Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Billion Graves

My daughter, who is something of a fundi and enthusiast on Android smartphones, on hearing that I had recently acquired such a phone, and knowing my interest in genealogy, recommended the following "app":

Participate | Billion Graves:
The BillionGraves Project brings people together by making genealogy records available to the public.

Volunteers use smartphones to take GPS-encoded pictures of headstones in cemeteries, which are then uploaded to the Internet and transcribed for easy searching. The information on the headstones is then made available to the public.

BillionGraves software is free, easy to use, and available for desktop computers and smartphones.

There have been several other similar projects, including Find-a-Grave, and several others including a South African one, initiated by the late Peter Holden, and for which Martin Zoellner and I at one time tried to write some recording software. There is also a current project on Ancestry24.

The thing that sounds good to me about the BillionGraves project is that it uses the GPS facilities of cellphones to pinpoint the location of graves. That was something that caused the biggest difficulty when we were trying to develop software for recording monumental inscriptions - recording the locations of graves. It required describing a cemetery and its location, and if different people recorded information at different cemeteries one might end up with the same cemetery appearing several times in the database under different names.

Another thing I like about BillionGraves is that it has both a photo of the headstone, and an index of the names of people on it, making it searchable.

But I also have some doubts -- is there a way to avoid duplication? Some graves might be recorded several times, and others might be missed and not recorded at all.

I might try this out, but I'd also be interersted in having comments from people who have used BillionGraves and other grave recording software and projects, to learn which they find better and why.

See also Hayes & Greene family history: Find A Grave - Millions of Cemetery Records.

Monday, December 05, 2011

A convert to family history

Many professional historians look down on family history and genealogy as somehow not being "real" history. For them, political and diplomatic history is all, that the rest is just amateur fluff. At best, many regard genealogy as an "ancillary science", but still not real history.

Here's a story of how a professional historian changed her mind about family history BBC News - A Point of View: A convert to family history:
For several years, my sister Judith has been researching the family history of the Flattos - my father's mother's family - inspired by the boxes of faded family photographs discovered among my parents' possessions, dating from the beginning of the 20th Century, and inscribed with locations ranging from Lodz in Poland to Kyverdale Road in London.

Her attempts to identify and connect the sitters in the photographs has led her deep into genealogy, and obliged her to learn about European history in the early decades of the 20th Century. She has journeyed intrepidly to the ends of the District and Metropolitan Tube lines, to Jewish cemeteries at East Ham, Rainham and Bushey, to read genealogical data off the family gravestones.

I confess that, as a professional historian, I did not always take her efforts seriously - in genealogy, so much depends on guesswork and surmise, so many of the documents defy interpretation. The outcome, I have tended to feel, is bound to be part romance, part sentimentality, the tale of impecunious wanderers, driven from their homes by persecution, then working their way up to respectability in Britain.

It's a fascinating account of how oral history can draw the threads together and make sense of events that are puzzling and apparently unrelated.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Preserving Your Family History Records Digitally

Here's an article with some useful tips on preserving family history records digitally.

Preserving Your Family History Records Digitally: While gathering family history records over the years, you’ve probably been preserving them physically. So why consider preserving them digitally now?

This paper discusses the benefits and challenges of using digital preservation to both augment and enhance the preservation of your family history records. It also presents solutions to the challenges, identifies what types of family history records are suitable for digital preservation, and summarizes what is required to get started archiving digital records.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Untold lives II - the census

Following on from yesterday's post on Untold Lives, last night the census enumerator called. He was scared of our dogs, so gave me the form to fill in, which saves a bit of time anyway, and it always seems such a fruitless exercise, as we are told that the forms will be recycled once statistical information has been abstracted.

In the last couple of months we've been looking quite a lot at UK census information from the 19th century for our family history, and think that the census records tell us quite a lot about "untold lives".

In the 18th century we have Thomas Gray's musings in a country churchyard in England:

Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree's shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mould'ring heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
The rude Forefathers of the hamlet sleep.

Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the poor.

You can read the whole of Thomas Gray's Elegy written in a country churchyard here.

And a few years ago we visited the UK and in a country churchyard in Cardinham, Cornwall, found the annals of some of my 18th-century ancestors, my seventh great grandparents, William Sandercock (1705-1786) and his wife Mary Verran (1705-1786).

The inscription reads

To memory of William Sandercock who departed this life the 25th day of November 1786 Aged 80 years. And in memory of Mary his wife who died 2nd July 1786 aged 81 years. Morne not for us our children dear Tho here we lie in death We hope in heaven to meet again And there in Christ to rest.

Such were the short and simple annals of the poor in the 18th century.

But in the 20th century, having collected the information about untold lives, we wantonly destroy them. Perhaps one day the descendant of an illegal immigrant, living in a shack in an informal settlement, will want to know where he came from, and the information will have been mashed up, and turned into a percentage.

It makes filling in the census forms seem so futile.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Untold Lives - British Library blog

The British Library has an interesting biographical blog, which may be of interest to family historians: About this blog - Untold Lives:
The British Library’s collections contain stories of people’s lives worldwide, from the dawn of history to the present day. They are told through the written word, images, audio-visual and digital materials. The Untold Lives blog shares those stories, providing fascinating and unusual insights into the past and bringing out from the shadows lives that have been overlooked or forgotten.

We hope to inspire new research and encourage enjoyment, knowledge and understanding of the British Library and its collections. In addition to stories from the past, we give glimpses of the hidden life of the Library and provide information about events and exhibitions. The blog contains many links to act as signposts to research information and online resources that you can explore for work or pleasure.

The British Library is one of the Copyright Libraries for the UK, which means that a copy of every book, journal, magazine etc published in the UK has to be sent there by law, so their holdings are extensive.

At one time it was also a Copyright Library for several Commonwealth countries. Until about 1964, for example, it was one of the six copyright libraries for South Africa. I remember, as an editor of a couple of small student magazines, addressing copies to "The Keeper of Printed Books, British Museum".

What this means is that as a library of record for several countries, its holdings are extensive, and many quite obscure publications, which might otherwise have vanished, may be found there.

Another source of untold lives is the Dictionary of African Christian Biography, which is worth a look if you are interested in African biography.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The importance of historical literacy

The Witness: LAST Thursday the University of KwaZulu-Natal Special Collections Day provided a showcase for the Alan Paton Centre and Struggle Archive, the Gandhi-Luthuli Documentation Centre, the Centre for African Literary Studies and, the hosts of the event, the Campbell Collections.

My friend (and cousin-in-law) John Aitchison also spoke on the occasion.

academic and activist John Aitchison, who donated his archive to the APC, spoke on the subject of historical literacy.

Aitchison said that “historical literacy­” in South Africa was currently suffering from the three As — “aphasia, amnesia and aporia”.

Aphasia — a difficulty in remembering (and by extension, speaking) because of some head injury or infection. In historical terms the head injury took the form of the destruction of records during the apartheid period­. There was also little writing and documentation undertaken — “it was dangerous to do so” — resulting in a lack of internal writing on the struggle and hence the dominant record was written by exiles with their own particular ideological and political perspectives.

“We also have a tremendous fight against self-induced amnesia,” said Aitchison regarding the second A. “The often self-service amnesia of whites as well as the tendency to airbrush out the resistance from non-mainline ANC supporters — Nusas and other student protest groups, the Black Consciousness movement, the churches, NGOs, etc.”

Aporia is originally a Greek term denoting an impasse or state of puzzlement, inconsistency, doubt or indecision, another feature of the malaise­ affecting historical literacy. Aitchison said the cure could be found in the special collections and other archives that “different story” documents can be found that cast a new light on our history and deconstruct the new myths appearing about our past.

Historical literacy, according to Aitchison, apart from obviously being based heavily on our normal literacy, requires us to develop the skills to overcome these difficulties of the brutal lack of historical texts, the self-serving erasing of memories about the past, and the difficulty of understanding the “difficult readings” and getting access to them.

Which is why special collections are special.

The full article is well worth reading, as it gives examples of some of the hidden history that can be found.

The Witness: Alan Paton Centre and Struggle Archives

THE collection includes Alan Paton’s papers, the manuscripts of his poetry and short stories and his correspondence; the archives of the South African Liberal Party; the documents of organisations involved in the struggle against apartheid in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands, such as the Black Sash, the Detainees Aid Committee and the Five Freedoms Forum. The Special Collections of the Natal Society, which includes books collected over the past 150 years by the Natal Society, and the O’Brien and Hattersley Collections. The oral history project: ‘Recording the anti-apartheid struggle in KwaZulu-Natal’ recorded interviews with many activists. The centre also houses the Sinomlando Project, the oral history project of the School of Theology.

Website of the Alan Patron Struggle Centre and Archives.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Using to-do lists in genealogical research

I was very surprised to read this recently on Randy Seaver's blog: Genea-Musings: Can I Ever Tame (even manage?) my Genea-Monster?

I have never used the to-do lists in genealogy software. I probably should do that, but I haven't. My mind set was that I would have to print out each to-do list from each of the ancestral families that I wanted to research in the libraries and archives. Of course, if I had checked my RootsMagic program more carefully, I would have seen that they have several types of To-Do lists to use, and they can be printed out either separately or as one general list.

Randy is an experienced genealogist, and so I thought he would have discovered the usefulness of the to-do lists by now.

We use Legacy, and whenever we come across something that we think we should look up, we create a to-do item. These can be related to particular individuals in the database, or they can be general.

In South Africa, most of the things on our to-do list are for the archives, and they are scattered in different depots around the country. The archives indexes, however, are online here. Go ahead, try them. Go to one of the search pages and type in the name of someone you know, you might be surprised, even if you, or they never lived in South Africa. Choose the RSA index for a start.

So if I find an item in the archives relating to a person in my database, I create a to-do entry with the description "Call for", followed by the archives reference. So in the task list I have something like:

Call for MSCE 1216/1965 - Grice, Wilfrid Robert

and in the task description field I have more information from the index, in this case "Grice, Wilfrid Robert, b. Durban, s/s Alice Gladys, b. Laffan, 1965-1966" (the "s/s" means "surviving spouse" - the other possibility is "p/s", meaning "predesceased spouse").

This particular one is in the archives in Pietermaritzburg, so if I am going to visit there, I can print a to-do list for all the things I need to look up there, in priority order, and as I complete them I mark them as completed and change the priority to "Low", so they won't show up in future lists of things to look up there. And I also edit the task line, changing "Call for" to "Seen".

I have found this a very useful tool, and it saves a great deal of time. I go to the archives with a printed list of what I want to look up there, and I print it just before going. When I get there, each new document may have information that leads to new things to look up, so I add them to the to-do list on the laptop computer, or, if they look very interesting, call for those documents then and there.

In the same way, we have looked up references in British newspapers for family members who have married or died in the UK. You can look them up here. We enter them as we find them, while looking at the person in the database. When we went to the UK on holiday (a rare occurrence) we took a list of exactly what we wanted to look up at the Colindale Newspaper Library, and spent a morning there finding useful stuff. The to-do list feature of Legacy made it easy to do.

You can enter something two, five, ten or twenty years in advance of going to the library or archive repository, even if you may think you will never have the opportunity to go there. But if the opportunity does arise, all the things you want to look up are there, ready to be printed.

The only thing that I think could be improved in Legacy's to-do list feature is to have a way of converting a general to-do item to a specific one by linking it to a person. You may find information that links that person to your family, so you add them to the database. But the to-do item showing the document you used is still a "general" one, so there is a possibility that you might look it up twice.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Why don't you SAY something?

One of the enduring mysteries of our family history research has nothing to do with descent, but it remains a puzzle that gets more puzzling with every month that passes.

In addition to our family history blogs, we have a family history Wiki, which we started in the hope of encouraging family members to join in writing the family history.

The site gets about 50-80 visitors a day, most of them from the USA, though most of our family are from other places.

But the mystery is that one page gets more than three times the number of visitors than any of the others. This page is the discussion page for Alfred William Green, and this month so far it has had 90 visitors.

The page that gives information about Alfred William Green, however, has had only 10 visitors. So it seems that no one wants to know anything about Alfred William Green. They are, however, drawn to discuss him. But they don't. Nobody says, or rather writes, a word.

If this was a once-off thing, it perhaps wouldn't be worth remarking on. But it isn't a once-off thing. It is consistent, month after month. The page with least information on it has more visitors than any other page on the site. Yet nobody seems to have anything to say.

Can anyone suggest an explanation for this strange phenomenon?

For what it's worth, Alfred William Green was born in Nova Scotia in 1839 and died in Queensland in 1886. His wife, Henrietta Goote, was born in Turkey in 1842 and died in Australia in 1904. They had seven children, and we'd love to know what happened to them. But we'd also like to know why so many people are interested in discussing him, but never do.

So if you visited the Alfred William Green discussion page before coming here, please leave a comment below to say what you were looking for, and whether or not you found it?

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Tuesday's Tip - use FREE Genealogy Forms to Organize your Search

Randy Seaver writes in his blog about using free forms to organise research Genea-Musings: Tuesday's Tip - use FREE Genealogy Forms to Organize your Search

There are several websites with FREE genealogy forms available. for instance:

* Family Tree Magazine (http://www.familytreemagazine.com/info/researchforms) has many different types of forms - including a research calendar, note-taking, online database tracker, repository checklist, research worksheet, correspondence log, article reading list, book reading list, and a book wish list.

and goes on to say

I tend to create my own form in my word processor by using the good ideas of others and adapt them to my needs. In a word processor, I am not limited to a set form length and can add content to whichever field I choose.

I'll add that I go one step further, and instead of using a word processor for that purpose, I use the askSam freeform database.

askSam (Access Stored Knowledge via Symbolic Access Method) lets you create a variety of forms for entering information into a database, but, unlike a word processor, it also lets you search and create reports from them. Well, OK, you can search in a word-processor document, but askSam searches are much more versatile. And you can use askSam to link and organise word-processor documents.

So when I go to the archives to do my research, I make my notes in askSam, and that makes it easy for me to find the notes I've made about particular people or families, and to produce reports on them. This is much more useful than printing paper forms from PDF files, and then forgetting where you've filed the forms that you've filled in.

And no, I'm not employed by askSam to plug their products. I'm just a satisfied user. I've been using askSam for 20 years now to keep track of my research, and I still haven't plumbed the depths of the capabilities of the DOS version that I first started with, much less the latest Windows version (unfortunately there are no plans for Linux or Mac versions).

Among other things I use it for recording tombstone inscriptions, with a photo of the tombstone, a transcription of the inscription, and research notes on it. This makes it easy to find all inscriptions relating to a particular family, or a particular place, sorted in name or date order, if you like.

I'd be interested to know of other genealogists who use askSam -- perhaps we could devise a way of sharing ideas and templates that could help us to make better use of it.

If you haven't heard of askSam before, have a look at their web page, and see if you think it might be useful to you. It can be used for all kinds of research, not just genealogical. I use it for storing notes on books on all kinds of topics, keeping addresses, keeping track of correspondence, phone calls, and all sorts of other things.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Are genealogy web pages in the public domain?

There has been some discussion in the soc.genealogy.britain newsgroup about genealogy web pages containing details of living people, and this spun off into a discussion about whether such information is in the public domain.

In the course of discussion it emerged that some people have a mistaken understanding of the meaning of "public domain".

When something is in the public domain, it means that it is not, or is no longer, subject to copyright.

One participant in the discussion said that that definition only applied in the USA, and that in the UK "it merely means that something is known to the public or a relevantly significant section of them".

That is a potentially dangerous misunderstanding. A best-selling novel or a currently popular song may be "known to the public or a relevantly significant section of them", but that does NOT mean that it is in the public domain.


Top 10 Copyright Myths page from UK Copyright Service.

which says, among other things, that
Everything on the Internet ‘public domain’ and free to use[sic]

This highlights a common misunderstanding about what is meant by ‘public domain’ when referring to copyright work.

A work will fall into the public domain once copyright expires, this will typically be many years after the author’s death.

While work published on the Internet may be publicly accessible, it is certainly not in the public domain.
Putting something on the Internet is not putting it in the public domain.

But, having said that, if you write your family history and publish it, whether on the Internet, in a book, or in any other form, while the wording of the text and your arrangement of the material are copyright (unless you deliberately put them in the public domain), the facts contained within the text are not copyright. If you put in the date and place of your grandfather's birth, and someone includes those facts in their genealogy, there is no breach of copyright. You can't copyright facts.

A historian who writes "The German Army invaded Poland on 1 September 1939" cannot sue another historian who writes the same thing. But if the other historian quotes several pages of the first one's book without acknowledgement, that is a breach of copyright. It is also plagiarism, which is a moral offence rather than a legal one.

If something is in the public domain, you may freely reproduce it, alter it, and sell copies of it.

How do you know if it is in the public domain?

P-10: Copyright Law | Duration Of Copyright:
What happens when copyright expires?

When the term of copyright protection has expired, the work falls into the public domain. This means that the work, has effectively become public property and may be used freely.

It should be stressed that actual duration will vary under national laws, and you should check the laws of individual countries before you attempt to use a work.

Can I claim copyright for a work that has expired?

No, once a work is in the public domain it is available to all. You cannot stop others using the work and you will have no claim to copyright on the work.

That doesn't stop unscrupulous businessmen and their lawyers from trying to claim copyright on things that are in the public domain. Can you imagine the term "tea" being copyright, or a registered trademark, so you have to write "Tea (TM)" every time you use it? One American firm tried it on with roobos tea, a herbal tea that has been used in South Africa for generations. It took a long and expensive court battle to get them to drop their pretensions and acknowledge that it was in the public domain. You can read more about that here. There are some more examples at Notes from underground: Do Americans have any concept of "justice"?.

Things can just as easily go the other way.

Solomon Linda, a South African musician, composed a song Mbube back in 1939. The Disney Corporation used it in their film The Lion King, and claimed that the song was in the public domain. It wasn't. It took a long and expensive court case to get them to pay royalties to Linda's heirs; Linda himself died in poverty, though lots of record companies and others made a lot of money out of his song. And you can read more about that here.

I doubt that anyone is going to make a fortune out of genealogy, but nevertheless, be careful, be very careful, about how you use the term "public domain".

Friday, August 19, 2011

Geni.com Just Got a Whole Lot Worse

Quite a number of genealogy bloggers have commented on this announcement by on-line family tree provider Geni.com, and seeing through the spin, have realised that Geni.com has just got a whole lot worse.

Geni Pro Just Got a Whole Lot Better:
At Geni, our vision is to empower the genealogy community to create the world family tree, the single largest, most accurate, and comprehensive family tree in existence. Thanks to the efforts of our curators and power users, the world family tree is fast approaching 60 million profiles, and is more accurate, better sourced, and has less duplication than ever. And we’re just getting started.
The only surprise is that anyone was surprised.

Something similar happened a few years ago when MyHeritage took over GenCircles, and one can expect the same thing to happen with again other similar sites.

I once wasted two days trying to join Geni.com, and in the end decided that it was fatally flawed, and decided not to bother (if you're interested in the details, you can read about that here Geni.com — a flawed site | Hayes & Greene family history).

You can read some of the comments by other genealogical bloggers here:
A lot of people join such online family tree sites in the hope of collaborating with others in their genealogical research. But the model on which such sites operate actually hinders cooperation as much as it promotes it.

Consider the kind of thing that happens when people set up such a site. This is not what happened in any particular instance, but is rather the model, and it is the model itself, rather than any particular instance of it, that is flawed.

You start an online family tree site, but you have no data that will bring genealogists to it. So you offer to build people's family trees free and easy. Make it a Facebook "app" that will make it easy for people to invite their family members to join.

Some genealogists are attracted, and contribute their data. Others, who joined just for fun, or out of curiosity, or because they were invited by another family member, join in too. They don't have much to contribute to begin with, but some of them get the genealogy bug and start contributing.

Encourage people to copy from other people's family trees -- this makes it easy to claim statistics for lots of "profiles", though many of them are for the same person copied to lots of different trees, and linked to each tree owner's own ancestors or descendants or relatives, regardless of facts.

Make it even easier by guessing place names, even if the guesses are wrong. If someone types "Richmond" for where old uncle Fred was born, helpfully add that it was "Richmond, Virginia" rather than "Richmond, Yorkshire" or "Richmond-on-Thames" or "Richmond, Natal". By the time the original person has realised that it is wrong and corrected it, it will have been copied to half a dozen other profiles, which can then be added to the statistics of how many profiles are available, because they must be different, since they were born in different places.

Soon you have a lot of data, and you need bigger servers to keep it on, and more and more people are wanting to access it. You also need to hire people to keep the servers running, and by this time it has become a worldwide concern, and so you need shifts of people to keep the servers running day and night. Before you know it there is a large and growing staff who all have to be paid, and since there is now enough data to warrant it, you can now begin charging for access, and limiting the "free" users (who contributed most of the data that enabled you to get going) in ways that you hope will encourage them to pay.

But soon even that is not enough, because many of the "free" users do not sign up, so you have to place even more restrictions upon them, and eventually you begin charging them even to look at the data they themselves have contributed. The restrictions annoy even the paid users, who start losing interest, and instead of coming in faster, the money begins to dry up, so staff have to be laid off, and operations curtailed, and eventually it either closes or is taken over by someone with a similar operation, who buy it for what they see as the greatest assets, the data and the existing user base.

The price paid usually enables the founders of the site to retire, without having to do another day's work in their lives, while the poor suckers who contributed their data to make them rich now find that they no longer have access to their data, and realise too late that they should have kept it in a genealogy program on their own computer, and now they have to start again from scratch.

A fanciful scenario? Perhaps. But compare it with some of the online genealogy sites you know.

In saying this, I'm not saying that online trees are quite useless. They have a lot of uses, but they could be more useful if they operated according to a better model, and one of the things serious genealogists should be doing is giving thought to a better model.

One of the better such sites I know is TribalPages, and I even have my own genealogy on that site. It's not perfect, but it's better than some of the others, and here are some of the things that makes it better.
  • It gives links to other sites, which enables people to make direct contact
  • It gives a good explanation of how the site operates
  • It is under control of the owner
I have set up my tree on TribalPages in such a way that it is easy for people to contact me to collaborate, whether they do so directly or indirectly.

But so far the collaboration I have found in that way is nil.

Several people have asked me for a password to access my tree.

I tell them I only give access to known relations, and so ask them to tell me where they fit into the tree -- which member of the family they think they are related to, and how they are related to that person. I also explain (and it is also explained on the site itself) that I have much more and more up-to-date data than is shown on the tree, which I will share with them when they show me where they fit in, and then I will give them access to the tree.

A couple responded in a way that made clear that they were not known to be connected. Others, however, never responded, and I suspected that they were data leeches. They want to reap the fruits of other people's research, but they don't want to contribute anything of their own, not even the few links that will show how they themselves connect to the tree.

When I look at online trees, and see a connection to my family, I do my best to contact the person who compiled the tree. I don't like taking data without the compiler knowing about it. But it seems that very few people observe such courtesies, and that many online tree sites encourage people to copy without acknowledgement. And some of the people I have tried to contact have not responded. I still acknowledge if I have taken anything from their tree though.

GeneaPress: 1940 Census To Be Free on Ancestry.com

GeneaPress: 1940 Census To Be Free on Ancestry.com: Ancestry.com, the world’s largest online family history resource, today announced that both the images and indexes to the 1940 U.S. Federal Census will be made free to search, browse, and explore in the United States when this important collection commences streaming onto the website in mid-April 2012.

When complete, more than 3.8 million original document images containing 130 million plus records will be available to search by more than 45 fields, including name, gender, race, street address, county and state, and parents’ places of birth. It will be Ancestry.com’s most comprehensively indexed set of historical records to date.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Yahoo hacked - warning

Yesterday I uploaded a family history file to one of our groups on Yahoogroups, and today my wife wanted to have a look at it and her antivirus software chirped a warning.

I investigated and found it that the Yahoogroups site had been hacked, and all the filenames pointed to a malware site. A quick look at some other forums showed the same thing - the filenames had been hacked.

I've tried to report this to Yahoo! They don't make it easy. They tell you they only accept reports of technical vulnerabilities (which this is) from "the online security community" (whatever that may be). It's a bit like being mugged and wanting to report it to the police station and being told that you can only report it at the police station where you live, and then being told that you can only report it at the police station where you were mugged, and then being told, no, you must go to the police station where the mugger lives, and generally being given the run-around. Well my Yahhogroups files have been mugged, and so, I think, have a lot of other people's.

To check, hover your cursor over the link to the file you want to download from Yahoohroups. Look at the bottom left of your screen (in Firefox, I don't know about other browsers) and see the URL it shows you. If it says "yahoofs", back off. Wait for Yahoo! to fix it.

Many genealogists who use computers are not computer fundis at all, and just know about using their genealogy program, and perhaps a word processor, and e-mail program, and so could easily fall into this trap, so please spread this warning round the genealogical community.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Place names: Camp Growden, Washington USA

My mother's maiden name was Growdon, and I'm interested in anything that mentions the name Growdon or Growden, so when I came across this news item it piqued my curiosity.

Log structure moved, renovated to preserve CCC project’s history - Spokesman.com - July 30, 2011
The work was back-breaking; the pay, modest. Living conditions were primitive – barracks in the Colville National Forest.

But in the 1930s, many young men considered themselves lucky to have a job with the Civilian Conservation Corps at Camp Growden. They built roads and trails, fought fires and felled trees for $30 per month. During the Great Depression, when many Americans were hungry and homeless, they had a roof over their heads and regular meals.

“Tonight, we had venison, mashed potatoes, beans and all the pie you could eat,” one CCC enrollee at Camp Growden wrote to his parents.

Today, the former CCC camp is a rest stop on Washington’s Highway 20, about 10 miles west of Kettle Falls. The camp’s military-style barracks, the mess hall and office buildings were torn down long ago. Just one building survived: a log structure that served as changing rooms for CCC recruits who swam in the Camp Growden’s man-made lake.

What interested me, of course, was how Camp Growden got its name in the first place.

There are natural place names, sentimental place names, and political place names.

Political place names are places named after some politician or bureaucrat who may not have had any association with the place at all. Durban in KwaZulu/Natal, for example, was named after a Governor of the Cape Colony who never, so far as I know, set foot in the town named after him. In this case, Camp Growden may have been named after some bureaucrat far away who decided that the camp should be built there, and may never have set foot in the place that bears his (or her) name. From the family history point of view, the interest moves to the place where the bureaucrat lived and worked.

Sentimental place names derive from migrants who settled in a place that reminded them of a place they had lived before. They are of some historical interest because they tell us something about the movements of people. I don't think there are lots of places named Growden, so this is unlikely in this case.

Natural place names are named after people who lived in the place, or after some event or feature of the place.

And this, it seems, is what happened in this case.

A Google hunt led me to Washington Rural Heritage : Item Viewer, which said, "Mr. and Mrs. Growden operated this stage station at the confluence of Lane and Sherman creeks on the road West between Kettle Falls and Republic. The CCC Camp Growden was later located near this site."

And it had a picture of E.B. and Amanda Growden:

From my own genealogical records I see that E.B. Growden was Edmund Blair Growden (1850-1926), and his wife was Amanda H. McNeal (1856-1941). E.B. Growden was born in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, USA, and was the son of Edmund Blair Growden and Rachel Blair. He's no kin of mine, as far as I know, though his Growden ancestors and mine came from the same part of Cornwall in England, so there may be a link further back in history than we have managed to trace.

I have no record of any children of E.B. and Amanda Growden, but from the picture there would appear to have been at least one child, so I'd be interested to learn of any descendants. And any descendants, and other descendants of Growden families, are welcome to join us on the Growden Family Forum.

Keith Zimmer dies, kept track of deaths

Spare a thought for the people who have indexed genealogical records to make it easier for the rest of us to find them.

Keith Zimmer dies, kept track of deaths: "Keith Zimmer started keeping track of dead people as an experiment in 1992.

He worked at the Central Library in downtown St. Louis and he and his bosses wondered: Would anyone want a list of the obituaries published in the Post-Dispatch?

The librarians soon found their answer: Once the Internet came into wide use in the mid-1990s, library officials got requests from people around the world wanting to look up deaths chronicled in the newspaper.

Along with the obituaries, which are news stories written by reporters, Mr. Zimmer also indexed death notices, which are paid ads in the newspaper's classified section. The Post-Dispatch alone has published hundreds of thousands of obituaries and death notices."

Read it all here.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Transcribing digital images

Have you ever had the problem of trying to transcribe the text on a digital image of a document, and found it a schlepp to switch back and forth between an image viewer and your word processor?

Here's some software that is designed to make the task a bit easier. No, it's not an OCR program. It won't transcribe the text for you. But it will keep the text visible on the screen while you transcribe. Useful for those scanned images of letters or wills that have been sent to you be a cousin halfweay round the world, or things you find on web sites and so on.

JacobBoerema.nl: Transcript: makes transcribing easier:
The basic idea is very simple. Divide the screen in two parts. In the upper half the image is shown and in the lower half you can edit the text. (As this is not an OCR program, the program does not convert the text. You have to do the transcription yourself.) The size of those windows can be changed as you wish.

From within the editor you can move the visible part of the image in many ways using shortcuts. You can also use keys to move to the previHave you ever had the problem of trying to transcribe the text on a ous or next image in the same directory. Besides that it is of course possible to use most of the common editor functions also found in
other editors.

Hat-tip to Leslie Ann, who writes about it here Ancestors Live Here: The Transcription of a Will.

I wonder how well it works with digital photos of tombstones?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Argentina and the quest for identity

Following on from the previous post which referenced a post Do You Have a Right to Know Your Father? | Clarissa's Blog, here's one on the same theme, but far worse than children merely growing up in ignorance of their real identity.

Cori's Blog: Argentina and the quest for identity:
I was in Buenos Aires last week attending a conference on genocide. One of the topics that was discussed at some length was the 30 000 people who 'dissapeared' there during the dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s. Some political activists who were kidnapped had their babies taken from them and they were then adopted by military families. We heard the stories of women who had lived their entire lives believing themselves to be the children of particular military people, only to discover in their thirties that their entire identity has been a lie.

One of the things that makes me curious was that the stories Cori heard were from women. Were there no male babies? And if there were, what happened to them? Were they all killed off with their parents? Or didn't it bother them that their adoptive fathers had killed their real fathers? Did it only bother the women?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Do You Have a Right to Know Your Father? | Clarissa's Blog

One of the things I occasionally see in genealogy newsgroups and other discussion forums is how one should deal with things like adoption -- do you show a person's adoptive parents, biological parents, or both?

I found this blog post very interesting and relevant to the topic: Do You Have a Right to Know Your Father? | Clarissa's Blog:
Understanding who your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents are is crucial to one’s identity. People who falsify another person’s history because they find it more convenient to themselves horrify me. One can have a gazillion spouses, lovers, casual sex partners. But there is only one set of biological parents one can ever have. They might be horrible people, one might make a choice not to have any contact with them, but that’s a decision that belongs to each person. Nobody is entitled to making it for other people.

I think people need to remember that their children are not toys. They are not objects whose only purpose is to serve the parents’ needs. They are human beings in their own right. Denying them the basic truths about themselves for whatever reason is completely wrong.

Adoptive parents, foster parents and surrogate parents are part of a person's personal history, and part of their family history. They obviously had an influence on that person's life, for good or ill, as did friends, teachers, bosses and other people one comes into contact with. They are efen part of the family history. But they are not part of the person's genealogy. Genealogy is about where you get your genes from.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Mundia -- yet another flawed family history site

With the recent addition of another 8 generations to our Ellwood family tree, all sorts of possibilities opened up. People we had been in touch with before, but had sadly concluded were not related, might prove to be related after all. So we set about looking on the Web for other family history researchers who could possibly be related. One of the sites that came up was Mundia.com.

This is a site where people can have their family tree online, either uploading a GEDCOM file or by adding people one by one. One advantage is that it seems to give access to all the Ancestry.com trees for those who can't afford to subscribe to Ancestry.com.

There we found lots of people with Ellwoods in their tree.

That was exciting, but the excitement didn't last long.

The site is clunky and awkward to navigate, and when you look for a family (Ellwood, in our case) it shows a list of trees, and then another list, but with nothing to distinguish one from another. You can't look at the first one on the list, then go back and look at the second, and so on. No, you have to repeat the search over, and perhaps end up looking at the same tree you looked at previously, without realising it. On most of the screens there is no identifying information to show who created the tree. But it does encourage you to copy and paste people from that tree to your own, without any indication of the source. We quickly discovered that a lot of people had done just that, sometimes, apparently with entire trees -- when you are shown three trees with 10247 members, one beginsd to get just a little bit suspicious. There were lots of inaccuracies. People had joined one family to another with improbable or wrong connections, and others had copied the errors wholesale, and the site seems to encourage this.

It does warn you that it is a beta site, and so they do ask for feedback from users. Here is the feedback I sent them

The whole experience of Mundia is a bit like feeling one's way in the dark, and very frustrating.

You are directed (in the dark) to a group of objects. You can feel them, and chose one and turn on the light to look at it, but when you put it back on the shelf the light goes off again, and there is no way you can know whether you have picked up the same object, or one of the others. There is no way of comparing two objects to know which is the original or which is the copy.

The objects are "trees". You enter a person to search for, and are shown a list of "trees" with that person. About five of them have exactly 10542 people in them. So which is the original and which are the copies? There's no point in contacting the owner if they have just copied everything from somewhere else. There is no identifying information in the list to show which is which, so once you put a "tree" back on the shelf the light goes off, and you might pick up the same one five times.

The "home" page for each user is singularly uninformative. There's nothing to say which families you are interested in and how you connect to them. There isn't even a list of links to web pages where the person can give more details. The whole thing seems to be designed to encourage bad "copy and paste" genealogy.

As a bare minimum of improvements I suggest the following:

  1. On the user profile, allow an explanation of the main familties being researched, or that the person links to, and a space for a link to the person's web page or blog.
  2. When a list of "trees" is shown, provide enough identifying information so that you can know whether you have already looked at it -- even the owner's user name.
  3. Provide an easy way of GEDCOM import and export, with the export clearly showing which "tree" the information came from in the source tag.

Even more concerning, however, is the terms of service, which include the following:

For each item of content that you post, you grant to us and our affiliates a world-wide, royalty free, fully paid-up, non-exclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, transferable, and fully sublicensable (including to other Website users) license, without additional consideration to you or any third party, to: (i) reproduce, distribute, make available, transmit, communicate to the public, perform and display (publicly or otherwise), edit, modify, adapt, create derivative works from and otherwise use such content, in any format or media now known or later developed; (ii) exercise all trademark, publicity and other proprietary rights with regard to such content; (iii) use your name, photograph, portrait, picture, voice, likeness and biographical information as provided by you in connection with your content for the Service, in each case, in connection with your content. For example, after your registration or subscription has ended, we may continue to use and display any content that you previously posted, and other users may continue may access, change, edit, add to, subtract from or otherwise amend such content. If you do not want to grant us the rights set out in these Terms of Use, please do not post any content on the Website.

and then this

Once you upload content to the Website, it may become accessible by all persons accessing the Website or any websites in the Ancestry.com Website Group. Other Website users may be able to copy, download, store, edit, change or delete certain content that you post. You agree that other users may access your family tree and may add to, subtract from or otherwise amend your family tree (including information and other content you include in your family tree).

And certain aspects of their privacy policy are also cause for concern:

We may use the personal information you provide:
  • to an Affiliate or other third party in the event of any reorganization, merger, sale, joint venture, assignment, transfer or other disposition of all or any portion of our business, assets or stock (including, without limitation, in connection with any bankruptcy or similar proceedings); or
  • as we believe to be appropriate: (a) under applicable law or regulations (including laws outside your country of residence);

I do not believe it to be in the interests of genealogical and family history reasearch to encourage "cut and paste" genealogy, without reference to the source of the information. The site appears to be designed in such a way as to "lock people in", and make it difficult to communicate with fellow researchers other than through the site itself. Their privacy policy makes your personal information freely available to their affiliates for marketing and promotional purposes, but not to your fellow researchers to facilitate collaborative research.

In many such sites the commercial interests of making a profit appear to override the need to make them useful to researchers. This will tend to drive away serious genealogy researchers. I, for one, will not put any content there, nor will I invite any members of my family to join it until they have made the minimum improvements I have sugested above. But I get the impression that they won't make those improvements, and they don't care. The target market is people who think that they can find their "family tree" on line and so just about any tree will do. Quantity takes precedence over quality, because quantity makes more money.

I thought Geni.com and MyHeritage were bad, but this one takes the cake!

And other genealogical bloggers, who discovered the site earlier than I did, also seem to have doubts about it:
For a more positive evaluation of these sites see:

One of the positive points some people mention is that on these sites you can "create your family tree for free". But a far better way to do it, and equally "free" is to download a free genealogy program like Legacy and do it on your own computer, and get it right before making your own boo-boos public and spreading them like genealogiy viruses on line.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Strays databases and indexes

Some family history societies have collected indexes of "strays" - people whose records are found in unexpected places, without any local links. So, for example, someone who died or was buried far from home, or a family that stayed in a place for only a short time and then moved on, would be listed as a stray, and the index might help people in other places with "missing" family members. These societies often have a "strays coordinator" to maintain the index, do lookups and so on. See, for example, here, here and here.

I am involved in a number of genealogy mailing lists hosted by Yahoogroups, and one of the facilities they offer is the creation of databases by members.

I am thinking of creating a database for people to record strays on these sites, and thought I would ask for advice on what to include in such a database, especially from those who may have had some experience of strays indexes.

The Yahoogroups databases are limited to 10 fields, so one needs to give some thought to what should go in them. I am thinking of the following:

  1. Name of the principal person (Surname, Firstnames)
  2. Date (of record or event, in YYYY-MM-DD format)
  3. Place (of record or event)
  4. Place of origin of the person (if mentioned)
  5. Relations of the person (if mentioned)
  6. Source (newspaper, tombstone, church record etc.)
  7. Notes (any other information about the person or record)
  8. Informant (name of person who entered record, and contact info)
  9. Date record entered.

But people who have more experience of strays indexes might have better ideas, and that is what I am soliciting now.

The data from Yahoogroups databases can be downloaded in comma-delimited format, for importing into other databases, spreadsheets etc. It can also be filtered, so that only records meeting certain criteria can be downloaded. This would make it possible to combine data from strays lists in different Yahoo groups into a central database, or to be sent to strays coordinators in various places.

I wonder if there is a coordinator of strays coordinators -- a kind of super coordinator, or if there has been any discussion of standards for strays databases? I have no desire to reinvent the wheel, so if there is such a standard, I'd like the proposed strays databases to adhere to it as closely as possible.

Comments and suggestions welcome.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Keeping in touch: social media and genealogy

One of the problems of family history research is keeping in touch with other family members and researchers. It's a lot easier now that it was a generation ago. Computer networking and internetworking have given us a lot more tools for keeping in touch than were available 30 years ago. The question is, which tool is the best for the job?

Social Networks

Nowadays most people think first of Facebook, and possibly other social networks, like Orkut and MySpace, but Facebook has become the best-known one.

I look through some of the families in my database, people I entered years ago, and see that the children who were 9 or 10 years old then are now in their 20s and 30s. They may have married and have children of their own. I make a new discovery about earlier generations of the family, and want to being the latest generation up to date. How do I find them if they've moved from the snail mail address I wrote to in 1989, or the e-mail address I used in 1993 bounces?

I look in Facebook, enter the names of the children, and chances are that at least one of them is on Facebook. I look at their friends, and chances are I find cousins.

A case in point is my mother's first cousins in Scotland. She met them for the first and only time when her mother took her there in 1913. After that it was exchanges of Christmas cards and family photos, and when her mother died in 1946 even that stopped. Twenty years later, in 1966, I went to the UK to study, and made contact with one of my mother's cousins and when she came on her first overseas trip since she was three years old, we had a sort of family reunion in Glasgow, and visited the family graves in Girvan in Ayrshire.

Ten years later I was married and had become interested in family history and so wrote to the cousins and asked for details of names and dates and places, and in the 1980s entered those into a computer program. In entering them, I saw that some were missing, or may have grown up, and I wrote again, and people sent photos of the teenagers who had been toddlers when I first met them. Then my mother's cousin whom I'd stayed in touch with died, and there was a family quarrel, and we lost touch again. But I enter the names of the ones who were toddlers in 1986, and find that some of them are on Facebook, and look at their friends, and find other cousins who are also on Facebook.

So Facebook is an excellent tool for getting back in touch. It's what it was created for, and what it does best.

But the creators of Facebook want you to use it all the time. The more you use it, the more advertising revenue they get. So they try to make Facebook do everything, or at least give the impression that it does. So they have "applications", including seversl genealogical ones, that encourage you to use Facebook as the base for all your Internet activity. The problem is that there are too many genealogical applocations, and most of them aren't very good. And if you enter your information in one of them, and your cousin is using another of them, you'll be duplicating work in a very wasteful way. Many people start entering stuff, and then lose interest and go and throw sheep, and when that palls, raise chickens in Farmville and so on. Much of it makes lots of money for Facebook, and for the third-party application providers (many of whom are simply getting your information and that of your friends to sell to advertisers, spammers etc).

Some have created family "groups". When they start, there is often a flurry of activity, and when it dies down, it's hard to even find the group again.

But there are other tools than social networks. Social networks are good for getting in touch, but not so good for keeping in touch. Facebook's algorithm for what it shows you of what your friends put on Facebook is a mystery known only to the owners. You may put some information on Facebook that some of your friends will see, and others will not. The chances are that the ones who are most interested will miss it, and the ones who are least interested will have it shoved in their faces.

Message Boards

One of the tools you can use for genealogical queries is message boards. These are usually divided either by surname or by geographical area, or sometimes by subject. Examples are Rootsweb, Genealogy.com and Curious Fox.

There are some knowledgeable people out there, and very often they can help with queries. The queries show up in search engines, and so you might find that someone comes across your query years later, and has the answer. A problem is that there are too many message boards in too many places. You can't keep track of them all, though search engines do help.

If you post queries on message boards, though, don't just ask for help. Look at other people's queries to see if you can help them. You yourself are among the knowledgeable people out there, and might know things that no one else does.

Message boards can also be places for sharing information, like documents and family trees. Rootsweb allows you to put in the text of documents like wills and the like.

Mailing lists and Newsgroups

One of the older tools is mailing lists. Mailing lists have been around from the early days of the Internet, long before the World Wide Web, and are still useful.

Recently we discovered a couple of researchers into the Ellwood family who enabled us to link to other people's research. Bingo! Eight generations of Ellwoods in one fell swoop. Nine, if you count the Dobson branch, which goes back one generation further.

With eight more generations going back, the circle of people who might be related expands enormously. In the past we've been in contact with Ellwood researchers and have had to say that we see no connection between their family and ours. But now there is a much greater possibility of finding links. So suddenly there is a flurry of e-mails to different Ellwood researchers. But we write to one person who writes to another who replies to my wife, and my wife Val and I are forwarding e-mail messages to each other and forwarding the replies we receive, and it is very confusing. The answer is a mailing list. Send one message to the list, and all members see it, and they can all see all the replies too. If you're an Ellwood researcher, and are reading this, you can find out all about the Ellwood list here. There are also forums for Bagot, Cottam, Devantier and Growdon. Enter your surname(s) of interest in the search box on those sites, and see if there is one for your families of interest. If not, start one.

If you have your own Internet server, you can start your own mailing list right there, but if you don't, there are a number of public list servers: YahooGroups, Rootsweb and GoogleGroups, for example.

Rootsweb is specifically for genealogical mailing lists, so it is a good place to start looking to see if there is a list that covers your areas of interest.

Yahoogroups offers some additional services that are useful to genealogists, such as a home page for the group, with facilities for exchanging files, posting photos, creating databases and more. These facilities make it especially useful to genealogists -- members of the group can post GEDCOM files for others to download and comment on. You can create a database of stray and unlinked family members, and so on.

Googlegroups is the least useful of the three, but it does provide links to some genealogy newsgroups, which some may find useful. Many ISPs have stopped providing access to news services (though usually not reducing their fees for the reduction in service). But there are also free News servers, like Eternal September. It is better to access newsgroups like soc.genealogy.britain with a proper newsreader than through GoogleGroups. If you don't have a proper newsreader you could always try Free Agent, which, if you upgrade to the paid version, also doubles as an e-mail reader.

So, to summarise, then: use social networks, like Facebook, for getting in touch, but use mailing lists for keeping in touch with other researchers and serious research work.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Event-based history and genealogy software for family historians, biographers and others

If you are looking for a lineage-linked genealogy program to keep your family tree and show all your relations, there is a wide choice available. Some, like Legacy and Personal Ancestal File (PAF) are free, others are shareware, and others you have to pay for up front. They all do much the same thing -- they allow you to enter people who are related to one another and show the relationships between them.

What they are not so good for, however, are collecting information about people who you think might be related, but aren't sure of. Lineage linked programs are fairly narrowly genealogical. Family historians often have wider interests, however, and sometimes it is important to show other people who influenced a family -- people like business partners, close friends, bosses and so on. These people are related, though the relationship is not genealogical.

So I think there is a real need for an event-based program to be used as a research tool, not only for genealogists and family historians, but also for general historians, biographers and others. It would differ from lineage-linked genealogy programs in that it would not only include people that were relatives, but friends and acquaintaces, work colleagues, and even enemies. It would be a useful tool for a biographer trying to keep track of the events in the life of their subject, or for someone writing general history as well. It could even be used by detectives tracing the activities of a suspect, or the sequence of events relating to a particular crime or series of crimes.

The main part of the database would be a chronological list of events, with links to people and organisations assocated with these events. The organisations could be both formal and informal groups — a political party, church, club, school, hospital, business firm, trade union, family or any other human group.

The basic outline of the program would look something like this:

The “people” part would not only be for family members, as one finds in lineage-linked genealogy programs, but for non-related people, like friends, work colleagues, teachers, pupils, godparents, acquaintances and so on. Perhaps it could also be useful in testing theories of six degrees of relationship — that we are only six degrees of relationship away from knowing everyone else on earth, and that my wife’s boss’s godmother’s cousin’s penfriend’s vet knows me.

A biographer could use it as a research tool for keeping track of the events in the life of the subject. One kind of early record might be a baptism record, for example. The baptism would be the event, and would link to people who were known to be present -- parents, godparents, and the church minister performing the ceremony, but others who were present as well. The godparents might or might not be genealogically related to the person being baptised, but would be recorded anyway. As information is added to the database, the relationship and influence of that person on the subject can be followed.

It could also be used by fiction writers for keeping track of events and characters in a novel.

A historian using such a program could use it for tracing the history of an organisation and its leaders, and chronologically arranging events in the life of the organisation, with information about the people involved in each event. A literary historian could use it to trace the interrelationships of a school of writers.

I've discussed this with various people, including Dennis Allsopp, the author of two genealogical note-taking and source-recording programs, Genota and Genforms. But this is not quite the same thing as a note-taking program. A note-taking program is for recording evidence rather than conclusions. A lineage-linked program is for recording conclusions (you have concluded that the people you have linked are related) and the evidence that supports those conclusions.

This program would be a research tool for recording both evidence and conclusions. It could be used by genealogist in conjunction with a lineage-linked genealogy program and a note-taking program. It could be used by biographers and historians on its own, or with a note-taking program. It would enable the user to link various pieces of evidence to show relationships between them and suggest conclusions.

My problem is that though I have a fairly good idea of what I want, I'm not a programming fundi, and can't write such a program myself. What it really needs is a group of programmers and researchers who could discuss their research needs, and produce a program that meets those needs.

If you are reading this and feel the need for such a program, there is a forum for discussing it, which you are welcome to join. I've also posted a skeleton of tables in MS Access based on the model above, which you can download to experiment with and comment on.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Cemetery vandalism in Queenstown, Eastern Cape

On our recent holiday we visited Queenstown cemetery in the Eastern Cape to take photos of my great grandparents graves. It was hard to find them, and as we walked up and down looking, we passed a number of graves that had been vandalised, with headstones knocked over, and crosses broken.

Eventually we found the graves we were looking for, but though the stones were intact, the metal railings around the grave had been removed, presumbably by metal thieves. We took quite a lot of photos of them, just in case the next time we, or other members of the family try to find them, they too are lying on the ground with the inscription side down, and possibly broken into pieces.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Is this thing working?

Recent attempts to post to my Blogger blogs were foiled by an "Illegal Date/Time" format error message.

I've changed the language from English (South Africa) to England (United Kingdom) to see if that will make it work.

If this post appears, it did.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Survey of online genealogical resources

A researcher is doing a study of online genealogical resources and how
useful they are.

If you would like to participate, please go Survey of use of genealogical resources

The findings from this study will help librarians and archivists provide
materials and resources to better serve family history researchers.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Irish records available on line

News: "The Irish Archives Resource is new website which will, for the first time in Ireland, enable catalogues of Ireland's archival collections to be searched online. The website includes records of current and defunct government and local government agencies, individuals, landed estates, clubs, societies, trade unions, religious organisations, cultural and political organisations etc.

Speaking about the website, Brian McGee, archivist at the Cork City and County Archives said, “This website is an important step in making Ireland's unique records more widely available in Ireland and internationally. The success of the site depends on its use by archivists and other contributors. We would like to see as many people using the site as possible and hope to have collections from up to 30 repositories featured on the site by the close of 2011”."

Monday, March 07, 2011

Carnival of Genealogy: Women's history

This month's Carnival of Genealogy has the theme of Women's History, and I made a contribution with a potted biography of Agnes Green, a pioneering teacher in New South Wales, who seems to have had a remarkably tough life. She had three husbands, one of whom she married twice, and both the others died of unnatural causes. You can find her story on our other family history blog at Agnes Green – education pioneer | Hayes & Greene family history.

The difference between a Blog Carnival and a Synchroblog seems to be that while in a synchroblog you can surf from post to post, because each post has links to all the others, in a Blog Carnival you have to go back to the "home" site to see the full list of posts, so here it is: :: C R E A T I V E G E N E ::: Carnival of Genealogy, 103rd Edition:
In keeping with March being Women's History Month we are honoring the women in our families and our communities with remembrances in words and pictures. Join us and meet the women we most want to honor and remember. You'll get to know trail blazers, salt of the earth types, and ordinary women who've touched our lives in extraordinary ways.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

MyBlogLog closing - Yahoo's death wish?

I received the following e-mail from Yahoo!

We will officially discontinue Yahoo! MyBlogLog effective May 24, 2011. Your agreement with Yahoo!, to the extent that it applies to the Yahoo! MyBlogLog, will terminate on May 24, 2011.

And if you go to the site there is now a notice that says

MyBlogLog will no longer be in service from 24 May 2011. We recommend Yahoo! Pulse as a service for you to see all your social updates from your favorite networks in one place.

With Yahoo! Pulse, you can create your own identity on Yahoo! and you can easily connect and engage with the people, content, and applications that matter to you, wherever you are on Yahoo!

But I don't want yet another service to see all my social updates from my favourite netowks in one place. I've already got Google Buzz and Plaxo Pulse (Yahoo! couldn't even think of an original name) and anyway, who's to say that in six months or a year Yahoo! won't announce that they are closing Pulse, as they've already closed Webrings, Geocities, Yahoo360, and now MyBlogLog?

And will their Pulse show who has visited my blog so I can visit theirs?

They are closing a useful service and replacing it with a useless one that duplicates what a dozen others are doing. I don't need yet another "one place". One "one place" is enough, two is a duplication, and Yahoo Pulse is the redundant department of redundancy department.

Yahoo! clearly has a death wish.

The other social blogrolling service, BlogCatalog, became quite unusable, with greatly reduced functionality, about 5-6 months ago, so that's the end of that. I wonder if it's a sign that blogging itself is in decline?

Yahoo! has a long history of taking over useful online services and then abandoning them. First it was Webring, then Geocities, and now MyBlogLog. That means that the last useful service they maintain is their listserver, Yahoogroups. It's also something they took over from someone else, an outfit called e-Groups. If they abandon that, there'll be nothing left that will make it worth remaining a member of Yahoo!

Friday, February 18, 2011

On Pilgrimage: A little family history

An interesting story on a friend's blog: he doesn't usually blog abour family history, but today's post is all on that topic and very interesting.

On Pilgrimage: A little family history:
I got a query this morning from my 13-year-old grandson Zackary Forest in Red Bank, New Jersey:

I have a question for you, grandpa. In history class we were talking about an explorer named Henry Hudson. I told my dad about it and he said that one of my ancestors was the navigator, his last name was Hendrickson. I told my history teacher about it and he didn't quite believe me. I searched it on the Internet and found nothing, I looked through some books and again, nothing, so now it comes down to you. Was my dad just playing a joke on me or was one of my ancestors the person that led Henry Hudson into the Hudson River for the 1st time?

My response:

Your dad is right -- one of your ancestors is Hendrick Hendrickson (then spelled Hendricksen), who was Henry Hudson’s navigator on the 1609 voyage of the Half Moon that sailed up the river that is now named after Henry Hudson. It was a Dutch ship -- its actual name was Halve Maan. Hudson and his navigator were trying to find “the Northwest Passage” -- a hoped-for shortcut to the Pacific.

Go to the original to see the maps and pictures etc.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

New FamilySearch

For the last couple of weeks, every time I've gone to look up something on FamilySearch I've been taken to the new site. And almost invariably, after getting the first result from the new site, I scroll down to the bottom of the screen and look for the old version.

Why is that?

The main reason I prefer the old version is that it permits me to download a GEDCOM file of what I find, which can save an awful lot of typing, if the record is one that I was actually looking for.

The second reason is that, for all its faults, the old version was easier to search than the newer one.

On the old one, you could enter a person's name, and the date of an event, which you could specify. If you specified "Birth/Christening" it would find people in the 1881 census of the UK if they were born at roughly the right time. You could narrow it to search in only one country, or in all countries.

The new FamilySearch is far vaguer, and asks for a beginning date and an ending date, without specifying the kind of event. This is too vague, and it's not clear what you should put in the dates - the person's lifespan? Or something narrower? If someone was 50 in the 1851 census, do you specify the dates as 1851, or 1800-1851? If you say 1851, won't you get all the wrong people -- not just people who were around 50 years old, but all people with that name, not matter what their age?

Another problem with it is that it seems to follow the currently fashionable web-design princible of making the screen as difficult to read as possible. Readability must be sacrificed to eyestrain. Use pale grey text on a white background, to make it easy to miss the fact that the text is there at all. FamilySearch is not the only site that has this problem. In one of my WordPress blogs, I'm always editing peoples comments when I want to reply to them. That is because the "Edit" option is legible, but the "Reply" option is only discernible when one peers very closely at the screen.

The advantage of the new FamilySearch is that you can specify not only a country, but a particular place, whether town or province, in the country. This makes it possible to narrow the search, and eliminate some less-likely results, or at least push them down the probability list. But the vagueness of the date/age question seems to undermine this advantage.

Another advantage of the new FamilySearch is that it covers a greater variety of records, but this is vitiated by the fact that there is less that you can do with them when you find them.

I'm all in favour of new and improved versions, but though this one is new, it isn't improved. For every useful new feature added, there is an old useful feature that has been taken away.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

More on Posterous, Tumblr and Amplify

For a couple of months now I've been trying out Posterous and Tumblr,and was recently reminded that I had tried something on Amplify a year ago, but forgotten that I belonged to it, so I had another look at that too.

I can't say that I'm fully au fait with any of them yet, and I certainly haven't discovered how to use all their features. I'm quite unqualified to write a manual on how they should be used. So why am I writing about them here?

I'm writing this because I suspect that there are a lot of people like me who are not fundies about this stuff, and yet would like to be able to use it and know what it is good for.

I've found that some things are easier than others, and things that are easy in some programs are more difficult in others.

In general, I've found Tumblr is good for gathering, and Posterous for scattering.

I use Tumblr mainly as a kind of blog aggregator. It gather stuff from various blogs that I write, and it publishes a summary. I can grab interesting stuff from the web and put it on Tumblr, and it passes that on to Twitter as well. So I say to people, if you want to follow me, follow me on Tumblr rather than Twitter. You can see summaries of my various blog posts, and if any of them look interesting, you can click on them and see the whole thing. Tumblr acts like a published set of journal abstracts -- you can look through it to find which articles might be interesting without having to read the whole thing. To me that makes more sense than an RSS feed of full blog posts, which seems to me to be the surest way to information overload. Tumblr lets you see what's available and pick the stuff you want to read.

Posterous seems to work best the other way round. It lets you input by e-mail, and then disseminate widely from there. Its e-mail input seems to work better than Tumblr, and lets you include pictures, documents, and text in the message body. In Tumblr this is more difficult, but Tumblr picks up stuff from Posterous nicely, including documents (.pdf and several other formats).

I've been using Posterous mainly for family history, and it posts stuff to our family history blog on Wordpress with no problems, as well as passing it on to Tumblr.

Our former bishop sent me a document the other day, and asked me to put it on the web for him. It was called "The responsibility of Orthodoxy in 2011". Well, I put it on a static web page (here, if anyone is curious), but it's not really the kind of material that suits a static web page. I had no hesitation in recommending Posterous to him, as it would be ideal for his purpose. All he needs to do is to e-mail the document as an attachment in .pdf, .rtf or .doc format, with his own comments, and Posterous does the rest. And when he wants to write another document in 2012 or 2013, Posterous handles that too.

Posterous has other things that don't work too well, or at least not for me.

They've just introduced a group feature, and as an experiment I started one just for our family. It works more or less like the regular Posterous, except each member of the group may contribute and it can be a private or public group. Only problem is, I can't read it. It shows a list of posts, but when you try to open any of the posts to read them, nothing happens. There's just a big blank white square on the screen, like this:

I think something is supposed to appear in that blank white area, but it doesn't.

And the same thing happens when you try to grab something off the web to post on Posterous -- a blank white area appears on the screen and a little turning thingy that says "Loading", and that's it. You can go and make a cup of coffee, or a three-course meal, and when you come back it's still "loading". And the one on Amplify seems to have similar problems. But the one on Tumblr works OK, so I'll carry on using that.

Well that's it so far. Posterous is good at one to many. Tumblr is good at many to one. I'm not sure what Amplify is good for yet.