Saturday, February 27, 2010

WorldCat.org, Google Books and more...

WorldCat.org is a major international connection to over 10,000 libraries worldwide and catalogs over 1.5 billion items. Google Books contains over 10,000,000 digitized books and magazines. WorldCat.org and Google Books are now interlinked. If you search for a book on Google Books and find the item, one of the options is to find the item in a library. Clicking on this option gives you a link to WorldCat.org. The WorldCat search for the item gives you the full citation, a reference to every edition of the item and by entering your zip code, a list of libraries that have the item, including the distance from your own location. Quoting from the OCLC Website:

The WorldCat link appears within all four available Google Book views:

  • the Full View offering access to the full content of a digitized title;
  • the Limited Preview that lets you read only several pages of the book;
  • the Snippet View that contextually presents passages of the book which contain your search terms; and
  • the basic record view which does not feature a content preview.

Google Books Advanced Book Search also has a Library Catalogs option that allows you to limit a search to "Library Catalogs." The searches in a vast number of library catalogs is a result of a project starting in 2005 called the Online Computer Library Center or OCLC. Wikipedia.
OCLC and its member libraries cooperatively produce and maintain WorldCat—the OCLC Online Union Catalog, the largest Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC) in the world. WorldCat has holding records from public and private libraries worldwide. WorldCat is available through libraries and university computer networks. The Open WorldCat program makes records of library-owned materials in OCLC's WorldCat database available to Web users on popular Internet search, bibliographic and bookselling sites. In October 2005, the OCLC technical staff began a wiki project allowing readers to add commentary and structured-field information associated with any WorldCat record.
OCLC describes itself as a "nonprofit, membership, computer library service and research organization dedicated to the public purposes of furthering access to the world’s information and reducing information costs. More than 72,000 libraries in 86 countries and territories around the world use OCLC services to locate, acquire, catalog, lend and preserve library materials."

Now, what does all this have to do with genealogy? Plenty. A search in WorldCat.org on the term genealogy brought up 474,804 items. If I find a reference to a book or other publication that I would like to use for research, the first place I go to search is WorldCat.org because I will then know if I can find the book through a library or through Interlibrary loan. If the book is located in a participating library, I can use my own library card at my local library to have a copy sent to my library for checkout. Essentially, almost the entire world of research is available to me at my own city's public library. I also not limited by the collections at a the nearby university libraries either.

Friday, February 26, 2010

New FamilySearch Questions finally get public airing

An article in Mormon Times, opens the door for almost the first time, to a main stream airing of some of the most glaring problems with New FamilySearch. Although the article is low key, it points out some of more difficult issues with the program. If you have been following the development of the program at all, you will immediately recognize the fact that this is one of the first times this many issues have been acknowledged in a very public manner, even if the Mormon Times is somewhat removed from the normal channels of communication about the program.

In Mesa, Arizona we have been using New FamilySearch since October of 2007. During the past two plus years it became apparent that there was a disconnect between the reality of NFS and official introductory materials. Many sophisticated users with extensive genealogical experience were dismayed at the tremendous limitations of the program in such areas as the inability to correct obviously incorrect or inaccurate information. The overwhelming amount of inaccurate information was daunting to even the most dedicated users. Even simple issues, such as wrong gender identification of an ancestor are very difficult to correct and dates and places that have no real relationship to an individual are impossible to correct. Disputing information just caused a domino effect of even more problems.

Over time, the problems seemed to get worse rather than better. New users, as they came online, merely added more inaccurate information. In presentations about New FamilySearch, many of the presenters taught that NFS would replace individual computer based programs (it might someday) and that the program was a way to "research" your ancestors and find people ready for LDS Temple ordinances. Large groups of people were told repeatedly to "go to the program, click on the green arrows and instantly have people ready for Temple work."

It is apparent that people can enter information directly into the program by uploading a GEDCOM file, and then, without doing anything more, qualify all or most of the names for Temple work, even if all the names entered are duplicates of those already in the program. Over time, warnings and additional steps in the qualification process have made this more difficult but it is still possible is someone is determined to have a set number of names for a Ward or Stake Temple day.

The Mormon Times article points out that there are a number of problems. All of these problems have been extensively discussed by many of us for the past two years or so and by the way, there are a number of other problems not mentioned in the article. It is a very positive move to see this article in print. Please take time to read the article. Here is another link to the same article.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Ordnance Survey Ireland

The Ordnance Survey Ireland is the national mapping agency of the Republic of Ireland. Their primary product is mapping services. They produce a very comprehensive range of urban, rural, tourist and leisure maps at a variety of scales. These maps are produced in digital form as well as on paper. The base data used to create the map series is also used to produce other products such as aerial photography and digital terrain models.

Their Website includes an entirely interactive map of the country, with historic layers. Between 1829 and 1842 the Ordnance Survey completed the first ever large-scale survey of an entire country. Through the Website you can view and download this data or place an order for delivery by mail.

The new archive currently comprises the following series of maps:

  • 6 inch mapping series (1:10,560) color 1837-1842
  • 6 inch mapping series (1:10,560) grayscale 1837-1842
  • 25 inch mapping series (1:2,500) grayscale 1888-1913
  • The above historic maps, originally surveyed on a county basis, now make up Ordnance Survey Ireland's digital image archive. Every image in the archive has been captured from an original print and each digital map image is now a seamless map title within the archive.

    The site also contains the Lewis Topographical Dictionary. As the site notes, "Samuel Lewis first published his two volumes of The Topographical Dictionary of Ireland in 1837. His main aim, along with his previous topographical dictionaries and maps of the United Kingdom, was to give in ‘a condensed form’, a reliable and unbiased description of each place. Arranged alphabetically by place (village, parish, town, etc.), it provides a comprehensive description of all Irish localities as they existed at the time of publication. Lewis gives details about every parish, town and village in Ireland, including numbers of inhabitants, the economy, history, topography, religion and parish structures, administration and courts, schools, and much more. He also gives the names of the principal inhabitants (generally landlords, merchants and professionals). Lewis's dictionary is the first detailed study of its kind for Ireland, and since it was published just prior to the Irish Potato Famine (1845-49) it is a valuable resource used widely by historians and genealogists alike."

    Genealogical resources of the National Archives of Ireland


    The National Archives of Ireland holds a wide variety of records relevant to Irish genealogy. Foremost among the records becoming available is the entire 1911 Irish Census including all counties now available online. In addition, the 1901 Census material will be made available during 2010 with all data transcribed. For a detailed description of the project, click here. The Census site also contains a very interesting presentation of photographs depicting Ireland in 1911. The picture above is from the Ulster Museum and shows the Titanic in the final stages of construction in May of 1911.

    Contrary to the trend in England charging for record copies, the Irish records are being made free online. In addition to the Census records, the Website has an extensive online index of other government databases which include government departments, agencies and other national records. There is a combined search for all the databases. Members of the public can also use their in-house Genealogy Service which offers a free, short personal consultation service by professional genealogists to visitors to the National Archives who are researching their family tree.

    In addition to the Census returns, the Archives also has the Primary Valuation records (also known as Griffith's Valuation) for people living in the 1840s, 1850s and 1860s. For earlier records, the Tithe Applotment Books are also available for people living in the 1820s or 1830s. However, an online source for these records has yet to be compiled. A CD-ROM index to the Tithe Applotment books for counties Antrim, Armagh, Derry, Down, Fermanagh and Tyrone is available as Tithe Applotment Books, 1823-1838 while a CD-ROM index to the Primary Valuation is available as Index to Griffith’s Valuation of Ireland, 1848-1864 (both from Genealogical Publishing Co Ltd, Baltimore, USA).

    The Archives holds many other records including the following:
    Of great value to finding locations within Ireland is the Ordnance Survey digital map of Ireland for putting the NAI's record collections in their geographical context. With the exception of the Ireland-Australia transportation database (1791–1853), the records themselves are not searchable on the Archive site and must be consulted in person in National Archive Reading Room.

    Tuesday, February 23, 2010

    Researching genealogy at the Library of Congress

    The Library of Congress, now over 200 years old, is recognized as the largest library in the United States and has claims to being the largest library in the world. Its collections are described as follows:

    In 1992, the Library acquired its 100 millionth item. The collections now include approximately fifteen million books, thirty-nine million manuscripts, thirteen million photographs, four million maps, more than three-and-a-half million pieces of music, and more than half a million motion pictures. The Library's collection of more than 5,600 incunabula (books printed before 1500) is the largest in the Western Hemisphere and its collections of maps, atlases, newspapers, music, motion pictures, photographs, and microforms are probably the largest in the world. In addition, the Library holds newspapers, prints, posters, drawings, talking books, technical reports, videotapes and disks, computer programs, and other audio, visual, and print materials.

    The collections are especially strong in American history, politics, and literature; music; geography; law and particularly foreign law; economics; genealogy and U.S. local history; U.S. public documents; publications of learned societies from around the world; the history of science; libraries and librarianship; and bibliography in all subjects. In addition to the personal papers of American presidents from Washington through Coolidge, the Library's manuscript holdings include the papers of eminent figures, mostly American, in government, the arts, and the sciences.

    Each day about thirty-one thousand items arrive at the Library; approximately seven thousand of these items will become part of the permanent collections. See Jefferson's Legacy. In 2008, the Library had the following collections:

      • Total of 141,847,810 items in the collections, including:
      • 21,218,408 cataloged books in the Library of Congress classification system.
      • 11,599,606 books in large type and raised characters, incunabula (books printed before 1501), monographs and serials, music, bound newspapers, pamphlets, technical reports, and other printed material.
      • 109,029,796 items in the nonclassified (special) collections. These included:
      • 3,005,028 audio materials, such as discs, tapes, talking books, and other
        recorded formats.
      • 62,778,118 total manuscripts.
      • 5,357,385 maps.
      • 16,086,572 microforms.
      • 5,674,956 pieces of sheet music.
      • 14,388,175 visual materials, including:
      • 1,207,776 moving images.
      • 12,536,764 photographs.
      • 98,288 posters.
      • 545,347 prints and drawings.

    So what can the Library of Congress do for your genealogy? Try the Local History & Genealogy Reading Room. The Library has over 50,000 genealogies and 100,000 local histories. Volumes from the Library's general collections may be paged from and used in the LH&G Reading Room. In addition to these works, there are some 6,000 guides and other reference works available in the LH&G Reading Room. Most special catalogs and indexes are arranged by family name.

    Digitized materials on U.S. history from the Library of Congress collections. Includes first-person accounts of 19th-century California, the Upper Midwest from 1820 to 1910, the Chesapeake Bay area from 1600 to 1925, and other resources for genealogy research. Online resources are found at American Memory.

    Monday, February 22, 2010

    JAWS support available for New FamilySearch

    JAWS (an acronym for Job Access With Speech) is a screen reader, a software program for visually impaired users, produced by the Blind and Low Vision Group at Freedom Scientific of St. Petersburg, Florida, USA.Wikipedia. FamilySearch's New FamilySearch (NFS) software now offers increasingly extensive support for blind users in conjunction with JAWS. From the Help Center document No. KD 109349, NFS indicates that standard JAWS commands to read HTML can be used to access data on the New FamilySearch. There are over 100 JAWS commands for reading HTML. For instructions on signing into the new FamilySearch, searching for ancestors, viewing information about the person in the main position, combining duplicates, and viewing and submitting temple ordinances, refer to KD 109354, KD 109356, KD 109357, KD 109358, and KD 109360 respectively.

    Additional thoughts on the revolutionary challenge of New FamilySearch

    New FamilySearch (NFS) is much more than a simple database of names, it is a revolutionary way of presenting genealogical information that has far reaching and even revolutionary consequences to the way family information is stored, displayed and maintained. One aspect of the program (if you can call it that) is the extensive help system. The NFS Help Center is interactive in the sense that any question the user wishes to ask will be answered either through the existing accumulation of previously answered questions, E-mail support or in person telephonic support. Because FamilySearch has trained volunteers answering questions from all around the world, support is available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.

    At the time NFS was first released, there were a few volunteers and many of the most common questions had yet to be answered. Over the past two years the reserve of answered questions has become monumental, there is practically no question about the program, the data or any other special circumstance that cannot be answered through the Help Center. In talking to many users, the biggest problem is not a lack of information to answer questions, but the fact that many users have no idea that the Help Center even exists. To my knowledge, there is no other online program that even approaches the amount of support offered to the users of NFS.

    In addition to the Help Center, FamilySearch also has online Forums for each of its support areas. A NFS user can sign into the FamilySearch Forums and ask questions of the FamilySearch community and also receive answers in real time. This support system extends to all of the aspects of NFS including the Indexing program and all of the other products. The Forum includes geographical sections where anyone can seek help on specific genealogical research issues. Unlike NFS, the Forum is open to everyone who wishes to register.

    The revolutionary aspect of the Help Center and the Forum is that users will become accustomed to having this extensive help system and will be able to easily compare that level of support to other programs and products online. How will third party programs compete with a world wide system of trained volunteers? Especially if NFS develops more extensive capabilities to store individual information such as media and/or sources?

    In addition, FamilySearch is being taught and supported by the thousands of Family History Centers around the world. In each Ward and Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints there are people who are supposed to teach and answer questions about NFS. By the end of 2010 it is predicted that NFS will be open to all genealogists, not just members of the LDS Church. This event alone will exponentially expand the influence of the program.

    As can be seen from the FamilySearch Affiliates and Product Certification program, there are also many aspects of the program that benefit third-party developers. FamilySearch also continues to accelerate its efforts to expand online resources through Record Search and the Indexing program. Presently, compared to the larger subscription Websites, FamilySearch does not seem have that many resources, but goal of digitizing approximately 2.5 million rolls of microfilm could easily put FamilySearch in a dominant position in the genealogical community.

    Just an additional small example of the extensive development of NFS, is support for blind patrons using the JAWS screen reader from Freedom Scientific. JAWS (an acronym for Job Access With Speech) is a screen reader, a software program for visually impaired users, produced by the Blind and Low Vision Group at Freedom Scientific of St. Petersburg, Florida, USA. Think about it. Have you ever seen anything from any other genealogy program aimed at helping blind users?

    Sunday, February 21, 2010

    The revolutionary challenge of New FamilySearch

    Sometimes it take a year or two (or more) for the nature of a major change to become evident in any human activity. Genealogy has always been a very narrow and some-what esoteric study. But now, FamilySearch's New FamilySearch (NFS) database constitutes a revolutionary challenge to the way genealogy has been previously done. There are a number of aspects to the way the information is maintained and presented that distinguish this single database from any previous attempt at a compilation of family information.

    At this point in the development of NFS, it is difficult to tell if some of more revolutionary features are intentional or merely the effect of a series of smaller decisions accumulating into radical change from existing or traditional methods. It is becoming apparent that the features of the program, especially when it is opened up to the public at large, constitute a radical departure from existing methodology.

    Presently, the most prominent departure from existing status is the accumulative feature of the data. Each individual is presented with his or her total existing history. Right or wrong, detailed or summarized, every submission is combined or able to be combined into one presentation. Many of the individuals with long genealogical traditions have hundreds of combined submissions. This fact has been the source of a lot of negative comments about the program but instead of being a negative, the combined files facilitate a more complete view of the person. I have yet to see any other database format that gathers all of each individual's information together into one place at one time. Users of NFS who see the variations for the first time are almost always very disturbed by the lack of accuracy and consistency. But viewed from a data standpoint, it is entirely revolutionary to have all of the individual submissions on an individual gathered together for evaluation. It is always possible that one (or more) of the submissions are correct, leading to the opportunity to make that determination from the offerings.

    In the past, I have been of the view that having the variations in each individual did little more than point out how much sloppy work there was out there in the community. But that is the point precisely. It does point out that not all of the variations can be correct. If anyone has the slightest desire to come to a resolution of the contradictory information, then there are the variations, each displayed with exactly the same amount of validity. Rather than rejecting all of the ones you disagree with out of hand, perhaps you could re-evaluate your own position to see if your materials are correct or not. If the information were presented in Wiki format, with the ability to make instantaneous corrections, then there would be no impetus to evaluate all of the differing opinions, right or wrong.

    The same issues arise, with the same conclusions, about NFS's preservation of all possible family connections, even though some of them are obviously wrong. Seeing the multitude and inventiveness of the mistakes reinforces the need for careful evaluation of the information presented. I admit that seeing a grandchild married to his grandmother is rather disturbing, but the fact that someone made that mistake or had some reason to believe that the information was correct has a whole world of implications.

    Heretofore, anyone could do sloppy genealogy with impunity. With NFS all of the dirty laundry is out there for everyone to see, with only the protection of a E-mail address or number. It is impossible to predict the consequences of direct and very public presentation of poor work.

    One of the less obvious implications of having a concentrated data structure with possible multiple submissions on each of the individuals is the issue of using your own database program or relying on NFS to store "your" data. If NFS expands to include photos, sources and other information about an individual or family, then it may become harder to convince many users that they also need to store information on a local computer. From that standpoint, NFS may become an alternative to all of the currently available local programs.

    In my next installment, I will discuss the radical implications of having a hugely successful volunteer support organization behind the program. If you were not aware, NFS has the FamilySearch network of volunteers and missionaries all around the world 24/7 answering questions and providing free support for the program. By the way, a new revision of the program is probably imminent.

    Saturday, February 20, 2010

    Record Search adds records from Norfolk, England and Paraiba, Brazil

    The newest addition to FamilySearch's Record Search are the Norfolk, Church of England Parish Registers from 1538 to 1900 and the Brazil, Paraiba region Civil Registrations from 1870 to 2006.

    The Norfolk, Church of England Parish Registers from 1538 to 1900 are described in the FamilySearch Research Wiki as follows:

    Baptisms (christenings), marriages, and burials were recorded on blank pages in a bound book called a register. The events of baptism, marriage, and burial were all recorded in one volume until 1754, when a law required that marriages be recorded in a separate book. Banns, or proclamations of “an intent” to marry, were recorded in yet another book. Starting in 1812, preprinted registers were introduced, and then separate registers were kept for baptisms, marriages, and burials. Before 1812, bishops’ transcripts were usually recorded on loose pieces of paper. Following that year, the transcripts were recorded on the same preprinted forms as parish registers.

    In 1537 the Church of England mandated that parishes begin keeping church registers by the next year (1538). These church registers continue to the present. Bishops’ transcripts, or copies of parish registers, were required beginning in 1598 and continued to the mid-1800s.

    The vast majority of the English population belonged to the Church of England. Only since the mid-19th century have other religious groups made headway.
    The Brazil, Paraiba Civil Registration records add to the collections from Penambuco and Rio de Janeiro. Again from the FamilySearch Wiki:
    Civil registration in Brazil started formally with the decree number 5604 dated 25 April 1874. This decree regulated the civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths. But it was not until the next year that gradually some cities in the larger municipalities began to create civil registries which were named "cartórios do registro civil". The enforcement of the registration of births, marriages, and deaths was established by the decree number 9886 dated 7 March 1888. However, civil registration was not immediately accepted by the inhabitants, especially by those living in the interior areas of the country, where the religious control of the Catholic Church and the distance of rural areas made it difficult to increase such registration.

    Thursday, February 18, 2010

    When was the last time you visited a library?

    With the advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web and the digitization of nearly everything, we have many sources predicting the demise of libraries and even books. The fundamental question is whether digitizing paper based information resources will obviate the need for either books or libraries? Some kinds of paper resources are already relatively unused. Watch any older movie and see someone go into a phone booth, or look up a phone number in a phone book and you can appreciate the magnitude of the changes in our information based communication system. However, just this last week I drove to our local public library to look for an obituary. Of course, we had searched online for the information and my daughter found the publication date, but there was no online copy of the actual newspaper article, at least not without going to a subscription service. At the library, I found the obituary article on microfilm and ended up paying twenty cents for the copy from the film.

    Is it likely that the library's part in supplying this information will disappear like phone books? Probably. As more newspapers are online, the demand for local access to the archives will decrease. But here is a contrary observation, how many of you have read an entire book from an online source? How many are willing to sit for hours in front of a computer screen for the purpose of reading an entire book? Even with various electronic devices from cell phones to hand held screens, when was the last time you read an entire book on your cell phone? Interestingly, recent statistics show a dramatic increase in the number of books published although sales are down due to the economic downturn.

    Libraries are vulnerable to economic and societal pressures more than mere technological challenges. How many elementary school libraries have been closed for budget purposes? If young children have never been to a library, why would they oppose the closing of libraries as adults?

    From statistics, it isn't so much an issue of paper based books vs. electronic media, it is more an issue of reading at all. Only about 50% of all Americans even read one book in 2008. About one third of the people who did read a book were over the age of 55. This statistic also likely indicates who uses libraries.

    I don't have any statistics, but genealogists seem to be much more likely to visit a library than not. But I do find many of the people I talk to about their genealogy have never been to a library specifically to search out their family and of those that have been once or twice, their experience is described as frustrating and unproductive. This response probably comes from a lack of prior experience in using library facilities.

    So, when was the last time you went to a library? Not just the large regional or national ones, but your own local library? Do you know what types of information are available? Do you use the library for your own research? Think about the questions and think about the answers.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    The continuing transition story from Personal Ancestral File

    As one of the original Apple computer users, all of my early attempts to record my genealogy in a software program involved Apple compatible software. Beginning with an Apple II and working my way up through all of the Macintosh models, I kept all of my research in older programs and then Personal Ancestral File (PAF) on a Macintosh for about ten years or so. There came a day when the Macintosh version of Personal Ancestral File stopped being a viable alternative. Reluctantly, I purchased a PC and began using PAF in the PC environment. Another ten years or so passed and I began to realize that Personal Ancestral File was not being updated. At that point, I had to decide which direction to go.

    I began by visiting various software vendors at genealogy conventions. I ended up purchasing several programs and entering my information into each to see how they might be better or worse than continuing to use PAF. Because of my background, I would be considered to be a very sophisticated computer user. I was not completely happy with any of the programs, but continued to use two or three different ones while waiting to see if one program emerged as clearly superior.

    Meanwhile, back to the Macintosh world. PAF for Macintosh was completely abandoned and even stopped working consistently on subsequent Apple operating systems. Since I had moved to the PC world, I somewhat ignored any Apple compatible software programs for a long time, even though I always continued to update and use a Macintosh computer. Yes, I had and have both Apples and PCs all the time and sometimes I work on them both at the same time.

    Finally, Apple adopted Intel processors, the same ones used in the PC world. At the same time Macintosh computers became so fast and had so much storage capacity, that it became practical to run both Microsoft Windows and the Apple operating system on the same computer at the same time. As a consequence, I stopped using my PC and converted to two Macintosh computers. About the same time, I began investigating Apple genealogy programs. Most of them turned out to be so non-traditional that they had no appeal. Few of them were strong in providing support for sources. As it turned out the ability to provide adequate source citations became the one overriding main issue with my selection of programs.

    Now, if you are expecting me to explain which programs I use and like, you are going to be disappointed. The jury is still out. No one program has taken the clear lead in all categories. But, I do sympathize with all those people out there who are trying to decided if they want to move from PAF to some other program. I have now been through the process twice with huge data files. I recognize that many people cannot understand enough of the basics about computers to know how to transfer their data from one program to another and resist the idea of even having to learn a new program. But the process of change in inevitable.

    Here are some of my conclusions, subject to change at anytime due to new hardware or software:

    1. I clearly like Macintosh computers over any model from any manufacturer of PCs. Compared to Apple computers, any PC is clunky and hard to use.

    2. There are factors about the current state of the genealogical world, such as synchronization with New FamilySearch, that mandate using Windows compatible programs for a while.

    3. Although there are a few challenges, running Windows 7 on an iMac beats using a PC for the same purpose, anytime.

    4. I would move to a Macintosh based platform instantly (well it would take some time to convert everything) if there were integration with the FamilySearch environment.

    5. All of the current genealogical database programs have good features and there is yet to be one clear leader in all categories.

    6. I would like to see further integration between online sources of data and the programs, i.e. allowing you to import images while at the same time capturing the source data and associating the source with an individual or individuals.

    7. I would like to see the programs be more consistent in transferring sources and images between programs.

    There is still a long way to go.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010

    More comments on Back to Basics on Genealogical Research

    I know it isn't his original quote, but Val D. Greenwood says, "A good cookbook does not make a good cook." (Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Pub. Co, 2000). Neither does good genealogical instruction guarantee adequate research competency. But it won't hurt either. A good cook can use a good cookbook to advantage to make some marvelous dishes and a good researcher can use additional instruction anytime to become even better at doing research. It is almost a given in our society that people will fail to read the instructions before trying to operate almost everything. Likewise, many budding researchers think all you have to do is copy a few records and voila! you are a genealogist.

    As pointed out by Donald Lines Jacobus, "Very often, the relations of dates determine or negate the possibility of an alleged line of descent, or provide clues which might otherwise elude detection." (a quoted by Greenwood page 9, from Rubincam, Milton. Genealogical Research: Methods and Sources. Washington, D.C.: American Society of Genealogists, 1980). I find that the missing link in most, in fact almost all, genealogical research is a total lack of awareness of relationships and context. Virtually none of the people I come in contact with every day are even aware of things like historical national and state boundaries, wars, depressions, population movements and other sociological forces that not only affect families but determine the location and availability of records.

    Blindly copying bad data does not ever make good data and failing to put information obtained into context destroys any possible connections to reality. If I say my ancestor was born in 1895 in Arizona, that has no significance at all, unless I also realize the context of the date. For example, that he was just the right age and in the right place to fight in the Mexican Border Campaign of 1916. (Now how many of you out there even knew there was a Mexican Border Campaign of 1916?) Genealogical research out of context is no research at all.

    If you trace your family to Massachusetts, for example, start by reading some history. Get the context of the research so that the dates and places will make sense. Not like one researcher I talked to who insisted that two individuals with similar names were the same person, even though the lived on opposite sides of the state. She had never considered the time period and the difficulty of traveling the few hundred miles between the two locations given for each of the individuals.

    Quoting from The Critical Anlysis of Documentary Evidence: Basic Skills in the History Classroom, by Lorence, James J.
    The student must be made to understand that an effective assessment of a piece of evidence can only be made against an informed background. Recognizing that a historical document does not exist in a vacuum, the student must inquire into the events surrounding the piece of evidence under consideration and place it in its social, political, and economic context. A concern for context also necessitates an exploration of the background of the witness whose writings are under consideration in the classroom. The instructor should then raise the question of whether contemporary attitudes or the students' own values influence criticism and understanding of the source. The next step should be an intensified focus on the text itself. Careful attention should be devoted to the words, their meanings, and their implications. One good guideline for students is that they accept as historical fact only those particulars that may be confirmed by the testimony of two or more reliable sources.
    It takes time and effort to move from superficial name gathering into the type of analysis that will produce credible historical genealogical evidence.

    Warwickshire, Church of England Parish Records added to FamilySearch Record Search

    Warwickshire, Church of England Parish Records from 1538 to 1900 have been added to FamilySearch's Record Search as of February 15, 2010. The Wiki FamilySearch entry for these records has the following description:

    Baptisms (christenings), marriages, and burials were recorded on blank pages in a bound book called a register. The events of baptism, marriage, and burial were all recorded in one volume until 1754, when a law required that marriages be recorded in a separate book. Banns, or proclamations of “an intent” to marry, were recorded in yet another book. Starting in 1812, preprinted registers were introduced, and then separate registers were kept for baptisms, marriages, and burials. Before 1812, bishops’ transcripts were usually recorded on loose pieces of paper. Following that year, the transcripts were recorded on the same preprinted forms as parish registers.In 1537 the Church of England mandated that parishes begin keeping church registers by the next year (1538). These church registers continue to the present. Bishops’ transcripts, or copies of parish registers, were required beginning in 1598 and continued to the mid-1800s. The vast majority of the English population belonged to the Church of England. Only since the mid-19th century have other religious groups made headway.

    Sunday, February 14, 2010

    FamilySearch Records Search Update February 14, 2010

    FamilySearch's Record Search has just added 16 counties to the Arkansas County Marriages. It has also published the Mexico Catholic Church Records consolidating all of the previously separately published Catholic Church records from different areas in Mexico. Records from Durango were also added.

    Here is a review of the records added with more detail:

    Arkansas County Marriages from 1837 to 1957. This collection is 92% complete. It contains the index and images of marriages recorded in counties of Arkansas. Index and images are currently available for all counties except: Arkansas, Clark, Sebastian, Washington, White, Woodruff. There may be related records included with marriage records. Once an image of a marriage record is located, browse through preceding and following images to check for related records. This project was indexed in partnership with the Arkansas Genealogical Society.

    There are three types of marriage records:

    • Marriage books are usually large, bound volumes, especially those with printed columns. Entries were made chronologically. Some volumes, especially those for earlier years, were written in paragraph format, often with two or three marriages on each page. When printed pages were introduced later, marriages were recorded in columns, allowing for many entries per page.
    • Marriage licenses may be in paragraph format or printed forms.
    • Marriage returns are usually in paragraph format. See Wiki FamilySearch.
    Mexico, Catholic Church Records. Separate books were kept for baptism, confirmation, marriage banns, marriage, and burial or death records. However, in smaller areas, all records may be recorded on one register. The entries were normally made in chronological order. In smaller parishes, most of the marriage banns (informaciones matrimoniales) were included in the marriage entry. In larger parishes, these records may be registered separately. In smaller parishes, the confirmations may have been included with the baptisms or even with marriages. In larger parishes, a separate book of confirmations was usually maintained. The records are in relatively fair condition, with the exception of some older records that may be damaged, and therefore hard to read or missing some information. Most of the older records are handwritten in narrative style and follow a common text with some variations depending on the style used by the priest. Newer records are handwritten in formatted registers, and some are even written in ledger style registers. See Wiki FamilySearch.

    Friday, February 12, 2010

    Back to basics in genealogical research--duplication of effort

    There is a appropriate analogy to many of the questions I am asked at the Mesa Regional Family History Center, it is called building bridges in the air. In genealogical terms it is called starting with the three brothers that came from Ireland, Scotland, England, Germany, Norway or where ever. Quoting from Val Greenwood, (Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Pub. Co, 2000) page 4, "How foolish it would be...to spend ten years (or even one year or one month) on a special project only to find, upon presenting his findings...that someone else had already accomplished the same work."

    The quote comes from Greenwood's analysis of the research cycle. He notes, at page 6, "Another thing we can readily observe from this research cycle is that many would-be genealogists do not use all of the steps required for complete research. Too many spend their entire efforts on secondary research, thinking that they are doing all that can be and needs to be done when they are copying the records of others and searching old family histories."

    It is even more true today than when these words were written; too many people think they are doing research on their family, when all they are doing is looking at the compilation of the work of others. Just last night, I talked to one budding genealogist who explained how he was doing his research by following the family lines he found in New FamilySearch. How can you know what you do know, if you do not know what you do not know?

    To quote again from Greenwood, still on page 6, "In the first four months of 1968 there were 96,904 family group records submitted by patrons to the Genealogical Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Of these, 24,296 (25 per cent) were duplicates of records already on file with the Society--the research already completed." Note that the Genealogical Society is now called the Family History Library. At that time someone was actually checking to see if the work was being duplicated. That is not the case today. No one from the online resources checks to see how many of the millions of records on New FamilySearch's vast database are duplicates. Even though New FamilySearch provides a mechanism to check for duplicates, from the number of copies of my own records, I can only assume that few, if any, are checking for duplicates before submitting the work again and again. It is significant that the maximum number of allowed combined individuals, initially at around 80 has now grown to over 250, and that is still not enough to accommodate some of the duplicate individuals.

    For example, in New FamilySearch there are, at least, forty-five different records for my own grandfather who only had two living children. Remarkably, in going down the list of contributors, except for two or three of the forty-five, none of the people submitting his records again and again are even direct descendants. In over twenty-five years of doing research on my family, I have never been contacted by anyone on the list even once for any information I might have about my grandfather and I am the one with all of his documents, certificates and papers. This has happened despite the fact that my complete contact information is listed with all of my submissions. What is ironic is that I am the only one with the correct information about his birthplace and death place.

    Research can only proceed as each event or fact is verified. Assuming that all the "work" is done or that nothing more needs be researched merely because there are a lot of names in an online family tree program, is no excuse for failure to carefully search for verified and verifiable information about a family.

    Finally, another quote from Greenwood, at page 8, "Genealogy should be a science--it deserves to be as science--but the methods of some tend to lower it to the level of a mere pastime, and that built upon false premises." How many of today's online searchers have built their research on sound principles?

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010

    How many digital books are there online?

    The thought occurred to me to try and determine how many digitized books are now (as of February, 2010) online. Then, I would try to estimate/guess how many of those are genealogy related.

    I realize that the task is likely impossible, but I would like to have some idea of the magnitude of the online book community. My first stop is Google Books. It appears that Google doesn't publicize the actual number of books scanned. But an article in the Official Google Blog of October 9, 2009 gave the total at more than 10,000,000. Doing a quick search in Google Books on the subject of "genealogy" returns about 26,000 books, while a search on "family history" returns about 17,900. Google Books has three levels of online availability; Limited Preview, Snippet View and Full View. Only Full View gives the entire book's contents.

    It is obvious that many more books than just those appearing in a search for "genealogy" have content valuable to family historians and researchers, but it is apparent that the Google project is not at all directed at the subject area of family history and any books digitized will be incidental to Google's overall project.

    Let's jump to the Family History Archive. As of February, 2010, the combined libraries of the Family History Archive had digitized and published online 57,125 books and manuscripts. All of these books are exactly on point pertinent to someone's family history.

    On to Archive.org. This huge digital resource claims 150 billion pages scanned. However, a search on the term "genealogy" returns about 12,184 items. Archive.org does have a self-described "ever expanding collection of genealogy resources including items from the Allen County Public Library..." Since Archive.org includes all types of media, it is difficult to determine how many of the items are really related to genealogy and family history. This is a resource worth looking at since it appears to contain a lot of local histories, yearbooks, directories and other pertinent publications.

    Here are a few other sites:

    The Online Book Page -- claims over 35,000 free books from the University of Pennsylvania.
    Gutenberg -- claims over 30,000 free books
    Digital Book Index -- claims over 148,000 full-text digital books.

    OK, this doesn't have much to do with genealogical research but the best site I found was the International Children's Digital Library. I really loved the poetry books in Spanish.

    As I searched, I quickly began to understand that there was no visible end to the mountains, no, whole worlds of books online. This turned out to be a really difficult project because I kept finding interesting things to look at.

    So when I got all the way through, I began to realize, I will never get to the end of this. There are more books going online than I have time to search.

    Monday, February 8, 2010

    QiScan - Automatic Book Scanner RBSpro

    QiScan - Automatic Book Scanner RBSpro

    Thanks to Dick Eastman for a link to this Austrian company with a super fast desktop book scanner. Click on the link to read about it.

    What happened to the card catalog?

    In years past when I lived in libraries (not literally), I spent huge amounts of time doing research. One of the most useful tools was to read the card catalog. To do this, you needed the skill of flipping through the cards very fast and also being able to read the information in the split second the card was visible. The advantage of this type of research was an overview of the target subject, with the result that I often found valuable books or records I didn't know existed. Cataloging books for libraries was partly science but mostly art. The cataloger had to know what the book was about and decide about the assignment of categories. Since the cataloger had a different perspective on the information in the book or document than you did, you got a bonus look at the information. At least two people's opinion about what might be in the book.

    There is an old adage that you can't tell a book by its cover and it is so true. Even though you couldn't tell much about a book by its card in the catalog, you did have a chance to see that the book was categorized in the same way as other similar books. After finding an interesting entry in the card catalog, you could then go to the shelf and read the shelves to see what might turn up of interest.

    Now that is all gone. When I go to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City (or any other library for that matter) I can no longer browse through interesting related entries in the card catalog. If I want to see related subjects, I am left with reading the shelves. The main problem is that if an item is mis-shelved or checked out, then I miss it entirely. Because of the Dewey Decimal System of book cataloging, books with similar topics were shelved together. In today's electronic catalogs, there is no physical counterpart to the catalog entries. The computer catalogs are very efficient in finding books with similar words, but leave out physical proximity entirely.

    Let me give an example. Let's suppose I am looking for marriage records in Rhode Island. I look in the Family History Library online catalog under Rhode Island. I find topics called Vital records, Vital records - Indexes, and finally, Vital records- Inventories, register, catalogs. But guess what? Clicking on one of the entries gives me a long list of items, which are all over the library and mostly on microfilm. One of the entries, Vital records & indexes for births, deaths, and marriage, 1853 through 1900 is contained on 72 microfilm reels! Here is the problem, I now have a huge reference source but I have absolutely no insight into what other records might be available. There is no particular order to the microfilm cases and looking at adjoining films is a total waste of time, they could be an entirely different area. There is no convenient way to look at records in the same category.

    So even though we have gained access to a huge number of records. We have also lost the association of those records one to another. Part of the solution to this loss, is the reference wiki. Here, people can list resources and show associations that used to exist in the paper card catalogs. But going back to the Rhode Island example, how was I to know from the online catalog that some of the most valuable records for marriages, deaths, births and other information are contained in the town records? I may never discover this, because town records are listed in another category unrelated to marriages and physically the books and microfilms are no where near each other. In the card catalog days, I would probably find a reference to marriage records and might also find the same description on a card for the town records. Sometimes much is lost when much is gained.

    Sunday, February 7, 2010

    FamilySearch Research Outlines online in PDF format with links

    The Research Outlines prepared by FamilySearch are online in various formats. One really useful PDF format is found in the Family History & Genealogy Resources of the BYU Family History Library in the Harold B. Lee Library. This same page, with the links to each of the Outlines, also has links to many other useful resources for genealogists.

    Virus and trojan horse attack through FamilySearch Forums

    I got an E-mail message supposedly sent from FamilySearch Forums -- Beta, that claimed to be a private message. Fortunately, I am using my Macintosh and when I opened the message it opened a window that looked like a "Windows" virus checking software download. The window showed a so-called virus check that then said my computer was infected with all sorts of viruses and trojan horses. This was pretty interesting to me since my Apple does not have a C Drive to get infected. I do run Parallels Desktop, but at the time, Windows 7 was not operating and so there was no "computer" to check. When I tried to close the window, the program immediately loaded an unnamed program on my hard drive. I have all of my downloads go to my desktop and I could see the file download. The malware downloaded four more copies of the bad program before I could get it to stop. Heads up. This is a serious problem. Had I not been accessing the the message on a Macintosh, it would have likely infected my computer big time. The message came from a "razzorman" or "razzerman." Watch out for this.

    By the way. When I went to my other Macintosh computer, I shut down Windows 7 before going to the Forums Website. When I got to the Website, I was immediately notified that I had a private message. When I tried to click off the notice, it tried to load the malware again but the download was blocked by Firefox.

    A word to the wise, this bad E-mail came through all of the spam filters and also through the Cox Internet filters because it appeared to be from a legitimate source.

    Saturday, February 6, 2010

    Record Search Update England, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Colombia, and Spain

    FamilySearch Record Search continues to add huge collections of records from around the world. As of February 6, 2010, the Website added England, Cheshire Probate Records and Cheshire Land Tax Assessments index collections. Other new image collections include the Luxembourg Civil Registration, Netherlands, Noord-Brabant Province Population Register, Colombia Catholic Church Record, and Spain Catholic Church Records which consolidates all the previously separately published dioceses from Spain as well as several new ones. Here are more detailed descriptions of each of the new records: (All descriptions from FamilySearch Wiki)

    England, Cheshire Probate Records: Wills probated up to 1857 were handled and kept by the Consistory Court of the Diocese Chester; thereafter (1858-1940) they were handled by the District Probate Registry for Cheshire. Until 1837 a male as young as 14 and a girl as young as 12 could make a will; thereafter one had to be 21 to make a will. Wills for married women before 1882 are rare because they were not allowed to have property. Those who had land or money, such as merchants, shopkeepers, farmers, or laborers, created wills. About 10% of the heads of households were probated before 1857, but as many as 25% left a will or was mentioned in one. There are about 143,000 names indexed in Cheshire Probate Record indexes.

    Cheshire Land Tax Assessments 1778 to 1832 index collections: Land tax assessments began in 1692 and ended in 1963. Most of the surviving collection of land tax assessments range from 1780 to 1832. The tax was administered through the Court of Quarter Sessions of the Peace. They were organized by county, hundred, and parish. From 1692 to 1831, Catholics were assessed a double portion. Coverage for this tax was aimed at the landowners and the tenants who rented from the landowners. That ranged from nobility to peasant.

    Luxembourg Civil Registration 1793 to 1923: The events are recorded either in French or German totally by hand or in partially pre-printed books where the information is then entered by hand. The name of a child not registered when born will not be given in the death record, but the gender of that child will be. If the child was stillborn it will state that, although sometimes this term was applied to children who died shortly after birth.

    Netherlands, Noord-Brabant Province Population Register 1820 to 1930: The records from 1850 to 1920 were kept in bound registers that were sorted by addresses. Later registers were sorted by family names. From 1920 to 1940, the registration was done on family cards. As individuals died, their cards or printouts were sent to the Central Offices for Statistics.

    Colombia Catholic Church Record 1598 to present: The earlier records from this collection are all handwritten in a narrative format. Some later records are handwritten on printed forms, which may vary slightly from one priest to another. Generally, these records were written in chronological order. In smaller parishes, one book was used for all the ordinances (such as baptism, marriage, and death). In larger cities, records of the different types of sacred ordinances were kept in separate books. Confirmations were generally written in the baptismal registers. Some of the older records are damaged, but most of the genealogical information can be extracted.

    Spain Catholic Church Records from 1500 to 1984: This collection of Catholic Church parish records of Spain covers 1500 through 1984. The collection includes records from the dioceses of Avila, Ciudad Real, Ciudad Rodrigo, Gerona, Lugo, Murcia, and Segovia.

    Thursday, February 4, 2010

    More about Personal Ancestral File and Backup

    Personal Ancestral File (PAF) is one of the most widely used lineage-linked genealogical database programs. I have not been able to find any statistics on the number of actual users, but personal experience indicates that most of the genealogists who have a program at all are using PAF. Even if the genealogists have moved on to a commercially available program, it is possible that their attitudes concerning files may have been formed at the time they were using PAF. In one of my last posts, I discussed the issue of using the PAF "Backup" command. Since that post, I have had further rather extensive discussions on the subject, as well as comments, and I have a few more observations.

    Ideally, the genealogical researcher should create one or more master files containing all of his or her research, including source citations and attached media, like photos and scans of original documents. There are many advantages to this "master" file system. All of the information is stored in one place and can be accessed and organized. The researcher never needs to worry about which of the files is the most current or the most complete. However, few of us can claim to have all of our files, photos, documents and memorabilia organized completely and it always seems that we have a file or two that is forgotten or lost which may or may not be a current duplicate of our master file. The more information we acquire, the harder it is to maintain complete and accurate files on the computer.

    Assuming we have one or more master files, the overall concern and complication is the need to protect our files from loss or destruction. To do this, we should create copies of the files and put them on various disks and flash drives and in different physical locations, in the hope that one valid copy will survive any catastrophe. To make sure we are always working on the right file and that we have a valid backup, it is important to have a systematic way of backing up your files, that you can follow each time to avoid confusion.

    Adding to the difficulty of having a backup copy of your master file, is the term "Backup" as it is used by the PAF program and many others. This term is ambiguous. Most people assume that a "Backup" is just that, a way of protecting your data from loss of the primary or master file. But what I find is that a large percentage of computer users have no idea what a file is or even the concept of backing up a file. In providing support to genealogists, it is common to find that the person has multiple copies both in .paf (or the file format for the program they are using) format and in .zip backup format. PAF is not the only program that makes "Backup" copies of the main data file. There is a backup function in both Ancestral Quest and RootMagic 4. Additionally, it is also common to discover that the computer user has no idea about the location of the files on their hard drive much less which one is the primary and which is the backup. Part of this problem occurs because of the Microsoft Windows default method of putting all data files into a "My Documents" file. Unfortunately, in the course of using the computer, several of these "My Documents" folders may be created. Since few of these files appear on the operating system's desktop view, they are often lost down someplace in the file structure. Most of the current genealogy programs also ask you to make a backup when you exit the program. But in each of these cases the "Backup" is merely another copy of the data file on the same disk.

    In the case of PAF, (and most of the other programs) some of the confusion concerning the location of primary data files and backups can be remedied by using the preferences. The tab in the Preference menu asks for Folders and lets the user designate where data files and backup files (and other types also) will be stored. One problem with PAF (and other programs) is that attached files of digital media, such as photos, scans and other digital documents, are not automatically copied to the same folder or file as the data. So, if I make a "backup" of my main data file, even if I make the backup on a different disk, unless I am sophisticated enough to copy all of my digital files to the same backup location, I could lose all of my attached digital media.

    Unfortunately, the concept of file location is greatly complicated by using so kind of external storage device, such as a flash drive or an external hard drive. Not only does the user have to keep track of where the original files are located, but also has to know that another copy of the file is located on the external device. Although a primary data file may not be very large in terms of storage space (Megabytes or Gigabytes) the attached digital files can be very large, making it impossible to use a device like a flash drive for a true backup.

    Many of the issues and problems associated with multiple copies of files can be avoided or at least made less serious by properly naming files. Any file that is a "master" file or the main working file should be clearly named as such. All attached digital media should be kept in one identifiable file folder on the main computer hard drive and both the master file and the media folder should be kept in one master folder to facilitate the backup of all of the attached files. So, here is how it works:

    When I name a new file in any of the genealogy programs, I make sure I identify it as my main or master file, perhaps even using either the word main or master in the file name. Then I go to the preferences in my program and set the location on my computer's hard disk for the default location for all of the types of files. You may have to look in the manual or help menu to find out how to do this with any particular program. When I have done any work on my master file that I am not willing to do over, I make a second copy of the file on an external disk, either a flash drive or an external hard drive. Periodically, I make additional copies of all of my data files onto either a CD, DVD, flash drive or external hard drive that I keep at another location, usually one of my childrens' homes in another state.

    When I make a copy of my file to use at a remote location, like the Family History Library, I put a date in the file name. That way I know the date of the version of the file, just in case I enter some data and forget to look at the file for a while. If the date on my master file is newer than the date on my flash drive (or external hard drive) and I know there is information on the older file that I want to preserve, I use FamilyInsight for PAF or one of the other programs, like Ancestral Quest, RootsMagic or Legacy Family Tree to compare the two files to see if there is any information I want to move into my master file. In the event the file I put on the flash drive has a lot more information than the master file, plus all of the master file information. I rename my master file with a date included and copy the newer working file to my hard drive which then becomes my master file.

    More later...

    The genealogists' ubiquitous flash drives

    Wearing a flash drive around your neck on a strap has become the badge of the genealogist researcher. It is obvious that with ample storage space for most research needs in a conveniently small and light package, the flash drive is almost indispensable. But how reliable are they? Should flash drives be used for "long term" storage of data? What should I be using to archive my valuable digital files?

    During the past few years there have been a plethora of Internet articles on the lack of reliability of flash drives. A search on Google for "flash drive reliability 2010" returned 800,000 hits. In reviewing the articles, it is important to try to determine where the information is coming from. Many of the commentaries extolling the virtues and reliability of the flash drives come from either the manufacturers or people paid by them. What is evident is that the flash drive technology has improved greatly over the past few years, so that concerns expressed three or four years ago may no longer apply. But how do you go about answering the questions of reliability, long term storage and using flash drives as an alternative to external hard drives.

    Flash drives (also called thumb drives and a few other names) use solid state memory cells to store information as opposed to hard drives that use a spinning disk and magnetic charges. Both types of memory are subject to mechanical failure. If you drop either a flash drive or a hard drive onto a hard surface, it will likely break and stop working. In addition, because of their small size and portability, flash drives are very prone to loss. The Mesa Regional Family History Center has a drawer dedicated to lost flash drives, usually left in the computers by the users.

    Because they are electronic devices, flash drives are also subject to destruction by electrical shocks and heat. Leaving a flash drive in your car on a sunny day may cook it. Even putting your drive next to a strong electrical current, such as those in audio speaker systems, may destroy the data. More importantly, flash drives can only handle a finite number of write and erase cycles before failure. The number of cycles has been increasing in the past few years, but flash drives are not immortal, they are subject to failure. Because of their relatively small cost, it would be wise to replace the drives periodically, perhaps once a year or so.

    If the choice is no backup or a flash drive, the decision is obvious, backups are important and necessary. But perhaps you might have one flash drive for backup and keep it in a secure location and another to carry around so people will know you are a serious genealogist.

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010

    For Genealogists -- an illusion of security

    During the past few days at the Mesa Regional Family History Center, we have had some lively discussions about transferring our genealogy files to work on a computer other than our own, particularly, bringing files to the Center for research purposes. This discussion brought up another old bugaboo, the illusion of security for backed up files.

    The origin of this problem dates back into computer antiquity with the early versions of Personal Ancestral File. Primarily because of storage limitations on floppy disks, Personal Ancestral File has an option to create a compressed data file. The smaller compressed files allowed the user to store more names on the now ancient floppy disks. Because all storage at the time was on external floppy disks, the file menu item unfortunately was named "Backup." Over time, this choice of terms has turned out to be a really, really bad idea. As computers acquired internal hard drives and as memory storage went through a radical revolution, the venerable old PAF program still had its menu choice labeled "Backup."

    The problem is that PAF does not make a copy on a different disk, because the program and the original uncompressed file are now on a hard drive, the Backup command merely makes another copy of the file on the same disk. So, if the hard drive crashes you lose two copies of the data file instead of just one.

    In today's world of flash drives with multiple Gigabyte capacity for a few dollars (or even free), file compression is no longer an issue or needed, especially for the tiny text based files created by Personal Ancestral File. Unfortunately, the concept of "Backup" in Personal Ancestral File has assumed religious proportions. I have been accused of heresy for suggesting that the "Save as" command is more useful and less hassle. But what is more worrisome, PAF users believe that by compressing their files using the Backup command they are, in fact, backing up their files even though they do not have a separate copy of the data file on another disk or drive.

    Here is what happens. The unsophisticated user is taught that when they exit the program, they should use the "Backup" command. Every time. Then their file is "protected." But since they have just made a copy of the main file onto the same disk, there is no real backup. But they are secure thinking that the file is somehow protected from loss. Even very experienced users take this process as a matter of faith and never question what they are doing. The idea of having multiple copies of the file on different media is entirely lacking. They are entirely ignorant of the fact that the Backup command is simply making a compressed copy of their data file, ON THE SAME HARD DISK. In fact, when I suggest that they may wish to make a real backup copy on an external hard drive, very few people have even heard of the concept of an external hard drive and some of them have computers so old that they don't have any way to connect the drive if they purchased one.

    When the PAF user wants to work on their file at the Family History Center, they even make a Backup copy onto their flash drive and when the arrive at the Family History Center with a file, invariably it is in .zip format, that is, a compressed file, which then needs to be restored. They "restore" the file at the Center on one of the computers and now PAF makes a copy of their file on the computer's hard drive. After working on the file, they once again make a backup onto their flash drive and return home to restore the file to their own hard drive. One major problem, if the copy of their file on the flash drive is somehow corrupted, they just copies all of the problems to their main file at home. By the way, in all of this process they never rename any of the files, so all of the copies have the same file name and the backup copy rewrites over their master file.

    At the time, PAF was released, it was the state of the art. External hard drives were very expensive and everyone used floppy disks. Now, external storage devices are relatively inexpensive. All new computers can have huge internal hard drives. You can go to any of the mass merchandisers from Costco to Walmart and buy a huge external hard drive for a few dollars. There is really no excuse for not have multiple copies of your data files to avoid catastrophic loss. There is certainly no reason to make a compressed copy of your files.

    Next, some simple steps to avoiding backup failure.

    Monday, February 1, 2010

    Family ChArtist, a new addition to the FamilySearch Affiliates Family

    Even if you have not had the opportunity to login to New FamilySearch, you may be interested in several new products that stand well on their own merits, irrespective of their affiliation with New FamilySearch. At the Family History Expo in Mesa, Arizona, I had a personal tour of the pre-release Family ChArtist program from Generation Maps from Janet Hovorka. I also enjoyed her presentation on New FamilySearch certified genealogy software.

    Essentially, the ChArtist program is a do-it-yourself design program for genealogy charts. To quote the Website, "Use our easy system with hundreds of graphics and billions of combinations." The announcement on the Generation Maps Website asks you to sign up for an E-mail notification of the official release. I recall that it had an easy to use interface with lots of choices for charts from your own files.

    One of my genealogy friends here in Mesa has used Generation Maps for a number of presentations is thrilled with the results.