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

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What is copyright fair use?

If I am quoting a book or online posting, how much of the book or article can I use without being liable for copyright violation?

For an introduction, before 1989 a published work had to contain a valid copyright notice in order to claim the protection of the copyright law. Since 1989 all works, whether or not the contain a notice are copyrighted automatically.

In reading genealogy blogs, I find that some bloggers tend to incorporate whole articles into their blogs. Some copyrighted material can be incorporated (quoted verbatim) without violating the copyright law. This limited incorporation is called Fair Use. Generally, fair use is copying of copyrighted material for a limited and/or transforming purpose. There have been hundreds and perhaps thousands of lawsuits filed over the issue of fair use, however, there is no dispute that incorporation of substantially all of a copyrighted work violates the copyright law.

Generally, copying a few selected paragraphs or illustrations for review or comment is allowed. In every case attribution (a citation to the source) should be included. Incorporating an entire poem, a copyrighted photograph or other copy of an entire work is an obvious copyright violation. Just because you have never had trouble in the past, does not mean that you will escape liability in the future. If you are challenged, the only way the dispute can be resolved in in the courts and the Federal Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over copyright cases.

As a note, works produced by or through the U.S. Government are not normally subject to copyright.

There are four limitations on the implementation of the Fair Use defense to a copyright claim. These four factors are set forth in the U.S. Code, Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 107:
Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—
(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.
Another note, I can copy the statute in its entirety because it is not subject to copyright as a government document.

Think before you use someone else's work.

Always more new records in Record Search Pilot

A new image collection, Mexico, Chihuahua, Catholic Church Records from 1622 to 1958 has just been added to the FamilySearch Record Search Pilot. Although not indexed, the availability of these images adds a new dimension to online research in Mexico. The huge online subscription services focus their collections on the U.S. and Great Britain, and to some extent in Europe. But up until now, with the introduction of these records, the only way to do research in Latin America was through microfilms.

The images can only be a good as the originals and some of the records are in really bad condition, especially those that have been mistreated and not preserved properly, but having the images is an extraordinary opportunity. In the southwest of the U.S., many of the immigrants come from Chihuahua, because of its proximity to the U.S., being the state just south of New Mexico and Texas.

If you want to see some of the beautiful handwriting in the world, you should check out some of these records.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Some copyright basics for genealogists

A reader asked, "Is it against the law to publish a book containing pictures of the tombstones and information for a minimal profit?" First of all, as an attorney, I cannot give legal advice about a specific legal question in this format. Secondly, as an attorney, the question itself raises even more questions. My answer will be general in nature and should not be considered as legal advice concerning any particular instance.

The phrase "is it against the law" is the first issue. We have a First Amendment to our Constitution in the United States and there are no laws against publishing books. I think what the person is asking is whether or not a person would incur any liability for using pictures of tombstones (I prefer the term gravemarkers) along with a transcription of the inscriptions on the gravemarkers. The answer to this question is, assuming the person publishing the book or whatever, took the pictures or had the permission of the person who took the pictures, there would not be any liability. It doesn't matter if the book were published for profit or not. However, in another sense, it is illegal to violate the copyright laws of the United States and there can be both civil and criminal consequences. If I found a picture of a gravemarker on the Internet and simply used that picture, without permission of the owner, I would be violating the copyright laws and my use would be illegal. If I went to a cemetery and took pictures and then compiled them into a publication, either a book or online, I would own the copyright to the pictures. I could stop someone from using my pictures, but not from going to the same cemetery and taking their own pictures. See my last post on my opinion as to whether or not the gravemarkers themselves are copyrighted.

It would be a good idea for anyone interested in publishing either physically or electronically, to have a general idea about copyright. Please read the basic introduction on the Library of Congress, United States Copyright Office Website. Copyright Basics is a twelve page document in pdf format which can be read online or printed.

If you read the document, you will see that the gravemarkers are not copyrighted. However, any photograph of the gravemarker would be automatically copyrighted under our current law. You can also see that the inscription on the gravemarker could be copyrighted and in some instances, the design of the gravemarker could also be copyrighted. Currently under U.S. law a copyright attaches automatically at the time the work is created or fixed in a copy. There is no longer a need to register the copyright or even mark the material with the copyright symbol. But both are certainly good ideas. Registration is also necessary before an infringement suit may be filed in the courts.

Since genealogists deal with old documents, we are often interested in how long the copyright can last. This is now a very difficult question to answer and it is probably a good idea not to count on works being in the public domain without competent legal advice.

Again, please refer to the Copyright Basics circular from the Library of Congress, United States Copyright Office.

No Copyright for Gravemarkers

I had several inquiries recently about whether copyright law applied to gravemarkers. As a result, since I have been an attorney for more than thirty years and done considerable work in the area of intellectual property, I researched the issue online in Westlaw.

My research showed that the issue of the ownership or copyright of information on gravemarkers has likely never gone to court in either the state or Federal court systems of the entire United States. Given the absolutely ridiculous things people go to court with, this is somewhat surprising. First of all, most of the information in the cemetery pertains to dead people, some long dead, and secondly, putting information on a gravemarker publishes the information to the world with no expectation of privacy.

I assume that a design of a gravemarker or a drawing on a gravemarker might be protected by copyright, but apparently the issue has never come up. With the increase in cremations, gravemarkers may become less used in the future, especially if people start to believe that their privacy is invaded by having a gravemarker for their relatives.

Coincidentally, the same issue came up recently in a news story in the Lexington, Kentucky Herald-Leader. Some of the blogs commented on the story. Apparently, in the Old Union Christian Church Cemetery on Russell Cave Road, genealogist David Shannon found gravemarkers for several relatives, including his great-grandparents Julia and Lloyd Harp. The Church tried to prevent him from publishing the information to an independent research Web site,, where he's posted the information on the 475 documented burials collected and a photograph of each visible stone.

To quote the news article:
In February, the church's governing board sent Shannon a letter telling him "to cease publishing pictures of stones ... not part of your family because it is sharing family information without their consent."

Old Union's minister, the Rev. Scott Winkler, said the church's position is that Shannon's actions are an invasion of privacy. "If you're going to publish other people's private information you need to get their permission," he said. "Any cemetery has to protect rights of people buried there."

The article reports that the church sells a $10 book with all the tombstone information in it, but no pictures, compiled for an Eagle Scout project several years ago with the help of the church historian.

In both cases, in my opinion, there is no copyright issue at all. Since birth and death information is almost always public records information, the relatives of a deceased person have no ownership rights in the information on the gravemarker. Also, there is no issue of invasion of privacy, you cannot "invade the privacy" of a dead person.

I hope incidents like this one reported in Kentucky don't start a trend of people claiming ownership rights to the information contained on gravemarkers.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

JPEG or TIFF -- which is best for archiving images?

Without a doubt, the most common image format used by digital cameras and other image capture devices is called "JPEG." The name "JPEG" stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group, the name of the committee that created the standard. The group was organized in 1986, issuing a standard in 1992, which was approved in 1994 as ISO 10918-1. JPEG is distinct from MPEG (Moving Picture Experts Group), which produces compression schemes for video. An older and also popular format is called TIFF. Originally created by the company Aldus for use with what was then called "desktop publishing", the TIFF format is widely supported by image-manipulation applications, by publishing and page layout applications, by scanning, faxing, word processing, optical character recognition and other applications.[2] Adobe Systems, which acquired Aldus, now holds the copyright to the TIFF specification. TIFF has not had a major update since 1992. Wikipedia.

To compare the two formats and decide which is the best for preserving digital images, if either, one of the best resources is the Still Image Working Group. This group is involved in a cooperative effort to develop common digitization guidelines for still image materials (such as textual content, maps, photographic prints and negatives). The expectation is that this work will enhance the exchange of research results and developments, encourage collaborative digitization practices and projects among federal agencies and institutions and provide the public with a product of uniform quality. It will also serve to set uniform quality and establish a common set of benchmarks for digitization service providers and manufacturers.

The current status of the standards is available in draft form listing links to the organizations that develop and maintain digital imaging standards. A complete summary of the formats is available from the Library of Congress in the site Sustainability of Digital Formats, Planning for Library of Congress Collections.

The not so simple answer to the title question of this post is contained in a chart in the Sustainability of Digital Formats site. The clear preference is for TIFF images, but JPEG images are still acceptable. Note that RAW images are designated as less acceptable.

Friday, March 27, 2009

National Digital Newspaper Program

The Library of Congress in partnership with the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP) will create a national, digital resource of historically significant newspapers from all the states and U.S. territories published between 1836 and 1922. As quoted from their Website:
This searchable database will be permanently maintained at the Library of Congress (LC) and be freely accessible via the Internet. An accompanying national newspaper directory of bibliographic and holdings information on the website will direct users to newspaper titles available in all types of formats. LC will also digitize and contribute to the NDNP database a significant number of newspaper pages drawn from its own collections during the course of this partnership between NEH and the Library. The two agency partners launched a prototype of this digital resource, "Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers," in March 2007.
Presently files are available only from California, District of Columbia, Florida, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Texas, Utah, and Virginia.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

New collection on Record Search Pilot

A new collection of Arkansas County Marriages from 1837 to 1957 has just been added to the FamilySearch Record Search Pilot. There are four counties complete including images of the indexed records.

It has been over a month since the previous records were added, but in the meantime, repairs were made to various collections.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Final Version of RootsMagic 4 released

RootsMagic announced the final release of Version 4. In its product overview they state:

RootsMagic 4 has been completely rewritten to be easier and more powerful than ever. Compare our features with any other genealogy software, or better yet, download our free trial and take it for a spin. While every part of RootsMagic 4 is new, we have highlighted those features that are "especially" new and have linked them to our blog where we described them in more detail. If you don’t feel like clicking on all those links, there is, of course,the PDF book/span> compiled by one of our faithful users which has all of those articles in one convenient place.

The new version has an impressive feature list and should be a serious consideration, especially for those upgrading from their old Personal Ancestral File program.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Identity Theft -- Should a genealogist be concerned Part Two

As genealogists or family historians, we are concerned first with the identification of people. In a real sense, we deal with dates and places. Part of the process is sharing information with others interested in the same individuals. The larger online databases contain personal information on literally millions of deceased individuals, including birth and death information and much more. Is this online information a threat to the "identity" of living individuals?

In my last post, I reviewed the ambiguous statistics concerning "identity theft." The classic example of identity theft is depicted in TV advertisements. Some unsuspecting person ends up with a bill for buying a motor home or going on a trip to an exotic location. In reality, many, many different types of theft and fraud are included in the usually overblown statistics dealing with identity theft. It is interesting to note that the people who have the highest estimates of the number of victims are people selling some kind of preventive program.

This is not to say that identity theft does not occur, there are just a whole lot more types of crime that are more prevalent, like car theft for instance.

The real question is whether or not this online information could be used to "steal the identity" of a living person? The answer to this question is a qualified maybe, but the degree of expertise needed to develop enough information to actually harm someone is huge compared to the illegal benefit. If you study the statistics from my last post, you will see that only a very small percentage of the so-called "identity theft" complaints originate from the Internet or from E-mail. If you have experience researching family connections, you know that even when you have first hand knowledge about a family, finding the person you are searching for can be very difficult. Building an illegal identity could probably be done but it would not be easy.

This degree of difficulty is a real factor. Take credit card theft for example. Recent reports indicate that the market value of a "good" credit card number is only about $5 or so because the credit card companies and the card owners generally shut down the invalid use of the stolen number almost immediately.

One unfortunate fact is that many banks and other financial activities rely on the worn out "mother's maiden name" for identification. This is not a genealogical issue, but merely a need to change the basis for establishing identification.

Genealogist and family historians are not in any greater risk of identity theft than the general population. A review of the most common methods used by thieves to take identity information does not include any category unique to genealogists. As in all computer use there are some simple things you can do to reduce the risk even further, such as using longer passwords more consistently. But just because the risk is low, does not mean we do not need to be vigilant about our personal security.

Identity Theft -- Should a Genealogist be Concerned? Part One

As a genealogist and family historian, I regularly deal with detailed information about all kinds of people, both living and dead. Because this information is often shared with others in my family, should I be concerned about identity theft? The answer is not simple.

Criminal identity theft is when personal information is used to fraudulently obtain credit, take out a loan, open accounts, obtain identification or licenses or otherwise pretend to be someone else. Because all of these problems, from theft of a credit card to actually assuming someone's identity are lumped under the category of identity theft, statistics on the prevalence of the crime are almost impossible to decipher.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission compiles statistics and provides free information on how to avoid becoming a victim. Their Website, Fighting Back Against Identity Theft, is a starting point for information on the subject. You may also want to look at the Identity Theft Assistance Center.

In order to get a better picture of the dangers, it is necessary to have some idea of the number of cases. One challenge is finding current statistics. Most of the lists and numbers I found on line dated from 5 or more years ago. The latest statistics, I found, were for 2006. As an example, looking at my state, Arizona, the 2006 statistics showed Arizona number one in incidents per 100,000 of population, with 9,113 victims, which was down from the year before. It is unclear from the statistics whether or not the numbers reported by the states are based on the same criteria. For example, the FBI crime statistics for Phoenix, Arizona for 2006 show 44,961 property crimes out of a population of 1,595,422.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety compiles crime statistics but does not have a category for "Identity Theft" at all. The closest category is that of Impersonation. An interesting note, the Arizona DPS report shows 53,787 motor vehicle thefts in Arizona in 2006, more than the FBI report of property crimes. You can see that defining the crime can significantly change the statistics. The DPS report lists no arrests for "impersonation."

The report of Arizona victims, it turns out, is the number of complaints, not the actual number of crimes. So if someone reports their credit card stolen, then it goes into the category of "identity theft." Additionally, many of the organizations reporting identity theft numbers are actually selling some kind of protection. The numbers get ridiculous, one news story reports that in 2003, 9.9 million people were victims of Identity theft and claims that 25% of the U.S. population has been a victim. (These two numbers don't match obviously). Think about it, since 2003, if the 25% rate was correct, every man woman and child in the U.S. would have been the victim of an identity theft.

I guess I fall into that category, since someone tried to charge one of my credit cards during the past year. The false charge was caught by my bank and my card was cancelled immediately and reissued.

I find people all the time that won't even register for an online service, such as FamilySearch, due to a fear of identity theft. One of the few sources of data on the real threat is a compilation of "How Victims Information is Misused" from the Federal Trade Commission. (Example is from Illinois, see National Chart). Looking at the chart, only 2.2% of all identity theft pertains to the Internet or E-mail in all locations. The total number of complaints for 2006 was 246,035, not anywhere near 25% of the entire population and only slightly more than 5000 of those complaints came from Internet activities.

Stay tuned for Part Two, analysis of the types of identity theft and a genealogist's level of concern.

FamilySearch Record Search Pilot collections back on line

FamilySearch Record Search Pilot announced 24, March 2009, that the 1920 U.S. Census with Massachusetts added, and Costa Rica Church Records 1595 to 1992 with corrected records are back on line.

Record Search Pilot contains millions of record, some with and some without images. FamilySearch gives the following explanation of the term "pilot" in the context of the records on line:
Record Search is still under development. This release is considered a
PILOT. This means that at times Record Search will not be available while we add
additional records and improve some features. We apologize for any inconvenience
this may cause. We look forward to receiving your feedback.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Thanks to Dear Myrtle

In response to my recent post about the dangers of MyHeritage, Dear Myrtle wrote:

The items you are objecting to are discussed in my blog entry located at:

You accepted the DEFAULT to have as your home page. Also quite a number of software programs take you to their website to complete an "exit" interview.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)

I certainly appreciate the comment. So after reading her post, I went back to the program since I could not remember choosing the option to "Make MyHeritage my home page (recommended)" In my now third installation of the program, the option window shown by Dear Myrtle was defaulted to "Standard Installation (recommended)" and the option shown below the "Custom installation" was grayed out and unavailable to me. However, there was nothing in the standard installation that told me that the program would change my browser's homepage to MyHeritage's home page. In the screen shot shown by Dear Myrtle on her blog, the option for Custom Installation is checked, which is not the default and in fact, there was no way to un-check the option to "Make MyHeritage my home page (recommended)" without going to the Custom Installation.

In my opinion I do not find that changing the preferences in another program, in this case FireFox, is a usual result of installing a program. Especially in this case where the option to un-check the choice was grayed out and unavailable unless I selected "Custom Installation."

Thanks for the clarification.

Now, for the issue of "free" programs. I understand that it relatively common for companies to have a "free" version of their program for promotional purposes with the expectation that the user will purchase a full featured version of the program in the future. Even companies like offer free databases for a limited time. The fact that the introductory version of the program is free does not change my opinion of the program one way or the other.

I will apologize for using the term "virus." Although "virus" is often used as a generic term, what this program does is closer to "adware" defined as any software package which automatically plays, displays, or downloads advertisements to a computer after the software is installed on it or while the application is being used. Wikipedia. To quote from the Wikipedia site on adware:
Advertising functions are integrated into or bundled with the software, which is often designed to note what Internet sites the user visits and to present advertising pertinent to the types of goods or services featured there. Adware is usually seen by the developer as a way to recover development costs, and in some cases it may allow the software to be provided to the user free of charge or at a reduced price. The income derived from presenting advertisements to the user may allow or motivate the developer to continue to develop, maintain and upgrade the software product. Conversely, the advertisements may be seen by the user as interruptions or annoyances, or as distractions from the task at hand.
Dear Myrtle is right. It could be worse.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Maintenance on FamilySearch Record Search Pilot

I noticed that three of the collections of records had disappeared from the Record Search Pilot the last two or three days and on 22 March 2009 we got the following announcement about two of the collections;
Two collections are currently off line: The 1920 US Census to add one more state (Massachusetts), and the Costa Rica Church Records 1595-1992 for correction of some records. Watch for these collections to become available again within the next two days.
The last update to these records was announced on 25 February 2009. It will be interesting to see what new records will be added in the near future.

Can I use a digital camera instead of a scanner for genealogy?

Digital cameras can cost from under $50 to over $37,000 or even more. If you are considering a general purpose camera, for family gatherings, vacations and such, you may also wish to consider whether or not the same camera might also be used to gather documents, take notes in libraries and to copy microfilm images.

In determining the utility of various digital cameras for copying documents, I have been comparing the camera images with those obtained from a flat bed scanner for the past few years. The reason for the comparison, is to determine whether the digital camera could replace my scanner as a primary method of entering documents into digital files. Or do I still need both a flat bed scanner and a camera? Cost is no longer a real factor, the best flat bed scanners cost lest than $200. See Canon ConoScan 8800F. Also, high quality (more than 10 megapixel) cameras are now also less than $200.

There are quite a few reasons for considering a digital camera. Obviously, it is a lot more convenient to carry a camera around rather than a flat bed scanner. It is also impossible to take pictures (i.e. grave markers and other subjects) with a scanner.

In determining the difference in quality, I have periodically taken three document types, a letter, a certificate and a photograph, as the the basis for the comparison. During the past few years, in addition to the cameras I have owned, I have borrowed higher resolution (more megapixels) cameras to test whether or not I could accept the quality of the photographs from the digital cameras. I would scan the documents and then take photos with with camera. I would then compare the digital files, magnifying the images on the computer screen to show the details.

Digital cameras did not begin to have nearly the same quality as scanners until the digital cameras exceeded 6 megapixels. At 10 megapixels, in my opinion, a digital camera gives essentially the same quality of resolution of a printed document, except a photograph, as one scanned on a flat bed scanner. However, photographs are a different issue. A digital photograph of a film photograph, even at 10+ megapixels does not compare favorably with a flat bed scan of the same photo.

So, if you are primarily using your scanner for photos, for the time being, you may still need to keep it. But, if you are making photocopies of printed documents or scanning them into the computer with a scanner, using a digital camera with over 10 megapixel resolution, is a much quicker and more convenient alternative. For example, my Canon single lens reflex camera came with software allowing me to control the camera using a USB cable, and take pictures, from the computer.

Afterthought, even if using a digital camera is more convenient and saves copy costs at the repositories, you must make sure the library or repository allows you to take pictures of the books and microfilms.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

New Seeking Michigan Website

The State of Michigan has created a valuable genealogical tool with its new Website, Seeking Michigan, joining other states like Arizona and Utah, through the Library of Michigan, it has made copies of its death certificates for the years 1897 through 1920 freely available on the Web.

The availability of this new resource has been featured in a number of blogs. To quote the site, "Currently, there are about 250,000 of the approximately 1,000,000 certificates on this site, or about 25 percent of the total collection. We’ll be adding additional records regularly in the next few weeks, so check back often."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Capture microfilm images with your digital camera

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It is almost inevitable if you are doing serious family history research that you will have to use a microfilm reader. For many years, if you wanted a copy from the reader, you had to take out the film and go to a dedicated microfilm printer. The copies have been expensive, and in the case of the Family History Library, you often have to wait for a machine to become available or schedule one for use.

If you look at the photo above, you can see an entirely different option. You can use your digital camera to take photograph of the projected microfilm image. The results are comparable to the quality of some of the prints you get from the dedicated machine. Of course the advantage is that there is no wait to use the printer and no cost for the prints. The convenience far out weighs any limitations in the absolute quality, in my opinion.

To take the pictures, the camera should be on a tripod or at least braced against the frame of the microfilm reader. You cannot use the flash at all, of course. The flash would effectively erase the projected image. The above photo was done with a hand held Canon XTi Camera using the automatic exposure without the flash.

It is certainly faster and more flexible than taking the film to the film scanner for a print. You might want to look at each of the pictures you take and zoom in on the detail to make sure you have a focused image that can be used when it is transferred to your computer. If the images are too dark, you can use any of the many photo retouching programs, including Picasa, to improve the quality of the image.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Family Tree supports the full temple process

In a post on the FamilySearch Labs blog, 17 March 2009, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, (LDS) announced that the developmental version of Family Tree now supports all of the ordinance submission process. This is important only to members of the Church, but it is a giant step in the direction of making all of the records now on New FamilySearch available to all of the members of the Church as well as those who are not members.

The description of the additions to the program include:

In Folders, from the Summary tab, in the Temple Ordinances section, we can:

  • Check for and resolve duplicates with ordinances. Always check this before clicking SUBMIT.
  • Enter Ordinances Manually. If duplicates aren’t showing up and you know the work has been performed, click this link to report the ordinances.
  • Submit the ordinances to your Temple Tracking Page. Note, this simply reserves the name and ordinances on the Temple tab. Click on the Temple tab at the top of the page to continue the temple process — print FOR, etc.

In the Temple tab we can:

  • Print temple cards (Family Ordinance Request - FOR) if you want to perform the ordinances yourself.
  • Assign names to the temple if you want the temple to allow someone else to perform the ordinances.
Family Tree is the developmental version of New FamilySearch, The LDS Church's program for submitting individuals for temple ordinance. Family Tree is a much easier to use interface for this huge database of information which contains all of the records from the Ancestral File, the Pedigree Resource File, The International Genealogical Index (IGI) and the Church records.

Part Two, Cameras for genealogy; Comparison of point and shoot and single lens reflex cameras

This is part two of the comparison between single lens reflex cameras (SLR) and point and shoot cameras for use in genealogical research and for taking family pictures.

The next consideration between the two types of cameras is as follows:

What about the quality of the picture? Digital cameras are just that, they make pictures by focusing the light onto arrays of little tiny sensors that convert the image into dots called pixels. If you magnify (zoom in) a digital picture, eventually the picture will become pixelated, that is broken into small square dots. On the other hand, photographic film has a continuous gradation of light and shadows created by microscopic grains of chemicals, usually involving silver. If you magnify a film photograph, you will see less detail but unless you use a microscope, you will probably not see the grains. Digital cameras are just now beginning to overtake film cameras in the detail of the pixels and compared to the microscopic film grains and only at the very high end.

The resolution (i.e. the size of and number of pixels) of digital cameras is measured in megapixels. See previous posts for an explanation. Generally, the higher the number, the higher the resolution and the larger print that can be made with high quality. For example 10.1 is a higher resolution than 6.0.

What resolution do you really need to do adequate pictures for genealogy? The answer depends on your own preference. I found that I was dissatisfied with digital photos of documents and books until the cameras reached over 6 megapixels. At 10 megapixels or more, the images begin to rival flat bed scanners in their overall detail and quality. Presently, the resolution of most of the cameras available, except the very cheapest, are adequate or more than adequate for genealogical use.

What about keeping documents in focus? When taking pictures of documents, particularly books and other items that may not be flat. It is possible that part of the image will be in focus and other parts completely unreadable. Without getting into a technical discussion of depth of field, this problem can be overcome, to some extent, by making sure the camera is at a 90 degree angle to the document and that it is far enough away from the page to capture the whole image in one frame. After taking the picture, most cameras have a function where you can view the image on an LCD screen and even zoom in to see if the picture is in focus. It is a good idea to check the photo after each shot unless you do not move the camera.

What about light sources? In order to take usable pictures you must have enough light to see the detail you are trying to document. Sometimes that means using a flash. Most of the cameras, both point and shoot and SLRs, come with built in flash units. However, when used to take pictures of documents, the flash has a tendency to reflect off the page and cause hot spots with obscure details in the photo. I take almost all my photos of documents with available light rather than a flash, and when necessary, if the light is too low, I use a tripod or brace the camera against a desk or table to take a longer exposure to compensate for the lower light conditions. Do not automatically use a flash whenever the camera decides it is necessary. Most of the time the photos will come out with better light without a flash. But remember you are risking camera movement from a slower shutter speed and therefore, blurred pictures. Because you have greater control over all of the aspects of the camera, if you want to have that control, you will do a lot better with a SLR camera.

If you have any particular questions about using a camera to record documents in a particular repository, make sure the directors of the repository have no objection to the use of your camera before getting in trouble.

I will have a post shortly on taking pictures of microfilm images. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Reunion now on iPhone and iPod Touch

Reunion 9, the full featured genealogy program for the Macintosh computer, now has an add-on program that runs on the iPhone. The iPhone App is available from the App Store, or from Reunion directly. The mobile program will work on both the iPhone and the iPod Touch as long as the iPod Touch is running software update 2.2 or newer. Although there seem to be some bugs that seen to be able to be worked out, the addition of a mobile version makes the overall program much more useful to a true Mac user.

Reunion indicates that the following information can be sent to the iPhone:
  • Multiple family files can be transferred to the iPhone.
  • All or marked people.
  • All person and family information including names, addresses, events, facts and flags.
  • Pictures linked to a person: the preferred, the first 5, 10, 15, or all.
  • Bookmarks.
  • Sources.
  • Logs.
To those familiar with the program, the iPhone version has the Family Card Display, Multimedia 6-generation Overview, Index, Bookmarks, Links Window, Treetops, Ages, Source List, Logs, Preferences, and all data can be edited and synced back tot he family file on the desktop computer.

I am finding that my iPhone is becoming a powerful tool and the latest additions to the available programs makes it even more valuable.

Cameras for genealogy: Comparison of point and shoot and single lens reflex cameras

Although there are probably wealthy genealogists, I don't happen to know many at all. I think that people who are really involved in family history don't have time to spend making a lot of money. However, in comparing various cameras to use in research and for taking pictures of everything from grave markers to relatives, cost is not the only or even the most important factor to consider.

Current digital cameras have a huge price spread, from simple point and shoot cameras from under $50 to extremely high quality cameras costing more than $35,000 dollars.

At the high-end extreme, is the Hasselblad CF-39MS Digital Back for Medium Format Cameras. If you don't know what this is and you don't know know how you would use it, you probably do not want to pay the $37,995.00 price. If you want to actually see one of these, you can check it out at B&H Photo.

Now, to get back to real life, here are some comparison factors to take into account when considering a camera for genealogy. If you can, at all possible, actually try out some of the cameras before purchase.

How much am I willing to pay for a camera? Since there is practically no upper limit to the cost of cameras, this is a major concern. If you view the camera as tool that will help you do your work, you will want to find one in the price range you can pay that will actually do the job. Point and shoot cameras are generally less expensive for a reason, they give you much less control over the photo process. At the top of the quality and at a reasonable prices are the Canon Powershot Camera models beginning at about $80 and the Panasonic Lumix camera models starting at about $100. The Nikon Coolpix camera models, also high quality, start at about $120.

Single lens reflex cameras (SLRs), on the other hand, start at just over $400 with Olympus, Nikon, Panasonic and Canon trading models and prices up to thousands of dollars.

What do I want to carry around? If you don't want to carry it, you won't use it. Going to a library or other repository with a single lens reflex camera requires a carrying case or camera bag. With a point and shoot camera, you can put the smaller versions in a pocket or purse. I use a Canon SLR, but I am used to carrying a camera and don't mind the extra weight and size.

What about lenses? Interchangeable lenses should only be a consideration for higher quality and more versatility. Generally, if you do not want to be primarily a photographer, instead of a genealogist, I wouldn't be concerned about additional lenses for a camera. The lower priced point and shoot cameras come with one lens, the one sold with the camera. If that lens doesn't do what you want the camera to do, you have no other choice. With SLR cameras, especially those from Canon, Olympus, Nikon and Leica, there are hundreds of lens choices. However, the lenses that come with the standard kit and usually quite adequate for all genealogy purposes.

If you have never used a camera with interchangeable lenses, there is a steep learning curve. The number of options and models is overwhelming. For example, there are over fifty Canon lenses offered from Canon alone, not counting third party models available for Canon cameras. Also, high quality specialty lenses alone for a Nikon or a Canon camera can cost much more that the original camera. One concern with the less expensive cameras is their limitation to take close up images. Some of the less expensive cameras have a limited focal length and will not take close up images at all well. Getting close enough for a good quality picture is usually not a concern with an SLR camera.

Most of the single lens reflex cameras come with some kind of zoom lens. For example, the lower priced Nikon D40 kit comes with a 18-55mm zoom lens. With lenses, the lower the number the wider the view. An 18 mm lens would be considered to be a wide angle, a much higher number, like 200 mm, would be considered to be a telephoto lens.

Note: For you who want more technical information, there is not a 1:1 relationship between digital camera designations and traditional film cameras. The difference between a 35mm film camera and digital cameras is the size of the sensor as opposed to 35mm film size. The digital sensor is generally smaller. It's just like taking a 35mm slide (or negative) and cutting off 1/4" or so all the way around. What's left, if magnified to the original size - as in making a print - looks like you used a longer lens.

Purchasing a camera with interchangeable lenses is not necessary to take very useful pictures, especially for research, but it does give the camera a lot more flexibility.

Stay tuned for Part Two.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

5 things you need to know before purchasing a digital camera for genealogical research.

The number of camera models and features for digital cameras is overwhelming. It is important to know which of the features matter to someone who is going to use the camera for family history and research and which do not really matter. Do you need to purchase an expensive high-end single lens reflex camera or will an inexpensive point and shoot model work just as well?

Here are Five Questions you may want to ask yourself before purchasing a camera:

1. How am I going to use the camera?

The two extremes are someone who will use the camera to take casual snapshots of family members to the professional photographer who makes a living taking pictures. Most of us interested in genealogy probably fall somewhere in between. Fortunately, most of the point and shoot variety of cameras available today are perfectly adequate for most research uses, such as taking pictures of pages of books and records and documenting cemetery markers. Even cameras costing less than $100 can have a resolution of 8.2 megapixels or more. Generally, the higher the number of megapixels, the more detailed the image.

Think about whether you want to learn how to use a camera with literally hundreds of settings and features or if you just want to pull it out of its case and take a picture? Then go to a camera section of one of the major retailers, like Costco or Best Buy and pick up the cameras and look at the view screens and feel the weight. This brings us to the next consideration:

2. How much camera equipment am I willing to carry with me?

It doesn't matter how good the camera is, if you don't want to carry it around and make excuses to leave it in the car or at home. Unless you are used to lugging around a lot of equipment, if you find that getting the camera out for a shot is too burdensome, you just won't do it. Buy a camera you are willing to carry with you. But remember, if you want to take pictures of documents in a library or other repository, you must have something that will take a good picture and can be held steadily, not an iPhone or other cell phone camera.

3. Am I willing to learn how to move the pictures from my camera to the computer and use them in my research?

Printing off copies of the pictures you take for research purposes, as opposed to family photos, defeats the purpose of using the digital camera and certainly erases any advantage from cost savings for film. Most genealogical database programs, like Personal Ancestral File, Ancestral Quest, RootsMagic, Legacy Family Tree or Family Tree Maker, support attaching digitized images directly to a source and creating scrapbooks of images about an individual or family. These functions are all done digitally on the computer and if you will have to learn how your particular program works to use the images you take with your digital camera.

4. Will I have to upgrade either my computer or my disk storage capacity to store images?

As the quality of digital images increases, there is a steady increase in the file size of the images. It is not unusual for images to exceed 10 megabytes in size or even much larger. However, there has also been a dramatic increase in disk size i.e. storage capacity. But all of this increase in size is lost if your computer system will not process these huge images. If you load a picture and the computer has to draw each line, one at a time, you can tell there is a problem. You probably need to address the storage capacity and speed of your computer system if you are going to seriously take a large number of digital photos.

5. How much am I willing to spend on all this new equipment?

Some people become obsessed with equipment and must have every accessory and every lens available. Although in over fifty years of taking pictures I have purchased about every possible piece of camera equipment available at any given time, I probably have 15 or 20 cameras in boxes and drawers, with all the new lenses and cameras this is now an impossibility. You can literally spend thousands and thousands of dollars on camera equipment or you can purchase a relatively simple point and shoot camera, that will take perfectly adequate pictures for under $50. Personally, I have messed up too many pictures with point and shoot or view finder cameras, I must use a single lens reflex camera. My present camera is a now dated, Canon Digital Rebel Xti EOS camera. Frankly, I would buy a newer camera with higher resolution, but the present one is adequate and versatile and I don't want to spend another $1000+ on cameras right now.

Often when I am at a touristy type attraction, especially like the Desert Botanical Garden, I see people carrying these bulky cameras with these huge lenses and I take comfort in the fact that up to a point, it isn't the camera that takes the picture but the person holding the camera. All the equipment in the world won't teach you how to take good pictures.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Using a digital camera for genealogical research - Part One

On an exploration trip to the Vine Bluff Cemetery in Nephi, Juab, Utah, looking for grave markers, we ran into some City maintenance workers. They directed us to the location of the grave markers and suggested we visit the Cemetery office in the City Office building in town. After taking pictures of all of the headstones, we drove to the City offices and found the office in charge of the cemetery. The City official was very friendly and helpful. In the course of our conversation, he mentioned that he had a copy of book compiled about City history. He said there were only two copies of the book in existence and he let us have a look at it. We immediately found reference to my ancestor's including dates, names and short histories. Fortunately, I had my digital camera and in just a few minutes I had photographed each of the pages of the book pertaining to my family. The above image is a sample of the quality of the images, without a flash, hand held and in an office with existing lighting.

Digital cameras come in a bewildering assortment of sizes and models. Even though traditional film cameras are now becoming extinct, many of the rules involved in purchasing a good quality film camera apply to digital cameras also. First and foremost is the lens system. A camera, whether film or digital is no better than its lens. If you are going to use the camera to take pictures of records, books and other documents, it is important the camera be able to focus for a close up picture. This may take some on-line investigation, but by searching for the technical notes on a particular camera, you can often tell how close the camera will focus with its standard lens. However, as the image quality, measured in megapixels, increases, the need to have a camera that focuses down to close up, at least for document reproduction, decreases.

To quote Wikipedia: "A megapixel is 1 million pixels, and is a term used not only for the number of pixels in an image, but also to express the number of image sensor elements of digital cameras or the number of display elements of digital displays. For example, a camera with an array of 2048×1536 sensor elements is commonly said to have "3.1 megapixels" (2048 × 1536 = 3,145,728)."

To put it in context, the more megapixels the more detail in the image and of course, the higher the cost of the camera. Currently, and this changes regularly, cameras are being sold with up to 21 megapixel images (even more in very high priced models).

Cameras are roughly categorized into two categories, point and shoot (also called view finder cameras) and digital single lens reflex cameras. The difference is that single lens reflex cameras give you a view of almost exactly what you are shooting, right through the lens. With a view finder or point and shoot camera, if you try to take a picture up close, you run the risk of having the picture off center, due to the distance between the lens and the view finder.

Fortunately, most cameras currently available come with a primary lens that is adequate for snapshots. But I have found an appreciable difference in lens quality for closeups. Higher cost digital cameras, usually single lens reflex cameras, come with interchangeable lenses. The major manufacturers are Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax and Sony. Here is a convenient buyer's guide to digital camera features.

Coming posts:

5 things you need to know before purchasing a digital camera for genealogical research.

Comparison of point and shoot and single lens reflex cameras for genealogy.

How much should I pay for a camera for genealogy?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Digitized books in the Family History Library

For some time now the Family History Library Catalog has provided links to the Family History Archives directly from the catalog entry. As I have noted in previous posts, the Family History Archives now has over 30,000 searchable digitized books on line. This feature is available directly from a search of the catalog.

The Family History Library Catalog has various levels of search capability by place, surname, keyword, title, film or fiche number, author, subject or call number. By far the most used and most valuable is the place search. The Place Search is further enhanced by a button saying "View Related Places" which then gives the records available in the further divided general area selected. It is important to note, that these subdivided locations are not usually duplicate records. For example, if you chose Arizona, the catalog will show all the state records. When you click View Related Places, you get a list of all of the counties and when you chose a county and click the button again, you get a list of city records available.

At each level of the catalog, if you look at the catalog entry for an item, if that item has been digitized in the Family History Archive, there will be a link to the digitized item. On occasion, some of these links have not worked on my computer, but you can simply search for the item directly in the Family History Archive and view the digitized version.

It would be helpful if you didn't have to go all the way to looking at the catalog entry for the individual items before seeing if digitized versions are available. Perhaps the catalog could show the availability of digitized records from the search screens also.

As more and more of these items become available, this resource becomes even more valuable.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Family History Archive at 30,082

The Family History Archive reached over 30,000 files in their collection today, March 13, 2009. As a reminder to quote their description of the collection:
The Family History Archive is a collection of published genealogy and family history books. The archive includes histories of families, county and local histories, how-to books on genealogy, genealogy magazines and periodicals (including some international), medieval books (including histories and pedigrees), and gazetteers. It also includes some specialized collections such as the Filipino card collection and the “Liahona Elders Journal.” The books come from the collections of the FamilySearch Family History Library, the Allen County Public Library, the Houston Public Library – Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research, the Mid-Continent Public Library – Midwest Genealogy Center, the BYU Harold B. Lee Library, the BYU Hawaii Joseph F. Smith Library, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Church History Library.
The collection is entirely searchable and has images of all of the files.

Digital Revolution in Genealogy -- 5 important developments

This post initiates a series of posts on the effect of the digital revolution on genealogy. Each of the upcoming posts will highlight an aspect of the digital revolution that has greatly influenced the way research into family history is presently done, and where we are going in the future.

Just a few years ago, family history research was done entirely from original documents on site or in repositories or archives or through microfilm copies of those records. My early introduction to this world included photocopy machines and carrying rolls of quarters to the Family History Library. A significant portion of the research was conducted through letters, often taking days, weeks or even months for a reply. If I wanted to obtain a copy of a book or an article, I could either make do with a poor quality photocopy, or try and find a copy of the original book or article. Both time and travel distance severely limited the quality and quantity of research that any one person could do.

Granted, many people still do their research in this fashion, but there have been significant changes in the way some of the work can be done with computers and other digital devices. I am surprised at the resistance I find to innovative ways of working with computers, among all ages of genealogists, but there are a few who embrace the newer technologies for the assistance they offer, without abandoning the older values of the work.

Here are what I feel are five of the most dramatic changes in the way genealogical research is done:

1. Lineage-linked database programs running on inexpensive computers store up to tens of thousands of individual records and link them into family groups. When my great-grandmother was doing her family history, over a period of thirty years, she managed to redo some of the work as much as five times. She simply could not remember what she had done previously, and with a huge pile of paper, could not find her completed work. She would have loved a computer and any of the very capable programs now available.

2. The development of the Internet, allowing families, friends and practically anyone to instantly communicate about, research and view source materials and family records. Not to forget all of the information now available almost instantly, including huge map files.

3. The digitizing of original source records making high quality copies of billions of records readily available for little or no cost. It is hard to measure the impact of having the entire U.S. Census records searchable and with images on line, and the literally millions of other records going online every day.

4. The introduction of digital cameras, giving the average person the ability to make unlimited photographs, including copies of documents, with virtually no cost per image other than the initial cost of the camera. I have been a photographer all my life, but until digital cameras became available I took relatively few pictures. Now, I can take as many shots as I want without worrying about the cost of film. I can also use the camera to take notes in libraries and to capture everything from scrapbook pages to grave markers.

5. Digitized movies and voice recordings allowing the dissemination of recordings with little or no cost. Family movies used to be virtually impossible and very expensive, now they are so common that they are posted online for the whole world to view. Digital recorders are a wonder, compared to the bulky and difficult reel-to-reel tape recorders I started out with.

I am sure you can come up with a lot more in the way of innovations that impact the way we do family history, but this is a start.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Moving on from PAF

The venerable Personal Ancestral File program was a major innovation in its day. However, its day has long since past. In a past post I referred to the dogged following the program has, especially among those resist even upgrading their computers. It is time to move on and take advantage of the dramatically more helpful newer software tools available to the genealogist.

TopTenReviews has a chart comparing ten of the well-known genealogy programs available for PC systems. On a feature by feature basis, the top five programs hardly vary in their features. Making a choice between these five programs is mainly an issue of personal preference and the way the program is to be used. Ancestral Quest appeals to the die-hard PAF user, not only was the program the predecessor of PAF but the present program has a very PAF-like look and feel. Legacy, the top rated, has an excellent interface but some users obviously prefer the more traditional look of RootsMagic. Both Family Tree Maker and Ancestral Quest capitalize on their close association with It is probably not a coincidence that the top four programs all have exactly the same price. Although the price comparison is somewhat misleading, since the price quoted is a download price not the CD version of the programs in all cases.

I have no personal experience with the remaining programs and I would have listed other programs rather than the ones featured, such as MyBlood and Reunion 9 for the Macintosh. Perhaps some of my readers would like to comment on their own opinions about the various programs?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

DoroTree 2.1 for Jewish Genealogy

A Website in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Hebrew greets anyone interested in Jewish Genealogy Software. The program, DoroTree 2.1, has a multitude of unique features:

  • Easy to use entry screens.
  • Complete bi-lingual capability.
  • Optional Hebrew data entry
  • Yahrzeit Reports.
  • Customisable graphic reports with pictures.
  • Hebrew-Gregorian date conversion.
  • Special Holocaust commemoration features.
  • Direct Internet access to Jewish genealogy sites.
  • Family web page creation.
  • Unlimited multimedia storage.
  • Compatible with Windows '98, ME, NT4, 2000 and XP

To quote their Website, DoroTree performs simultaneously in two character sets: Latin characters (English, French, German, Spanish or Portuguese) on the left and Hebrew on the right. (You can type in and display Hebrew characters without a Hebrew operating system. A virtual Hebrew keyboard is supplied with the program.)

Having studied Hebrew, I very much appreciate the utility of a bilingual program.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Netbook computers, a boon to the researcher?

Inexpensive light-weight mini computers called netbooks have been getting a lot of press lately. If you have noticed, the larger merchandisers, like Costco and Walmart have started prominently featuring these computers in their store displays.

Prices for these smaller laptop computers start at about $250. Much larger than a PDA or iPhone, but smaller than a full-size laptop, they often come with a 9" monitor and smaller hard drive options. Although in this context smaller is definitely relative, today's smaller drive is very large by yesterday's standard. Most of the models come with an operating system, in some cases Linux and in others Windows XP Home. They usually weigh about 2 to 2 1/12 pounds. They are called "netbooks" because they are supposedly used to connect to the Internet.

The most common criticism is the size of the keyboard, but most models come with at least one USB port and it may be possible to plug in a larger and more comfortable keyboard. But, that would essentially defeat the idea of the smaller, cheaper computer. If you want a full-size keyboard and mouse, you can purchase desktop computers starting at $499 with a 17 inch flat panel monitor. A Dell Inspiron computer, by itself without keyboard or monitor, starts at $279.

Check Wikipedia for a huge comparison chart of the different models of netbooks. The apparent low price of the netbooks has a trade off in fewer options and less utility. If you need a primary computer to work on for long periods of time, you may wish to spend a little more money and get a full sized, desktop computer.

The main issue with netbooks is portability and convenience. One of the main reasons for the netbook's development was to extend the market for computers to less developed countries. It is inevitable that the netbooks will become more expensive with additional storage space and options, but there seems to be a market for these very small sized computers.

If you are thinking about a second computer for on-site research, you may wish to take a look at these smaller and much lighter options.

Graveyard Rabbits Carnival

Thanks to Randy Seaver for his Best of Genea-Bolgs. He mentioned the Graveyard Rabbits Carnival and it is a real gem. I have posted about the Graveyard Rabbits before, but they deserve more attention. Randy Seaver is the blogger for the South San Diego County Graveyard Rabbits and has an article in the Carnival.

I was impressed by an article by Henk van Kampen who presented The gypsy graves of St. Barbara posted at The graveyard rabbit of Utrecht and Het Gooi. Henk' post illustrated some very impressive graves at the St. Barbara Catholic Cemetery in Utrecht.

You should take some time to view the articles, it will give you a new prospective into the Graveyard Rabbits.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

What about Personal Ancestral File?

This past week, Gaylon Findlay, the President of Insight Software, the publishers of Ancestral Quest, gave a demonstration of his company's products at a seminar held in Mesa, Arizona. During his more than two hour presentation, there were a multitude of questions concerning the future of the LDS sponsored software program, Personal Ancestral File. As Mr. Findlay pointed out, PAF, as it is known, has not been updated since 2002. Additionally, the program is not likely to change in the foreseeable future. When compared to a full featured and supported program like Ancestral Quest, RootsMagic 4, or Legacy Family Tree, PAF comes up short in nearly every category.

Despite the overwhelming demonstration of the superiority of Ancestral Quest to PAF, the questions from the audience showed that there was a tremendous hesitancy on the part of PAF users to invest in new software. I have tried to analyze why there is such a resistance to changing from PAF when the new programs are so obviously superior. Here are some ideas why:

1. It is hard to put a value on something that is free. PAF is and always has been a virtually free program. If one computer program cost $19.95 and another cost $99.95, you might be inclined to compare features and try to figure out what the difference is before you buy. But if one is free, you simply acquire the free program and then live with what you get. People do not really value what they do not pay for.

2. PAF was and is an adequate genealogy program for the average user. Except for the fact that the Apple Macintosh version of the program no longer works on any current Apply Computer, the current version of PAF runs well on the newest PC you can buy. It is sort of like a timeless classic, not really better than the newer models, but adequate and useful.

3. Add-ons have increased PAF's utility. Companies like Ohana Software, have made a good niche market out of adding features to PAF. By selling inexpensive add-ons these software developers have continued PAF's life expectancy. Even Ancestral Quest advertises that it can be used as a PAF add-on.

4. Judging from the crowd in attendance at the demonstration of Ancestral Quest, the genealogy population is decidedly older, female and very outspokenly conservative. Not your best market for innovation and new features. As Mr. Findlay said, they still have people using version 1.0 of Ancestral Quest. Let's face it, most genealogist resent the idea that they have to learn computers at all, the tech side of genealogy is definitely small.

5. Family History Centers across the world have had classes in PAF for years. Only recently have any other software products even made the radar. The Mesa Regional Family History Center recently started to teach one class a week on third party software products. This is the first time anyone has dared to mention the fact that some other software program exists other than Personal Ancestral File.

6. Some people believe that since the LDS Church sponsored the program they should use it just for that reason. There is absolutely nothing in any of the literature or promotion of the Church that would lead someone to believe this, but I know for a fact that some people think they cannot change because the program is published by the Church.

It is decidedly and uphill battle to convince the otherwise conservative PAF users to change to a new program. However, the LDS Church is attempting to do just that. Prominent on the startup page of the New FamilySearch program is a link to advertisements to third party programs.

The handwriting is on the wall, it is time to change from using PAF and start out into the brave new world of supported software programs.

Friday, March 6, 2009

RootsMagic 4 -- Impressions continued

The Public Beta Version of RootsMagic 4 has now had some time for the dust to settle from its introduction. If you haven't already read my previous three posts, you may wish to do so. I gave my initial reaction to the release and reviewed the RootsMagic 4 Tutorials.

RootsMagic 4 is an extremely full featured program. In future posts I will compare the features and functions of several of the major lineage linked database programs, but right now I wanted to focus on RootsMagic 4. I assume that because it is a Beta Version of the program, that the feature set is not yet frozen and that I can expect the program to have a few bugs.

I am focusing on the features that allow synchronization with New FamilySearch, because those are features that haven't previously been available in any form and are of major interest to the thousands of New FamilySearch users. Upon startup, I was able to choose to enable FamilySearch Support and so the program was supposed to be able to work with the online database.

[RootsMagic 4's competition in this area, as of right now, is limited to Ancestral Quest and FamilyInsight]

The Tutorial showed that an icon could be added to the Icon Menu bar to allow direct access to the Sync features. I added the icon but for some reason, it did not appear the next time I opened the program. As indicated by the Tutorial, all of the people in my Pedigree view had a small icon indicating whether or not they had been linked to New FamilySearch (NFS). When I attempted to link myself to NFS I got a message that no matches were found, since I knew I was in NFS, I tried unsuccessfully to link myself, until I finally got a message that the program would not search for living individuals.

The RootsMagic 4 program did freeze once and I had to restart but I expect that in a new program.

I choose my father, who is deceased, and could immediately link my local data file on him to NFS. The program then allowed me to update my own records from those on line. When I closed out of the screen comparing my own file to the online version, I couldn't tell any difference. After watching the Tutorial, I learned that the small icon on the name tag had turned from grey to blue. However, on my computer, with my eyes, the difference is barely discernible.

Some of the problems with NFS are caused by the data online. My particular line has hundreds of copies of certain individuals and this issue has yet to be resolved by NFS. RootsMagic 4 did a good job of identifying the duplicate individuals and combining them, when possible due to the limitations of NFS. It also does a good job of locating those duplicates. The search for individuals on NFS apparently must proceed one person at a time, there does not appear to be a way to batch process individuals. For someone like me with over 18,000 people in NFS, this could be a long and wearisome process, one at a time.

In short, this is a good start at opening up a line of communication with what will turn out to be one of the largest, if not the largest online databases of individuals. Good job.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Further update on RootsMagic 4

You are invited to read my two previous posts explaining my first impressions of RootsMagic 4. I would also like to thank those who took time to send me comments on my first posts. I took the time to view all of the RootsMagic tutorials online at RootsMagic.

The tutorials are a good introduction to the program, but it would be nice if there were a link from the RootsMagic menus (something obvious) that directed you to the tutorials. After watching the tutorials I have a much better understanding of the scope of the program. I still find several issues with the lack of features that seem to be available in FamilyInsight and Ancestral Quest (AQ) but maybe more study of the program will show me how to accomplish what needs to be done in RootsMagic 4.

Just so there is no misunderstanding, I am a fan of RootsMagic. I think the program itself is very good and I can recommend it to anyone, especially those who are presently using Personal Ancestral File. But I also consider myself a fan of FamilyInsight, Ancestral Quest and Legacy. As I get more time today or tomorrow, I will continue to give my comments.

RootsMagic 4 -- Initial impressions of the program Part 2

Please take time to read my previous post as an introduction to my comments on RootsMagic 4.

After loading RootsMagic 4 for the first time, I began by reviewing all of the menu items and icons. There is no question that the program has a lot of features, however, I am most interested in the synchronization features with New FamilySearch. I found the connection under RootsMagic's File Menu item. There are three options:

FamilySearch Central
Find matches on FamilySearch
Copy info between RootsMagic and FamilySearch...

I began by trying each of the three items. (By the way, the program froze up and quit responding after a few minutes and I had to use Windows Task Manager to close the program.) I realize that this is a Beta version but both FamilyInsight and Ancestral Quest (AQ) have been out in final release versions for some time now and so I have two other programs to use as a comparison.

I tried the FamilySearch Central and logged into New FamilySearch, however, there was nothing to show me that I was logged in or not. In both FamilyInsight and AQ you are immediately notified by the program whether or not you are connected. I assumed I was connected. There was a screen saying that I had 6845 people in my file that were not linked to FamilySearch.

Nothing on the screen told me what to do at this point, so I began clicking on things. Both FamilyInsight and AQ have extensive help screens. AQ has over four hours of online tutorial videos instructing about AQ. I found that when I clicked on the number of people, I got a huge screen with a list down the side. I had to scroll down to find myself. When I clicked on my record, the screen said no matches found. After many attempts to link myself with FamilySearch I finally got a screen telling me that the program would not link with living people, however, I am one of the people listed as not linked.

Moving back in time, I went to my parents and grandparents. I was able to find them in the FamilySearch program and move some information from FamilySeach, but nothing told me whether or not they were linked. There are references to combining individuals but most of my recent ancestors exceed the limit for combining in FamilySearch. When I finally quit this screen and went back to the Central, I found that two people were now linked. Unfortunately nothing indicates that on the search screen. Both AQ and FamilyInsight are very clear about who is linked and not linked.

From the search screen there appear to be almost no choices. There is no menu bar and all it appears you can do is search and move information. Both Family Insight and AQ have multiple menu items and lots of options, including in AQ downloading generations of ancestors at once. The other choice from the RootsMagic menu for FamilySearch were essentially the same screens.

I must say I am initially disappointed in the lack of features to synchronize with New FamilySearch. I will keep looking and search online for more information. I plan to write more, as I get time to do so today or tomorrow. Right now, I think both FamilyInsight and AQ are major tools for working with the huge database in New FamilySearch, RootsMagic, despite months of pre-announcements, hasn't proved to be useful much at all. But I will continue to search for options.

RootsMagic 4 -- Initial impressions of the program

I have been involved in computers since 1969. I started using genealogy software on an Apple II computer. I have been using PAF since its inception in every version on both Mac and PC. I currently use Legacy and have used RootsMagic 3 and Ancestral Quest 11 (upgraded to 12.1) for some time in a variety of circumstances. I also have, and use, MacFamilyTree (also on my iPhone), MyBlood, and a variety of other programs. I also used The Master Genealogist for a while. All of these programs have their strong and weak points and I am constantly looking for upgrades and something better and more efficient.

I have purchased and/or reviewed almost every possible genealogy program I can find. After reviewing the features of some programs, I must admit, I did not spend the money to purchase them.

Recently, I because I teach New FamilySearch at the Mesa Regional Family History Center, I have been using and teaching FamilyInsight from Ohana Software and have recently gone through all of the tutorials for Ancestral Quest. I taught my first class on Ancestral Quest this last week. I wrote a post about some of my impressions of Ancestral Quest recently.

I say all this to show that I have some perspective in genealogy software.

RootsMagic comes highly recommended. My impressions of version 3 were positive and would always include RootsMagic as one of the programs I would recommend. I have taken the opportunity to sit down with the representatives of the program at more than one computer conference and go through all of the features and ask all of my questions. Yes, I am one of those bothersome people that keep coming back to the booth with more questions.

Because of my extensive experience with New FamilySearch (not all of which has been positive) I have been extremely anxious to work with the licensed third party synchronization products to see if they could overcome some of the limitations of working directly with New FamilySearch. I have also been working with the Family Tree version of New FamilySearch. I am one of those people the New FamilySearch team calls a legacy or pioneer user, I have literally tens of thousands of people in my family lines on New FamilySearch.

Today, I got the first notice that the Public Beta of RootsMagic 4 was available. I had no trouble downloading the program to my computer and entering the software key received by e-mail. I began immediately to import a RootsMagic 3 file I use for testing new software.

OK, now I have run out of time right now, but I will come back to this review either later today or tomorrow.