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

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Step-by-Step Guide to Using Online Census Indexes: Part One: Introduction

https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/list?fcs=recordType%3ACENSUS&ec=recordType%3ACENSUS
Censuses date back to antiquity. The first known census was taken about 6000 years ago by the Babylonians in 3800 BC. This census included the number of people, livestock, and some commodities. See New World Encyclopedia: Census. Other ancient census records come from China. The Bible contains several references to censuses and there are several instances of censuses in both the Old and New Testaments.

One of the first records that budding genealogists learn to rely on are the various census records. In the United States, the U.S. Federal Census was mandated by Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution. The first Census in the United States was taken in 1790 and every ten years thereafter. Because of privacy concerns, the Censuses are not made public until 72 years after the official Census Day. The 1950 Census records will be released in April 2022. Unfortunately, due to government negligence and error, almost all of the records from the 1890 U.S. Federal Census were lost either by fire or government destruction.

Concerning census records in the United Kingdom and quoting from Wikipedia: Census in the United Kingdom:
Coincident full censuses have taken place in the different jurisdictions of the United Kingdom every ten years since 1801, with the exceptions of 1941 (during the Second World War) and Ireland in 1921. Simultaneous censuses were taken in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, with the returns being archived with those of England. In addition to providing detailed information about national demographics, the results of the census play an important part in the calculation of resource allocation to regional and local service providers by the governments of both the UK and the European Union. The most recent UK census took place in 2011.
For genealogists, the first usuable census information from the U.K. begins in 1841.

As a contrast, in Mexico, the census efforts have not been a beneficial to genealogical researchers. Here is a short explanation of the Mexican National Census from the FamilySearch.org Research Wiki:
While earlier attempts were made to enumerate the Mexican population, the 1895 census was considered the first federal or national census. Beginning in 1900, censuses were conducted every 10 years. The 1930 census was conducted on May 15 and was the first census in which returns were processed centrally. Because of this, most of sheets still exist. This census is widely recognized as one of Mexico’s best planned and executed censuses, and it is also the only one accessible to the public. Due to under counting and some record loss, primarily for the Federal District, the 1930 census covers about 78 percent of the population, not 90% as previously reported. (This figure is based on 12.8 million persons in the Ancestry.com database extracted from this census compared with a total population in 1930 for all of Mexico in 1930 of 16,552,722 (see Mexico Population 1930). Since the population of Mexico City was 1,029,000 in 1930, there were record losses in areas beyond the Federal District as well, accounting for another 2 million plus persons not covered in the database placed online by Ancestry.com in September 2011.
As you can see from this explanation, census records can be extremely useful, but have definite limitations. Census records exist in many countries around the world, but it takes some investigation and effort to obtain access to the records.

Returning to the United States, in addition to the Federal Census, there are also several local and state census records. Here are some links to resources that list all of the available census records in the United States:

Search for census records with the name of the state or country to find hundreds of additional links. 

This series is a step-by-step guide to using online census records through various online websites' indexes. Using a variety of websites and their individual indexes is a way to make sure that you are capturing all of the information available from each census. Of course, I cannot review every website and every census, but I hope to give enough examples, that you can see how to approach any particular census record. 

Stay tuned. 

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Using BillionGraves to Document Cemeteries

https://billiongraves.com/
My recent involvement with digitizing documents at the Maryland State Archives has reaffirmed my interest in document preservation. I have seen graphic examples of the effects of time on the condition of the documents. Grave markers (tombstones, headstones, etc.) fall into the category of important genealogical records that are subject to deterioration over time. Without constant maintenance, grave markers will eventually erode away and disappear.

Programs such as BillionGraves.com are making a tremendous difference in the preservation of the information available online about grave markers and cemeteries. The most important fact about the entries on BillionGraves.com, as opposed to those on FindAGrave.com, is the fact that entries on BillionGraves.com are linked to the GPS coordinates for the cemeteries and grave markers. This allows users to use their smartphones to record the entries and later other users can use their smartphones to find the exact locations where the entries were originally photographed. I have personally used my iPhone and the BillionGraves.com program to track down the graves of some of my ancestors.

BillionGraves.com is a free website to look up headstone photos from around the world. Volunteers use smartphones to take GPS tagged photos of headstones. Photos are uploaded to the BillionGraves website either automatically or later with an internet connection. The photos are then available to be transcribed by volunteers. All of the photos can be easily accessed for research online. There is a paid subscription level of the website that adds many valuable features.

If a cemetery is very small, the issue of finding a particular grave marker is trivial. You walk around the cemetery and look at each of the markers. However, this scenario presupposes that you can find the cemetery in the first place. It also presupposes that the cemetery is not huge with thousands of graves. Using BillionGraves.com, you can also photograph and mark the GPS locations of gravesites where there is no grave marker.

One of my current goals, when the weather permits and the snow melts, is to take more photos in the local Provo City Cemetery. You would think with the concentration of people who should be interested in genealogy, that the cemetery would be long ago completely imaged, but there are still entire sections where the coverage is minimal. When I was in Annapolis, Maryland, I checked and very few of the hundreds of cemeteries in Anne Arundel County had been photographed. You might want to check in your area. If you need time outdoors and some exercise, you might as well take photos of cemeteries.

Friday, January 11, 2019

BYU Family History Technology Workshop 2019

https://fhtw.byu.edu/
Registration is now open for the Brigham Young University Family History Technology Workshop. This one day workshop is held on the Brigham Young University campus in Provo, Utah in the Hinkley Alumni Center on February 26, 2019. The conference is primarily directed at developers and those interested in new developments in genealogical software. The conference is scheduled one day before the annual RootsTech conference held in Salt Lake City Utah. If you want to get a feel for the topics covered by the conference, you should visit the website and review the archive of past presentations.

Conference registration is now open and if you wish to present at the conference submissions are open until January 21, 2019.

What's New at RootsTech 2019

https://www.rootstech.org/blog/road-to-rootstech-ep-5-whats-new-at-rootstech-2019?et_cid=1256213&et_rid=107108866&linkid=blog+2&cid=em-rt-8063
There will be a lot of changes this year at RootsTech 2019. Of course, if this is your first year attending RootsTech, you will just enjoy all the changes without knowing that they are changes. But for those of you who have attended in the past, many of the new changes address issues that became more apparent last year.

On Wednesday, February 27th, quoting from the post linked above:
Previously, Wednesday lunch options have been limited because the expo hall has been closed. We received a lot of feedback on this and will now be offering boxed lunches to all RootsTech attendees. You will find lunch pick-up stations throughout the Salt Palace.
You will need a full registration at RootsTech 2019 to be attending classes on Wednesday. The schedule of classes is changing for all of the days of the Conference. Here is another quote:
This year we are adding a new class session at 8 a.m. that we are fondly calling Power Hour. This session brings together 3 presenters to give short, unified presentations. So, if you subscribe to the theory that the "early bird gets the worm," you are sure to enjoy this extra hour.
I might point out to those who will be driving to downtown Salt Lake City, Utah to attend the conference, that parking is always an issue and traffic during the morning hours, especially if there is snow, can be difficult. Keep that in mind while planning your trip to the Salt Palace. You might want to park away from the Salt Palace and ride the local TRAX light rail to the downtown area.

Some other changes include the fact that there will be no badge scanning for sessions (badges will only be scanned for sponsored lunches and labs) and an update to the mobile app. I suggest you watch all of the discussion in the following video.


Road to RootsTech, Episode 5: What's New at RootsTech SLC 2019

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Comments on FamilySearch Record Collections of 2018

https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/list
In a recent News Release, FamilySearch.org listed their "Top Record Collections of 2018." The list raises a number of issues that are also shared by all of the other large online genealogy database programs including by not limited to Ancestry.com, Findmypast.com, and MyHeritage.com.

The News Release consisted of a brief introductory statement followed by a long list of countries and some specific categories of records that were apparently taken from the FamilySearch.org Catalog. Here is a screenshot of part of the announcement and the list.


Here is what the introduction had to say about the list:
SALT LAKE CITY, UT (8 January 2019), In 2018, FamilySearch added hundreds of millions of searchable free images and indexes of historical records from all around the world. The records came from locations such as Germany, Sweden, France, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, Mexico, and the United States. We thought we'd summarize those countries with the largest volume of new records and images for you and provide convenient links to help you quickly discover a few new ancestors. FamilySearch now has over 8 billion free names and record images.
The way the statement is worded, it is unclear whether the numbers in the list are the number of new images added in 2018 or simply the total number of images from each of the categories of records. For FamilySearch.org this issue is even more complicated because there is a further issue of the number of total images vs. the number of those images that have been indexed and included in the Historical Record Collections section of the website. See the following video for a brief explanation of this part of the issue.


Where are the Digitized Records on FamilySearch.org

So how many of the records listed by FamilySearch.org are images in the catalog and how many have been indexed and are searchable in the Historical Record Collections? That is entirely unclear. But this is not, as I mentioned above, a unique issue with FamilySearch. The real issue involves the use of the following terms to describe the online collections of genealogical records:

  • images
  • records
  • names
  • collections
All of these terms are used to promote each of the websites and many others with the implication being that larger numbers are better. But unfortunately, none of these terms have a consistent and disclosed meaning. What is an image? That would seem to be obvious, but an image can be a record of a single individual or an entire family or a list of hundreds of names such as a passenger list or a probate sale. The other three terms are totally meaningless. Is a "record" the entry for one individual such as an entry for an individual on a U.S. Federal Census record, or is it the Census sheet with fifty or so names or is it the entire Census year with millions of names? The number has to be a rough estimate unless there are some people in each of the companies squirreled away counting every name on every image. How far off are the estimates? Are the estimates high or low?

I am not particularly picking on FamilySearch here. This is a common issue with every online database large or small that promotes their database by representing its size. The real question for every researcher is whether or not the collection or whatever has the record you are looking for. If it does. Great. If not, the size of the collection does not matter at all. 

As an example, I clicked on the first entry in the FamilySearch list shown above for Australia. The list indicates that there are 1,618,183 "Records and Images." Is each record an image or is each image a record? Anyway, here is where the link takes me:

https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/location/1927080?region=Australia
You can click on the caption link and see this page for yourself. There are many millions of records listed on this page. Neither the number nor the link tells us how many of these are newly added if any and how many are just an arbitrary guess at the number of images available. In addition, some of the image collections list are obviously not indexed or searchable and some are not even available outside of the confines of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. 

Although it is unlikely to ever happen, genealogists would benefit from a little less hype and a lot more transparency from all of the online database programs. Perhaps we should forget the idea that a large number necessarily translates into a benefit. Again, the collection is only beneficial if it happens to have your information.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Thoughts on State Archives -- Supplement to the Series


For the past few weeks, I have been writing a series of posts on each of the state archives. Granted, I have a long way to go to get to all 50, but my experience so far and previous experience have provided me with some interesting observations.

First of all, any impression or thought that I had about the number of documents that are digitized as opposed to those yet to be digitized has been entirely readjusted. In the archives, I have visited and those I have looked at online, the number of digitized documents is only a vanishingly small percentage of the total number of documents that are still only on paper. The large online genealogy websites measure their online collections in the billions of records, but when you focus on one state or even one city, the number of records already digitized shrinks down to almost nothing.

Around the world, we currently create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day. (See How Much Data Do We Create Every Day? The Mind-Blowing Stats Everyone Should Read) But that is almost all new data. Although the pace of digitization has increased, realistically, it is barely scratching the surface. In 2010, Google estimated that 129,864,880 books had been published. Even at best estimates of the number of books that have been digitized indicate that the number is about 40 million books. That is about 30% of the total. But most of the paper contents of the archives in the United States and elsewhere are not counted as books. Here is a description of the holdings of the United States National Archives Records Administration (NARA);
NARA keeps only those Federal records that are judged to have continuing value—about 2 to 5 percent of those generated in any given year. By now, they add up to a formidable number, diverse in form as well as in content. There are approximately 10 billion pages of textual records; 12 million maps, charts, and architectural and engineering drawings; 25 million still photographs and graphics; 24 million aerial photographs; 300,000 reels of motion picture film; 400,000 video and sound recordings; and 133 terabytes of electronic data. All of these materials are preserved because they are important to the workings of Government, have long-term research worth, or provide information of value to citizens.
What does this mean for the average genealogist? It means that if you are searching online and have not visited an archive that could have documents pertaining to your ancestors, it is very likely that you have not looked at even a small percentage of what is available for research. Some of the archives have ongoing digitization projects. For example, the State of Washington's Digital Archives have preserved over 216 million documents and have over 78 million of those searchable. But some states, with far more documents, have far fewer documents in their digital collections.

What else have I learned? I have learned that accessing the paper records in state and national archives is a very time-consuming activity. Some archives have large onsite collections, but in some cases, the main repository for storing the documents is off-site and gaining access to the documents can take days of waiting for the documents to be transported to the main archive location. Additionally, almost all archives require some form of registration for access to any of the documents. In addition, most archives also have strict rules about how and when their documents can be accessed. All of this is understandable given the fragile nature of many of the documents, but it also indicates the need for digital copies.

One obvious problem with all archives is that they are physical locations that must be visited. In addition, most of the collections are classified by record type and organized chronologically. Some indexes exist but in some cases, even those indexes are on paper or bound in book format.  For example, in one archive, you can access the catalog online, but the information online only tells you where the physical documents are stored and you have to guess the contents.

I am extremely grateful for those who established and now maintain archives. They provide a service that is only rarely acknowledged by the state and local governments. Many archives are constantly operating under threats of budget and personnel cuts. Some U.S. state archives have even faced threats of complete closure. As genealogists, we should be familiar users and supporters of the archives that contain or might contain information about our ancestors.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

California State Archives: Wonderful Local Sources for Genealogical Research

https://www.sos.ca.gov/archives/

Quoting from the California State Archives website:
California's first legislature, meeting in 1849–50, charged the Secretary of State to receive "…all public records, registered maps, books, papers, rolls, documents and other writings . . . which appertain to or are in any way connected with the political history and past administration of the government of California." The Act Concerning the Public Archives (Chapter 1, Statutes of 1850 (PDF)) was the first law signed by California's first governor on January 5, 1850. The California State Archives, a division of the Office of the Secretary of State, continues to serve in the spirit of those early instructions, providing a repository for the state's permanent governmental records as well as other materials documenting California history. The California State Archives serves a wide variety of researchers whose interests range from legislative intent and public policy to genealogy and railroad history in California. 
Archives staff continually organize and describe the records we receive to provide easier and faster access for researchers. Visit the Collections & Catalogs page for more information.
Obviously, the number of potential records in any one of the state archives depends, in part, on the length of time the records have been produced and the population of the state during that time period. Relatively small states such as Delaware and Rhode Island can have huge accumulations of records while some of the western states will have significantly smaller collections. California is in an interesting position. It certainly has the population, but unlike some of the other western states, California's history dates back to 1542 when Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and his crew sailed into San Diego Bay. But most of the collections of the Archives date back only to the legislatively mandated date of 1849-50. 

Here is a further description of the Archives from the website:
The California State Archives collects, catalogs, preserves, and provides access to the historic records of state government and some local governments. The Archives collection is primarily composed of records from California state agencies, the governor's office, the state legislature, and the State Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal. The records are organized under the name of the agency or office that transferred the records to the Archives. The collections also include some private papers that have been donated to the Archives. 
The State Archives has specialized programs to collect and preserve records of state government. The Legislative Archives Program, Court Records Program and Governor's Records Program work with the three branches of Government to identify records of enduring value that should be preserved in the Archives. The State Records Appraisal Program works to identify and collect records of state agencies. 
Each year hundreds of researchers contact and visit the California State Archives seeking documentation to support their historical investigation. Reference Desk staff help researchers identify collections that are most relevant to their area of interest and retrieve those records from a secure storage area for researchers to view in the large Research Room.
The California State Archives hosts an annual open house each year in October and has other outreach programs including monthly tours, a speaker series, Digital Archives Day, preservation workshops, and periodic exhibits.

The main collections of the Archives consist of the following:
  • California Constitutions
  • Governor's Records
  • Legislative Resources
  • State Agencies and Constitutional Officers Records
  • Trademarks
  • Family History Resources
  • Spanish and Mexican Land Grants
  • Robert F. Kennedy Assassination Investigation Records
  • Local Government Records
  • Photograph Collections
  • Oral Histories
  • Supreme and Appellate Court Records
The Archives has some specifically identified collections for genealogists. In addition, the Archives is the genealogy library of the Root Cellar–Sacramento Genealogical Society, which is open to the public and staffed by volunteers several days each week. Here is another quote about the records that are directly related to genealogical research.
Our collections contain microfilmed copies and original records from 28 of California's counties including probate, deeds, and naturalization records. State agency collections of interest to genealogists include records of the California National Guard (1849–1942), Folsom and San Quentin Prisons (1850–1945), early California Youth Authority records (1891–1932), Yountville Veteran's Home Registers (1884–1910), and various professional and vocational licensing boards (1885–1968).
Many of the genealogically important records from California are online on different genealogy websites, but the Archives also maintains the California Digital Archives.  Surprisingly, this collection is quite limited so researchers will either have to go to the Archives or depend on the other online genealogy websites.
https://www.sos.ca.gov/archives/california-digital-archives/