Saturday, November 20, 2010

FamilySearch Seminar at Riverton FamilySearch Center

I just happened to be in Utah helping with my daughter's family while she had a new baby and took advantage of being in the vicinity to go to the new Riverton FamilySearch Center for a seminar featuring David Rencher, Chief Genealogical Officer of FamilySearch. I guess I should include his whole title; David E. Rencher, CGO, AGCM,CGSSM, FUGA, FIGRS.

For those of you unfamiliar with Utah, most of the communities in northern Utah are situated along a generally north/south line of mountains. In the Salt Lake area the Wasatch Mountains create what is locally called the "Wasatch Front." To the west of Salt Lake City is the huge Great Salt Lake, a remnant of an ancient body of water even larger called Lake Bonneville.

Since Salt Lake City and almost all the other communities were settled by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there is a noticeable commonality in street names and numbering patterns throughout the towns and cities. In Salt Lake and most other communities, streets are numbered north, south, east and west. So in Salt Lake you will see an address such as 1200 South 2500 West. This system is really a simplified coordinate system and will give those familiar an instant idea of where the address is physically located.

The Riverton FamilySearch Center is located at 3740 West Market Center Drive, Riverton, Utah 8406. The Center is located in a large new building at about 134th South, which means it is in the extreme south end of the Salt Lake Valley. The seminar was planned for three hours as a standard "3rd Saturday of every month" seminar.

David Rencher and I happen to come from the same small eastern Arizona town which is sort of like being from the same club. But doesn't really mean anything other than creating a sense of belonging. He just returned from a trip to Boston. His presentation was "What's New at FamilySearch." He acknowledged that the changes at FamilySearch make it difficult to keep up. (Tell me about it).  He acknowledged the difficulty of integrating a huge existing collection of data into the new paradigm. He began by talking about the product life cycle and talked about the FamilySearch products at the end of their life cycle, including Personal Ancestral File.  What follows is my summary of what was presented and any inaccuracies are completely my own. Observation on the audience, I was not the oldest person out of about 250 people who were there. I went disguised as an old guy with white hair, which turned out to be a perfect disguise.

He list several products that were definitely at the end of their life cycle. Foremost among those was Personal Ancestral File. He recognized that the program was still used and useful but that new technology could make the program totally obsolete at any time.

He spent more time with the products at the beginning of the product life cycle. The products at the beginning of the life cycle include FamilyTree, FamilySearch Wiki, FamilySearch Standard Finder, RecordSearch, and FamilySearch Indexing. FamilySearch will continue to develop new products for the reason that the information landscape changes with every new idea. The main challenge of FamilySearch is eliminating barriers between programs and services so that they are integrated.

He highlighted FamilySearch Labs and talked briefly about the advantages of testing the programs before release. He spent some time talking about the demise of Personal Ancestral File and the advantages of migrating to new third-part program that synchronizes with New FamilySearch (which is referred to as Family Tree). He acknowledged that old FamilySearch's old CD products took a long time to adapt to the new systems.

The International Genealogical Index will not migrate to the new system but the information will be available. Pedigree Resource File will also end soon even though they receive 1 million names a month in submission. The Family History Library Catalog on CD is very outdated, so the CD version is not recommended. Research Guidance in the old FamilySearch.org program is migrating to the Research Wiki as also are all of the paper publications.

Microfilm technology is completely outdated by digital technology primarily because few companies are still supporting film technology. Only Kodak still supplies film for copies made by the Family History Library. Because of the lack of supply, the price has increased to about $50 a roll. It is not economically viable to make copies and store the copies. Because of storage costs, it is less expensive to reproduce the film and destroy the unneeded copies.

Scottish Church Records are subject to issues with Scotland concerning the fact that Scotland wants to charge for the records. The Scottish Church Records will only be available on DOS systems for the time being.

New FamilySearch was created to create more identifiers to avoid duplication of Church ordinances.  In the process of doing family history, there will be some duplication as the program is refined and upgraded. There is corrupted data and he cautioned participants to not spend much time worry or doing anything right now about the bad data. He emphasized more than once, that that users should not spend that much time correcting data.

The FamilySearch Wiki is an information sharing media. A place where everyone involved in genealogy can share what they know with others. Contribute your information before your descendants throw it away.

Standard Finder is a new product. If you type in a place name or surname, the Standard Finder will return all of the variants. You can add a variant which will then be used by the FamilySearch search engines for all of the products. If your name is not there, then you can see what is being used by the catalogs.

Scanning project of 2.4 million rolls of film with 1300 images on the average. Images are now being captured in the field in digital format. All of the images from the scanning project are going on to the Beta.FamilySearch.org website. The Beta site will be converted from the old FamilySearch.org site before the end of the year. (We will wait and see). FamilySearch is daily updating and improving all of the search functions for all of the programs.

FamilySearch Indexing produces about a million names a day from about 300,000 indexers. 400 million names have been indexed so far. Volunteers are needed to increase the production to 500 million names a year.

FamilySearch Book Scanning is digitizing with the BYU Family History Archives. This was only mentioned briefly.

David Rencher concluded with a short discussion of the FamilySearch support system, worldwide with more than a 1000 subject areas. All of the current products are being supported, more than 50 different products.

I found the information to be well presented, concise and informative. There were even a few things I did not know (actually more than a few). The Riverton FamilySearch Library is very impressive and has a lot of user computers. The classes were very well attended but the Library itself was only sparshly populated.

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