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

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Voice Recognition with hearing aids


I have worn hearing aids off and on for years, usually more off than on. I recently got a pair that connects to a Bluetooth receiver and microphone. To my surprise, the Bluetooth microphone connects to my iMac computer and I can use the Dragon Dictate program to do voice recognition. Every once in a while, I write an update on the use of voice-recognition software for genealogical purposes. Because of this new development, I thought it was a good time to do an update. So, you are reading a post dictated by the use of hearing aids.

Voice recognition software works very well if you are accustomed to dictating. In my early years as an attorney, I did a lot of dictation. That generally stopped when I got access to a computer. Because of the way I write, it is much easier to type in some cases rather than dictate. In addition, even with the updated voice recognition programs available, you have to constantly reread everything that you dictate because the accuracy is still not perfect. This is doubly true for me because I edit as I type.

Voice recognition software is indispensable for people who have limited keyboarding ability or skills. People are becoming more accustomed to using voice recognition because of the smartphone apps such as Siri. But genealogical research involves a fairly large number of names and the voice recognition software does not do a good job of distinguishing between similarly sounding names. But for pure text writing tasks such as this post, the software is adequate.

If you wish to experiment with voice recognition software, I suggest using the programs that are integrated into the Apple OSX and the Microsoft Windows operating systems. You can find instructions for using both systems online.


14,228,779 Ebooks and Texts to Search for Genealogy



One of my favorite websites and one that I frequently mention is the Internet Archive or Archive.org. The vast numbers of different resources on this website make it an important research tool for genealogists. As you can see above, they have expanded their holdings of ebooks and texts to over 14 million. The additional holdings of the Internet Archive include the following:

  • 304 billion webpages saved into the Wayback Machine, a website archive
  • 3,553,259 moving images including movies and television archives
  • 3,592,080 audio and music recordings
  • 1,416,000 TV news show clips since 2009
  •  188,853 archived software programs including vintage and historical software
  • 1,502,827 images
  • 175,740 live music recordings including 11,354 Grateful Dead concerts
  • 288,882 media collections
I have mentioned the Internet Archive in 190 previous posts. Of course, that is out of almost 5000 posts. The reason I have mentioned it so many times is that every time I teach a class and talk about the Internet Archive I draw almost uniform blank looks. Most researchers today spend all their time on the big online genealogy database websites and subsequently mostly ignore any program that is not specifically identified as a genealogical resource.

Just within the last week or so, I used the Internet Archive for a digital copy of one of the old Tanner surname books that I needed to refer to. I consistently find genealogically relative material on the Internet Archive that is apparently much harder to find on any other website. A year ago, I even did a webinar on using the Internet Archive for genealogical research.



Using the Internet Archive for Genealogy - James Tanner

The reason for revisiting the topic in this post is that the number of e-books and texts has increased well over 2 million items since that webinar was presented in 2016.



Saturday, August 19, 2017

What are the "Restricted" Records on FamilySearch.org?


The current FamilySearch microfilm issue has apparently engendered a sub-topic concern about the "restricted" records on the FamilySearch.org website. As more people view the records on FamilySearch and as more records are added to the website regularly, more people are encountering notices from FamilySearch indicating that the records are restricted in some way. The restricted records fall into three distinct categories:
  • Records that are only available for review at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, i.e. when the researcher is physically present in the Library.
  • Records that are only available for review when the researcher is in a Family History Center and using a computer connected to the Family History Center Portal.
  • The very small category of records that are only available to researchers who have certain qualifications, i.e. members in good standing of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
It is important to understand that these "restrictions" do not come from FamilySearch. The restrictions arise as a result of the following concerns:
  • Privacy concerns
  • Restrictions imposed by the custodians or originators of the documents when they were obtained by FamilySearch
  • Changes in the laws in the country where the records originated
  • Limitations imposed by the contract role arrangements providing for the use of the records by FamilySearch
  • Copyright restrictions
There may be additional reasons why certain records are not available online at all. It is entirely possible that the restrictions imposed by those who originally supplied the records can change over time. As a matter of fact, when FamilySearch and its predecessors began acquiring microfilm records back in 1938, many of the countries in the world today did not exist and many of the countries that existed back in 1938 do not exist today.

I have heard complaints from a very small minority of the users of the FamilySearch.org website who complain that "all the records" are restricted. In fact, very few of the records are actually restricted even including those restricted to viewing within Family History Centers. Over time, some of these restricted records may become more freely available. However, the opposite can also occur; the original suppliers of the records may choose to have them removed from circulation. This occurs entirely independently of any of the issues involving microfilm.

If you take a moment to think about the situation, you will realize that the discontinuance of the shipment of microfilm has nothing to do with the restriction issue. Of the three types of restrictions listed above, each of the restrictions applies to microfilm and are only more evident now because of digitization. There have always been records that were restricted to viewing in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. As for the microfilm, use of microfilm was always restricted to  Family History Centers. The only thing that has changed is the fact that many more documents are now freely available online without restrictions than ever before.

To repeat, records with restrictions are not the fault of FamilySearch.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Microfilm Issue: Tempest in a Teapot?



During the past couple of weeks, I have been doing an informal poll about the issue of FamilySearch discontinuing microfilm shipments to the Family History Centers around the world. I have asked easily over a hundred people who are attending my classes and therefore likely interested in genealogy. I wrote about the results of my inquiry in a post entitled, "The Impact of the Microfilm Issue" on my Rejoice, and be exceeding glad... blog. What I found was that very few of the people, only one or two, had even used microfilm in the last year.

But I am finding some issues for the "serious" (for lack of a better term) genealogical researchers. The question is do these issues interfere with our present modus operandi? Well, yes they do. Those of us who are wedded to microfilm will have to transition to finding and looking at digital images. Perhaps we need to recall the time in the not-too-distant past when the only microfilm available was sitting in the Salt Lake City Family History Library (aka Genealogy Library). As time passed, we were able to "order" rolls of microfilm from the Family History Library and then after a number of years, FamilySearch.org began to host "digital" copies of those records. We have watched as that collection of online records grew from a novelty to billions of records.

I think the first thing we need to consider, assuming I include myself in the category of "serious" genealogical researcher, is whether or not we are personally familiar with the existing online record collections on FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, and Findmypast.com? Of course, these four websites hardly exhaust or even begin to exhaust the number of digital images available for research online. What I am finding for myself and after talking to other "serious" researchers is that more and more of the records we need for in-depth research are being digitized and are available online. Are there still going to be records that are only available on microfilm? The answer is a qualified yes. Given the case of microfilm digitation which I understand to be for FamilySearch rapidly proceeding, I would suggest that it is important to check almost daily for additional new records and certainly to check before becoming disturbed about microfilm shipments.

I'm also certain, that FamilySearch will implement some procedures that will allow those who need a microfilm digitized, particularly from the Granite Vault, will have a way to request that the digitization be expedited. Meanwhile, keep ordering microfilm through 31 August 2017 and keep watching the progress of the digitization of the records.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

CAGR or Computer Aided Genealogical Research


I was overhearing a discussion the other day about slide rules. I still have mine on a shelf where I can get to it easily. I also have an abacus. There is something comforting and physical about these devices that is lacking in computers. But the reality of the day is that I am fully integrated into the computer world.

From time to time, I have written about the digital divide between computer literacy and computer illiteracy. Genealogical research and all the activities associated with it can be done on paper, just as day-to-day calculations could be done on a mechanical adding machine, slide rule or abacus. The advantage of doing those calculations on a computer seem overwhelming obvious, but we have yet to begin realizing the potential of the computer over older systems.

I have titled this post "Computer Aided Genealogical Research" or CAGR. It turns out that there are several genealogy societies with similar names, but otherwise the name and the acronym are both made-up. What I see is that, so far, the computer is acting primarily as a substitute for paper and the devices listed above. It is also becoming a primary communication device. But as far as genealogical research, it is still a paper substitute.

Of course, there are a few glimmerings of progress towards CAGR with a variety of record hints from large online genealogical database companies, but otherwise, we are still doing research in the same way with the same objectives as did our predecessors. Let me start explaining this concept with a hypothetical situation.

Let's suppose that I am doing research on my English ancestors. Let's further suppose that I use a desktop based computer program to store my genealogical data. Going back a few years, I do all my research in libraries and archives and record what I find in my desktop computer program. Hmm. Let's suppose I move forward a few years and now I have this wonderful internet connection. I can now spend fewer hours in libraries and archives, but I am still storing all my information on my desktop computer.

Time passes, as hypothetically, I become connected with an online family tree program. Despite the changes in venue,  I am still doing what I have always done, I have just moved some of my data from my local, desktop program to an online program. Eventually, because of the development of the internet and the establishment of the huge online database programs, I move more and more of my activities to the internet. But because of fear of losing my data and other considerations, I still have desktop genealogy program.

Because of the development of research hints, where the online genealogy companies suggest connections between my ancestors and the documents and records in their databases, I see the need to put my family tree information on several such programs (i.e. websites). What is missing? What have I gained?

First of all, the computer is still acting as automated paper. I am still doing all of the research, the analysis, the data entry, the recording of sources etc. I see that some of these activities are now aided by the computer systems but only those that were formerly done on paper. Searching for documents has become easier, I make even fewer trips to archives and libraries, but the essence of genealogical research has not changed. Again, what is missing?

The answer is integration. I have data scattered across the internet. I have my family tree in several different online and even several desktop programs. These online programs are very much like warring nations. I can talk to each one of them, but they do not talk to each other. In this case, the computer and its connection to the internet actually interfere with my research. Remember, we are in the middle of a hypothetical situation. Let's suppose I search for information about my hypothetical English ancestors. Let's suppose that the information I am seeking does exist but I do not know where it is located. I am forced to search each separate repository where that information may be located. If the information is sitting in one website, search a hundred others is waste of time, but there is no mechanism to tell me which of the repositories has the information. The internet has essentially become an almost infinite shell game. Despite Google searches, the information I need is really locked up tight in some database on some computer and I have to guess where it is. Presently, I have many separate programs all telling me that they have data for me when what I need is not really there at all.

CAGR should help me find my ancestors' data but it does not yet exist. There is a measure of discussion about "smart assistants" and robo products. We have offensively stupid programs such as SIRI and other such programs that do things like look at the clock or tell me where to buy pizza, but sophistication at the level of active assistance in doing research is almost entirely missing.

I am not here to decry the advances that have been made. I am merely pointing out that we have a long way to go before a computer attached to the internet can do what I do when I am doing research. Perhaps we should start talking about how such a system might work. Perhaps we need to find a way to allow universal access and data exchange of genealogical information between all the presently closed systems. Perhaps I will not live long enough to ever see such systems.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Using the Brigham Young University Libraries for Family History Research


We Family History Expos have a three-hour webinar series on Thursday, August 17, 2017, on using the Brigham Young University Libraries for Family History Research. You can still register for this series. Here is the description of the classes:
After you view these classes you will know how to access the BYU collections online and in person. You will know about LDS resources available and how they apply to your research. You will know about some other incredible collections that deal subject from Illinois County histories to the American Revolution. 
Don't miss out on this unique opportunity to learn about collections that reach across the world.
Click Here for more information.  

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Acquiring History Skills Can Improve Your Genealogical Research



Performing adequate genealogical research is a skill that requires time and effort to acquire. Simply opening up a genealogy program and adding names to a pedigree does not magically confer the ability to do research. I read an interesting article quoting Keith A. Erekson,  the Director of the Church History Library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah. He is quoted as saying:
“One of the things you want to do is expect citations,” he said. “There are publishers who will publish things without citations. That’s the first the sign: If they don’t even care enough to tell you where they found their historical information, don’t worry about spending the time to figure out if they’ve made it up or if they haven’t.” See Church News, 8 August 2017.
By changing one or two words, this quote would apply to all those who are posting their genealogical information online. I would change the word publishers to researchers. The quote precisely expresses my own attitude towards those who post unsupported information about their ancestors in online family tree programs. Essentially, a name, a date, or place provided about an individual is completely useless without a supporting citation as to where the information was obtained. That may seem like a harsh statement but it is the reality of doing genealogical research. An unsupported entry in a family tree is actually worse than no entry at all.

From time to time, I hear people trying to defend sloppy research by saying that the entries give us suggested topics for further research. I simply do not agree with that position. Those who argue this position apparently believe that we should give unsupported entries the benefit of the doubt. The biggest problem with this position is that the information present in a pedigree (a family tree) is often accepted as correct even when it is unsupported. The key here is the last statement above: "don't worry about spending the time to figure out if they've made it up or if they haven't."

I suspect that if we took out all of the fluff in the form of unsupported entries in the online family trees the number of trees and the number of entries with practically collapse.