RootsTech 2015

Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, February 26, 2015

31 Sessions of RootsTech 2015 now online

You need to check back on the RootsTech.org website for the latest postings of newly added recorded classes from the Conference. There are now 31 sessions online.


If you need a place to start. Watch Ron Tanner.

Utah Genealogical Association DNA Special Interest Group


I received the following notice from the Utah Genealogical Association (UGA). Note that this invitation is for MEMBERS ONLY. Here is the specific information about the meeting:
You are invited to our members-only DNA Special Intrest Group on Wednesday, Mar 4, 2015 at 7:00 PM MST If you are attending in person:  The meeting will be held at the Draper Library, 1136 Pioneer Road, Draper (end of blue line TRAX) from 7:00 pm to 8:45 pm.  A presentation and Q&A will take place from 7:00 to 7:45 and will be followed by a hands-on session with the experts from 7:45 to 8:45 pm.  Please bring your laptop and DNA research questions with you. If you are unable to attend in person:  You may register for the presentation portion of the meeting which will be broadcast via GoToWebinar® from 7:00 to 7:45 pm MST.  You may register here:  https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/2529497233223364354  After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.  Seating is limited; however, it will be recorded and saved behind the member's wall on the UGA website for future viewing if you are unable to join.

You may wish to join UGA and get in on this special opportunity. Membership is open to anyone, even those living outside of Utah. Here is a quote from the UGA website explaining about the organization:
UGA Mission Statement
The Utah Genealogical Association provides genealogical information, sources and education through personal instruction and published media on state, national and international family history topics, while promoting high standards and ethical practices. 
UGA Information
The Utah Genealogical Association was formally organized on September 25, 1971, and chartered on December 1, 1971, by the State of Utah as a nonprofit educational organization. The Association's interests are worldwide while still providing specific materials of interest relating to Utah. It is not affiliated with any religious or political organization. 
The Association is governed by an Executive Committee comprised of the President, 1st Vice-President, and 2nd Vice-President plus a Board of Governors. Members of the Board are elected by the general membership of the Association and serve for a period of three years. 
In addition, dozens of volunteers serve on various committees, staff booths at conferences, and work behind the scenes to assure the membership a vibrant, collegial, and enjoyable Association. 
The Association publishes Crossroads, a quarterly journal of general interest in the field of genealogy and family history. The journal is sent to the general membership of the Association and is also available to the membership in an electronic edition on this website. 
Association members can share information on specific surnames through our Surname Research page. We sponsor an annual meeting wherein outstanding service and accomplishments are recognized and awarded. 
Also available to members is the opportunity to participate in a monthly "virtual chapter" meeting wherein experts in various aspects of genealogy and family history make hour-long presentations on their areas of expertise. These presentations are then archived for member review and access at any time.
Click here to find out about becoming a member.

1930 Denmark Census now on MyHeritage.com


I got the following notice today from MyHeritage.com:
We are pleased to let you know that the census conducted in Denmark in 1930 is now available on MyHeritage, with full images and a complete index of 3.6 million names. This is the first time this important collection of historical records has been completely digitized and made available online. It was done as part of a large-scale digitization project by MyHeritage under agreement with the National Danish Archives.  
See MyHeritage.com
The email notice went on to state the following about the records:
More Information about the 1930 Denmark Census 
The 1930 census was conducted in Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.The following fields are included and searchable: Given name(s), Surname, Gender, Full birthdate, Residence location, Marital status, Marriage date and Relationship in household. The images contain additional fields such as Birthplace, Occupation, Name and address of the firm or business where employed, and more. In the 1930 census, census workers distributed the booklets and an individual within each household completed the forms.  The handwriting varies greatly between households and in some cases individuals within each household filled in their own information as the handwriting can change between records. View sample image 
The 1930 Denmark census will be automatically compared to your family tree and you will receive notifications on Record Matches whenever MyHeritage finds census records relevant to individuals in your family tree. 
There are more images planned for the near future:
The 1930 census is the first of many Danish record collections that MyHeritage will release during 2015 and 2016. The total data set will include approx. 120 million names, and will include Danish census records from 1787 to 1930 and Danish Parish records from 1646 to 1915. Most people with ancestors from Denmark will be able to find them in this data set, more than once, and learn more about their life stories and relatives. Many family history mysteries will be solved and new leads will be found. People with Danish roots will be able to trace back their ancestors many centuries back. Next on our list: the Danish censuses of 1880 and 1890. We are currently digitizing them and will bring them online on MyHeritage very soon. 
We are committed to digitizing important historical records that have never been digitized before, for the benefit of genealogists and family history fans. We hope the 1930 Denmark Census will be useful for your research and help you make many exciting discoveries. 

Digitizing Genealogy -- What is digitization?

Reproduction of a bison of the cave of Altamira
Genealogical jargon can sometimes be difficult. This is especially true when overlaid with legal, scientific, DNA, or technological jargon. In the technological side of genealogy, you will frequently hear the word "digital" in all its forms (digitalize, digitalization, etc. also you may see it spelled with an "s" rather than a "z" in Great Britain).  What is all this?

It gets a little bit involved to understand the concepts and what is actually going on when we talk about digitizing something. Stay with me and I will walk you through how all this came about. 

Since ancient times, humans have tried to capture and preserve their impressions of the physical world. The cave painting depicted above is an example of what could be called an "analog" image. What we mean by an "analog image" is that the method of reproduction of the physical reality is also a physical reality. At the time this image was painted on the wall of the cave, there really was a bison out there in the world running around and eating grass. The technical definition of an analog image would be something like this: relating to or using signals or information represented by a continuously variable physical quantity such as spatial position or voltage. In the case of the cave painting, the "continuously variable physical quantity" is the paint used. 

When a genealogist looks at a document or other record of the past and copies out the information contained in the document, he or she is making an "analog" copy of the information using a pen or pencil and a piece of paper. Obviously, the cave painting above is not an exact replica of the original bison. Just as obviously, the pen or pencil copy of the information in a source document is also not an exact replica of the original. But for thousands of years, the only way to make a copy of a document at all was to copy it by hand. Printing was invented to speed up the process and enable the printer to make multiple copies of the same document. But each of those individual copies was still an "analog" of the original. Making any changes to the original analog copy essentially required remaking an original. If a painter painted a painting of a landscape, the only way I could acquire a copy of the painting was if someone copied the original in some format. 

In 1725, the limitation on making copies of an original began to change when Johann Heinrich Schulze made fleeting "photographs" of words by using stencils, sunlight, and a bottled solution of chalk and silver nitrate, simply as an interesting way to demonstrate that the mixture inside the bottle darkens where it is exposed to light. See Wikipedia, Timeline of photography technology.

If we fast forward through the history of the development of photography, we see that what was happening was that the inventors and developers of the photographic process were working on a new analog process of reproducing images. As photography developed, it became possible to use a camera to take a negative image (first negative invented in 1835 by Henry Fox Talbot) and then make as many positive image copies as desired of the "original" analog photograph. The media for the analog image was the glass plate or film. See Wikipedia, Timeline of photography technology.

Fast forwarding this whole process, for genealogists, the breakthrough for preserving documents came with the introduction of microfilm copies of the originals. The earliest microphotographs were made by John Benjamin Dancer in 1839, shortly after the introduction of the daguerreotype process. See Wikipedia: Microform

It is important to remember that all this fancy photographic stuff was still an analog of the physical reality as long as it involved some kind of physical film for capturing the image. What was important about film photography was the ability to make multiple copies rather cheaply and easily. Photography did for images what book printing did for books. 

So where do digital images come into all this? At the same time photography began to develop, the idea of manipulating information using mechanical and electronic devices also was beginning to emerge. A detailed history of computers is interesting, but beyond the scope of this post series. It is enough to say that the idea of a general-purpose computing device is usually attributed to Charles Babbage, who conceptualized the first mechanical computer beginning in 1833. See Wikipedia: Computer. It was necessary for a lot of other types of technology to develop before the first images could be transmitted electronically in 1920. Quoting from the Wikipedia article on Digital Imaging:
The first digital image was produced in 1920, by the Bartlane cable picture transmission system. British inventors, Harry G. Bartholomew and Maynard D. McFarlane, developed this method. The process consisted of “a series of negatives on zinc plates that were exposed for varying lengths of time, thus producing varying densities,”.[1] The Bartlane cable picture transmission system generated at both its transmitter and its receiver end a punched data card or tape that was recreated as an image.[2]
What happened here is that the "analog" representation of the physical reality had been transformed into a coded representation of the original in the form of electrical impulses. You could argue that this was still an "analog" image and that the medium of transmission had merely changed, but this development was significant to warrant a new category of "digital images." The word "digital" in this context focuses on the fact that the physical reality of the original is represented by a stream of electronic impulses. In the case of the original image transmission back in 1920, the punched data card or tape, was not recognizable as an image until it was processed by the receiver. 

The first digital photograph is attributed to Russell Kirsch in 1957. Here is a copy:

Pioneering digitally scanned image of Russell Kirsch's son Walden, 1957
The first digital camera is believed to be developed by Kodak in 1975. See "The World’s First Digital Camera by Kodak and Steve Sasson." Although the circuits and the devices have become smaller and smaller, the idea that an image can be made by discrete electronic sensors is at the heart of a digitalization. You could argue that the first movable type book was merely a small step from the original handwritten books, but this small step changed the world. Likewise, the first digital images began the same fundamental revolution in the way information was processed and transmitted. 

So, digitization is the process of taking a physical object (book, document, etc.) and using an electronic sensor, transforming the light rays from the object into a series of electronic impulses that can be transmitted, stored, manipulated and altered in an almost infinite number of ways. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

10 Surprising Things about Mobile App Use and Genealogy and why they are not a surprise


The introduction of the FamilySearch.org App Gallery indicates more than just the number of programs becoming FamilySearch Certified. It also indicates some important messages about the present direction of the entire computer world and the direction technology as it applies to genealogy is moving. Here are 10 things that tell us a lot about genealogy, mobile apps and why they should not be a surprise to anyone.

No.1: The sales of mobile devices outnumber stationary, desktop devices.
The number of mobile devices sold in 2014 so far out paces traditional desk-type computers that there is no doubt where the market is going. According to Gartner.com, a online consulting firm, traditional PCs sold at the rate of 308,472,000 in 2014 while mobile devices, including smartphones, tablets, and similar mobile devices sold 2,432,927,000. In short, there were over 2.4 billion mobile devices sold. See "Gartner Says Worldwide Traditional PC, Tablet, Ultramobile and Mobile Phone Shipments to Grow 4.2 Percent in 2014."

No.2: More and more people are using their mobile devices exclusively for their computing.
My own observations indicate that tablets (including iPads, iPhones, and other portable devices) are becoming ubiquitous. This year at RootsTech 2015, many of the bloggers were using their iPad or tablets for their portable computer. This was particularly true among the younger, "lifestyle" bloggers that were there by invitation from FamilySearch. The were still a few of us diehard laptop folks, but even the presentations that I have seen lately were done with an iPad. 

No.3: The so-called "Apps" for mobile devices are daily growing more sophisticated.
In a recent presentation from Bruce Buzbee, the head of RootsMagic, the popular genealogy program, he indicated that many of the functions of the standalone program would be ported over to the mobile app. As the numbers quoted above clearly indicate, if the developers want to expand their market, they will have to move into selling mobile apps and making them more functional. FamilySearch is also indicating that significant changes will be made to their mobile apps in the future.

No. 4: The variety of programs available for mobile devices far outpaces the development of new desktop, local computer based programs.
I do get upgrades to the programs on my main computer, but most of the new programs coming out today are designed to work on mobile devices. It is rumored that Apple's coming operating system will essentially combine the present OS X system with Apple's iOS system into one system that runs the same on all devices. 

No. 5: We are right at the transition point where mobile computing become the norm.
I use my iPad for many things I used my desktop computer for just a few months or years ago. When I bought my present iPad, I looked at the possibility of adding a keyboard and decided that I still needed the connectivity of my laptop. I am in the process of rethinking that position again. 

No. 6: The selection of mobile apps shown on the FamilySearch.org App Gallery will increase dramatically over the next few months.
Many of the programs that are featured in the App Gallery were there before when they were listed as products. But the number of new web-based apps is clearly growing much faster than apps designed for Windows or Mac OS X. 

No. 7: Since most of the programs I now use are either web based or have a web component, moving to a mobile device is a natural transition.
As more and more programs become web-based, the need to have a separate copy of the program for each device diminishes. As long as I can access the Internet, I have access to all of my programs. There is no need to have a stationary computer to hold all of my programs. Now, this works as long as I remember to keep all of my working documents stored in web-accessible applications.

No. 8: Voice recognition software is becoming more and more useful.
Most of the mobile devices today integrate voice recognition features. Presently, I find the mobile devices don't work all that well. However, I am certain that the voice recognition software on these devices will improve dramatically over time, just as the cameras already have. Using a keyboard will not become the obstacle that it is now.

No. 9: The capabilities and storage capacity of mobile devices will eventually exceed those of the desktop computers we have today.
Eventually is an interesting word. Computers are changing rapidly enough that even those of us who are rather old will likely see a few more rounds of changes. Much of the research and development is directed at mobile devices and it is very likely that ways will be found to add interfaces that will let us add and store information more easily.

No. 10: The integration of web apps with mobile devices will expand their capabilities to match those of desktop computers.
I'm not looking to replace my desktop computer with a mobile device anytime in the future, but even today, that is entirely possible. The two things I need the most, a large screen, a good keyboard and massive storage is available for mobile devices now. As long as I can connect my mobile device to a large screen (which I can do now) and a keyboard (which I can also do) there are few barriers left to overcome before I move entirely to a mobile device.

What this means to genealogists is rather simple, They use computers. They use mobile devices. Eventually, all of the genealogy companies will realize this and the programs will be ported to the mobile devices. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Digitizing Genealogy -- An Introduction to the Series

It has been a couple of years since I last wrote about the digitization process from a practical standpoint. It is time to review the products, methods and reasons for converting our paper copies to digital images. The overall process seems simple enough, the paper document is scanned/photographed and the image is then attached to the pertinent individuals in a genealogical database program and/or an online family tree. But it turns out that the details of such an operation can be overwhelming to many genealogists.

This is the first part of an ongoing series on the entire process of digitizing documents. I intend to include both the mechanics and theory of the process including most, if not all, of the options. I also intend to discuss the pros and cons of digital copies vs. original paper and the serious issues of digital preservation. The equipment for making very high quality digital images is very rapidly evolving. Just one example, Canon has announced a 50.6-Megapixel camera for introduction in June of 2015. Much of the previous discussion about making digital images centers around the issue of flatbed scanners vs. cameras for archive images. The resolution of the images is a controversial topic among archivists and others concerned with the quality of the images. As the equipment available for consumer use increases in quality, these quality issues become more and more esoteric.

My intention here is to meld my 62 years of photography experience with my 46 years of computer technology experience and explain the issues and details of the issues in terms of my now 33 years of genealogy experience. In the process, I may also discuss the legal/ethical issues based on 40 years of legal experience. I will also throw in, for good measure, my perspective of working and living in libraries and archives for the past 62 years.

The proliferation of cameras coupled with phones, makes estimates of the number of cameras in use today almost impossible. Some estimates run as high as 5.8 billion cameras in use around the world out of a total population of 7 billion and that includes a figure of 1.8 billion sold in 2014. As a result of this expansion, many genealogists are likely carrying around a camera that is perfectly adequate for document preservation and don't even know it. Recognizing this change in technology, there are a very few archivists who are seriously considering the use of consumer level cameras for archive purposes. See the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Digital Historian Series.

At the same time cameras have evolved from the specialized purchase option into something everyone carries around all the time, the scanning technology has also rapidly evolved and the cost of a high quality multipage, double-sided, sheetfed scanner has dropped dramatically. The prices of all types of scanning equipment have plummeted and today the cost of setting up a scanning operation is minimal compared to the cost of the labor to do the scanning and catalog the results.

At the same time, the field of digital preservation is fraught with its own dangers and concerns. Access to existing paper collections is spotty throughout the world. Many genealogically significant records are still "locked up" by bureaucratic red tape and concerns about legal rights. The monetization of records is also a concern. Of course politics plays a huge part in the availability of records and repressive governments are not limited to developing countries. As technology makes taking the images less expensive, both public and private repositories and archives are seeing the revenue value of their collections and limiting reproduction rights to preserve cash flow.

The issues that accompany digitization do not end with the production of a digital image. What happens to that image after it is produced is probably as important as the creation of the image itself. Many large companies today make sizable incomes from the process of organizing and displaying digital images of documents.

Now, to summarize, this series will touch on as many issues as possible across the entire spectrum of using digital images for genealogical research and preservation. Rather than numbering the series, I will tag the posts with the words "Digitizing Genealogy" and all the posts in the series will appear in the sidebar list of topics I have created. You may have to scroll down a ways to the list, but the series will be there and available.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Back it all up -- The present cost of storage

In the last few days, I have had a number of conversations with genealogical researchers that caused me some alarm. They have been discussing various computer problems and when I ask about backups they seem confused at the question. There are some genealogical database programs that make automatic backup of data and some that even back up all of the "media" or attached documents and photos, but if you allow the program to "backup" the data and put the "backup file" on the same computer you are working on, there is no true backup. If the hard drive or operating system of your computer goes south, you will still lose all your data. This seems to be a particularly severe problem among genealogists who only work on their family history every so often. It is also a problem for researchers who are not very computer savvy, but can be a problem even for more experienced researchers.

There are different levels of possible data loss. Here is a list of ways you can lose your genealogical data.

  • You can fail to save you work as you go along. Many program save genealogical work as it is entered, but other types of work, such as word processing programs, spreadsheets and database programs may not have automatic save functions. As you work, you should periodically, say every hour or so, check to see that your work is saved. Here, I speak from a lot of experience. From time to time, I lose work when I click on the wrong button and delete a file rather than save it. 
  • The file you are working on can become corrupted. There is no way to identify the many different ways a file can get corrupted. This happens less frequently than my failure to properly save a file, but it does happen. It can happen if you are working online and there is a power failure, even for a brief period of time. 
  • You can suffer an operating system failure. There are a myriad of ways that the operating system of your computer can crash. Many crashes are seemingly random and do not re-occur. If your computer is crashing frequently, there is something fundamentally wrong and it is in danger of a permanent crash where all the data is lost.
  • Something physical happens to the computer. It is dropped or a power surge or lightning strike fries its circuits or dogs or children or whatever. This includes fires, floods, earthquakes, storms, tornados, etc. 
The list could go on and on, but you probably get the idea. Things can happen without notice and without you being able to prevent the crash. 

If you think about this list, you will see that there are two issues; one is damage to the way the computer works and the other is damage to the place where the computer is located. Depending on the type of damage, backing up the data may or may not work so well. 

If the damage comes because of a computer centered event, then you need to have the data stored on devices that are independent of the computer itself. Presently, there are several physical options: hard drives, flash drives and CDs or DVDs. The only sure way to prevent loss of data from physical destruction of the computer system is to store the information off-site. The best practice is to do both. 

Let's look at each of these backup methods and the cost.

The most common and cheapest way to back up your computer is to copy the data either automatically or manually to an external storage device. Here is a list of each of the available devices and their cost. First local storage attached to or created by your computer.

CD and/or DVDs
These devices are on their way out. Many computers sold today do not have a CD or DVD drive. The issue with these devices is two-fold. Many of the files we create today for images, including photos, document scans, downloaded files etc. are much larger than the capacity of these disks. The capacity of an average individual CD is about 700 MBs. This is not enough to store more than a few photos. My photos usually run about 50 MBs in size. DVDs vary from 4.7 GBs to 17 GBs. My current backup files comprise approximately 3.3 TBs or almost a thousand times more than one of these disks. The time involved in using CDs or DVDs for back up for me has long ago become impractical. If your files are much smaller, you can still consider this method of storage. But remember, the backups need to be regular and reflect the amount of work you would be upset to have to do over. 
Cost:
CDs cost about $25 for 100.
DVDs cost about the same price for 4.7 GBs and 8.5 GBs storage capacity, higher capacity disks are harder to find.

Flash Drives
Solid state memory storage devices are now becoming more and more popular and therefore cheaper. There are also solid state hard drives with greater capacity. They are fast and reliable. The greatest danger in using smaller flash drives (also called thumb drives) is that they get lost easily. They are commonly sold now in sizes from 8 GBs up to 256 GBs. 
Cost:
Lower capacity flash drives are given away as premiums. But to purchase a 2 GB drive costs about $2 to $5.
High capacity drives are about $30 for a 256 GB Drive. 
External Solid State Drives (SSD) are about $450 for a 1 TB drive.

Hard Drives
The prices for hand drives has been steadily falling. For very large files, they are the media of choice. A 1 TB drive will be more than adequate for most genealogists. If you have a lot of photos or videos, you can purchase drives with up to 6 TBs of storage. That is more than most people can comprehend unless you are storing a lot of movies or hundreds of thousands of photos. 
Cost:
A 1 TB Hard Drive costs about $60.
A 4 TB Hard Drive runs about $120. You can see that the cost per TB drops considerably with a larger drive. 
A 6 TB Hard Drive is running about $250. The price per TB increases because the drives are not yet very popular. 

Offsite Storage
The simplest way to do offsite storage is to make a back up to a hard disk drive or other type and store the copies in an offsite safe location. I make copies of my files and give them to my children to store. This works well and then they have access to the data. If you can't depend on your children or they are too young, then another relative or friend might work. You have to remember to do this regularly.

Online Storage
If there is a natural disaster in your area, you may not have an Internet connection. But this is still another way of storing a large amount of data. You need to be very much aware of the Terms and Conditions of the online storage companies. Some of them will erase your data or lock it up, if you do not make the periodic payments. I have seen unlimited storage for a little as $5 a month. 

When making backups of your data, it is a good idea to take into account the time it takes to make a backup. I have an automatic backup system on my computer, Apple's Time Machine, and it works very well and keeps the computer backed up constantly. There are similar programs for Windows PCs. If I did a complete backup of all of my files, it would take two or three days to complete. A word to the wise.