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.