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

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

DNA, National Origin and Race: Comments on a revolution


One of the fundamental experiences of our universal human experience is the diversity of our physical characteristics. To a large extent, our societies have been based on these superficial differences, even those as inconsequential as height and weight. In the United States, race relations based on arbitrary divisions such as national origin have been the cause of riots, oppression, and a huge civil war. Inter-race relations are a constant and contentious background news topic.

At the same time, artificial differences based on arbitrary political boundaries have caused even more problems and contention. In the United States again, people from certain politically defined areas of the world are automatically subject to prejudice and oppression. When I was younger, we fought a war against a country that was constantly vilified as the "enemy" but now, we are "friends" and trade partners. Perhaps the war could have been avoided had we been more interested in trade than policing the world.

The insurgence of popular DNA testing has the potential to begin to eliminate these perceived differences between people. But presently, the genealogical DNA testing results that are being provided to genealogists and other interested people are being presented in a way that enhances differences and perpetuates race and national origin issues. The test results highlight differences rather than similarities. Let me explain what I mean by this statement. When I have taken DNA tests, the results come in at two different levels. The initial results show me an estimate of the geographical distribution of my ancestors from whom I inherited my own DNA. The results are expressed as a percentage of the shared DNA. What is obscured by these results is the fact that humans share over 60% of their DNA with bananas. See Pfizer Get Science, "How Genetically Related Are we to Bananas?" Quoting from the Smithsonian's human origins website:
While the genetic difference between individual humans today is minuscule – about 0.1%, on average – study of the same aspects of the chimpanzee genome indicates a difference of about 1.2%. The bonobo (Pan paniscus), which is the close cousin of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), differs from humans to the same degree. The DNA difference with gorillas, another of the African apes, is about 1.6%. Most importantly, chimpanzees, bonobos, and humans all show this same amount of difference from gorillas. A difference of 3.1% distinguishes us and the African apes from the Asian great ape, the orangutan. How do the monkeys stack up? All of the great apes and humans differ from rhesus monkeys, for example, by about 7% in their DNA.
So, the differences highlighted by the genealogical DNA ethnicity tests involve only a minute portion of our total DNA and so the actual differences between individuals are slight. These results imply that we are significantly different from those people with whom we should do not share any DNA from test results. However, in reality, we are all very closely related. Currently, in part because of these tests, we can justify being even more divided, once again based upon extremely small and superficial differences.

In addition, the current DNA tests assign us to ethnicities that are composites. So for example, one DNA test indicates that I am 74% English. But what does it mean to be English? Who is included in this category? If it is meant to include those who live in England then the results are misleading because there is a hugely diversified population in England. Unfortunately, in most cases, we are not supplied detailed information concerning how these categories are selected. In any event, the percentage of the entire human genome used to calculate relationships is extremely small.

By looking at the results of one of my DNA tests, I could conclude that I am related to people in many countries which are presently extremely unfriendly with the United States including some where wars have been going on for a considerable time. We are, in a very real sense, fighting wars with my relatives. Promoting extensive, world-wide DNA testing may end up having some rather interesting results. For example, think about how world history might have been altered had cheap, easy DNA testing been available a hundred years ago.

Genealogists who look at DNA testing as only another tool for finding relationships and determining the identity of ancestors are really ignoring the more revolutionary aspects of the entire movement.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Grow Utah Adds DNA Innovation Contest to #RootsTech 2018


Grow Utah has added a DNA Innovation Contest to this year's #RootsTech 2018 Conference. Quoting from the Grow Utah website:
Welcome to the 2018 DNA Innovation Contest hosted by Grow Utah! This contest is for new and innovative products or services that will improve the use of individual DNA data in the fields of ancestral history, personal history and family health history. This contest is to promote innovation, entrepreneurship and business growth in this field. All innovators are invited to bring forward their best and brightest ideas to meet this challenge! 
From among the applicants, 6-10 finalists will be selected to pitch their innovations at the RootsTech Family History conference. The judges will then pick 3 winners and the cash and service prizes will be awarded! 
This is a totally free contest without any strings attached! Grow Utah is a privately funded non-profit organization and is dedicated to fostering innovation that drives entrepreneurship. Our initiatives focus on emerging technologies and applications that will lead to significant business and job creation. We have been holding innovation contests since 2008 and have awarded over $1M in cash and services to 100+ entrepreneurs!
Prizes for 3 Winners:
  • Cash: $30,000 ($15K Grand Prize; $7500 Each Runner-Up)
  • Business Consulting Services (Grow Utah / BooomStartup): $20,000 ($10K Grand Prize; $5K Each Runner-Up)
  • Free Exhibit Hall Booth at RootsTech 2018: $4K (For Each Finalist! Worth $500 per Booth Space!)
  • TOTAL: $54,000! ($25,500 Grand Prize; $13,000 Each Runner-Up; $500 Each Finalist)
Timeline:
  • Application Process: Jan 18, 2018 – Feb 20, 2018
  • 6-10 Finalists Selected: Feb 22, 2018
  • Final Pitch Event (at RootsTech Conference): Feb 28, 2018

Saturday, January 20, 2018

UK National Archives open POW Collection


In a blog post dated January 16, 2018 entitled, "Opening up our prisoner of war collection," the United Kingdom National Archives announced the following:
In December 2014, the Ministry of Defence transferred to The National Archives the series of records WO 416 consisting of an estimated 190,000 records of individuals captured in German occupied territory during the Second World War, primarily Allied service men (including Canadians, South Africans, Australians and New Zealanders) but also several hundred British and Allied civilians and a few nurses. 
The series also includes several thousand records relating to deceased allied airmen, whose bodies were found by or near to their aircrafts which had been shot down. To some degree, these act as a record of death as the individuals were never prisoners of war as such. The number of cards for each individual varies from one to fifteen, but in most cases there are just one or two.
An explanation of the contents of the new database is included in the blog post linked above. The announcement also notes the following:
The entire series has been closed: since the collection was accessioned in 2014 it is is not catalogued by name of individual as many may still be alive – we believe that the youngest of them was born in 1928. The collection can contain sensitive information about living individuals so, with the support of volunteers, we have started to catalogue the entire series: this enables us to open records for those born more than 100 years ago or where we have proof of death. 
This ambitious project will continue until the end of 2020 and for the main we are working our way through the series alphabetically by surname. This page, under ‘Arrangement’, provides a link to the projected completion stages of the project, subject to change. Fifteen per cent of the collection has now been catalogued by name of individual; we have loaded this information on Discovery so researchers can access the material on site or arrange for digital or paper copies to be sent to them. We are offering a paid search service for uncatalogued pieces for those who do not want to wait until the project has completed: details of this service are available at piece level descriptions in Discovery. 
Please note: as we are cataloguing the series, although cards are arranged in boxes according to alphabetical groupings, we are discovering some that are misfiled and can be found in pieces with descriptions outside their surname range. Very occasionally, cards for the same individual can be found in multiple boxes.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Can we rely on the internet?


I received the following comment to a recent blog post.
While not disagreeing with the point of your posting I would question the wisdom of the way the computer industry is going. 
On a much more disturbing note than whether a single program will work on a modern system is the dangerous reliance on cloud storage and on line programs.
Many might see this as progress but really it is a regression to a time when only huge companies controlled computers. 
The problems with Rootsweb and indeed Ancestry’s frequent other problems highlight the dangers of relying on the internet and such problems are going to get worse.
Yes people who use old computers and old programs may have a few minor problems as you have described but those are nothing compared to the enormous problem caused when online provision fails. 
The local problems can normally be quickly solved, even if this means resorting to a saved back-up but when the on line program or storage fails even the back-up may be inaccessible. 
Perhaps someone will explain to me what protection is in place for when the next Carrington Event hits. Most people using old fashioned computers will be safe as it is likely their computers could be switched of at the time, but on line servers may be subject to a disastrous failure. 
Don’t misunderstand me I am not saying do not embrace the new technology and online services but rather do not rely on the internet to store what you think important.
Ensure you are responsible for that by having the equipment and storage of your data under your control locally.
This longer comment includes references to several modern issues including the reliability of online data storage, catastrophic world events and the viability of the internet. Taken to its extreme, the position taken by this comment reflects the rather extensive "prepper movement" currently very active in our society today. I am certainly not saying that the commentator is a "prepper" but the idea that vast networks including food distribution, power grids, and other such failures require us to be "self-sufficient" is not just an idea limited to backing up our data on our computers. Here is a short definition of the trend from a Wikipedia article entitled, "Survivalism."
Survivalism is a primarily American movement of individuals or groups (called survivalists or preppers) who are actively preparing for emergencies, including possible disruptions in social or political order, on scales from local to international. Survivalists often acquire emergency medical and self-defense training, stockpile food and water, prepare to become self-sufficient, and build structures (e.g., survival retreats or underground shelters) that may help them survive a catastrophe.
Hmm. Given that definition, I have been a survivalist for a very long time. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which I am an active member, has long urged its members to store a supply of food and essentials in the case of a disaster or other problem. During my own life, our family has always had some long-term storage and during times of limited income, have benefited from always having sufficient food and other essentials. The Church uses the term "self-reliance" and includes basics of education and social and emotional strength.

As the comment points out, it is not a good idea to rely on one form of backup for any computer related data. The people who rely on an old program such as Personal Ancestral File either to store their data or for current work are counter-survivalists. They are ignoring the very real danger that they will lose valuable data. Worrying about the viability of the internet and then telling people to continue to use an abandoned software program makes no sense at all.

There is an interesting reference to the Carrington Event. Here is a Wikipedia quote from an article entitled, "Solar storm of 1859," explaining what happened.
The solar storm of 1859 (also known as the Carrington Event)[1] was a powerful geomagnetic solar storm during solar cycle 10 (1855–1867). A solar coronal mass ejection (CME) hit Earth's magnetosphere and induced one of the largest geomagnetic storms on record, September 1–2, 1859. The associated "white light flare" in the solar photosphere was observed and recorded by British astronomers Richard C. Carrington (1826–1875) and Richard Hodgson (1804–1872). The now-standard unique IAU identifier for this flare is SOL1859-09-01.
Why would "old-fashioned computers" be exempt from the damage from such a storm. The accounts of the storm indicate that some telegraph traffic was interrupted. The question is what would have to your computer if there were a world-wide catastrophic disaster? Well, there would be a lot of damage and running PAF on a Windows XP machine is not a solution.

I do rely on the internet to store what I think is important. But I also store all my data locally on three independent 8 TB hard drives. I also rely on programs such as FamilySearch.org and other online databases with their own backup programs to protect my data. I the parable of the wise man who built his house on the rock and the foolish man who built his house on the sand applies to this situation. Using PAF is definitely building on the sand.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Personal Ancestral File is only mostly dead, long live PAF!


As Mad Max says, there is a big difference between being dead and being mostly dead. Apparently, Personal Ancestral File is only mostly dead. I had several people point out to me that Personal Ancestral File was still available at some Family History Centers, on websites, and on CDs for download. When I get time, I will download a copy, which I could not find on my first go around and write about using the program with Microsoft Windows 10 or whatever.

One thing I thought that was interesting is the fact that people indicated to me that the program was available on CD. Only some of the newer computers come with a CD drive by the way. None of the new Apple computers or devices now come with a CD or DVD drive. You might not have noticed, but that technology is also dying rapidly in competition from online streaming and flash drives. I do have a CD drive hooked up to my iMac, but I had to buy it separately. You might also try to load a program from a CD onto your tablet or iPad if you want to see what is really happening.

By the way, Apple is merging both their Mac OS X operating system and their iOS operating systems. Google is merging its mobile Android system with Chrome on its Chromebooks. Microsoft has so far failed to make any headway into the mobile operating system market. But Windows is still the dominant operating system worldwide for desktop and laptop computers. See "Operating System Market Share." But the huge mobile market is dominated by Google Android and Apple iOS. See for example, "Global mobile OS market share in sales to end users from 1st quarter 2009 to 2nd quarter 2017."

This is a situation where Microsoft is winning the battle but losing the war. The real war is in mobile computing. Both Apple and Google recognize this and that is one reason why they are moving to merge their operating systems. The issue with Personal Ancestral File is much more fundamental than merely whether or not it will operate on a Windows machine. The real issue is that future operating systems will not be Windows-like, they will be Android or iOS like. Can you run PAF on your iPad or tablet running Android? Try it.

Yes, you can probably pick up a copy of PAF in a Deseret Industries store around the U.S. But is that a viable outlet for the software you want to use to archive your days, months and years of genealogical research effort?

However, the PAF issue goes much deeper than just that one program. It is symptomatic of a deeper issue with genealogists and technology. I just recently spent almost an hour with two different people trying to retrieve their logins and passwords to FamilySearch.org. You can guess that both of these people are not young. You might not realize it if you are reading this blog post, but most of the younger people I know would not even realize that desktop computer programs for genealogy even exist, much less be interested in using a program that was discontinued before they were born.

For me, PAF is the genealogical symbol the digital divide; the outward and obvious indication that huge segment of the genealogical community as simply out of touch with technology. That is the main reason this subject comes up periodically and will continue to be a subject for comment until the program really dies.


Monday, January 15, 2018

Does Personal Ancestral File Still Function?

Back in 2014, I wrote a blog post entitled, "Why does Personal Ancestral File (PAF) refuse to die?" I think a quote from the earlier blog post is needed to start the process of bringing us up to 2018 and Personal Ancestral File. Here is me quoting me.
In a sense, PAF has moved into the category of legend and myth. It has become the part of the pantheon of genealogical gods. It is now the immortal program and is fast becoming part of the "origin myth" of genealogy. From this standpoint, I really appreciated the comment in the email at the beginning of this post that says, 
PAF has a place for everything most genealogists want to record and the exceptions can go into the notes. Its all the program most need or want.
Hmm. Now here is the question. Is Personal Ancestral File (PAF) all the program most need and want? My question is a little bit different: does PAF still work on a new computer?

I just happen to have a PC running Windows 10 which was updated during the time I was writing this blog post. So I began the task of finding a downloadable version of PAF to see how it works on a relatively new computer running the latest Windows upgrade (until tomorrow when another upgrade comes out). As you can probably guess, I am reasonably familiar with searching online. However, after spending a considerable time looking, I was unable to find a reasonable website that had a PAF download. So I couldn't verify for myself whether or not the program will still run on the latest version of Microsoft Windows 10.

However, the fact that I had no success in finding a copy online indicated that when all the old copies are gone, the program will quietly die a real death. But then, I had a thought. What about Amazon.com?


It is still for sale!! But not only is it for sale, the asking price is more than both the brand new, fully-supported, up-to-date, programs that support all the old PAF files: RootsMagic.com and AncestralQuest (ancqueste.com) Now using an old, abandoned, pernicious program seems even more illogical.

If you want to read recent reviews of PAF please see GenSoftReviews.com. Here is a five star rating from January 3, 2018, that points out the inconsistencies in the defense of PAF but still lauds the program.
I have been using PAF since its beginning and have and will continue to use it until no computer will any longer support it. I just finished copying PAF5 to my new computer running the newest version of Windows10 and it runs beautifully and even faster than on my old computer. 
The important thing is you must continuely make new gedcom files as you update your genealogy data. Then often upload the latest PAF gedcom file into a commercial software program of your choice. Some like RootsMagic and Legacy are 2 programs that even allow you to import your PAF file into their programs. There may be others. 
If the time comes then that PAF can no longer be supported, you still have your complete database to point of the last GEDCOM upload into your commercial paid for software. It is more than worth the money and these extra steps to be able to have the simplicity and ease of use of PAF and not be concerned about losing all the research and effort you’ve expended. 
Biggest Pro: Ease of Use
Biggest Con: None
Unfortunately, this reviewer wants you to buy the real commercial program to make sure you don't lose all your data. Why not just use the commercial program? By the way, the program is no longer supported. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Using HeritageQuest Online


HeritageQuest is one of the Ancestry.com family of websites in conjunction with ProQuest.com. It is available through local public libraries where the library has a subscription. I gain access by having a library card through the Maricopa County (Arizona) Library System. We pay an annual fee for our Library Card because we now live outside of Maricopa County. There are a number of county and city libraries that will allow non-residents to have a library card upon the payment of a fee. With my Library Card, I can use all of the Library's online resources except those requiring the use of an in-library computer.

Some time ago, the website was partnered with Ancestry.com and converted into a watered-down version of the Ancestry.com website with connections to certain pages for searching on the regular Ancestry.com website. It does give access to many records that otherwise would require you to be physically in a library using the Library Edition of Ancestry.com, but it also lost some of the really valuable assets previously provided by ProQuest.com.

Notwithstanding this limitation, there are still some valuable resources on the website not easily obtainable elsewhere. For example,  there is a comprehensive Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920. This resource is apparently not available on the Ancestry.com website.


If you are serious about research, you need to visit your local public library and even the libraries where your ancestors lived or might have lived. These local resources can be helpful in learning and research.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Highlights from 2017 from FamilySearch



FamilySearch published a series of five infographics detailing statistics for the year 2017. Each of these infographics addresses a different aspect of FamilySearch activity during the year. Here are the details for the image above about the FamilySearch.org Family Tree.
FamilySearch’s Family Tree encourages family collaboration. In 2017, more than 27 million new ancestors were added, 3.7 million through mobile devices. Over 1.2 billion people are now in the FamilySearch Family Tree. An updated user-to-user messaging feature simplifies collaboration with others doing research on common ancestors. System upgrades now enable users to merge duplicate records of large or highly common family lines.
Here are the rest of the infographics with their individual explanations.


FamilySearch support volunteers donated 3.4 million hours of service in 2017, resolving over 1 million patron inquiries. More than 320,000 online volunteer indexers contributed another staggering 8.3 million hours to make 283 million new historical records freely accessible. 
Dozens of free video courses were added to the FamilySearch Learning Center. Almost 100,000 helpful how-to articles are also now available through the FamilySearch Wiki.
I was privileged to contribute a few hours as a volunteer this past year. This year, both my wife and I are working full-time as missionaries digitizing records at the Maryland State Archives.


Sometimes these numbers are so large as to be almost meaningless. The real meaning comes when you use the website to find one of your ancestors.



The annual # RootsTech 2018 conference will be held from February 28 to March 3, 2018. Registration is still open.


 During the year 2018, my wife and I will be serving as full-time FamilySearch missionaries digitizing records at the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis, Maryland. We are proud to be part of the FamilySearch effort to preserve our family heritage.

Natalia Lafourcade Speaking at #RootsTech 2018




#RootsTech 2018 is ramping up. Although I will be watching from Annapolis, Maryland, my heart will be in the Salt Palace along with 20,000 or so thousand of my closest friends. FamilySearch has announced a number of really interesting and impressive Keynote Speakers. The latest is Natalia Lafourcade. Here is a little bit about this celebrity.
Natalia Lafourcade is a Mexican pop-rock singer and songwriter who, since her debut in 2003, has been one of the most successful singers in the pop rock scene in Latin America. Natalia was born in Mexico City, Mexico, to musician parents. Her father is the Chilean musician Gastón Lafourcade, and her uncle is writer Enrique Lafourcade. She grew up in Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico, where she studied music with her mother, María del Carmen Silva Contreras.  
In 2003, she was nominated for a Latin Grammy in the Best New Artist category for her debut album. Natalia has captured hearts all over Mexico and in countries across the world—Peru, Chile, Guatemala, Canada, Japan, the United States, Venezuela, Argentina, Spain, Italy, Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Denmark. Throughout her career, Natalia has received numerous honors and awards, including Grammy Awards and MTV Latino awards. Her undeniable talent and success are recognized from the Americas to Europe to Asia. She is an artist with charisma, a creator of contemporary music with immense appeal, and loyal to her musical heritage. Her audiences in all corners of the globe appreciate the simplicity and beauty of her interpretation. She is without a doubt an outstanding representative of the music of Mexico.

#RootsTech 2018 will be held on February 28th through March 3rd, 2018 at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah at the Salt Palace. You can still register to attend but you might have to look a little harder to find hotel accommodations. I might suggest that one way to get a good hotel and still attend the Conference is to look for one along the TRAX light rail line that runs south from downtown Salt Lake City to the south end of the valley. You can avoid traffic and have a free place to park at any one of the TRAX stations. Here is a link to the TRAX information.

https://www.rideuta.com/Rider-Info/How-To-Ride/How-to-Ride-TRAX


New FOI Lawsuit filed by Reclaim the Records for New York Marriage Records


I am always very interested in the actions of Reclaim the Records. So far, they have reclaimed for the public more than twenty million records. As a former attorney, I am amazed that any government agency would resist an FOI request to the point where a lawsuit would be necessary. The government officials must either not be listening to their legal counsel or they have incompetent legal counsel.

Here is an explanation of Reclaim the Records' most recent action from their current newsletter. You can go to their website to read a lot more about what is going on.
Happy New Year from Reclaim The Records! We're kicking off 2018 in style, by launching a new freedom of information lawsuit, our fourth one to date, against a government agency that is refusing to provide genealogical records to the public, in violation of state law. 
We're going after the 1996-2016 section of the New York City marriage license database, which is several million records. These aren't actual marriage licenses or certificates, which have privacy protections, but it's the text-searchable database index to all of them and to the basic data within. Under New York State law, basic marriage "log" or index data is supposed to be open to the public. 
As you might remember from previous newsletters, we sued for the 1908-1929 part of this same record set in mid-2015 (newsletter #1 and #2), and we sued for the 1930-1995 section of these records in mid-2016 (newsletter #10 and #11). We won millions and millions of records in our settlements from the city in both cases, and we even won our attorneys fees and court fees in the second case. That was pretty awesome. 
We posted all the records we won online at the Internet Archive, but also at a new standalone website we developed ourselves called NYCMarriageIndex.com. And several major genealogy websites, both for-profit companies and non-profit organizations, have now added that marriage license data to their own websites. If we win this case too, then this missing 1996-2016 piece of the data will complete the availability of New York marriage records up to almost the present day. And this time around, the data we're seeking is already in a text database, so we won't need an indexing project and researchers will be able to search it right away. 
This new freedom of information lawsuit -- which, if you want to be pedantic, is really an "Article 78 Legal Petition" -- was filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, in the county of New York, two days ago. It's not listed in the online eCourts case tracking system just yet, but it will be shortly; its Index Number is 150250/2018, in case you want to follow along from home. Our superlawyer Dave Rankin is handling the case for us once again, although now he's a partner at a swanky new law firm. 
As always, we at Reclaim The Records have posted our legal paperwork online, everything from our initial FOIL records request (September 22, 2017) to our FOIL Appeal (November 17, 2017) to our actual Article 78 Legal Petition (filed two days ago). We do this both to demonstrate transparency in our work and to try to inspire other genealogists and researchers that yes, you really can fight city hall (or the city clerk, as the case may be).
You can also sign up for their newsletter on their website.

On a personal note, I thought I might do my own small part in liberating some records by volunteering to digitize those in the Maryland State Archives. I realize it is a drop in the bucket, but we are getting better at our job and scanned nearly 8000 records this week. We will probably do better as time goes on.

Friday, January 12, 2018

What New Technology Will Impact Genealogy?


January is the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. The largest such gathering in the world involves companies from all over the world. Will any of the sparklingly new technological developments affect the genealogical community? Well, yes as individual consumers, but as genealogists? Will we benefit from the giant screen TVs, self-driving cars, voice-controlled home appliances and virtual reality? Not likely. Was there really anything that will help us do our research or make our genealogical lives easier? Hmm.

Probably the biggest impact will come in gradual stages from developments in artificial intelligence. Although this term has been thrown around for a quite a while, the actual developments are subtle and beginning to be pervasive. Real efforts at developing computers that can perform some of the same operations as humans began back in the 1950s. The biggest limitations to any progress were computer hardware limitations. As computers became more sophisticated, their uses became more and more sophisticated also. Those self-driving cars and home voice-activated devices such as Alexa, Echo and Google Home, are the product of years of focusing on the problems associated with artificial intelligence.

Where does this technology show up in genealogy? One of the most dramatic implementations is found in the large online genealogy company's record hints. As the number of records searched and the sophistication of the record hints increases, eventually, much of the drudgery of plowing through routine research will be automated. Will computers eventually do all the work of linking our families? Again, not likely, at least not in the foreseeable future. Right now the greatest obstacle to real progress is the lack of a genealogically-based handwriting recognition technology that can be practically implemented in "reading" old handwritten records. Breaching this wall of handwriting will take even more computer power and more sophisticated programs than now exist.

What is evident in the genealogical community is that existing, well-developed technologies such as optical character recognition (OCR) and voice-recognition (VR) are vastly underused and ignored. There are millions of typed records online, already digitized, that are available only as images. The larger companies seem to rely on "indexing" more than OCR to provide searchable records. In doing this, they are years behind the current technology. If those involved in providing programs and databases to the genealogical community do not use current technology, how can we expect them to implement cutting-edge new technology?

One small development that did come out of CES this year will impact genealogists sooner rather than later. SanDisk announced the development of a 1 Terabyte flash drive and SD disk.

Now, we can have the convenience of losing an entire Terabyte of data when we leave our drive in a machine at the Library.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

The End of RootsWeb as we know it?

rootsweb.com
Some time ago, I noticed that Rootsweb.com was down for "maintenance." Apparently, the issue is more serious than a simple upgrade. I am concerned the many newer genealogists are not familiar with RootsWeb.com. Here is a very brief summary of the website from the FamilySearch.org Research Wiki:
RootsWeb is a free genealogy community that uses online forums, mailing lists, and other resources to help people research their family history. Founded in 1993 by Brian Leverich and Karen Isaacson as the Roots Surname List, it is the oldest free online community genealogy research website. 
Users can upload GEDCOM files of their information for others to search at the WorldConnect portion of the site. Trees uploaded to WorldConnect are searchable at both the RootsWeb and Ancestry websites. RootsWeb was acquired by Ancestry.com in June 2000.
The value of Rootsweb is the huge accumulation of information about families and the large number of source citations. It has always been a go-to place for specialized and very complete research information. I am concerned that Ancestry.com, it current owner is going to eviscerate the program just as Ancestry has done with several other valuable genealogical resources in the past.

Rootsweb is one of the few legacy websites we still have from the days of the old online forums and bulletin board program from the very early days of the internet. Ancestry's concerns in part have to be based on the fact that Rootsweb is a free program and they are in the business of making money. I may be reading it wrong but Ancestry has passed through some changes in ownership and those entities who own the company are not genealogists. Interestingly, Ancestry has made no press releases as yet in 2018. Here is a quote from the corporate website showing who is running Ancestry.com now.
The company’s management team, led by CEO Tim Sullivan, is comprised of seasoned executives with prior experience at companies like Match.com, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, eBay, Novell, Zynga, Dropbox, Intuit and Stub Hub.
I am not denigrating the value of Ancestry.com, but I am worried about the future.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

From Whence and to Thither -- Understanding Migration Patterns: Part Four

Erie Canal map c. 1840
I am going to start to explain the concepts and history of migration patterns with one of most obvious influences in U. S. migration: the Erie Canal. The canals built in the United States opened up vast areas to settlement. The Erie Canal connected the population centers of New York City and Albany with Buffalo on the Great Lakes. Construction on the Erie Canal began in 1817 and the first sections were completed in 1819. Here is the timeline of completion dates for the Canal.
  • 1819 Rome to Utica
  • 1820 Utica to Syracuse
  • 1823 Brockport to Albany (Champlain Canal connecting the Hudson River to Lake Champlain was completed at the same time)
  • 1824 Lockport locks
  • 1825 Onondago Ridge finishing the entire canal.
Here is a summary of the impact of the Canal from the FamilySearch.org Research Wiki:
The Erie Canal contributed to the wealth and importance of New York City, Buffalo, and New York State. It increased trade throughout the nation by opening eastern and overseas markets to Midwestern farm products and enabling migration to the West. New ethnic Irish communities formed in towns along the canal, as Irish immigrants were a large portion of labor force involved in its construction.
Some of my own ancestors may have used the Canal for transportation because they moved from New York State to Ohio during the time period when the Canal was in operation. The Canal opened a way for large quantities of goods and services to be moved across a significant part of the country where such movement was previously not possible. By connecting that pathway to the Great Lakes, an even larger area of the country was opened up.

Now, as a genealogist, what does this tell you about the possible movement of your Eastern Coast ancestors into Ohio and other states? Let's suppose that your ancestors show up in Ohio in the mid-1800s. Where might the family have come from? Here is a more extensive map of the Canals built between 1825 and 1860.


It might be interesting to see if the location where your ancestor lived gave them access to one or more of these canals. By looking at the dates the canals were constructed you can begin to see whether further research might reveal a pattern in your ancestors' movements that corresponds to the availability of canal travel. It also might help you to know that the present highways system follows the canal routes. Here is a Google map showing the roads from Albany to Buffalo that generally follow the route of the canal. As I mentioned previously, the major highways in the U.S. are a good indicator of the main historic migration routes.



If it is time to do some serious research, here is a list of books about migration patterns in America.

American Migration Patterns. Irving, Tex.: Genealogy Tapes, Etc., 1986.

Bankston, Carl L. Encyclopedia of American Immigration, 2010.

Benmayor, Rina, and Andor Skotnes. Migration and Identity. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
Dollarhide, William. Map Guide to American Migration Routes. Bountiful UT: AGLL Inc.

Elliott, Wendy L. U. S. Migration Patterns. Bountiful, Utah: American Genealogical Lending Library, 1987.

Genealogical Institute. American Migration Patterns. Salt Lake City: Genealogical Institute, 1974.

Genealogical Institute (Salt Lake City, Utah). American Migrational Patterns. Salt Lake City: Genealogical Institute, 1974.

Hawley, George. Voting and Migration Patterns in the U.S, 2015.

Kitagawa Otsuru, Chieko. Diversified Migration Patterns of North America: Their Challenges and Opportunities. Osaka: Japan Center for Area Studies, National Museum of Ethnology, 1997.

Roseman, Curtis C. Changing Migration Patterns within the United States. Washington: Association of American Geographers, 1977.

Schwarzweller, Harry K, James S Brown, and J. J Mangalam. Mountain Families in Transition: A Case Study of Appalachian Migration. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1971.

Whitaker, Beverly DeLong. Migration Patterns in the United States --. Toronto: Heritage Productions, 2003.

You can see the earlier posts in this series here:

https://genealogysstar.blogspot.com/2018/01/from-whence-and-to-thither.html
http://genealogysstar.blogspot.com/2017/12/from-whence-and-to-thither_31.html
http://genealogysstar.blogspot.com/2017/12/from-whence-and-to-thither.html

Monday, January 8, 2018

An Abandoned Genealogy Program Is Not a "Good" Program


A computer program is not like a cherished piece of furniture that, over time, can become an antique and treasured forever. Genealogy programs, in particular, are tools that become old and useless like a tire on a car. The only thing that keeps a genealogy program worth using is if it is constantly maintained by its developer. As much as you might love the tires on your car, they are consumables and need to be replaced periodically or there might a catastrophic problem. Once the program is abandoned, absent some continued programming maintenance, it becomes unreliable per se and therefore useless for storing and maintaining a genealogical database. Just like an old tire, it might keep going for a long time and it might blow out the next time you drive it. It just isn't worth losing all your data just because you love your computer program.

I just don't know how to say that more clearly. Every time I write on the subject of old, discarded genealogy programs, I get a significant amount of blowback about how wonderful these programs were or are and how they work perfectly well except for a few problems. I don't do programs with problems. If a program has "problems" especially those that endanger my data, I abandon the program without a moment's remorse.

At the core of the problem is the unwillingness of the genealogists to adapt to a new program. Genealogists abhor change. It comes with the territory.

How do I know when my programs are out of date? Generally, I start to see functions that don't work and error messages. We should all be aware of error messages since they are endemic online, but in a particular program, especially one used to record and store genealogical data, malfunctioning programs are not acceptable. If you look at both computer programs and the computers themselves as consumable items, then you will begin to understand that you do not just buy one and keep it forever. You replace the computer and the programs regularly.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Where are the genealogy records for India?

https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/location/1927063?region=India
Considering the number of people that live in India and the number that have lived there in the past, the number of genealogically important records from that vast sub-continent are few and far between. FamilySearch.org has a small collection of records. Here are some of the ones listed in the FamilySearch.org Catalog:


The little camera icons indicate that there are images available. The Catalog lists quite a few other records, most of which appear to be books. There are a number of records that pertain to the East India Company, i.e. the British records during the time they occupied India. It is noteworthy that any reference to vital records is missing.

Findmypast.com has a huge collection of British India Office records mostly dealing with British subjects in India. You can view the list by searching in the A-Z of record sets.


Ancestry.com also has a small selection of records from India, some of which appear to be the same as those on FamilySearch.org.


MyHeritage.com also has a small collection of records from India.


One resource to use is the FamilySearch.org Research Wiki. Here is a screenshot of the Wiki page with a link.

https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/India_Genealogy

The Research Wiki also has links to the large online websites and a few other resources as well.

https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/India_Online_Genealogy_Records
One of the difficulties faced by genealogists is that civil registration for all of India did not begin until 1969. Even the best record sources only cover a minority of the population. It is important to follow all of the links from the Research Wiki.


Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Valuable Work of the Anne Arundel County Genealogical Society

https://aagensoc.org/
During my short time, so far, working in the Maryland State Archives as a Record Preservation missionary/volunteer, I have had the opportunity to meet several local volunteers, some of which are associated with local genealogical societies. This last week, I met one of the volunteers who is very active in the Anne Arundel County Genealogical Society. Society member, Tina Simmons, is the Cemetery Chairman for the Society. I had a nice visit with her while we were working on document preparation at the Archives. Here is a quote from the Society website about what she and her co-workers are doing to identify over 550 cemeteries in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.
Anne Arundel County Cemeteries
Welcome to our cemetery pages. Due in large part to the efforts of Tina Simmons, our Cemetery Committee Chair, AAGS has collected information on more than 500 cemeteries and burial sites throughout Anne Arundel County. Over the next several months, our goal is to add information about them to the Cemetery Records page. We currently have information for 146 cemeteries online. So far, we have focused on the larger cemeteries in the county. We plan to work on the small, family cemeteries in the future. Stop back often to check our progress.
Here is a screenshot of the Cemetery Records page.

https://aagensoc.org/cemeteryRecords.php
Many of the cemeteries identified and located by Tina and others are not marked and some have been lost for years. Here is an example of the information provided about the listed cemeteries so far:

https://aagensoc.org/cemeteryRecords.php?cid=58
Annapolis, Maryland, where I am living now, is the state capital and the county seat of Anne Arundel County.

If you have not contacted a local historical or genealogical society in the area where you are doing research, you are probably ignoring a lot of valuable records that are not available anywhere else.

Friday, January 5, 2018

From Whence and to Thither -- Understanding Migration Patterns: Part Three

Americque Septentrionale. Par le Sr. Sanson d' Abbeville, Geographe Ordinaire du Roy ... 1657. A. Peyrouin, sculp. (to accompany) L'Amerique en plusieurs cartes, & en divers traitte's de geographie et d'histoire. A Paris chez l'Autheur.
Genealogy in North and South America can possibly go back into the 1500s for some families. Of course, there was an indigenous population in both North and South America when the first Europeans "discovered" the "New World" but the earliest genealogically important records date from the time of the first European settlements. The historical record of European colonization involvement in the Americas may not sit well within the present atmosphere of political correctness, but history is history and genealogists have to deal with all sorts actions by ancestors who may be considered "politically incorrect" by today's standards.

I am presently helping to digitize early 1800s probate records as a missionary/volunteer at the Maryland State Archives and I am finding a lot of estate inventories where enslaved people are listed as property along with teaspoons and livestock. For all that we may abhor our legacy of slavery, we still have to deal with the historical records if we want to compile accurate histories and genealogies. Political correctness goes way too far when it tries to rewrite history.

We need to differentiate between immigration and migration. Immigration focuses on the movement of people from one political entity to another, i.e. from Ireland to the United States. Immigration records identify people who move across political boundaries. In the United States, the first immigration laws were passed in the 1880s. Migration, on the other hand, is the movement of populations based on geography. For example, in the mid-1800s it is estimated that by 1840, nearly 7 million American settlers had crossed the Appalachian Mountains. See Westward Expansion. These movements were not random. The paths they took to cross the mountains and the subsequent settlements form a distinct pattern. These patterns exist at all times and in all parts of the world. By studying the movement of populations, we can predict the origin and relationships of individual families with surprising accuracy. Likewise, when we see anomalies, we can suspect that the information about a family is incorrect. Immigration focuses on the entry and emigration on the exit of individuals and families to and from country to country. Migration studies would tell us the paths they took in moving both from country to country and within countries.

When I was a graduate student in the Linguistics Department of the University of Utah, I participated in a study of the movement of the Shoshoni people from southern California to what is now Idaho. See Miller, Wick R., James L. Tanner and Lawrence P. Foley. 1971. ‘A lexicostatistical study of Shoshoni dialects.’ Anthropological Linguistics 13: 142-164. We used language variations to track the movement of the indigenous population over time. More modern movements are based on occupational changes such a mining, farming practices, census data, ethnic origins and other factors applied to the geography of the settled areas. The resultant data shows how and when certain areas were settled and then depopulated.

Genealogists are often so focused on names and dates that they forget or never learn the historical and geographic context of their ancestors' lives. In my writing over the years, I have focused on the need to expand the scope of genealogical research to move beyond individuals and individual families and to view our ancestors and relatives as part of our geographic, social, historical and cultural heritage. One recent example involved a user of the FamilySearch.org Family Tree that began questioning the entries of a well researched and sourced family in the Family Tree without having read the Memories attached to the family or having looked at the sources. The user's changes to the record were based on a "book" she thought was in the possession of one of her relatives. This example illustrates the tremendous challenge to accurate genealogical research presented by those who remain totally unaware of the context of their ancestor's lives and even fail to read the available information about the family.

Migration patterns are a major part of the historical context of every person on the earth. My own family is the product of a major population movement across the North American continent that involved both the United States and Mexico. It would be impossible to understand anyone in our huge extended family without knowing all about the details of that historic movement of about 70,00 people. Likewise, even when basic genealogical data is easily obtained through available genealogical records, any real understanding of an ancestral family is incomplete without placing that family in its historical context.

During the next installments of this series, I will be discussing the major migration patterns with a focus on the United States. But at the same time, I will be referring to the universal need to understand the entire background of our ancestral families and not stop with a superficial once-over list of names and dates.

You can see the earlier posts in this series here:

http://genealogysstar.blogspot.com/2017/12/from-whence-and-to-thither_31.html
http://genealogysstar.blogspot.com/2017/12/from-whence-and-to-thither.html

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Volunteer Opportunities at the Maryland State Archives

Since I have been working at the Maryland State Archives, I have seen the tremendous work done by the volunteers. I decided to support them by posting their flyer about volunteering at the Maryland State Archives.

 Record preservation and imaging are another part of the puzzle. 
Family Search has over 200 camera crews working around the world. 
While you are working on these records, others may be working on yours.

Help Prepare Historic Documents for Digitization at the Maryland Archives

FamilySearch.org and the Maryland Archives have launched a joint effort to digitize the Wills and Probate Records held at the Maryland Archives in Annapolis. This important project will ensure that these vital records are preserved and that images are more readily accessible to the public.
We are seeking volunteers to prepare historic documents for imaging

Assistance is needed Monday through Friday, between 8:30 - 4:30

Work a 4 hour shift on a day of your choice; weekly, bi-weekly, monthly; flexible schedules

All work is done on location at the Maryland Archives, 350 Rowe Blvd., Annapolis 21491

 Requirements include:
  • Attention to detail
  • Ability to work closely and collaborate with other volunteers
  • Desire to assist in preservation efforts
 Responsibilities include:
  • Examining documents for conservation issues
  • Removing documents from probate packet envelopes 
  • Unfolding and flattening documents for imaging
  • Ensuring that documents are in camera-ready order
  • Creating a name index to make these records name-searchable online

VOLUNTEER APPLICATION

Volunteer Coordinator: Carol Petranek 
Contact: email: fsmdvol@gmail.com;

If you are interested in being a volunteer in this exciting and meaningful project, please send an email to Carol Petranek at fsmdvol@gmail.com, with the following Application Information: 
  1. Your Name, Address, Phone Number 
  2. Day of the week and timeframe that you are available (i.e., Mondays, 9:00-1:00) 
  3. How did you learn about this project? 
We look forward to your assistance with this project!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

More Comments About Genealogy Software


I am always amazed at the number of junk cars there are as you drive across the United States. Some of the yards have as many as three or more sitting out there rusting to death. At the same time, there is a huge market for "classic" cars. Every year, the Barrett-Jackson car auctions come to Scottsdale, Arizona and every year cars are sold for astronomical prices. Perhaps it is this same instinct that fills the farms and yards of America with junk cars that also makes a car sold in the 1960s cost a small fortune. Personally, I love to look at rare and collector cars. But I choose to drive an immensely more practical one.

I have no idea what this has to do with genealogy. But I also have no idea why people keep using old, abandoned, software programs that have been outdated for years. Software cannot be restored and become a collector's item. You are never going to get rich selling your old computer programs at a nationally advertised auction, especially one held in Scottsdale, Arizona. Like they say, one man's junk is another man's treasure. But software does not grow more valuable with age. Additionally, as genealogists who might put a few hours of research time and effort into their database, using a program that is no longer supported is not very smart (there are a lot of other words I could use here but will not out of courtesy to those do not know better).

Let's take Personal Ancestral File or PAF for an example. Because it is a DOS-based program, i.e. runs on PC computers and still runs on many computers, it is still being used extensively. Here is the reality of running a software program that stopped being developed or upgraded back in 2002,

The version of Microsoft Windows that was being used in 2002 was Windows XP N.T. 5.1. Windows XP was replaced by Windows Vista in 2007. I am still finding computers that are running versions of Windows XP. Guess what, if you are still using Windows XP, you cannot use any of the current browsers to access the internet, Chrome and FireFox have stopped supporting both Windows XP and Windows Vista. Many online websites will not work with the older browsers. If you are still using XP in order to keep your copy of PAF running, you are cutting yourself off of much of what is available on the internet. Not to mention the fact that the internal memory of those old PC computers will not support much of the currently available software both online and that sill available to purchase on disks.

An old Chrysler Imperial that I drove got about six miles per gallon of gas. Even if you loved that car, you would not want to drive it around too much. Even if you love XP and PAF, you have to admit that you are tethered by the limitations of the programs.

OK, I realize that all these observations are not persuasive to a "dyed in the wool" PAF user. You use the program because it is simple, it works and does everything you want it to do. You are also too old or set in your ways to change to a new program now. Also, you do not know how to move your data to another program. Did you know that both Ancestral Quest and RootsMagic both directly support and load PAF files? There is a simple path to having a new fully-functional program. Both programs are sold for $29.95, a ridiculously low price.

Here is the real problem. PAF will one day stop working. Your program will not be compatible with any existing operating software and your XP based computer will stop working some day. There is no path to making PAF a valuable collectors item.


GenSoftReviews Choice Awards for 2017



Each year GenSoftReviews.com announces it Users' Choice awards. These awards are based on reviews provided by actual users of these genealogy programs. The winners for 2017 have just been announced.

What I find most interesting about these genealogy programs is that at least three of the top contenders are programs that have been discontinued and are no longer available from the original developers and are no longer supported. This has something to say about the overall quality of genealogy programs and the genealogists who use computer programs. The basic question is how can genealogists who are using computers continue to rate a program such as Personal Ancestral File that has now been discontinued for now going on 16 years? If you are wondering why there is such a mess in the online family trees, you just have to realize that one of the most popular genealogy programs is 16 years old and doesn't handle sources in any usable way. Two other discontinued programs that are highly rated are The Master Genealogist and Ancestry.com's now abandoned program Family Tree Maker.

It is also interesting to compare this last year's winners with the previous years. One example, Family Tree Maker is now being developed by MacKiev.com who obtained the rights to the program from Ancestry.com. The newest version of the program is rated well below any of the previous versions. You can search the list of all the reviews to see what the users think of the programs. If you have a favorite program, you may wish to submit a review.