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.