RootsTech 2014

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

Friday, February 28, 2014

Mocavo.com -- Working Overtime to Catch Up


For some time now, I have been watching Mocavo.com make it move to join ranks with the major league at the top of the genealogical database teams. I have been seeing a constant barrage of new innovations and additions to their large and getting larger free database. I have already written recent posts about their newest additions, when I got some more interesting posts to share. The first involves the image of the page out of a book. Here is what the programmers at Mocavo.com have found:
We have continued to improve our handwriting detection and recognition tools. In doing so, we stumbled upon another exciting new feature that we think will help change the way people learn about their family history. We are excited to share that we have developed the ability to very easily extract pictures, photographs and other images from our historical books. It’s not exactly like stumbling upon penicillin, but we were pleasantly surprised at how perfectly we are able to identify these images!
Hence, the image up above. They predict that they will soon be able to add image-specific search capabilities to Mocavo.com. If you would like to read how serious they are about increasing their capabilities, read their post entitled "The Mean, Lean, Green Mocavo Machine." Here is a short excerpt to get you started:
With over 500 multi-core Dell Datacenter grade servers under the hood we have the ability to perform OCR on over 1 million documents per day. In fact, we’re in final stages of re-engineering our OCR process to increase that number to over 5 million, all without affecting the performance of the website whatsoever! 
The processed documents have to go somewhere, and we’re pleased to announce that we have increased our storage capacity to over 1 Petabyte! That’s a lot of spinning platters, check out below how we keep them all spinning!
They may join the major league sooner than you think.

Reflections on Spam Comments on Blogs

Lately, it seems that more and more spammers are using comments on blogs to attempt to advertise their websites or whatever. The usual comment I get is from a specific business saying something vague such as "Oh, I really love your blog. Please keep writing such interesting and helpful blog posts. ABC Company website reference." This kind of stuff is why they developed the delete key.

If you want your comment to survive my delete key, I suggest you make a specific comment about the content of the blog you choose for your message. Otherwise, I will continue to delete messages that are intentionally vague and do not refer to any of the content of the blog posts. I suggest we all do the same thing. Please do not get me wrong. I love good, pertinent comments. I do not like spam.

Why does Personal Ancestral File (PAF) refuse to die?


Warning: The following post is only partially in English. Beware of acronyms and technical descriptions.

I received the following comment about Personal Ancestral File (PAF)"
PAF has a user interface that could well serve as a model for more recent ones.
Except for sourcing PAF data entry is intuitive. 
PAF has a place for everything most genealogists want to record and the exceptions can go into the notes. Its all the program most need or want. 
PAF is well documented and good support is available on-line and with various usergroups. 
PAF and AQ both run nearly flawlessly on Wine under most Linux distributions. Admittedly Wine's version of IE leaves something to be desired! The Linux program of choice is Gramps which IMO is WAY too convoluted - after all it was designed by committee! That's why I've written about PAF on Wine and I'd write more except that "Full Circle" is after all a Linux rag. 
My personal work is on AQ running on Wine under Linux Mint 16. I keep a copy of the DB on my iPad via GEDCOM and a copy directly on AQ on Windows 7 on my netbook. Why AQ? I really like the Individual tab's view of all the information in the DB and I do realize that PAF's days are numbered.
A few translations are in order. AQ is Ancestral Quest from Incline Software. Wine is described as follows on the WineHQ.org website:
Wine (originally an acronym for "Wine Is Not an Emulator") is a compatibility layer capable of running Windows applications on several POSIX-compliant operating systems, such as Linux, Mac OSX, & BSD. Instead of simulating internal Windows logic like a virtual machine or emulator, Wine translates Windows API calls into POSIX calls on-the-fly, eliminating the performance and memory penalties of other methods and allowing you to cleanly integrate Windows applications into your desktop.
OK, got that? The next is Linux. Here is the definition from Linux.com:
Linux is, in simplest terms, an operating system. It is the software on a computer that enables applications and the computer operator to access the devices on the computer to perform desired functions. The operating system (OS) relays instructions from an application to, for instance, the computer's processor. The processor performs the instructed task, then sends the results back to the application via the operating system.

Explained in these terms, Linux is very similar to other operating systems, such as Windows and OS X.
Linux Mint 16 comes from Linuxmint.com described as follows:
The purpose of Linux Mint is to produce a modern, elegant and comfortable operating system which is both powerful and easy to use.

Started in 2006, Linux Mint is now the 4th most widely used home operating system behind Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac OS and Canonical's Ubuntu.

Some of the reasons for the success of Linux Mint are:
  • It works out of the box, with full multimedia support and is extremely easy to use.
  • It's both free of cost and open source.
  • It's community-driven. Users are encouraged to send feedback to the project so that their ideas can be used to improve Linux Mint.
  • Based on Debian and Ubuntu, it provides about 30,000 packages and one of the best software managers.
  • It's safe and reliable. Thanks to a conservative approach to software updates, a unique Update Manager and the robustness of its Linux architecture, Linux Mint requires very little maintenance (no regressions, no antivirus, no anti-spyware...etc).
Oh dear, why did I start this translation stuff, this explanation has even more stuff to translate! Let's just say that Debian and Ubuntu are also free, opensource operating systems. Now back to the original comment and more translations.

DB is easy. It is database. GEDCOM is also easy. It is Genealogical Data Communications, a text based markup language used to transfer genealogy files from one program to another. Hmm. IMO means "In my opinion." Oh, I almost forgot GRAMPS. Here is an explanation from the website:
Gramps is a Free Software Project for Genealogy, offering a professional genealogy program, and a wiki open to all. It is a community project, created, developed and governed by genealogists.
  • Installation: Install Gramps, the Genealogical Research and Analysis Management Programming System right away. Gramps currently runs on Linux, MAC OS X, and Windows. Guides for installation on all three (plus BSD and Solaris) are available.
  • Addons: Extend your installed Gramps with third-party plugins to add additional functions. Includes many additional Filters, Tools, Reports, Views, Web Pages, and Gramplets.
  • Documentation: Read the User's Manual and reviews, discover the features of Gramps, learn by example or improve your Gramps knowledge with tutorials.
Now that I have all that out of the way, I have a number of observations. My experience with those who are using Linux is that they are either serious computer programmers or hobbyists with the same interests. They tend heavily towards being engineers and other very technically oriented individuals. They speak a highly altered form of English (or their original native language) and spend a lot of time working on their computers. 

What has all this to do with genealogy? Well, there is a significant group of genealogists who are part of the Linux/GRAMPS community. For example, here is a link to Adelle Frank's post of a "Software and Technology list from RootsTech 2014" mentioned in the Twitter stream. GRAMPS is prominently mentioned. 

What does all this have to do with the death of PAF? In a sense, PAF has moved into the category of legend and myth. It has become the part of the pantheon of genealogical gods. It is now the immortal program and is fast becoming part of the "origin myth" of genealogy. From this standpoint, I really appreciated the comment in the email at the beginning of this post that says,
PAF has a place for everything most genealogists want to record and the exceptions can go into the notes. Its all the program most need or want. 
I know people who feel that way about their 1956 Chevrolet cars also. If that were true then there would have been no need to develop any further programs and we would all be using PAF on our Apple IIs and IBM PCs as we drove to RootsTech in our Fords and Chevys instead of our Subarus and Toyotas.

I long ago realized that there is absolutely nothing I can say or do that will make all those hundreds of thousands of PAF users move to a newer system. In addition, PAF will now never die. It is now immortal and immune to the vicissitudes of mortal life. I was waiting for it to start to be venerated and I suppose that time has come. PAF is dead. Long Live PAF!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Are you ready for your digital death?



Due to a presentation at #RootsTech 2014 by the authors of "Your Digital Afterlife," there have been some FamilySearch blog posts on the issue of "What Happens to Your Digital Assets After You Die?" There was also an Innovator Summit presentation by Chris Dancy (See interview above). I was very fascinated with Chris and found we had a lot more in common than I would have expected. I really enjoyed listening to him.

I have written on the topic of your digital estate in the past, but given the interest and posts from #RootsTech 2014, I guess it is time to go another round with problems and issues presented by digital assets.

My first reaction to all this about planning for your digital death is similar to my reaction to insurance salesmen and financial planners. They both make money by telling you that you need their services when you know that they will benefit from your "investment" or "purchase." The key to this whole issue is the statement made by the FamilySearch blog post by Lynn Broderick linked above. The post says,

Currently, less than half of states within the United States have digital asset laws established; some are just propositions and at least one law only provides partial coverage. Connecticut state law only governs the decedent’s email.
Whatever you have to say about this issue makes little or no sense without some sort of legal underpinnings that support all the platitudes. The key here and likely the reason why there is no legislation is simple: digital assets are assets. There is no need for special legislation just because someone has come up with new junk or stuff. The legal underpinnings are already well established and have been since antiquity. We do not have to reinvent the law every time there is a new gadget or whatever.

Here is the legal fact of death. When you die, any property you own and not previously transferred to someone or some other entity such as a Trust, becomes part of your "estate." Despite the innovative nature of digital possessions or assets, after all is said and done, they are just assets to a court. Just like real estate, cars, TVs or anything else. The main legal issues are notice to the heirs of the existence of these online assets and valuation. For all the sentimental value of a pile of photographs online or otherwise, unless someone can put a monetary value on the collection, the court (and probate law in general) could care less. It seems to me that absent some demonstrable value in the form of spendable cash, no one will ever take the assets serious. This is not to say that I haven't stood in court and argued over photo albums. Even with no monetary value, the sentimental value can be enormous.

OK, now this is the attitude of an old cranky attorney, but in the real world of genealogy, these online assets may be priceless. As I have written before, if we have an "estate plan" that includes a Trust, all that is really necessary is to provide the potential Trustee with access to the "online assets" in the form of passwords and logins. The Trust document likely already has some pour-over provisions saying that all the other and sundry property owned by the deceased is given to the Trust. There is really no need for special legislation or anything of that nature. Assets are assets. Even if the online assets only have sentimental value, they are still assets and fall into the same category as a lawnmower or a can of beans.

Basically, the issue revolves around the perception of the Trustee of the value of the online stuff. As with anything we really care about, it is good idea to take care of it before we die. Unfortunately, many people have a problem with this and are in denial about the need for "estate planning." I refer to a lot of this as junk planning. The question is who want your junk? After participating in a myriad of estates over the years, I have first hand experience with heirs and Trustees who throw everything in the dumpster.

In reading through the suggestions in the FamilySearch post, my opinion is that all of that is just fine if it make you feel better but there is no guarantee that the Trustee of your Trust or the Administrator (Personal Representative) of your estate will do any of the things you plan.

My point is this: take care of disposing, donating, archiving, transferring etc. before you pass on. Even if laws are passed that "take care of your digital estate" in the real world of law unless there is an actual perceived monetary value, no one will care including a judge. Laws or no laws. As long as there are lawyers like me who think of all this stuff as stuff, the law can't really do much to change what will happen.

Afterthought: Don't put your computer illiterate (or terminally stupid) heir in charge of your Trust and your digital estate if you really want anything done. Be sure the person you nominate has some computer and network savvy or the sense to hire someone who does.  P.S Make sure your Trustee or Administrator doesn't tell the world through Facebook that you died until all of the online assets are secured. P.P.S. Don't you tell everyone you died through a post-mortem announcement until everything is taken care of.




Newspapers, Obituaries and Copyright -- What is and what is not protected

There have been quite a few blog posts and comments about FamilySearch.org's "Year of the Obituary" Project. However, there are some issues with the availability of current or relatively recent obituaries. I have heard the statement that "All obituaries are in the public domain." I do not know where that idea came from but it is not correct. An obituary is a "work" like any other work under the United States copyright law or the law of any other country that is a signatory of The Berne Convention, the international copyright agreement.

Most newspapers in the United States claim copyright protection for their content. In a post dated 19 March 2012, Judy G. Russell, The Legal Genealogist, wrote an excellent analysis of the application of copyright law to newspapers entitled, "Copyright & the newspaper article." The post was address specifically to the republication of existing newspaper articles. As I have done in the past, Judy also referred to a compilation of the existing U.S. Copyright law made by Peter B. Hirtle of Cornell University. This Cornell article is a must-read for anyone involved in genealogy. The article contains a table explaining in detail all of the time limits for enforcing a copyright in the United States. It is called "Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States, 1 January 2014."

If you take the time to review Judy's article and the one from Cornell University by Peter B. Hirtle, you will see that obituaries, when written and published within the time when a copyright claim is valid, are certainly covered by copyright law either from the newspaper itself or from the person who wrote the obituary.

Deciding whether or not a particular obituary or newspaper article is covered by a copyright claim can be extremely complex. They are definitely not automatically in the public domain. Usually in the United States under current practices, the family of a deceased will compose and submit an obituary for publication either through a mortuary or directly to a newspaper. In either case, the mortuary or the newspaper will have an agreement, signed by the parties, often as a routine form, that will allow the mortuary or newspaper to publish the obituary. Some of these agreements assign all publication rights to the newspaper. Some of these agreements are silent on the issue of copyright ownership. In some cases the family submitting the obituary may be assigning all of their rights to the newspaper in other cases, the person or persons who wrote the obituary may still have a copyright claim to its content.

In some instances, the assignment of rights might be considered to be a license. For example, if you submit a photo, document or story to FamilySearch.org, their Terms and Conditions contain the following statement:
Licenses and Rights Granted to Us. By submitting content to FamilySearch, you grant FamilySearch an unrestricted, fully paid-up, royalty-free, worldwide, and perpetual license to use any and all information, content, and other materials (collectively, “Contributed Data”) that you submit or otherwise provide to this site (including, without limitation, genealogical data and discussions and data relating to deceased persons) for any and all purposes, in any and all manners, and in any and all forms of media that we, in our sole discretion, deem appropriate for the furtherance of our mission to promote family history and genealogical research. As part of this license, you give us permission to copy, publicly display, transmit, broadcast, and otherwise distribute your Contributed Data throughout the world, by any means we deem appropriate (electronic or otherwise, including the Internet). You also understand and agree that as part of this license, we have the right to create derivative works from your Contributed Data by combining all or a portion of it with that of other contributors or by otherwise modifying your Contributed Data.
You may technically have some sort of claim to a copyright for the uploaded photo, document or story, but legally you have no way to enforce that copyright against FamilySearch.

In addition, many of the obituaries in the United States are now available in large, online newspaper database programs. I am also aware that some of these programs claim an interest in the newspapers in their online collections. Right or wrong, copying from these databases is limited by their own requirements.

It would be nice if all obituaries were automatically in the public domain, but that is not the case. Maybe this issue should be addressed. Read through Judy's analysis and then look at the Cornell table and tell me what you think.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Mocavo.com adds Online Transcription


A very interesting announcement was just released by Mocavo.com. They are adding the ability of users to transcribe handwritten documents within the program. This feature is based on the hand-writing detection system they announced some time ago. Here is a quote from the announcement made by Matt Garner:
Everyday at Mocavo we’re looking for new opportunities to bring more of the world’s historical content online for free, forever. We are excited to share a new service that will be launching soon – our own web-based transcription tool. 
We’re very proud to release 1,000 databases everyday; but within those databases are signatures and hand-written notes that could be the answer to a riddle one of our community members (maybe you!) has been trying to solve for decades. 
Our transcription tool will soon be “ready for prime time” and we will be inviting our community members to help index these valuable resources. The tool is being tested internally, and the initial experience is so exciting that we wanted to give you a sneak peek of what’s to come.
 I will be very interested in seeing how this works and how it compares to the FamilySearch.org online indexing program that has already been announced and is still pending. The Mocavo.com system relies on popover windows that will appear above the handwritten text and allow you to easily transcribe without leaving your keyboard. They will also have an arbitration process to review every submission.

If you are already a member of Mocavo.com, they will send you an invitation when the project is ready with a tutorial to explain how to get started. They will also have a webpage showing all of the recent activity in the transcription project and will also show the transcription leaders. The date of the release was not announced.

Saving Memories Forever -- #RootsTech Developers Challenge Winner



The winner of the Developers' Challenge at #RootsTech 2014 was Saving Memories Forever. Quoting from the website:
Saving Memories Forever is a system that consists of an app and a website. The app provides great mobility for interviewing and easy uploading to a secure and private storage on the website. The app also gives you the opportunity to announce your newly recorded story thru Facebook. Listen to your recorded and uploaded stories on the website.Also use the website to share and “manage” your stories. 
The features of the system are determined by the level of membership. Saving Memories Forever is available as a Free Membership or as a Premium Subscription.
I have been familiar with the program for sometime and have had several opportunities to talk to the developers over the past couple of years. I am an advocate of preserving oral history. When I was a lot younger and my parents were alive, I tried unsuccessfully to get them to record their life stories. Finally, as an attorney, I had access to Court Reporters, so one day I ordered up a deposition and had both my mother and father come in, separately, and I asked them questions about their lives and had the Court Reporter record the entire interview. I then had the transcript printed and now have copies of their life stories. I think that working with a program such as Saving Memories Forever would have been a lot easier on all of us and less expensive than paying a Court Reporter.

I will have more to say about this program in the near future. I am finally getting caught up from #RootsTech 2014 and will be back to normal shortly (whatever normal is).

RootsMagic for PAF Users -- A Quick Start Guide


Even though FamilySearch.org has completely discontinued support of Personal Ancestral File (PAF), there's still a huge number of people using the program. I am continually getting questions about migrating data from PAF to other programs. Surprisingly, very few of the people using the program seem to realize that there are free versions of a number of programs that will automatically open PAF files.

In this regard, RootsMagic.com has prepared a free PDF Quick Start Guide outlining the method of incorporating existing PAF files into RootsMagic.

It is amazing to me, although not surprising, that 12 years after the discontinuance of PAF development we are still facing the issue of transferring old files into new formats. Fortunately, PAF was written in a way that it remains compatible with current operating systems but that may not continue much longer. The persistence of old PAF files is merely a microcosm of the overall issue of digital file preservation. As operating systems change and computers are replaced, there is a constant loss of old files. In genealogy this is a constant concern. If you know someone who is still using PAF please take the time to help them migrate their file to a newer format or at least preserve what is there in the file in an online family tree.

Putting Your Ancestors on the Map - how to find your ancestor’s Federal land patent


If your ancestors moved to the frontier after the Revolutionary War, they likely participated in some aspect of Federal Land Grants later commonly referred to as the Homestead Acts. The first of these laws is described by the National Archives as follows:
The Land Ordinance of 1785 finally implemented a standardized system of Federal land surveys that eased boundary conflicts. Using astronomical starting points, territory was divided into a 6-mile square called a township prior to settlement. The township was divided into 36 sections, each measuring 1 square mile or 640 acres each. Sale of public land was viewed as a means to generate revenue for the Government rather than as a way to encourage settlement. Initially, an individual was required to purchase a full section of land at the cost of $1 per acre for 640 acres. 
 The original Homestead Act was passed in 1862. Here is a further description from the National Archives:
The new law established a three-fold homestead acquisition process: filing an application, improving the land, and filing for deed of title. Any U.S. citizen, or intended citizen, who had never borne arms against the U.S. Government could file an application and lay claim to 160 acres of surveyed Government land. For the next 5 years, the homesteader had to live on the land and improve it by building a 12-by-14 dwelling and growing crops. After 5 years, the homesteader could file for his patent (or deed of title) by submitting proof of residency and the required improvements to a local land office.
By 1934, over 1.6 million homestead applications were processed and more than 270 million acres—10 percent of all U.S. lands—passed into the hands of individuals. The passage of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 repealed the Homestead Act in the 48 contiguous states, but it did grant a ten-year extension on claims in Alaska. See National Archives. We even have a National Monument dedicated to the the law. See Homestead National Monument of America.

Of course your genealogical research always includes searching land and property records. (Doesn't it?) Well, it should. Ownership of the land was always an important factor, even if your ancestors rented or were landless. Sometimes a surprising amount of genealogically important information can be discovered from deeds and other land records. The National Monument website explains where the homestead documents are located:
Over the course of the Act's 123-year history, over two million individual homestead claims were made. Each and every one of these claims generated a written record known as a case file that was kept by the U.S. General Land Office. Today, these case files exist only as paper originals and are stored in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The complete collection of case files created under the Homestead Act contains over 30 million individual pieces of paper. These invaluable documents are subject to natural deterioration, fire and water damage. 
Homestead case files are treasure troves of historical and genealogical information. Within them can often be found information about a homesteader's date and place of birth; the names of children that lived on the homestead; naturalization information about immigrant homesteaders; notations regarding military service; the types of crops planted on the homestead; the value and kinds of homes and other buildings on the site; and more.
I could make an editorial comment here about the negligence of the U.S. Government in failing to digitize valuable documents and make them available, but I won't.  Anyway, part of the records are available online. Those are the land patents or deeds given to the successful homesteader by the Federal Government through the General Land Office (GLO). You can find them at the Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office website. Here is a copy of my Great-grandfathers Land Patent for an example:


You might note that it is signed by President Calvin Coolidge. Now, I mentioned the lack of digitized copies. But there is a Land Records Project described as follows:
Homestead National Monument of America, fold3.com, FamilySearch, & the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have partnered in an effort to digitize all Homestead Land Entry Case Files housed at the National Archives. The Homestead Records Project seeks to digitize the over 800,000 Homestead Records from nearly 200 land offices in all 30 Homesteading States. Click here to see the project's current status and available land offices.
Fold3.com is a subscription website owned by Ancestry.com. Access to Fold3.com is available free through the FamilySearch Centers around the world.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

900 million new International records on Ancestry.com

Here are some of the first results from the agreements made by FamilySearch.org with Ancestry.com and the other large genealogical database companies:


Here is a second screen shot showing the bottom of the page:


The page goes on to illustrate the additional records added. If you go to the Ancestry.com Card Catalog and sort the results by date added, you will see a list of all the new files added. Here is a screenshot of the first page, showing the card catalog listing for new files:


If you click on one of the new files, particularly those from the newly added countries, you can scroll to the bottom of the information screen and see the links to FamilySearch.org.


We will likely see a lot more FamilySearch.org records added to the other large online databases in the near future. I am already seeing a dramatic increase in the number of automatic "shaky leaf" searches done by Ancestry.com on my online Public Member Family Tree.

Slider Controlled Searches on Ancestry.com

Quoting from a blog post from Ancestry.com:
A new sliding control is coming to the Ancestry search function over the next couple of weeks. Located in the upper-left corner of the search results page, it will make it easy to quickly broaden or narrow your search results. Don’t see the search results you were expecting? Simply drag one or more sliders from left to right to quickly modify your results. The slider position shows how closely your search terms should be matched. With all the sliders to the left, your results are matched at the broadest level, and moving one or more sliders to the right will display more exact matches. - See more at: http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2014/02/24/coming-soon-to-search-more-control-over-your-results/?

This new feature addresses a common problem among users of the large online databases; the proliferation of results that appear to be "false positives." The issue of false positives or results that have the same general terms as used in a search but are the wrong person, give the impression to most users that the search engine does not work. For example, if I search for "John Jones in Pennsylvania" and I get results showing dozens of "John Jones" results but all in other states, they I suspect the program doesn't work. Actually, the search engine is usually doing just what it is supposed to do and give results based on the parameters set by the algorithms employed by the programmers. In this case, there is likely an instruction to the search program to default the search to a larger geographic area if there are no results that match the original search terms. 

I realize that my characterization of what happens is highly simplified, but from the standpoint of a user of search engine receiving hundreds or even millions of results which are not what the user is looking for can be disconcerting. 

I just checked my Ancestry.com account and do not see the new feature yet, so I will have to wait to evaluate whether or not it addresses the issues of false positives. Stay tuned. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

More Mystery Photos from France

Here is the explanation of these mystery photos from an earlier post:
One of my friends came to a class at the Mesa FamilySearch Library and brought me a large envelope of photographs. These photos were obviously quite old. From appearances and the type of mounting they dated from the late 1800s. My friend had purchased a used photo album many years ago in Paris, France. All of the photos were in the album. She removed the photos from the album to use for herself, but could not throw away the photos. Now all these years later, I taught a class on digital photography for genealogists and she showed up to bring me the photos. 
I told her I would find an appropriate home for the photos even if I could not identify the family. Since all the photos were in the same album we could conclude that all of the people were related in some way. To make life interesting the photographer logos are from Berlin, Germany, Hannonver, Germany, Tolleston, Indiana, Waterbury, Connecticut, New York, New York, and Jersey City, New Jersey.
There are a total of 34 photos and I am posting them 6 at a time. Here we go again:







Where there is a photographer identified on the back of the photos, I will also show the back.

Adding Supporting Records to BillionGraves.com


BillionGraves.com has recently added support for adding digitized copies of documents to validate and enhance their headstone records. As stated in a blog post:
The Supporting Record feature now allows users to upload evidence-based documents that support the BillionGraves records that have been collected through our mobile Apps. This means that users are now able to upload headstones, birth/death, burial, marriage, cremation, and many other types of records WITHOUT NEEDING A SMART PHONE!
BillionGraves.com also reminds its users that it will continue to emphasize the use of our mobile application to upload verified headstone records with their accompanying GPS locations and will remain a free resource to all.

The post explains that there were many headstones and burials that just couldn’t be accounted for with our current systems; including unmarked graves, cremation scatterings, destroyed stones, etc. The new Supporting Records feature allows users anywhere in the world to add evidence-based documents that validate and create additional insight into headstone records found on BillionGraves. The addition of these Supporting Records will serve as an invaluable tool to genealogists in their research.

They suggest adding the following record types:
  • Birth/Death Certificates
  • Marriage Certificates
  • Burial Records
  • Cremation Records
  • Unmarked Graves
  • Military Records
  • Headstone records without GPS coordinates
  • Any other type of record that supports and validates any BillionGraves Headstone Records

Online Libraries -- Checking out books online to read


Are online libraries coming to genealogy? I think the transition from closed "copyrighted" impaired libraries to open online check-out libraries to be almost inevitable.

Let's look at the traditional library model I have used since I could read. You have a building somewhere in your community designated as a "library." This building has a collection of books and other materials managed by one or more librarians and support staff. When you want to borrow a book, you go to the library, look in the library catalog and physically select the book from the shelf. You then go through some process to "check out" the book and have the physical possession of the book for a limited period of time. At the end of that time, you must physically return the book to the library or be fined. Does all that sound familiar.

As researchers, we have another type of traditional library. This is the reference library. In this type of library we can only view the library's holding while we are in the library (or archive or whatever) The books and other materials in the library do not circulate. If we want to view what is in their collection, we must physically travel to the physical library and look at the research materials.

I would submit that both of these traditional models are archaic dinosaurs and close, very close to extinction. Now before I get all sorts of comments about how physical books are superior to online books and how you love the smell and feel of books and all sorts of other similar arguments, let me explain.

When was the last time you went to your local public library? Presently, I happen to have two good ones relatively close to where I live. In one case, I have had several rather interesting discussions with the head librarian about the future of the facility. In both libraries, the number of computer stations available to patrons has been constantly increasing over the years. In both libraries, checking out books is done entirely by the patrons using electronic book scanners. What is more important, both libraries have really extensive online digital libraries. Again, in both libraries, the number of classes and seminars and educational opportunities have increased dramatically.  For example, the Southeast Branch of the Maricopa County Library is holding their Second Annual Genealogy Fair on 1 March 2014. This is just one of a series of events making the library into an education and social center rather than simply a place to go to check out books.

Here is an interesting fact. The Greater Phoenix Digital Library has close to 100,000 electronic books online. I have access to these books through my library card at either of the other two libraries. Now let's jump from local to national and international. The OpenLibrary.org has over a million free online ebooks that can be checked out electronically. There are hundreds of other free online sources for electronic books including Google.com, the HathiTrust.org, FamilySearch.org and other such websites.

So now how do I check books out of the library? I go online to the Greater Phoenix Digital Library. Sign in with my library card number. Choose a book. Click download and the book downloads to my iPad. At the end of the check out period, the book returns itself to the library. Slick as a whistle.

As a result of this availability of online ebooks, the number of my visits to the public libraries decreased dramatically, for a while, now I am going back more frequently. Why? Partly for the special events and partly because I have been teaching at the Maricopa County Library.

One major factor in this change is the availability of reading devices such as iPads, Android tablets and the Kindles. What will inevitably happen? As genealogically pertinent materials become more and more available online, the need to travel to remote locations will steadily decrease. It will never disappear in the lifetime of any of us, but it will change the way we view, check out and research most of the material we now are forced to use on paper and in reference libraries. My guess is that the last to convert to digital will be the large national archives and the University Special Collections.

If you don't know how to check out books electronically, make a visit to your local public library. They will likely have a class or two on using tablets to read books electronically.

An end note. I checked out the availability of ebooks in Utah and they are still in very primitive exploratory stage. I guess we will have to keep our Arizona library cards and pay for them as out-of-state residents.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Online Family Trees and Identity Theft -- Fiction or Fact?

I have written several blog posts over the years about the blatant misuse of the term "identity theft." Yet again I find published blog posts circulating in the genealogical community declaring that sharing information on a public online family tree involves an increased risk of identity theft. Unfortunately, I have yet to read even one such article that has cited one solid piece of evidence that putting anything in a family tree program increases any definition of identity theft. Why is this the case? Because of the following:

  • There is no consistently applied definition of identity theft in the United States.
  • There are no documented instances tying identity theft in whatever form directly to genealogical data in an online family tree
  • No matter what definition is used, the incidence of any type of identity theft is dramatically overstated in most references to the issue

If you read any article expressing the opinion that adding information to an online family tree will increase your risk of identity theft, you should make comments demanding that the writer justify his or her opinion with some verifiable documentation.

Do I really need to go through all the facts again? I guess so, as long as I continue to see comments in print on genealogy blogs handwringing over the threat of identity theft.

First, the definition. Let's start with 18 U.S. Code Section 1028. These are the sections added to the act by the ‘‘Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998’’:
(7) knowingly transfers, possesses, or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, or in connection with, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of Federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable State or local law; or 
(8) knowingly traffics in false or actual authentication features for use in false identification documents, document-making implements, or means of identification;
There is a lot more, but this is essentially the Federal law on the subject. I guess my question is how this statute applies to online family trees? Is an online family tree an "identification document?" Well, like most federal statutes there is a copious definition section. Here is the definition of an "identification document":
(3) the term “identification document” means a document made or issued by or under the authority of the United States Government, a State, political subdivision of a State, a sponsoring entity of an event designated as a special event of national significance, a foreign government, political subdivision of a foreign government, an international governmental or an international quasi-governmental organization which, when completed with information concerning a particular individual, is of a type intended or commonly accepted for the purpose of identification of individuals;
In short, the Federal law deals with use of identification documents. Let's jump to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and see how they define identity theft. Their definition is a little simpler:
Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal information and uses it without your permission.
Hmm. I don't think that definition gives me much to go on but it certainly excludes genealogical data in an online family tree. First of all, the information about dead people is not your personal information. Secondly, you can't steal information from a public family tree. This brings up the first rule putting information online:

If you want information to be private, don't put it online.

Oh by the way, the FTC is charged with reporting incidents of identity theft. All of the FTC's statistics are based on complaints. This is their assessment:
According to the ID Theft Data Clearinghouse, the most common types of identity theft are:
  • using or opening a credit card account fraudulently
  • opening telecommunications or utility accounts fraudulently
  • passing bad checks or opening a new bank account
  • getting loans in another person’s name
  • working in another person’s name
I guess what I would say is where are the prosecuted cases and the statistics concerning prosecution for "identity theft?" Now what about each of the states? Here is the Identity Theft Resource Center, a compilation of the laws of the several states. Here is a sample. This is Arizona Revised Statutes 13-2008:
A. A person commits taking the identity of another person or entity if the person knowingly takes, purchases, manufactures, records, possesses or uses any personal identifying information or entity identifying information of another person or entity, including a real or fictitious person or entity, without the consent of that other person or entity, with the intent to obtain or use the other person's or entity's identity for any unlawful purpose or to cause loss to a person or entity whether or not the person or entity actually suffers any economic loss as a result of the offense, or with the intent to obtain or continue employment.
B. A person commits knowingly accepting the identity of another person if the person, in hiring an employee, knowingly does both of the following:
1. Accepts any personal identifying information of another person from an individual and knows that the individual is not the actual person identified by that information.
2. Uses that identity information for the purpose of determining whether the individual who presented that identity information has the legal right or authorization under federal law to work in the United States as described and determined under the processes and procedures under 8 United States Code section 1324a.
C. On the request of a person or entity, a peace officer in any jurisdiction in which an element of an offense under this section is committed, a result of an offense under this section occurs or the person or entity whose identity is taken or accepted resides or is located shall take a report. The peace officer may provide a copy of the report to any other law enforcement agency that is located in a jurisdiction in which a violation of this section occurred.
D. If a defendant is alleged to have committed multiple violations of this section within the same county, the prosecutor may file a complaint charging all of the violations and any related charges under other sections that have not been previously filed in any precinct in which a violation is alleged to have occurred. If a defendant is alleged to have committed multiple violations of this section within the state, the prosecutor may file a complaint charging all of the violations and any related charges under other sections that have not been previously filed in any county in which a violation is alleged to have occurred.
E. This section does not apply to a violation of section 4-241 by a person who is under twenty-one years of age.
F. Taking the identity of another person or entity or knowingly accepting the identity of another person is a class 4 felony.
As you can see if you wade through this statute, Arizona is not concerned about you and your identity they are more concerned about illegal foreign nationals.

Identity theft is very flexible. As a tag word, it can be used for a whole variety of political purposes.

Now, it is time to return to the question of criminal statistics. Here is the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) assessment of the number of identity thefts:
The number of identity theft victims and total losses are probably much higher than what’s been reported. Because different law enforcement agencies may classify identity theft crimes differently, and because identity theft can also involve credit card fraud, Internet fraud, or mail theft—among other crimes—it’s difficult to provide a precise assessment. The FBI, however, has dedicated significant analytical resources to combating the identity theft problem and is working with other agencies to develop a system that will analyze large streams of identity theft data.
We don't know what it is exactly, but we are allocation "significant analytical resources" to find out. This article goes on to state:
Since fiscal year 2008 through the middle of fiscal year 2013, the number of identity theft-related crimes investigated by the Bureau across all programs have resulted in more than 1,600 convictions, $78.6 billion in restitutions, $4.6 billion in recoveries, and $6.8 billion in fines.
Here is an interesting statement from the Bureau of Justice Statistics:
  • About 7% of persons age 16 or older were victims of identity theft in 2012.
  • The majority of identity theft incidents (85%) involved the fraudulent use of existing account information, such as credit card or bank account information.
  • Victims who had personal information used to open a new account or for other fraudulent purposes were more likely than victims of existing account fraud to experience financial, credit, and relationship problems and severe emotional distress.
  • About 14% of identity theft victims experienced out-of-pocket losses of $1 or more. Of these victims, about half suffered losses of less than $100.„„
  • Over half of identity theft victims who were able to resolve any associated problems did so in a day or less; among victims who had personal information used for fraudulent purposes, 29% spent a month or more resolving problems.
Like many such statistical citations, the numbers sort-of jump around. So only 14% of the identity theft victims suffered a financial loss of over $1.00 and of this 14%, half were less than $100. But notice that there are no actual numbers attached to these statistics. 

If you keep digging, as I have time after time, you will find that there are no real statistics. Except for the FBI statement that there were 1,600 convictions over a six year period, or about 266 convictions a year, there are very few other statistics that help us to understand the real threat of identity theft. Oh, another interesting fact, in the United State's Attorneys' Annual Statistical Report on crimes in the Federal Courts for 2010, there were 81,934 defendants convicted in the Federal Courts. If we can depend on the round number of 1,600 convictions over six years from the FBI, it would appear that only approximately .3 of 1 percent of the convictions were from identity theft. 

I am certain that those who wish to use "identity theft" as the modern bogey man, will continue to do so. I just had a young friend of mine who had his wallet stolen. The thief then used his debit card to buy some gas before the card was cancelled. This is identity theft today. 

GigaBit Networks and Genealogy


Recently I saw a Google blog post about their Googlefiber cities. Apparently, Provo, Utah where one of my daughter lives and now Phoenix, Arizona are both on the list for expansion of the Google Fiber Optic networks. I assume these new Google networks are in direct competition with the present Internet service providers which I think is good. My present service provider is running at about 5 Mbps (5 Megabits per second) for the economy service with the higher rate service at 50 Mbps at almost double the cost. Google's service is free for 5 Mbps and is about the same price for 1 Gigabit (1000 Mbps). In Provo, Utah the higher speed Internet costs $70 per month for Internet only service.

Because of this huge advantage, the old Walking Arizona guy is moving to Provo, Utah. (No, just kidding about the reason, but we are moving) assuming all goes as planned. We should be there completely by sometime this summer.

I am serious about the fact that the current Internet service providers need some competition. OK, so what does this have to do with genealogy. Oh, only if you are reading this online and sitting at a computer linked to the Internet.

Obituaries and Online Databases


You may or may not be aware, but mortuaries here in the Southwest can charge a family as much as $600 or more to publish an obituary in a local newspaper. You can get a discount through the local print newspaper, but not much. The difference is the mortuary markup. So along comes an obituary service in Utah that has an online obituary publishing website that charges a flat $30 per obituary. I talked to the one of the principals, who I had known from Arizona, at #RootsTech 2014.

The website is called ObitsUtah.com and I understand that both the mortuaries and the local newspapers try everything they can think of to stop people from using this service. They also have another website called ObitsAncestry.com that was created to assist FamilySearch in the collection of obituaries. This is a free website and is described as follows:
ObitsAncestry.com was created to assist FamilySearch in the collection of obituaries, both past and present. All obituaries submitted to ObitsAncestry.com will be indexed and linked by familysearch.org for family history and genealogical purposes.

ObitsAncestry.com is special. It's a place where individuals and families can add obituaries of their deceased family members and loved ones free of charge. Obituaries are available online for viewing at anytime.

There is no paid advertising on our website. ObitsAncestry.com is intended to be a quiet, reverent place where people can view and read obituaries without distraction, unencumbered by banner ads and other types of pesky advertising.

Features include:
  • Obituaries are available on-demand in the searchable archives indefinitely.
  • Obituaries can include a life story and a photo or slideshow with up to 4 pictures.
  • A newspaper style printout is available for a keepsake.
  • A memory book is included for family and friends to share online memories.
  • Obituaries are indexed and linked by familysearch.org for family history and genealogical purposes
This particular service is supported by a request for donations.











http://obitsancestry.com/
http://obitsutah.com/

Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States


My son Ryan sent me a link to a really unusual, but apparently very useful, website. it is called the Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States. Here is the description from the website:
Here you will find one of the greatest historical atlases: Charles O. Paullin and John K. Wright's Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States, first published in 1932. This digital edition reproduces all of the atlas's nearly 700 maps. Many of these beautiful maps are enhanced here in ways impossible in print, animated to show change over time or made clickable to view the underlying data—remarkable maps produced eight decades ago with the functionality of the twenty-first century.
In addition, most of the maps in the atlas have been georectified, warped so that they can be placed consistently on top of a digital map. Since historical perspective is usually missing with many genealogical researchers, these types of aids can help more of us become aware of the some of the geographic factors that shaped the United States throughout our history.

I am getting old fast. What can I do about it?

My somewhat usual disclaimer: If you are younger than I am, I do not expect any sympathy. If you are older than I am, do not expect any from me. If you are a lot younger than I am, remember to respect your elders and be kind. We got here in old age simply by living a long time and are not really at fault for our condition. The fact that some of us are genealogical fanatics only makes being old a complicating factor. If you are much, much younger, don't try to laugh off old age. It isn't really very funny, TV to the contrary.

In the past three days, I have presented 10 separate classes for a total of 10 hours of teaching. Not surprisingly, I got very tired and had to take a recuperative nap to keep going. There was a time when I could have taught twice as long with absolutely no effect and not needed a nap. I can probably chalk up my current lack of stamina to a lack of physical exercise and incipient old age. But in looking around at the genealogists in my classes, I see that most of us have the same issues. We are not as young as we once were and will likely have to learn how to pace ourselves.

So how do we do genealogy and at the same time cope with creeping old age?

I decided to put my answers in the form of resolutions which I will likely promptly forget, but need to be made.

Resolution No. 1: I resolve to get up and walk around the room at least every hour to make sure I still can. 
I have been reading some horror stories of the effects of prolonged sitting and perhaps they are true. If they are, writing on a computer for 12 to 14 hours a day is probably puts me in the critical risk category.

Resolve No. 2: I resolve to try to remember all of my grandchildren's names at least once a day. 
I have 32 and it takes about 30 seconds or so to run through all the names. This is is my check for incipient dementia. Although usually about half way through the list, I remember something I have forgotten to do or come up with another blog topic and get sidetracked out of the whole task and end up back at the computer writing furiously.

Resolve No. 3: I resolve to do more of my own genealogy in the future. 
This really doesn't have anything to do with growing older per se. It does however have a lot to do with how much "time on target" I still have left to do the work I need to finish or get mostly done. If you are not familiar with the term "time on target" you probably did not spend as much time in the Army as I did.

OK, enough of that. The real reason for this post is the background question of how to involve the youth in genealogy so that there is a new generation of genealogists that will carry on where we leave off when we all check out one way or another. As I looked out over the people yesterday, that was one of my many thoughts. Each of these people, to a greater or lesser extent, is going to spend time accumulating some genealogy about their families. What will happen to all that work when they (and we all) die?

I know that in some cases this is a matter of very small consequence both to the individual involved and the individual's family. This would be the results if the information consisted primarily of copies of easily obtained documents and a minimal pedigree that could easily be reconstructed from online sources. But what about the core of the real hoarders among us, including myself and many other I know about. We have mountains of paper and huge complicated computer files. A very few of us have collections of documents and paper that deserves preservation in a formal archive, library or other repository, but for the most part those of us will less well connected pedigrees have documents valuable to only future family members. How do we face the oceans of antipathy towards genealogy, built up in our families and those surrounding us?

I did a quick mental count and I would guess that between my wife's genealogy papers and my own, we likely have close to fifty banker's boxes of paper and more than 3 TBs of scanned documents and photographs not to mention all the stuff I have online. I am sure that there are many out there with more or similar piles to deal with. This is a major ongoing issue and needs to be addressed in an organized and consistent manner. There are social, legal and other consequences that are very much unresolved and unaddressed in both our families and our society at large.

I would propose that this subject become a regular topic of discussion. I don't know if we need to form yet another group online, but all aspects of the questions facing our genealogical community and the ongoing transition of genealogical data from one generation to the next is an overriding topic. Let's suppose that FamilySearch and other organizations were successful in awakening some degree of interest in "family history" or whatever among those of the younger generation. What are the young people going to do about the mountains of paperwork they inherit from us? Throw it in the nearest dumpster? Do these young people really want to face organizing and curating mountains of paper, especially if they don't even know how to read the cursive they are written in?

Does FamilySearch and the rest who are in the process of engaging the youth have some sort of idea how they are going to keep from losing their present legacy of genealogists by abandoning basic research skills in favor of modified online computer games aimed at engaging the youth in genealogy?

Maybe it is time we acknowledge the fact that the stories, photos and documents that the youth are trying to put online are coming from the efforts made by a vanishingly small group of old people who are now being abandoned to their devices in an effort to engage the youth. Maybe we need to focus on preserving these important accumulations of documents in the possession of old folks like me across the world in addition to and as the basis for having a new generation of young people who can do more than play computer games.

The challenges consist of really serious legal, social, organizational and cultural issues that are presently only being discussed in the periphery of the genealogical community. The question is simply this:

How do we preserve what we already have in the way of our genealogical heritage including paper, digital and oral history and still add younger adherents to the genealogical community? How many of the young people at RootsTech 2014 or otherwise went home and called their grandparents to tell them they would like to help with all the genealogy they had? I am still waiting for mine to call and none of mine went to RootsTech 2014. Will the same thing happen to my genealogy records as happened to my Great-grandmothers' records? That the records were neglected for two generations until I found them and partially preserved them? Yes, I too was once young and clueless. Fortunately, I started this epic journey into the world of genealogy while still in my 30s and didn't wait until I "retired" when all of the documents and photos would have been permanently lost.

OK FamilySearch and all you others out there. Listen Up. What about all the huge amounts of data you already have out here in genealogy land? What are you going to do about it? Youth are great. Involving the youth are great. But are they going to have to redo everything that has already been done simply because old genealogist are no longer worth worrying about? Are we all in favor of dumping the old guys in favor of the computer game generation? Can't we both work together to accomplish the work we need to do?


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Reflections on the Popularity of Family History (or Genealogy)

It would be appropriate for me to say "I told you so" but rather rude also. I was unable to attend the actual presentation at #RootsTech 2014, but I did send my wife to take notes and then FamilySearch conveniently published a post by Glen N. Greener entitled, "Empirical Evidence of the Popularity of Family History Using Digital Traces" that gave me the complete run down on the presentation by Arnon Hershkovitz, Ph.D, School of Education, Tel Aviv University, Israel. This is not the first, neither will it be the last of the posts I do on this subject.

The issue is quite simple. Is or is not genealogy (or Family History or whatever) one of the most popular pursuits in the United States (World or again, whatever)? Just in case you want to know where this whole idea comes from here is a quote from a not too recent ABCNews blog post dated 24 October 2012:
Genealogy is hot. The same hobby that once was the preferred pastime of shut-ins, spinsters and confirmed bachelors has become widely popular. "It's no longer a niche," says Tim Sullivan, CEO of Ancestry. He tells ABC News the site now has more than 2 million paid subscribers. Ancestry will report a billion dollars in revenue for 2012. "There's a broad, mainstream interest in family history," Sullivan says. 
Hard numbers are difficult to come by, but hobby experts believe that genealogy ranks second only to gardening as American's favorite pastime.
Isn't this just another of those who cares sort of issues? Do we really care whether or not genealogy is considered a hobby? The reasons I care are rather complex. I guess a threshold issue is whether of not we want genealogy to be popular? Should we be seeking popularity or competency?  Isn't an "everyones doing it" campaign sometime self defeating? Isn't claiming genealogy is popular just a copout for coming up with reasonable and good reasons why people should be interested?

Well, back to the post on Arnon's presentation. What was the conclusion? I will let you read the entire article for yourself, but the conclusion was decidedly mixed. But as for Google Trends:
Trends were studied in over ten years in English speaking countries and by states in the US. These data indicate a decrease in the trend to search “genealogy.” One theory for the reason is the growth of many other sources to search instead of Google. The disparity among the states in the US in 2004 has virtually disappeared now – probably because of the equalizing of Internet access in all states.
Other indicators such as published book contents of genealogy also declined. If you are inclined to promote genealogy and discount any indicators of a drop in interest, all of the findings can be argued away as caused by some other factors.

I recently quoted some statistics printed in the Deseret News offered by Elder Allan F. Packer on the Family Discovery Day dated 10 February 2014:
Past approaches in the Church have resulted in less than 3 percent of members submitting names of ancestors for temple ordinance work, Elder Allan F. Packer of the Seventy said Feb. 8 at a session of the RootsTech family history conference in Salt Lake City... "These numbers are a cry for change,” Elder Packer said regarding the statistics he cited, though he did say he was happy to report progress. “In the last year the number of members submitting names for temple ordinances is up 17% over last year. It has gone from 2.4 to 2.7 percent of the members,” he said.
Meanwhile, here is the latest graph of the searches for the word "genealogy" from Google Trends"


Now, to why this is important. Put simply, as Elder Packer is quoted above, these numbers to do bode well for any dramatic increase in interest in genealogy. I will be examining this issue off and on and perhaps I can make some suggestions that will help to increase the interest and reverse the trends.

Place My Past adds US cemeteries, churches and other genealogical points of interest

A relatively new startup company from Brisbane, Australia, Place My Past, uses a combination of modern maps, overlaid with historical maps to enrich family histories with stories about the places and events which surrounded our ancestors. Place My Past has recently added datasets for US cemeteries, churches, hospitals schools and other points of interest from the United States Geographic Names Information System to its collection of historical maps and spatial datasets. The collection covers many thousands of buildings and features relevant to genealogical research.

Taken from a recent press release, the datasets can be viewed as an overlay on a modern map and on top of historical maps from Place My Past’s collection of maps. Pins marking family events can be viewed at the same time providing users with a visual and geospatial representation of their family tree. These datasets, are a significant addition to Place My Past’s growing collection of maps and geospatial datasets which also recently added:
  • Historical country boundaries for the 16th and 18th centuries
  • 19th and 20th century Ordnance Survey maps of the UK
  • A collection maps of Paris from the 15th to 20th centuries
  • Cemeteries on the Somme battlefield
  • UK battlefields
  • A dataset of historic places in Albuquerque
  • Stations and other points of interest from the 19th century Minneapolis Twin Cities transit system
Place My Past’s collection of maps and datasets can be viewed on the site’s Gallery.

Users can upload their family tree, have it plotted on a map and then view information and images about the places where their family events took place. Users can also:
  • View their family’s migration over time
  • Collaborate with others to build up a unique picture of a family, local or global event
  • Make notes and draw on their family history map with annotation tools
  • Upload their own historical maps and view other users’ maps, and maps from the Place My Past collection
  • View visualisations of historical datasets such as boundary maps, mortality rates, population densities, historical points of interest and lots more
Place My Past is a free system with advanced features for subscribers. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

How to Set up a Facebook Page for an Ancestor

Facebook is not just millions of individuals streaming their daily lives away online, it can also be a valuable genealogical tool. In addition to the standard personal pages adopted by many users, it is possible to create a "Facebook Page," that is a page dedicated to some type of entity. The categories available include the following:

  • Businesses
  • Places
  • Companies
  • Organizations
  • Institutions
  • Brands or products
  • Artists, bands or public figures
  • Entertainment
  • Causes 
  • Communities

You can probably guess that some of these categories can be used to create a community interest page on the topic of a family ancestor. The page could be called "The Descendants of..." or some variation of that title that would indicate a group of people who are related through a common ancestor. Here are a few titles used by actual family-oriented Pages on Facebook:

  • Descendants of the Mayflower
  • Descendants of Mayflower Passengers John Howland & Elizabeth Tilley
  • Descendants of the First Families of New Hampshire
  • East Tennessee Overhill Cherokee Descendants
  • Descendants of Jacob Hamblin

Of course, you do not have to use the word "descendant" in the title, but it might help to identify the reason and purpose of the page. Facebook explains the general nature of a Facebook Page as follows:
Pages are for businesses, organizations and brands to share their stories and connect with people. Like Timelines, you can customize Pages by posting stories, hosting events, adding apps and more. Engage and grow your audience by posting regularly. People who like your Page and their friends can get updates in News Feed. 
You can create and manage a Facebook Page from your personal account. 
Note: If you want to create a Page to represent an organization, business, celebrity or brand, you must be an official representative. 
You're reading the Desktop Help answer. Learn more in our other Help Centers.
Pages can have open or closed membership. You may also achieve the same results by creating a Facebook Group. The main difference between Pages and Groups is that Pages are public and anyone can connect with and get updates. A selection of privacy settings are available for Groups. Facebook Groups work best with small numbers of people who are friends or actual relatives. You cannot convert a Group page into a Facebook Page.

To create a Facebook Page do the following:
  1. Go to facebook.com/pages/create
  2. Click a Page category
  3. Select a more specific category from the dropdown menu and fill out the required information
  4. Click to check the box next to I agree to Facebook Pages Terms
  5. Click Get Started
Note: If you want to create a Page to represent an organization, business, celebrity or brand, you must be an official representative.

If you need more instructions, please refer to Pages Basics

A New Paradigm for Genealogy Conferences?

Here are several very similar and connected events:

  • I heard a newscast today on the radio (yes, radio does still exist and I do listen from time to time) about a school district that was requiring students to attend classes online due to overcrowding. 
  • One of the significant things I learned about my high school experience was that I could have avoided going to school altogether by obtaining a GED degree and studying on my own. 
  • Yesterday, I participated in a Webinar sponsored by the Utah Genealogical Association and got a comment from my friend Jill Ball in Australia. 
  • #RootsTech 2014 is holding 622 or so individual local genealogy conferences all around the world, in ten different languages, with content recorded at the main Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah
  • I routinely now carry on face to face Google+ Hangout conversations with people around the world.
  • I took classes from Brigham Young University on genealogy for five years through their Independent Study Program while I lived in Mesa, Arizona and visited the campus only two or three times for the classes.
  • Sometime ago, I taught an interactive class on genealogy, where the participants were in Tucson, Arizona and I was on a Google+ Hangout in Mesa.

The list could go on and on. In some cases, recently, I have been "invited" to participate in a conference at some considerable distance from my home and have had to decline due to the cost and time involved in traveling to the conference. But let me ask a question.

What if I could come to your local conference and do a presentation at little or no expense to your organization and little time commitment for me? What if that conference could be interactive, with participants able to ask questions at any time during the presentation and everyone had a front row seat?

I guess what I am saying is that this is entirely possible now. Granted, the online Webinar experience is still full of technological quirks and problems, but for the most part, as the #RootsTech 2014 experience illustrates, having a "well-known" speaker may not require an exorbitant outlay of resources. The average Google+ Hangout can have ten participants, but if you only have two, you can do an entire conference. All you have to do is have the participants side of the conference in a room or conference hall with a sound system and a video projector. There also needs to be a way for the speaker to "see" and hear the audience with a reciprocal video camera.

Audio only with on computer screen presentations are now extremely commonplace. There are genealogists now, such as DearMyrtle and Geoff Rasmussen, who are routinely conducting online Webinars. We have a whole series of Webinars planned for the Mesa FamilySearch Library and my next one is on March 12, 2014 at 7:00 Arizona Time.

Do you really care where I am presently located while I write my blog posts? Would it matter at all? Would you like me or some other presenter to come to your small local meeting? Why not consider using the currently available technology to avoid all the time, cost and effort involved in having me travel all across the county and still have the opportunity to have a presentation?

Think about it. Try it out. See if it would work.

Granted, (anticipating comments) it is really nice to be somewhere in person and I love to attend conferences like the ones I have tomorrow and next week, but there are other considerations that may make the electronic alternative more and more viable.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Findmypast.com adds PERSI content links

Amongst all of the announcements about new additions to genealogy websites, some need more attention than others. Findmypast.com has announced a partnership with the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center to add the PERSI Index of 2.5 million records dating back to 1800. 

OK, now why is this news? The PERSI or Periodical Source Index has been around for quite a while and copies of the Index are available on a few other websites. But historically, if you wanted to see anything you found in the PERSI, you had to hunt it down, or send away to the Allen County Public Library for a copy. Here is the announcement from findmypast.com so there is no misunderstanding:
LOS ANGELES – Findmypast.com, an international leader in online family history, today announced a partnership with the Allen County Public Library (ACPL) Genealogy Center to revolutionize the PERiodical Source Index (PERSI), the world’s largest and most widely used subject index for genealogy and local history literature. As part of the partnership, findmypast.com is enhancing PERSI, most notably by linking thousands of individual genealogical periodicals and resources to the index, allowing the original content to be accessed and connected digitally for the first time in the history of PERSI. 
Over the past thirty years, the ACPL Genealogy Center has created more than 2.5 million searchable records in PERSI, indexing every article from more than 8,000 different periodicals, including magazines, newsletters and journals, according to location, topic, surname, ethnicity and methodology. In the coming months, findmypast.comwill launch the most complete version of PERSI online. Once launched, findmypast.com will work in tandem with the Genealogy Center to provide frequent updates to the collection as new entries are added.
The operative words here are "allowing the original content to be accessed and connected digitally for the first time in the history of PERSI." This is huge. I don't think that most genealogists have ever used PERSI because having an index entry didn't help much. Part of this lack of use of the product comes from a lack of understanding of exactly what the Allen County Public Library has produced. PERSI contains information about local genealogical and historical publications from all around the United States. The impact of having all of these local publications available is incalculable. Here's a summary from the announcement that vastly understates the impact:
The future of online search through this partnership aligns with findmypast.com’s Society Data Initiative, a joint project between the Federation of Genealogical Societies and findmypast.com to preserve, digitize and provide access to the rich resources created by family history, genealogical, and historical societies over many decades.
 As far as content in the United States, this is a huge increase in usability for findmypast.com.

MyHeritage.com Website for Promoting all the Cemeteries in the World now live

I got an update from Daniel Horowitz of MyHeritage.com concerning the partnership with BillionGraves.com. I certainly understood that MyHeritage.com is into supporting with their global community to preserve and document gravestones worldwide for the next few years. Their announcement may have led people to believe that this could be accomplished in a matter of weeks, but of course, we understood that the project roll out would take some time but that the project itself would take quite a bit longer. The website for accomplishing this momentous task is now live:

http://billiongraves.com/myheritage

I suggest you check this out. Now that Ancestry.com owns FindAGrave.com, I would guess that some agreement between MyHeritage.com and BillionGraves.com was almost inevitable. I might also mention that an updated Index and link to BillionGraves.com is also on FamilySearch.org.

Does this mean that the gravemarker race is now on? I certainly hope so because all of us out here in the genealogy community can certainly benefit from the preservations of all those millions of gravemarkers. Oh, by the way, here is the description of the project from the new landing page:
MyHeritage has teamed up with BillionGraves in the great initiative of documenting every headstone in the world with the free and simple to use BillionGraves app. 
BillionGraves is MyHeritage's preferred cemetery headstone crowdsourcing application. With patent-pending technology, translations into 25 major languages, as well as advanced systems for handling Gregorian, Hebrew and Julian dates, BillionGraves is the best international application for documenting and preserving headstone information. It's fun, too! (in a unique way that only genealogists would understand). 
Register for free on this page. Then download the free mobile application for any iOS or Android device. All information you contribute will be posted on BillionGraves and MyHeritage SuperSearch where it will be free for all users. MyHeritage Record Matching will match it for free to the 27 million family trees on MyHeritage.
Hmm. Interesting that the largest cemetery in Phoenix, Arizona, the Greenwood Memorial Cemetery, with tens of thousands of gravemarkers has only about 40 images on BillionGraves.com and only 11 images on FindAGrave.com. It certainly looks like both of these sites have a ways to go yet. I also note that cremations may pose a challenge.