RootsTech 2014

Mocavo

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

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Can a complete genealogy exist?

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book that changes the historical perspective of some well known facts, based upon newly discovered (or newly reviewed) historical documents.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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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



Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Post Conference Review -- RootsTech 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Tuesday, April 15, 2014

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

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

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

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

New Utah Genealogical Association Board Members

I am honored to be among the newly elected Utah Genealogical Society Board members along with Adele Marcum and Peg Ivanyo. Patsy Hendrickson, a current Board member will also be returning for a new term. I thought as long as I was moving to Provo, Utah and have been a member of the UGA for several years, that it would be a good idea to get a little more active in the organization. You will be able to read about the new Board members at ugagenealogy.org shortly.

Is genealogy a hobby?

Tammy Hepps of Treelines.com wrote a thought provoking blog post entitled, "In Defense of Genealogy as a Hobby." Tammy says the following about genealogy after referring to this book
Peterson, Carla L. Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2011 :
In short, our field is belatedly undergoing the standardization that pharmacology and every other respected discipline has had to undergo to enter the ranks of academic fields of study.
Is this correct? Is genealogy belatedly undergoing standardization? At this point, I might suggest reading another book I have referred to several times. This one talks about the history of genealogy in the United States: Weil, François. Family Trees: A History of Genealogy in America. 2013. The history of genealogy as both a pastime and a profession is much more complicated than a simple characterization of a dichotomy between, as Tammy states,
Experts who believe that the only way to do genealogy is GPS-guided research don’t understand what genealogy is. Like most liberal arts, it falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. It is about truth and meaning. Denying the role of meaning altogether rejects much of what makes genealogy a distinct discipline.
The reference to GPS is the Genealogical Proof Standard. There is a very extensive discussion in the comments to Tammy's post that I recommend to anyone even vaguely interested in topic. What caught my attention was Tammy's link to a post by Drew Smith that was essentially aimed at some of my own earlier comments.

I would like to make a few points. First of all, unlike other hobbies and even professional disciplines as a genealogist, I am not dealing with an abstract concept. I am dealing with my family and my relatives. Let me go to my usual hypothetical situations. Let's suppose that I would like to build a house and live in it. Do I care about the standards to which the various components of the house are constructed? Do I care if the electrical wiring is "up to code" or conforms to some standard? Sure, I could hire someone off the street who thought it would be "fun" to build a house. But would I want to live in the house that resulted from this fun activity?

The difference between genealogy and other avocations, interests, hobbies or what not, is pretty simple. I have to live in the family tree house built by the other genealogists. I do not have an elitist or scholarly viewpoint about the standards of construction of my genealogical house. I have a very basic practical issue. When there are people who are either related to me or claim to be related to me and they make up information or do sloppy work, I have to live with the results. We are not talking about someone's efforts to sew or make their own woodworking projects, We are talking about a shared inheritance of information. The fundamental issue is one of accuracy; am I really related to these people or not? I understand that you may think I am overly fastidious about my efforts to convince people to be accurate, but they are building my genealogical house and I have to live in it.

There is a pretty good review of the issues involved through Tammy's post and extensive comments. But all this talk about whether or not there is a place for "hobbyists" in genealogy misses the point. Of course people are entitled to participate in their own activities. But as we live in complex societies, we limit those activities that impinge on the common good and interests of the group. Out here in the Southwest, we have a lot of people who have the hobby of riding All Terrain Vehicles or ATVs. I don't happen to one of them. But do we allow people who have fun riding ATVs to drive their vehicles anywhere and at any time they please? No, we set some standards for their participation in their "fun" activity. Why do we do this as a society? Because what they do for fun can impinge on what we perceive to be a greater good; the preservation of our wilderness areas. Because, like genealogy, we all have an interest in the general environment. Is there a heated dispute between the ATV riders and those who wish to preserve the wilderness? Of course. Likewise, there are the same kinds of interests being disputed in the genealogical community.

If you are an ATV rider, you may think my objection to your "sport or hobby" is elitist and academic. But even though you don't like my viewpoint, my answer is the same, too bad. I have my viewpoint and you have yours. I will not give up my standards and if I had my way, ATVs would be even more limited than they are presently. Do those who ride ATVs have a right to ride their machines? Yes, of course, but only so long as they maintain certain standards. For example, do not ride in a National Park off of designated areas.

My example is not a contrived as you might think. The question is this: do I have some kind of expectation that my ancestors be correctly and accurately identified? This issue becomes one of more than academic interest when you factor in the issue of a unified family tree such as FamilySearch.org's Family Tree. Does some hobbyist have the right to go in and change my mother's birthdate to the wrong date just for fun? Should ignorance be an excuse?

Most of the discussion by the various parties on Tammy's post talk around this issue but regardless, it is a basic issue. When we share the genealogical road with each other, we should have some expectation of conformity to an established standard. We do share this road because we are related to one another. Are we really prepared to let the genealogical ATV riders go anywhere they please at any time?

From my standpoint, the issue is whether or not accuracy in family history really matters. I happen to have deeply held philosophical and religious beliefs that say that accuracy does, in fact, matter. So you can brand me any way you like, but I will still go on teaching and writing as long as I am able and trying to help anyone interested enough to listen to aspire to higher standards of accuracy, hobbyist or professional alike.

Of course, I am not a certified expert and my opinion does not count in some circles but I do think I know a little bit about what genealogy is and is not. This brings up another issue, probably the topic for another post, who is and who is not an expert genealogist? How do I place myself in the community? Is community validation important? Isn't the issue one of self-awareness and even self-promotion rather than any particular level of competency? I am certainly not always "right" as my readers and detractors are quick to tell me.

I would like to end with an excellent comment by Drew Smith to the original post cited above.  I quote,
And the one thing that *all* aspects of genealogy share is that they are about establishing relationships (parent to child, sibling to sibling, spouse to spouse), whether those are biological or legal or some other variation. It may involve all kinds of other things, too (family stories, photographs, historical context, and much more), but at its heart, it is still about establishing the relationships. And if those relationships cannot be established with evidence to justify the conclusion, then it all falls apart. It may be wishful thinking, but it isn’t genealogy. It simply doesn’t qualify under any reasonable definition of the term.
Sorry for all the mixed metaphors.




Beginning your search for your Swedish Roots with Rötter

I have found that even among experienced genealogists doing research in specific countries, that they are often not aware of the resources available to them merely because of the language barrier. A good example of this is the fact that nearly every country in Europe and many other places around the world, has a formally organized genealogical society and in many countries in Europe there are huge dedicated genealogy websites. As I look at lists and recommendations by researchers here in the English speaking world, I seldom see references to these helpful websites.

Here is one such website that may be new to you. It was certainly new to one Swedish researchers who had been active in doing Swedish research for years. It is called simply "Rötter," or Roots. Here is a screenshot of the startup page:


If you click on this image and look at the top of the page where the big red arrow points, you will see something interesting. Google will automatically translate the text on the page into your language. This, of course, means that you can read most of the page in English. Here is another screenshot of the page once Google has translated the text portions of the page. Remember, Google cannot translate images.


On this website, there is a wonderful section on getting started with Swedish research. I think that we spend so much time with our "time tested" resources, we fail to spend much effort finding out what is unknown to us that may help with our learning and research. Here is the translation of the getting started page in a screenshot:


Now, guest what? There are similar websites, as I already stated, for almost every single European country.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Is it easy to do genealogy?

I had a very interesting comment that reminded me of a conversation my friends and I used to have in high school many years ago. The conversation went something like this: is it better to be dumb and happy or smart and unhappy. Variations on that conversation included whether it was better to be rich and unhappy or poor and happy. I have learned over the years that life isn't quite that simple. I would also make the same observation about the following comment:
Quick question: Is it more important to teach people easy but less accurate ways of doing family history (so people will get hooked), or to teach them correctly from the beginning, which may create a barrier for some? In many recent messages, we have been told that family history is easy and something that everyone can do. We have many inaccuracies on the Family Tree, but are these coming from people who are taught "easy" ways of family history, or is there another cause? Anyways, what are your thoughts?
 I guess the more fundamental question is whether or not there is a right way or a "correct" way to teach genealogy? Is there one "correct" way to do genealogy? I think not. There are some principles that help the process of doing research, but the last time I checked there were no "genealogy police" enforcing the correct way. But the pertinent question is why would you teach a "less accurate way" of doing genealogy. Is quick and dirty acceptable?

I suggest that getting people "hooked" by dumbing down genealogy is simply a way to increase the tsunami of poor research already evident in millions of online family trees. What are they getting hooked on anyway? If the proper teaching of genealogy is a "barrier" to some, so be it. Do we really need more poorly done genealogy at the expense of including people who can't or won't do it in an acceptable manner?

Well, the message that family history is easy and something everyone can do is only true at a very, very basic level. I agree that with help, "everyone" can enter information about themselves, their immediate family and perhaps one or two further generations back. There are even exceptions to this rule, where there are circumstances that make finding a parent or grandparent to be difficult if not impossible, but most people can do this minimum amount of data entry with some effort. Is that what we are talking about?

I remember the four and five generation Family Group Sheet challenge from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints some many years ago. For some, this was relatively easy, but for others it was a major challenge. I was of the age where I had to do the sheets myself and not rely on my parents to do theirs. Notwithstanding my family's long time membership in the Church, this turned out to be a major challenge for me. Why was that the case? Simple. Almost all the work done before me had not been done "correctly from the beginning." There were many issues that I had to resolve. Not because I knew more about genealogy (I knew almost nothing at the time) but because I was used to doing research and I could tell when what had been recorded did not make any sense. Even with this background, some of the errors in the original submissions were not corrected for years and years, after I had more extensive experience and checked the dates and places.

I guess the final answer is a question, do we want to accept a mediocre genealogical product? Is inclusion of everyone in genealogy such an important issue that the quality of the work does not matter?

Think about it.