Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The speeding up of family history

Family history is speeding up, so that it is now hard to keep up.

We got started on this in 1975, a week after we were married. An old college friend of mine, Alan Cox (who was, sad to say, murdered in Pakistan a few years ago) came to visit us, and mentioned that he was involved with ancestor hunting, and I said I'd always wanted to get into that, and asked him how. So he said, "Have you got an aunt?" so we went off to visit my aunt Doreen Maxwell, whom I hadn't seen for 10 years, and she let us see her parents' (my grandparents') marriage certificate, and my grandfather's date of birth. Alan said that when he got back to England he'd send me the birth certificate, and after about three months it arrived.

That gave us his parents, and with the help of books from the Durban library (I found Gerald Hamilton-Edwards's In search of ancestry very helpful), I ordered my great grandparents' marriage certificate by post, and then there was another six-week wait for it to arrive. It was quite a leisurely pursuit. Each piece of information was absorbed and digested while waiting a few weeks for the next one to arrive. We began to do the same thing with other branches of the family too, but there was still a long wait.

Local South African records had to wait. I was banned to Durban, and the archives were in Pietermaritzburg and out of bounds. I did get special permission for a holiday in Cape Town and so we followed the bits we had got from Val's grandmother, and found a whole bunch of Deckers, Falkenbergs and Kochs on Val's side, and Growdons on mine, in the Anglican parish registers in Queenstown. We went on to Cape Town, looked in the archives, where we tied some of them together. On the way back the car broke down in East London, which meant a lengthened stay there (for which we had to get special police permission) and we hired a car and drove around East London visiting relative's we'd never known we had when we left home. One of the most interesting was Lil Falkenberg, who got quite interested herself, and contacted all her cousins and got stuff for us. Back home, it took us several months to digest that.

That was all 35 years ago.

There were no personal computers, no Internet (at least not in South Africa), and we were chasing up only a couple of dozen family members.

Now we have over 15000 in the family tree, and it keeps growing. This year we've discovered several new ancestors on "brick wall" lines that we were stuck on before. And with more genealogical records available on line than ever before, it's possible to chase up the descendants. And the descendants keep multiplying. The little kids that Lil Falkenberg listed for us have now grown up and have kids of their own.

Last night we got a phone call from someone in America who asked about a branch of the faily we hadn't looked at for years. They'd seen it on a web site. We looked at what we had on that branch and saw that all those cute little toddlers we had recorded are now in their 30s and 40s, and some of them have kids of their own. We'd tried writing to some, or looking them up in the phone book, but often they'd moved away. But now there is Google, and some of them have web sites or on Facebook or other social networking sites, and you can e-mail them and get a reply within a day, rather than waiting weeks or months as we did when we started. There's so much more to do, and the information comes in so much faster, so that both the volume and the speed are increasing exponentially.

I thought when I retired I'd have more time for family history. I'm beginning to wonder if I've got more family history than I've got time for.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Trying out Tumblr and Posterous

I've been trying out Tumblr and Posterous.

You've probably never heard of them, but they are quick 'n dirty blog hosting sites that let you share stuff with a minimum of fuss and bother.

If you're toying with the idea of starting a family history blog, but don't want to get into all that computer nerd stuff, one of these may be just what you're looking for.

If you frequently e-mail family and friends to share photos, cartoons, urban legends, family news and photos, then try sending the stuff to Posterous or Tumblr instead. No fuss, no bother, and either of them will turn it into a nicely-formatted blog.

I've started using Tumblr for general stuff, and Posterous for family history stuff, just to see how well they work, and I invite you to have a look and see what you think, and perhaps start one of your own. It's as easy as sending an e-mail. You don't have to be a computer nerd to use them, though from what I can see it is mostly my computer nerd friends that have discovered them.

Anyway, if you'd like to look at mine they are at:

For general stuff there's Marginalia on Tumblr.

For family and family history stuff there's Hayes family updates on Posterous.

though there is quite a bit of overlap as I try them out with some of the same things.

I've noticed a few things.

Posterous handles photos a bit better than Tumblr.

If you e-mail a photo to posterous, it makes the subject line the heading, and the body of the e-mail the body of the post. Just make sure to type #ends where you want the text to end, otherwise it might include all sorts of unnecessary details.

Tumblr handles documents better than Posterous.

I posted a pedigree chart to both, and Posterous handles it via Scribd. It's OK, but the Tumblr one looked better on screen and was easier to read.

But check them out for yourself and make up your own mind.

I don't think either is a complete replacement for "proper" blogging sites like and, because they lack several features of those. For example, neither of them seem to support the widgets (or in Blogger-speak, gadgets) that you'll find in the right margin of this blog, with links to things like MyBlogLog, Webrings and the like. I find those useful for surfing particular kinds of blogs, like genealogy blogs, for example, so I'm not planning to abandon this blog, or my Wordpress one which deals more with our own family.

But for quick-fix family updates and sharing your research discoveries, family news and photos, Tumblr and Posterous are ideal.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Lost genealogy web sites

It's now a year since Yahoo! closed down Geocites, which was one of the very first social networking sites. It consisted of a series of themed virtual communities where people could build web sites based on particular themes. A lot of people put their family history on Geocities sites, and some of them died, and some forgot about their sites and no longer updated them. Yahoo! took over Geocities, ran it dowen, and then closed it, and some us were worried that a lot of the information there might be lost.

But some sites have archived at least some of what was on Geocities, so it isn't all lost. One of them is Reocities, which managed to salvage quite a lot. Another is Oocities, though ZoneAlarm flags Oocities as suspicious, I'm not sure why. Oocities has saved several family history sites that were on Geocities, including our own. Of course they will never be updated, but what was there has been preserved. And Reocities has done the same.

And there are some other possibilities for searching for lost web pages and other information: Your Growing Tree- Research Adventures & Thoughts:
I started using in my job as a paralegal. It has archived versions of websites that I use in patent citations. The other side of is that it archives almost anything...for free. I find live concerts from my favorite band here, and more importantly....books with info for my research. For example- If you look up 'History of Butler County' it brings up several books from the 18-1900's that are searchable and downloadable. These books have had a huge amount of information about the one family that I am researching.

So just when you thought all was lost, something may be found.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Build A Better GEDCOM

A group has been formed to build a better GEDCOM (GEnealogy Data COMmunication). GEDCOM has been used for about 25 years or more to transfer data from one genealogy program to another, regardless of the native data storage format of the sending and receiving programs.

Build A Better GEDCOM - Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter:
Tuesday Nov 9, 2010. Alexandria, VA. A group of genealogists and programmers have established a workspace called Build A BetterGEDCOM for developing better data exchange standards to facilitate sharing between researchers using a variety of technology platforms, genealogy products and services.

'Genealogy software users are painfully aware that sharing data with other researchers is difficult since the existing GEDCOM (GENealogy Data COMmunication) file transfer script hasn't been updated in 14 years. In the meantime genealogists have incorporated tools with expanded capabilities reflecting changing technology,' says Russ Worthington, a genealogy software power user and popular genealogy lecturer.

They have started a wiki for discussion of the problems and the process, which seem a good way of doing things.

One of the things I think is important in this kind of exercise is not to overlook the old standard.

Whatever the limitations of the older GEDCOM formats, they worked.

Even if a new standard is developed, people keeping their data in older programs will not be able to export their data in the new format, and so may actually find it more difficult to exchange data with other genealogists if a new standard is developed. It might turn out, for example, that new programs would import data from older GEDCOM formats, but only export it in the new format, and some might not even use the old format at all. The purpose of GEDCOM is to facilitate data exchange, but one must be careful that it does not end up being counterproductive, and actually limiting data exchange. A limited but universal standard is better than a less limited but incompatible one.

I still use a program, Family History System (FHS), that uses two old forms of GEDCOM. One is the original GEDCOM, which no other program uses, and so FHS only uses it to export and import it to itself. It is the only one that exports and imports all the data to and from FHS. The other one is GEDCOM 2, used by PAF 2.x, which does not export all the data, but exports the main lineage-linked families and notes.

The oldest GEDCOM standard is not compatible with the newer ones. But compatibility is the main thing. It is better to be able to exchange some data than no data at all.

Woman given legal rights to remains of long-lost relative discovered on display in university

One of the things about family history is that you never know what you might find. Some of the skeletons in the closet can turn out to be quite literal.

Woman given legal rights to remains of long-lost relative discovered on display in university | The Sun |News:
A SHOCKED wife researching her family tree found she was related to a killer - still hanging from a NOOSE.

Gobsmacked Mary Halliwell was furious to discover the skeleton gruesomely displayed in a university cabinet 189 years on.

She launched a battle to be declared legal owner of the remains - and won.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mohammed is now the most popular name for baby boys ahead of Jack and Harry

It seems that the most popular boy's name in Britain is now Mohammed, or variants thereof. I wonder how long that will last. For most of the 19th century the most popular boy's name was undoubtedly William, which made things confusing for genealogists, though towards the end of the 19th century there seemed to be more variety. Mohammed is now the most popular name for baby boys ahead of Jack and Harry | Mail Online:
Mohammed has become the most popular name for newborn boys in Britain.

It shot up from third the previous year, overtaking Jack, which had topped the list for the past 14 years but was relegated to third spot.

Olivia topped the list for little girls for the second year in a row, behind Ruby and Chloe.

A total of 7,549 newborns were given 12 variations of the Islamic prophet Mohammed’s name last year, such as Muhammad and Mohammad.

I wonder about the popularity of Harry -- is that a result of the influence of Prince Harry, or Harry Potter, perhaps. And the popularity of Olivia for girls and Oliver for boys (Oliver would be top if you don't include the variant forms of Mohammed). Many of the top names on the list look like ones that might have been popular about 120 years ago. I had great aunts with names like Ruby. Anyone for Gladys or Agnes?

Another thought -- why do people refer to them as "baby" names. Are people likely to change them when they grow up? Forty years ago the most popular girl's name in the UK was Tracy/Tracey. But that "baby" name is now the name of a lot of middle-aged women. Tracy was quite popular in South Africa too. But I once looked through the baptism register of St Martin-in-the-Fields Anglican Church in Durban North, an upper middle-class suburb, and found the most popular girls names were Jacqueline and Michelle. I wonder if they have now given birth to a bunch of Olivias and Rubies.

The variety, or the lack of it, can make a difference to genealogy. One branch of our family lived in the inland parts of the Western Cape, and there was a sustom there of giving the eldest son the same name as his father, and then calling him "Boet" to distinguish him from his dad. And so you would have a hard time distingishing between people in a small village, where four cousins, born within a few years of each other, are all called Ockert Tobias. A friend of ours said he had an uncle whose first names were Nikolaas Johannes, and his father's had been that, and his grandfather's before him. But since they tended to get called by their initials, his cousin had been registered at birth as Enjay, which both continued the tradition and broke it.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday: Isle of Axholme

A few years ago we travelled to the UK and visited churches in villages where ancestors lived, and in some places found family tombstones.

One of the places we visited was Crowle, in the Isle of Axholme, Lincolnshire, where my Vause family came from. We couldn't find any Vause tombstones in the churchyard, though there were a couple for the Bunyee family, and some members of the Vause family married Brunyees.

So we took some photos of Brunyee tombstones, but many of them were illegible, and most of the names didn't seem to connect with those in our family tree.

But for family history researchers with family members in the Isle of Axholme, Christmas has come early, as the Axholme Ancestry web site has just made 7000 tombstone photos available, and you can search them.