RootsTech 2014

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

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Web Basics for Genealogists -- Catalog Searches

This post is an expansion of some topics I introduced in an earlier post entitled, "Web Basics for Genealogists -- Part Two: Beginning our Understanding of Searches." I decided that each of the different types of searches warranted its own post. This particular post will focus on catalogs and catalog searches. The other two types of searches, wiki and string search, will follow shortly.

Important to know. Most online catalogs are not accessible by a Google search. For example, the entries in the FamilySearch Catalog are searchable by the catalog search, not by Google. This is why this article was written.

If you are old enough, you probably remember working with a "card catalog" made up of drawers of 3x5 or so inch cards in long pull-out drawers. I vaguely remember sitting in the library during high school while the librarian gave us instruction about how to find things in the library. By that time, I had been looking for books in the card catalog since I was about 8 or 9 years old and already knew the subject areas I was interested in reading about. I guess it would make a good story if I could tell about how I was inspired to read and research by a dedicated librarian, but the reality was that they tolerated me and I mostly ignored them. Most of my early library experiences were in the Phoenix Public Library on hot summer days when it was one of the few air conditioned buildings that I could visit on my own without a parent in tow.

Two things about the catalog were easily understood and very apparent, books and other materials were organized by subject and and also alphanumerically. Many years later, I began a job as a bibliographer at the University of Utah Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. As I worked at the library over the next four years, I learned a lot more about library organization and cataloging. I realized that cataloging was partially a science but more of an art. I also found that in a large library, it was easy to discover that books with exactly the same subject matter were cataloged and therefore located physically in different parts of the library. If you really wanted to find books on a specific topic, you "walked the shelves." Walking the shelves consisted of walking slowly along the stacks of books and looking up and down to identify every subject covered and then randomly pulling out books of interest. Since my job was to find books ordered by professors and others, and verify whether or not the books were in the library before they were ordered, we spent a whole lot of time looking at catalogs and books.

I probably spent 20 hours a week or more for years, looking at the library's huge card catalog and other catalog sources such as the National Union Catalog. Here is the description of the NUC from the Library of Congress:
The National Union Catalog (NUC) is a record of publications held in more than eleven hundred libraries in the United States and Canada, including the Library of Congress. Major portions of the NUC are published in two principal series: one covering post-1955 publications and the other pre-1956 imprints. Since 1983, the NUC has been issued on microfiche. The NUC, an author catalog, contains some entries for works in the Library's collections that are not listed in its own general catalogs; consequently, it should be consulted in any thorough examination of the Library's resources.
Now, don't be discouraged. Learning to use catalogs does not involve a lifetime of experience, but it does help to have some experience. I relate my background so you will understand why I would be writing about this kind of subject.

The idea of a catalog is that a collection of information (historically books, manuscripts, periodicals etc.) is organized in some fashion to allow researchers to find what they are searching for. The Dewey Decimal System is one such type of classification. It began back in 1876 and was invented by Melvil Dewey. See Wikipedia: Dewey Decimal Classification.  Now, learning about libraries and cataloging systems is not likely on many people's must learn list, but as genealogists, we actually live and die with catalogs whether we realize their importance or not.

Now fast forward to the present. Many libraries still use the Dewey Decimal classification system. In addition, however, larger libraries are converting to computer-based classification and searching systems. The most prominent of these is the Online Computer Library Center, Inc. or the OCLC. Founded back in 1967, OCLC now operates the online catalog, easiest the largest catalog in the world.

Think for a minute. How many books about genealogy or containing genealogically valuable information have the words "genealogy" or "family history" in their title? Would you be able to identify a valuable genealogy book by the name of its author? How do you know if a book or other publication contains information about your family? In answering all of these questions, we rely on catalogers or people who look at books and tell us what they are about. If you want to know how complicated this can become, you can start by looking at the Library of Congress Classification Outline and then trying to find how genealogy is classified by the Library of Congress. Just so you don't get frustrated, genealogy is classified as "C -- Auxiliary Sciences of History" and the further as "CS -- Genealogy."

When you go to, for example, and then click on the Search link, you will find a further link to the FamilySearch Catalog. You will also see the follow link to the OCLC catalog and the Archive Grid.

Under the explanation about the contents, you will see the link that says, "Learn more about the catalog and how to access materials." How many times have you taken the time to read what they say? The link goes to an article in the FamilySearch Research Wiki entitled, "Introduction to the FamilySearch Catalog." Before you dive in and do another frustrating catalog search, I suggest you read about how the catalog works and what you can expect. The important thing to know about catalogs of all types, is that they require a lot of work from the user before they become very useful.

Every time you go to a website or actually visit a research repository, you are probably depending on some type of catalog to locate what you are searching for. Do you know how each of these catalogs work? Do you usually take some time figuring out how the catalog works before you start searching? How many times do you abandon your search because you can't find anything you think will help your with your research?

Remember, a catalog is an arbitrary organization of its contents. You may or may not find what you are looking for unless you understand how the particular catalog you are searching is organized and how it works. Every time you click on a website and it refers to "search the catalog" you are entering this world of catalogs. Unfortunately, almost every catalog is unique and requires you to learn about how best to use its resources.

The promise is as you keep working with catalogs and searches, the process becomes more familiar, never really easy, but manageable.

First Annual SLIG Colloquium to be Held in January 2015

A colloquium is an academic conference or seminar. SLIG is the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy sponsored by the Utah Genealogical Association.  The announcement is as follows:
The first annual SLIG Colloquium will be held in January 2015.

This colloquium will consist of the reading and discussion of four papers meant to advance our profession. For example, anything that puts forward a new theory, a new analysis tool, or a new way to look at a genealogical problem. 
The colloquium will be held January 10, 2015, the Saturday before the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy in Salt Lake City. The event will consist of a networking lunch (prices to be determined) and an evening banquet. The evening banquet will be open to the public and will include a brief overview of the papers presented. 
The papers will be edited and combined into a publication available for purchase through the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. This will be an annual event and hope that it aids the genealogy profession by creating a body of advanced literature.

Paper submissions are due to Christy Fillerup no later than October 1st. They will be reviewed by a selection committee and four papers will be chosen for presentation. More than four papers may be chosen for publication.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Old and archaic family relationship terms

The blog had a post entitled "Avuncles and Niblings: Unusual words for the family." The post was taken from another post in the mental_floss blog with the further title of "11 Little-Known Words for Specific Family Members." You might want to test your knowledge on the following words and then go to the articles for the answers:

  • Patruel
  • Avuncle
  • Niblings
  • Fadu
  • Modrige
  • FÅ’dra
  • Eam
  • Brother-uterine
  • Brother-German
  • Double cousin
  • Machetonim

The post with the longer list makes the observation, more than once, that the words are "not in the dictionary." All of the words except, patruel, do show up in the dictionary. I began to wonder what dictionary they were referring to. The simplest way to to find the meaning of any strange word is to do a Google search using the format: "define [enter the unusual word]." This means if I wanted to know the meaning of patruel, I would type in "define patruel." Doing this takes me to an earlier blog post in blog entitled, Words Gone Wild, with an extensive definition. Other results from this simple search give references to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which, by the way is what I would call, The Dictionary. The official OED website is a subscription site, but it is possible that your library subscribes. I don't really think the OED wants individual subscriptions, the price is very high for a dictionary website. By the way, even the Old English term was found instantly by Google. 

If you like books, you can also used two that I found interesting. 

Evans, Barbara Jean. A to Zax: A Comprehensive Dictionary for Genealogists & Historians. Alexandria, VA: Hearthside Press, 1995.


FitzHugh, Terrick V. H. The Dictionary of Genealogy. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble, 1985.

Oh, the reason the words may not "show up in the dictionary" you might be using is because some of them are really in Latin or Yiddish or Old English or whatever. 

American University of Beirut to create 100,000 volume online Arabic Library

In an article in albawaba Business, the American University of Beirut Libraries have joined Arabic Collections Online (ACO), a five-year project funded by New York University Abu Dhabi that aims to digitize and make accessible worldwide over 100,000 volumes of Arabic content.

Quoting from the article,
Along with New York University Libraries and its partners, the AUB libraries will create the Arabic Collections Online (ACO) project, a major digitization project funded by New York University Abu Dhabi, whose aim is to create a digital library of public-domain Arabic language content of over 100,000 volumes. Partners in this substantial digitization of Arabic content already include numerous prominent North American institutions, and the AUB Libraries are the first ones outside the United States to join the project. The AUB Libraries will contribute several thousand titles from their growing rich and historical Arabic collections in a variety of subjects and disciplines.

The AUB Libraries are widely regarded as one of the best academic libraries in the Middle East and North Africa. Their collections include over 1.2 million volumes of print and electronic books, 10,000 rare and unique books, 10,000 print periodicals (of which 3,500 are in Arabic), 140,000 electronic journals and conference proceedings, 300 electronic databases, hundreds of major reference works, and 1.2 million audiovisual items in various formats (the majority of which are microforms of local and regional newspapers and magazines dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries). The Archives and Special Collections contain 700 linear feet of archival material (including papers of famous Lebanese and Arab intellectuals); 1,400 manuscripts; 9,000 volumes of AUB theses and dissertations dating back to 1907; 5,000 posters; 1,900 maps; and 50,000 photographs. The collections are developed and enriched on an ongoing basis to support the academic and research programs of the AUB, one of the leading universities in the region.
I see almost no news such as this from the Middle East. I have a number of friends and genealogical researchers from Lebanon and I find this to be a significant breakthrough.

Thursday, July 24, 2014 adds newspaper and ancient parish records

I haven't written about any additions to the large online genealogy database programs for a while. Since the new records are added online regularly, I simply suggest that if you are interested, you check back periodically to see what new records have gone online. The announcements from did catch my attention however.

The first one was a post entitled, "Over half a million English baptism records dating back to 1530 available." This was interesting for two reasons, the number of records and the dates of the records. Here is the explanation from the post;
Records predating normal English parish collections 
Spanning the years 1530 to 1886, the 580,361 baptism records now available comprise transcripts of the registers from over 150 Wiltshire parishes compiled by Wiltshire Family History Society. 
The Wiltshire baptisms are very unusual, as some of the earliest records in the collection are 484 years old, predating the vast majority of English parish records.
This short note gives you a very good idea of the absolute limit of the English records about individuals outside of royalty and other very important people. This is further explained by the announcement as follows:
The records begin in 1530, eight years before the Vicar General of England, Thomas Cromwell, ordered all of the nation’s parish churches to keep a record of all baptisms, marriages and burials.
If you are researching back into the 1600s or even earlier, you need to make absolutely sure you are not searching for a chimera. Before searching again and again, you might want to take time to establish the dates of the oldest records available in any given record category. 

The second article that caught my eye is entitled, "Time for another newspaper roundup… nearly a quarter of a million pages added from 1752-1954." I was interested in this because of my recent never-ending project to list a link to all the digital newspaper websites in the U.S. by state. The article explains, simply, "We’ve added nearly a quarter of a million new newspaper pages to our collection, so you’ll have plenty of articles to peruse this month." The list of newspapers added and the years of the additions are listed in the article. 

Some must read books for genealogists

Yes, I do mean you need to read a book. Some of these might be available in ebook format, but there is a good reason for reading a whole book on one subject, especially if that subject is genealogy. Of course this list will change if you live somewhere besides the U.S. or the U.K., but the differences are cosmetic. Genealogical research is genealogical research no matter where your family comes from. For example, I may read about the process a genealogist had in finding an ancestor in Germany and benefit from the explanation even if I have no ancestral lines in Germany. There are some very specific records and types of records that are unique to a particular geographic area or time but the methods of proceeding with research are similar around the world.

If you still doubt the utility of general genealogical study, I can give another example. When I was working on a graduate degree in Linguistics, we studied many different languages. Each of these languages was unique, but the idea was not necessarily to learn to speak the language, but to learn how the language worked and thereby advance our knowledge of "language" in general. The same principle applies to genealogy. If you study many different genealogical challenges, you will ultimately figure out how they all help you understand how to do your own genealogical research.

My list of books is certainly open to expansion and could go on endlessly, but there are a few books that I return to constantly that have helped me understand how genealogy works. I am going to start my short list with this classic:

Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy. Baltimore, Md: Genealogical Pub. Co, 1990.

Even though this book was published in 1990, it has been released again in 2013, see

Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy. 2013.

In my opinion, there is no better book for understanding the process and sources for genealogy in the United States. If you look up any of the books I mention in, you can find a library close by that has a copy of the book. This book is not yet available for public use in ebook format, but if you have contact with a member university, you can see the ebook from the Hathi Trust Digital Library

Here are a couple of more classics. You might argue that online sources have entirely supplanted the need to look at a mere "paper" book. You may also argue that these books are now woefully out of date. Arguments can be made both ways, but I still find that I am using the paper versions regularly even though I sit all day in front of a computer. Here is the list:

Eakle, Arlene. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry Publ. Co, 1984.

My friend, Arlene Eakle, began this monumental work and it has since be edited and re-published and is now incorporated into the online Wiki. The latest edition of the book was published in 2006,

Szucs, Loretto Dennis, and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking. The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy. Provo, UT: Ancestry, 2006.

The only thing you have to remember about whether or not the material in the book is still useful, is to check to see if the records mentioned have been put online somewhere. The book is gem of information. 

In my opinion, the U.K. equivalent to the Greenwood book is the following:

Herber, Mark D. 1997. "Ancestral Trails: The Complete Guide to British Genealogy and Family History".

As with all of these classics, this book has been republished multiple times. The latest edition is,

Herber, Mark D. Ancestral Trails: The Complete Guide to British Genealogy and Family History. Stroud, Gloucestershire [England]: History Press, 2008.

These books are substantial. They are likely intimidating to those whose reading habits are confined to popular novels and iPads. I suggest that they are substantial for a reason. Genealogy is substantial and cannot be explained or properly understood in a few simple online 5-minute videos. Sorry (not really).

Next are two semi-genealogy historical classics.

Fischer, David Hackett. Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Weil, François. Family Trees: A History of Genealogy in America. 2013.

I say semi-genealogy because both of these books fall into the category of history. Both are masterpieces of clarity and give any genealogist a better understanding of who we are and why we believe the things we do about genealogy and history in general. 

Another book I have been reviewing serially lately needs to be added to the list. 

Meyerink, Kory L., Tristan Tolman, and Linda K. Gulbrandsen. Becoming an Excellent Genealogist: Essays on Professional Research Skills. [Salt Lake City, Utah]: ICAPGen, 2012.

Along with the Weil book, this one is very new, genealogically speaking. But it still has all the marks of a classic. I thought it important enough to comment on each chapter individually.

Here are a couple of more very valuable and classic books to add to list and then I will quit rather than get into an endless list of everything in my library and my head.

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Baltimore, Md: Genealogical Pub. Co, 2012.

Eichholz, Alice. Redbook: American State, County & Town Sources. Provo, Utah: Ancestry, 2004.

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians. Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co, 2001.

Yes, Ms. Mills has two books on the list. Good work. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Web Basics for Genealogists -- Part Two Beginning our Understanding of Searches

Because of technological advances, one of genealogists' most important activities has become searching for sources online. Using a computer to search online involves a number of complex skills. Unfortunately, almost all genealogical researchers are literally on their own in learning any of these skill. Unless the researcher just happens to have a technological background coupled with knowledge of library science or some other information science experience, it is unlikely that their online searching is either very productive or pleasant.

The number and variety of "educational opportunities" are overwhelming, starting with classes on computers at local colleges and universities, but how many genealogists spend the time obtain a degree in computer science or information science before starting out to do research on their family?

Basic computer skills involve the physical mechanics of entering data using a keyboard and mouse to understanding file structure and the operation of complex programs. But even with a good background in computer usage, it is a fact of life that the technology changes constantly. So the today's genealogist is confronted with learning about computers while trying to understand the equally complex field of genealogy. As a side note, many people involved in genealogy assume that younger people, who have grown up using computers and cell phones are a "step ahead" in entering the field of genealogy because of their background in technology. This is an illusion. Genealogical research requires additional skills of analysis and evaluation that are gained only by experience. It may be discouraging to the beginner, but learning computer skills is only the first step in doing effective genealogical research using all of the vast online sources.

I am going to have to assume that the readers of this blog post have at least a basic idea about how to use a computer or other computer-based device or they would not have gotten to this venue. This particular post is called Web basics because I find that even with good computer skills, researchers are not aware of the different ways you need to conduct searches online.

There are three basically different online search techniques that reflect three completely different ways of organizing information. Like it or not, as genealogists we are involved in the analysis, collection, classification, manipulation, storage, retrieval, movement, and dissemination of information. But to perform any of those activities, we have to first find the information. Following is a short analysis of the three different methods of approaching the finding function of online research.

You can think of research in the abstract as searching through an infinitely large pile of paper. Each piece of paper has a small piece of information. If you were to sit by the side of the pile and randomly pull out pieces of paper, what would be the chance that you would find what you were looking for? My guess is that the probability of finding what you want is close to zero. What is more, how do you know what you are looking for is even in the pile? Genealogists should be painfully aware that not all the information they need has yet been transferred to the vast online pile.

So ignoring the three different search techniques for a while, we should also have a basic idea of the types of records we are searching for and whether or not the particular types we need have migrated to the Web, that is been digitized and indexed. Hmm. That brings up another issue. Genealogical information may be on the web as images of documents. Unfortunately, the technology for searching images of documents is sadly very rudimentary. So as genealogists we rely heavily on indexing and indexes. Even with all our vast electronic wonders, we still have to rely on someone, someplace looking at each document image and manually transcribing the information. Of course, if the information we seek is text, it is much easier to find and search. But if the information is locked up in an image, we are back to visually searching the records which is no different than going to a library or searching through microfilm copies.

 Now back to the infinite pile. We all seem to instinctively understand that the pile needs to be organized in some way so that we can find what we are looking for. But how do we organize the pile? Well, librarians have been organizing their piles for quite a long time. They use a variety of complex cataloging systems. As children going to a school library, we probably heard of the "Dewey Decimal System" or organization and the corresponding card catalog. Books were (and still are in some libraries) organized on shelves by subject and then numbered in a way to make it easier to find the books. For genealogists this is an awkward system because almost everything ends up in Dewey Decimal Classification number 929. Here is a list of categories:
929.1 Genealogy
929.2 Family Histories
929.3 Genealogical sources
929.4 Personal names
929.5 Cemetery records
929.6 Heraldry
929.7 Royal houses, peerage, orders of knighthood
929.8 Order, decorations, autographs
929.9 Forms of insignia and identification
You can see that this set of categories is not all that useful. In any event the whole Dewey Decimal System of classification has been supplanted by other more complex cataloging systems such as the Library of Congress Standards. Warning: getting into this area of searching can be very discouraging, as in, I had no idea how complicated this could be. Just for fun, here are the Library of Congress Standards by category:

Resource Description Formats
Digital Library Standards
Information Resource Retrieval Protocols
ISO Standards
  • ISO 639-2: Codes for the representation of names of languages-- Part 2: Alpha-3 code.
  • ISO 639-5: Codes for the representation of names of languages-- Part 5: Alpha-3 code for language families and groups.
  • ISO/DIS 25577 - Information and documentation -- MarcXchange
  • ISO 20775 - Schema for Holdings Information
Metadata for Digital Content: Developing institutional policies and standards at the Library of Congress
Recommended Format Specifications: Best practices for ensuring the preservation of, and long-term access to, the creative output of the national and the world in both analog and digital formats

OK, now you can begin to see the first type of search. That is a search based on a cataloging system developed and imposed on the data pile by someone who makes up the systems. Searching in a catalog is a whole complicated study in itself. I spent my first few years of work as a bibliographer in a major university library. I became very familiar with the complexity of the cataloging systems.

Is there any hope? Sorry. Not much. The second method is the brute strength, bulldozer method called a string search. You can think here of Google. You type in a series of characters and the search engine tries to match your string of characters with any other characters out there in the pile that match. I wish it were just that simple. What really happens is that Google and other such search engines, create their own catalogue or structure of the data before beginning the string search (not string as in tying knots but strings as in a series of text characters). At this point you can probably guess that I am going to write more completely about each type of search but at this point, what you need to know is that you type in a name and the program sees if it can find that name anywhere. Of course, you soon find that the searches return millions of results that simply illustrate the size of the selected pile, so there must be more to searching on Google than simply wishing that your results show up. Yes, there is, but you will have to wait until my subsequent posts.

Last, but certainly not least, computers programmers have come up with an entirely different way of organizing vast quantities of information that they call a wiki. Searching a wiki turns out to be completely different that either a traditional (or even non-traditional) cataloging system and has its unique advantages and some disadvantages.

Perhaps you can now begin to grasp the complexity of the pile of information and the fact that there are different and somewhat complex methods of organizing the piles. As genealogists, I suppose we could blissfully ignore all this and go on our merry ways seeking our ancestors. We might even acquire some or many of the skills necessary over time. But now, we are faced with the huge online world and sitting in a library in Salt Lake City or where ever is not all of the answer to our investigations.

The next posts on this subject will explore each of the three major methods of pile organization and give some ideas of how searches differ or are the same in each method.
929.1Genealogy929.2Family histories929.3Genealogical sources929.4Personal names929.5Cemetery records929.6Heraldry929.7Royal houses, peerage, orders of knighthood929.8Orders, decorations, autographs929.9Forms of insignia and identification
929.1Genealogy929.2Family histories929.3Genealogical sources929.4Personal names929.5Cemetery records929.6Heraldry929.7Royal houses, peerage, orders of knighthood929.8Orders, decorations, autographs929.9Forms of insignia and identification