RootsTech 2014

Mocavo

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

Saturday, June 30, 2012

FamilySearch Family Tree is not just for Members of the LDS Church

FamilySearch is a wholly owned corporation owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the LDS Church or Mormons). Genealogy crosses cultural, ethnic and religious boundaries. My family may be members of the LDS Church, but my ancestors were Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and Lutherans, to name a few. As far as possible, FamilySearch tries to be absolutely fair and neutral in its dealings with researchers of all faiths and backgrounds. For example, as volunteers (Missionaries) at the Mesa FamilySearch Library, as a policy, we do not discuss religion at all with the patrons, except as it relates to research on their family lines.

I am sure that there are individuals who do not follow this policy, but the FamilySearch websites and programs are open to all regardless of religious affiliation or no religious affiliation.

That said, there are some things about genealogy that are unique to those who are members of the Church. Because of our fundamental religious beliefs in proxy ordinances for our deceased ancestors, there is a lot of misunderstanding about the Church and its members. The two programs, New.FamilySearch.org and Family Tree are used in part by members of the Church for qualifying ancestors for proxy ordinances.

To those who confuse both our motives and our actions, we (and I am in particular) are willing to discuss our beliefs. But a fundamental tenant of our believe is as follows: "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may." (11th Article of Faith). There will always be those who see conspiracy at every turn, but we have no alternative agenda when it comes to genealogy.

Family Tree (unlike its predecessor New.FamilySearch.org) is not limited to members of the Church. Anyone can register and gain access right now, even before the program is completely released and before many features have been added. Family Tree may well become the largest repository of sourced family history information in existence. It will be unique in establishing a way to identify each person in the world family tree. New.FamilySearch.org was intended to do this, but had some fundamental limitations. Family Tree goes past those limitations and builds on the huge resources available. If you turn up your nose at Family Tree because of its religious sponsor, you will be missing one of the most valuable resources for genealogical research that has ever been created. 

Upcoming features in FamilySearch Family Tree

In a 30 June 2012 update on the FamilySearch.org Blog, they announced the following upcoming changes to FamilySearch Family Tree. These are important to anyone interested in securing their data on a stable platform. Family Tree is open to all registered users of FamilySearch.org. Registration is simple and free. Here are the proposed changes:

The features required to add new people to Family Tree and fix relationships between people are in the works.  We may be taking Family Tree offline for a short period of time while we add this new functionality.  When this functionality is completed, you will be able to:
  • Add parents, children, and spouses to families.
  • Remove people from families where they do not belong.
  • Change the record of an incorrectly linked parent or spouse for the correct record.
  • Add, change, and delete marriage events (dates and places of marriage, divorce, and so forth).
  • Add change and delete relationship types between parents and children. (The relationship types are biological, step, guardianship, adopted, and other.)
  • Add sources to parent-child and couple relationships.
  • See a history of all changes made to relationships and undo changes if needed.
You’ll know that we have added the new features because options to add missing people will start appearing on the tree.

I am looking forward to the changes. I have a lot of corrections to do on the information that was ported over from New.FamilySearch.org.

Working without a safety net

At the World's Fair in Seattle, I watched a man walk a cable stretched between two stadiums. He was about 100 feet in the air and if he had fallen, he would have pancaked on the ground. I once fell about fifty feet off of a cliff I was free climbing into the top of a tree. The tree broke my fall and I wasn't hurt, but had I missed the tree, I wouldn't be writing this blog post. Both of these events illustrate an important fact, you can proceed without protection but the laws of nature are inevitable. If either the cable walker or I had continued to pursue our unprotected avocations, we would both, almost without fail, have paid the piper at some time in our lives.

Genealogy isn't usually death defying, but sometimes the consequences of disregarding common practices of protection can lead to losses that some of us would prefer to die rather than suffer. I write this as the list of houses burned to piles of ashes continues to grow in the Western U.S. You have probably guessed by now I am talking about backing up your work on something besides the main hard drive you are working on. What would you lose in your genealogy if your house burned down to the ground today? If that loss would be devastating, then you are not in any position to feel comfortable about your procedures for backing up your data.

Some losses cannot be avoided. For example, during the progress of any war (choose one) valuable documents and historical artifacts are destroyed. Even if the curators of those items had the best possible protection, there are some events that cannot be avoided. So somewhere in all of the angst of potential loss there needs to be a measure of reasonableness. You cannot live your life in dread of losing things or you cannot live your life. But with the technology we have today, you can prevent most things from being lost completely and you can certainly stop devastating loss of your genealogical work.

As you can probably guess, there is always something that happens to get me started on some tirade or another. In this case, it was spending a couple of hours with a friend who had parked his genealogy on a computer ten years ago and forgotten about it. Time passed, he decided to change the direction of his life and went back to retrieve his data, only to find that the computer had long since died. This situation had a silver lining, he had a paper print out of his work. So we spent some time gathering what other information we could find from New.FamilySearch.org and sent him on his way.

Not all of my experiences with genealogists turn out satisfactorily. As I look around and see so many people carrying around flash drives with all of their data, I remember how many times I have misplaced a flash drive. Just this week I had to drive back to the Mesa FamilySearch Library to retrieve a flash drive I left on a computer in the Training Center. Hmm. It can happen to anyone, but most of us are not getting any younger and how many times have you spent an hour or so looking for something you misplaced around the house. Flash drives are marvelous little things, but they are little.

Should I go back through all of the methods of backing up your data? I spent this past week making sure each of my Terabyte plus drives was completely backed up with all of my data, that is three different drives in addition to what is on four different computers. I also make a hard disk copy of everything and give it one of my children for safekeeping, off site, all the way across the country. By the way, it about time to do that again. I would like to use an online service, but my files are so large, that is not financially practical for me. I do keep all of my current working files online.

Think it through. Start now to preserve your data.


Friday, June 29, 2012

Another FamilySearch Family Tree White Paper

If you sign in to FamilySearch.org and check the Help menu, you will see extensive documentation for Family Tree at the bottom of the Help page. If you also expand the list to see the extra items, you will see three White Papers listed. One was added on 29 June 2012, the other two I wrote about in an earlier post today. The new addition is called "Sources in Family Tree." There are also copies of the two of the White Papers in the "Learn How to Use FamilySearch" link from the startup page of New.FamilySearch.org after you have logged in.

The summary of the latest White Paper is as follows:
In genealogy and family history, sources are critical for finding information and documenting where it came from. Because sources are so important, new.familysearch.org, Personal Ancestral File and similar programs, and Family Tree all let users enter sources. The Family Tree’s source feature is easy to use and will allow the tree to become the most accurate, collaborative genealogical database available.
There seems to be some difference between entering sources and the programs "letting you" enter sources. I would certainly put Personal Ancestral File into the category of "letting you: enter sources. Letting you do it, as in the Personal Ancestral File program, does not mean that it does it easily or well. However, Family Tree is in a completely new category, entering sources is both easy and well done. You may quibble with the format, but all the essential information can be entered. If you are really concerned with the format of the citations, then you can format them in a word processing program and copy and paste them into the source fields on Family Tree.

This source White Paper specifically refers to a future feature of Family Tree for user uploaded documents and images.

It looks like Family Tree is about to become a very useful and interesting online program.


FamilySearch Family Tree White Papers

Back in April, 2011, FamilySearch circulated a "White Paper" called "The Case for Moving to "Our Tree."" This document was passed around on the Internet and was the basis for a considerable amount of discussion. The thrust of the paper was the move from the existing New.FamilySearch.org (NFS) website to a new "Family Tree" type organization. The 2011 White Paper addressed most of the concerns that had evolved about the NFS program.

Since the 2011 White Paper, many of the proposed changes in the online family tree program have been implemented by the introduction of FamilySearch Family Tree at RootsTech 2012. Family Tree is now an active, available program on FamilySearch.org. Now, two more "White Papers" have surfaced.

"Managing Ordinance in Family Tree" dated 21 June 2012
"Dealing with Duplicate Records of People in Family Tree" dated 21 June 2012

Copies of the White Papers are available on New.FamilySearch.org. When you sign in, you can find the three papers under a link to "Learn How to Use FamilySearch."

Both of these papers deal with current issues present in NFS and the residual effects of those issues that appear in Family Tree. Here is an example of the summary for the Duplicate Records paper:
Both new.familysearch.org and Family Tree have duplicate records. Family Tree will provide a better solution for handling these duplicate records. It:
  • Allows users to merge duplicate records, choosing which information to keep and which to archive.
  • Fixes IOUS (Individuals of Unusual Size) records and prevents their creation.
  • Allows users to correct records that were combined or merged inappropriately.
  • Prevents the merging of wrong records with a new “not a match” feature.
The Ordinance White Paper address similar concerns in area of LDS Temple ordinances.

I strongly suggest that anyone concerned about either NFS or the Family Tree program review these publications in detail. I am personally aware of Family History Consultants who are not getting information about the imminent change-over to Family Tree from NFS. As a result, classes teaching NFS are being scheduled. There are going to be some people who are upset, it they spend a few weeks or months learning NFS at this point if they are not made aware of Family Tree.  No "official" announcement, other than a number of emails, RootsTech, this blog, and etc. have made it clear that Family Tree will be replacing NFS. Get the word out!

Now an editorial comment. Family Tree seems to address nearly all of the issues present in NFS. Keep up the good work and move ahead.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

FamilySearch Google+ Hangout

Right now I am participating in a Google+ Hangout broadcast. Tune in, at FamilySearch on Google+

Perspective on Family Tree vs. New.FamilySearch

FamilySearch Family Tree and the program it will replace, New.FamilySearch.org, are diametric opposites. If you view genealogy as a discovery of the set of all of your ancestors you can view each ancestor as occupying a specific node in your ancestral tree structure. Extrapolating that view outward, it is apparent that the entire human family could be fitted into such a structure, with each individual occupying their own unique node in the tree. Each person has a unique set of parents and birth order. It is impossible, even for twins, to occupy the same node on the tree.

New.FamilySearch.org (NFS) viewed each individual node as a cloud of individuals. All of the information about each node, accurate or not, was included in the individual's cloud. All submissions, no matter how far fetched were considered equally with all other submissions. There was no way either to focus the cloud of possible individuals onto the node or to eliminate any suggested individual from the cloud. So, rather than focusing on an accurate and source supported conclusion about differing information, NFS allowed the clouds to expand without any limits. So you would get individual submissions that were historically ridiculous that were essentially co-equal to the most source supported ones. Further, there was no mechanism in the program that allowed the users to focus or correct inaccurate information.

Family Tree eliminates those issues but allowing the information in the file to be edited by any user. This guarantees that the information in the trees will be more likely to approach the consensus of theoretical accuracy of any genealogical system. Although it appears that FamilySearch would like to focus on the cooperative nature of the program, in reality, it allows those who have the most correct information access to the focus point of the nodes by eliminating competing information. If there are real differences, based on different interpretations of the same information or conflicting information from different sources, then the Family Tree program provides a venue of the differences to be acknowledged and for the possibility of a negotiated truce.

Assuming that future developments of the Family Tree program as consistent with what has been represented as under development, then there will finally be a mechanism to "prune the tree" so to speak and eliminate nearly all of the extraneous cloud. For example, information coming from New.FamilySearch.org over to Family Tree might have a dozen or more name variations of the an individual. Here is an example:

Birth NameMary Kristina Christenson

These are variations in names for just one individual in Family Tree using the information that was automatically posted from NFS. The advantage of Family Tree is that all of those variations can be deleted from the actively viewed database. If there are actual variations, then the program allows for sources that support the alternate viewpoints. 

This is a substantial step forward for FamilySearch. Many people, when hearing about Family Tree and the ability of users to change the information, immediately conclude that the information will be inaccurate. Family Tree's watch function will assure accuracy, if those with the supporting documentation will take the time to enter source citations and to communicate with submitters of potentially misleading or inaccurate information. 

Since each person can only occupy one unique node, eventually, every person will be assigned a Family Tree node and the work of gathering further information will be concluded. Don't hold your breath. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Chinese Records added to FamilySearch Historical Record Collections


There are over 4 million Chinese records in the FamilySearch.org Historical Record Collections.  The Collection was added back on 29 May 2012, but it looked like to me that the Collection was being updated as I looked at it today, since it kept appearing and then disappearing. The Collection, entitled China, Collection of Genealogies, 1500-1980, I believe marks the first extensive collection of copies of original source records for China on FamilySearch. The Collection is described as follows:
Digital images of Chinese genealogies from various public and private collections. Although some genealogies include information on family branches that migrated to surrounding countries this collection covers families with roots in China. Chinese family genealogies list the origin of the family within China, where the family settled, and gives the generations of the family. Although some genealogies reach as far back as 1500 the time period and content of the records will vary from one genealogy to the next. Additional records may be added to this collection. Check the wiki or browse the collection to determine current coverage.
Other Asian and Middle Eastern Countries have also been added in the past, but this is the first listed for China itself. Other countries with collections include India,  Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Philippines, and Sri Lanka.

As I was writing this post, other additions for 27 June 2012, kept appearing and then disappearing from the list. My guess is that the database was being updated at the time I was looking at it and the collections were not completely loaded. The Chinese collection was listed as updated along with several others and over just a few minutes, almost all of the updates for 27 June 2012 disappeared. Oh well, I will check back later and see what happens to the list. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Online searching secrets revealed

There are some definite techniques to searching online and to get results. To do this properly, you need to understand how the search engines work and what you can and cannot find online. First, there are three major search engines; Google.com, Bing.com (from Microsoft), and Yahoo! Search. Beyond these three, there are dozens of other major search engines and perhaps hundreds of lesser used ones. There are also so-called metasearch engines that make searches using combinations of various other search engines. Many search engines use automated programs called web crawlers or automated programs that systematically search and catalog the Internet. If you would like to read about the history of online search engines go to the Wikipedia article, "Web search engine."

From time to time, I have done comparisons of the various search engines. It is important to understand what search engines can and cannot find on the Internet. Commonly, a computer user will use the Internet search engine that came with his or her computer. If you are using a Windows based system, this means that your "default" search engine is MSN Search or the updated program Bing. In my experience, many users are surprised to find out that they don't have to use the default search engine (i.e. Bing) that came with their computer.

There is also some confusion about the difference between a search engine and a browser. A browser is a program that runs on your computer to give you access to the Internet. The more common browsers are Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer (IE), Safari and Opera. The browser program connects to the Internet and allows you to run programs such as the search engines. You are not limited to any particular search engine just because you are using a specific browser. So, you can be running Internet Explorer and use the Google search engine (commonly referred to simply as Google). Those who buy Apple computers usually get a copy of Safari. Those who purchase Windows computers usually get a copy of Internet Explorer. There is a reason why both Firefox and Chrome are more popular than either of the programs (IE and Safari) that come with the computers. Although it is really a matter of personal preference, you might want to try out one or two of the browsers and even more of the search engines to get a good idea what you like.

The best way to test a search engine is to pick what you consider to be an obscure subject and do a search. I often use the name of one of my ancestors as a test. When you do such a search you might try searching for all of the names at once, i.e. Henry Martin Tanner or by putting the name in quotation marks, i.e. "Henry Martin Tanner." By convention, putting a series of words in quotes tells the search engine that you are looking for all of the words, in the order provided. If you go to the Wikipedia article I referenced above, you may find some considerable differences in the number of results and the relevance of the results across different search engines as I have noted in previous posts.

One of the issues that comes up with most of the search engines is the amount of advertising that comes with each search. If you don't mind ads, this factor won't make any difference to you, but if ads tend to bother you, then you will likely gravitate to a simple interface such as the "Classic Firefox" or Google Chrome's startup screeen. Across the board, different search engines display vastly different amounts of advertising and visual brick-a-brac.

Now, when you search, you need to focus on what it is you are trying to find. It may seem overly simplistic, but your begin your search by using the word you are looking for. As an exampe, if you were looking for "Mississippi vital records," which of the terms do you think you need to put first? Well, most search engines will look for websites with all three words and if the words are enclosed in quotation marks, then the search engine should look for the instance of all three words in the order specified. But think about your searches. Are you looking for Mississippi? Or are you looking for Vital Records. Perhaps you want to put the words "vital records" in quotation marks and use the state name, "Mississippi" as a modifier. By just putting three words in any of the search engines will likely guarantee that you will have thousands (perhaps millions) of results. If the number of results is huge, try adding more modifiers, such as birth, marriage, death etc. You should see the number start to go down and the relevance start to go up. But there is no use putting in all the words at the beginning because you may get what you are looking for on the first go around.

OK, stay tuned for part two of this series.




Monday, June 25, 2012

Direct link between New.FamilySearch.org and Family Tree

FamilySearch Family Tree was introduced at the RootsTech Conference as a replacement for New.FamilySearch.org. Since February and RootsTech, there have been incremental changes to Family Tree. Now there is a direct link in New.FamilySearch.org inviting users of that program to move to the Family Tree program. The link in found in the Sources selection in New.FamilySearch.org and states:
Sources are no longer available through new.familysearch.org. If you don't have access to FamilySearch's new Family Tree feature, click the link below.

https://www.familysearch.org/invite/familytree_tab
As an aside, a lot of confusion could be avoided if FamilySearch would be a little more judicious in using the term "new" for everything. I find a lot of confusion between the new FamilySearch Family Tree and New.FamilySearch.org. See what I mean?

Back to the subject. Apparently, anyone who tries to view a source or enter another source into New.FamilySearch.org will be directed to Family Tree.  You get a view of the existing sources and when you close the window, this message pops up.

I am noticing that additional inaccurate information keeps being posted to Family Tree all the time. I cleaned up a couple of my ancestors only to find a long list of additional wrong information added to the site. Looks like a full time job with overtime.

Introducing SuperSearch by MyHeritage.com

Here is a quote from an email from Mark Olson of MyHeritage.com

Today, we released our new search engine - SuperSearch -which transforms family history research into a more global, more accessible and more engaging experience than ever before. It has been running in Beta for a few months, but today is its official launch date.

Every day, large numbers of historical records and data are being added and we also plan to have our time-saving Record Matching technology up and running in a few weeks. Watch for more information - we'll let you know when Record Matching is live!

SuperSearch is an exciting new service that adds color to family history, improves by the day, and which positions MyHeritage as a top player in the historical content market.

There is a little more information in this video on YouTube:




I will check it out and let you know what I think.

Comments on the Demise of Old FamilySearch.org

I meant to write about this yesterday, but ran out of time with other projects. On about December 10, 2010, FamilySearch.org implemented a new website design. The older website, which became known as the "Classic FamilySearch.org" was still online with a link to the new site. Slowly, as the months passed, the older site became less and less visible. Despite the obvious advantages and the new source material of the "new" FamilySearch.org website, the older site was still accessible through a direct link on the startup page of the newer site. There was some confusion because an entirely unrelated website called New.FamilySearch.org had been in the process of being added during this entire time.

The Ancestry Insider has a post about the demise, showing the older site. 

New.FamilySearch.org still is in daily use, but there is now a "newer" new site called Family Tree, that is scheduled to replace the "New.FamilySearch.org" website sometime this year or whenever.

Now, the "old" FamilySearch.org website or Classic site has been taken down off of the Internet. As an interesting side note, the Internet Archive (Archive.org) has a Web archive called the WayBackMachine that archives websites.  Unfortunately, the FamilySearch.org website was not able to be adequately archived on that site. Attempts to view the Classic Site show text only menus with no real links.

Here is a list so you can work your way through the confusion:

The old or original FamilySearch.org website went online in 1999 and went off line in 2012.
The newer FamilySearch.org website went online in December of 2010 and is still online.
The New.FamilySearch.org website went online to a limited number of people in 2007.
New.FamilySearch.org is scheduled to end sometime in December, 2012 (or as I say whenever).
Family Tree as a link from FamilySearch.org goes online in February, 2012.

This overlapping of newer and older websites may not be unique in the online world, but it is certainly rare. For example, when Ancestry.com purchased Footnote.com, the site was changed to Fold3.com without so much as a passing notice to the old Footnote.com site. I think there are two camps the way changes are handled, those who favor a clean break and those who prolong the agony. I guess there are adherents to both camps. I favor the clean break myself.

There are still people moaning and groaning about the "loss" of the old or Classic FamilySearch website. What I have found is that most of these people haven't spent the time to figure out that all of the resources of the old site are in the newer FamilySearch.org website and whole lot more. Some of the pining for the Classic involves issues like access to batch numbers. Now, if you know what a batch number is, you are probably one of those people worried about the problem. If you don't have any idea about batch numbers, then you will probably never know about the controversy. Suffice it to say that the present FamilySearch.org website has a way to search by batch numbers and if you know what they are, you can probably find it.

The real issue here is the fact that many of the genealogists just do not like change in any form or fashion. I just spoke with a friend who wanted to know if I could help him get his genealogy off of his 10 year old crashed computer with over 500 names in PAF. Of course, he had no backup but he did have a printed copy of his research. I suggested a new computer, a new program and start typing. I still see people every day who have no or very limited computer skills and who refuse to take the time or make the effort to learn anything new. I am not talking about people with disabilities, I am talking about people a lot younger than I am who simply say, "I don't do computers."

Oh, by the way, PAF is still available on the newer FamilySearch.org website, if you know where to look, but I am not going to tell you where it is. You will have to find it yourself. Oh, OK, I will give you a hint. There is a link directly to the program on the main startup page of FamilySearch.org.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Conference Circuit

There are dozens of genealogy conferences around the United States and others around the world every year. Years ago, when I went to my first genealogy conference, I immediately realized the value of coming to a conference. As I have noted a few time before, genealogy is mostly a solitary pursuit. If it weren't for blogging, comments by readers, and serving at the Mesa FamilySearch Library (the new name for the Mesa Regional Family History Center), I would hardly talk to anyone for weeks at a time. Now, I have web conferences many times a week with the FamilySearch Research Wiki Support Team and contact from friends and people from the Mesa FamilySearch Library that need help with research. But at the core of all this is the ability to interact with people from all over the country at expos and conferences.

Of course there is a monetary cost and time commitment in attending conferences. Some of the large national conferences are beyond my reach in that respect. But the local conferences are actually more manageable and beneficial. We get time to talk to people for more than a brief hello. At the last Family History Expo I attended, I had a quite a few longer discussions with other genealogists, both exhibitors and attendees. It is also a bonus to get to meet some of the bloggers. It is interesting when you form a mental image of someone based on a photo and then meet them in real life.

This is one of the main reasons I decided to work with Holly Hansen and her crew in the Family History Expos. First, they are outstandingly nice people and dedicated to the advancement of genealogy. Second, I get all the side benefits of attending the conferences. As I was noting above, attending a huge, busy conference like RootsTech or FGS is a great opportunity. But it is more like a kaleidoscope of experiences while the smaller more regional conferences provide some down-to-earth personally satisfying experiences.

Some people try to differentiate between the "commercial" aspects of a conference and those sponsored by "non-profit" organizations. Look at the list of vendors at the conferences put on by the non-profit societies and tell me the difference between that and a conference sponsored by a commercial enterprise. It is true, that larger conferences pull in some of the "big names" in genealogy. But I have seen outstanding presentations by local presenters who are entirely "unknown" to the larger genealogical community. For sure, you would like to hear the latest from FamilySearch or MyHeritage or who ever, but it depends on your own personal needs. Your motivation might come, like mine did, from hearing about doing research in Wales. 

The vendors that look at conferences like they do advertising, will only attend those conferences that give them the most bang for their advertising buck. But the people at the smaller conferences are there, in part, because of their dedication to genealogy and family history. Sure, they need to make some money to live or they wouldn't be selling their products. But the atmosphere is more personal and a lot more relaxed at the local and regional conferences. For example, I attended an outstanding conference of the African-American Genealogy Society of Phoenix. This was a smaller one day conference but it was well worth the time for those who attended. Judging the value of a conference by the number of people that attend fails to take into consideration the nature of genealogy. As I noted at the beginning, genealogy is a solitary pursuit. 

Whatever the outcome, I guess I will be traveling some during each year going out to conferences. I am looking forward to seeing my genealogy friends and meeting more of them at each conference. In July I will be at the Family History Expo in Sacramento, California on July 6th and 7th at the Crowne Plaza Sacramento Northeast, 5321 Date Avenue, Sacramento, California. The next month I will be in Springfield, Illinois at another Family History Expo on August 3rd and 4th at the Crowne Plaza Springfield, 3000 South Dirksen Parkway, Springfield, Illinois. If you live anywhere in the area of either of these, please make sure to come and look me up.

Weekly Mystery Photo

Theoretically, I am trying to post at least one of these a week. Let's see at last count, at one a week, it will take more than 20 years to post them all, assuming I don't get more in the mean time. I can't say who took this picture but it is in with the negatives from my Great-grandmother Margaret Godfrey Jarvis Overson and was likely taken by her or her father, Charles Jarvis. If you click on the photo you can see an enlarged version with more detail. Any guesses?

A photographic goldmine


I will be working on digitizing and developing the glass and cellulose acetate film negatives from my Great-grandmother Margaret Godfrey Jarvis Overson. Since there are thousands of negatives and developed photos this project will go on for some time. This is a picture of Margaret Jarvis, my Great-great-grandmother and Grandmother Overson's mother. Margaret Jarvis was born in 1857 and died in 1934. She married Charles Godfrey DeFriez who changed his name to Jarvis when he got married to Margaret Jarvis. He apparently liked the Jarvis family so much he changed his name. I have to think there is a story in there somewhere that I haven't ever seen documented. So Margaret Jarvis was her maiden name also. Charles Jarvis (DeFriez) later changed his name legally in court to Jarvis.  If you didn't know any better, you would certainly think all this was a mistake in the records.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Benefits of the Overson Glass Negatives


This is Ove Christian Oveson on the left, standing behind his wife, Mary Kjerstine Christensen Oveson and Lars Peter Oveson, his brother standing behind his wife, Luisa Otterstrom Oveson. Ove Christian Oveson is my Great-great-grandfather. He was born in Tars, Tars Sogn, Hjorring, Denmark on 31 July 1840.

For considerable information about this family, see my daughter's blog, TheAncestorFiles.

This is a developed positive taken from the original glass negative, likely taken either by Charles Jarvis, my Great-great-grandfather or his daughter, Margaret Godfrey Jarvis Overson, my Great-grandmother. We have had poor copies of this original photo in books and as prints but this is original.

We obtained these negatives by virtue of the diligence of my cousin Randy Cameron, who preserved them for many years. I am in the process of digitizing these negatives which will ultimately end up in a major university repository.

We obtained these negatives as a result of an inquiry as to who had them, posted by my daughter in her blog.

Comments on the Original Document Dilemma

An extended comment by Guy Etchells to my recent post on What is an Original? pointed out some additional issues with original documents vs. copies. Sometimes there is considerable confusion between the copy and the original. My comments were directed primarily to photocopies made in the last 30 or 40 years. However, there is a substantial historical issue with copies. In many cases, what we consider to be original documents, are in fact copies of copies and far removed from the original.

A good example of the issue of original vs. copy is the document we call the Declaration of Independence. One detailed history of the development of the manuscript that became finally accepted as the Declaration of Independence is found in "The Charters of Freedom" of the U.S. National Archives. The document displayed at the National Archives building in Washington, D.C. is a copy of the documents orginally printed for distribution to the Colonies.

Prior to the development of photographic reproduction processes, a copy of a document usually meant that the entire document was re-created using the original as a pattern. There is no doubt that variations will exist between the "original" and the copy made from the original. In examining older records, such as parish registers, wills, probate files and other types of documents, it is imperative to determine if the document you are examining is truly the original. There is a sometimes unfounded assumption that the "original" is more reliable than any copy. Unfortunately, the original records are not always accurate and subsequent copies may contain significant corrections to the content of the original.

The fact that you are looking at a copy of a document rather than the original may not always be readily apparent. Some copies are, in fact, more legible and easier to read than the original. Modern photographic techniques can enhance the quality of old documents and render visible portions of the document that may have faded with time or even been erased from the original.

My point, in my original comments, were concerning the dramatic shift in the legality of using copies for proof in court as opposed to the historical need to produce the original documents. The concerns about producing the original in court have dwindled to only very narrow areas of the law concerning probate of wills and other such formal transactions. Depending on the nature of the document, I have had the ability using high resolution scanners and photo editing programs such as Adobe Photoshop to reproduce a document so faithfully that you would need an expert to tell the original from the copy.

Further unfortunately, if the copies of documents are used for improper or illegal purposes, making a copy of an original for improper or illegal use is called forgery and is a criminal act. One time, years ago, when I was heavily involved in our graphic design business, we were contacted by the news media concerning doing a demonstration of how documents could be copied using the then existing technology. My partner showed the reporter how an almost undetectable copy could be made using the scanners and programs we had at the time.

As a note, the equipment I have today is a quantum leap ahead of what was available just a few years ago. As I have found recently, my high resolution digital camera now creates images far superior to a flatbed scanner.

Fortunately, in the realm of genealogy, we don't always need absolutely detailed high-resolution copies of all of the documents we examine. Sometimes a low resolution photo by a smartphone camera is enough to preserve the information.

There is yet still another issue concerning the need to preserve the original document (book, manuscript etc) if a copy has been made. In some cases, as with routine business records, it may not be necessary or even practical to keep the paper copies. In other circumstances, where the original may have some historic or sentimental value, keeping the original is mandated.

I am sure there is a lot more to say on this subject, for example what of the situation where there are multiple conflicting copies of the same document?

Lnks and Resources

Every so often I find a website that turns out to be far more interesting and useful than the ordinary. It is also interesting how these pages seem to be ignored by most lists and references. One of the FamilySearch Research Wiki volunteers posted a link that turned out to be one of these rarely mentioned sites just loaded with resources. The site is called Family History & Genealogy Resources from the BYU Family History Library.

There are literally hundreds of organized links from this one page. Some of the links are to resources I have either never seen or forgotten. It is site that should be on every genealogists list of go-to places to find organized information.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Two Weeks to the Northern California Family History Expo

Be certain to register now for our upcoming Northern California Family History Expo in Sacramento, CA on July 6-7, 2012. We will have an array of vendors with the latest tools and techniques to help in verifying your ancestors. We also have an agenda filled with speakers to help you move your research along. If you have not already registered, please  click here to register for the Northern California Expo. If you have registered, please tell a friend and have them register too.

 

 Keynote by Dean L. McLeod, Professional Genealogist

 
Dean L. McLeod : Full-time professional genealogist since January 1975. Founding Board Member, APG. Spent first ten years specializing in Scottish and English research. Former staff researcher, Brigham Young University Family History Services. Employed fifteen years American Research Bureau as Field researcher in San Francisco, CA.

Be Part of the Success of the Northern California Expo

The success of this Expo is increased by your commitment to sharing this information with friends, family, and your community. Click here for a pdf flyer that you can print and distribute to community centers, libraries, genealogical and family history societies, local grocery stores, restaurants, and any other place you can think of. We provide you with these flyers to help insure the continued success of this marvelous Expo.  We appreciate your assistance and support of the Expo.

More Reasons to Attend an Expo

Following are some of the benefits for attending our Expos:
  • Class Handouts Syllabus includes more than 300 pages of research guidance.
  • Free online class offered by Genealogical Studies valued at $89.00
  • Download, view and study class handouts before the event so you can come prepared with questions.
  • Ask-the-Pros booth where you can bring personal research and genealogical questions to discuss with our professional researchers $50 value.
  • Exhibit area filled with vendors who have unique products and services, family historians and genealogists love to learn about. (Our book vendor alone will have more than 400 titles to browse or purchase. Books selected based on expert knowledge by Leland K. Meitzler who really knows what people need to be successful.)
  • Speakers and vendors from throughout the United States and Canada. A unique opportunity to increase skills and networking with other researchers.
  • Meet bloggers who will be talking about the event via twitter, blogs, and other social media.
  • Amazing door prizes each hour and grand prizes at the end of the Expo! People qualify to win prizes by attending classes (Grand prizes include a gift bag filled with FamilySearch specialty items, $900 in online classes offered by Genealogical Studies of Ontario, Canada; a professional research package valued at $500 offered by Arlene H. Eakle, PhD and more)

 

Closing Keynote is Holly T. Hansen

 

 
Holly T. Hansen : President of Family History Expos, Inc. Through Family History Expos, Holly has helped thousands understand the techniques and technology to trace their roots in today’s ever-changing technological environment. She received a B.A. in History from Weber State University and continues to dedicate time to education on a daily basis. She is also an author, lecturer, former editor of Everton’s Genealogical Helper magazine, and editor of the 10th and 11th editions of the Handybook for Genealogists.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

What is an original?

Back in the dark ages, almost 40 years ago, when I started practicing law. We used to quibble over the "original" document. What was meant by this was that the Rules of Evidence had a provision requiring that the "best evidence" be presented in court. Hence, we had to make sure we proved our cases with original deeds, original promissory notes, original signed contract and etc. and etc. We would present the original in Court and have a witness testify as to the validity of the documents and the signatures. We would then move the document into evidence and then make a motion to substitute a copy of the original for the original for court purposes.

Flash forward to the present time. We hardly ever see the original documents, much less present them in court. If there is some issue about the copies or the validity of the original, those questions are all resolved long before a case goes to trial. Either the attorneys will agree as to the admissibility of the documents or not but in either event this is decided long before trial. Attorney's may object to a document at the time of trial but primarily the objections are "for the record." That is, to make sure the issue of the validity of the document is preserved should there be an appeal.

In short, original documents are almost never an issue in any court hearing. Copies are routinely used for almost all documents. Some vestiges of original document use still persist in stock certificates and wills but in day-to-day commercial litigation no one ever bothers to question copies as opposed to producing the originals.

Now, what about genealogy? Are we still interested in original documents or are copies sufficient? Think about digitized online documents. When we use online databases, we are quite a ways away from originals. But I think we actually use original documents more frequently than I did in the practice of law. Psychologically, we place a higher value on an "original" than on any copy. The issue goes back to the same considerations we have with book preservation. Are documents intrinsically valuable in and of themselves? Or are documents merely packaged information that can be reproduced in any format?

I think original documents whether they be certificates, letters, cards, or whatever are valuable artifacts in and of themselves. I think it is important that they be preserved as much as is possible. But I also recognize that all documents of whatever kind are really nothing more than information and that copies whether digitized or photocopied are equally as useful as the original, assuming that the copy shows sufficient detail so that the none of the information of the original is lost. As far as proof of the content of a document, I follow the legal position that a copy is as good as the original unless there is some issue about the validity of the copy.

What blog posts are popular and which are not?

In pursuing market research, I have looked back over the past years of blogging to see what it is that catches the interest of my readers. Ideally, you would want to write similar articles every day so that your blog becomes fabulously popular. Guess what? Popularity defies analysis. The number one read blog post from my past with 8,555 views (showing only in Analytics) is a post from 28 February 2011 entitled, "Quick Correction on last post on New FamilySearch." Apparently, it was the enticing title and the up-to-date content. Nothing else I have written even approached the popularity of this post.

In looking back at that sterling example of my journalistic excellence, I can only guess that I should have gone into a different line of work and taken up shuffle board after all. So I guess I will just have to keep throwing the linguini against the wall and see what sticks.

Scanning your way out of the thrals of paper

I have huge piles of paper. As a genealogist, I realize I am not alone in this situation but I have additional complicating factors, I have 40 years accumulation of business records that have saved every memo and scrap of paper and, to make matters worse, from several businesses. I literally have a mountain of boxes jammed with papers. Most of these "documents" are disposable. In other words, the actual paper has no intrinsic value, the only value is the information and most of that could be lost without any consequence. So what keeps me from simply dumping the files into the recycle bin? In short, a morbid fear that something valuable will be lost. Some vital piece of information will fade away into recycled paper.

But wait, there is a solution! Oh yeah, spend the rest of my life with a flat bed scanner scanning double-sided documents. Hmm. Actually, I have already scanned tens of thousands of documents and it hasn't made a dent in the pile. The pile is growing faster than I can scan. This goes not only for the business related stuff but also for the historically significant family history documents. So what is the solution? Cheap labor.

I hired one grandson and one nephew to sit all day long all summer and scan documents. Guess what? In the past two weeks they have scanned over 15,000 documents, about a 1000 or so a day. Of course, I had to get a little faster technology, so I purchased a sheet fed scanner and so all they have to do is sit there and feed it paper. The biggest challenge is preparing all that paper to go through the scanner. All paper clips, clamps, staples and such have to be removed and the piles have to be sorted into documents that need to be kept for legal reasons or otherwise and those that can simply be thrown away once they are scanned. It also takes a considerable amount to time to backup the scanned files.

This activity has been interspersed with digitizing the larger documents with a camera. The actual photographs are faster than scanning, but setting up the camera and getting ready to take the photos is extremely time consuming. So, I needed another time consuming project right now, didn't I?

For the first time in a very, very long time, the number of boxes has begun to decrease more rapidly that it is growing. Thank goodnes for very large hard drives.

Pulse your way to news freedom

I stopped watching TV news years ago. It was a simple issue of lack on content compared to the time commitment. I also gagged on the "News Personalities" and their comments to each other. In addition, I don't equate believability with personal charm and appearance. But that left few alternatives. About the same time, I quit reading the daily newspaper. That was more a matter of cost vs. the pile of trash accumulated.

Part of my "news" came from listening to the radio. But that went out the window, so to speak, when "talk" radio took over. So what kept me from being a news "isolationist?" The Internet of course. But there was a problem. I could simply read the news stories from the same old outlets online or wait around until the news became history and read about it in a book. Part of the problem with reading the news online is the vast difference in the point of view of the various outlets. I do get tired of propaganda and I really don't feel a need to follow the daily activities of the President of the United States.

Now I finally have a solution. News aggregators. The most elegant of these is a free app for iPad, IPhone and Android called Pulse. When it was first introduced the concept was great and the easy to use, but the offerings were limited. Now, the catalog of sources is reasonably vast. I am finally free to choose what I read without being subjected to news personalities. I can also choose to ignore politics, if that is what I want, and concentrate on tech news and science, my real interests.

Pulse does for news readers what the blog aggregators do for blogs, turns the news into a manageable and focused activity rather than an intrusion and a bother. It also gives me one more reason for getting rid of my TV again (we didn't have a TV for years but got sucked back into having one a few years ago). Our home is now TV free again.

Is Pulse perfect? No, I will keep looking for anything better, but right now free is persuasive.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Would you switch from an iPad to a Microsoft Surface?

Microsoft had a limited intro today of its "iPad Killer" Surface tablet. If you missed the hype, here is a short video to show you what you missed:




In the interests of equal time, here is the newest iPad commercial:




I certainly have a lot of questions, but initial indications are that the more expensive model of the Surface will cost about the same as as a MacBook Air. So why compare it to an iPad, why not try to compare it to my MacBookPro or the new model that is just now coming out from Apple? You can probably tell that I won't be looking to replace my iPad with a Microsoft product.

An Overwhelming Sense of Loss

I was listening to some John Fahey music and began to realize that I was another year older and that some of my early goals were gone forever. I used to sing and play the guitar in folk groups and made a little money now and again. But time, work and family finally killed off my guitar efforts. I don't really regret it but when I hear Jerry Garcia or Leo Kottke, I sometimes feel like in my next life, I would like to spend time becoming really good at playing the guitar.

Now you are back to the same old question, what on earth does this have to do with genealogy? Well, if you think about it for a minute you will probably come to the realization of our commonly shared mortality. Each of us have our allotted time here on earth and I believe how we spend that time determines how we will spend eternity. As I grew older, I realized that playing the guitar would never support my family nor would it be ultimately satisfying as a long term activity. Now, you might have completely different interests than I have and you might be a fabulous guitar player, but I had about as good a chance of playing the guitar as well as John Fahey as I did getting to the NBA! That is zero.

I did an assessment of what I did well, or at least slightly better than average and ended up in law. After a few years I realized that I really needed to do something a little more lasting and positive. Since I believe families are forever, I naturally got interested in my family. Well, that turned out to be a rocky road, but at the same time I figured I could do genealogy well and probably a lot better than I could play the guitar.

I think all of genealogy folks have to go through some of the same issues. We have to really decide at some point whether or not we are going to "do" genealogy and become good enough at it to make a difference. Genealogists that have a perspective concerning the long term benefits of their interest spend the time and effort necessary to really learn what they are trying to do. They read about genealogy, take classes and study how to do a better job of researching. The satisfaction comes from finding elusive ancestors, your own or for others. Maybe you are the type of person that can do a whole lot of things well and maybe you are one of those who can only do a very few things at all, in either case, if you are guiding by your interests and if you have or acquire a passion for genealogy, you will become a good researcher.

I may never be the Jerry Garcia of the genealogy world, but I as long as I can help, teach and inspire one more person to find an ancestor, I am doing what I love to do best. I no longer do many of the things that filled by younger years, but as long as I can do genealogy I will keep looking and learning. I can't seem to find anything else that I like better, even playing the guitar.

Some thoughts on the future of paper books

Genealogists are not unique in their concern about the preservation of valuable historical records. The collection and preservation of paper-based materials is of vital concern to all of the libraries in the world. At some level, governments are also concerned about the preservation of their paper documents. Libraries are limited in their collection and preservation efforts by many factors, including their physical storage capacity and their funding for acquisition. The used book sale is a common feature of libraries both large and small.

When I was attending the University of Utah, the library "disposed" of hundreds of books. Some of the discarded items dated well over 100 years old. I picked up an illustrated the Century War Book of the Civil War practically for free. The book was in poor physical condition, but it was full of lithographs from the war. Today, the book would be considered a collector's item. Here is the book:

Century War Book: Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, People's Pictorial Edition. New York: Century, 1894.

The point is that all book repositories make value judgments every day as to which items they choose to preserve and which to discard. Despite the dire forecast from Ray Bradbury, (Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967) our society has not evolved into a monolithic book-burning dictatorship. Lack of funding is a greater threat to the preservation of historically valuable documents than book burning.

Even a small library, such as the Mesa FamilySearch Library (new name for the Mesa Regional Family History Center) spends a lot of resources on preserving books and re-binding those that are disintegrating.  But even then, the library staff have to pick and choose those items deemed worth preserving.

At the core of this issue are two divergent views; books as objects as opposed to books as containers of information. I have a house full of books, overflowing onto every flat surface. I have also hired my grandson and nephew to scan documents for me and have thrown away over 10,000 documents in the last two weeks. Can the books-as-objects people ever be reconciled with the information folks? Not really.

When I was very young, I read my first real science fiction book, Asimov, Isaac. Pebble in the Sky: Science Fiction. London, England: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1950. My cheap paper-backed copy of the book disintegrated literally. The paper turned to flakes and the book simply fell apart. But the book has been reprinted dozens of times and is now available in a Google eBook edition for $10. If I did not want to pay for the book, I could go to the Phoenix Digital Library and download a copy of the book for free to read for two weeks on my computer, iPad, iPod or iPhone. I could also go to my local public library and check out the book or simply sit there in the library and read the entire book.

The books as objects folks may mourn the loss of the original paperback, but the information contained in the book is far from lost. Because the book exists in an electronic format, it is highly unlikely that the text of the book will be lost in the future.

In the genealogy world, the situation is a little more critical. Every day genealogists die. Many times their records are lost to the world simply because family members do not appreciated the value of the records and do not want the clutter. I am actively involved in digitizing thousands (hundreds of thousands) of valuable genealogical records. Here is a reference to one of my collections stored in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah:

authors: Morgan, Mary Ann Linton

Tanner, James L. (James LeRoy), b. 1945
format: Electronic Resource/Compact Disc
language: English
publication: Mesa, Arizona : J.L. Tanner, 2004
physical: 1 computer optical disc : col. ; 4 3/4 in.
subject class: CD-ROM

The originals of all those documents were contributed to the Harold B. Lee Library, Special Collections Department at Brigham Young University. I am also presently negotiating with the University of Arizona concerning another collection of over 2000 photographs. 

OK, I say this to illustrate that preservation is a personal issue as well as a political, social and philosophical one. I strongly believe we need to preserve both our physical heritage and our digital heritage. But I also strongly believe that we need to digitize all of our physical heritage. Those who believe that eBook readers are "too expensive" need to realize that many libraries are making them available for loan to card holders. I would venture to say that virtually every person in the U.S. who wants one, has access to a TV. I would also venture to say that within a very short time, virtually anyone in the U.S. who has the slightest interest in reading will have access to an eBook reader in some form or another. Remember, you can read books on your cell phone. How long will it be before libraries start checking out books to your cell phone? Guess what. They already do.

The real issue is not technology. The real issue is funding for libraries and other repositories.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Name change for Family History Centers and more info on Family Tree

The Mesa Family History Center was formally notified that its name would change immediately to the Mesa FamilySearch Library. Likewise, all of the 4,500+ Family History Centers will be know henceforth as FamilySearch Centers. Only the 15 Large Multi-Stake Centers will be known as "Libraries."

The change will take some time as signage will have to be changed. It will take the volunteers awhile to get used to the new name also. I think the new name more accurately reflects the mission of the centers. You go there to search not to look up your family history.

A source that I am not free to identify, affirmed that FamilySearch Family Tree will in fact replace New FamilySearch, likely by the middle of December of 2012. This is consistent with the announcement by Ron Tanner and RootsTech 2012. Future updates with include:
  • Patron submitted artifacts (photos, documents scans, etc.)
  • Relationship management
  • Printing form such as Family Group Records and etc.
  • Merging of duplicates
  • Helper navigation
  • GEDCOM import (too bad)
  • Preference settings
Most of this was previewed by Ron Tanner, but it was comforting to get the list re-affirmed. The Family Search Centers should be switching over to support for Family Tree by September.

Stay tuned for more news. 

FamilySearch wish list

FamilySearch.org has some extremely valuable websites. But there is always room for improvement. In working with the various sites, I have compiled a wish list of things I would like to see. I am fully aware that FamilySearch has a "Feedback" tab on many of their pages. One of the Feedback options allows a "suggestion." It is not very clear what happens to those suggestions however. If you click on the "Help" link, you get several choices. One of those choices in another "Feedback" link. Clicking on this link takes you to a page where you can click on another link to "Share your ideas."

Do you get the point? This is my first wish list item. I wish FamilySearch wouldn't bury their options and functions in a series of linked pages. What happens when you click on the "Share your ideas" link? You go to another page entitled "Ideas from the Community to improve FamilySearch." This is sort of a forum for new ideas. Interestingly, the number one featured discussion that came up this morning dates back two years and most of the comments are more than a year old. The suggestion is
The Pilot search interface and filtering are what we want. Produces much better results. Please keep pilot.
It is a little bit complicated but what they are talking about was in the old FamilySearch.org website. The issue is moot. But the issue is still being discussed? This isn't even very clear. But they are still getting very recent comments on this topic. A total of 353 people have expressed an opinion on this topic.

The next suggestion is "Please allow us to make corrections to the records."  Looking at the threads for this suggestion shows that it too has been under discussion for over two years and also dates back to the old (I mean old) FamilySearch.org website. There are almost 300 comments in this thread.

This brings me to my next wish. I wish FamilySearch would sort out what it is and is not going to do with suggestions and stop talking about 2 year old subjects that apparently do not apply to the present website. If you take the time to read through the thousands of "suggestions" you will see that there are a lot of comments from FamilySearch explaining why the suggestion won't work or why it hasn't or will not be implemented. There are thousands of topics in the Feedback and suggestions keep being made regularly, but there is no way to tell if the problem or suggestion has been resolved, implemented or is moot. I wish this Feedback thing worked.

Another wish is related to the problem of buried resources. I wish FamilySearch would have a page or whatever that outlined all their various websites and resources. I realize that they stick a lot of links on their homepage, but it would be nice to have a page or two that explained each of the resources, such as the Wiki, the Forums, the Learning Center, TechTips, Labs, Community Trees, Film Ordering etc. in one place with links. This is especially true if they are going to keep using a cryptic homepage with links to things that are never explained. For example, the major link to "All Record Collections." What are these record collections and where do they come from? No explanation. Well, now you will come back and say if you go down to such and such a level in Wiki or whatever there is a detailed explanation, but how do I even know to look for it?

Some of my wishes are more specific. I wish they had a link from an individual in Family Tree to search for that individual in all of the records. For example, I am looking at an individual in Family Tree, why not have a link to search for records about that individual rather than going back to another screen to do a search where I have to remember all the information I have about the individual to enter into the search screen. Now, I could put this suggestion into the Feedback and two years from now there might be a lot of comments, but how about a simple, we can't do that or good idea or whatever.

More wishes. I wish that if FamilySearch is going to have a blog, that they would use it to notify us of changes to their websites. If they add a feature or delete a feature, how about giving the community some notice? For example, FamilySearch added an inconspicuous link to "Remote Assistance" on the homepage. Did you notice it? Have you used it? Would you use it? Can you even find it? There is nothing in the blog. In fact, I can't find out anything other than what is on the linked page. Why would I use this and where did it come from? I wish they wouldn't keep adding stuff without explanation. If there was an explanation, I missed it. Do I want a FamilySearch support person to remotely connect with my computer?

I wish the FamilySearch folks would talk to each other. I still find in talking to various representatives of FamilySearch that they often are not aware of other programs going on with FamilySearch. I might be nice if the employees of FamilySearch had an overall view of what FamilySearch was trying to do.

Last wish for today. I wish they would have a place showing us newly added resources such as new records and newly digitized books etc. I know you can click on the "Last Updated" column on the list of Historical Record Collections and get a list chronologically, but how about a page listing new resources like digitized books, something simple like "What's new on FamilySearch."

Enough for today. Sorry if this sounds a lot like criticism. I really do love the site and all the resources, but I do get weary of some of the issues.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Comparing Search Engines

One of the topics I return to frequently, is a comparison of various search engines. I have been using a search for one of my ancestors as test. In thinking about this, I decided it would be a better test to look for specific items that I know are available on the Internet. Obviously, I want to use something that is really obscure or there would be no point in making a comparison.

Wikipedia has a page that lists dozens of search engines. I suppose an exhaustive comparison would include a large variety, but I will narrow my comparison for practical reasons. One of the challenges is separating out those search engines that use Google as a basis for their returns. I am including the genealogy search engine, Mocavo.com, along with some lesser known search sites.

Here is the first item for the search. It is a very rare book published in 1915.

Lessons in Genealogy, The Genealogical Society of Utah, Third Edition, Salt Lake City, Utah 1915.

I will use the search terms "lessons, genealogy, society, Utah."

Here are the results:

Google.com: the book came up number three on the list with a listing of its availability as a digitized item on Archive.org.
Yippy.com or Clusty.com: These seem to be related. The book came up third on the list on Amazon.com, the Archive.org copy came up seventh on the list. This is really a meta-search engine and combines results from different sources.
Dogpile.com: Hmm. Another meta-search engine with results that are almost exactly like Yippy.com.
Answers.com: This was a bust. A lot of ads and no references to the book on any of the first few pages.
Ask.com: Better than Answers.com but none of the results on Google.com, Yippy.com or Dogpile.com. It did find my blog post references to the book on about the third page of results.
Yahoo.com: Lots of ads, but nearly the same results as Google.com which is not a surprise since Yahoo.com reportedly uses Google.com's searches.
CompletePlanet.com: Another bust. No results at all.
Search.com: Another bust. Nothing on the first two or three pages except general results. Also lots of ads.
AltaVista.com: Comes back with a Yahoo.com search so it is the same as Yahoo.com.
Excite.com: Looks like another Google.com search. The same list as Google.com and Yahoo.com. Lots of Ads.
Lycos.com: Hmm. This one actually had all of the positive results from Google.com et al. and had three references to the book as numbers one, two and three. Pretty impressive. Not too many ads either.
AOL.com: Looks like Search.com with fewer ads. No results until the second page where it found my posts on the subject.
Bing.com: Looks like Lycos.com results, very good positive results with the first three entries being the book.
Mocavo.com: I had to sign up for a "free" account to see my results. Actually had a copy of the book to read as a results of the search. Pretty impressive.  There were even other copies of earlier redactions and editions.

Certainly a mixed bag of results. How about a search for another item. This time a name. I won't use my Great-grandfather's name because I know the results of that search. I will use one of my Great-grandmothers who wrote a surname book. Her name is Margaret Godfrey Jarvis Overson. Points for references to her and more points for finding a reference to her book. I will search for "margaret godfrey jarvis overson" including the quotation marks. Here is the citation to the book:

Overson, Margaret Godfrey (Jarvis). George Jarvis and Joseph George De Friez Genealogy. Mesa, Ariz: s.n, 1957.

I will go down the same list:

Google.com: Over 800 references and they all seem to relate to the right person. A huge variety of sources including the book and many relatives websites.
Yippy.com or Clusty.com: Results look very similar to Google.com.
Dogpile.com: The same results that look like Google.com and Yippy.com.
Answers.com: No useful results at all. Nothing. A lot of general junk.
Ask.com: This time the results came back with Ask.com but very similar to Dogpile.com and Google.com
Yahoo.com: Ditto to Ask.com.
CompletePlanet.com: No results. Nothing not even general information.
Search.com:This time the search results look just like Google.com and the others above.
AltaVista.com:Came back with a Yahoo.com search and ditto to the above.
Excite.com:Another duplicate set of results, the same as Google.com et al.
Lycos.com: Another set of relevant and well presented results. If you like neatness and order, Lycos.com is for you.

AOL.com: Ditto to Google.com et al. above with more ads.
Bing.com:Many fewer results than the other search engines but almost all were relevant. They have also cleaned up their interface and have far fewer ads.
Mocavo.com: Really impressive. References to the person and the book. All of the references are to both and no extraneous material at all. Much improved over my last searches.

Summary. Almost all of the search engines did the job to some extent with some notable strike outs. It looks like to me, that there are really only two or three different search engines since the results were so identically the same. Mocavo.com moved way up in my estimation. I also liked Lycos.com as the only distinctive site in the whole list other than Mocavo.com.

It probably depends on your own preferences and how familiar you get with your choice. But Google still wins on shear numbers and coverage. But if you want to try to knock out some of the ads and extraneous results, you might try both Lycos.com and Mocavo.com.

Confronting the unexpected

One of the difficulties of doing genealogical research has nothing to do with the research or finding sources, it has to do with what you find. This was brought home to me again yesterday when I taught at a local African-American Genealogy Conference. One of people I talked to yesterday, who you would never consider to be Black, related how he had discovered three black ancestors. On the other end of the spectrum, one of the discussions in conference centered around finding out that your Black ancestors were really Puerto Rican, European or Asian. The laws in England changed. Early laws provided that the offspring of a White father and a Black slave mother were free-born. Later, the law flipped over so that if the mother was black the children were still born slaves. But then there were White female indentured servants who had offspring with a Black men, so their children were free-born.

But the difficulty is finding that your ancestry was not exactly as homogenous as you might have been led to believe. Inter-racial marriage is only one of the cultural and social issues that researchers might have to struggle with. In doing some clean up of names in my own ancestry, I found one name recorded as "Marinus Adopted Christensen." There is nothing I have found so far to indicate how this ancestor might have been considered adopted. Speculation, on my part, indicates that he might have been born to one of the daughters in the family, out-of-wedlock, but the family record is silent. The stigma of an out-of-wedlock birth was too great and the family did not "talk" about the issue except to mark the ancestor as other than part of the family.

Sometimes the discovering the family roots turns out to be divisive rather than a joyful family event. Discovering that an ancestor was abusive, a criminal or insane isn't always an acceptable topic at family gatherings. The combined family memories can be so painful that raising the subject will effectively end your participation with the family. As a researcher, you may even be considered a traitor to the family.

Finding out that your ancestors were human is an occupational hazard of doing genealogy. In my own cultural and social heritage, polygamy is a big issue. I have previously related how the subject was not open for discussion in our family. The issue today has become a rallying cry for those who would disparage descendants of polygamous families because of their religious beliefs. Rather than confront the issue as a historical fact and leave it at that, I personally have been treated as if I inherited a social disease merely because of the practices and beliefs of my ancestors.

One of the major difficulties of encountering such an issue is the "wall of silence" surrounding the events and facts. At the time, the family members may have shunned and alienated not just the offending person, but all of the members of his or her family. In my opinion, many of the "disappearing" relatives didn't disappear at all, they were merely dropped from the family because of who they were or what they did. We recently had a situation I became aware of, where a younger member of a distantly related family wanted to marry "outside" the acceptable standards of the parents. The parents' reaction was swift and severe, totally cutting the person off from all participation in the family and acting as though the person were "dead." You see this in movies and read about it in books, but guess what? It happens in real life.

What do you do when you find these anomalies? Keep doing your research. I suppose you could adopt your family's prejudices and attitudes, I find that all the time also, but you will only end up passing the issue on down another generation. How about adapting to the idea that insanity, mental unbalance, criminal acts and other problems are a fact of life. Get on with your research and if your family doesn't want to hear about it, don't discuss it with them. Let the next generation try to resolve the difficulty, but leave the next generation the information necessary to do so.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Dick Eastman Comments -- Good Job

Dick Eastman posted a response to a letter concerning "Scanning Books in the Family History Library: Not Everyone is Happy." I highly recommend reading the entire article. I fully agree with Dick's opinions and his assessment of the situation. This is particularly true if you had any insight into library operation and particularly the selection of items to put on the shelves.

I could make some of the same comments, but Dick did a wonderful job of replying to the issues, so there is no real need for a rehash. There are a number of issues raised, however, and not all of them are completely covered by Dick's post. Here are some of the issues I see that need to be considered by genealogists as a whole.

1. The substitution of digital records for paper originals, whether they be books or other other documents and the the disposition of the originals. Many people ask me what I do with the originals once I have digitized the record. I keep all originals, but some people have questioned keeping originals. Archive.org is in the process of trying to obtain a physical copy of every book ever published for preservation. Is that necessary or even possible?

2. Whether or not there is some virtue in "holding a paper version" of a book as an object? What is more important, the physical book or the information contained in the book? Isn't a physical book just an outmoded method of transmitting information? I recently checked out an 800 page book on learning to use Adobe Photoshop from my local library. I found the book very useful and purchased an updated eBook version. I still have all of the information in the book, but I can read it at my leisure on my iPhone or my iPad and I don't have to lug around 800 pages. Are physical books necessary?

3. Is there really a difference between reading a book on an iPad or a Kindle rather than holding a paper book? Is there a physical difference in the size or readability of the text? Or are the differences psychological?

4. Would you rather have a library full of stacks of books or have universal access to the information?

5. When was the last time you went to a library and checked out a physical book?

6. Will online availability of research sources replace physical libraries in the future?

Think about it.

Friday, June 15, 2012

15 June 2012 Update for 1940 U.S. Census Indexing Project

South Dakota becomes the 20th state to be fully indexed and searchable online on FamilySearch.org. Quoting from the blog post/press release:
Below are the latest statistics for the project. They continue to be very encouraging.
  • 88,924,341 names have been indexed and arbitrated.
  • 20 states have published searchable indexes on FamilySearch.org. These states include Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming.   
  • 8 additional states are 100% indexed, arbitrated and in the final stage of preparation for posting. 
  • 3 additional states are 99% indexed and arbitrated. To see the status of each state visit the 1940 US Census state-by-state progress map on the FamilySearch website. 
  • 133,655 indexers have signed up to index the 1940 US Census.
 I think that the project will be complete within the next month or two. If you want to become involved, you had better hurry or the Census will be indexed before you start.


Looking in unexpected places

People are only statistically predictable, individually, it is sometimes impossible to guess what they will do or where they might go. Commonly, however, the further you go back into the past doing research, the more predictable people become. In the 1800s it is not unusual to find concentrations of families in relatively small areas but, it is obvious that 20th and 21st Century technology has increased work and transportation opportunities, resulting in greater family dispersal.

My wife and I had dinner with four of our old friends (two couples) and got updated on all of our children's marriages, grandchildren and the places they are now living. For many years we lived next door and across the street from each other. Our children all grew up together and have now all gotten married and moved away. Two of us have moved from the old neighborhood and time has taken it toll. It was interesting to see children as far away as Peru and others living in the next suburban town. All of our children are married and only one family lives close to us. Combined, we have seventeen children and most of them live in other states across the U.S., like Pennsylvania, Florida, Alabama, Texas, North Carolina, Utah, Montana and New Mexico. Who would guess? There is absolutely no way of predicting where these closely associated family members would end up. By the way, combined, we have almost 50 grandchildren.

Even though the general rule in the earlier centuries was that people stayed pretty much in the same area, there were always exceptions. In one case from my family, the husband abandoned his family and disappeared. I finally found him in Northern California with a new family. In another California case, the husband disappeared and I located him in the Census records in a prison. How would you know and how would you guess?

I spent some time looking for an early Utah pioneer who joined the "California Volunteers" and lost contact with his family. The only evidence we had was a letter written from a military fort in Utah after the Civil War. We narrowed down the search to military records still in the National Archives, but he is still lost.

Common names compound the issue of trying to find the elusive moving target but in every case, it is important to anchor the search with an initial location and confirmed name. In at least two cases recently, my friends have admitted that they were looking for relatives with the wrong name for many years. Always remember to move forward a generation or even two and do more thorough research before spending an inordinate amount of time looking directly for the missing person.

One of the most common issues is connecting immigrants to their country of birth. Remember the rule, find the immigrants' origin in the country where they settled. Look for records in the new country. Name changes and poorly transcribed names are often a barrier to identity, but records in the country where the immigrant settled may contain valuable clues. For example, many immigrants transferred their church membership to the new country and the church records may show the name or place of the church they came from.

In more recent times, you may have to avail yourself of detective and skip-trace techniques to find elusive ancestors. Despite the best efforts of some people that wish to remain anonymous, our modern record systems are very inclusive. It is possible for a person to break off all contact with his or her family, change their name and move to an unpredictable location, but those cases are quite rare. Most lost people are merely out of contact and not actively trying to avoid detection. But like my ancestor in California, people do run afoul of the law and end up in jail or prison.

Missing people are like missing pieces of a puzzle. You may have to complete the whole puzzle before the identity of the missing piece becomes obvious.