Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Can Clooz replace the Research Data Filer to keep track of paper files?

For a long time now (about 20 years) I have been using the Research Data Filer program to keep track of paper files in my genealogical research.

As you might guess, a 20 year-old-computer program is getting close to retirement age, ready to hand over to a younger and more vigorous successor, and take a well-earned rest.

The trouble is that there is no successor anywhere in sight. There is no program that I know of that can do what the Research Data Filer (RDF) did (and for me, still does).

In 38 years of genealogical research one accumulares a lot of paper -- notes, letters, family trees sent by other people, notes from books and other published sources. How do you keep track of this stuff? How do you remember where you put that note or letter?

Using the ResearchData Filer (RDF) you give every document a number, and you file the documents in numerical order, like this:
There is no need to file them in any order but numerical, in the order in which they are filed (the KISS principle -- Keep It Simple, Stupid).

Then you use the Research Data Filer to write a description of each document, like this:
(Sorry that the reduced functionality of Blogger makes the screenshot small and hard to read - that's one of the reasons I've moved my other blogs to Wordpress)

If you look hard you can see that item 3, DOC 00003 is a printed book. No, I did not put the printed book in the file. What I put in the file was a piece of paper with biblographgical information about the book, and extracts of relevant information from it. When I want to see what I put in those notes again, and want to remember where I put them, RDF tells me that it is filed as Document 3, which I filed between Document 2 and Document 4. Simple, isn't it?

If I'm not sure which document has the relevant information, I can search the document descriptions. RDF has a "focus" capability. I can focus on all document descriptions that contain the word "death", for example, and then I can focus again on only those that contain the word "Beningfield"

But that's not all.

In addition to the "Document" file, RDF also has a "Data" file, which indexes the data within documents. Because we're doing genealogy, we're interested in people, and that's what it indexes.

That screen shows a "focus" search on Id 14952, which happens to be the RIN of Adam Cottam in my main fata file. It shows references to one document on this screen, but could also show references to him in many documents. The fields shown are Name, Sex, ID, Event, Event Date, Event Place, Relations, Ids of Relations, Comments, and of course the Document number.  And one can sort the results of a "focus" by name, Id, date, place or relations, and print them out, or save them to another file.

There's more about RDF and how tt helps me to keep track of my paper files here.

RDF used to come with early editions of PAF, the Personal Ancestral File program distributed by the Church of Jesus Chrtist of Latter-Day Saints. PAF itself has been updated to a Windows version, but RDF hasn't. It is more difficult to use in Windows, because most Windows printers won't print output from DOS programs directly, and you have to resort to clumsy workarounds that take longer.

Also, RDF was designed in the days when most genealogists who used computers had computers with 360k floppy disks and no hard disks at all, so one of the important design considerations was to take up as little disk space as possible. My GENERAL.DAT file is about 1,2 Megabytes, which would be reaching the limits of a high-density floppy disk of the late 1980s.

Nowdays, with hard disk capacities being measured in terabytes rather than kilobytes, it would be nice to have an updated version that would give a little more room for additional information.

And there's the rub, because there isn't an updated version. RDF was designed in 1989 or earlier. But it still hasn't been surpassed. I know of no other program that can do what it does, as well as it does it. I can think of lots of ways in which it could be improved, but it still does what it does better than any other program out there.

  I've looked at some other programs that I thought might be possible replacements. There were Genota and Genforms being developed by Dennis Allsopp in Australia, which didn't do quite the same thing, and there was Clooz. I bought Clooz 2.0 to test as a possible replacement, but found it too clunky and awkward to use, and entering information was too time-consuming.

Clooz 3 is now available -- an updating and streamlining of Clooz 2. But they are now working on Clooz 4.0, which will be a complete redesign and rewiting of Clooz 3 from the ground up, rather than a mere tweak. So I'm now hoping that, whatever else it includes, it will include the functionality and capability of RDF, enhanced, rather than diminished.

Yes, you could keep the information in RDF .DOC and .DAT files in a spreadsheet, but most spreadsheets still can't handle dates before 1900, nor can they handle partial or fuzzy dates like "ABT May 1832" or "AFT Sep 1856".

I wish I knew who wrote RDF. It was a work of genius, making the most of the capabilities of computers of its time. If it were updated to make use of today's computers, it would be very powerful indeed.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Technorati verification

It seems that Technorati had lost this blog's RSS feed, so am attempting to reapply it:

Technorati will need to verify that you are an author of the blog by looking for a unique code. Please put the following short code 527CQC975QC5 within a new blog post and publish it. This code must appear in the published post and it must also appear in your corresponding RSS feed once published. 
I wonder if that will work 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Rising costs of travel to the UK makes look like a bargain

Seven years ago my wife and I travelled from South Africa to the UK for a holiday. It was the first time I had visited the UK for nearly 40 years, and it was only after I had been there the first time that I had become interested in family history, and discovered where many of my ancestors had lived. We hired a car and drove around for three weeks, visiting living relatives and some old friends, and visiting places where our dead ancestors had lived. You can see some of the places we visited here.

We have thought of doing the same thing once more before we die, but rising costs make it seem impossible. Seven years ago, the cost of a subscription to looked exorbitant. Now a single visa to visit the UK costs more -- before thinking of paying plane fares, airport taxes and all the rest. In 2005 we did not need visas at all.

Permira to Buy for $1.6 Billion -
A consortium led by the European private equity firm Permira has agreed to buy for around $1.6 billion. Under the terms of the deal, Permira and its partners will pay $32 a share for, a genealogy Web site. The agreement represents a 40 percent premium to the company’s closing share price in June, when the potential acquisition was first reported. Permira, which will retain majority control, is partnering with Spectrum Equity, a venture capital firm and an early backer of, and several of the European private equity firm’s direct investors. The Web site’s management also will invest in the deal.

But if the recession has affected the cost of travel, it has also affected, because further on in the article we read:

After hitting a $45 high in 2011, its stock price has tumbled to around $29 on concerns that consumers are reducing their spending because of the economic crisis.

The company was started in the 1990s, and has remained profitable despite concerns about the revenue growth of other Internet businesses. Last year,’s net profit roughly doubled, to $62.9 million, on revenue of $400 million. It has more than two million subscribers who pay up to $34.95 a month to use the service.

But, recession or no recession, that still looks like a very healthy profit margin to me.

I wonder how much the UK government is making on its visas.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Continental Civil Registration conference

This news item nearly slipped beneath my radar, and I haven't seen much discussion on it in genealogical circles, perhaps because we have our noses so deeply buried in the past that we don't notice the future creeping up on us, but this could have important implications for future genealogists. Africa: Experts At CRVs Conference in Critical Talks:
Experts meeting at the 2nd Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Conference are currently locked in critical discussions and debates on how to improve the field on the African continent.The experts are meeting in Durban until Wednesday and are expected to set the tone for the ministerial meeting and to a large extent, influence the shape of its outcomes, said Dimitri Sanga, Director at the African Centre for Statistics at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa."It is extremely crucial that in the next three days, experts discuss and debate all technical issues related to the improvement of civil registration in Africa... in order to help your ministers provide clear policy guidelines in the improvement of these systems," he told the delegates at the start of the conference on Monday.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Clooz 3.0 is on the way

Clooz is a genealogical research tool that enables you to analyse your data in various ways, and possibly open up new avenues for research.

Development of the program was recently taken over by Ancestral Systems, and they are now offering a free trial of Clooz 3.0, which is due to be released soon.

As they say, Clooz:
Clooz is NOT just another genealogy program. It is THE database for systematically organizing and storing the clues to your ancestry discovered through years of research. Clooz functions as a sophisticated research assistance tool and electronic filing cabinet. Clooz enhances your research with search and retrieval of important facts that you find during the hunt for your ancestors. Clooz interfaces with certain established family tree programs, depending on the producers allowing us access to your data stored in their program.

At the moment users are trying out the new version, reporting problems, and suggesting improvements to the program.

Check the Clooz web site to learn more.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Growing cities face a grave problem

There's been quite a bit of discussion in the South African Genealogy Mailing List recently about the problems of growing cities and lack of cemetery space. The latest round was sparked off by the news that Buffalo City (East London) Municipality is considering re-using graves because of shortage of cemetery space. And as people have contributed to the discussion, there are various stories about other cities thinking of doing the same.

But there's nothing new in this. In the very same week, this news story surfaced in San Francisco - Tombstones from long ago surfacing on S.F. beach:
Strong winds and shifting sands have uncovered an eerie reminder of San Francisco's past: discarded gravestones and broken tomb markers used decades ago to shore up the Ocean Beach seawall.The tombstones became visible this week, including bits and pieces of marble and granite that once marked the final resting places of citizens long dead.One of them is the nearly intact marble tombstone of Delia Presby Oliver, who died at the age of 26 on Apr. 9, 1890.

Her remains were removed and reburied when San Francisco authorities closed nearly all the city cemeteries and moved the bodies to Colma in the early 20th century - part of a move to make space for the growing city. Oliver's original tombstone and thousands like it were used as landfill or in other ways throughout San Francisco.

Some were used as breakwaters. Pieces of others were used to line the gutters of Haight-Ashbury's Buena Vista Park. Some gravestones were used to build the seawall along the Great Highway. Large tombs and crypts were dumped into San Francisco Bay.

I wonder if the inscriptions on these tombstones were recorded before they were dumped?

In the UK burials often took place in churchyards, but as villages were swallowed up in urban sprawl, cemeteries were established, and many of the churchyards have been cleared of graves. One solution has been to put all the old gravestones around the walls of the churchyard. I must admit I hadn't thought of them being dumped into the sea.

I also wonder about the culture clash in South Africa. There have been some claims to land restitution on the grounds that people's ancestors are buried in such and such a place. And in the past there was a lot of resistance to people being forcibly moved in the ethnic cleansing that took place under apartheid, on the grounds that they did not want to be moved from the places where their ancestors were buried. I wonder how well the Buffalo City Municipality's plans will sit with people who see things in that light?

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Popularity of names

One of the things that can sometimes help genealogists is to know the popularity of names at different periods and in different places. Names can very often date people, sometimes quite precisely.

One of the most spectacular examples in recent times is Nevaeh ("heaven" backwards), which in England and Wales at least has grown spectacularly in popularity for girls, thought not at all among boys.

You can find this, and other information on the popularity of names in England and Wales here Babies called Nevaeh in England & Wales since 1996.

One of the things I find slightly odd about these sites is that they are almost always called "Baby names", but those before 2000 are now teenager names, not baby names.

Another thing to watch out for is the way names change sex. That does not seem to have happened to Nevaeh yet, at least not in the UK, where it seems to be strictly a girl's name.

But when I was growing up, for example, anyone called "eslie was invariably male, and the feminine form of the name was Lesley. More recently, however, I've come across some female Leslies, and some male Lesleys. With some names, like Ashley/Ashleigh, it's impossible to tell.

That's OK when you know the people concerned, but when you are entering the names of relatives you've just discovered into a genealogy program it often wants to know their sex, and sometimes you just don't know.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Deceased estates, probate records and missing persons

The South African method of dealing with the estates of dead persons is different from, and much fuller than that in most English-speaking countries, and can often reveal a surprising amount of information about people who were never physically in South Africa.

The main advantage of the South African system is the Death Notice, which gives much more information than the normal death certificate, with which it should not be confused.

The easiest way of seeing how the system works is to see what happens when a person dies. The nearest relative or connection of the deceased should complete a death notice, which is sent to the Master of the High Court (the South African equivalent of a probate court). The information given in the death notice varies at different periods, but generally one may expect to find the following:
  • full names of the deceased
  • names and addresses of parents, and whether they are alive or dead
  • names of surviving and predeceased spouses of the deceased, and places of marriage
  • date and place of death
  • normal residence of the deceased, and occupation
  • names of all children of the deceased, and whether major or minor
  • if there are no children, names of brothers and sisters of the deceased
  • whether the deceased owned movable or immovable property
  • whether the property was over a certain value
  • whether the deceased left a will
  • name of the informant, and whether the informant was present at the death

The death notice, the will (if any) and an inventory of the deceased's property should be sent to the Master of the High Court within fourteen days of the death. If executors are appointed in the will, and the will is accepted, the executors will be given Letters of Executorship to deal with the estate. Without such letters, the executors will not be able to deal in any of the property of the deceased -- banks, for example, will not release funds held in the name of the deceased. Therefore even a person who had only a few cents in a savings account would be likely to have some record at the Master's Office.

A person who owned nothing more than their personal effects, or whose property consisted only of cash or cattle, might not be recorded. The family would simply divide up the estate among themselves as amicably or otherwise as they saw fit, so not everyone who died has a death notice on file.

If the person died intestate, or if no executors were appointed in the will, the Master will convene a meeting of interested persons to appoint an Executor Dative to administer the deceased's estate in accordance with the laws of intestate succession, or the will if there was one.

The executor then has to submit a second inventory, advertise in the newspapers to call on creditors to submit claims, and on debtors to pay what they owe. After paying the debts and legacies, the estate accounts have to be open to public inspection in the area where the deceased lived, and at the Master's office, for three weeks. If there are no objections, the accounts are accepted and filed in the Master's Office. If the executor is not a child, spouse or parent of the deceased, he also has to lodge security with the Master equal to the value of the estate - this is usually done by means of fidelity insurance.

The estate files may be seen in the Master's office, which makes them a very valuable genealogical source. They are indexed alphabetically for each year.

What makes them even more valuable is that the older estate files (usually those more than twenty years old) have been removed to the archives of the Province in which the Master's office is situated. These have now been indexed on the Archives computer system (NAAIRS), and this indexing has been completed to the end of 1986, so the indexes for all the estate files in the Provincial Archives have now been printed out in alphabetical order for the whole period. Researchers may either look at the printouts, or search using a computer terminal at one of the archives depots, or search on the Web.

If you're searching on the Web for the first time, it is best to go to the main NAAIRS site here National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System.

If you've already done searches and know how to use the system, you can go directly to the databases here National Archives of South Africa (NASA) Database Selection.

It is better to use the computer terminal or web search than the printed indexes, because the person one is looking for may be found in records other than those of deceased estates. Several million archival documents are in the computer index, and the number is continually being added to. A second advantage of using the computer is that one may easily find a name which would not be found in the alphabetical printout - the maiden surname of a married woman, for example.

Search is by key word, and various combinations of keywords may be used to narrow the search. One may enter the name ``green'', and look at a list of all the documents in which that word occurs. To narrow it, one may enter "green and thomas" which would find the documents in which both names occur. Or one may enter "thomas adj green", which would find the documents containing the words "Thomas Green" or "Green, Thomas". Entering "thomas and green", however, would also find a document such as "ANDREWS, Thomas William; predeceased spouse Edith Mary Andrews, formerly Brown, born Green", but might also bring up lots of references to the colour green.

This system of recording deceased estates had its origin in the early days of the Cape Colony, when it was ruled by the Dutch East India Company. An "Orphan Chamber" was set up to look after the interests of widows and orphans, and to see that they were not cheated of their inheritance, and to protect the interests of creditors in deceased or insolvent estates. In 1827 the "Master of the Orphan Chamber" or "Orphan Master" (Dutch: Weesheer) became known as the "Master of the Supreme Court", and more recently Master of the High Court.

There are now Master's offices in Cape Town, Grahamstown, Kimberley, Bloemfontein, Tshwane, and Pietermaritzburg. Namibia and Zimbabwe follow a similar system, with Master's offices in Windhoek and Harare respectively (though their indexes are not on the South African NAAIRS computer index).

The Provincial Archives, to which the earlier estate files have been removed, are in Cape Town, Pietermaritzburg, Bloemfontein and Tshwane. The Namibian Archives are in Windhoek, and those of Zimbabwe in Harare.

In some of the earlier Cape Town estates, the death notices, estate accounts and wills were filed separately when they were transferred to the archives, which makes searching more difficult. Fortunately, it was realised that the other estate papers, such as the correspondence and the liquidation and distribution accounts, contained much additional genealogical and historical information, and these are now kept together with the death notices and wills, as they always have been in the other provinces. From the estate accounts, for example, it is sometimes possible to find where the heirs were living, and if they had married since the will was made. If they had died, their children are often shown as inheriting. Sometimes there are birth or baptism certificates of heirs (particularly if they were minors) to prove that they were entitled to inherit, or that their guardians were entitled to receive the inheritance on their behalf.


There is even information about people died outside South Africa, or who never lived in South Africa at all, but who may have inherited property from people who owned a few shares in a South African company. A couple of examples show the kind of information that may be found in these records, which may be of interest to people who are searching for families which have only very tenuous connections with South Africa.

The case of Absalom Henry Beaglehole

All South African law students are familiar with RE BEAGLEHOLE, a case that made legal history and is the basis of the South African law of missing persons.

On 3 March 1904 William Richard Beaglehole died intestate at Leydsdorp, Transvaal. He was unmarried, and his estate was divided between his brothers and sisters. One brother, Absalom Henry Beaglehole, could not be found, and the executor paid his share in to the Guardians Fund of the Master of the Supreme Court.

In 1908 two of his sisters made an application to the Supreme Court for Absalom Henry Beaglehole to be presumed dead, and for his share to be divided among the remaining heirs. He had last been heard of fifteen years before his brother's death in 1904, and had been a miller working in Somerset, England. The plaintiffs argued that in English law there was a rebuttable presumption that a person was dead if he had been missing for seven years, and that therefore the money should never have been paid into the Guardians Fund in the first place.

The judge disagreed, and would not grant an order.

He said it was undesirable to divide the estates of missing persons unless exhaustive enquiries had been made. At the time of his disappearance A.H. Beaglehole would have been only 31 years old, and at the time of the application he would have been only 46. He did not work at a particularly dangerous occupation, and so it could not be presumed that he was dead. The application was dismissed.

That, for most lawyers, is the end of the story of Absalom Henry Beaglehole. For the family historian, however, the story continues in Deceased Estate file No 23343 in the Transvaal Archives, the file of Absalom Henry Beaglehole.

His whole estate in South Africa was the 100 pounds in the Guardians Fund from the estate of his brother. He had never visited South Africa. He died at the workhouse infirmary in Newmarket, Cambridgeshire, England on 8 July 1913.

In his death notice, the names of his parents were simply recorded as "deceased", but there was a death certificate, showing the death of Absalom Henry Beaglehole, also known as Harry Richardson. There was a sworn declaration from someone who had known him for ten years as Harry or Henry Richardson, and who said he travelled around Eastern England from place to place, wherever he could get work as a millstone dresser. Another sworn declaration, from Ernest Stephen Heasman, in charge of the workhouse, said that the deceased had come from eight miles away to the workhouse infirmary, and that, just before he died, he had revealed that his real name was Absalom Henry Beaglehole, that his father was John Beaglehole, a farmer of Menheniot, Cornwall, and that he had a brother and sister still living there. He had gone under the name of Henry Richardson for some fifteen years past because he had "come down in the world".

There was another sworn declaration by his brother-in-law, William Kelly, to say that his deceased wife Emma was the sister of Absalom Henry Beaglehole, that his three children, Phyllis Mary Kelly, aged 15, John Beaglehole Kelly, aged 10, and Frederick Cowling Kelly, aged 8, were the heirs.

Another sister, Catherine Jane Beaglehole, died in Johannesburg some years later, in 1922. She was unmarried, and in her will she left her property to her nephews and nieces, whose names were all recorded. The final liquidation and distribution account revealed that one of the nieces, Phyllis Mary Kelly, had married six months before her aunt had died, and there was a sworn declaration to that effect, giving the name of her husband as William Henry Mortimer Roberts of Haye Barton in the Parish of St Ive in the County of Cornwall and the date of marriage as 25 January 1922.

Thus from two estate files and a law report it is possible to build up a fairly comprehensive picture of three generations of a large family, most of whom were living in England.

I wonder what might have happened if he had been found and received the 100 pounds from his brother's estate in 1908. It might have enabled him to "come up in the world" again. 

Frederick Thomas Green

In contrast to Absalom Henry Beaglehole, there is a good deal of published information about Frederick Thomas Green. The problem here is that much of it is inaccurate.

He appears in the Dictionary of South African Biography as Frederick Joseph Green, and was well-known as an elephant hunter and explorer in what is now Botswana and Namibia. Several published sources describe his father as "Robert" Green. His father was, in fact, William John Green, who was born in Quebec in 1790, and came to the Cape Colony as Deputy Assistant Commissary General in about 1846.

William John Green and his wife Margaret Gray had fifteen children, and their descendants are scattered all over the world. One son, Henry, was British Resident of the Orange River Sovereignty in 1854, while another, Edward Lister Green, saw military service in India, China and Ireland, and eventually settled in New Zealnand.

Frederick Thomas Green went to the Lake Ngami area of of what is now Botswana, and then to Damaraland (now part of Namibia). He married Catherine Anne Agnes Stewardson, and had seven children, four of whom died young. He died near Walvis Bay in 1876. In those days Namibia was not one country, but had several independent rulers who were sometimes at war with each other. Most of these rulers kept no written records at all.

With the computerised index, however, it was a simple task to find the record of the estate of Frederick Thomas Green, in the Free State Archives in Bloemfontein. Shortly before setting off for Lake Ngami, Frederick Green had worked as a clerk in the Commissariat in Bloemfontein. When he died, some 25 years later, his widow did not file a death notice. His property consisted of his cattle, wagons and hunting equipment, and there was no system of probate where he was living. She soon remarried, to George Robb, and they went to Cape Town.

Some ten years later, it was discovered that Frederick Green had owned a plot of land in Bloemfontein. A death notice was filed, but as there was no will, the Master in Bloemfontein wanted the names of all the children, and proof of their age. So in the estate papers are baptism certificates for the surviving Green children, showing that they were baptised in Damaraland by German missionaries of the Rhenish Mission Society. As each of the children reached the age of 21, they were able to claim their share of the proceeds of the sale of the land from the Guardians Fund, which was all documented in the Estate File. This showed that by the time the youngest child had turned 21, the family had moved to Johannesburg.

In this way, family tradition and dubious published material was confirmed or corrected. The life of a Canadian hunter, who lived a wandering life in the wilderness of South West Africa, passing through the territories of several independent African states, was documented in the records of the Orange Free State Republic (Oranje-Vrijstaat).

Though Absalom Henry Beaglehole was no relation of ours, Frederick Thomas Green was my wife Val's great-great grandfather, and if you are interested you can read more of his story at In the steps of Fred Green | Hayes & Greene family history.

Searching from overseas

Since the computer indexes to the South African estate files are available on the Web, it is simple for a researcher in England, for example, to find a reference. Unfortunately it is no longer possible to get photocopies of most of these records, as the many of the estate files are bound into books, and putting them in a photocopier damages the binding. But there is a South African genealogy mailing list, and many people there are willing to do a couple of lookups in the archives.

For more information, including how to join the South Africa genealogy mailing list, see Conrod Mercer's South African Genealogy pages.
This article originally appeared in the September 1989 issue of Family Tree magazine (Vol 5, No 11, p. 28). Since it was a long time ago, many people may not have read it, I'm posting an updated version here.

Monday, April 23, 2012

What happens to your data when you die? | TechCentral

People have often talked about what happens to the family history data you have collected during your life when you die. What happens if your children are not interested in the family history?

But now more and more people are keeping their family history in digital form, and then there is the other stuff that is part of the raw material of family history? There are notes and writings and e-mails and other data. Some of these questions are covered in this interesting article: What happens to your data when you die? | TechCentral
Digital assets may include software, websites, downloaded content, online gaming identities, social-media accounts and even e-mails. In Britain alone, holdings of digital music may be worth over £9bn. A fifth of respondents to a Chinese local-newspaper survey said they had over 5 000 yuan (US$790) of digital property. And value does not lie only in money. “Anyone with kids under 14 years old probably has two prints of them and the rest are in online galleries,” says Nathan Lustig of Entrustet, a company that helps people manage digital estates.
So what to you do about it? Do you leave your passwords to all your online accounts to someone in your will?

In the past biographers could collect letters, diaries and correspondence of those they are writing about, but what happens when most of the writing is digital. What if your e-mails are in a program that no longer works, or is no longer available?

People upgrade their computers. A laptop dies, and it is replaced by another with an "upgraded" operating system, so that even if the data on the old machine was backed up, it becomes inaccessible even before you die.

Historians, including family historians, have tools that were never available to previous generations, and make it possible to do data mining on an unprecidented scale, but at the same time the data is far more fragine and ephemeral. There are centuries-old documents written in old handwriting that are difficult to read, but with a little effort one can learn to read them. But what happens if you can't even see the writing, because it is only visible to a machine that no longer exists.

Read any floppy disks lately?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A family history Wiki -- is it worth it?

For some years now we have had a family history wiki at hayesgreene - home.

We thought that this might be a good way for different members of the family to work collaboratively on the family history, adding family stories and memories. But so far there have been very few contributions from anyone other than me.

It is also sometimes surprising to see what is popular and what isn't.

This month so far most pages have had fewer than 10 page views, but three pages have had 50 or more page views -- those relating to the Bagot family of North Lancashire, the Vause Family, and Frederick Thomas Green.

Though these families are mainly connected with England and southern Africa, most of the visitors to the Wiki come from the USA, though Frederick Thomas Green was a Canadian who came to southern Africa in the 1840s, who made a name for himself as an elephant hunter and explorer in what are now Namibia and Botswana.

But none of these visitors has left a note or a comment, so we don't know what it was they were looking for in visiting the pages, and whether or not they found it.

What strikes me about all this is that people generally seem to use the wrong tools for the job.

Quite a lot of people post interesting and important family history information on social sites like Facebook, where you can never find it again. Facebook is fine for ephemeral stuff, like children on a long car journey saying "Lookit this! Lookit that!" but when you reach your destination, going back to see the horse in a field, that you saw 200 miles back, or the jackal crossing the road, is not really an option. And that is what Facebook is like.

A Wiki, though, seems a good place to record family history information for posterity, or at least for the next few years. If you put it there, you should be able to find it again, at least while the site lasts. Of course one cannot count on Web sites lasting more than a few years, anyway. A lot of people put a lot of genealogy information on Geocities, and look what happened to that, though actually quite a lot of it has been preserved on three different sites now -- Reocities, Oocities and Webring. Webring, like Geocities, was one of those sites taken over by Yahoo! and subsequently abandoned, and revived by those who found it useful and didn't want to see it die. .

So one is never sure how long any web site will last, and even Facebook, though very popular right now, could be eclipsed by the next new thing -- think of what happened to MySpace.

But WikiSpaces (and similar wiki sites) seems to be useful for family history, and you can also download a backup of all your pages, just in case it should disappear. You can't do that with Facebook.

I still hope to see a network of family wikis, interlinked, with cousins contributing to mine, and me contributing to theirs, with links to pages dealing with our common families.

Oh, and you can see the latest updates to our family wiki in the sidebar of this blog.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Legacy Family Tree Genealogy Software

Ten years ago today I began using Legacy Family Tree Genealogy Software for my main genealogy database.

I think, if I recall correctly, that I started with version 2, and I'm now on Version 7.4, though the latest is Version 7.5.

I had tried Legacy out for a few months first to see how it worked, and to work out the best way of transferring my data. I then had about 8000 records; now I have 17212. I transferred everything to Legacy using GEDCOM, and I've been using it ever since.

Though Legacy is not perfect (no genealogy program is), Legacy meets most of my requirements.

I've usually (until very recently) kept a couple of versions behind the current one. I used Version 2 for a long time before switching to Version 3 (and by then Version 5 was already out). I bought the Deluxe version of Version 5, and used that for a long time, and never used version 6 at all.

Why was that?

The main reason was that each successive version of the program was a lot bigger than the previous one, and thus required a hardware upgrade as well. Many of the features that made it bigger were ones that I didn't need and would not be likely to use.

I liked to transfer my data between my laptop and desktop computers, originally by using a Zip disk, and later by means of a USB flash drive. The laptop I first used had 128Mb of RAM, and could cope with Legacy 2.x, but 3.x was too much for it.

In 2005 I bought a new laptop with 250 Mb of RAM, and then upgraded to Legacy 5. My son bought a new desktop computer, and gave me his old one, which had more memory, and so I got the deluxe version of Legacy 5.

By 2010, however, the laptop was struggling. Though I had not upgraded Legacy, other programs, like the Firefox web browser, upgraded automatically to bigger and more memory-hogging versions. If I wanted to switch from Legacy to Firefox to look up something on the web to add to my to-do list when I visited a library or archive, I could go and make a cup of coffee while it was swapping to disk, and when I came back it was still swapping to disk. The machine took 28 minutes to boot up, and 7 minutes to close down, the hard disk churning the whole time.

In February 2010 the laptop computer was stolen, and I bought a new one that had 2 Gigs of RAM. And later in the year the desktop computer was dying, and I bought a new one of those was well, with more memory. So at last I upgraded to Legacy 7.x, forgoing the deluxe features by doing so.

The first genealogy program I used was one called Roots/M by Commsoft, and it was limited by keeping all its data as well as the program in memory (on an Osborne CP/M machine that had 128K RAM). It was also limited by using single-sided 185K floppy disks.

When the Osborne died, I got an MS DOS machine, in 1987, and found a freeware/shareware program called Family History System (FHS). Actually there were a whole lot of genealogy programs available then, and I tried several of them. FHS seemed the best. Over the years I tried several more programs, some of which I reviewed for magazines, and I took to using several of them at once, because each had some features that the others lacked, usually in being able to produce various kinds of reports.

But I continued to use FHS for my first data entry, and then copied the database to the other programs using GEDCOM. For that purpose FHS had a very good feature that most of the other programs lacked -- it could copy a discrete set of records to GEDCOM. If I added 50 records, when there were 7000 records in the database, then I could copy records 7001-7050 to GEDCOM, and transfer them to the other programs without overwriting the data already there. And I still do that today.

FHS was distributed on the same basis as Legacy. There was a free version, which one could use as long as one wanted, and a deluxe version, with additional features that one could pay for. I'm still using the deluxe version of 1993.

I still use Family History System (FHS) as my program of first entry. When I want to transfer them to Legacy I export the new records to GEDCOM, import the .GED file into PAF 4.0, and then import the PAF 4.0 file to Legacy.

Why not import the GEDCOM file directly to Legacy?

Well I did that once, and found that it scrambled the RINs. But if I use PAF as an intermediate stage, the RINs remain in sync between FHS and Legacy.

So this shows up two shortcomings I see in Legacy.

  • Unlike FHS, it is difficult to export a specified range of RINs from Legacy.
  • When it imports data from a GEDCOM file, Legacy sometimes scrambles the RINs.

FHS had its own shortcomings, one of which is that it has inadequate provision for recording sources, and also, though it has fields for births and deaths, it does not have fields for baptisms and burials, which, in the case of earlier records, are often the only dates available.

So for a long time I used PAF 2.3, which had a somewhat clunky, but flexible, method of recording sources. It also had an amazing range of add-on programs, which could manipulate the data in several useful ways, including printing the main facts on 3x5" and 4x6" index cards.

That is one of the strange things about software writers. Some of them went to great lengths to make a computer screen look like an index card, and littered the screen with pictures of filing cabinets and paper file folders, which was totally unnecessary, but never thought to enable a computer to easily maintain card file indexes, which is quite easy to do, and very useful. They added unnecessary features, and left out the useful ones. But the PAF add-ons met that need.

But PAF 2.x was not Y2K compatible. It announced an error every time one entered a date after 31 Dec 1999. So that was when I started looking for a replacement, which could keep source records. And back in 2002, Legacy fitted the bill, and still does.

There are still ways in which I think it could be improved.

Apart from the two points mentioned above, about GEDCOM export and import, it would be nice to have a biography field. Yes, there is a notes field, and a research notes field, and one can use the Notes field for a potted biography. But sometimes one wants the notes to contain details that will be condensed in the biography, which one might want to print or report on separately.

Another feature that would be nice would be to be able to print family group reports to an RTF file (at least one other program, Family Tree Legends, can do that). That is useful for sending family group reports to relatives, asking them to add to or correct the information that is already there. Yes, one can send them the family group reports by e-mail as a PDF file, but then they either have to print it out and send the result back by snail mail, or try to scan the result, and send them back as graphics files.

But after 10 years of using it, Legacy is still good, and I haven't exhausted its capabilities yet.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Online scams and genealogy

We all receive e-mail that contains phishing attempts, malware or viruses, and scams of various kinds.

One of the most recent concerns the UK Census, and the UK Office for National Statistics has just issued a warning about such a scam Email Scam:
We are aware that an email entitled 'Population Census: a message to everyone - act now' is being circulated, allegedly in the name of National Statistician, Jil Matheson. This email demands individuals provide further personal information, supposedly for the Census and threatens fines for non-compliance.

This email is a scam and a hoax. It has no connection whatsoever with the National Statistician, the 2011 Census or the Office for National Statistics.

We believe the links in the e-mail could download malware to any computer where the user clicks on the links. This could put your personal data, including financial information, at risk.

One of the resources for protecting yourself from phishing scams and other attempts at online fraud is here: Get Safe Online :: Home

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Free Genealogy Forms Downloads

It's always nice to find free stuff, and these forms look as though they could be useful, especially to genealogists in the USA, though some of them might be useful elsewhere as well, or could be adapted for use in other places.

Free Genealogy Forms Downloads:
These free downloadable genealogy forms make finding and organizing ancestry search easy. These forms allow you to carefully copy your ancestor's information and keep that information in your own records. You can also keep track of your research, the data you've collected, records, family trees, family groups and more with these genealogy forms. It's so important to stay organized and keep family search information recorded on templates and genealogy forms. Feel free to download these forms to your computer and print them out at home. Our forms are all professionally designed so you can take them to a professional printer to have them put on heavier paper, or enlarged to make more room for handwriting, or even to make a wall chart.