historical research. I have never seen a collection on Ancestry.com that was in any way inappropriate or out-of-place. The fact that it has a vast number of collections, is in no way a weakness in its organization or system. It is what it is and any experienced genealogical researcher will use the resources of Ancestry.com when it is appropriate and will ignore it when it is not.

I do agree that one of the major weaknesses of the present Ancestry.com collections is the inability to rapidly access the original documents or data source. But that issue is the same with any derived index of original records. I acknowledge that inexperienced users of Ancestry.com are commonly confused about the source value of the online indexes. But that occurs with any online index. An index is by its nature a derived source and not a primary source. The weaknesses the commentator points out in Ancestry.com's indexes are the same as those found in almost every other derived source material, whether index or summary.

I do also agree with criticism of the limitations of the Ancestry.com search capabilities. In my experience it is above the average but still lacks the ability to provide adequate screening and filtering. If I do a search on a name and then modify the search with a location, the Ancestry.com search engine still comes up with other locations. I am not sure that there is a "fix" for the database or search limitations. I think some of the limitations will always exist as limitations in the data being searched.

I do have a serious concern that rather than make records now available on Genline and Footnote more available, they may become harder to access and more expensive. By and large, I commend the commentator for his/her insight and hope that I continue to get such interesting comments in the future.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Changes to the FamilySearch.org Website

According to Quantcast.com, FamilySearch.org is the 1646th most visited website in the U.S. It averages between 1.1 and 1.3 million visitors a day. Here is the chart for the last six months:



This highly popular website is about to undergo a dramatic makeover. We have been talking about the new website for many months now. It is located at Beta.familysearch.org. The start-up page for FamilySearch.org now contains a prominent link to the new website.


Since I have the opportunity to come in contact with many people every week at the Mesa Regional Family History Center, I get quite a bit of feedback on the new website. Most of the reactions to the new site are very positive. But there is some concern that looking for specific information is more difficult. There is no obvious link to any of the existing FamilySearch databases, such as the Ancestral File, International Genealogical Index or Pedigree Resource File. All of these are accessed generally through a Historical Records search and not individually.

Here is a screen shot of the new site:


One feature of the Library Catalog that is obviously missing is the ability to define a location by looking at "View Related Places." This has been an extremely valuable resource but is entirely missing from the Beta version. It is also apparent that by integrating many other resource websites, such as the FamilySearch Research Wiki, into the Beta site, there is a measure of confusion, especially while moving between resources, because the site requires you to sign-in multiple times for each resource such as the Wiki or Forums.

One outstanding feature is that there are many links to the FamilySearch Research Wiki site as it now exists. This is a definite plus for helping people find relevant records. Additionally, it appears that new records being added to the Record Search Pilot website are now going onto the Beta site. Although despite announcements of new records and collections the number of collections has stayed at 455 for some time.

It is too early to tell if the new site will be an improvement. One way to tell will be to watch to see if use of the site increases.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Seeing through the screen -- the truth about your genealogy

When I was young I was often fascinated with the visual effect of staring through a window screen. If you focused your eyes just right, the screen could appear to be a solid surface. But if you looked beyond the screen, the outside world became visible. Sometimes in research, especially in genealogy, we need to see through the screen to the larger world outside of our family. Once we have seen the world, we can then refocus on the screen (our family) with renewed insight. Most of our "brick walls" are really window screens in disguise.

No one lives in vacuum. One question was raised recently by a friend about his immigrant ancestor. His own personal brick wall. It turns out that this particular ancestor is Norwegian and immigrated in the latter part of the 1800s. Knowing the extent of genealogical records from Norway and other Scandinavian countries, I expressed surprised at his dilemma. To him, the Norwegian immigrant was a brick wall, to me, the immigrant was immediately a window screen. He was focusing on the screen, I immediately focused on the world beyond.

As an example of the world beyond the screen, especially for Norway, I would refer you to the FamilySearch Research Wiki on Norway. Reviewing the resources offered, gives a really good example of seeing beyond the screen with the Sogn og Fjordane Fylkeskommune -- Fylkesarkivet website. As the site says:
Fylkesarkivet also offers many other entry ways to local history – through themes and organized resources from the following domains:
• Music, film and oral tradition
• Municipal archive catalogues from the whole county
• Private archives
• Emigration to America
• Biographical and genealogical source materials
At our webpage we have organised and made available many governmental archive series which are kept in national archives. These include the oldest church registers, population censuses, census registrations, shift register, register of mortgages and land registers. In conjunction with the remainder of the historical documents such as photos, emigration records and the farm name encyclopaedia, these archive series constitute rich source materials well suited for biographical and genealogical research. (spelling in original)
Do you see what I mean by looking beyond the screen? And what's more important nearly all of the Norwegian records are free online (i.e. not yet purchased by Ancestry.com!).

By the way, you have never seen a detailed map if you haven't looked at the Fylkesatlas Sogn og Fjordane.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Is there an economy of scale in genealogical records?

I have been following with interest all of the posts on the recently announced acquisition of iArchives (Footnote.com) by Ancestry.com. First of all, it is notable that the blog community picked up on the news so quickly and responded with a number of opinions on the event. This means that the news function of the blogs is alive and well. But going past the initial response to the announcement, I began to reflect on the reality of the situation. Although I did read some analogies, my take on the acquisition would compare the situation to an announcement that Microsoft had just acquired Apple Computer.

Ancestry.com's website is anything but graphically friendly. There are layers of screens and menus with no graphics at all. It is also nearly impossible to tell which collections of records have images and which do not without stumbling on the images accidentally. For example, how many users realize that Ancestry.com has a fairly large collection of digitized books, considering the fact that they are buried in the "Card Catalog?" On the other hand, Footnote.com is graphic and searches come up with the document or documents found. This is why I view this acquisition as one by a menu driven company like Microsoft taking over a graphically driven company like Apple. How long will the innovation and graphically driven interface of Footnote.com, as it is today, last under the ownership of Ancestry.com?

From my comments so far, you can probably guess that I favor Footnote.com's graphic interface over Ancestry.com and you would be guessing right. If I search for my Great-grandfather Samuel Linton on Ancestry. com's initial search screen, I get the usual endless list of people, some of whom may be related but many of whom are not. Ancestry.com indicates that there are 259,199 records for a search of Samuel Linton in Utah. On the other hand, Footnote.com gives you list of record types in which the name is found, giving you a clear idea of how may records are available in each category. This may seem like merely a difference in convention, but it reflects a fundamental difference in how the data is approached.

Other than Ancestry.com (and perhaps Footnote.com's owners) who benefits from this acquisition? Will this result in more records becoming available? Less expense to us the users? Some types of commercial activities result in decreased pricing, greater availability, and more innovation with the larger scale of mass production. Economies of scale tend to arise in businesses with high capital costs when those costs can be distributed across a large number of units. However, at large-scale levels of output, inefficiencies may begin to appear thereby causing unit costs to rise. Do we know if a larger and larger Ancestry.com will result in any economies of scale or will internal inefficiencies drown out the usefulness of the entire operation? I, for one, am not entirely happy with the prospect of finding out.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Overson/Oveson/Ovesen or Jensen?

I received a very good comment to my last blog post. I often get knowledgeable and informative comments but this is one is particularly so. Here is the comment since some of you probably don't read all the comments to a post, JP said:
If Ove Christian Oveson was Danish, then I'll eat my nose if his original name was indeed Oveson. No way. Either -sen or in older times -søn, not -son.

Just looked a bit around. If it's the person mentioned in http://theancestorfiles.blogspot.com/2007_12_01_archive.html - which it very much looks like it might be - then his original name in Denmark was Ove Christian Jensen, named after his father Jens Andreas Ovesen (http://theancestorfiles.blogspot.com/2008/10/tanner-24-25-jens-kjersten-pederson.html) who again was named after his father Ove Andersen.
Scans from the parish registers (found at http://www.sa.dk/ao/English/default.aspx): http://dl.dropbox.com/u/2959070/OveChristianJensen.tif and http://dl.dropbox.com/u/2959070/JensAndreasOvesen.tif
Here is my daughter Amy's response to this comment:
Wow. That's so cool, JP. I've done Swedish research on the other side of my family, but I don't know if I've ever gotten around to looking into the Danish records. Thanks for sending those! I'll have to put up a blog post tomorrow or Friday with those two records and a link to your comment.

As far as the -son and -sen problem: it was not unheard of for Danes to change their name to -son when they came to America. One notable example was Mormon Church Historian Andrew Jenson. He was Danish through and through, but used the -son spelling his whole life. I've assumed the immigrants changed to -son because it was the more American spelling and they were interested in assimilating and having their children be as American as possible.

Here is a post with Jens Andreas Ovesen's death notice:

http://theancestorfiles.blogspot.com/2010/08/jens-oveson-obituary.html

The death notice uses the spelling "Oveson" and "Oversen." His gravestone says "Ovesen."

(Make up your minds, people!! :)

The descendants of his sons Lars Peter and Ove Christian use the spellings Oveson and Overson, although as you note in your comment, it should probably be Jensen.

Thanks again for the info!

Amy (James's daughter)
http://theancestorfiles.blogspot.com/
http://oveovesondiary.blogspot.com/
 I might mention that I have a photo copy of Ove Oveson's biography, which he wrote himself and he spelled his name "Oveson" or "Overson." I might suggest the following:

Sørensen, John Kousgård. Patronymics in Denmark and England. The Dorothea Coke memorial lecture in Northern studies, 1982. London: Published for the College by the Viking Society for Northern Research, 1983.

I might also mention that slægtsnavne or surnames became mandatory in Denmark in1856. Ove Christian Ovesen (or Overson) was born in 1840. 

Some common mistakes in genealogy

I tend to look at an awful lot of genealogy and some of it is really awful. Here is a compilation of a few of the most obvious and easily rectified errors:


1. Failing to look for and record the correct full name of an ancestor.  One of the side benefits of looking at a large collection of user submitted family trees is that it is fairly easy to compare the submissions of any one individual and see the variations. In this case, I have used Ancestry.com's Public Member Trees and New FamilySearch for the lists. All of the individuals I examine in this post as well known and accurate information on the individual is extremely easy to find. I can verify a name of any of these individuals from several online free original sources. Here is the classic example from my family: Henry Martin Tanner. Just to get an idea of the number of submissions, Ancestry.com's Public Trees show 37,110 returns on a search for his name. The name variations are as follows:
Henry Martin Tanner
Henry Tanner
Henry M. Tanner
Henry W. Tanner (obviously wrong)

I started with someone who is well recorded. Here is the second example: Henry's father, Sidney Tanner.
Sidney Tanner
Sidney
Sydey Tanner
Sydney Tanner

None of these variations are a reflection of the common problem of a lack of a standard spelling. The name variations do not appear in any source records that I have seen. Next example: Ove Christian Oveson.
Ove Christian Ovesen
Ore Christian Overson
Ove Andreasen
Ove C. Oversen
Ove C. Overson
Ove Christian Jensen
Ove Christian Overson
Ove Christian Oveson
Ove Christian Oveson (Overson)
Ove Conrad Overson
Ove Ovesen
Overson

I think you can get the idea. Some of these are probably the wrong person. It might help to know that Ove Christian Oveson changed his name to Overson when he came to the U.S. from Denmark.

2. Failure to record the complete or correct location for an event.  This is really common. Usually, the submitter merely leaves out the county or other larger geographic designation. In places like Denmark where identical names are common, failing to identify the exact location of an event usually ends up with the wrong person. Here are the places listed for Henry Martin Tanner's birth in 1852:
San Bernardino, Los Angeles, California
San Bernardino, San Bernardino, California
San Barnadino, California
of Utah
Joseph City, Apache, AZ
Joseph City, Arizona, USA
Toquerville, Wash. UT
St. Joseph, Navajo, Arizona
Lakeside, Arizona
Date and place not provided

Can you guess which one is correct for 1852?

3. Failure to provide a correct date or giving an approximate date when the actual date is known. Back to Henry Martin Tanner, his birth date is well documented and correct, 11 June 1852. Here are the variations:
11 June 1852
11 July 1852
1856
about 1858
1858
about 1859
Date and place not provided

Come on, there is really no excuse for the variations. There are no records that show different dates for his birth other than those sloppy submissions.


4. Failure to provide a name or date when the name or date is well known. I can't really give an example of this because the information is lacking from the submitter's file. For example, it is common to find an unknown spouse for someone whose spouse's name is readily available. It is also common for submitted family trees to have the first name of the wife when her maiden name is known. The submitter commonly cops out by using Mrs. Jones or Miss Jones where the Jones is the husband's surname. This may be an acceptable practice in some circles but it is unacceptable to me.

5. Considering two individuals to be the same person, merely because they have the same name.  What can I say about this except that it happens all the time.

Well, as you can imagine, the list could go on and on and perhaps it will in the future.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Inside the Vaults - Constitution of the United States



We should all be thankful to those who founded our great nation for the freedoms we have, including the freedom to do our family research without interference from the government.

You may also not be aware that the National Archives has an online version called "The National Archives Experience -- Digital Vaults." Yes, I do love history and this is really impressive history.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The last time I checked I didn't have any credit card numbers stored in my genealogy files

You know how it is, once you start thinking about a subject you come up with all sorts of different ideas. In my last post I started to write about identity theft and genealogy. I think I ended up with more identity theft than genealogy. The question is this, does genealogical research somehow create a risk of identity theft? The simple answer is no and here is the first example. The Social Security Death Index (SSDI).

As genealogists we often (or should often) refer to the SSDI. Starting about the mid 1930s and for people who possibly died after about 1960, it is an extremely useful tool for finding an approximate death date. In addition, with the Social Security Number of the dead person, you can contact the Social Security Administration and for a fee, obtain a copy of the person's Social Security Application using Form 711. But what is the real purpose of the SSDI? Of course, it is to let anyone who cares know about the status of an individual's status with Social Security, so that banks, credit card companies, and government agencies have a centralized method of checking to see if someone is really dead. So there in absolutely free instant characters on your computer screen are all of the Social Security Numbers you can imagine.

The point of this example is that once a person is dead, even something like a Social Security Number is public information. Oh, by the way, Social Security Numbers are always public information. I am amused by people who think that they are protecting themselves from some dire consequences by refusing to disclose their Social Security Number. For example, my number was my student number at the university and also my service number in the Army. I literally had to put that number of every form I ever filled out at both the university and in the Army (for eight years). How private is that?

But, do we record Social Security Numbers for living individuals in our genealogy records? Well, not if you are mostly interested in dead people, which is what I though genealogy was all about. I have only a minimum amount of information about any living people in my records, and routinely block any living information from being included in any online database or even when sharing a file with others in my family.

So what good are old Social Security Numbers? Not much, even to determined identity thieves. What else do we have in genealogy records that might be detrimental to our health and welfare if obtained by an identity thief? My mother's maiden name? I already mentioned that issue. The real identity theft issue (if there is a real identity theft issue) deals with the core information from financial and medical records. I certainly hope that no one out there records their bank account records and their medical and insurance information in a genealogy file.

Let's go to the U.S. Census Bureau website and see what the most current statistics say about identity theft. Hmm, this might be more difficult than simply looking. Identity theft isn't listed as a category of crime! The first thing you notice from the Crimes and Crime Rates by Type of Offense is that all crimes are on the decline, the rates per 100,000 of population have dropped significantly since 1980. OK, they do have a category for "Fraud and Identity Theft -Consumer Complaints by State: 2008. This information comes from the Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book from the Federal Trade Commission.

Here is another Hmmm. Quoting from the FTC, "Begun in 1997 to collect fraud and identity theft complaints, the CSN now has more than 7.2 million complaints, including those about credit reports, debt collection, mortgages, and lending, among other subjects." Here are the actual categories and percentages for the category of identity theft:
Credit card fraud (20%) was the most common form of reported identity theft followed by
government documents/benefits fraud (15%), employment fraud (15%), and phone or utilities fraud (13%).
Other significant categories of identity theft reported by victims were bank fraud (11%) and loan fraud
(4%).
• Government documents/benefits fraud is now the second most common reported type of identity
theft after credit card fraud. Fraudulent tax return-related identity theft, a subtype of government
documents/benefits fraud, has increased nearly six percentage points since calendar year 2006.
I happen to live in Arizona, the state with the highest reported number of complaints for identity theft. The total number of identity theft complaints for the entire U.S. in 2008 was 313,982 about half of the complaints for fraud and far less than the media reported 10,000,000 per year. The FTC keeps track of thirty different categories of complaints. Interestingly, over half of the complaints report no money lost. $0. Nothing. Only 3% of the complaints report more than $5,000 lost.

If you don't believe me look for yourself at the link above. Identity theft is not a significant issue and surely not a real concern to genealogists as genealogists. Keep track of your credit cards. Watch your statements. Don't fall for online or e-mail frauds and you will likely avoid problems.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Identity theft and genealogy

Every so often the subject of identity theft comes up in a genealogical context. Recently, Dick Eastman has a post called "Using Your Mother's Maiden Name for "Security."" I always thought that was a strange security question myself, especially since mother's maiden names seem to show up regularly and first and middle names of siblings and even more since the advent of online computer databases. But I am getting off of the point, one of the reasons these businesses have a "security" question is because they believe that security is necessary. OK, so why is security necessary?

Let's get some history here. In the olden days, pre-personal computer, thieves and bunko artists would have to steal something physical to masquerade as someone else. To assume someone's identity, they would have to have a driver's license or a blank check or forged birth certificate. (Wait a minute, isn't this still going on?) When I was in the retail computer business, a lady stole some checks from a professor and one of the local universities and went on a buying spree across Phoenix. We lost a whole computer system to this lady who escaped and was never caught. OK, so that kind of activity is what we conveniently call today, "identity theft."

But that kind of activity, now called identity theft, was pretty rare. We only had one instance in nearly 11 years of selling computers. So why all the fuss today? Why is there even a mention of the "security" problem among us esoteric genealogy buffs? Because let's face it, identity theft is a big business today. There are whole insurance companies dedicated to selling you identity theft insurance. It is sort of like the old Reader's Digest illness of the month. Where each month Reader's Digest would come up with some new horrible disease for all of us to worry about. Ostensibly, so that someone could start a foundation to eradicate the disease. Have you ever read a history of advertising in America?

Are you aware that there is no single agreed upon definition of "identity theft." A specific Google search on "identity theft definition" brought up 744,000 results. There are huge numbers of news articles discussing the applicability of a 2003 statute called the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, 15 U.S.C. §1681(m)(e), which requires financial institutions and creditors to develop protocols to detect and prevent identity theft. Those institutions are also required to take measures when "red flags" signaling identity fraud are detected, including possibly reporting the warning signs to law enforcement. As noted in one protest from the American Bar Association when the law was applied to attorneys: (See Law.Com)
The ABA's Wells, in his statement, contended that Congress did not intend to apply the 2003 law's definition of "creditors" to lawyers who "merely bill for services after they are rendered."
"Regardless of the specifics of billing arrangements," Wells stated, "lawyers cannot ethically charge for legal services until they are rendered."
The FTC has not identified "a single case of identity theft in the legal services context, suggesting that such a scenario is far-fetched, if not impossible," he added.
Identity theft became a federal crime in 1998 with the passage of the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act.  OK, now how many people have been convicted under that act since 1998? Got any ideas? Do you realize how hard it is to find any statistics on that subject? A search of WestLaw shows a grand total of 16 Federal cases ever to have even cited the law and most of those merely cite the law and have nothing at all to do with a prosecution of a crime.

Then why are there so many articles and headlines claiming that identity theft is out of control? Because it is a good way to get additional government funding for law enforcement and expand federal and state agencies. It is common to claim tens of millions of victims of identity theft each year.  Think about it, over a ten year period that would mean more than 1/3 of the entire U.S. population would have been victims of identity theft. 100,000,000 victims with only less than 16 Federal prosecutions!!! There is a serious disconnect here.

 The disconnect is simple, crime reporting agencies include all sorts of crimes under the umbrella of identity theft. If you lose your credit card and someone tries to use it, you are the victim of an identity theft. If someone breaks into a bank's computer and steals thousands of credit card numbers, each of those is considered a victim.

So, you are asking, what is the reality? And what does genealogy have to do with any of this. That is the point, genealogy has little or nothing to do with identity theft.

Stay tuned for the next installment.

Computer skills and genealogy

I taught a class recently at the Mesa Regional Family History Center and encountered a common issue: lack of computer skills. When I was a lot younger it was common for people to not know how to drive a car. My mother and my mother-in-law both learned to drive years after they were married. I don't recall ever seeing my grandmother drive a car, even though she might have known how and had a license. My grandmother would never fly in an airplane but that is another story. It is now a given that almost everyone knows how to drive (oh well, some better than others). Surprisingly, even in our almost saturated computer age, many people have little or no computer skills.

I always maintain that one of the very few things I learned in high school was how to type. I cannot imagine trying to communicate with today's world without the ability to use a keyboard. But there I was trying to teach a class when the student was hunting down each letter on the keyboard. My initial task was to register him for New FamilySearch. Registration requires a login and a password. Think about it, how can you communicate with the computer if you can't type in your login and password? Anyway, the next challenge was the fact that registration for New FamilySearch is completed when FamilySearch sends you and E-mail message confirming your registration. Guess what? He did not have a working e-mail account. Think about how long it takes to sign up for an e-mail account? A few minutes? Not if you don't know how to type.

Why didn't I just give up and send him back to work on his genealogy with paper copies? Well, if you are a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the only way you can complete ordinance work for your ancestors is to go online. Either you have to do it yourself, or find someone who will sit there with you and type it all into New FamilySearch. In short, at least for LDS members, you can't do genealogy without some rudimentary computer skills.

So, if you do not have computer skills how do you obtain them? Most children in school now learn keyboard skills in early grades. But unless a child or adult has some interest in computers and some self motivation, it is unlikely that they will learn much about the operation of various computer programs without some kind of formal instruction. Most computer users know just enough to get along unless their job or personal interests force them to learn more.

This lack of computer skills presents a formidable barrier to some people's involvement with genealogy. As I taught the class to that man, I could just see the pain in his eyes. He was totally overwhelmed. He was motivated to find out about his family but didn't realize that he was going to have to acquire a whole lot of computer skills just to find out what work had already been done. Although I tried to soften the blow, I could only hope he didn't give up the idea altogether.

Where do you go to learn? You go to school. Just like you would go to a driver training class to learn how to drive, you go to a computer class. Try your local community college, try adult education classes, try finding a friend or relative who would be willing to teach you. Buy a self tutoring typing program. There are a lot of ways to learn.

Hmm. I just realized. If you don't have any computer skills you probably aren't reading this post.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Don't ever put personal information online? What?

In a recent post, Dick Eastman responded to a comment by a reader in Your Privacy Online. He ended his post with the admonition, "I would suggest everyone should stop to think before posting any information to Facebook or to any other online site. My suggestion: Never, ever place personal information online, not on Facebook and not anyplace else." Since it had been some time since I talked about privacy and sundry topics like identity theft (whatever that is?) and related topics, I decided to weigh in on the subject one more time.

I suppose that genealogists are no more concerned about online privacy than any other class of online users. But there are so many false impressions about the subject of "privacy" that even genealogists need a little reality check from time to time before coming totally immobilized by paranoia. 

First of all what do we mean by "privacy?" What we as predominantly U.S. citizens think of privacy has no relationship to what someone from say, downtown Panama City, Panama might think about privacy where the occupancy rate for apartments rises to an average of 50 people or more per room. Most of what the so-called average American would take for granted as "private" would be an entirely foreign concept to someone living with 49 other family members and friends in one small room. So, usually, what we mean by privacy in the context of the Internet is not personal physical privacy, such as is practically non-existent in some countries, but the ability to keep some kinds of information from being generally known. Additionally, as the example illustrates, the concept of privacy is highly cultural. I spent part of my childhood in a very small town with a telephone on a party line. There wasn't much that could happen that wasn't pretty well known by the whole community in a matter of hours. I now live in a big city and I am surprised if even my next door neighbors have any idea what is happening at my house.

So what are the kinds of information we are concerned about when we talk about privacy? If you are a regular reader of Facebook or some other similar online social networking forum, you probably would have a hugely difficult time answering this question. Just a quick view of some recent Facebook posts shows an amazing array of everything about some people from when their children are crying to the purchase of a major appliance and on to include, medical emergencies, fights, weddings, plans, and the latest throw up event. Do I care? No. Did I really want to know? No. But this says a lot about what we think is private.

If the issue is the undefined "identity theft," the real issue is specific financial information, i.e checking account numbers, passwords, credit card numbers, etc. But now let's think about this for a moment. Every time you use a credit card, you give your credit card number to someone, usually a total stranger. Every time you use a check, your bank account routing number is right there on the front of the check. Every time you buy anything in the store and use your discount supersaver ID, the store has a complete record of every purchase.  I could go on and on and on. I probably will have to write another post about identity theft in the context of genealogy soon. But in reality, there is no such thing as privacy, there is only a lack of collective interest in many of our individual affairs.

If you really think that your "personal information" such as (and not limited to) bank account numbers and details, credit card numbers and details, investments, what, when and where you purchase items, your salary (if you have one), your social security number and practically anything else in your life is "private," you are kidding yourself. If you or anyone else would like to know that kind of information about anyone, you can obtain that and a whole lot more from several very reasonably priced websites.

Just ask yourself, who is going to make money if I worry about something like identity theft?

Friday, September 17, 2010

No absolutes in genealogy

People's lives are inherently messy, no matter how short or how long and trying to completely quantify a life is probably unattainable. Even huge biographies, like Carl Sandburg's Abraham Lincoln do not do justice to a life. So what can we hope to accomplish as genealogists? How much information is enough? Where do we stop? Or do we ever stop in collecting information? If you are like me, you will always believe that there is one more document and one more place to look. The surprising thing is, that this is usually and almost always correct. There always is at least one more document and at least one more place to look. In the sense that the information we obtain is never absolute, that is complete, without qualification and totally unconditioned, given this definition no genealogical research can be absolute.

In that sense, there is also always some additional information that may be available to be known.  There may be one more place to research and look, if we only had the time and resources. Before we even approach some absolute, we recognize that are time and space limitations on our ability to obtain additional information.  Of course, from a practical standpoint, you can't keep finding new and unexplored documents about people in the very distant past. The documents might exist, but finding them without unlimited resources becomes an extremely remote possibility. But in any event, you can never assume that you have reached some absolute end of the available records or information that might be gleaned from another source.

It is this open ended nature of genealogy (and history) that keeps some types of people from becoming involved in research. They cannot stand messiness and they abhor incompleteness. Let's face it, they probably are correct in staying away from historical research.

When I am talking about absolutes, I am not referring to the framework of events made up of dates and places. In one sense, an event may be an absolute. It may have happened at a particular place and at a particular time. But knowing that a person was born in a certain place at a certain time is not absolute knowledge about the birth. All you need to do is listen to a discussion about a new baby by members of the mothers family and you will immediately recognize that knowing the date and place can be very far from reporting absolutely all of the information about the birth.

It is understandably true that nearly all of the vast and specific information about an event begins to be lost as soon as the moment passes. We are limited to that small portion of the total event that is recorded in some way either intentionally or unintentionally.

So what does this mean to me, an average researcher? It means that all information about a family or individual is tentative. Quoting from the mathematician Yuri Manin, "A proof only becomes a proof after the social act of "accepting it as a proof."  To paraphrase, we prove an event only when we accept the amount of information about the event as sufficient in the context of our society of researchers. For some, a single date is enough and they can stop looking. For others, no information is sufficient to close the investigation because the researcher recognizes that there are no absolutes in genealogy.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Library of Congress Newspapers on Microfilm


Interlibrary Loan is one of the most underused resources for genealogists. As I teach classes at the Mesa Arizona Regional Family History Center I frequently ask the class participants if they are aware of the interlibrary loan process. Usually, only one or two out of twenty or more have even heard of borrowing books from remote libraries. In our own Mesa Public Library, the Interlibrary Loan selection appears on the individual login screen for registered users (i.e. library card holders). I use this method of requesting books and other documents any time I cannot conveniently find a copy of the material in a local library. The requested item is then forwarded to your local library where you can either check out the material (in Mesa for two weeks) or use the item in the library. At the end of the process the book is returned to the originating library. There is usually no charge for this service to the user.

The libraries who participate include the Library of Congress. Virtually all of the holdings of the Library of Congress, except some rare books, are available for circulation to participating libraries. The Library of Congress describes the process as follows:
Before making a request, verify that the item exists and is held by LC. Requests should be verified through an electronic database or other standard bibliographic tool, preferably also in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. The most useful identifiers are online record numbers such as the Library of Congress control number (e.g., 9712456), the International Standard Book Number (ISBN), or the OCLC record number. Include these, or a citation to a published tool such as the National Union Catalog, whenever possible.
 Included in the materials available is most of the Library's newspaper collection. The Library describes its collection as follows:
The Library of Congress maintains one of the largest and most comprehensive newspaper collections in the world, comprised not only of the major papers published in all 50 states and territories of the United States, but also those published in most other countries of the world that have existed over the past three centuries. Almost all of the more than 500,000 reels of newspaper microfilm held by the Newspaper & Current Periodical, European, Asian, and African & Middle Eastern Divisions are available for interlibrary loan. Only newspapers that have been microfilmed are available for loan.
Searching the Library of Congress catalog is very interesting to a genealogist. For example, I found the following book:

Lutrell, Estelle. Newspapers and Periodicals of Arizona, 1859-1911. Tucson, Ariz: University of Arizona, 1950.

Rather than order the book on interlibrary loan immediately, I switched to Google Books and immediately found the book listed. By clicking the link to "Find in a Library" I found that my local City of Mesa Library has a copy. I go by the Mesa Library every day on my way to work. What could be more convenient? (Yes, I know, having the books and newspapers online).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What place controversy?

In a recent post, DearMyrtle asked the question "Being Politically Correct: What should we do as historians?" I think this question falls into the category of the inclusion of controversial information into our genealogies. Should we "edit" history to take out all the undesirable and difficult subjects? What about the criminals, the illegitimate children and the poor and psychologically afflicted? Do we hide the fact that our great-grandmother spent most of her life in an insane asylum or do we let it all hang out and talk about all the family secrets?

Personally the questions are easy to answer. I believe the dead have no secrets. Anything that happened in the past is fair game. Notwithstanding this position, we need to be sensitive to the feelings of the living but we do not want to keep fighting the Civil War. As for recording the language of the past, that was the reality then, who are we afraid of offending?

We all have something in our ancestors' lives that we might not consider acceptable behavior in the context of today's sensibilities. My ancestors were polygamists. That is a historic fact. No matter how I feel about polygamy today, I cannot change the facts. My Grandparents would certainly never talk about the subject and even my parents would never mentioned it. But do I have to obscure the fact that my Great-grandfather had two wives, both of whom appear in the U.S. Census records? I would not do so. Am I personally offended by the fact of their polygamy? Not at all. Simply because I do not agree with or accept the practice today is no reason to color or change the way I write about the families. I have no problem with two family group sheets for that one family. In fact, I have no more feelings about the polygamous families than I have about serial monogamy today. One of my relatives had eight wives, one after another. Which was worse? If there is a worse?

Do I feel diminished in any way when I find that a relative was in jail or prison? Not in the least. That was then, this is now. We do not change history to suit our prejudices. To do so is propaganda not history. As one comment to the post by DearMyrtle put it, "There will be someone who will be offended no matter what terminology we use." If you aspire to royal ancestry, you had better put blinders on when you do genealogical research. You are more likely to find scoundrels than kings.

Why I write (and care) about New FamilySearch

My involvement with genealogy began many years ago with the 4 and 5 generation submissions to the Ancestral File. At the time, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had instituted a program for the members to verify and submit their ancestry for first four and then later, five generations. The submission was done on paper (there were no personal computers yet at that time) and it was quite a project. The paper submissions, on the old 11 by 16 family group records all were gathered into binders and stored on the patron shelves at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Like many people in the Church, I had been told by family members that all the "genealogy" had been "done." After spending only a short time researching, I discovered that the work was far from "done" and have now spent the last almost thirty years gathering records and information about my family and my wife's family. Now ultimately, what happened to all those paper records submitted to the Church so long ago? They all ended up in New FamilySearch along with my Pedigree Resource File submissions and any contributions I made to the International Genealogical Index. So, to the extent that I have spent my time during the past many years, I am vitally interested in the final product, that is, New FamilySearch.

So when I look at New FamilySearch, I do not see an anonymous collection of records, I see my own family with all of the information I spent years accumulating and correcting. But I also see additional information that is totally inaccurate and misleading which could have been verified or corrected with a minimum of effort on the part of the submitters. I care because of the time and effort I have expended personally over the years. I also care because I believe in accuracy. I believe in citing sources for your information and I believe in having a product that is not marred by misspellings (like New York) and other problems.

So, this is why I write. I am interested in the program and would like to see it improve. I think they have made a good start at a program, but they used data that was faulty. It would likely be easier to start over with a new database than try and correct all of the wrong information in the present one. But obviously, I am not in charge of anything and have little or no input. But even my small opinion can be expressed here on the Internet. That is why I care and write about New FamilySearch.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hide and Seek with FamilySearch Record Search

In a recent post dated 13 September 2010, Dick Eastman cited an announcement from FamilySearch that 5 million records from 19 countries had been added to the Record Search collections. I decided to take a look at the new records and went to the Beta FamilySearch website. I began to get interested when I could not find the first two collections listed of the new records, Argentina, Cordoba—Cordoba Marriage Records, 1642–1931 and Argentina, Santa Fe (Rosario) —Church Records, 1642-1972. The third item listed, Austria, Vienna—Population Cards, 1850–1928, was shown as having a New Index. However, the records shown on Beta FamilySearch were only from 1850 to 1895 and I could find nothing that indicated that newer records might be available.

The next set of records, Belgium—Death Registration, 1851–1900, seemed to be in the collections, but the associated Wiki FamilySearch page was last modified on 26 August 2010 and had a heading saying that "This article describes a collection of historical records that is scheduled to become available for free online at FamilySearch."

On down the list, I found Brazil, Rio de Janeiro—Church Records, Diocese of Itaguai, 1700-1940, but the earliest records only go back to 1865 and I had to look through each of the States until I found Itaguai.

OK, so then I thought, maybe these records all went into the older Record Search site? The old site now has a suggestion that you go to the new Beta site, but actually on the old site, the number of collections had gone down to 452 collections from a high of 454. I found, for example, that the Argentina, Catholic Church Records were last updated on 3 September 2010 and are 1% complete. Yes, that is 1%. The Nicaragua records listed in Dick Eastman's post as new, show that they were last updated on 31 August 2010 and are 53% complete.

So where are the new records? Back to the Beta site. This time to look for Mexico, Zacatecas—Catholic Church Records, 1605-1977. Zacatecas is a state in Mexico and all of the records for the Catholic Church are in one collection. If you click on Zacatecas, you get a list of cities or towns. Clicking on a city gives you one or more Catholic parishes in that city. However, actually, the parishes are organized into diocese. According to the Wiki FamilySearch, "In 1995, the Catholic Church in Mexico had 14 archdioceses; 58 dioceses; 5,345 parishes; and 1,611 chapelries (sub-parishes). Together they hold a great number of records" So where are the records for the diocese? And how do the records for a city or town correspond to the diocese? There really wasn't any way to tell if the records from Zacatecas were new or old. It is probable that someone looking for Catholic Church records might not know the diocese, but would know the city or town, but there are records kept on diocese level.

Again, back to the Record Search site. In the list from Dick Eastman there are several, to be exact, eight new collections listed for Canada. In the older Record Search site there are three collections in Canada that are marked as new or updated. 

 What does all this mean? It means I can not tell hide nor hair of the announcements coming out about new records being added to the Beta FamilySearch or Record Search or whatever. In some cases I cannot find the records, in other cases the descriptions in the announcement do not correspond to what is in the collections. Just as a suggestion, why not make a list, as they go along, of all of the records added and subtracted and just let the users see the running list?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Genealogical Invitation to the National Map

I am always surprised at the overall lack of geographic knowledge in the world. But as genealogists, we should be immersed in the world of maps. I am reminded of the patron recently, who I may have already used as an example, who refused to look at a family with the same names as the ones she was searching for simply because they "lived in Ohio" and her family lived in Pennsylvania. But, her family lived in Mercer County, Pennsylvania about ten miles from the state line with Ohio. Pretty silly? Yes, especially since the "big city" in the area is Youngstown, Ohio. Even though we have such examples, it is comforting to know that maps are becoming even more available all the time.

Quoting from the USGS website,
As one of the cornerstones of the U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS) National Geospatial Program, The National Map is a collaborative effort among the USGS and other Federal, State, and local partners to improve and deliver topographic information for the Nation. It has many uses ranging from recreation to scientific analysis to emergency response. The National Map is easily accessible for display on the Web, as products and services, and as downloadable data. The geographic information available from The National Map includes orthoimagery (aerial photographs), elevation, geographic names, hydrography, boundaries, transportation, structures, and land cover. Other types of geographic information can be added within the viewer or brought in with The National Map data into a Geographic Information System to create specific types of maps or map views. The National Map is a significant contribution to the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) and currently is being transformed to better serve the geospatial community by providing high quality, integrated geospatial data and improved products and services including new generation digital topographic maps.
 The current coverage of the U.S. Topo maps is here. Again quoting from the USGS website, "US Topo maps are available free on the Web. Each map quadrangle is constructed in GeoPDF® format from key layers of geographic data – orthoimagery, roads, geographic names, contours and hydrographic features - found in The National Map, which is a nationwide collection of integrated data from local, State, Federal, and other sources."

Sunday, September 12, 2010

FamilySearch.org status and update

Indications are that FamilySearch must be getting closer to releasing the new version of their FamilySearch.org website. This last week or so, a banner appeared on the original site inviting users to try the new beta version. There is also an invitation on the FamilyHistory Library startup page to try the beta version of the Family History Library Catalog which is incorporated in the beta site.

The beta site for FamilySearch.org is not new news. It has been around for many months in some form or another. It started out as a nearly empty shell on the FamilySearch Labs website (labs.familysearch.org) where it still resides. The newer beta site incorporates features of FamilySearch Record Search (pilot.familysearch.org), the FamilySearch Wiki site (wiki.familysearch.org) and FamilySearch Forums (forums.familysearch.org). At various times FamilySearch presenters have indicated that each of these now independent programs will cease to function independently but will be incorporated into a newer website called simply "familysearch.org." The present beta site is the present end product of that incorporation.

The present format of the Beta FamilySearch.org website is interesting, but upon implementation will probably create a whole set of questions from the users about where everything in the old site has gone, such as the International Genealogical Index and the Ancestral File. I am still a little undecided on the design of the new site since it follows the minimalist tendencies of web browsers, that is, try an guess where all the information is hidden.

The new Beta site has main tabs for "How To." "FamilySearch Centers," "Indexing," and a "Blog." There is a simple search form on the main start-up page with a few other selections. The Blog seems to have a number of writers and as a note, when I subscribed to the posts, the Blog came up as "FamilySearch.org - Indexing, Records, Resources" as the name of the blog. It appears that posts have become more frequent very recently. If you go to the Blog, you might want to check out the New and Press link. This link is a listing of Press Releases from FamilySearch.

In a post dated, September 7, 2010, LawyerDC listed the items included in a "Major Update for FamilySearch Beta." The list includes some design changes as well as historical records collections enhancements. The comments to the post are also interesting, showing that the site a ways to go before working properly.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Scanning, scanning and more scanning

My Great-grandmother, Mary Ann Linton Morgan, spent the largest part of her life dedicated to genealogical research. In the course of doing so, unfortunately, she managed to alienate the interest of almost all of her children and grandchildren in genealogy. Doing her research in the early to mid-1900s, she accumulated hundreds of hand written family group records and the associated documents, including journals, letters, histories and associated documents. When she died, there were no family members with even the slightest interest in carrying on her work or even in preserving what she had done. When I began my genealogical research, many years after she died, I was told no one knew what happened to all of her records even though my mother reported seeing a "garage full" of records.

During the first ten or so years of research, I could find little evidence of any of the work she had supposedly done. Until one day my mother asked me if I want some old boxes of records from my aunt (her sister). Of course, I jumped at the opportunity to see some actual old records. Some time later, my mother gave me the boxes. As an aside, she was not interested enough to actually look in the boxes, but knew they might be interesting to me. There is probably a story here about how an overwhelming interest in genealogy can have a negative impact on close family members.

As you can probably guess, the boxes contained tens of thousands of original and derivative documents accumulated by my Great-grandmother over the course of over thirty years of research. At the time, I got the records, home computers had progressed considerably and there were several programs that I could use to preserve the records. At the time, I started transcribing the letters and other documents and entering the family data into one of the early versions of Personal Ancestral File. I spent the next ten or twelve years working through the information in those boxes.

Ultimately, as the technology became more sophisticated, I began scanning all of the documents. I spent years scanning and scanning and more scanning. Some of the documents are now available in the Family History Library on CD. If you use a computer in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, you can search the database online. Just do a catalog search for Mary Ann Linton Morgan as the author.

Since that time, I have gotten tens of thousands of additional documents and photos and the scanning goes on and on. Today, I looked at the scanning folder and find 9,771 files in my genealogy folder and 60,744 documents in my document folder. By the way, I still have a huge pile of boxes from other family members to scan and process. I figure I may be about half way done with the records I already have and more are showing up all the time.

I will likely discuss this again in future.

Connecting the Research to the Genealogist

A while back, I wrote a post about connecting the genealogist to the research. Now, I am going to turn that around and talk about another side of the issue, connecting the research to the genealogist. In other words, how do we get the information we find out to the genealogical community without being lost in the background noise of the Internet?

A article from Ancestry Magazine from November/December 2000 called "Share and Beware -- Sharing Genealogy in the Information Age" leads off with a discussion of the impact of the photocopying on the old mimeograph process. Quoting from the article,
Photocopying technology has made it easy to reproduce paper or microform originals. As genealogists, we may now share our paper-based research with relative ease. As important as photocopying has become for duplicating our work, it's technology has been overshadowed by the even more replication-ready personal computer. Even larger volumes of information may be shared nearly instantly as electrons in the ether rather than ink on paper. Electronic files contain our research results. Diskettes, home-burned CD-ROMs, and electronic mail share our files with our friends and families. Internet accessible databases which accept submissions from researchers share our genealogy with the world. Truly, computers have made sharing easier than ever. Computers are photocopiers on steroids never running out of toner and never needing paper. The personal computer is the modern mimeograph machine more copies of more stuff with less thought and effort required. And therein lies the rub.
The article goes on to discuss the implications of putting our genealogical information in the "public forum" where we will lose control over that information.  That is another topic for another day, but what if you want people to see and respond to your genealogy files and find that you are a very small sign on a very busy freeway. How do you get noticed in the noisy online world? Can you yell louder than the noise?

Looking at the issue from a different angle, think about the common self-published family history book. How many of us have a few extra boxes of a book about our ancestors that we can't seem to give away? Even our own children will not take them. So the first challenge is that your genealogy is likely not very interesting to anyone except you and your immediate family (and maybe not even your immediate family unless you are very rich or very famous or both). Putting the information online does not make it any more desirable or interesting, but it does make it more accessible. You may find that even though your immediate family has no interest, there are those out there who will value your work.

To get the ball rolling, you really do need to make your information public. Uploading your file to any of the many dozens of online family tree websites, does no one any good if you make the file confidential, unless you happen to know a lot of people that are interested in your work, it is likely that a private file, like a private blog, will have almost no readers. So put the file on a very public website that does not charge a fee for people to see your file.

Once your file is online, you need to promote it. That means you need to refer to the file from a variety of sources, such as blog posts, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, and other sites that may allow you to link to the basic records. Send out copies of the link to all your relatives every time you make a change or add information. They may put you on their junk mail filter, but you may also get people to look at your information. If any of your friends or relatives have blogs or websites, prevail upon them to add your information as a link, if they can do so. Every time a site is linked, it will increase the possibility that the website will move up higher in the search engines like Google.

Change you information frequently. Most search engines give some kind of priority to the frequency the site or information changes. The more changes the higher the ranking in the searches. The only real way to get through the noise online is to make some yourself.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Solving the top problems with New FamilySearch -- the Help Center

One of the very most impressive features of the New FamilySearch program is the Help Center. What many users may not realize is that the Help Center is semi-autonomous from the New FamilySearch website. It is the comprehensive support and help site for nearly all of the online programs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), many of which programs have nothing directly to do with FamilySearch or genealogy at all. If you go to a pull down menu next to the "Ask a Question" box, you get a long list of LDS Church programs supported by the Help Center.


Having used the help function frequently in a variety of programs, I am well acquainted with the problems of finding an answer to your question. I rate the FamilySearch Help Center as the most helpful I have ever used. I have always found the information I needed or been told where to go to find it, every time. Unlike some help menus, the Help Center is updated daily and responds to new problems rapidly. I can usually find an updated explanation only one or two days old for many questions.

Listed in the clip from the website above, you can see the "Top Problems." Each response to a problem or question has a number and you can search for solutions using either text search terms entered into the "Ask a Question" box or by the number. This  is a convenient feature since you do not have to write down the whole title of the resource, only its number. FamilySearch now refers to those resource/response documents as Diagnostic Knowledge Documents (yes, another acronym DKD). Some of these documents are very long and detailed, others are only one or two short paragraphs.

Just under the "Ask a Question" box there is a link to an Advanced Search. One of the benefits of an advanced search is that you can look for items posted in the last few days or weeks, so if there has been a change in the program or policy, you can always get the most recent answer to your question.

The FamilySearch Help Center is an extremely valuable resource, not just for New FamilySearch but for all of the LDS Church online products.

Monday, September 6, 2010

They fought the law and the law won

I was taking a deposition this last week and the lady being deposed, who was the plaintiff in the action, kept claiming that what the defendant had done was illegal. Since the case was entirely a civil matter, I kept trying to get her to explain why she thought the defendant's actions were "illegal." Unfortunately, depositions are not the time for a quick course in the U.S. legal system and my efforts were totally ineffective. It is fairly common for people to use the term "illegal" when they are really involved in a civil law action where that term is meaningless. In a legal context, illegality has to do with criminal prosecutions. It is possible that a party to a civil action could do something illegal, but in the case we were involved in this week, there was no way that the defendant had done anything illegal.

I also realize that genealogical researchers suffer from the same lack of perspective and information about the difference between our civil and criminal legal systems. The main division between criminal actions and civil actions lies in remedy. In criminal cases the complaining party is always the state or other governmental entity. The remedies in all criminal actions are set forth in criminal statues that provide for monetary penalties and could result in incarceration. An act is "illegal" if it violates a criminal statute and could be the basis for a criminal prosecution. Unless an action has criminal consequences, it is considered a civil action. In most civil cases the remedy is a money judgment in favor of one party or the other.

Here are some brief definitions to get started: [Some of these terms may vary according to the jurisdiction of the case, I live in Arizona]. First civil:

Plaintiff -- the party bringing the action or filing the lawsuit.

Defendant -- the party defending the action or answering the lawsuit.

In civil cases, from this simple beginning things can get really complicated, because the defendant may make claims back against the plaintiff which are usually called counter-claims. The parties then become the Plaintiff/Counter-defendant and the Defendant/Counter-claimant. In addition, the defendant may make additional claims against other parties so the Defendant could also become a Third-party Plaintiff and the defending party would be a Third-party Defendant.  If multiple defendants are sued, then they may make claims against each other and then they become Cross-claimants and Cross-defendants.

In criminal cases, like I stated above, the Plaintiff/Complainant is always the government in some form or another. It is pretty simple to identify a criminal case because the caption of the case will always say something like "The State of Arizona vs. John Doe" or "The United States of America vs. John Doe." Governmental agencies or subdivisions, like states, can bring civil actions but normally something in the heading of the case will let you know if the action is civil or criminal.

This distinction between civil and criminal is important to genealogical research because my and your ancestors might be involved in civil as well as criminal legal actions and most jurisdictions number the cases separately and even segregate the files in different places. You could search the civil cases (the civil docket) for mention of your ancestor and miss a criminal case entirely. To add to the confusion, many courts divide out not only criminal and civil cases but may have separate files (or dockets) for probate, family law (divorce), and even other types of actions.

It is not necessary to become a lawyer to understand our legal system, but it is not all that uncommon for our ancestors to be involved in both civil and criminal actions.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Taming the tide of digitization in genealogy -- Part Two

Trying to keep up with changes in the digital world pertaining to genealogy is an endless task. But there are ways to profit from all of the documents coming online. My first rule was patience. There is a growing perception among casual genealogical researchers that "everything" they need should be online. My second rule is perseverance. I find people regularly who think that if they don't find what they are looking for in Ancestry.com then their search is over.

In the past, new researchers were commonly given a chart showing where to go next.  Here is a link to a chart called "Selecting Record Types."  Even though all or some of the records may be online, this chart is still applicable. Yesterday, I was working with a patron at the Mesa Regional Family History Center who was looking for an uncle, one of her mother's brothers. She had his name and an approximate date of birth, but seemingly no information on where he lived or died. She believed he lived in Pennsylvania and so that is where we started looking. We found someone with the same name and whose wife had the same name as she remembered, but she automatically dismissed them as unrelated because they were living in another state, Ohio I believe. However, we also determined that part of the family lived in Mercer county. Guess what? Mercer county is right next to Ohio. I couldn't get her to look at the family in Ohio, because "They didn't live in Ohio." She kept saying they lived near Pittsburgh. Well, I finally left her to look through the long list of names that came up on Ancestry.com and said good luck.

In finding ancestors, either online or in a records repository, you need perseverance to follow up on every lead, even if what you are finding does not fit into your preconceived notion of where or when the family may have lived. When searching online, be aware that the indexes are unreliable and you may have to look at more records than you think apply just to make sure you aren't missing something that is simply mislabeled. In doing a search in Ancestry.com, for example, try searching on the surname only, or try alternative spellings, or search on other family members, or the wife's maiden name. Persevere in trying to locate the record. By the way, the same techniques apply to paper records also.

That same patron also refused to consider alternative spellings of her ancestor's name. She kept correcting me when I suggested that this family might be the one. No, she said, "that isn't how they spelled their name." That was the end of that discussion. I wonder how many years people waste with that attitude?

Perseverance also means that you go back and check to see if any more records have been added online since your last search. Just because you failed to find anything a year ago does not mean that the records have not been added since.

Use the computer's strengths to find the records. Computer programs, by and large, use what is called a "string search" to find any text matching the search terms. Some search engines ignore capitalization, some do not. Some search engines ignore extra spaces, some do not. You have to begin to think like a programmer to actually start having success in finding things online. Just like you need to start to think like a cataloger to find things in a library. Unfortunately, this skill can only be learned by a lot of experience. You cannot expect to sit down at a computer and find what you want unless you have spent some time looking and "getting a feel" for how things may be found.

There is hope in finding records online, but after all is said, remember, that it will be a long time before all of the genealogy records are online and we still need to go to books and other paper and microfilm records for the present.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Can we tame the rising tide of digitization in genealogy? -- Part One

From time to time my life goes into overdrive (this is the old term for warp drive) and I seem to drop a few days here and there. This week was one of those times when the list of things to do exceeded the time to do it all.

I am afraid that most of us feel that way about the tidal wave of digitized records showing up on the Internet. There are just too many to comprehend and there is not enough time to even review or evaluate the records.

As genealogists, historically I think we spent a lot of time worrying about situations where there were few, if any, records available, but hardly anytime worry about having too many records. In some cases today, there are literally too many records to comprehend, let alone examine. When I try to help someone with an Internet search, they usually go glassy-eyed and lose interest long before we have covered even a small percentage of the online records available about their particular question.

Here is a small example.

The Arizona State Historian back in the 1920s wrote a book which includes the settlement of the small towns in Arizona where my ancestors were pioneers. This is the book:

McClintock, James H. Mormon Settlement in Arizona; a Record of Peaceful Conquest of the Desert. 1921.

My son-in-law found the book for me some time ago and I have a very nice original edition of the book and found it full of information pertinent to my family. Suppose you did not know the book existed and did a Google search on "Arizona pioneer settlements"? (I use this example because I have pretty much exhausted this particular subject).  The Google search brings up 1,250,000 results. One of the more interesting results is a web site from Northern Arizona University called Canyons, Cultures and Environmental Change, An Introduction to the Land Use History of the Colorado Plateau. The website has a page on The Mormon Pioneers.  That page lists 22 sources but not the McClintock book. If does however list

Peterson, Charles S. Take Up Your Mission; Mormon Colonizing Along the Little Colorado River, 1870-1900. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1973.

Another interesting book that I also have in my collection. Now, if I kept looking at the results for the Google search on  "Arizona pioneer settlements" I would eventually come across the McClintock book and the Peterson book. I would find the McClintock book online in full view digital format from the original edition in three or four (or more) locations including Google Books, Project Gutenberg and Archive.org. The Peterson book is still under copyright and is only available online in a limited search view, but could be purchased from Amazon, among other vendors for as little as $7.50. I could also find a copy at a near-by library, like the Mesa Public Library through WorldCat.org.

Here is the point. This is an example of only two books, but I could go on with references to the books, reviews of the books, copies of the books and, in the case of the McClintock book, the entire book online. The amount of information seems to be endless but really isn't. In this case, most of the real information is contained in a few published books, the rest is locked up in archives of journals, letters and other sources that are not online as yet.

Here is the first key to taming the rising tide of digitization: Patience.

There is no doubt that the amount of digitized information online will continue to increase, so we need a lot of patience. We need to realize that items may become available from multiple sources and that there may be many ways to find the same information, but at the same time, only really a small percentage of all of the information in the world is online, many genealogical records are still waiting to be accessed. We need to use the online resources we have but not give up the minute we fail to find what we are looking for online and move on to research in paper and microfilm records. We also need to keep looking. New records come online everyday and what we failed to find yesterday may be there today. All this takes patience the next key: Perseverance.

Continued.