RootsTech 2014

Mocavo

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

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Update on the millions upon millions of records being added online

One of the overwhelming developments of access to the Internet is the unimaginably huge number of digitized genealogically valuable source records that are being added online every day. I don't think anyone can keep up with all of the new records becoming available, but it is always something that researchers should become aware of on a regular basis. From my viewpoint, bloggers do a pretty good job of pointing out the new records and this is one strong point for becoming involved in the genealogical blogging community.

For a very good reason, a lot of the attention in the genealogical community concerning newly added records focuses on the biggest online genealogy database programs. Here is a brief update on each of the larger programs and their recent additions. Bear in mind that this list will be out dated within a few days as even more millions of records are added to these huge websites.

FamilySearch.org
Here is a screenshot of the updated and newly added collections as of the date of this post:


You can see the latest list of newly added or updated collections by going to FamilySearch.org and clicking on the Search link at the top of the page. Then you scroll down to the Browse All Published Collections link near the bottom of the page and when you get the list of all the published collections, you can click on the "Last Updated" column head and the list will sort by date entered. This is actually a lot easier than it sounds to find.

It is hard to pick any particular new collection. If you have relatives in that place and time, you think it is great. If not, then you don't really care right now. I am sure FamilySearch has a well-thought-out plan for adding new collections, but in the last three days there are records from five different countries and four different states, and WWII Draft Records from the United States. This is definitely a place that you need to look at regularly.

Ancestry.com
Now Ancestry.com also has a place to check out all the newly added records. The key here is going to the Card Catalog and sorting the list by date added. Here is a screen shot showing the results of sorting by date added:


One notable new addition is Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1924 with over 2 million entries. Just as I stated above for FamilySearch, if your ancestors happened to live in the place during the time period the new records may be extremely helpful. Otherwise, keep looking. The first five entries on this list were published on Ancestry.com in the last three days before the date of this post. So both Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org are making a lot of new records available.

Unless they make a point of mentioning new records in their blog, MyHeritage.com just continues to add the records and make them searchable for every person in your family tree. I presently have over 7000 record matches available plus all of the thousands of additional records that will be found with the Record Detective. The number of records and the number of matches is truly impressive, especially with MyHeritage.com's high degree of accuracy. You benefit most from all these records if you have a family tree hosted on MyHeritage.com

Here is a screen shot of the first part of the records found for me already:


It is very interesting that each of these websites seem to be publishing a lot of records and every so often, there are some records that move me along with information about my own ancestors. The cumulative effect of all these records is that we have an ongoing opportunity to find even more information about our ancestors. Can you imagine trying to travel to all these different places to find your own records?

This wonderful website with a focus on records from the UK and Ireland is also adding new records regularly. But there does not seem to be an easy way just to see a list of the newest records. There is a list of all the records with a suggestion: "so check back regularly to stay up to date!" Here is a screenshot of the top of the entire list:


Mocavo.com
For some time now, Mocavo.com has been adding 1000 new databases every day. They have a way to look at the new content every day. Here is a screenshot of the startup page with the link to the new content as shown by the arrow:


You can also browse all the records. Here is a screenshot of the browse records page with the first few records showing. You can see that there are 323,620 databases as of the date of this post.


Looking at all the records isn't as intimidating as it might seem since you can filter out any records you are not interested in seeing. 

As you can see, there are a huge number of new records being added daily by just these larger websites. Think of how many more are being added to other websites. 

Find-A-Record adds a blog

If you haven't tried Find-A-Record.com, you are missing one of the most interesting and possibly valuable tools to be developed recently. The idea of the website is that you identify a geographic area where your ancestors resided and the program then gives you suggestions from FamilySearch.orgAncestry.com and other websites of records that apply to that geographic area.

Here is a screenshot of a search for records in Sherman, Texas around 1900 with the paid site option selected:



There is now a Find-A-Record Blog that will keep you up-to-date on the improvements to the website as well as provide historical insight into the results you might obtain from a search. This website can be a very valuable tool for new researchers just starting out, but it can also be valuable as a reminder and help to seasoned researchers.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Genealogists are not immune to propaganda

This past week has been extremely interesting. Oh, by the way, my use of the word "interesting" is always interesting. It can mean anything from life threatening to having a wonderful time. One thing has become apparent to me is that genealogists, just like members of the the communities they live in, are not immune to propaganda. In fact, a lot of what I see out there in the genealogical marketplace would easily qualify as pure, unadulterated propaganda and it is passed around as the truth, usually without question.

Now, you are probably asking what brought this on? Well, there are several things, but one of the most recurring issues involves questions of privacy and identity theft as they related (or do not relate) to genealogy. But first a definition of propaganda. The most inclusive definition is as follows:
Propaganda is a form of communication aimed towards influencing the attitude of a population toward some cause or position.

Propaganda is information that is not impartial and used primarily to influence an audience and further an agenda, often by presenting facts selectively (thus possibly lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or using loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented. Propaganda can be used as a form of ideological or commercial warfare. See Wikipedia: Propaganda.
Our modern world of global instantaneous communication is virtually saturated with propaganda and the genealogical community does not escape. Here are some simple rules you can use to identify propaganda and learn to avoid the impact it may have on your life:

Rule #1: Always investigate the source of any information you receive that seems to want you to take some action or form an opinion. 
Not all declarative statements or calls to action are based on propaganda, but many of them are. For example, consider this question:

Do you think identity theft in the United States is:
  1. A major problem and a threat to everyone's safety both online and offline
  2. A problem that needs to be the concern of every person in the United States
  3. Entirely misunderstood and not nearly as prevalent as it is represented to be
  4. A problem in certain very limited circumstances
  5. None of the above
Now, do you further consider that identity theft is a major crime and that it is one of the fastest growing criminal activities in the United States? Consider these questions instead of the ones above:

  • What is the definition of identity theft?
  • How many convictions for identity theft are reported in the United States each year?
  • How do the statistics on the conviction rate for criminals guilty of identity theft compare to other criminal acts in the United States?
  • Where are statistics concerning convictions for identity theft maintained?
If you can not answer these four questions does that make you reconsider your answers to any of the five previous questions? Would it help you to know that statistics for "identity theft" include many different and in some cases, unrelated criminal activities and that few of these involved what you might be inclined to consider as identity theft? 

So where are the statistics coming from? It is very common that the statistics come from "industry sources" or in other words, people who are trying to sell you some kind of identity theft prevention. Here is my challenge. Make a Google Search on these words: "dramatic increase identity theft" and see what you get. See if you can find one resulting article claiming a dramatic increase in identity theft that references a specific source. This goes for statements from the IRS and Social Security Administration as well as private businesses. See if you can find any statistics about actual criminal convictions and determine what they are based upon. 

Other types of propaganda are more subtle and harder to detect. Anticipating comments, under my definition above, many of the posts in this blog could be considered propaganda. Now, don't get me wrong. Not everything that falls under the definition of propaganda is necessarily bad. If you are told to lose weight, brush your teeth, keep a journal, exercise to keep fit, and many other admonitions could be considered to be propaganda and separating out the "good" messages from those that are not so good or bad can be really difficult. Not all advertising is propaganda. It is also true that the term has taken on a decidedly negative connotation. 

Why I used the identity theft example is simple. I find that there is little or no support for the extravagant claims and I frequently encounter genealogists who have become obsessively preoccupied with concern over the issue and have curtailed unrelated activities because of those fears.  I don't think genealogists have the same level of concern about some of the other advertised issues. 

Rule #2: Weigh the facts, if there are any.
Never accept claims of success, popularity, effectiveness or any other subjective claim that is unsupported by sound sources. 

Rule #3: Always check the source before you accept the representations.
As genealogists we should be aware of the need to cite our sources. We should also be aware of the need to review the sources cited. If the claimed facts are supported only by some weak reference to "authority" or to "government studies" or whatever, then you can discount nearly everything that is said. 

Rule #4: Listen or read carefully as to what is not being said.
It is easy to make a claim but if certain vital elements of the claim are left out of the discourse, then this is an immediate reason for doubting the validity. Here is a classic example of the type of reporting that is mostly propaganda from NBC News in an article dated 19 February 2013 entitled "ID theft on the rise again: 12.6 million victims in 2012, study shows." If you take the time to read the entire article, you will see some really interesting "facts." Such as the following quoted from the article:
  • It's important to note that despite the rise in new account fraud, simple credit card fraud still accounts for about two-thirds of all ID theft.
  • The survey was sponsored by CitiGroup, Visa, and Intersections LLC, which provides identity theft prevention services to consumers.
  • Javelin's data is based on telephone surveys of U.S. adults, with consumers self-reporting details of their ID theft to survey takers and results extrapolated from their answers.
Notice the following:
  1. There is no actual reference to the study. It is only referenced as a study by Javelin Strategy and Research, which is not further identified. 
  2. The sponsors of the study include those who would most benefit from the public believing the results of the "survey."
  3. The survey questions are not identified. 
  4. There is no followup to see whether any criminal activity or complaints resulted from the problems supposedly reported by the survey.
This type of article is not uncommon. You might guess that a copy of the "survey" will cost you money to purchase. Interesting. Make money at both ends of the propaganda. 

The Digital Public Library of America adds access to millions of records

The Digital Public Library of America is quickly becoming one of the major online portals for access to free information, including a significant number of genealogically pertinent documents and resources.

At its one year anniversary, it made the following announcement:

DPLA is proud to announce the addition of six major new partners and other significant milestones that attest to the tremendous momentum the project has as it enters its second year.

The New York Public Library (NYPL) this week expanded access to the full breadth of its digital collections through its partnership with DPLA, a major increase over its initial contribution of 14,000 records at DPLA’s launch. Over 1 million digitized items from throughout the Library’s research holdings are available, significantly increasing DPLA’s offerings by nearly 20%.
Here is a summary of the expansion of the DPLA during just the past year:

Since launching on April 18, 2013, DPLA has:
  • tripled the size of its collections, jumping from 2.4 million items to over 7 million; 
  • pulled in materials from over 1,300 organizations, up from 500 at launch; 
  • attracted over 1 million unique visitors to its website and over 9 million hits to its API (application programming interface); 
  • added new and innovative third-party apps to its growing App Library
  • received more than $2 million in grant funding from major American foundations and donors, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for our work with public libraries, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to give us long-term stability, and an anonymous supporter who gave nearly a half-million dollars in appreciation of DPLA’s democratization of access, and many smaller donors who similarly supported our public-spirited mission; 
  • grown from a staff of four to eight, with two additional positions soon to be filled; and 
  • engaged the energy and support of its distributed, broad-based community through multiple outreach activities, including DPLAfest 2013, a two-day public event in Boston in October 2013 attended by hundreds, its popular volunteer Community Reps program which has fanned out to nearly all 50 states, and dozens of monthly open calls with its Board of Directors and Committees. 
You need to be aware of this website and its resources. You will probably be surprised.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Can a complete genealogy exist?

As genealogists we are dealing with history and if you know anything at all about the subject, you probably realize that history gets revised from time to time. I was just reading an article yesterday in a historical review from a major university where a professor was talking about writing a book that changes the historical perspective of some well known facts, based upon newly discovered (or newly reviewed) historical documents. We seem to acknowledge that we presently have a greater access to documents than did our ancestors but sometimes I think we ignore the consequences of that access. 

In the past, searching all of the available U.S. Census records was not only tedious but in some cases, impossible. I remember my first encounter with the Census, which was available only on microfilm, and as far as I knew, only at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was looking for a specific family in a specific area and once I found the right microfilm roll, I discovered that it was mostly unreadable. At that point, I just quit using the Census. I was ignorant of the Soundex and other finding aids and simply decided I didn't need the Census records. That was a mistake, but understandable now under the circumstances that existed at the time. Years later, when I began using the Mesa FamilySearch Library regularly, I discovered that they had a microfilm copy of the U.S. Census and finally, discovered the paper Soundex indexes. I slowly began to appreciate the importance of searching and analyzing the Census records. 

Now, do we fault those who either don't understand the importance of some types of records or do not have ready access to those records? I find that much of the work I did early on was incomplete and in many cases, inaccurate. It took me a considerable time to learn something that we have come to expect everyone to know. 

Now, every one of my ancestral lines goes back to a point that could be considered a brick wall. How can I say that? Well, I spent a lot of years systematically following and, where necessary, verifying every single line. What I have not yet done is to research every missing spouse and follow all of the collateral lines both up and down the pedigree. For example, my oft mentioned Great-grandfather, Henry Martin Tanner has seventeen children. I have each of their various dates and information, but little or nothing about their children who would all be my first cousins various generations removed. 

So now we get to the question in the title to this post, can we ever consider our genealogy to be done? I am guessing that the answer is no. But there is a qualification to that no. Some of Henry Martin Tanner's children died in childhood. But what if I decided to focus on just that one family? I would have the 14 children who survived into adulthood and their wives and children to add to my file. We all know the progression, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32... of all our own individual ancestors, but let's add in just this one family and multiply everything by the number of surviving children and their spouses. I calculate that there were 31 children including their spouses. Adding in Henry and his two wives gives us a total of 34. Now, I have seen estimates of the number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren and we get up to about 10,000 or so rather quickly. That is just one family. In that family, discounting the fact that Henry's children all had one or another of the two wives, there are still 17 additional lines to follow, if I choose to research the wives' lines. I ran out of math ability at this point and decided that the number was too large to realistically consider. 

What happens in real life to genealogists, all of us, is that we make decisions as to where we stop doing research. If we pursued all of the descendants of all of the families, even if your family was not nearly as prolific as the Tanners, you will soon find a number of people who are arguably related to you that exceeds your ability to comprehend. Fortunately, we now have a handy tool, I have mentioned before, called Puzzilla.org, that can show what this means in a graphic form, that is, if you happen to have your family information in FamilySearch.org Family Tree. In this case, the graphic ends with living people, so it is not very impressive:


Each of the dots represent a descendant of Henry Martin Tanner. They end when the file does not show a death date. OK, so let's go back one generation to Sidney Tanner, Henry's father. He had five wives and 23 children. Here is his graph:


You do realize, of course, that I am related to every single person shown on this graphic? This is just one ancestor's descendants and stops with the first living descendant so there are a whole bunch of living relatives out there in genealogy land who could be considered to be pretty closely related to me. Oh, just for fun, lets go back one more generation to John Tanner: Of course, you realize that this is just one of my supposed 32 Great-great-great-grandparents? By the way, it took the program a while to figure out all the descendants and finally crashed with over 1300 lines to resolve. 


I have an unimaginable number of relatives. The answer to the question in the title is definitely no. I don't even have time to think about all those relatives, much less complete some kind of genealogy on all of them. 

But, you say, why don't you ignore the descendants and just focus on the ancestors? Well, you actually get into similar numbers and issues. But think of this. Family Tree has already got all these people in the file. So what do we consider done? 



Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Post Conference Review -- RootsTech 2014

Please read the comments, if you can't figure out what I am talking about.

Me: "You see, there was this big conference in Salt Lake City, Utah for genealogists sponsored by FamilySearch."
Local Genealogist: "Oh, did they hold it in the Conference Center?"
Me: "No, it wasn't. It was at the Salt Palace, a big convention center. They had all these vendors there showing their programs and such."
Local Genealogist: "When did it happen?"
Me: "It was from February 6th to the 8th this year."
Local Genealogist: "Oh, I wonder why I never heard anything about it? We are having our own genealogy fair this month."
Me: "Oh, do you know if they are going to incorporate broadcasts from RootsTech 2014?"
Local Genealogist: "Oh, that conference. Is that what you are talking about? They said they would have some videos from FamilySearch, but I didn't know that was what it was. Did you go to the conference?"
Me: "Yes, and I also gave one of the presentations that was recorded."
Local Genealogist: "I haven't heard about the program for our genealogy fair. What did you talk about?
Me: "I gave a presentation on blogging."
Local Genealogist: "I don't read any of the blogs, I don't have time for that kind of thing. I haven't decided if I should go to the genealogy fair, I need to get my hair cut that day."
Me: "Well, RootsTech 2014 had a whole lot of presentations and they recorded 44 of them and translated them into 10 different languages and there are over 622 local genealogy fairs scheduled around the world."
Local Genealogist: "I don't really keep up with all that stuff. By the way, I have a question about my Personal Ancestral File Program, do you know anyone who can help me with the program?"

I was reflecting on our modern society where you can be the most famous person in a special area of interest and outside of your specialty, no one has ever heard of you. This came about as a result of listening to an audio recording of a book called:

Brown, Daniel. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. 2013.

Here were these nine men who won gold medals and I, for one, had never even heard about the event, much less could have named even one of the participants. 

OK, so we had this conference in Salt Lake in February. Outside of a few people I happen to know locally who either went to the conference of listened to parts of it online, I haven't found anyone, even regular genealogical patrons at the Mesa FamilySearch Library, that seem to know anything about the conference or even care to find out about it when I bring up the subject. Even at the Salt Palace, they were getting ready for another scheduled conference as we were leaving RootsTech. 

Today, I noticed online that the announcements for RootsTech 2015 have started to pop up. 

Sometimes, even when I am in a crowd at a conference, I suddenly realize that as soon as I leave that crowd of people, I will once again be out in the cold, harsh wind of reality where genealogists are few and far between and no one wants to talk to you about what is going on in genealogy or your research or anything. This last Sunday, I was visiting out of state (yet again) and tried to get a conversation going at Church with no luck at all. 

It is a good thing that any motivation I have for doing genealogy is not based on support from my extended family and friends. But it is nice to have a wife who is actively involved in genealogical research in her own family and at least knows what I am talking about. Maybe it is not too early for FamilySearch to start promoting RootsTech 2015.



Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Upload your own documents to Mocavo.com for free storage and indexing

Not only is Mocavo.com adding its 1,000 databases a day, it is also allowing its users to share every family history book, photo, letter, pamphlet, brochure, or directory you’ve ever gotten your hands on; they want to help you bring it online for your relatives to discover, near or far, close or distant. That's every single piece of it online for free. In addition, Mocavo.com has expanded their free scanning program to add the ability to upload documents you already have scanned.

Here is what they offer to do:
But what about the content you’ve already scanned in yourself? How can you get that added to our index? We wanted to make it even easier for you to contribute content to Mocavo, so we’ve completely redesigned the Contribute section of our site.

Now, all it takes is a few simple clicks to upload your documents to Mocavo! We will process your content, add it to our index so that all of the text within your documents is completely searchable, and then you can show off your hard work to your loved ones and collaborate with family members to make even more discoveries!
This is getting really interesting.