RootsTech 2014

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

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Web Basics for Genealogists -- Part Two Beginning our Understanding of Searches

Because of technological advances, one of genealogists' most important activities has become searching for sources online. Using a computer to search online involves a number of complex skills. Unfortunately, almost all genealogical researchers are literally on their own in learning any of these skill. Unless the researcher just happens to have a technological background coupled with knowledge of library science or some other information science experience, it is unlikely that their online searching is either very productive or pleasant.

The number and variety of "educational opportunities" are overwhelming, starting with classes on computers at local colleges and universities, but how many genealogists spend the time obtain a degree in computer science or information science before starting out to do research on their family?

Basic computer skills involve the physical mechanics of entering data using a keyboard and mouse to understanding file structure and the operation of complex programs. But even with a good background in computer usage, it is a fact of life that the technology changes constantly. So the today's genealogist is confronted with learning about computers while trying to understand the equally complex field of genealogy. As a side note, many people involved in genealogy assume that younger people, who have grown up using computers and cell phones are a "step ahead" in entering the field of genealogy because of their background in technology. This is an illusion. Genealogical research requires additional skills of analysis and evaluation that are gained only by experience. It may be discouraging to the beginner, but learning computer skills is only the first step in doing effective genealogical research using all of the vast online sources.

I am going to have to assume that the readers of this blog post have at least a basic idea about how to use a computer or other computer-based device or they would not have gotten to this venue. This particular post is called Web basics because I find that even with good computer skills, researchers are not aware of the different ways you need to conduct searches online.

There are three basically different online search techniques that reflect three completely different ways of organizing information. Like it or not, as genealogists we are involved in the analysis, collection, classification, manipulation, storage, retrieval, movement, and dissemination of information. But to perform any of those activities, we have to first find the information. Following is a short analysis of the three different methods of approaching the finding function of online research.

You can think of research in the abstract as searching through an infinitely large pile of paper. Each piece of paper has a small piece of information. If you were to sit by the side of the pile and randomly pull out pieces of paper, what would be the chance that you would find what you were looking for? My guess is that the probability of finding what you want is close to zero. What is more, how do you know what you are looking for is even in the pile? Genealogists should be painfully aware that not all the information they need has yet been transferred to the vast online pile.

So ignoring the three different search techniques for a while, we should also have a basic idea of the types of records we are searching for and whether or not the particular types we need have migrated to the Web, that is been digitized and indexed. Hmm. That brings up another issue. Genealogical information may be on the web as images of documents. Unfortunately, the technology for searching images of documents is sadly very rudimentary. So as genealogists we rely heavily on indexing and indexes. Even with all our vast electronic wonders, we still have to rely on someone, someplace looking at each document image and manually transcribing the information. Of course, if the information we seek is text, it is much easier to find and search. But if the information is locked up in an image, we are back to visually searching the records which is no different than going to a library or searching through microfilm copies.

 Now back to the infinite pile. We all seem to instinctively understand that the pile needs to be organized in some way so that we can find what we are looking for. But how do we organize the pile? Well, librarians have been organizing their piles for quite a long time. They use a variety of complex cataloging systems. As children going to a school library, we probably heard of the "Dewey Decimal System" or organization and the corresponding card catalog. Books were (and still are in some libraries) organized on shelves by subject and then numbered in a way to make it easier to find the books. For genealogists this is an awkward system because almost everything ends up in Dewey Decimal Classification number 929. Here is a list of categories:
929.1 Genealogy
929.2 Family Histories
929.3 Genealogical sources
929.4 Personal names
929.5 Cemetery records
929.6 Heraldry
929.7 Royal houses, peerage, orders of knighthood
929.8 Order, decorations, autographs
929.9 Forms of insignia and identification
You can see that this set of categories is not all that useful. In any event the whole Dewey Decimal System of classification has been supplanted by other more complex cataloging systems such as the Library of Congress Standards. Warning: getting into this area of searching can be very discouraging, as in, I had no idea how complicated this could be. Just for fun, here are the Library of Congress Standards by category:

Resource Description Formats
Digital Library Standards
Information Resource Retrieval Protocols
ISO Standards
  • ISO 639-2: Codes for the representation of names of languages-- Part 2: Alpha-3 code.
  • ISO 639-5: Codes for the representation of names of languages-- Part 5: Alpha-3 code for language families and groups.
  • ISO/DIS 25577 - Information and documentation -- MarcXchange
  • ISO 20775 - Schema for Holdings Information
Metadata for Digital Content: Developing institutional policies and standards at the Library of Congress
Recommended Format Specifications: Best practices for ensuring the preservation of, and long-term access to, the creative output of the national and the world in both analog and digital formats

OK, now you can begin to see the first type of search. That is a search based on a cataloging system developed and imposed on the data pile by someone who makes up the systems. Searching in a catalog is a whole complicated study in itself. I spent my first few years of work as a bibliographer in a major university library. I became very familiar with the complexity of the cataloging systems.

Is there any hope? Sorry. Not much. The second method is the brute strength, bulldozer method called a string search. You can think here of Google. You type in a series of characters and the search engine tries to match your string of characters with any other characters out there in the pile that match. I wish it were just that simple. What really happens is that Google and other such search engines, create their own catalogue or structure of the data before beginning the string search (not string as in tying knots but strings as in a series of text characters). At this point you can probably guess that I am going to write more completely about each type of search but at this point, what you need to know is that you type in a name and the program sees if it can find that name anywhere. Of course, you soon find that the searches return millions of results that simply illustrate the size of the selected pile, so there must be more to searching on Google than simply wishing that your results show up. Yes, there is, but you will have to wait until my subsequent posts.

Last, but certainly not least, computers programmers have come up with an entirely different way of organizing vast quantities of information that they call a wiki. Searching a wiki turns out to be completely different that either a traditional (or even non-traditional) cataloging system and has its unique advantages and some disadvantages.

Perhaps you can now begin to grasp the complexity of the pile of information and the fact that there are different and somewhat complex methods of organizing the piles. As genealogists, I suppose we could blissfully ignore all this and go on our merry ways seeking our ancestors. We might even acquire some or many of the skills necessary over time. But now, we are faced with the huge online world and sitting in a library in Salt Lake City or where ever is not all of the answer to our investigations.

The next posts on this subject will explore each of the three major methods of pile organization and give some ideas of how searches differ or are the same in each method.
929.1Genealogy929.2Family histories929.3Genealogical sources929.4Personal names929.5Cemetery records929.6Heraldry929.7Royal houses, peerage, orders of knighthood929.8Orders, decorations, autographs929.9Forms of insignia and identification
929.1Genealogy929.2Family histories929.3Genealogical sources929.4Personal names929.5Cemetery records929.6Heraldry929.7Royal houses, peerage, orders of knighthood929.8Orders, decorations, autographs929.9Forms of insignia and identification

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Comments on Becoming an Excellent Genealogist -- Chapter Nine

This is an ongoing series of chapter by chapter comments on the book,

Meyerink, Kory L., Tristan Tolman, and Linda K. Gulbrandsen. Becoming an Excellent Genealogist: Essays on Professional Research Skills. [Salt Lake City, Utah]: ICAPGen, 2012.

I am now commenting on Chapter Nine: Researching Minorities in the United States by Jimmy B. Parker, AG, FUGA.

I had a very brief connection with Jimmy Parker, just before he passed away, in working on Native American entries in the FamilySearch Research Wiki. He was instrumental in the creation of the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists before it became an independent organization. There is a wonderful tribute to him in an obituary in the Deseret News dated 11 September 2011. 

Jimmy makes an interesting point about minorities. He states, quoting from page 85 of the book, 
The concept of "minorities research" is an interesting one. What is it, anyway? What about a person or group sets them apart as a minority? Every individual, family, ethnic group, religion, etc. may qualify as a minority under certain conditions. What constitutes a minority may vary with locality, time period, and attitude. And even if a person or group is considered a minority, how does that affect research? Are the record different for that group? Does the research methodology change because of that minority status?
I would have to answer these questions with a qualifications. For example, recent news shows that in two states of the United States, California and New Mexico, Latinos surpass whites as the largest racial/ethnic group. Here we get to the crux of the matter. What is a Latino? What is a "white?" Aren't these labels self-imposed? Having lived in Latin America for many years, I can hardly go along with a generalization about either the race or ethnicity of "Hispanics." For example, it your family came from Argentina, does that make you a Latino? What if your Argentine family was of German origin and spoke German and Spanish in the home? Does that make you a Latino? In this particular example, aren't we talking about language? If you speak Spanish as your native language, doesn't that make you a Latino in the United States regardless of your ethnic origin? Are the California universities going to start adding English-speaking whites to their minorities studies departments?

From a genealogical standpoint the concept of a "minority" is useless. At one point in time, every single group of immigrants, including the English, were a minority as they came to America. How many Native Americans were there in what we now call Massachusetts when the Pilgrims arrived? Who was the minority? At the same time, there are certain historical facts about the way "minorities" were treated as they arrived in America that governs where and how their important genealogical records were kept. Researching African American populations in the mid-1800s certainly requires some specialized methodologies and background knowledge that is distinctive from researching German immigrants in Pennsylvania. Recognizing the different cultural, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds of our ancestors is fundamental to genealogical research. In addition, it is important to recognize that as these people moved across political, ethnic, social and other artificially imposed boundaries, the methodology of tracing their history also likely changed.

Where the concept of a minority is generally unhelpful is when the descendants of a minority start to believe that genealogy is "different for their minority." Genealogical research is a broad brush that has techniques and methods that apply to people and are not different simply because someone is labeled a minority. Genealogists learn to appreciate the facts of history that records change depending on political, social, religious and cultural movements and changes, but the process of researching those records is still fundamentally the same. For example, to give an analogy, if I am trying to drive across Los Angeles, I will need to know certain information about freeways and the names of towns. This is considerably different than navigating my way around in rural Pennsylvania. But the process of using maps and navigating is the same. Similarly, if I am researching Hispanic records in California, I use the same genealogical tools as I do when I research records in Pennsylvania. Of course, there are always those "specialists" that have a greater knowledge of their own local records (or streets to continue the analogy) but we are both involved in essentially the same activity.

As Jimmy Parker points out, the key to all of this is knowing the history and background of your ancestors. I am sometimes appalled and even amazed at the lack of awareness of researchers. They dive right into looking for an ancestor without knowing anything about the area where they are researching. I find that many times they do not even know which state they are researching or if the state or county even existed at the time their ancestor lived. My point is that genealogy is not so much a search for names and dates as it is a search for records. Every one of our ancestors came from a different place and we need to know if there are records for the time and place before we start searching for names.

Here are links to the previous posts in this series:

Gambling vs. Genealogy

In Nevada alone, gambling is an over $8 billion dollar a year revenue generator. See State of Nevada, Nevada Gaming Commission and State Gaming Control Board, Quarterly Report for the Quarter ended March, 2014.  Not surprisingly, statistics on gamblers and gambling (euphemistically called the gaming industry) are rather difficult to find. A report in the United Kingdom estimates that 1% of the total population are problem gamblers. Those over 65 are the fastest growing group of problem gamblers. In a recent Deseret News article by Michael De Groote, entitled "Gray gambling: How gaming impacts seniors" it states,
According to a 2013 report by the American Gaming Association, one-third of Americans (34 percent) visited a casino in the past 12 months. Twenty-eight percent of people aged 65 and older visited a casino in the past 12 months. An article in Psychology Today, however, puts the percentage much higher: David Oslin at the University of Pennsylvania claims that 70 percent of people 65 years and older "had gambled in the previous year and that one in 11 had bet more than he or she could comfortably afford to lose.
What has this got to do with genealogy? Genealogy is looked upon as a "leisure time" activity and primarily an activity of the retired and elderly. If the segment of our society most interested in genealogy is also that same segment that is rapidly becoming more involved in gambling there should be some concern. From my perspective, anytime a huge part of our population are spending their resources in a non-productive way, we have cause for concern. Of course, I cannot reasonably expect people to stop going to casinos and start doing genealogy, but perhaps we should be aware of the impact of gambling and the associated activities on the potential for expansion of the genealogical community. This problem is not confined to the elderly. The U.S. National Institute of Health issued a report in 2009 finding the following:
Problem gambling and substance misuse are prevalent among young people. For instance, 17% of youth reported gambling 52 or more times in the past year, and the same percentage of youth drank five or more drinks on 12 or more days in the past year. Ten percent of youth reported having three or more gambling problems in the past year, and 15% of young people reported having three or more alcohol problems. Controlling for gender, age, and socioeconomic status, black youth have a significantly increased probability of frequent gambling compared with other racial/ethnic groups, yet they have a significantly decreased probability of heavy drinking. Alcohol problems and gambling problems show high co-occurrence, especially for male youth and black youth.
I am not so callous as to be wringing my hands because potential genealogists are ruining their lives, these children are our families. What are the chances that someone with an addiction problem (other than being addicted to genealogy) will become actively engaged in genealogical research? In a report from a BYU Professor, Dr. Lane Fischer, Ph.D. entitled, Exploring Genealogical Roots and Family History and their Influence on College Student Identity Development: A Qualitative Study, points out that experience with genealogy can help younger participants form a positive identity. I would suggest that this is the same for everyone. Working to identify your ancestors is more that pastime. It can have a significantly positive impact on your self image and self value.

Any negative activity, such as gambling, is counter to the positive influence of genealogy. We each make a decision as to how we allocate our time and money. If we choose to spend both in non-productive ways, we diminish our capacity to spend that same time in more productive ways. The spread of activities such as casino gambling are destructive, not just of our society as a whole, but also of our particular interest in preserving our family traditions and history.

Update on the Cultural Heritage of Novi Sad



I mentioned this Serbian cultural website in a post entitled, "New Cultural Heritage Website in Novi Sad, Serbia" earlier this year. Now the website is available in English. Here is a screenshot of the home page:


As I noted previously,
This new website is a a gorgeous new digital heritage platform using the Digital Public Library of America’s open source technology. The platform, Digital Heritage of Novi Sad (bbns.rs), provides access to digitized cultural and historical materials from approximately 200 institutions in or around Novi Sad, the second largest city in Serbia, all searchable by place, time, and subject. According to project leaders, they are in the final phase of equipping a modern digital laboratory with scanners and graphics processing workstations for digitizing new material into the platform.
For genealogists, the development of this type of website in an area where records have very limited availability is like opening a new door to history. Here is screenshot of the present exhibitions to give you a flavor of the type of information that is becoming available:


In the United States, there is USA Serbs Community Network, a website with links to resources and Serbian organizations across the country.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Family Stories -- Helpful or Misleading?

It seems like the old, traditional genealogy myths keep turing up in different forms, time after time, as I talk to people about their genealogy. Proving or disproving a traditional family story can be complicated. This is true not only from the historical perspective but also because disproving the story can lead to bad feelings and in some cases, extreme antagonism. Unfortunately, I am speaking from personal experience. In some cases, even the accumulation of a mountain of facts, cannot dissuade a believer from repeating the story online or disseminating the falsely identified photograph. I have written about this issue before, but like everything else in genealogy, it keeps being thrown in my face from time to time.

I am presently investigating a complicated family story for a friend. I have already found facts that seem to contradict parts of the story, but so far, the core story resists either proof or disproof. In this case, the core story has one of the classic elements of genealogical myth, the three brothers story. However, the facts here have two brothers and a sister. It also involves orphans, name changes and other classic elements of a good family story.

The classic genealogy myth collection usually involves a vaguely identified ancestor who is distinctive in some way but substantiation is missing and of course, there are no sources that can be verified. Here are a few of the traditional themes:

  • The Three Brothers Myth -- Three brothers come to America from somewhere in Europe or elsewhere, one goes north and makes his fortune, one goes south and one goes west and is never heard of again. The variations on this story are rampant, but it usually revolves around the number three. 
  • The Indian Princess Myth -- This is one myth that can sometimes be proved or disproved. I have had some notable experiences helping people prove their connection to Native American ancestors, but never an Indian Princess. I am not sure that there is any documented evidence of the existence of Indian Princesses. I suspect that this story is related to the true history of Pocahontas, who ended up married to an Englishman, John Rolfe.
  • The Name Change -- It is undoubtedly true that many immigrants to the U.S. or North America or elsewhere, changed their names for a variety of reasons. But I hear the story that the ancestor's name was changed by the government or whatever over and over. The U.S. Government did not have the policy of changing names at Ellis Island or elsewhere. I am aware that Native American children who were forcibly enrolled in Boarding Schools had their Indian names changed to Anglicized names. But virtually all of the name changes originated with the immigrant. In my own family's history, the name change occurred before the immigrant left Europe. 
  • Relationship to a famous person -- These types of claims are usually the easiest to dispel. For some reason, people seem to feel more important if they are related to someone important. I have mentioned before a story in my own family, based solely on the same surname, that I was related to Daniel Boone. That story took me all of about an hour to disprove. Despite the ease of disproof, these can be amazing persistent stories.
  • Back to Adam -- No not again. Is it really time to mention this horrible example of lack of historicity again? Oh well, if you believe your pedigree goes back to Adam, there is not a whole lot I can do to help you. 
  • The Ethnic Myth -- This is another myth that is very persistent and sometimes hard to prove or disprove. Most commonly, the myth claims that the family came from some particular place. Since everyone came from somewhere, this is a difficult issue to confront. Most of the time, this myth originates in a lack of accurate information about the location of the family's origin as it existed historically. Usually, this myth takes the form of claiming that the family came from "Germany" at time when Germany did not exist as a country or some other variation on this theme. 
  • My Family has a Coat of Arms or Crest -- This myth is just plain silly. Proving entitlement to a Coat of Arms or Crest is very involved and requires strict documentation. If it makes you feel important to have a Coat of Arms, I suggest you read up on the subject before making any public claims. 
  • The Burned Courthouse -- Well, courthouses, like other buildings, do burn, but the conclusion that there are no family records available subsequent to the burn is more of an excuse than a consequence. The existence of a burned courthouse is an open invitation to do real genealogical research. 
  • Descent from an Identified Group -- In the U.S. this is usually the Mayflower passengers, an ancestor who fought in some war or another type of organization that requires so degree of genealogical proof for admittance. I usually see this when the researcher is certain there is a connection but has one or more missing links that need to be verified. 
Until you have personally confronted a myth that you have disproven and seen the reaction of your family members to this situation, you have no idea how unpopular you can be. There are other myths that have to do with the way genealogy works or whether or not all of genealogy can be done online and such, but these are not really family stories. I suggest that family stories can be a marvelous motivation for people to get involved in genealogy, but they can also short circuit the whole process and prove to be a boat anchor for accurate research. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Cheap Will

FamilySearch.org Family Tree has created an interesting privacy mode. Any information you enter into the program about living people is visible only to you. Any personal information you put into the program is supposed to be visible only to you and no one else. Once exception to this policy has been made for photos. All photos are available to be viewed, by anyone accessing the program. But what about documents? FamilySearch is currently urging living people to document their own lives. Here is the current policy statement from the FamilySearch Help Center:
Records of living people will be visible to you if you entered them, but they will be hidden from everyone else, including the individuals themselves. This answers the frequent question, "Why can't my spouse see records for her living cousins that I can see?" The answer is that you entered those records and she did not. The fact that different people see different things can seem confusing at first, but it is necessary to protect the privacy of living people. 
You cannot do a search to find a living individual using his or her name, even if you contributed the information. However, if you contributed a living individual, you can do a search by ID number to find him or her, by clicking Find and clicking ID Number.
There are slightly different policies for photos, documents and stories from the Help Center:
Photos, Documents, or Stories for living persons that you have added to your tree:
  • You can add photos, documents, or stories for a living person to Family Tree. However, before doing so, you should be aware of local privacy laws and, when necessary, obtain permission from those persons to post the information. Go to his or her Person page, and click Photos and Documents to add a photo or document from there, or click Stories to add a story. (The photos, documents, and stories connected to that person are those that are numbered on his or her summary card or shown on Photos and Documents or Stories on his or her Person page in Family Tree.) As long as you have the rights to see that living person in Family Tree, you will also see the photos, documents, and stories linked to that person.
  • NOTE: If you upload and tag a photo, document, or story for a person, when you click on his or her name to link the tag to the tree, you cannot use the Search option on the pop-up window, Identify this person in Family Tree, to link a living person. Search filters out living persons. Type or paste the ID number into theID number field, and click Link.
  • If the photo, document, or story of your living person is one you added, only you will see the items linked to the person. This is true for your ancestors, spouse, or children.
  • If someone else adds a photo, document, or story to a living person whom he or she has added to his or her tree, even if it is your ancestor or relative, you will not see that living person or his or her photo, etc.
OK, so let me give a hypothetical situation. What happens to my invisible documents when I die? Supposing I put a personal document online, it appears that when I die and a death date is entered into the system, then the documents become public. So, what if I decide to make a will and put the document on Family Tree? Then the will would become "visible" at my death and could be used for probate purposes.

Hmm. I can hear the screams of complaint already. A will is a formal, legal document and has been for thousands of years. But the formalities of making a will have changed and differ from state to state and country to country. There are legal types of wills that fall into the noncupative and holographic categories. Both these types of wills, oral or nuncupative and holographic, are recognized to some extent in almost all (if not all) U.S. states. Given the change in technology, isn't it inevitable that the validity of an online will is something that will be decided at some point? Writing a will online is hardly a new issue. See "How to Write a Will Online" from U.S. News and World Report. 

I am certainly not challenging the methods of validating wills, I am merely pointing out that here is a cheap and easy way to deliver a copy of the valid will to heirs. Create an online will and put a copy of the will into Family Tree and when you die, your heirs can retrieve the copy of the will from Family Tree. Of course, all the same issues remain about validity, will contest, etc. but putting a will online is really no different that having a copy of a will when the original cannot be found. 

I doubt FamilySearch has thought through the consequences of using Family Tree as a post-death delivery system, but that is an interesting sidelight development created by the way the program is designed to work. 


What are public records?

An issue was raised in a recent discussion on Jewishgen.org concerning the availability of birth and death records from the New York City Department of Health. The issue appears in a discussion email from Allan Jordan who inquired about obtaining a birth certificate from 1910 or newer and that quotes the New York City Department of Health reply as stating:
We do not follow that state law. NYC is a closed jurisdiction and we are not public records. For birth and death certificates you must show entitlement. There aren't an amount of years when our records become public yet.
This raises an interesting question for genealogists as to what is and what is not a "public record." It also raises an issue of when governments can declare records to be only available by entitlement when the governmental agency defines entitlement. These issues and others will be part of the discussion of the upcoming International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah from July 27th to August 1st, 2014.

At the beginning of this discussion, it is important to note that this type of attitude and provisions such as these limiting access to certain types of records are general throughout the United States. The time limits and requirements for access vary from state to state as do the charges for obtaining the records. It would be easy to explain this situation as merely a way to enhance revenues, but it is a lot more complicated than that.

Many beginning genealogists assume they have an absolute right to see whatever records they want to research about their "family." They are surprised and sometimes angry when they find out that obtaining so-called "public records" is not as easy as it appears from the word public. Public does not mean free, neither does it mean that anyone has access to the records. So, there are two separate issues; access and fees.

Fees have been charged to obtain copies of records for as long as anyone could figure out that it could be done. As an attorney, I was used to paying all sorts of fees for filing documents, obtaining copies of documents and sometimes merely looking at documents. There are two levels of copies of documents that have emerged; official or certified copies and unofficial copies. For example, here in Utah a Certified Copy of a Birth Certificate has the following charges:
CERTIFIED COPY OF UTAH BIRTH CERTIFICATE
$52.87 Online Processing Fee
$10.95 Authorized Utah Agency Merchant Fee
$35.00 Utah State Government Fee
$98.82 Total Fee (Additional Copies: $60.87 each) 
Delivery Options
$19.00 *UPS Air Shipping Delivery (includes multiple copies)
$16.50 *UPS 2 Day Air Shipping
Free Regular Mail
Mind you, this is for a piece of paper with an official stamp. Also, beware, there are a huge number of companies out there who will obtain a copy of a birth certificate or other document and tack on their own fees in addition to the cost from the state.

Utah is not likely the state with the highest charges but it is certainly up there among the highest. As another example, Florida has a very complicated process, but charges as follows:
(Type of birth certificate and routine processing times)
  1. Computer certification $9.00 | Processed within 1 to 3 days
  2. Photocopy certification $14.00 |For births prior to 2004 processed within 3 to 5 days
  3. Commemorative Certification $34.00 -Signed by the current Governor and certified by the State Registrar. | Processed within 4 to 6 weeks. Refer to section addressing commemorative certificates.
  4. Rush Services- If faster service is desired, you have the option to include an additional fee of $10.00 to expedite the processing time to 1 to 2 business days.
 For most genealogical research issues, unofficial copies of the birth certificates will suffice.

Fees are a fact of life, but what about access? Well, it turns out that every state in the U.S. has some kind of restriction on access to both death and birth records. Florida's requirements for access are indicative of the general types of access requirements:
ELIGIBILITY: Birth certificates can be issued only to:
1. Registrant (the child named on the record) if of legal age (18)
2. Parent(s) listed on the Birth Record
3. Legal Guardian (must provide guardianship papers)
4. Legal representative of one of the above persons
5. Other person(s) by court order (must provide recorded or certified copy of court order)
In the case of a deceased registrant, upon receipt of the death certificate of the decedent, a certification of the birth certificate can be issued to the
spouse, child, grandchild, sibling, if of legal age, or to the legal representative of any of these persons as well as to the parent.
Any person of legal age may be issued a certified copy of a birth record (except for those birth records under seal) for a birth event that occurred
over 100 years ago. 
What should be evident from these examples is that there are definitely different categories of documents generated by state and local agencies. Perhaps you can begin to appreciate what it takes to provide millions of online documents for free or a nominal subscription price.

Although I fully sympathize with the concerns implied by the discussion at the IAJGS Conference, I don't see this system changing any time in the near or distant future. The reasons given by the states and other jurisdictions for withholding or charging for access to certain records include privacy issues and other excuses, some of which are bogus. The charges are essentially a use tax and we are not likely to abolish taxes anytime soon. Access is restricted otherwise there would be no way to justify the tax.

I could discuss the issue of privacy, as I have in the past, but in this context, there is really nothing to discuss. Most, if not all, these restrictions have been in place long before anyone heard of identity theft as an issue. If you can answer this question, you can explain this whole issue. Why does it presently cost $319.00 to file a civil lawsuit in Maricopa County, Arizona?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Comments on Becoming an Excellent Genealogist -- Chapter Eight

This is an ongoing series of chapter by chapter comments on the book,

Meyerink, Kory L., Tristan Tolman, and Linda K. Gulbrandsen. Becoming an Excellent Genealogist: Essays on Professional Research Skills. [Salt Lake City, Utah]: ICAPGen, 2012.

I am now commenting on Chapter Eight: Casting the Net Wider: Searching Horizontal Kin and Neighbors by Amy Harris, Ph.D., AG.

This is one of my most repeated themes; expanding your genealogical research to include the surrounding relatives, friends and community. This particular chapter is very direct and primarily contains examples of the way to extend your research focus beyond the individual to the family. I recently used this principle to find the parents of a friend's Great-grandfather.

Every person who ever lived, created a cloud of records and associations. The idea here is to use the entire cloud and stop focusing only on the target individual. In my mind this type of research creates a pattern. For example, suppose you have a family that lived in the United States in the mid-1800s. Let's further suppose that they lived in a small town. By 1900, the majority of the residents in the United States still lived in rural areas. Quoting from the Library of Congress:
The United States began as a largely rural nation, with most people living on farms or in small towns and villages. While the rural population continued to grow in the late 1800s, the urban population was growing much more rapidly. Still, a majority of Americans lived in rural areas in 1900.
 I could go on to give statistics that would demonstrate the percentages of the population living on farms in any given area, but this generalization is sufficient for this example. Key to proceeding with any genealogical research is the need to establish a geographical base. You must begin your research and continue it by identifying a location specifically associated with a particular event in an identified person's life. This principle seems lost on many researchers. If you carefully examine the case studies given in the book, you will see that Amy uses this principle to expand her investigations beyond searching again and again for the same individual by name, date and place. She uses the place to add relatives and other people who lived in the same area at the same time. She states the principle by saying, "The records about one ancestor never contain all the clues pertaining to previous generations."

Amy also alludes to kinship patterns as a way of extending the ancestral family. I have written several times about the need to understand and investigate the kinship structure in existence at the time and place under investigation. In my own family, both my wife and I have an extensive kinship structure, but there is a dramatic difference in the way we interact with that structure. Except for my children and grandchildren, we have very limited interaction with my family for a variety of reasons. On the other hand, there are members of my wife's family that are very closely associated with us an come to many of our nuclear family events as part of the "family." These types of situations are common. Although I refer to the anthropological concept of a "kinship system," that system is implicit in these family associations, not associations in the sense of formal organizations, but merely in the sense of who you talk to and associate with on a regular basis.

These associations or relationships can be used to extend genealogical research. But the key here is that they must be identified and understood. The research effort to discover the family should extend equally to all members of the family. Returning to the idea that every family presents a unique pattern, you will find that you can use these family patterns to help to differentiate the family from others with similar patterns. For example, my Great-grandmother had the following children, looking only at their first or given names:

  • Martin
  • Thomas
  • Julia
  • Mary
  • Rollin
  • Hazel
  • Marion
  • Eva
  • Arthur

Granted, there were quite a number of children and I have not listed them all. But the point is that I can use this pattern to discover information about the family. I can also research each of the children to find additional information. If I use this pattern to do a Google search and include a place, such as adding the word "Arizona", I get the following results:


Google recognizes the pattern and produces a page where all the names appear. Now, it you take this simple example an expand it beyond a Google search to the entire concept of genealogical searching, you will begin to see patterns everywhere. These patterns are what you can use to identify families and extend family lines.

Here are links to the previous posts in this series:

Friday, July 18, 2014

See You at the IAJGS Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah



The next IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in 2015 will be held in Jerusalem, Israel. But this year, you can attend the Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. Courtesy of the Utah Genealogical Society and the extreme kindness of the Conference Registration, I will be attending nearly all of the Conference this year in Salt Lake City. I guess I will leave the Jerusalem Conference open right now, but you never know. Of course, I will be blogging away at the Conference and letting everyone know of any news and new developments. By the way, the Salt Lake Conference will have live streaming and On Demand Access.

The IAJGS is the International Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies. an independent non-profit umbrella organization coordinating the activities and annual conference of more than 70 national and local Jewish Genealogical Societies (JGS) around the world.

For a list of the presentations and other activities see the IAJGS Conference website. Why would I care to go? Easy. I have very strong evidence that one of my direct lines is Jewish.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Doing genealogical research using the Digital Public Library of America

In a recent blog post from the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), entitled "Finding family information through DPLA," by Larry Naukam the retired Director of Historical Services (Local and Family History, Digitizing, and Newspaper Retrieval) for the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County, New York, he made the following observation about the DPLA:
Genealogists are getting much more interested in doing serious research and having accurate citations than may have been the case in the past. DPLA offers a place where these researchers can utilize the “serendipitous discovery” potential of items in the DPLA to advance their research. As more people discover DPLA, they will enhance the quality of their research output by accessing this larger pool of available materials. Even having a small piece of a larger collection will stimulate use of that collection. Case in point: a small historical society in mid-New York state digitized an account book from the early years of that town. As it was created before the U.S. was a separate country, this helped people who had colonial ancestors flesh out the stories of some of their ancestor’s lives. Academics used it to reconstruct a look at that community. More searchers are using more materials and doing so in a historically responsible manner. DPLA can greatly enhance this process of discovery.
He concludes with the statement,
All in all, DPLA is a magnificent resource that should grow and be advertised and marketed to genealogists and family historians. We all will get a lot from this endeavor by sharing our discoveries.
The DPLA is now just over a year old. It is dedicated to providing free, online access as a portal to digital collections all over the United States. In just the first year, it has acquired a collection of over 7,318,000 items from libraries, archives and museums. A search on the term genealogy, brings up 62,074 entries. You can search for a surname or any variation of the name of an individual ancestor. 

It may sometimes feel overwhelming to contemplate all of the millions upon millions of records being added online every day, but really it is a great opportunity to expand your view of the genealogical world.

Web Basics for Genealogists -- Part One

For all practical purposes, the Web is infinite for any particular user. At the time of this post, the World Wide Web (www aka the Web) is estimated to have 3.32 billion pages with an estimated 861 million websites. These numbers are estimates because no one really knows any exact numbers. What does this mean to a genealogist? If you were to take one second to look at each webpage for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it would take you over 105 years to look at the existing pages. In addition, new pages and websites are being added by the millions every year so even if you started right now to look at all those pages, you would be losing ground every second of day and likely, at the end of your search, there will be more pages than when you started.

Essentially, no one can really know the extent of the information available on the Web. But before I go on to discuss the implications of these facts to genealogists, we need to understand a little bit about the Web.

First, the Web and the Internet are not the same thing. Although it is common to use the terms interchangeably, the Internet is the system of physical computers and connections. According to Netcraft.com there are 958,919,789 servers on the Internet as of April, 2014. It is difficult to craft a definition of the World Wide Web without using circular terms. The Web is a system of interlinked hypertext documents that are accessed via the Internet. See Wikipedia: World Wide Web. Users access the Web using a program on their device called a browser.

So, when you use your computer or other device to access the Web, you are using a computer program called a browser to look at pages created with hyperlinks. From a practical standpoint, you need to know that there are two major types of webpages: static and dynamic. A static webpage is like a text document. I does not change when you look at it. This blog post is a static document on the Web. A dynamic webpage is one that is created at the time it is viewed. When you look something up in a catalog or search on FamilySearch.org or Ancestry.com, that content is generated at the time you view it, hence it is dynamic.

Static pages are searchable by a program called a search engine. Google Search is a search engine. Unfortunately for the user, search engines can only search static webpages. Most dynamic content is only searchable from the hosting website. So all of the content of the databases on Ancestry.com are essentially invisible to a Google search. You have to go to Ancestry.com and look at the pages.

Let me give you an example. Let's suppose you are looking for someone in the 1930 U.S. Census. If you look for that document on Google, you will likely not find the entry unless someone has intentionally copied the information onto a static webpage. In addition, the original Census document is preserved as a series of images. Unless someone has indexed those images, you would have to search the Census page by page and line by line by looking at the individual images. Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org have indexes of the U.S. Census records as do many other online programs. You have to go to each of those hosting websites and use their catalog program to find the information you are seeking.

There are a number of inferences that come from these facts. Here is my summary:

  • You can never be absolutely sure that you have made a complete search of all possible genealogical resources on the Web.
  • Even if you were to search constantly, day and night, you will never be able to find and use all of the resources on the Web. 
  • Even though genealogically valuable records are only a tiny fraction of the total amount of information on the Web, there is still much more than any one person can comprehend.

Now, before you get terminally discouraged, you need to know that this has always been the case. Most of the records becoming available on the Web were already in existence before the Internet or Web were ever in existence. The advantage of the Web is that almost all those millions, upon millions of existing records were very much less available until they were digitized and put on the Web. Also, there are many records left to be added to the Web.

So, no one should ever say that they have looked everywhere. To do so is a physical impossibility. How can you ever be completely sure that in those billions of pages the information you are seeking is not hiding?

Next time, searching the Web.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

U.S. National Archives to use Wikimedia to publish documents and photos

US-NARA-Seal

Thanks to Rene Zamora for the heads up on an very interesting article. She wrote a post entitled, "US National Archives Will Upload all its Holding to Wikipedia." At first, I thought this was some kind of late April Fools joke. It sounded entirely incongruous. But I clicked on the links and found the following article in Wikipedia entitled, "US National Archives enshrines Wikipedia in Open Government Plan, plans to upload all holdings to Commons."

The "Commons" refers to that part of Wikipedia called Wikimedia. As a genealogist or whatever, you should be very familiar with Wikipedia and Wikimedia. I am always somewhat amazed at the gulf between those who use the Web for research and those who are clueless about what is on the Internet at all. I hate to sound like an intellectual snob, but there are some resources on the Internet that are so basic that practically all of the users should be acquainted with them. Just in case, here is the description of the Wikimedia Commons:
Wikimedia Commons is a media file repository making available public domain and freely-licensed educational media content (images, sound and video clips) to everyone, in their own language. It acts as a common repository for the various projects of the Wikimedia Foundation, but you do not need to belong to one of those projects to use media hosted here. The repository is created and maintained not by paid archivists, but by volunteers. The scope of Commons is set out on the project scope pages. 
Wikimedia Commons uses the same wiki-technology as Wikipedia and everyone can edit it. Unlike media files uploaded to other projects, files uploaded to Wikimedia Commons can be embedded on pages of all Wikimedia projects without the need to separately upload them there. 
Launched on 7 September 2004, Wikimedia Commons hit the 1,000,000 uploaded media file milestone on 30 November 2006 and currently contains21,916,721 files and 116,360 media collections. More background information about the Wikimedia Commons project itself can be found in theGeneral disclaimer, at the Wikipedia page about Wikimedia Commons and its page in Meta-wiki.
OK, a little tiny bit of history. Back a few years ago, there was a new website called Footnote.com. This was a website dedicated to putting documents online from the National Archives. It was a subscription site and was eventually purchased by Ancestry.com and converted to Fold3.com, hosting primarily military records. Somewhere in that process, the original idea of digitizing all of the holdings of the U.S. National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) got lost. There have been several NARA initiatives since then. For example, see Digitizing Historical Records from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. Compared to such efforts such as the Australian National Library's online digitization effort called Trove.nla.gov.au, the efforts of the NARA are rather puny.

Here is an overview from the above post from Wikipedia about the project:
How has the Wikimedia movement benefited from NARA and McDevitt-Parks' placement? There are three organized projects dedicated to NARA. On Wikisource, NARA has an ongoing initiative that is transcribing US government documents. On Commons, NARA has uploaded over 100,000 images, the most recent of which came a month ago. The English Wikipedia has gone into action with several articles related to images from NARA, such as Desegregation in the United States Marine Corps. The site has benefited with several images uploaded for specific users, such as the lead images for two US battleships (USS Arizona (BB-39) and USS South Carolina (BB-26) (editor's note: the author contributed significantly to both articles) or living Medal of Honor recipients, such as Charles H. Coolidge
All of that is in the past, though. The Open Government Plan lays out what NARA wants to accomplish in the next two years; but as a general plan it suffers from a lack of specifics. The Signpost contacted McDevitt-Parks to learn what the inclusion of Wikipedia in this plan will mean for the site. 
He told us that there is no quantitative target for a total number of image uploads, because NARA plans to upload all of its holdings to Commons. "The records we have uploaded so far contain some of the most high-value holdings (e.g. Ansel Adams, Mathew Brady, war posters)", he said. "However, we are not limiting ourselves to particular collections. Our approach has always been simply to upload as much as possible ... to make them as widely accessible to the public as possible."
You may have missed the reference to Wikisource. This is just in the beginning stage and you can see the completed projects by clicking here.

This is one of those good news/bad news situations. The documents and images from NARA will become more available, but who will know they are there? As genealogists, we need to be aware that searching online is becoming more complicated and at the same time, more productive. But it helps if you keep abreast of the latest developments.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

FamilySearch Mobile Apps Released for iOS

Two new FamilySearch.org official apps have been added to the Apple App Store today; FamilySearch Tree and FamilySearch Memories. Both programs have some of the basic features but in the online version, of course the two functions are integrated. Because I have a lot of photos in Family Tree Memories, it took a while to load. One advantage I could see immediately was the ability to take a photo with the iPhone camera and upload it directly to memories. But the Memories program seemed to be rather limited on first view. Of course, it is brand-new app so changes will undoubtedly come.

If you would like another opinion of the new programs, take a look at Randy Seaver's post entitled, "First Look at the FamilySearch Family Tree Mobile App."

Here are some screenshots with comments:


This is the sign in screen for the Tree app. You use your FamilySearch account login and password.



The app seems to come up in Photo view. I didn't see any other way to view the Family Tree.


The Settings menu was rather scanty and simple. I assume other preferences will be added in subsequent versions.


This is an example of a Details Page. It looks like other views are available through menu items. Probably a good choice of features.


You can switch to put the current person in the No. 1 position, but the app is limited to this particular view, as I mentioned above.


It took a couple of minute load all of my photos. You could add a  photo and otherwise the app was much more limited than the desktop program.


You can view a single file in the Photos Section, but nothing more.

I expect both programs will change over time. Right now they are interesting and the programs seem to be poised to supply more features.

Liberated from the thralls of obtuse text

Some of my readers may remember a plea I made a year or so ago about the fact that my Blogger program had been converted to Amharic text. Everything on the screen added by the program was in this incomprehensible text. I tried everything to resolve the problem. I talked to programmers and specialists around the world and had two of my sons-in-law who are network and computer program professionals work on the problem. None of this helped and I became resolved to using the program from memory with gibberish for text options.

This last week we had all of our children here in Utah for a family reunion. The first time in ten years or so since they have all been together at the same time. My youngest son, an astro-physicist working on his PhD was here for a visit. He saw me open my program and saw the strange script. He said, "Do you still have that problem?" I said, "Of course." He sat down at my computer and in less than a minute fixed the problem.

Now I could say something about how much smarter my children are than I am. But I think this one story illustrates the issue perfectly. Now I am back to being able to read the text in the Blogger program thanks to that vastly superior intelligence.

Moving Genealogy to the Cloud -- Benefit or Bane?

There is no doubt that online genealogy or genealogy in the cloud is becoming the dominant force in genealogy world wide. The cloud has been defined by the Deloitte Center for the Edge, Cloud Computing -- Storms on the Horizon, John Hagel, Co-chairman and John Seeley Brown, Independent Co-chairman, as follows:
Cloud computing is a model for delivering on-demand, self-service computing resources with ubiquitous network access, location-independent resource pooling, rapid elasticity, and a pay per use business model.
In most cases, the term "the cloud" is a euphemism for the Internet or Web, but as you consider the definition closely, you will realize that "cloud computing" goes somewhat beyond a mere change in labels. Cloud computing involves a transfer of functions, including programs, data storage etc., from a local personal computer to those same functions provided by a remote server attached to a data farm. If you think about it, the large online genealogy database companies conform substantially to this definition. Let's look at this point-by-point.

On-demand services, self-service computing resources with ubiquitous network access
The four very large online genealogy database programs, Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, FamilySearch.org and findmypast.com, are certainly set up to offer services "on-demand." All four can be accessed any time of day or night using whatever type of device that can connect to the Internet. In the genealogical community there is an ongoing discussion of the need for a "local" genealogical database program. Bloggers, myself included, have written extensively on this topic and the question arises regularly as new devotees begin their genealogical experience. My point in writing the present post is not to rehash all of the arguments pro and con concerning whether or not a desktop or local program is still necessary, but to point out that the question will likely become moot in the very near future.

For cloud computing to, in a sense, take over all of the presently local functions of a desktop computer may sound only remotely possible, until you take inventory of the functions you presently use and mark how many of them are now programs that run on the cloud (Internet). For example think about the following list of programs or program types commonly used by genealogists, that is also in addition to the "big four" online database programs:

  • email programs of all types
  • Evernote
  • Dropbox
  • Google Docs
  • Facebook
  • Google+
  • calendar program
  • Skype
  • etc.

You, of course, realize that none of these programs works particularly well or at all without a connection to the Internet.

Location-independent resource pooling
This is likely the most important aspect of the inevitable movement to cloud computing. As the larger database programs accumulate more and more online genealogical resources, the need to travel to a library or other repository diminishes. Of course, we continually point out that the need to "go offline" and visit local genealogy sources is not going away very soon, but there is an inexorable movement of both national and local source records to online availability. Newly created records are almost uniformly online in some form or another and the historical records are being added by the millions practically every hour of every day.

The quandary presented by this inexorable acquisition of records is that the process creates a striking division in the genealogical community between the computer literate and the illiterate. This division widens every day and becomes an insurmountable obstacle to those without basic computer and network skills. Becoming a genealogists now requires a plethora of technical skills. Those without those specialized skills simply find themselves unable to function the cloud computing world.

Rapid elasticity
This part of the definition of cloud computing may not be easily understood, but it is patently obvious. Computer technology is very rapidly evolving. Many genealogist express extreme distress at the changes in programs and procedures that seem to occurs with increasing regularity. The truth is that only those genealogists who embrace these technological changes will survive. The large online genealogy companies recognize this inevitability and are targeting younger and younger audiences. Advertising and promotional campaigns are aimed solely at younger, more flexible users. The older generation of genealogists are being virtually ignored. The reason is also obvious. The older genealogists lack the computer skills to keep up with the pace of change and what is more evident, many of them resist acquiring those skills. You may not like the new model of genealogy, but like it or not, the changes are already overwhelming many in the genealogical community that find that they simply cannot function with the "new programs."

The changes are the results of the rapid move to cloud computing. Those who adapt or have acquired the skills necessary through personal effort and interest will survive. The rest will simply become (and are mostly already) marginalized by the move to cloud computing.

Pay-per-use business model
Three of the four big online genealogy companies fit this model exactly. It is more difficult to see that FamilySearch.org, although seemingly totally free, also falls into this model and is part of the process of cloud computing. In fact, FamilySearch is the most aggressive in this regard. FamilySearch is a non-profit that commits its resources for religious reasons. But, as a pragmatic and progressive organization, FamilySearch realizes that many, if not all, of the genealogical functions it has utilized in the past are now more appropriately handled in the cloud through cloud computing. Hence, it has moved nearly all of its services from microfilm rental to providing source documentation, to the cloud. The other genealogical database programs fully embrace the cloud computing model and are the primary motivators for the changes that are occurring.

What will happen in the short run with genealogy? More and more of the functions accomplished in the past on paper with a pen or pencil will be transferred to the cloud. Any computer program that fails to connect directly to an online database using the cloud computing model will simply disappear. As I already stated, the issue of having a desktop program will become moot because the rising generation of genealogists will realize that the redundancy of a local program does not make any sense. All of the current fears about control, data backup and other such issues will simply vanish as the cloud computing generation takes over and the older, more conservative, genealogists die off or become marginalized.

As a final note, when was the last time you heard an advertising program promoting genealogy to older, retired people?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Who owns the stories of our ancestors?

Many of us have stories handed down from the past through our families. Some of these stories come with written journals and photographs. Sometimes the stories stretch back in time, others are personal to the storyteller. In my own family, we have some monumental stories. One in particular has even been made into a motion picture. In the course of doing family research, it is not unusual to find that a venerated family story has little or no basis in fact. Genealogists have come to categorize certain of these stories and recognize them as myths. But the real question involves ownership. Who owns the family story or does anyone.

One of my commentator raised part of this issue by sending me a link to a blog post entitled "The Right to Write" from the New York Times. The question of "ownership" is a difficult one to address. In the case of ancestral stories, family members become emotionally attached to their particular version of the story and feel that any other version is not "true." They essentially say, this is the way my mother told me the story and therefore this the true version. In saying this and in taking this attitude, they are in essence claiming ownership of the story and excluding the possibility that anyone else has a different version of the same story.

Some stories defy verification. In some cases even if a current researcher shows categorically that the story was impossible the way it was told, the story will persist through subsequent generations. One aspect of the story involves copyright issues. If the story was "fixed in a tangible form of expression," such as a letter or diary it may be protected by copyright. In these cases ownership of the copyright can become and interesting issue, especially if the originator of the original copyrighted document is deceased and the interest has passed to his or her heirs. For example, an unpublished work, where the death of the author is not known is protected for 120 years from the date of creation. But in some cases, the work may still be copyrighted after 120 years if there is a doubt about the date of creation or the date of death of the author. Additionally, if the work was created outside of the U.S., then the term of copyright protection is governed by the jurisdiction where the work was created.

So written stories fall into a different category than oral traditions. Let's suppose a hypothetical situation. I have heard my mother tell me a story about my ancestors for many years. I decide it is time to write down my mother's memories and I include the stories she has told me about my family members. Ignoring the issue of copyright, what if another family member reads my "stories" and violently objects to having the story spread around the family or even having the story in writing? Can I ignore the relative and go ahead and publish my version of my mother's version of the story? Do we get into issues of privacy? Let's further suppose that the story involves only people who are now long dead. Does  that change the issues at all? Let's further suppose that the story, although it deals with people long dead, tends to cast an unfavorable light on the objecting relative. Can I tell the story my way and ignore other family members or do I have some duty not to make them unhappy or disturbed?

What is the family member insists that the facts are different than those you have heard and further insists that you change the story to reflect his or her version? What if you are then motivated to do further research and prove to your satisfaction that both versions of the story are untrue and the real facts are even more disturbing than originally related by your mother or the relative? In this case, ownership is more complicated than merely determining if someone has a copyright or not.

The story that I referred to above about my ancestor is contained in a book that this arguably still under copyright. But the story is one related in writing to the author of the book from a grandson of the subject of the story. Some of the elements of the story involve historical incidents and figures that can be verified. The general outline of the story is believable and certainly true, but the details are no where else repeated. The writer of the story was only five years old when the main subject of the story died. So it is supposed that the details of the story came from other family members' memories and that the story may have been written as long as 23 years or more before the story's inclusion in a printed family history. I have outlined this before in a post entitled, "Sitting with a Corpse."

Here the issue is who owns this story? The person who told the story or the first person to write it down? When I ask about ownership, I am really asking whether or not I have a right (or a duty) to verify and correct (if necessary) the "facts" of the story as told. Other than reproduce the story over and over again, the descendants of the subject of the story have not hitherto been constrained to question either the subject or basis for the story as transmitted. In fact, certain aspects of the story have achieved almost scriptural categorization. How may people would I offend if I found that parts of the story were without historical basis? Am I duty bound to reproduce the story in its present form and never question the details?

All of these questions are difficult to answer and the answer will change with your stories and your version of those stories. The issue is much more complicated than merely determining who owns an old diary found in a trunk in the attic. It involves the historicity of the stories as well as the feelings and attitudes of the family members who may remember the story a different way.