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

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Finding out almost anything and everything

When I last checked most of the genealogists I know were also people who had to live and do other things besides genealogy once and a while. But it is still interesting how many things I do every day relate to genealogy in some way or another. One of the notable events of this past year has been the phenomenal increase in my ability to find out things. It started with maps. Google Maps revolutionized the way I find places, not just for genealogy, but going to stores or other locations. Part of the reason this ability has made such a change is the availability of Google Maps on my iPhone. I used to carry a road atlas in my car, along with a detailed street map of Phoenix. No longer. Anyplace I happen to be, I can simply search and have almost instant directions to where ever I want to go.

Google Maps' ability is not limited to directions for travel, if I want to go to Costco or Target, I can search on that business and find the nearest location. This map idea has now expanded, during the past year, you can now search for almost any published book in the world and find the nearest library that has the book. This program is called WorldCat and contains the combined catalogs of over 10,000 libraries. During the past year, WorldCat added another service, searching the Internet for digital copies of a book. If you use WorldCat to do an advanced search, you can specify the format of the book, including a listing of all of the scanned, digitized copies of the book that may be available on the Web or any other format, including audio books and CDs. That brings us to scanned books, during the past year there has been an continuation of the explosion of scanned books on the Internet. Google Books is a good example, Google now has in excess of 10 million titles. You might want to check out ePub format. EPUB (electronic publication; also sometimes ePub, EPub, or epub) is a free and open e-book standard, by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). Files have the extension .epub. EPUB is designed for reflowable content, meaning that the text display can be optimized for the particular display device. The format is meant to function as a single format that publishers and conversion houses can use in-house, as well as for distribution and sale. It supersedes the Open eBook standard. Wikipedia. What does this mean? I can now read almost all of the available books on my iPhone!

OK, so how does this apply to genealogists? Think of the thousands of family history books being digitized every month. Many of these books will be available online on your desktop computer or even on a smart phone, like Google's Android phone or iPhone. With these devices you can carry around your whole genealogy file, assuming you purchase an App that will display the file.

This goes on and on, of course, because finding out everything takes a little bit of time. Speaking of iPhones, there is an App (application or program) called SnapTell. Using the the camera on your iPhone, you can take a photo of the cover of any CD, DVD, book, or video game, and the application will automatically identify the product and find ratings and pricing information online. This really works, even for obscure genealogy books, as long as they are available through or a similar Website. This looking up stuff can be carried even further. You can use your iPhone to read UPC barcodes. Yes, you can be in a store and scan a bar code and the iPhone will look up the price and tell you if there is a better price somewhere else. The App is called RedLaser.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring, Google is supposed to be working on an App for Android that will let you take a picture of anything and it will look it up in Google. Good Luck.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Technology in genealogical research has its place

If I am scanning old photographs, newer technology is better. It is faster with higher resolution than just a few years ago. If I am searching census records, the new technology that allows me to view images of the census pages online from my home computer is nearly a miracle compared to searching through miles of microfilm. But technology has its place. Unfortunately, not all researchers realize the limitations of the current technology. For example, I now find people who have searched for their ancestors online in one of the large subscription databases, like, and think they are through searching. The same thing happens with FamilySearch and New FamilySearch. I commonly find people who think that all they have to do is look in one database and that is essentially the end of their search for ancestors.

Here are several rules concerning the relationship of genealogical research and technology:

Rule One: Technology is not a substitute for thinking.
There is no software program, Internet site or new tech gadget that will substitute for serious, deep thinking about your genealogical problems and challenges. Many of the newer programs attempt to provide you with expert research assistance. Although, these features may suggest places to look and Websites to visit, they are not a substitute for your own effort and thought. Just because I can load my entire genealogy file on an iPhone or a flash drive, brings me no closer to solving difficult relationship issues. Sometimes the technology merely gets you to the problem quicker.

Rule Two: Technology will fail just when you most depend on it.
Computers, hard drives, digital cameras, iPods, iPhones, scanners and all other mechanical/electrical devices will eventually fail to operate. Storage devices, like flash drives, CDs, DVDs and hard drives can all fail any time. If you become so dependent on technology that you cannot function without it, you will reach a point at which you cannot function at all. Every time you become aware that you are depending on a particular program or piece of hardware, you should re-evaluate your work habits, to make sure you can continue to function despite a catastrophic failure.

Rule Three: Your ancestors did not have TVs, computers, cell phones, scanners digitizers and they still survived long enough to perpetuate your family.
I have to admit that I would not want to give up my electronic gadgets or my Internet connection. Many of the kinds of research I do and the way I preserve my documents involves very high technology equipment. But, I would not die without a computer and I would still be able to do a significant amount of genealogical research. I have been doing research long enough to know that this would be the case. In fact, I miss working in large libraries as much as I used to.

Rule Four: You have to ask the question to get the answer.
Computers do not volunteer information. You have to understand how to ask for what you want from online services and any other technology. Even though a lot of people can operate a computer at a fairly competent level, they may be completely clueless when it comes to doing original online research in valid source material. Properly formulating a question is half of the solution. No matter how advanced the technology, you must still ask the question.

Rule Five: There will always be a newer or faster something, most of time this can be ignored.
Newer and faster does not always mean better. However, change in inevitable. New programs and new sources for information will sometimes mean the older programs and sources are no longer very useful, if useful at all, but this may not always be the case. As an example, there is no need to run out and buy the latest camera if yours is still working and doing an adequate job. Likewise, as long as your computer does what you need done, there is no need to replace it. This does not mean you stick your head in the sand and ignore technological advances, it does mean you make changes to your equipment and programs when you can realize a measurable increase in capabilities. When your perception reaches the point that you believe the computers to be slow, then they have outlived their usefulness.

Rule Six: No matter how easy new software is to use, there will always be someone who cannot understand how to use it.
I am surrounded by people who are, for the most part, entirely adsorbed into the modern world of technology. I am sure our family has well over thirty blogs for example. But I meet people almost every day who cannot operate a computer at all and seem proud of the fact. One nice lady in my class the other day, said, "I know nothing about computers and I am not going to learn." As time passes this type of thinking may become extinct, but now we are being forced cope with those who cannot turn on their own TV programs, much less contribute to the overall world of technology.

My Grandmother lived until I was married with children, but she never flew in an airplane or learned to drive a car in her whole life. Some people just naturally seem to resist change and technology is all about change. Many people my age never learn how to operate any of the new technology at all. They live in a world of technological surprises and often feel constantly threatened. There are probably as many reasons for being technologically challenged as there are people who are so challenged. As genealogists we need to try mightily to overcome technological challenges in order take advantage of all of the extremely useful items and developments that are now appearing.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Privacy, Identity Theft and Genealogy -- How real is this concern?


In this series of posts, I have been exploring common concerns among genealogists about both the privacy of the information they gather and the risk of being a victim to identity theft. Although there are real concerns in both areas, the media has hyped these topics to the point of gross exaggeration. What we do in our homes and with our family, are for the most part "private" in the classical sense. But anything we do in the public, buying, selling, traveling, working, etc. is more and more subject to public scrutiny and recorded by computers. Once you go online, you become a public figure. Unless you want to live on a self-sufficient farm, without an automobile, in what is left of the wilderness, without connections to any public utility, almost everything you do will be recorded by some entity somewhere. Even in that level of isolation, you will still have to pay taxes and obtain licenses. So, let's assess the danger of living in the very public world today.

As a genealogist, what is the danger from lack of privacy and identity theft?

Let me assume that I am driving my car across town to a store. In order to do so, I must drive through dozens of intersections, some with stop signs, others with stop lights. In each case, I must rely on other drivers to stop when they are required to do so, and not run into me. Current statistics on traffic related deaths show the U.S. with about 12 to 15 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. Going back to my post on the incidence of identity theft, you have a greater risk of being killed in a traffic accident than you have of being a victim of computer related identity theft. When you drive, you automatically take certain precautions, like wearing a seat belt or checking your mirrors. Protecting yourself from identity theft should have the same type of automatic precautions, like not answering spam E-mails and making sure to keep a receipt from each credit card transaction.

Then why do we have a huge segment of our population that is terrified of "identity theft" and paranoid about losing their "privacy?" The answer is simple, lack of education and lack of perspective. The real danger isn't posting your genealogy online, the real danger is the server in the restaurant who takes your credit card back to some undisclosed location to run the charge. We all live in a dangerous world. Every day we get up with some kind of risk or danger. Losing your privacy or having your identity stolen are extremely minor problems in our dangerous world. If they happen to you, they can be serious, so can cancer, Alzheimer's, plane crashes and terrorism. But we get on with our lives and usually ignore most of the background kind of risks.

Just as I might get smashed at the next intersection, I might have my credit card or its number stolen today. But I live with that risk and still get up, go to work and write my posts on my blog.

Genealogy is a cooperative effort. Those people that are so afraid of privacy concerns or identity theft, that it interferes in their efforts to find their ancestors need to wake up to the reality of our risky, always changing world and get over it.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Privacy, Identity Theft and Genealogy -- More on Identity Theft


In the past few posts I have been commenting on the fact that privacy and identity theft are both real concerns, albeit not nearly so important as the media would have you believe. Given the reality of the criminal activities included in the umbrella term "identity theft," it turns out that the danger of having your identity stolen, posed by sharing genealogical information, even online, is vanishingly small despite the reportedly large number of instances. Also, in the modern electronic world, privacy is mostly an illusion. It is possible to keep some very personal things private, but the vast majority of our interactions with the public are more or less easily discoverable.

Could I steal your identity if I had a copy of your genealogy file?

First of all, I am not going to steal anything, much less anyone's identity. That said, what if someone wanted to "steal your identity." Could they do that by using your genealogy? (This discussion assumes that your genealogy is done well enough to provide some accurate information) OK, here is a hypothetical. You open a bank account at a local bank and they ask you to answer a security question. It has long been the practice to use your mother's maiden name as an identifying question. Given that is the case, could someone find your pedigree online and thereby learn your mother's maiden name and then use that information to impersonate you at the bank and wipe out your bank account? Well, it could be a problem if you were dumb enough to use your mother's maiden name (easily obtainable in many cases) as a security question, rather than another more difficult question, like the name of your first pet dog or something like that. However, if all the crook had was your mother's maiden name, it would be nearly impossible to defraud a bank with that information alone.

But think about the type of information usually available on a family group record or even less of that information on a pedigree sheet or computer form. First of all, my files contain very little, if any, current address information. There is a place in most programs to store current addresses, but I never use that feature. I have other ways to store addresses, like my E-mail program or other database. My files (and almost all those I have ever seen) focus on a very narrow type of information, that is births, deaths, marriages etc. Good for identifying historical figures but not much use in applying for credit or making large purchases by credit card.

The rule in looking at information issues, like identity theft, is always be aware of the source. Who is telling you that identity theft is a problem? The answer is largely the companies that want to sell you identity theft protection. Here is a quote from one of those companies:

10 Million Americans Have Stolen Identities Each Year
Identity theft is a skyrocketing crime.
Without protection, Americans are at high risk of identity theft in the near future. These crooks aren't just opening up credit card accounts under your name. They're also abusing your utility services, using counterfeit checks, making ATM electronic withdrawals, taking out a loan, getting your driver's license with their own picture, obtain government benefits, and the list goes on.

Now, think about it, how many of these supposed activities would be facilitated by having a copy of your genealogy file? More importantly, how many of these alleged activities are really going on? If there are really 10 million or more cases of identity theft each year, then the other statistics about crime have to be inaccurate. But you can get a better idea of the risk by examining the overall criminal statistics from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Looking at these statistics it is apparent that only 5.5% of all households in the U.S. experienced one or more types of identity theft and almost half of those cases were unauthorized use of an existing credit card. The total number of cases may approach 10 million, but not of the type of activities outlined by the sales material cited above.

Here is one report that discusses the issue: Identity Theft: Trends and Issues. It was prepared by the Congressional Research Service for members and committees of the Congress of the U.S. The definition of identity theft used by the report comes from 18 U.S.C. Section 1028(a)(7) which states: "identity theft is a federal crime when someone...knowingly transfers, possesses, or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, or in connection with, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of Federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable State or local law."

The article goes on to point out, "According to the CFR definitional section for the Fair Credit Reporting Act (16 C.F.R. § 603.2), “[t]he term ‘‘identifying information’’ means any name or number that may be used, alone or in conjunction with any other information, to identify a specific person, including any — (1) Name, social security number, date of birth, official State or government issued driver’s license or identification number, alien registration number, government passport number, employer or taxpayer identification number; (2) Unique biometric data, such as fingerprint, voice print, retina or iris image, or other unique physical representation; (3) Unique electronic identification number, address, or routing code; or (4) Telecommunication identifying information or access device (as defined in 18 U.S.C. 1029(e)).”

In addition to the above, in Flores- Figueroa v. United States, 129 S. Ct. 1186 (2009) the Court decided that in order to be found guilty of aggravated identity theft, a defendant must have knowledge that the means of identification he used belonged to another individual. Identity theft is aggravated when done intentionally and knowingly.

In May of 2006, The President's Identity Theft Task Force authored a Strategic Plan to combat identity theft. The recommendations included:
• preventing identity theft by keeping consumer data out of criminals’ hands,
• preventing identity theft by making it more difficult for criminals to misuse
consumer data,
• assisting victims in detecting and recovering from identity theft, and
• deterring identity theft by increasing the prosecution and punishment of identity thieves.
Now to the substance of the report, here is the list of "Identity Theft Complaints" made in 2008 and their percentage of frequency:
  • Credit Card Fraud 20%
  • Government Documents or Benefits Fraud 15%
  • Employment Related Fraud 15%
  • Phone or Utilities Fraud 13%
  • Bank Fraud 11%
  • Loan Fraud 4%
  • Other 24%
  • Attempted Identity Theft 6%
Now, back to the causes of identity theft. It is reported in the above article, that as of 2007, 42 million Medicare cards displayed Social Security numbers. In my own experience, not only was my student number while at a university my Social Security number, my Army ID number for eight years was also my Social Security number. Also, for most of my life, my Driver's license number was also identical to my Social Security number. The biggest percentage of cases reported deal with some aspect of the use of a Social Security number, but in my case, my number is (or was) very publicly known.

No where in this report, or anywhere else I was able to find, was anyone worried about genealogical information. Notwithstanding, I think there are some rules that should be followed:

1. Do not store financial or Social Security number information about living people in genealogy files. (I don't know anyone who does, but this is a rule anyway).
2. Do not use or publicly disclose personal, private information about any living person or for some time after their death, probably more than ten years.
3. If you give someone a GEDCOM file or other type of data file, do not disclose any financial or related information about living people.

Notwithstanding my own recommendations, I am not changing my methods of sharing genealogical data. I simply cannot see any direct or indirect relationship between my genealogy files and the list of the types of complaints attributed to identity theft.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Newest updates on FamilySearch's Record Search

In the December 24, 2009 update, Record Search added a number of new collections; Washington State County Marriages from 1858 to 1950, England Cheshire Parish records from 1538 to 2000, Cheshire Bishops' Transcripts fro 1598 to 1900 and Germany, Baden, Boondorf Church Book Duplicates from 1810 to 1869. The following collections were also updated; Brazil, Catholic Church Records, Florida State Census for 1935 and 1945, England, Cheshire Non-conformist records from 1671 to 1900 and the 1920 United State Census. In addition, one collection was removed, the Cheshire Burials, Christenings & Marriages.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Privacy, Identity Theft and Genealogy -- Privacy worries


In the last two posts I have discussed identity theft and privacy, two concerns of genealogists working with today's interconnected technology. Privacy is a difficult topic because there are so many aspects to the issue, from personal privacy in daily life, to whether or not banks and other financial institutions can see your personal financial records. Genealogists research families and therefore often encounter personal, private, sensitive topics and information. The main question is how or when is it appropriate to use this private information?

Privacy -- more than Social Security numbers

Whether your great-grandmother had a child out of wedlock or was institutionalized for mental illness may be a sensitive family issue, but has nothing to do with privacy or privacy laws. With some few exceptions, even in Canada with its laws like Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) recognizes that sensitive personal information about a deceased individual diminishes over time and protection ends when an individual has been dead for at least 20 years or the information is in a record over 100 years old. As disturbing as it may be to family members, old dead people have no privacy.

Also, privacy acts and statutes generally do not apply to information that is available to the public through normal communication channels, for example, public court records, recorded land records, addresses, telephone numbers, and many other types of information.

So, where do genealogists come into this picture? Almost all currently sold genealogy programs have a filtering capability to limit the information that is shared about living people. It is not wise to share sensitive, personal information about living people in any event. From a practical standpoint, they are still around to complain. From a realistic standpoint, there is a distinct possibility of violating some law or regulation.

Now, let's look at the commonly used family group record. Is there anything remotely "private" about the information contained on that type of sheet? The answer is not usually. Birth, death, baptism or christening, and marriage information can be obtained from public records, for the most part, and cannot be considered private. However, there are exceptions, such as adoption records. The real issue is availability. What kinds of information is readily available and where can I go to obtain that information?

Most people I talk to about this subject are shocked to learn that almost all of the information they deem private is readily available from public sources on the Internet. Let me give you a few examples:

Let's start with Accurint a fee based LexisNexis company. The key features include
  • People Search… locates neighbors, associates and
  • possible relatives.
  • Phones Plus... track down phone numbers not typically available to increase your chances of finding your subject. Access over 268 Million non-directory assistance records, including cell phone numbers.
  • People at Work… links more than 287 million individuals to businesses and includes information such as business addresses, phone numbers, and possible dates of employment.
  • Relavint™… visually links individuals with businesses, addresses, relatives and vehicles.
  • Advanced Person Search… helps find individuals when only old or fragmented data is available.
Or how about Global Information Services which describes their services as follows:
Search among the 325 million people in our database. Quickly find missing people through an address search, perform a credit check, verify employment history, check status of professional licenses, find information on criminal records, trace phone numbers, and more. You can find information on assets, trusts, limited partnerships, real estate, rents, receivables and inventory, bank accounts and financial information. Access information from county records and state records. Using a social security number, previous address, current address, or even a phone number or a name, you can find information fast and inexpensively. Avoid the hassle and headaches of “do-it-yourself” databanks. Enjoy personalized service and save time and money! search, perform a credit check, verify employment history, check status of professional licenses, find information on criminal records, trace phone numbers, and more. You can find information on assets, trusts, limited partnerships, real estate, rents, receivables and inventory, bank accounts and financial information. Access information from county records and state records. Using a social security number, previous address, current address, or even a phone number or a name, you can find information fast and inexpensively. Avoid the hassle and headaches of “do-it-yourself” databanks. Enjoy personalized service and save time and money!
In case you were wondering, these services and many others like them, really work. In a matter of minutes, I can have a report listing every house you have lived in, every car you have purchased, every bank account, every job, almost anything you can imagine, including a list of all of your neighbors and relatives.

As genealogists, we often spend a lot of time looking for missing relatives. It is possible to "live off the grid" and leave few or no records, but most people, even those trying to do so, leave a lot of records. By using one of these large national databases it is possible to find almost anyone.

So what does this mean for privacy? Truthfully, in today's totally connected world, there is really no such thing as privacy, there are really only practical and social reasons that some information about individuals is more or less difficult to obtain. Notwithstanding this reality, it is still a very good practice and to avoid trouble, to refrain from publicizing private information about living individuals without their express permission. However, in my opinion, the protected information does not include that commonly recorded on family group records, all of which is readily available (even if at a price).

This series will continue.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Privacy, Identity Theft and Genealogy -- Privacy, an issue?


The purpose of this series is to highlight the real privacy and identity theft concerns associated with genealogy. In my first post in this series, I explained that the danger from identity theft has been dramatically overblown in the media. For example, it is twice as likely that you will have your wallet stolen, than to have a problem with identity theft via the Internet. This post continues with a discussion of privacy.

Privacy... What is really private and what is not.

Because genealogists research personal family matters, it may not be obvious, but they should be concerned about privacy and privacy laws. With the access to large online databases, people compile information about their family and then put that information online, sometimes in completely public Websites. As a genealogist, it is a good idea, before "sharing" private information, that you have some basic ideas about the privacy laws in the jurisdiction where you live.

To start out this discussion, there are two phrases that get tossed around a lot relating to privacy; first, is the so-called "right to privacy," and the second, is the so-called "expectation of privacy." A definition of the"right to privacy" is elusive, partly because there is a gap between the general perception of the meaning of privacy and the legal definition. For example, there is no comprehensive U.S. Constitution level definition of the right other than the interpretation of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. On the other hand, the "expectation of privacy" is a legal test (meaning it must be interpreted by a court) defining the scope of the protection of the Fourth Amendment.

Privacy laws are mostly limited to smaller jurisdictions and are sometimes only local. Unlike the U.S., some countries, such as Canada, have a broad national privacy act. Notwithstanding the privacy laws that exist, generally, as far as genealogy is concerned a person's right to privacy dies with the individual. Obviously a dead person has no "expectation of privacy." Even so, some jurisdictions have laws prohibiting the release of "private" information about a dead person until, up to, thirty years after death or even longer. The information that can be disseminated varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In Texas for example, Chapter 26 of the Texas Property Code and the secretary of state’s administrative rules found in title 1, chapter 76 of the Texas Administrative Code govern the use of a deceased individual’s property rights, including the deceased individual’s name, voice, signature, photograph, or likeness. A person who claims to own a property right of a deceased individual may register that claim with the secretary of state. Registration of a claim is prima facie evidence of the claim’s validity, and a registered claim is generally superior to a conflicting, unregistered claim. Tex. Prop. Code § 26.007.

One well known limitation on the access to genealogical information about dead people is the seventy-five year limit on the publication of U.S. Census data. The latest Census presently available is from 1930 and the 1940 Census will not be made publicly available until 2012. Other countries extend that prohibition to 100 years.

Live people are another matter altogether. California even has a state agency dedicated to Privacy Protection. For living folks, privacy laws focus primarily on medical records (HIPAA or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) and financial records. However, personal information that businesses and government agencies ask you for, may include the following: your name and home address, your home phone number, your email address, your Social Security number, your driver’s license number, your financial information, such as credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and household income, your medical information, such as your health insurance plan, diseases or physical conditions, and prescription drugs used, your education and work experience, and other details of your personal life, such as your date of birth, the names and ages of your spouse or children, and your hobbies. See California Office of Privacy Protection.

In addition, quoting from the U.S.Department of Health & Human Services, "the Privacy Act of 1974 as amended at 5 U.S.C. 552a, protects records that can be retrieved by personal identifiers such as a name, social security number, or other identifying number or symbol. An individual is entitled to access to his or her records and to request correction of these records if applicable." See "However, the Privacy Act binds only Federal agencies, and covers only records in the possession and control of Federal agencies. The Department of Health and Human Services has specific Privacy Act Regulations. There are additional privacy acts; the Privacy Act of 1974 requires that agencies create and maintain, as necessary, a System of Records Notices (SORN) as defined in the Privacy Act provisions. A system is subject to the Privacy Act if it contains a system of records; any item, collection, or grouping of information about an individual that identifies the individual, and where those records are retrieved by the name of the individual or by some type of identifier unique to the individual." See

There are good reasons to be extremely cautious about putting sensitive, private information about anyone living online, especially where the information can be accessed by the public at large. However, most people would be utterly surprised at the amount of "private" information readily available on the Internet, either for free or for a very small fee. In future posts, I will give more information concerning the availability of personal information on the Internet, including how to find living people, but for right now, the kinds of information that you can obtain without much effort includes voter records, wills, marriage records, birth records, residence, Social Security numbers, information about neighbors, title searches, employment history, civil litigation records, criminal background checks, sex offender registries, credit history, major purchases, and many, many other categories of information.

When someone expresses a concern about giving out their Social Security number, that is a real concern, but practically anyone, with a few dollars, could find out your Social Security number in an few minutes' search on the Internet.

To quote a commentary by Bruce Schneier in Wired, the online magazine:
Aerial surveillance, data mining, automatic face recognition, terahertz radar that can "see" through walls, wholesale surveillance, brain scans, RFID, "life recorders" that save everything: Even if society still has some small expectation of digital privacy, that will change as these and other technologies become ubiquitous. In short, the problem with a normative expectation of privacy is that it changes with perceived threats, technology and large-scale abuses.
More on privacy in the next post.

Privacy, Identity Theft and Genealogy -- First in a series

Almost every time I teach a class, especially of older people, and mention purchasing something online or downloading a file from the Internet, I get several individuals who say that they will never buy anything from the Internet because of possible identity theft and privacy concerns. From my perspective as both an attorney and a heavy user of online services, I have come to the conclusion that although there are some real concerns, most of the fear is irrational and based on ignorance. Now, here is are the statistics and facts to support that conclusion:

First, let's examine the idea of "identity theft." How is this defined? Here is one definition:
Identity theft is a crime in which an impostor obtains key pieces of personal information, such as Social Security or driver's license numbers, in order to impersonate someone else. The information can be used to obtain credit, merchandise, and services in the name of the victim, or to provide the thief with false credentials. In addition to running up debt, an impostor might provide false identification to police, creating a criminal record or leaving outstanding arrest warrants for the person whose identity has been stolen. Definitions.
Since many people consider genealogical information to be "private," they automatically assume that if people have access to their "genealogy" they would be in danger of becoming a victim of identity theft. The problem with the definition and with the whole concept of identity theft is that vastly different activities are included in the definition and especially in the common use of term by advertisers attempting to get you to buy their product. One recent study, (Sasha Romanosky, Heinz First Research Paper, May, 2008 Do Data Breach Disclosure Laws Reduce Identity Theft?) listed the most common causes of so-called identity theft; company controlled 56%, lost or stolen wallet 5%, personally knew thief 16%, lost or stolen mail 2%, computer Internet 2%, other 7% with 56% unknown.

The documents and numbers most frequently used for identity theft are credit card numbers, social security numbers, driver's license numbers and passports. Last time I checked, I hadn't entered any of the above numbers into my genealogy.

So, how prevalent is identity theft? Statistics from the Federal Trade Commission show an average identity theft rate of from 43 to 66.3 per 100,000 of population from 2002 to 2006. (See the study above). whereas motor vehicle theft rates ran from 432.9 to 398.4 per 100,000 and violent crime rates from 494.4 in 2002 to 473.5 in 2006. In other words, you are almost ten times more likely to be involved in a violent crime than you are to be a victim of identity theft. Especially, when the danger from computer involvement is only 2% of that figure. In other words, less that 1 in 100,000.

Think about it. Yes, it could happen, but is it really something that should keep you from purchasing a genealogy program online or having an E-mail account? Is identity theft a serious crime? Yes, it is, but so is robbery and you are three or more times more likely to be robbed.

So what is the problem? If the so-called identity theft is not really one of the major criminal challenges in our society, why do so many people become obsessed with keeping their personal information private?

This is what this series is about; obtaining information about living people online. There is no doubt that as genealogists we assume that there is a lot of information online concerning our ancestors (and more all the time). But likewise, we assume that there is only limited information available online about living persons. This assumption is totally false. In the next few posts I will show you why fear of identity theft is misdirected and how you, or anyone else, can find out more information that you could imagine about almost anyone living today.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Parade of States -- online digital genealogy resources -- Virginia

Time to get back to the Parade of States, this post is on Virginia's online resources. It is interesting to see the variety of resources that some states have already put online and the paucity of resources from other states. The differences in availability do not seem to be governed by economics or the size of the population, but generally, larger states have more resources, with some notable exceptions.

Virginia has some collections of online records, and what is available is valuable for research. But some of the catalogs are difficult to use and there is a lack of any online vital records or other similar source material. Here is a selection of records:
  • Colonial Williamsburg The Library develops indexes, databases, and finding aids; scans full text primary source documents, subscribes to commercial databases and selects free Internet resources relevant to the academic and professional studies of eighteenth-century British America and the Early American Republic. These sources encompass text and images pertaining to the social life, architecture, language, politics, trades, decorative and performing arts, and literature of the times.

  • The Library of Virginia, Multi-Catalog Search This is the main access point for state government records, military records, personal papers, family Bible records, genealogical notes and charts, church and cemetery records, business records, maps, and other archival and manuscript material. Some finding aids are available online. Document images for 6,000 family Bible records are available online.

  • Virginia Memory Virginia Memory is part of the online presence of the Library of Virginia, the state archives and reference library at the seat of government for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Established in 1823, the Library maintains vast and varied collections of print materials, manuscripts, archival records, newspapers, photographs and ephemera, maps and atlases, rare books, and fine art that tell the history of the commonwealth and its people. Since the mid-1990s, the Library has digitized parts of the collections in an effort to make the materials more widely available to online users. Here is the list of the online digital collections.

If you know of any other resources, please feel free to comment.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Furthering the discussion on certification

Craig Manson has written a very entertaining and provocative post entitled "The Discussion about Standards, Certification, Maturity, etc.: Useful or Divisive? Elitist Envy or Intellectual Inevitability?" I really enjoyed to the mock court room examination of the proposed expert witness on the subject of genealogy. The hypothetical testimony points out several serious questions; Can a genealogist (or anyone) become an "expert" merely by doing what many genealogists do all the time? Is there a need for formal education in the area of genealogical investigation to qualify someone for the "profession?" Is there genealogy a profession at all? Does that fact that there are two self-appointed accrediting organizations make their members better qualified merely by reason of their membership? What is the difference (or is there a difference?) between the two genealogical accreditation organizations and something like the lawyers' state bar associations? Is there a need to protect the unwary genealogical services consumer? Does the fact that a researcher belongs to the Association of Professional Genealogists or any other organization protect the consumer of their services? Does the fact that a genealogist is either accredited or certified make any difference in the level of their "professional ability?" Is that difference any greater than belonging to or being certified by something like the National Dog Groomers Association? (I am not denigrating the National Dog Groomers Association, I am merely pointing out that many different types of employment have registration and certification organizations. See Workshop and Certification Guidelines of the National Dog Groomers Association of American, Inc.). It is not necessary to belong to the national organization to be a dog groomer, any more than it is necessary to belong to either of the national genealogical accreditation organizations.

It is interesting that even though attorneys are only allowed to practice law in the courts of the State of Arizona while being active members of the Arizona State Bar Association, there is still a need for even more "certification." The Arizona State Bar Association has certified specialists in specific areas who have to have more training and pass additional qualifications. However, no one is prevented from practicing in the specialized areas merely because they are not additionally certified, but they are prevented from advertising that they are a "specialist" unless they are actually so designated. It appears that in any group or specialty, there will be those who automatically create an "in group" requiring some sort of "qualification." be it fraternity, sorority, club or service organization.

As long as people are impressed by letters after your name, there will be more ways to get letters.

This post was written by James L. Tanner, B.A. M.A. J.D.

Friday, December 18, 2009

FamilySearch Community Trees -- a truly amazing innovation

Very recently FamilySearch on its FamilySearch Labs Website introduced a new concept to genealogical research and online databases, truly amazing Community Trees. This collection contains more than mere lists of individuals, it is the genealogy of entire communities. It is also far more than a lineage linked database. It is also free and available to anyone, whether or not they are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As explained on the Community Trees information page:
Community Trees are lineage-linked genealogies from specific time periods and geographic localities around the world. The information also includes the supporting sources. Most of the genealogies are joint projects between FamilySearch and others who live locally or have expertise in the area or records used to create the genealogies. Each Community Tree is a searchable database with views of individuals, families, ancestors and descendants, as well as printing options.

The scope of partner projects may be a small, grass roots village or township working together to form a family tree of all the known residents of its community for a given time period. Some are genealogical and historical societies working with FamilySearch to index several sources of data to link them to common, lineage-linked genealogies of a targeted geographic area of interest.

The scope could also be focused on a particular record set and locality. The goal may be to identify and reconstitute all families of a particular place from a village, county, or even a country. Many of the current projects were produced by FamilySearch's Family Reconstitution team and date back to the medieval times. One even has the audio of the oral genealogies attached.

This program is up and running on the FamilySearch Labs Website for places as diverse as Canada, the British Isles, Europe, Iceland, Norway the Pacific Islands and Peru. There are also several areas in the United States. As an example, try doing a Surname search from the Surname list, there are tens of thousands of individuals just in the top 30 surnames. By clicking on a name, you can search a list of individuals. Clicking on the individuals takes you to the family information with fully developed family group records. By clicking on a magnifying glass next to a geographic location, you get a list of all of the people in the database in that locality.

This is better than a census list, better than an index of any records, better than anything you have seen before. In my opinion, this is the biggest genealogical news in many years, even more impressive than New FamilySearch especially for research. The site contains photos, histories, sources, reports, cemeteries, headstones, statistics and surnames.

Here are the number of records from the top 10 largest localities in Community Trees:

1.England (55011)
2.Iceland (15616)
3.Wales (9521)
4.Scotland (8076)
5.France (6678)
6.Ireland (6376)
7.Norway (2670)
8.Prussia (2467)
9.Canada (1949)
10.Netherlands (1615)

This site is way cool.

What's another billion records or so?

There seems to be no end to the Websites claiming to have millions, if not billions of records online. In case you were wondering, here is another site with a huge collection of online records. The site is called . It is a company whose only location is shown in Nebraska. They have a newer Website with a significant number of records, as of 18 November 2009, they claim 1,035,043,627 records with the number changing as you watch. At the time of this writing they have 75 data collections, including some state specific records.

In searching the records, it seems that the results are not too focused. I looked for a birth record, which according to the list of resources should have been in the database, of a relative born in Utah and all of the names returned were for other states. There also doesn't seem to be a way to search a specific collection of records but you can search by category.

You have to give a credit card number to get the seven day free trial, but your card will automatically be billed for $39.95 every 12 months unless you cancel your subscription. I was given a free trial for writing an article for their Expert Series, but I have not used the service very much.

This is obviously a site to watch to see if they have the category of records you are interested in.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Even more on standardization of place names

The starting point for the use of place names in a family history or genealogical context is the rule that the place is the location at the time the event happened, especially if the place name was different at the time of the event. If there is a need for further explanation, the modern or current place name should be in a note. The reason for this rule is simple, any other notation obscures the historical reality and makes further investigation more difficult.

From the perspective of genealogy, geographic locations have several components;
A. The actual physical location on the earth which can be expressed through latitude and longitude coordinates.
B. The name of the location which can change over time, depending on historical circumstances.
C. The location of the place within any applicable political subdivision.
D. The repository of the political, social or religious records about the location.

So for an example, using an Arizona example, my relative may have been born in a small town located along the Little Colorado River. The coordinates happen to be 34°57′21″N 110°20′02″W
However, depending on the date of the event, let's say his birth, that place might have been called Allen's Camp, St. Joseph or Joseph City. You could make an argument that recording the birth place name as "Joseph City," which was not the name until 1923, is still accurate. However, using the current place name indiscriminately obscures not just the location, but a lot of the history. During that same time period, from 1876 to 1923, that same geographic location was located in three different counties, Yavapai, then Apache, then Navajo. Also during the same time period Arizona passed from being a territory, to becoming a state. All of this history is thrown out the window by ignoring history and geography and using a standard place name. Saying that my ancestor was born in Joseph City, Navajo, Arizona, United States to satisfy some subjective search criteria for a database is simply a bad practice.

The drive for standardized place names, regardless of the historical reality, is driven by those who put computer efficiency above historicity.

One reader asked questions about the practical problems of using a standardized place name. First, before answering the questions, it is important to note that several of the popular commercially available genealogical database programs have standard place name features. If you were not aware of the reasons behind using the place at the date of the event, you could get the idea that you should always opt for some kind of standard place. When a hugely influential program, like New FamilySearch, or any of the other popular programs promote a standardized scheme for naming places and ignoring history, that is a problem. This problem becomes a challenge for those who are sincerely concerned about historical accuracy and the preservation of some kind of historical consistency.

Fortunately, it is usually possible to establish the historical reality through research. I can find out when each of the county changes occurred and incorporate that information into my own records. Why do I care? I have said this before, but many brick walls or dead ends in history come from looking in the wrong place. If the place of your ancestor's birth was in Russia at the time, you may have to look for records in Russian repositories and all the searches in the world in Germany or Poland may never reveal the records.

As to counties in the U.S., there are books, computer programs and online sources for establishing the county at the time of the event. This is not even difficult.

I am sure I will have more to say about this subject.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

New Records from Argentina, Guatemala, Georgia and Germany

FamilySearch's Record Search has added another round of new records. December 14, 2009 shows records from Argentina, Guatemala, Georgia (USA) and Germany. Here are brief descriptions of the new records:

Georgia Deaths from 1914 to 1930. Name Index and images of Georgia statewide deaths. Original records are arranged chronologically by year and then by certificate numbers. Read more Wiki.

Guatemala, Guatemala, Ciudad de Guatemala, Censo de 1877. The 1877 census of the city of Guatemala, Guatemala, Guatemala. Read more Wiki.

Argentina National Census, 1869. Images of population schedules listing inhabitants of Argentina in 1869. This was the first national census conducted in Argentina. Read more Wiki.

Germany, Brandenburg, Church Book Duplicates from 1794 to 1874. Images of births, marriages, and deaths from state copies of some parish registers for the province of Brandenburg, Germany. Original records are located in the Brandenburgisches Landeshauptarhiv in Potsdam ( Zum Windm├╝hlenberg, 14469 Potsdam, OT Bornim, Germany.

Germany, Posen, Church Book Duplicates from 1794 to 1874. Index and images of births, marriages, and deaths from state copies of some parish registers for the province of Posen, Germany that was made part of Brandenburg in 1938 and then given to Poland after World War II. Original records are located in the Brandenburgisches Landeshauptarhiv in Potsdam (, Zum Windm├╝hlenberg, 14469 Potsdam, OT Bornim, Germany.

Watch out for typographical errors. The titles and descriptions have quite a few problems. It looks like FamilySearch needs a few spell checkers on their computers.

Revisiting Stadardized Place Names

The latest revisions to New FamilySearch contain some disturbing developments. In the release notes for the New FamilySearch Web Site of December 2009, it states: "In addition to the other information that is required for temple ordinances to be performed, an individual’s record must now have at least the country for birth, christening, marriage, death, or burial. The place-name must be standardized." There are actually two problems with this requirement; first, place names change over time and therefore cannot be "standardized" to that extent, and second, the requirement for a place is illusory.

Here is an example of the problem with standardized place names; country and other jurisdictional boundaries change over time. A good example is the entire area of Eastern Europe, especially those portions of Europe which have changed political boundaries several times, such as those from Germany to Poland to Russia to Germany and back to Poland. Many locations have three or more "names" depending on the time period involved. Which is the standardized name? If my ancestor was born in Germany, which later became Poland, do I use a German standardized name or the Polish one?

Closer to home, I have previously discussed the problem in my own state of Arizona. My Great-grandfather originally lived in St. Joseph, Yavapai, Arizona. This same location later became Joseph City, Navajo, Arizona after spending some time in Apache County also. Current genealogical usage would have the location at the time of the event be the correct location. However, apparently, under the new rule from New FamilySearch, the only location that would be acceptable would be the "standard," that is, Joseph City, Navajo, Arizona, United States, the current name.

After searching the help menu, it appears that the New FamilySearch program will allow an alternative but as one Help Document states: "The new FamilySearch needs dates and places in a consistent format so that it can correctly display and search for information" (See faqs-standardization-132faq0169ahtm). If the "correct" date or place is not listed in the standardized format, then the Help Center states: "When dates and place-names are standardized, they are very useful when records are searched. A nonstandardized place-name will not rank very heavily in a search. The standardized place-names give the current name of a place, which may have changed over time." In other words, don't bother us with the facts, they are too messy for our computer.

In my experience, many "brick wall" situations are caused by failing to search in the "correct" location. For example, Aunt Matilda said she was born in Barnwell County, but we have searched those county records and do not find her or her family. Perhaps, the solution is as simple as looking back and finding out that Barnwell County did not exist at the time Aunt Matilda was born and all of the records are in neighboring Sweetwater County. (Names made up, by the way). Under the new standardized place name rule, do I list Aunt Matilda as born in Barnwell County, the present political designation of the geographic location, even though the county did not exist at the time of her birth, merely to satisfy the search ranking?

The New FamilySearch standardization rule explains:

When you are adding, editing, or searching for a date or place-name, and the text you entered does not appear in the standardized drop-down list, do one of the following:

  • To keep the standardized date or place, click the correct option in the drop-down list.
  • To keep the text you entered and the standardized date or place, click the item on the drop-down list that shows the text you entered in a smaller, lighter text above the standardized text. You may have to scroll down to find the correct choice.
  • To keep only the text that you entered, with the cursor at the end of your text, press the Esc key.
Unfortunately, there is not one word of explanation as to why keeping the non-standardized place name may be important, only why it is important to standardize. Do I have to drag out my maps and try and figure out the most current name for the place each of my ancestors were born? Of course, I can just let the standardized place name database take over and chose whichever name I like for the now meaningless actual location where my ancestors were born.

In looking at the way the program works for qualifying individuals for Temple ordinance work, the issue of place names becomes even more problematic. Under the present standard, the following individual would qualify for ordinance work:

Mary, 1865, United States

This is supposed to be a improvement over the previous standard which would have qualified the name as follows:


No place, no date. Adding a location i.e. a country, gives an illusion of certainty that does not exist. The instructions do not tell the users to go back and do some research, they are told to enter a country. In other words, make it up. Theoretically, I could do my entire pedigree by putting in first names with an approximate date and a country. I wouldn't even have to do any research at all, since I can guess at the names and the dates and the country. This whole idea would seem fantastic if it wasn't actually happening every day with so-called family history research. The new rules allow the user to make up a name if one is not known. One rule says that "For a child with an unknown name or a child who died without receiving a name, enter only the father’s last name into the name field. Do not enter a first name. Do not enter Miss, Mr., son, or daughter." This assumes, incorrectly, that the child will always have the surname of its father. In Scandinavian countries, for example, this may not be correct. So now I can do ordinance work for "Fred, 1500, United States." At this rate, I will shortly have all of my lines back to Adam!

Fortunately, the New FamilySearch program is still being developed. Hopefully, these issues with place names will be resolved in a way that will allow the correct historical information to be preserved and preferred rather than arbitrarily assigning places to events that may obscure the actual history and before the illusion of doing family history replaces the actual practice.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Update on Family History Expo in Mesa, Arizona

January 22nd and 23rd will find me at the Family History Expo at the Mesa Convention Center. I mentioned previously that I have been asked to attend as a Blogger of Honor. I don't mind giving free publicity to the Family History Expo because I thought the one last year was very well done. I put the Blogger of Honor button and the Family History Expo button on my site and you can find them off to the right. Feel free to copy the Family History Expo button with its link for your own site. As soon as I come up with an idea, I will be having a contest to give away two free tickets to the Expo (courtesy of the Family History Expo, I must add). I will also get a free dinner on Friday night so I can meet and talk with those attending the Expo. Let me know if you have a good idea for a contest.

Insight into Family History Centers

It is commonly reported that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) has more than 3,500 Family History Centers around the world. What does this actually mean to those interested in genealogical research? First of all, the main repository for genealogical information collected by the Church is located at the Family History Library and other storage facilities in and around Salt Lake City, Utah. The local Family History Centers are branch facilities of the Family History Library. Most of the Centers are located in LDS meeting houses around the world. Everyone is welcome to visit the centers and use their resources.

It is important to realize that some of these Centers are small rooms with one or two computers. Others are more elaborate, depending on local resources and local volunteers. The Centers are almost entirely maintained and staffed by volunteers and there is a wide variation in the volunteer's experience and background. On the other hand, some of the Centers are major research facilities in their own right. For example, the Mesa, Arizona Regional Family History Center is located in downtown Mesa, Arizona. (Mesa is part of the Phoenix/Mesa Metroplex which is the fifth largest city in the U.S.). The Center is housed in a two story building and has a huge collection of books, microfilm, and other resources. It has a volunteer staff of around 100 or more and has a full schedule of classes. Other Centers in Mesa area are much more limited both in their scope and staffing.

Most of the regularly operating Family History Centers have facilities for ordering microfilm copies of records from the vast collection in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. There is a charge, current $5.50 per film, for ordering film copies but the service works very well. If the Center is able to order microfilm, likely they have a microfilm viewer available for use also. You can see the Family History Library catalog online for free.

It is very important to check with the FamilySearch Website and search for a Family Center close to your location. You may also wish to contact the Center concerning current hours and resources before traveling to the Center's location. A search in Maricopa County, Arizona shows 16 Family History Centers. There are actually more than are listed but if a Center is not listed, it is likely that there are no regular operating hours.

I have talked to genealogists in the Phoenix area, who spend a considerable amount of time looking for their ancestors who have never visited the Mesa Regional Family History Center and were not even aware of its Website. Likewise, there are other libraries and resources available both locally and nationally with valuable genealogical information. There just might be a repository near you that you have overlooked or never visited. Try an in depth search online and see what you can find.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Major changes to New FamilySearch

After two consecutive Beta test runs, FamilySearch has introduced some more major changes to the New FamilySearch program. Anyone, even if you cannot register yet for New FamilySearch, can see the changes. Just click on the News and Updates link from the home screen.

Chief among the many changes is the introduction of the Family Tree interface, long available on the Website. By clicking a Change View button from the familiar Family Pedigree (3 generation) view of the user's family. The main advantage of the the new Family Tree view is the graphic representation of any number of generations in a pedigree-like interface. This view enables the user to navigate quickly through many generations rather than clicking up through the generations three at a time.

Also added to the selection is a List View, which will show a list of all of the individuals showing in the Family Tree view. The Family Tree view also enables you to graphically view all of the descendants of a particular ancestor. Some of the older views available have been eliminated including the Family Pedigree and Family Group Record views. The Family Group view is now limited to viewing and printing, no information can be added to a Family Group view record.

I heartily applaud FamilySearch for implementing many new changes to the Temple Qualifications Rules. As stated by the new rules:
In addition to the other information that is required for temple ordinances to be performed, an individual’s record must now have at least the country for birth, christening, marriage, death, or burial. The place-name must be standardized.

Names with slashes (/), parentheses, or double quote marks (") in the Name field no longer qualify. These characters are commonly used to enter an individual’s nickname, alternate spellings, and similar issues.
One additional change now displays a lock on the Temple Ordinance status instead of the familiar green arrow when all of the ordinances for all family members are reserved or in progress.

Sort-of hidden down in the explanation for a new icon in the Temple Ordinance List is a really innovative solution to a common problem. One reason that an individual will no longer qualify for Temple work is that someone selected a different name, gender, or event on the summary. That version of the name, gender, or event does not allow ordinances to be done. Also, there is a provision that if someone combines a record where the ordinances have already been done, the name will disappear from your Temple Ordinance List.

I am not yet sure what some of these changes actually mean in the real world of day to day usage, but the changes certainly make life in the New FamilySearch world interesting.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Speaking of Australian Records...

I have a continuing interest in Australian genealogy records, although I admit I haven't done as much as needs to be done, because part of my family immigrated from England to Australia and then a smaller part came to the U.S. The National Archives of Australia has a very impressive Website with tens of thousands of digitized records, the Mapping our Anzacs Website. The scanned image above comes from an online collection of hundreds of thousands of military records maintained by the National Archives.

The National Archives of Australia has a RecordSearch function that describes over 7.5 million records created by 9000 Australian Government agencies, mostly since 1901. They continuously add new descriptions and digital images and currently, there are over 18.2 million digital images available for viewing. Physically doing research at the National Archives requires registration as a researcher, but viewing the records online can be accomplished as a guest. A search for one of my family surnames, Parkinson, returned 1203 items. Obviously, I need to refine my search criteria a little, but the amount of information is impressive.

In some cases, actually getting to the digital image is a little tricky, the Anzac records are a notable exception, and in most cases there is a fee for viewing the files. Presently, the fee for overseas viewing is $15 (Australian) for less than 100 pages in a file.

If you have family or connections to Australia, the National Archives Website is certainly one place to start your research.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Australian, Mexican and Argentine Records added to Record Search

December 8, 2009 brings significant additions to FamilySearch's Record Search collection of world wide genealogy source material. In addition to Australian, Mexican and Argentine records, there were additions to the U.S. States of Arkansas and Indiana. The references here to the "Wiki" are to the Family Search Research Wiki reference for that collection. The following collections were added:

Index to bounty immigrants arriving in N.S.W. Australia from 1828 to 1842. The index covers the following series: Persons on early migrant ships, 1828-1832 (4/4823); Persons on early migrant ships, May 1832 - Jan 1833 (4/4824); Entitlement certificates of persons on bounty ships, 1832-1842 (4/4825-4891). Index prepared by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Quoting from the Research Wiki:
This collection indexes about 60,000 records of immigrants arriving in Sydney. Beginning in 1828, the Australian Government organized a program to encourage people to migrate to Australia, particularly to the State of New South Wales, which had been founded in 1788. “Assisted Immigrants” were immigrants whose passage was paid for or partially paid for by the Government as an incentive to settle in New South Wales. Another program which ran from 1835 to 1841 was the bounty reward system. “Bounty immigrants” were selected by colonists and who paid for their passage. When the immigrant arrived the colonist would employ them and the colonist would then be reimbursed by the government for all or part of the cost of passage. The first immigrants to apply for this assisted immigration were the people from Ireland, England, Wales, and Scotland. Later, people from other European countries began immigrating to Australia.
Mexico Marriages 1700 to 1900. This project represents all Legacy extraction data available from the VR and EASy databases as of June, 2008. Please note that this data has been submitted by volunteers over the past thirty years. The data in this project does not necessarily represent a complete series of regions, parishes, or rolls. Quoting from the Wiki:
For over 30 years, volunteer indexers extracted this information from microfilm copies of the original records. In 1999, some of the entries were published on 4 CDs by the Family History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the "Middle America Vital Records Index: Mexico." This index is an index of the births or christenings; marriages; and deaths or burials throughout Mexico. The index is not necessarily complete for any particular place or region.
Argentina, Buenos Aires City Census for 1855. Images of population schedules listing inhabitants of Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1855. This census covers the Federal District only, however, this is where the majority of the population lived during this time period. The 1855 Census of the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, covers about 92,000 inhabitants. Wiki

Arkansas County Marriages from 1837 to 1957.
74% complete. Index and images of marriages recorded in counties of Arkansas. Index and images are currently available for all counties except: Arkansas, Benton, Clark, Crawford, Cross, Franklin, Hempstead, Howard, Lafayette, Little River, Lonoke, Miller, Phillips, Polk, Randolph, Scott, Sebastian, Sevier, Sharp, Washington, White, Woodruff. There may be related records included with marriage records. This project was indexed in partnership with the Arkansas Genealogical Society. Wiki

Indiana Marriages from 1811 to 1959. 12% complete. Indexed in partnership with the Indiana Genealogical Society. Name index of marriages recorded in the Indiana Territory and in the State of Indiana between 1811 and 1959. This collection includes marriage returns and licenses for the following counties: Adams, Blackford, Carroll, Decatur, Franklin, Henry, Huntington, Ohio, Owen, Rush, and Sullivan. Microfilm copies of original records are available at the Family History Library and at family history centers. Wiki.

Monday, December 7, 2009

What use are Megapixels to a genealogist?

There is no doubt that using a digital camera is a boon to all researchers and particularly to those doing genealogical research. A survey in 2006 of professional photographers showed that over 80 percent were using digital cameras as opposed to film. That trend has undoubtedly continued. Genealogists benefit from this transition to digital cameras because you can use your camera to record information directly from books, microfilm and onsite visits, such as those to cemeteries. In years past, the biggest obstacle to taking photographs was the expense of purchasing film and the time it took for development. In today's world digital cameras are everywhere, including embedded in cell phones and other devices.

This holiday season it is likely that you are considering the purchase of a digital camera. In looking at the ads online and elsewhere, you will almost always see the number of "Megapixels" prominently displayed. The average inexpensive camera today comes with 10 or more Megapixels. But what does that mean? And is more always better?

It turns out that the answer is fairly technical. The simple answer is that the higher the Megapixel count, the more detail the camera can capture. But the real issue with the resolution of detail is not so much the absolute pixel count, but the quality of the other components, including the size of the sensor, the color depth of the sensor and your own camera skills are much more important. This emphasis on the Megapixel count is now referred to as "The Megapixel Myth." The gist of the discussion on Megapixels is that more is not always better and that higer resolution does not always translate into higher quality output.

To start to put things into perspective, an average laser printer will print at about 600 dpi (now ppi) that is dots per inch or pixels per inch. An HDTV has a screen resolution of about 100 ppi. Now, how do print or display ppi relate to the number of pixels on the camera sensor? Have a look at this article, entitled Megapixels v. Print Size. Now you ask yourself, What Camera Resolution Do I Need? From this article you will learn that the major factors that will play a significant role in the how your photos look are:
  • Proper lighting
  • Lens quality
  • Steadiness of camera
  • Auto-focus on the proper subject
  • Proper shutter speed for moving or stationary subject
  • Clean equipment
You won't see the number of Megapixels listed as a factor. There are reasons for buying an expensive camera, but most of the reasons have to do with professional or semi-professional photographers, not genealogists. If you don't know which camera to buy, think about how much you want to spend and then go to a Website like for reviews and ratings.