Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Legacy Version 8: a first look

As soon as I heard that Legacy Version 8.0 was available, I downloaded it to have a look at it. These are my initial impressions. I haven't tried everything yet, just the things that are most important to me.

I've been using Legacy since 2002, starting with Version 2.x, and liked it a lot, so I've used it ever since. I got the deluxe version at version 5, but found that the versions ran ahead of my hardware, and so each new version seemed to require more resources than my current computers had. Eventually I got a new computer with enough memory to handle version 7.0, but then the deluxe features no longer worked, and I thought I would wait for version 8 before lashing out on the deluxe version again.

The first thing I noted was that it works.

It didn't bomb out on my computer because there was not enough memory or anything like that.

The second thing was that it seemed to work faster than version 7.5.

That indicates that a lot of the code must have been cleaned up and optimised, which is usually a good thing.

The user interface is different, with several menu items in different places from the ones where I was used to looking for them, but they are not too difficult to find, and things seem to work pretty well. The display is easier to configure to one's taste, and there are helpful messages about where to add children and parents. It also displays half-brothers and sisters, which is a nice touch.

There were also some disappointments.

One of the first things I tested on it was a direct GEDCOM import, which failed.

That was one of the things I've been hoping they would fix since version 3.

I use another program for my initial data entry, and will continue to do so until Legacy manages to make it easier to export and import a specific range of RINs.

In this case I exported RINs 17772-17818 from the other program -- 47 records. Legacy scrambled them on import, so that 17780 became 17818. Not good.

Fortunately Legacy lets you undo the import, and I imported the GEDCOM file into PAF 4.0, and imported the PAF 4.0 file directly into Legacy, which worked fine, with all the RINs in their correct order. But it's a pity that Legacy makes it a two-stage process, rather than correctly importing a GEDCOM file directly (if PAF 4.0 can do it, why can't Legacy 8.0?)

The second disappointing thing was that Legacy 8.0 seems to keep its files all over the place.

Earlier versions let you install Legacy in a Legacy directory, and under that was a data directory and a pictures directory, so you could back it all up in one fell swoop.  And you could copy the data files easily so that you could use them on a desktop and a laptop computer copying them back and forth with no problems.

That is still possible, just, with Legacy 8, because it lets you change the default installation directory which is C:\program files\Legacy8.

So I changed to to E:\Legacy8.

I like my programs where I can see them.

It also lets you set default directories for data, but perhaps I was too late, or did something wrong. So the program is on one drive, the data on another, and pictures etc on a third, and user parameters somewhere else, under \Legacy Family Tree\_Attributes. I hate directory paths with spaces in them.

That all gets way too complicated, and I wish they'd kept the simple scheme of previous versions.

So I'll have to see how easy it is to transfer my data to my laptop to take to archives and libraries for research. If it's too difficult I might revert to version 7.5.

But what's important to me may not be so important to you, and apart from these drawbacks it's still a nice program, so why not go to the Legacy Family Tree web site and have a look?

Friday, October 25, 2013

MyHeritage/FamilySearch Partnership Announcement

FamilySearch and MyHeritage have recently announced a partnership, which I find not a little worrying.

MyHeritage/FamilySearch Partnership Announcement—Frequently Asked Questions:  
We recently announced a joint agreement to begin a multi-year effort whereby FamilySearch will share select historic records collections with MyHeritage, and MyHeritage will provide cutting-edge technologies to FamilySearch that will help people find their ancestors more easily. This combined with MyHeritage’s support for 40 languages will enable wider access to data and records to more users worldwide.

Past experience of such partnerships with MyHeritage has not been very good. A few years ago MyHeritage took over data I had entered in GenCircles, and then demanded that I pay to access it -- details here — another scam site? | Hayes & Greene family history. More recently I have been contributing data to FamilySearch, and now it seems likely that something similar may happen there. I don't think I will be contributing any more data to FamilySearch.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Using Evernote, OneNote and askSam for genealogy

Evernote, askSam and OneNote are notetaking programs that allow you to organise the kind of miscellaneous information that one collects in genealogical research -- the kind of information that makes you say to yourself, "I don't know where this fits in, but I'll make a note of it in case I need it later. The trouble is that when you need it later, you can't remember where you put it.

These notetaking programs help you to store such information, and to find it again.

Since I blogged about this a couple of weeks ago, I've noticed that a lot of other people also seemed to be blogging about it, and so I thought I would list some of the useful blog posts I've found, thus reverting to the original purpose and meaning of a blog, a weB log of web sites one has visited and found useful.

I've been using askSam for more than 20 years, beginning with the DOS version, and I still use the DOS version (though I have the Windows version as well). It is powerful and has the advantage of being both a structured and an unstructured database at the same time. But you have to buy it. If yoi want to know more, see the askSam website here.

If you have Microsoft Office, however, you probably have OneNote as part of the bundle, so then you don't have to go out and buy it.

And Evernote is free, unless you become really addicted and start adding more than 60 Mb of data a month. Then you can get a paid version that does more.If you would like to try it, see the Evernote web site here.

So how do you use these programs for genealogy? Here are some links with useful tips:


  • Genealogy Insider - Using Evernote to Organize My Genealogy Research: My former method of genealogy research organization was to email myself notes and records, or use notekeeping gadgets on my iGoogle page. But with the emails getting buried in my in-box and the impending retirement of iGoogle, I wasn't very organized. Then I started hearing more about the Evernote web clipper and note-taker, and we began planning an Evernote for genealogists webinar with Lisa Louise Cooke (it's July 25—more details below).
  • How to Use Evernote for Genealogical Research | Evernote Blog Evernote Blog: I use Evernote to capture documents, images, and PDFs I find online, and later add descriptive notes to these pieces of information. Serious genealogists try to keep a record of everything they find, even if it’s full of lies and conjecture. (For example, if you suspect that a document might be fraudulent or inaccurate, you can make a note of it. If you come across it again, you will know that you already saw and evaluated it.) Using Evernote, you can add your own notes, questions, and task boxes to the images of records you find in your research.
  • Evernote: Your Virtual Genealogy Assistant | Thomas MacEntee: Evernote is a genealogy researcher's best friend and one of the best tools you can use to capture almost anything. This means not just items found online, but also images, documents and more! The best way to understand Evernote features is to imagine having your own personal assistant, but one that is virtual (meaning they cost practically nothing and never call in sick or complain about the workload!).
  • Genealogy Class - Evernote for Genealogists: clip sources anywhere & organize in the cloud - Rootfinders Genealogy Research: “Evernote” is a program or app that synchs notes, pictures, audio, and pdfs from many devices including PCs Macs, iPhones, iPads, Android Phones, tablets and Kindle Fire. How can we use it for genealogy? Snap a photo of Uncle Pete’s headstone with your phone at the cemetery. Scan a document to the laptop at the library. Record the story Great Aunt Martha told in the car. Clip an article from the web. Then tag and store them all in Evernote. When you get home, they’ll all be synched to all your devices and computers. You can share notebooks with others. And if any of your devices crash or get lost, your notes are still safe in the cloud with Evernote.
  • UpFront with NGS: Evernote -- is it part of your genealogical arsenal? Should it be?: Thomas MacEntee (High-Definition Genealogy) recently posted on Facebook a link to the Beginner’s Guide to Evernote and he has an article at, Evernote: Your Virtual Genealogy Assistant. So, if you’ve been dilly-dallying about trying Evernote (cough – this author falls into that category), you may have run out of excuses ... 
  • Anglo-Boer War photos | Hayes & Greene family history: I’m quite chuffed with Evernote. It can do lots of different things, but one of the things it excels at is compiling a digital photo album.

Or just Google for "Evernote genealogy"


  • Research Planning Using OneNote & Evernote - Try It! | The In-Depth Genealogist: Family history researchers are constantly planning their next research move. Whether you realize it or not, you probably are using some form of a research plan in your genealogical endeavors. Perhaps you do it the old fashioned way using pencil and paper to compile a “to do list.” Maybe you use a word processor to write a formal research plan or an electronic spreadsheet to organize your look-ups for your next trip to the Family History Library. The options for which tool you use to prepare a research plan are numerous. Lately, I’ve become fond of two relatively new tools: Microsoft’s OneNote and Evernote.
  • The Paperless Genealogist: Introduction To OneNote For Genealogists: Well, I've started using Microsoft's OneNote to organize my digital files, and I realized as I started that there a lot of videos and "How To" articles on the internet about organizing your genealogy, but most of them assume you are dealing with stacks of paper, which of course, I am trying to avoid. So, after a little bit of use, I put together this "Introduction To OneNote For Genealogists" video.
As I noted in an earlier blog post, I tend to prefer Evernote to OneNote because there's more documentation available and it's more explicit. Most of the stuff on OneNote seems to be in the form of videos, and when it comes to learning to use software, I'm a verbal type -- I like the instructions to be in words I can read and refer to while I'm using the software. 


Unfortunately nobody seems to have written much about how they use askSam for genealogy, other than me, that is.

So if you, or someone you know, is using askSam for genealogy, I'd love to hear from them.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

At last I'm getting the hang of Evernote

I've had Evernote on my computer for several years, but haven't used it much until now.

It came on one of those discs that come stuck to the front of computer magazines, and I installed it, and when I read the description of how it worked I thought it must be useful, but I somehow never managed to do much more than write a few test notes. The description made it sound as though it must be useful, but I could never get the hang of using it.

But when, on genealogy forums, people asked, as they do surprisingly often, what you do with all the notes scribbled on bits of paper, I would sometimes suggest that they have a look at Evernote. Though I didn't use it much myself, it sounded as though it could be useful.

As recently a couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article on that topic, Genealogy notes and news: Managing research data: hastily scribbled ideas, scraps of paper and sticky notes, and I forgot to mention Evernote.

But after writing the article, I thought I must really make an effort to get to grips with Evernote, and so I sar down with the book, and re-read it. And then sat down in front of the computer with it, and tried out everything. It worked.

So what is Evernote?

Do you know Microsoft OneNote?

It's a program that comes with Microsoft Office, but none of the books you can buy about using MS Office tell you how to use it (sometimes I get nostalgic for the days when softwere came with actual documentation). I couldn't even get a third-party book for using OneNote. But my daughter who is studying for a doctorate in Greece discovered it, and said it was very useful for taking notes.

Well Evernote is something like that, but it's free. And I found a book about it.

My EvernoteMy Evernote by Katherine Murray

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've read the book a couple of times, and some parts several times, and I think I'm beginning to get the hang of it now.

One of the useful things about Evernote is that it synchronises across all devices. That means that I can have a copy on my desktop computer, my cell phone and my laptop computer, and I can enter and access data in all three places. And you can also access it on the Web, as the Evernote server is where all the synchronisation takes place. And if that isn't enough, you can send entries to it by e-mail, or even by tweeting from Twitter.

So what does it do for genealogists who want to know what to do with all those notes scribbled on scraps of paper, and on paper napkins and the like?

My method, described in my other post, is to make notes in a text database program, which means that even if I lose the original scrap of paper, I can find the information again, which makes it much more useful. But some people, like this blogger, don't like retyping, Marian's Roots and Rambles: Taming all that Information! - Part 1:
Ok, I know some of you are thinking, how does she get those handwritten transcriptions into the computer?!! Most of the time, unless there is a very good reason, I will scan my original notes and capture them as a pdf or jpg. That way I can save time by not retyping them and I don't have to worry about introducing further errors.
But if you have a zillion pdf and jpeg files, how do you find them again? She does it by typing long descriptive file names. But how much easier to scan them directly into Evernote (Yes We Scan!) And Evernote claims to be able to read and search for text in graphic files (I haven't tried that yet).

Evernote lets you have up to 250 different notebooks (one for genealogy, one for recipes, one for gardening, one for your PhD notes etc.) And its free. If you really need more, there's a premium version you can pay for.

Evernote also lets you clip web pages -- either the whole page, or a particular article, or selected text. It even advises you on which way to do it, but you don't have to take the advice if you don't want to.

And what if you really like working with pieces of paper? I know some researchers do like that. Well Evernote can print out your notes for you, on 3x5" cards, if that's what you want, so that you can shuffle them and spread them out on the dining-room table.

So why not go to and give it a try? There's nothing to lose, and it could solve your filing problem.

What about Microsoft OneNote?

Well Evernote can import that too.

View all my reviews


I've just discovered that some other bloggers are also discussing the genealogical uses of Evernote, so check for more tims and resources here UpFront with NGS: Evernote -- is it part of your genealogical arsenal? Should it be?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Last chance to get PAF

The FamilySearch operation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be discontinuing support for its Personal Ancestral File (PAF) program from 15 July 2013.

If you are using PAF, and you might want to continue using it in future, you might like to download a copy of the latest version, and to store a copy of the installable program in a safe place, so you can reinstall it in case of hardware failure, or if your computer gets stolen.

I have found, for example, that I need PAF 4.0 in order to import GEDCOM files into the Legacy Family Tree program without errors.

For further information on how to download PAF before 15 July 2013, see here:

How to download Personal Ancestral File (PAF)

and here:

Affiliate Products |

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Managing research data: hastily scribbled ideas, scraps of paper and sticky notes

What do I do with the small scraps of paper, hastily scribbled ideas and the sticky notes plastered everywhere? This article suggests scanning them with long file names: What do I do with the small scraps of paper, hastily scribbled ideas and the sticky notes plastered everywhere! | Genealogy Circle, and quotes another article, which you can find here.
Most of the time, unless there is a very good reason, I will scan my original notes and capture them as a pdf or jpg. That way I can save time by not retyping them and I don’t have to worry about introducing further errors.
That's all very well, but how do you find them again?

I can think of at least two ways to deal with it that may be better.

One is to use a program like Evernote,which can store (and automatically back up) all that stuff in a single file, or series of linked files (called "notebooks"). This saves having to fiddle your way through lots of long file names.
Something similar to Evernote is Microsoft OneNote, which comes with Microsoft Office. Unfortunately it is poorly documented, and while you can buy third-party books that tell you how to use the other components of MS Office, the ones I've seen devote only one or two uninformative pages to OneNote. Evernote can import stuff from OneNote as well. And Evernote is free, though you can get a paid version that will do a bit more.

Another way of dealing with small scraps of paper and hastily scribbled ideas is to write them out in a text database program like askSam (where you can also store a scanned copy, if you like).

This is a screenshot of the askSam for DOS version of my note storing template:

Sorry if it's a bit distorted, but the "new and improved" Blogger editor makes it extraordinarily difficult to get graphics right and readable.

The Windows version of askSam looks slightly different, but the principle is the same. I write the contents of the note in the Note[ field, and askSam will let me produce a report that will sort on any of the fields.

And having written it there, and backed it up, I throw the sticky note away.

You don't need those things cluttering up your life, with dirt and bits of hair adhering to the sticky bits. At least I don't need them. 

One can use this for any kind of sticky notes, scraps of paper, stuff written in your Moleskine notebook/diary, or on a cigarette packet or paper napkin. I use keywords like "famhist" or "genealogy" to select the genealogy ones. askSam will search, by default, in every field, though you  can also tell it to do more selective searches. But with such notes typing "Hayes genealogy", for example, will bring up all notes containing those two words.

In this post I'm talking about fairly short notes that occupy no more than one sheet or scrap of paper. Multi-page documents are a bit different, and with those I don't usually throw away the original, but I file them, and use computer programs to keep track of where I put them. If you want to know more about that, see my article on Keeping track of paper files.

But if you really can't face the prospect of retyping all those notes, there's also Evernote. See my review here.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

PAF to be retired

Beginning July 15, 2013, PAF will be retired and will no longer be available for download or support. For full details and for information on alternative products, please visit

Frequently asked questions

From PAF users

What does it mean that PAF is no longer supported?

FamilySearch will not assist users with features of PAF. FamilySearch will provide limited support for moving PAF data to a compatible third-party app.

Can I continue using PAF?

Yes. PAF will continue to work on all versions of Windows as of 2013, including Windows 8. Just be aware that it will no longer be supported or improved. We strongly recommend choosing an alternative product (see above).

Can I put my PAF data online in FamilySearch Family Tree?

Since PAF does not integrate with FamilySearch Family Tree directly, you will need to use an alternative product, as suggested here. These products will be able to import your PAF data directly, enabling you to connect to FamilySearch and copy your data to and from the web as desired.

Which third-party app should I use?

The answer to this is completely subject to your preference. Therefore, we suggest you check out each of the apps and compare for yourself. We have provided a simple set of links to information and downloads about the products with our recommended partners (see above).

Does FamilySearch endorse the use of third-party apps?

Yes. The Family History Department has made significant investments in conjunction with our partners in order to offer great solutions for everyone. Using third-party products in conjunction with FamilySearch online services is something we encourage and fully endorse.

Will Family Insight continue to work?

Yes. Just bear in mind that PAF itself is no longer supported. Please contact Ohana Software for more information and support.

Will Charting Companion for PAF (previously known as PAF Companion) continue to work?

Yes. Just bear in mind that PAF itself is no longer supported. Please contact Progeny Genealogy for more information and support.

Will FamilySearch make the source code of PAF available to software developers?

At this time, there are no plans to release the source code as open source or in any other structure. Continuing development of PAF, even outside of FamilySearch, would still put FamilySearch in a position to support it (by perception, if not obligation). Our support staff is targeted toward other goals and priorities after JULY 15, 2013.

That is rather sad, especially the last bit. It would be a nice gesture if the PAF source code were to be released as open source, to allow others to develop in in new and more interesting ways.

What is also difficult is that there is nothing on the page to show where you can download the most recent versions of PAF before the cut-off date. I still use PAF 4.0 and will continue to use it, as an essential adjunct to Legacy.

The problem is that when Legacy imports data from Gedcom files, it messes up the record order, and the RINs are all wrong. My workaround has been to import the Gedcom files into PAF 4.0, which Legacy can import directly, and when it does so, the RINs are correct.

But if PAF 4.0 is no longer going to be available, perhaps Legacy will drop the ability to import files directly from it, and then I won't be able to upgrade to future versions of Legacy.

Perhaps it's time to start looking at RootsMagic, which many have spoken highly of.

In a blog posting today, FamilySearch announced the retirement of it’s Personal Ancestral File (PAF) genealogy software...

The linked page recommends that PAF users upgrade to family history software from one of the FamilySearch parters.  Of the three options listed, RootsMagic is the only software certified to utilize the full capabilities of FamilySearch Family Tree, including sharing data, ordinances, discussions, sources, and change history.

We understand that change isn’t easy, so we’ve worked hard at putting together some new tools and supports to make the transition as painless as possible for PAF users.
Well that's nice, but I wonder if RootsMagic can replace PAF in the way I've used it. One of the things I've used it for is quick-'n-dirty research files, where I've typed stuff on people who may or may not be linked, imported state from various sources, some of them dubious, and then tried to make sense of them before putting verified data or at least data that I'm reasonably certain of, into my main Legacy file.

The thing is that in my main Legacy file I never merge records, because that would mess up the RINs. If I find a duplicate record, I change the name of the person to ZZblank, and reuse that for the next new person I enter.

In my PAF quick-'n-dirty research files, I merge records all the time. I wonder if any of the PAF replacements on offer can do that kind of stuff as quickly and easily as PAF could?

Of course PAF had limitations -- it could not search or filter on locations, for instance. But it would make it dead easy to enter a lot of records from the same location by automatic fill in. In Legacy one sometimes has to wait up to a minute during which it is "not responding" while it looks things up, which slows down data entry considerably.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

The New New FamilySearch: a first look

There have been several changes to the FamilySearch web site over the years. I'll refer to different versions that I will call:

  1. the Old FamilySearch
  2. the Old New FamilySearch
  3. the New New FamilySearch
The Old FamilySearch (1) allowed you to search the IGI, and transcripts of the 1880/1881 US, Canadian and English censuses, and the Ancestral File. It allowed you  to download Gedcom files of what you had found, which was very useful for quick 'n dirty research.

This was updated to the Old New Familysearch (2), which included more records, but lacked the facility for a Gedcom download. Most users did not like it much, and thought that more effort had gone into making the user interface look pretty than making it useful to genealogists.

Now there is a New New FamilySearch (3), and I've been having a quick look at it, and my first impression is that it is much improved. It has been available to LDS Church members for some time, and I gather that they have been beta-testing it, but now it is open to the general public.

The best news is that you can once again download data from it, though it not the raw data like the census transcripts of the old FamilySearch, but rather information in online family trees. To download the data you will need a third-party program, Get My Ancestors from Ohana Software. Get My Ancestors is free, but is also part of a larger program called Family Insight, which costs $US 25.00.

Get My Ancestors is described as follows:
 Get My Ancestors is a stand-alone program that will allow the user to download linked pedigrees from FamilySearch, family tree (aka, new FamilySearch) in a .paf format. Download either a pedigree that starts with you or the pedigree of an ancestor. You indicate the ancestor by entering their personal identifier from FamilySearch family tree. You must be able to register for FamilySearch family tree to successfully use Get My Ancestors. The individual information downloaded is the summary information of basic events: birth christening, death, burial and marriage but not ordinances.
It also doesn't appear to download sources.

In order to get the most out of the New New FamilySearch, you need to create an online family tree. I've found most of the online family tree sites I've looked at distinctly underwhelming, and so I need quite a lot of persuading to get me to do such a thing. I looked at and its little brother Mundia, at My Heritage, and They all seemed to be clunky, and they seemed encourage the entry of wrong data and make it difficult to correct. Data entry and maintenance was difficult, and the presentation was usually ugly.

The New New FamilySearch is a vast improvement over the others in all these departments, and in addition it is free.

The user interface is less cluttered, and the information is presented in a much easier-to-read way.

It's not perfect by any means, and no doubt as I continue to use it I will discover some flaws, but it's a lot better than anything else I've seen in the way of online family trees.

Like many of the others, it asks you to start with yourself, and enter your parents and other ancestors. As you enter them, it suggests possible ancestors entered by other people, or as part of the source material extracted from church and civil registers, census records and the like. You can add some of these entries as source references to an online tree, but you will not be able to download them with Get My Ancestors.

Another advantage is that you can contact other users directly. If you disagree with the information provided by another user, you can click on their name, and up pops their e-mail address, and you can mail them. In most of the commercial programs you can send an internal message. They say that this to "protect privacy", but the real reason for it is that they want users to keep coming back and to be dependent on them. Yes, you can leave a message, but the person will not get it until they next log into that site, and they might not do so for several days if they are busy, or for several months if they have lost interest, and perhaps not at all if they have forgotten to pay their subscription.

Are there any drawbacks to the New New FamilySearch?

Yes, there are some -- unlike the Old FamilySearch, it won't let you download transcripts of source records, and though you can download data from other family trees, some of which are based on sources, the source record itself is not included in the download.

So though in some ways it as not as good as the Old FamilySearch, it is a lot better than the Old New FamilySearch, and as far as online trees are concerned, it's one of the best I have seen.

This is just a first impression based on a quick look at it. Perhaps I'll have more to say about when I've used it a bit more.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Find-A-Grave growing rapidly

When I tried to enter my great grandparents into Find-A-Grave, I couldn't do so because the town where they died was not listed. I sent an e-mail asking that the town and its municipal cemetery (Queenstown, Eastern Cape) be added, and it was within a couple of hours.

Then I added my great grandparents, William Matthew Growdon and Elizabeth Growdon. He was number 111610917, and she was 11181795, which means that 122 other entries had been made in the five minutes or so it took to enter her information.

Obviously the bigger such a database is, the more useful it is to researchers, and the more useful people find it, the faster it will grow. I recently found a great deal of useful family history information because someone had taken the trouble to record the gravestone inscriptions and cemetery registers at Omaruru in Namibia, which is a long way from where I live. So Find-A-Grave is growing fast, and becoming more useful to researchers every day.

About 25 years ago the Genealogical Society of South Africa embarked on a cemetery documentation project, where members tried to record inscriptions from gravestones in as many cemeteries as possible. Some of these may still be found on NAAIRS, the computer index to the South African archives. The Worldwide Web did not exist then, and sites like Find-A-Grave are doing it in a slightly different way, and, with new technology they also make it possible to display photos of the monumental inscriptions.

We took photos of the Queenstown graves when we were passing through, so we only had time to record those of our own family. But we noticed that many graves in the cemetery had been vandalised, and that seems to be a widespread problem, so documenting them where possible is quite important.

So I'd like to encourage everyone to enter details of graves they know about in Find-A-Grave and similar sites, and, where possible, to join together with others in trying to make a complete record of local cemeteries before they are vandalised. And if anyone reading this lives near Queenstown, get busy! There are a lot more graves to record.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Family history research in Namibia

On a recent trip to Namibia we did some family history research, which you can read about here and here. We spent two days in the state archives, which have moved to a spacious new building since our last visit 20 years ago, but did not find much that we didn't already know.

We had arranged to visit the Lutheran Church archives, but the archivist was away, and a retired archivist came over to help but was not able to find anything useful. Where we did find useful material that was new to us was in the library of the Scientific Society of Namibia, which had photocopies of the early Lutheran Church registers, and transcriptions of several more. We were interested mainly in the period 1840-1900, and we did not have time to look at everything properly, and so ended up madly photographing pages of the church registers to look at when we got home.

Once we have sorted out the material we have from this trip, we may possibly try to plan another, and allow more time for looking at the things we were not able to see properly this time.

Two people who were very helpful to us were Werner Hillebrecht of the State Archives, and Gunter von Schumann of the Scientific Society of Namibia (which is open to the public only in the afternoon).

The State Archives has deceased estate files, similar to the South African ones, and are probably the thing that most researchers should begin with. We had dealt with most of these in previous visits, which is why we did not find so much this time. There is a computer index, but, unlike NAAIRS in South Africa, it can't be consulted on line. With an online index you can go to the archives with a list of the records you want to consult, which saves some time. But the Windhoek archives index can only be consulted using terminals in the reading room, which meant that we had to spend 2-3 hours making lists of the things we wanted to look at before getting a chance to look at them. The archives staff were very helpful in showing us how to use the index, and how to order material (requisition forms have to be filled in in duplicate).Not all the material in the archives has been indexed yet, but what has been indexed was useful. Again, you can see some examples of what we found here.

Namibian National Library and Archives, Windhoek
The State Archives only has the older deceased estate files, which means that those for people born after about 1890 can only be found in the office of the Master of the Supreme  Court, and we didn't have enough time to go there.

The Scientific Society is also working on the publication of early written material. Some recent publications have been the papers of Swedish explorers and traders, which had previously been published in Swedish, but are now being translated into English.and republished to make them more accessible.

There is more information about the Scientific Society of Namibia here and here.

There is more information about the State Archives (part of the National Library of Namibia) here.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

New app prevents incest in Iceland

New application for computerised genealogy: New app prevents incest in Iceland | World | News | The London Free Press:

A new cellphone app touts itself as a way for Iceland's singles to avoid sleeping with relatives — as the isolated country's small population of 320,000 means most people are related. The acquaintances just have to bump their phones together and it tells them instantly if they're family, News of Iceland reports. Three Icelandic engineers designed the app with the help of the Book of Icelanders that contains data from 720,000 people born in Iceland. News of Iceland says, "Everyone has heard of (or experienced) it when someone goes all in with someone and then later runs into that person at a family gathering some other time. This new app might just prevent such awkward moments."

Monday, April 08, 2013

With all the eulogies on Margaret Thatcher, remember this

The Right got it so wrong on Nelson Mandela – Telegraph Blogs: It’s easy with the passage of time to forget how the Conservative Right in Britain got it so badly wrong on South Africa, and today how long it has been since the British Left got it so right.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Where does the time go?

I've sometimes downloaded time tracking software to see how much time I spend on various projects, but most if it is so complex that you spend more time on the tracking than on the project. But here is one that looks simple enough even for me Where does the time go?:

Back in November, I decided I wanted to track the time I spent on various genealogy projects. One reason for this was to be able to better plan my monthly to-do lists (I have a tendency to overbook myself). I knew I wanted a web-based system (preferably one that was free). There are several available, but Toggl appealed to me as soon as I saw it, so I decided to give it a test run. I’ve been using Toggl for three months now and I don’t know how I lived without it. (Note that this is toggl – no e.) Everything about Toggl is so easy and intuitive. To get started, you can either sign up by entering your email address and a password or simply log in with your Google account. It doesn’t get any easier than that!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Where on earth is the Shoshongo Dum?

Edward C. Tabler, in his book Pioneers of South West Africa & Ngamiland makes quite frequent reference to the Shoshongo Dum. It does not, however, appear on modern maps of Namibia or Botswana (the area covered by Tabler's book). Nor does it appear on any ancient maps that I've been able to look at. So where on earth is the Shoshongo Dum?

Tabler says, on page 36, of the trader Axel Wilhelm Eriksson (who married Fanny Stewardson, a relative of my wife), that "Eriksson's party trekked down the Shoshongo Dum in October 1878, travelled up the Okavango to the Omuramba Ombongo, and returned to Omaruru by way of eastern Ovamboland."

Several books with the writings of 19th-century travellers have been printed or reprinted in the last 30 years, and they often provide a "Register" giving a summary of information about the people and places mentioned in the book. But none of those I have seen gives any explanation of the Shoshongo Dum.

Tabler's text suggests that the Shoshongo Dum might be a river, and might possibly be a tributary of the Okavango. But the Okavango is a pretty big river, and flows through three countries -- Angola, Namibia and Botswana, so, if the Shoshongo Dum is a river, where does it join the Okavango? And what is its modern name, so one can find it on a map?

Nowadays such things should be easy to find. We have the World Wide Web which has accumulated a huge amount of information since it started 20 years ago, and there are search engines to help you find it.

So I did a Google search for Shoshongo Dum, and when I had managed to convince Google that I was not looking for "Shoshone Dam" or "Shoshone Drum" it spat out just one reference: Oxen or Onions? The Search for Trade (and Truth) in the Kalahari, an article in Current Anthropology published in 1991. Other search engines returned nothing at all, so Google is still the top search engine on the Web.

There was nothing on Wikipedia, so I thought I'd put a stub of an article there, just in case anyone else should be looking for the Shoshongo Dum and wondering what it was. But Wikipedia would not let me link to the one article Google found that contained the term (and even there, only in a footnote). Wikipedia had blacklisted it.

Still, I suppose if I'd tried to look for it in the 19th century it would have taken me several months, if not years, instead of a few hours.

So if anyone is looking for the Shoshongo Dum, and Wikipedia continues to block the article, maybe this blog post can help people to find it.

And if anyone knows the modern name for it, or why it was called Shoshongo Dum in the first place, I hope they will let me know.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Resources for the Online Genealogist

Here's a useful list of online resources. I knew about some of them, of course, but there are others I did not know about. I think the "must have" applies only to genealogists in North America, and that people in other places might add a few that aren't there, and leave out a few that are not really essential. But it's still useful to have: 88 Must Have Resources for the Online Genealogist | Free People Search:
This collection of resources can help you uncover nearly all of the missing leaves on your family tree. Included are searchable databases of vital records, helpful guides, genealogical communities, unique tools, regionally targeted articles with a global reach. The first portion is entirely free. Those that require payment are listed at the end. While not every record is available online through every service, it is possible to use database searches to uncover local records you require, then community based organizations to share labor and access what you normally would be unable to all from the comfort of your own home.
Hat-tip to Randy Seaver, whose blog Genea-Musings: What are the Must-Have Resources for Genealogists? is one of the resources mentioned. Randy regrets that his name was not mentioned in the list, so I have mentioned it here.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Racism in South African genealogy

About a week ago someone remarked, on a South African genealogical mailing list, that he had found that some people were compiling "indexes" to some civil registers that had been made available for browsing online, But he had found that those indexes were not complete, and appeared to exclude those with obviously African names, and even those judged to be coloured. He queried this practice, and asked why an index should not be a complete index.

I had not consulted either the indexes or the records themselves, so I cannot say that I know for certain that indexers have been excluding entries on the grounds of perceived race, but I did say that, as a matter of principle, I thought that partial indexes would be worse than useless, particularly if there was no indication that they were partial, and no indication given of the criteria for inclusion or exclusion.

I was rather surprised by the the vehement response on the part of some participants, who saw this as an unfair attack on those who had so unselfishly given their time and energy to providing indexes for the use of researchers, and praised them for what they were doing, and said that they should not be deterred by those who questioned the exclusionary practices. Those who questioned these practices were labelled "grumpies", which seemed to be regarded as a sufficent defence of the practices themselves. It was basically an attempt to evade the issue, thus making it clear that there is a great deal of racism in South African genealogical circles.

The racism has been there for a long ntime.

When I first became seriously interested in genealogy, when I got married in 1974, I joined the Genealogical Society of South Africa (GSSA). It soon became apparent that the main focus of the society was was the genealogy of white Afrikaans-speaking South Africans. That was the genealogy of "the South African nation". English-speaking South Africans were very much second-class citizens, and the attitude towards them was rather condescending. Including black South Africans was unthought of and probably unthinkable to those who ran the show. And it seems that those attitudes persist in some genealogical circles in South Africa even today, and they try to justify them by calling those who question them "grumpies".

Perhaps someone could write a doctoral thesis on racism in South African genealogy, and maybe do a comparison with the Nazi Sippenbucher in Germany.

Quite apart from the question or racism, however, there is the problem of being honest (or dishonest) with the historical record. Omitting records in a public index is a form of falsification, as is adding false records, in the way this article describes.

There has been some discussion of that article in the soc.genealogy.britain newsgroup, and one poster there said it didn't matter if the records were falsified because genealogy is "only a hobby".

It may be "only a hobby" to some people, but genealogy is also an ancilliary science of history, and the study of genealogy can reveal a great deal about political, economic and religious history. You want to know why such-and-such a firm in Port Elizabeth exported the products of such and such a town in the Karroo? Because the biggest shopkeeper in that town was the brother-in-law of the owner of the firm in Port Elizabeth. In politics, nepotism is rife and always has been. In religion, you can see missionaries go to a place and start a church, and as it grows, many of the new members are relatives of the first members.

The role of the Msimang family in the growth of Methodism in both Natal and Swaziland is of interest to church historians, and their activities had political and economic repercussions as well. Now if someone decides, on the basis of a personal whim, or racism, to omit members of the Msimang family from a public index, they could mislead historians who are interested in more than just genealogy for its own sake. It's more than "just a hobby".

I once, in the course of a historical research project, interviewed a lot of black Anglican clergy in Zululand, and I asked them about their family history. One of them said to me, "We Zulus think we know a lot about this, but we don't."

I would like to see more South Africans, of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, become interested in genealogy and see that "the South African nation" is indeed a rainbow nation, and if that makes me a "grumpy", then long live grumpiness.

Friday, January 11, 2013

South African archives computers down for a week

Researchers trying to consult the computers that hold the indexes to the South African archives have been greeted with this message since last week:

SITA Inverse Web Proxy Server

The requested URL could not be retrieved

While trying to retrieve the URL:
The following error was encountered:
Connection Failed
The system returned:
(60) Operation timed out

The remote host or network may be down. Please try the request again.
Your cache administrator is

The computer systems are used by the archives staff, and by researchers in such topics as history and genealogy, either remotely via the web, or at the archives themselves.

When researchers began reporting that the system was inaccessible last weekend, there were some jokes about civil servants not working at weekends, and people expected the system to be up and running again by Monday or Tuesday at the latest.

When it wasn't, people began looking a bit more closely at this "SITA", and discovered that it is not run by civil servants at all. It seems that a lot of the state's information and computer services have been privatised. SITA's web site tells us
SITA is committed to leveraging Information Technology as a strategic resource for government

SITA was established in 1999 to consolidate and coordinate the State’s information technology resources in order to achieve cost savings through scale, increase delivery capabilities and enhance interoperability.

It also tells us that it is SITA (Pty) Ltd, which means that it has been wholly privatised.

Perhaps it is time for some investigative journalists to start looking into SITA and how it operates, who it is responsible/accountable to, if anyone. Privatising an important strategic resource for government somehow doesn't seem like a good idea.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Computers and genealogy -- some pitfalls

When we started on genealogy soon after we were married, back in 1974, we didn't have a computer. Nobody we knew had a computer either. The only computers we encountered were in building societies (remember them?). Even the banks that later took over the building societies didn't have computers, but entered transactions manually in savings passbooks.

I kept hoping that somewhere, somehow, a computer would become available where one could enter information once, and instead of labouriously writing out family group sheets by hand to send to distant relatives by snail mail, one could just print them out. And when the reply came that great uncle Joe was born on 3 November and not 3 July, one could just correct it once.

Well, within ten years the dream came true, and we could do just that.

We had an Osborne portable computer (not a laptop, it was the size of a small suitcase, or a large briefcase). It came woith a word processor (Wordstar) a spreadsheet (Supercalc) and a database (Personal Pearl). It stored its programs and data on two 185k floppy disks. We bought a genealogy program, Roots/M, which cost $US49.00, which, in the days before the Rubicon Rand, was quite affordable.

And so we enjoyed all the things we had only dreamed of before. We began typing in the family tree, and could print out family group sheets to send to relatives (still by snail mail, but it was a lot easier than writing them by hand). We also discovered limitations. Roots/M loaded all its data into memory, and the Osborne computer only had 128k of memory. The disks, with 185k, were also rather small. But we began typing some of the paper documents we had -- wills and the like. The handwriting was often hard to read, so typing them up made it easer to find things.

Fast-forward to 2013.

A relative of a relative of a relative (don't ask!) writes from Montreal to say he can look up information for us about John Gray, the founder and firs tpresident of the Bank of Montreal. He wanted to know the source of the information we already had, so he could know where to start looking.

Ah, yes, we had typed out the will of John Gray in 1987, on the Osborne Executive, in WordStar, running under the CP/M operating system.

And, when we had got an MS DOS computer later that year (with a hard disk with all of 20 megabytes) I had taken the precaution of using a disk conversion program, called UniForm, to copy the Osborne data files over to disks in MS DOS format. . 

So yes, there is a copy of the will on my hard disk in an archive somewhere. But it is in WordStar, and I no longer have a copy of WordStar on my disk, and even if I did, I doubt that I could remember how to use it.

But what I do have on my disk is a word processor conversion program, called Word for Word. It also dates from about 1987, when there were about 20 or more different word processors on the market, each using a different format. But not one of them can be read by the word processors in common use today, LibreOffice and Microsoft Word.

So I convert it into XyWrite III+, which I do still have on my computer. But XyWrite III+ was designed for publishing, and all publishers' typesetters knew that you set underlined text (typed on a typewriter) as italics. So you used Mode Underline, and set the printer to print it as italics (laser printers were versatile in those days). You could typeset a book in XyWrite, no problem. That's what it was designed for. As a word processor, MS Word still hasn't caught up, 25 years later. Word has more bells and whistles, yes, but not as many pistons and cylinders as XyWrite.

The trouble is, XyWrite is a DOS program, and modern dumbed-down printers can't cope. So I convert it to XyWrite 4.0, and make one change. I type "ch /MDUL/MDIT/" that converts all the underlines to italics, which modern printers can understand.

Then I save the XyWrite 4.0 document as an RTF file (Rich Text Format), and import it into LibreOffice or MS Word, and print it as a PDF (Portable Document Format) file, which I send to the guy in Montreal.

So now I have these copies of John Gray's will on my computer: GRAYWILL.TXT (WordStar), GRAYWILL.XY3, GRAYWILL.XY4, GRAYWILL.RTF, GRAYWILL.ODT and finally GRAYWILL.PDF.

Six copies, where there was only one before. Am I going to delete any of them, as "surplus to requirements"?

Not a chance. Who knows when some "advance" in computer technology might make it impossible to read one or more of them? The workaround was cumbersome, but it was a lot easier than retyping the will of John Gray.

And the lesson for genealogists is this: when you "upgrade" to a new computer, don't be conned by some glib salesman into just buying the latest and greatest.

First make sure that you can use it to access and work with the data you have spent hours and hours and days and days typing in. You might find that Gee-Whiz graphics and amazing surround sound are a poor compensation for all that lost labour.