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

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Digitized genealogy in the Denver Public Library

There are some large collections of genealogical and historical significance that hardly ever get a mention in the media. When was the last time you checked out the collection in the Denver Public Library. However, the "Genealogy Collection, begun in 1910 under the direction of City Librarian Chalmers Hadley, offers an extensive collection of genealogical and historical sources numbering about 60,000 volumes and 75,000 pieces of microform, as well as magazines, charts, clippings, and manuscripts. The collection at the Denver Public Library constitutes the largest collection in the Rocky Mountain area, and the second largest between the Mississippi River and the West Coast. The Library also has many useful online resources."

One very useful source is the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. "The Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection (CHNC) currently includes 147 newspapers published in Colorado from 1859 to 1923. CHNC contains over 477,000 digitized pages and is a joint endeavor of the Colorado State Library, the Colorado Historical Society, and generous donors throughout the state."

Also check out the links to the Colorado State Library and the Colorado Historical Society.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Revisiting Bing for Genealogy Searches

There are dozens, perhaps hundreds of ways to search on the Internet, but like many people, I have used Google for quite a while. In analyzing the reasons for sticking with Google, it comes down to consistency in searches. I can almost always predict what I will find with Google and nearly always find what I am looking for. I have a lot of interest in trying out new search engines, if there is something better then I will use it.

Bing has been introduced with a huge sales campaign. Recent news articles have even suggested that people prefer Bing to Google.

First of all, Bing has a lot of contemporary links on its home page. My first impression would be that I would have to spend some time figuring out how to get rid of references to Michael Jackson and vacation destinations, all of which has no interest to me at all. I already know that I don't care for Microsoft's mapping program, so that is one strike down already.

Right now I am researching the Mormon Pioneer settlement of Arizona. So I chose a search term "mormon pioneer settlement arizona" that I have used extensively on Google. When I made the same search on Bing, I got some general references to Mormons and Pioneers, but what I did not get was any direct reference to the book by James H. McClintock called, in part, "Mormon Settlement in Arizona." There just happen to be a half a dozen or so complete text and digitized copies of this book on the Internet.

My first effort showed me that Bing is not there yet. But, let's try again. This time I choose a completely different area and search term, "immigration records 1864." On Google I got over 100,000 returns with many very specific sites on the first page of hits. The results of the same search on Bing returned more hits and apparently about the same selection of results.

Now it was back to a more specific search, this time for a person I knew was mentioned in hundreds of sites on the Web, my Great-grandfather, Henry Martin Tanner. In Bing, interestingly, the search found only 14 references including an indirect reference to McClintock's book, but missed any of the references in the Arizona State Archive's collection.

The same search on Google found 5,970 references to "henry martin tanner" including the Arizona Archives Online on the first page of results.

I am going to have to conclude that Bing is not there yet. It does OK with a general search, finding major Websites like, but on a search for a specific term such as the name of an ancestor, it is sadly lacking in depth and usability. I also did not find that Bing was yet an alternative to Google that I would spend my time making a double search.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Provo Temple District to go on New FamilySearch

In an announcement handed out at the Priesthood Meeting held in the Oak Hills Stake Conference, the Priesthood leaders were given a handout concerning the introduction of New FamilySearch. The Provo Temple will likely convert to New FamilySearch during July of 2009. The Leaders were given access to the program and the procedures were outlined.

Members who are not Priesthood leaders will not be given access to the program. Members may only have access through a Priesthood leader or Family History Consultant.

Online Digitized Collections for Genealogy

There are a fabulous number of books online but, likely, no one actually knows how many there are. I recently surveyed a number of large online digitized libraries and decided the problem was impossible to solve due to some libraries counting images or pages and some counting whole books. My best estimate is that there are over 10 million books online and growing daily.

By far the largest collection is in Google Books. A single word search in Google Books on "genealogy" returns over 160,000 books.

Here is a list of digital collections dealing with books pertinent to genealogy:
From time to time in near future I will be reviewing these Websites and commenting on the collections. Stay tuned for further developments.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

New Collections on FamilySearch Record Search Pilot

FamilySearch Record Search Pilot announced three new collections have just been published. The new collections include the Rhode Island Census of 1915; the Netherlands, Limburg Parish Register Transcripts from 1600 to 1822; and the Australia, New South Wales alphabetical index to newspaper cuttings from 1841 to 1987.

Limburg is the southern-most of the twelve provinces of the Netherlands. It is located in the southeastern part of the country and bordered by Belgium to the south and part of the west, Germany to the east, the Dutch province of North Brabant partly to the west, and the province of Gelderland to the north. Its capital is Maastricht. Wikipedia.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Update on release of New FamilySearch

By the end of June all of the Stakes in the Logan Temple District will have New FamilySearch available. The last Stakes will go online on 29 June 2009. In addition, the Boise Temple District is getting ready for release dates. As of 26 June 2009, no release dates had been added to the schedule but the Temple District has been sent preparation notification.

Consultants in the following Utah and Idaho temple districts have been sent instructions to begin viewing the online training modules:
  • St. George Utah
  • Mount Timpanogos Utah
  • Bountiful Utah
  • Salt Lake Utah
  • Ogden Utah
  • Draper Utah
  • Idaho Falls Idaho
Although this is old news, all members in the following temple districts have full access to the Web site:
  • Twin Falls Idaho
  • Monticello Utah
  • Rexburg Idaho
  • Manti Utah
  • Vernal Utah
Those of us outside of the Wasatch Front Temple Districts are also anxiously waiting the introduction of New FamilySearch in those Temple Districts, if for no other reason than to get on with work on our ancestral lines. We assume that our relatives in those districts will have significant information to contribute.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Substantial RootsMagic Update

On 24 June 2009, RootsMagic 4 announced the release of a substantial update ( RootsMagic characterizes the update as primarily a bug fix but the list of changes is impressive. From their Blog, here is a list of the fixes and additions to the program:

  • Added an option to select the default starting side-list page (or use previous side-list page) in Tools > File options
  • The Scrapbook report now has an editable title
  • The NFS Match screen and Sync screen have been combined into a single tabbed screen
  • Renamed “Tools > Database options” to “Tools > File options”
  • Primary facts now works properly in reports, screens, etc.
  • Fixed ‘List index out of bounds (-1)’ error when creating a Fact List
  • Fact type “exists” now works properly in search criteria
  • Name doesn’t disappear from edit screen list after the name is edited
  • Fixed “Allow close matches” in NameFind in RM Explorer
  • Fixed “Sounds like” search for name fields in RM Explorer
  • LDS template will now save ordinance statuses if no date or temple was entered
  • Deleting the birth or death for a person removes the year from the Explorer list
  • Citation memorize / paste now includes any images attached to the citation
  • :Age modifier works in sample sentence and customize sentence in edit screen now
  • Alternate name date is now exported to GEDCOM
  • Alternate name privacy setting is now exported to GEDCOM
  • Fixed a few issues with some source templates
  • RM remembers size of Edit Media window
  • When importing an older RM (v1-3) file, RM4 defaults new filename to same name (except with .rmgc extension)
  • Fixed some issues when importing some older Family Origins files
  • Merging preserves the notes of the person being merged in
  • Fixed the random freezing in various New FamilySearch screens
  • Fixed error 400 problem when combining records in NFS

I noticed a few of the fixes and changes immediately after loading in the update and opening the program. It is comforting that RootsMagic is so responsive to the issues with its program. It will undoubtedly make for a much better experience in using the program.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

More changes to FamilySearch Alpha

The FamilySearch Alpha is the design concept for changes to the venerable FamilySearch Website. Recently, the design team has been making some significant changes to the design concept. There is an outline of the newest changes on the FamilySearch Alpha Blog. The design team is looking for feedback on the design and content and welcomes suggestions.

The future of film is digital -- film preservation in a digital age

In a very recent news article Eastman Kodak Co. announced that it will retire Kodachrome color film after 74 years of manufacture. Jane Hellyar, president of Kodak's Film, Photofinishing and Entertainment Group, stated, "The majority of today's photographers have voiced their preference to capture images with newer technology -- both film and digital," As the article further noted, today there is only one lab left in the country that processes the film. The company noted, "Underscoring the decline of film, the company that popularized consumer photography more than 100 years ago said 70 percent of its revenue today is from consumer and commercial digital businesses."

So much of our genealogical heritage is wrapped up in images, from individual pictures to rolls of microfilm, we should all be aware of this milestone in a changing technology. Aware, as in making sure that our photographic film technology is preserved into the digital age.

The National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) is the nonprofit organization created by the U.S. Congress to help save America's film heritage. We support activities nationwide that preserve American films and improve film access for study, education, and exhibition. Although the thrust of the NFPF is the preservation of movies, the technology applies to the preservation of all types of film products.

The current standards for film preservation can be found through the Library of Congress.
You may also wish to view the Library of Congress' Preservation page. There are extensive articles on Caring for Your Collections and Preparing, Protecting, Preserving Family Treasures.

If you chose to preserve your photos or movies digitally, then don't forget to migrate the digitized images to new media from time to time to preserve the accessibility.

More on this topic later.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Genealogical Society of Utah and FamilySearch

The Genealogical Society of Utah, now known as FamilySearch, established in 1894, is an incorporated, nonprofit educational institution entirely funded by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Quoting from the FamilySearch Website, "The Genealogical Society of Utah is a member of the International Council on Archives (ICA), and representatives have served on many of the ICA’s committees. The Society is an active participant in the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), the Society of American Archivists (SAA), the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) and many national and regional organizations associated with the programs of the Society. The Genealogical Society of Utah has membership in ISO (International Standards Organization), ANSI (American National Standards Institute), and other international standards organizations and has been instrumental in setting the quality standards for microform and other preservation technologies."

One of the major programs of FamilySearch is digitize and provide online access to copyrighted microfilm preserved in the Granite Mountain Records Vault. In addition, this major undertaking has been expanded to join with other record repositories to provide free services to archives and other records custodians who are interested in preserving their collections. You may wish to review the FamilySearch FAQs site.

The Genealogical Society of Utah is separate from the The Utah Genealogical Association.
The Utah Genealogical Association (UGA) was formally organized September 25, 1971, and chartered December 1, 1971, by the State of Utah as a nonprofit educational organization. The Association's interests are worldwide. It is not affiliated with any religious or political organization.

Now I know why I had trouble keeping all of this straight. But I am glad I sorted it out.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Genealogy Widgets

Widgets are relatively small programs designed to work on your computer's desktop or in conjunction with blogs and social networking pages. One of the major widget makers has over 9 billion (that is with a "b") impressions a month. As a side note, that really puts whatever I do on the Web into perspective. I did not make a link to their Website because I found it objectionable.

Two of the more popular widget makers are are Widgetbox and Clearsping, both of which seem to have been used for more useful, as opposed to entertaining, widgets. The widget makers advertise for you to create, distribute, track and monetize widgets. Clearspring also advertises distributing your content as "viral widgets."

A search on Widgetbox on the term "genealogy" brings up dozens of widgets dedicated to genealogy. Looking at a sample of the widgets shows that most have only a few installs, but some have over 100.

It is hard to tell who is sponsoring these genealogy widgets, but it appears that most of them, presently, are from private individuals. Some of the developers, seem to be using the genealogy tie-in to promote other causes, some of which might be found by some to be objectionable. As in any online viewing, caution is required to avoid bad content.

It is likely that we will see widgets everywhere on the Web, even more than we do now, in the immediate future.

Friday, June 19, 2009

FamilySearch on Facebook

Unless you spent full time online looking it would be difficult, if not impossible to keep up with all of the new developments in the genealogical universe. It is even more difficult to keep up with changes on the Web itself. One of the Websites with the biggest impact right now is Facebook, a fast growing social networking site. It is likely inevitable that genealogy would move into Facebook in a big way. For some time now there has been a FamilySearch group on Facebook. There were 206 members as of June 19, 2009 with several discussion topics in progress.

Part of the discussion stream on the Facebook FamilySearch was about the design of the new FamilySearch Alpha found on FamilySearch Labs. FamilySearch is described by the Alpha site as follows:
FamilySearch International is the largest genealogy organization in the world. Millions of people use FamilySearch records, resources, and services to learn more about their family history. To help in this great pursuit, FamilySearch has been actively gathering, preserving, and sharing genealogical records worldwide for over 100 years. FamilySearch is a nonprofit organization sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Patrons may access FamilySearch services and resources free online at or through over 4,600 family history centers in 132 countries, including the main Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Although the Facebook site for FamilySearch has the official FamilySearch logo, it is not readily apparent whether or not there is any official connection between the Website and FamilySearch.

From The Genealogical Society of Utah Website:
FamilySearch is dedicated to promoting the preservation of genealogical information throughout the world. FamilySearch has its roots in the Genealogical Society of Utah. The society, established in 1894, is an incorporated, nonprofit educational institution entirely funded by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

FamilySearch Alpha-- What is it?

If you take a visit to the FamilySearch Labs Website, one of the many options is called the FamilySearch Alpha. The format of the Alpha file has changed from time to time and I assumed that the site was a prototype for future developments in the FamilySearch Website. In a recent announcement from FamilySearch, it turns out that my impression was correct. The announcement states in part:
FamilySearch Alpha is the beginning of a great new world. The purpose of the project is to replace the current website with a new site at the same address that integrates all of the new technologies and record sets we’ve been working on (like Record Search, Family Tree, Research Wiki, etc.) into one easy to use experience. Instead of using these tools individually, you will simply go to to work on your family history.
Although they do not reveal any time frame, they do state that:

The first release will introduce a fresh new look and feel and integrate the following features:

  • Search for historical records (leveraging Record Search and Library Catalog technology)
  • Learning and how-to (showcasing the Research Wiki and Library Research Series)
  • Find a Family History Center (updated to leverage the cool new
  • And much more.
There are quite a few new features already on the FamilySearch Alpha Website and it is interesting to speculate what will be the final direction of FamilySearch.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Really cool -- Google Squared

One of the most remarkable Google Apps to come along is Google Squared. When you put in a search term, say "genealogy programs" or something similar, Google Squared creates as spreadsheet like matrix of related search results. The search for genealogy programs produces a square with programs listed down the left and columns for image, description, price, system requirements, address and the option to add columns.

A search for "immigration lists" produces ships passenger lists, Germans to America and many, many other results.

Almost any general search term is going to produce a useful matrix with helpful information. This is definitely a tool worth knowing about.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sychronization revisited -- New FamilySearch

One of the major challenges in working with New FamilySearch is the duplication of information caused by the combination of the underlying databases. Anyone whose family has been involved in genealogy in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) will have several copies of their family pedigree in the combined record. I have written about this situation in the past, when RootsMagic 4 and Ancestral Quest were introduced.

My initial reaction to Ancestral Quest was very positive. The program showed great promise in getting some control over the huge duplication issue. The duplication problem was lessened somewhat when FamilySearch increased the number of possible combinations to 150. But some of my ancestors still had hundreds of duplicates, way over the limit.

My first impression of RootMagic 4 was not quite so positive, but the most recent upgrade was very impressive and seemed to put RootsMagic out in front of the feature race (if there is one).

Both programs were a distinctly positive step towards avoiding duplication but the problem is quite complex. New FamilySearch is supposed to provide a way for LDS Church members to avoid duplication in submitting the names of individuals for their Temple Ordinances. However, the existence of multiple copies of individuals in the database adds to rather than eliminates the possibility of duplication of ordinance work. The instructions with New FamilySearch encourage users to combine duplicates, however, that is a tedious and rather difficult process and, in my experience, most users have no idea how to combine individuals or even that it is necessary.

The clear advantage of both RootsMagic and Ancestral Quest over using New FamilySearch directly, is the fact that they both search for duplicate individuals and combine them in a more simple and direct fashion than can be done through the New FamilySearch interface (or even the Family Tree interface). For this reason alone, I am strongly urging all of those using New FamilySearch to use either (or both) of the programs rather than relying on the New FamilySearch program alone to find duplicates.

In comparing the two programs, RootsMagic and Ancestral Quest, there are immediately some differences. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. It appears, at this point, that Ancestral Quest is better at searching for an finding duplicate individuals. In some instances, where there are a number of children in a family, for example, RootsMagic will fail to find all of the family members until the individuals are searched, making it appear that family members are missing from New FamilySearch. In this situation, the first reaction is to add the missing family members to New FamilySearch, causing even more duplication. However, if the missing family members are searched for individually by RootsMagic and combined with their own duplicates in New FamilySearch, they suddenly appear in the RootsMagic family search list of children.

It is likely that both of these programs will have issues, especially as New FamilySearch continues to evolve and change. The rule set down by FamilySearch in their documentation is extremely important:

Generally, LDS pioneer ancestors already have had their ordinance work completed. They either received the ordinances while they were living, or their descendants have performed the ordinances on their behalf. Because many early pioneers have a large number of descendants who have submitted family history work to the Church:

  • It is not uncommon to find large amounts of duplicate information about these individuals in the new FamilySearch Web site.
  • This may prompt a patron to want to match and combine much of the duplicate information for each pioneer ancestor.
  • A limit on the number of records that can be combined has been set in the system to reduce the impact on system performance.

If a member has a pioneer ancestor containing a large amount of information in the new FamilySearch Web site:

  • Only combine duplicate information until you find his or her ordinance dates.
  • When you find the ordinance information, stop combining.

Over time, changes to the new FamilySearch Web site will be made that will improve the way the information about these pioneer ancestors is accessed and displayed.

Both RootsMagic and Ancestral Quest are valuable tools that should be a consideration for anyone spending time in New FamilySearch.

Monday, June 15, 2009

More Stakes get access to New FamilySearch

Presently, all of the members in the following Stakes in Utah and Idaho have access to New FamilySearch: Twin Falls, Idaho; Monticello, Utah; Rexburg, Idaho; Manti, Utah; and Vernal, Utah. 22 Stakes in the Logan, Utah Temple District have also been sent preparation notifications. New FamilySearch has also been made available to consultants in the following Temple Districts:
  • St. George Utah
  • Boise Idaho
  • Mount Timpanogos Utah
  • Bountiful Utah
  • Salt Lake Utah
  • Ogden Utah
It is also becoming apparent that some information is still missing about individuals in New FamilySearch. The official statement from FamilySearch says, "Information from many separate Church family history files has been combined into a one place, the new FamilySearch Web site. A small amount of information from these Church files may not yet appear in the new FamilySearch Web site. This information is continuing to be added to the new FamilySearch Web site."

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The limitations of transcribed or indexed records

Many of the source documents being posted to the Internet in great number consist entirely of transcribed document or indexes. For example, the recent posting to FamilySearch Record Search Pilot was four indexes of the Canadian Censuses. The indexed entries are not accompanied by the corresponding images of the original documents. I have to acknowledge that an index is a very useful tool, but all indexes are, at least, one entire step removed from the original source. Even if I find a useful entry, I will still feel obligated to look at the original source record if it is available.

One recent example, in a Census record the birthplace was listed in the index as "New York." However, an examination of the original image from the Census record showed the place as "New York City" crossed out, thus giving a valuable clue that was left out of the transcribed document. It is obvious that original information on any document be inaccurate or incorrect but it also obvious that any time the document is transcribed or indexed there may be additional mistakes.

In addition to the example above concerning Record Search Pilot, many other online resources advertise access to millions or even billions of records. However, upon examination, it is clear that in some cases, the so-called "records" are really transcribed indexes or lists rather than images of the original documents. This is not altogether bad, especially if the original record was a list or compilation. But each time someone looks at a record and makes a decision about what it says, there is a danger that mistakes will be made. It is only logical that the fewer people are in this line of transcription, the greater chance that the record is accurate.

The Rules of Evidence used in our court system recognize the lack of reliability of secondary or derivative sources through the rules on hearsay, that is, secondary testimony about what someone else has said or written. The exceptions to the rule against hearsay testimony are allowed only when there are other reasons to believe the validity of the record or conversation. In almost every case, a transcript or index of original records would be considered hearsay and only allowed into court under one of the various exceptions.

A great deal of the recent discussion about genealogical research centers on the need for sources. Elizabeth Shown Mills' major work, Evidence Explained, discusses the different levels of legal proof and also the difference between original and derivative sources. In paragraph 1.23, Mills concludes that "Neither databases nor indexes are records per se." See

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Baltimore, Md: Genealogical Pub. Co, 2007.

It is indeed fortunate the digitized copies of original source documents are becoming more and more common on the Internet. But, it is likewise important to always remember the distinction between the original record and any derivative record. This issue has come forcibly to the forefront for me on a daily basis in giving support to people using New FamilySearch. Among those who view the information online, there is a general tendency to accept what is there as "fact" rather than recognizing how far the information is removed from any actual source. I frequently get requests from individuals asking me to help them "copy their genealogy down from New FamilySearch." In some cases, I have had to turn over the question to someone else because I did not feel that I could answer the person without offending them. I see the same tendency in information obtained from the large online databases. Once the desired information is found, in whatever format, it is merely accepted as a fact.

As recently as today, I was talking with a researcher who had totally contradictory evidence from two different sources. However, rather than evaluate the sources, she accepted both as true and was asking me to support her conclusion.

If I could not rely on information to get passed the hearsay rule of evidence in court, I certainly would not accept the information as probative, without sufficient collaboration.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Idaho and Louisiana Death Records Added to FamilySearch Record Search Pilot

In addition to the Canadian Census Records announced earlier this week, the FamilySearch Record Search Pilot also added Idaho Death Certificates 1911-1937 (no images) and Louisiana Deaths from 1850 to 1875 and from 1894 to 1954 (no images). Also six states were added to the 1920 U.S. Census bringing the total to 25% complete. The states currently available include Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire and New Mexico.

Viewing the images in Record Search Pilot requires the installation of a later version of Adobe Flash.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Protect your computer with Firefox extensions

Infection by viruses or malware is a constant background concern of every computer user, especially those who have a lot of time and effort expended in their family history/genealogy files. I have been working on the computer for years and my files reflect the cumulative effort of thousands of hours of work. For this reason I am always looking for new ways to protect my information, but at the same time do not want to interfere with my work on a day to day basis.

The Firefox browser has a number of extensions to help increase your level of protection from worms, hackers phishers, and similar attacks on your computer. In a recent article ten of these extensions were discussed and evaluated.

The first of these I tried is called Web of Trust. The publisher describes this extension as follows:
Keep yourself safe from spyware, adware, spam, viruses, browser exploits, unreliable online shops, phishing, and other Internet scams. With the free WOT browser add-on, you can easily see the reliability of companies and websites. WOT will warn you and save your computer before you interact with a harmful site. WOT, Web of Trust, is an online community for reputation rating that lets Internet users share their knowledge of websites, helping you stay in control when surfing the Web. Besides its users, WOT uses hundreds of trusted sources such as phishing site listings to keep you protected against rapidly spreading online threats. As you search with Google, you will see a tiny icon next to the Web link: green to go, yellow to slow down, red to stop. You can easily customize the protection level to your way of surfing the Web. WOT has information on 20 million Web sites. WOT ratings are shown also on Yahoo, Gmail, Wikipedia, and other sites. Version 20090414 fixes warning and window size issues for small screen resolutions.
After installation, the search results from Google show red, yellow and green dots next to every result. In searching on the term "genealogy" I was interested to note that the, a sponsored link Website came up with a red warning dot. The site was ranked poor for trustworthiness, vendor reliability and privacy. Every search that I made, such as "family history" and "ancestry" all came up with a bright red dot for Anyone have any ideas why? It appears to me that the complaint is that the link is used for advertising and tracking purposes. The problem with may also have been caused by the fact that the link from the Google search went through an empty referral site that had a bad reputation.

I am pretty sure that I don't want to bog down my computer with security, but at the same time I think this Web of Trust extension is really helpful in getting an idea of a Website has some ulterior agenda.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Browsers make a difference in online searches

Genealogists are information workers and, as such, need to be aware of the various options available to quickly and safely find information on the Internet. Because of the overwhelming dominance of Microsoft Windows Operating System in the world of personal computing, historically most computer users defaulted to Microsoft's browser also. A few years ago, Microsoft Explorer held close to 90% of the market. This percentage has been steadily decreasing, until now, Microsoft Explorer has less than 50% of the browser market. The top browsers today include Microsoft's Explorer in various versions, Firefox, Chrome from Google, Safari from Apple and Opera. Chrome is the newcomer and has only been in use since about September, 2008 but it has already captured over 5% of the market. Firefox has gone from a small user base in 2003 to almost dominating the browser market entirely.

A browser is a program that translates the code used on the Internet into viewable images on your computer. Whenever I am asked to help someone with their computer, I frequently find that the person has done nothing at all to customize their browser and is using the same generic product that came with the initial installation on their computer.

All of the popular browser programs are "free" but come with biases that will lead you to their developer's products. Changing from one browser to another is rather simple at first, but after using the same browser for a long time, it may seem strange or difficult to adjust to a new one. The fact is that you can switch from one browser to another, just like changing programs running on the computer. In fact, you can run more than one browser at the same time in different windows on the computer. Usually, I find that a decision to change browsers is one of the first indications that a person has learned to use the computer effectively.

There is nothing wrong with using one browser over another. The browser police will not come and get you if you try a different browser, neither will it void your computer's warranty. I moved to Firefox a long time ago for the simple reason that it was a superior product to Window's Explorer. Firefox is a cooperative, open to any programmer who wishes to work on the program, so changes and updates are frequent and there are literally hundreds of thousands of add-ons and ways to customize the program.

Since modern genealogists and family historians spend so much of their time communicating on a computer, they should be aware of the options that may make their lives easier.

In future posts, I will show more Firefox add-ons that may help your computing experience.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

New Canadian Records on FamilySearch Record Search Pilot

In an announcement dated 10 June 2009, Record Search Pilot has just published four Canadian Census collections, 1851, 1861 (listed under New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Quebec), 1871 and 1891. None of the collections have the accompanying images as yet. With these online collections, the Record Search Pilot becomes a significant source for pre-1800 Canadian information.

Family History Library's Summer of Sleuthing

If you are looking for some fun activities to keep your children occupied this summer, consider the activities in the Family History Library's "Summer of Sleuthing--Save Our Ancestors" program. As the Family History Library states on the Wiki FamilySearch Website,
This online summer program will teach you and your family how family history can be fun, informative, and rewarding. With a series of weekly challenges, you and your family can participate in activities that will help you to learn more about yourselves and your ancestors. Take time this summer to discover the roots of your family tree and explore the branches. These activities can give your family a connection to the past, an identity for the present, and a foundation for future success. We encourage you and your family to help each other complete the Summer of Sleuthing challenges. The challenges are tailored for age groups.
The Family History Library has links for
Suggested activities include
There is even a link to the Walt Disney Studios "Create Your Own Family Tree" from The Tigger Movie. There are links to several other sites involving children in family history as well.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Google Wave redefines communication

E-mail, instant message, wiki, or nanoblog? Wave combines elements from all of these communication methods. (Credit: Google)

Genealogists, are dependent on communications. Even my Great-grandmother, who did research most of her life, obtained a significant amount of information by letters and interviews. Although she was abjectly poor most of her life, she found time and made the effort to keep up a correspondence with relatives across the world. Today, we have E-mail, instant messaging, file sharing and collaboration software to make our communications easier and whole lot faster.

Google is making a bid to redefine the way people communicate on Web. In a recent demonstration, Google introduced Google Wave. Some of the genealogy bloggers have talked about this new system, but it bears more attention. The thrust of the new program is real-time but organized Internet communications. Recent articles quoted the developers: cnet.
Google Wave is an attempt to "combine conversation-type communication and collaboration-type communication," said Lars Rasmussen, who launched the project with his brother Jens after Google acquired their mapping start-up in 2004. The brothers Rasmussen said they were inspired by the fact that two of the most commonly used Internet communication technologies--e-mail and instant messaging--are based on relatively ancient offline communication techniques, namely the letter and the telephone.
Here is a description of the service as presented in an article by Tom Krazit on cnet:

They came up with Google Wave, which organizes Internet discussions in the trendy stream of consciousness fashion. It's a little bit Twitter, a little bit Friendfeed, and a little bit Facebook all in one service, allowing you to send direct messages to online contacts with real-time replies, share photos or documents, and add or delete members of the conversation as needed.

In that sense, it's not a completely public discussion, nor a completely private one. A user creates a "wave" by typing a message or uploading photos and adding contacts to the wave as they see fit. Other contacts can be added later, and those people can add other contacts to the wave unless the original wave starter forbids new entrants.

Maybe this will be a way to integrate my Google page with my FaceBook and Twitter page. Here is a Google video about the Wave:

Monday, June 8, 2009

Hauling your laptop to the library is getting easier

MSI X340 X-Slim laptop is one of the first CULV laptops (Credit: MSI) The MSI X340 is one of the first ultra thin laptops. The X340 has a 13.4-inch screen, weighs 2.86 pounds, and measures .78 inches thick.

The trend in laptops is thinner and lighter. I thought about that yesterday when I had to lug my older laptop to a class I was teaching. I also think about it every time I actually use my laptop computer on my lap. The heat and weight of my current computer do not lend themselves to comfortable computing without a table. When I get around to replacing my current HP 17" laptop I will have a lot of low cost, light weight choices.

Intel recently announced chips for low-cost, thin laptops. This development will be boon for all of those researchers who are carrying their computers to libraries, conferences and other meetings. Intel's marketing chief Sean Maloney was quoted as saying;

"It's clear that people like devices to be thin and light," said Maloney, who was speaking from the Computex conference...We've really taken that to heart and come out with a complete top-to-bottom range of microprocessors that enable radically longer battery life and much smaller designs," referring to Intel's new lineup of consumer ultra-low-voltage (CULV) processors. "There are a lot of computers being announced here (Computex) that look like conventional notebooks in terms of how wide the screens are, but they're super-thin, the performance is very good, and they get up to nine hours battery life without a big, fat battery at the back."
Prices for these new laptops will start at $399 and range up to $2,000.

It looks like the day when you can conveniently carry your laptop is fast approaching. The main challenge is for those of us who already have a laptop than even though it is heavy, works just fine, thank you. On the budget for genealogy research thin and light will have to overcome spending additional scarce funds.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Using Google Visualization APIs for genealogy?

Quoting from Google, "Visualizations are small embedded objects that take structured data from a variety of sources and present them in new and interesting ways. Visualizations can be embedded on any web page by adding some simple Javascript and HTML. Many visualizations have also been wrapped as gadgets, for display on web pages or additional targets. This section of the Google Visualization API documentation describes how to embed both gadget and non-gadget visualizations in a page. If you want to learn how to write your own visualization, see the Creating Visualizations section of the documentation."

Many of the visualizations are map oriented. Here are a couple of examples:

The real maps require a degree of programming ability and are much larger and in some cases interactive. The gallery has lots of examples. The visualizations are available as images, gadgets and other tools. Visualizations built on the Google Visualization API can also use any accessible Google Spreadsheet as a data source. Using a spreadsheet is as simple as finding out the proper URL to use for a sheet or a range of cells in a spreadsheet to which it has access, and using that URL as a data source URL. The visualization can be an embedded gadget in the spreadsheet itself, a gadget outside the spreadsheet, or a non-gadgetized visualization. Google.

There are virtually an unlimited number of available types of visualizations, with more being developed all the time. For those who are not afraid to learn a little programming, Websites and online reports can have much greater impact.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Newest update on synchronization with New FamilySearch

I must say that the initial release of RootsMagic 4 was not all that impressive. But the latest version is really great. Virtually all of the complaints I had about the program have been fixed and resolved and the interface with New FamilySearch is now elegant and highly useful. The update creates a real issue with whether or not to use the program as my primary database.

Recently, I have been asked to teach Ancestral Quest, Legacy and RootsMagic at the Mesa Regional Family History Center. I have found all three programs to be highly useful, good implementations of the concept of a genealogical database and none of them clearly superior to the others. However, now the race has gotten a lot more complicated. I have to concede that the way RootMagic has evolved, makes it the clear leader for the time being. However, before making any final judgment, I would assume that Ancestral Quest will also change in the not too distant future and I know that Legacy has planned a release that will work with New FamilySearch later this year. So the race is far from over.

Here are some of the factors that are yet to be resolved. First and foremost, New FamilySearch is not available to everyone. In fact, it is not yet available to the entire membership of the LDS Church. Second, New FamilySearch itself is in transition and is not a final release product. These two facts make any interface with the final program tentative to say the least.

Generally in the genealogical community, there is also a rather dramatic recent emphasis on source citations so that apart from any present interest in New FamilySearch one of the big factors in the choice of any program is how it handles sources. All three of the above programs have implemented new source citation systems. But there is one drawback, New FamilySearch has not yet implemented synchronization of sources. So how the programs use sources is still up in air.

Now, if you presently do not have access to New FamilySearch you may be asking why you should care at all. The answer is quite simple. New FamilySearch will undoubtedly become the largest and most massive collection of interactive family history information in the world. It may never be a valid source in the technical sense, but it will certainly contain more information on more families than any other database, Ancestry. com included. The New FamilySearch program itself is elegant and simple to use. Right now, the data is out of control and almost useless. But programs like those implementing synchronization (right now Ancestral Quest, Family Insight and RootsMagic) show the potential of this huge resource in the not too distant future.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Family History Archives tops 35,000 items

On April 17, 2009 I reported that the Family History Archives had passed the 32,000 records mark. The collection now numbers over 35,000 items which works out to more than 1,500 new items added each month. Although there is a list of participating libraries, I am aware that, at least, the Mesa Regional Family History Center is also contributing scanned documents to the collection. I assume that other regional collections are also being added to the scanned documents available online.

This collection is available from the Search menu on the main home page of the FamilySearch Website under "Historic Books." Access to the collection is entirely free and the documents, mostly books, are completely searchable. FamilySearch describes the collection as follows:
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.
I have placed a counter on my homepage showing the most current number of items in the collection. Each time there is an increase I am trying to keep the count current. If the current rate of additional material is maintained, the Family History Archives will double in size by the end of this year. I have been using a search of my own surname to see if there have been any pertinent additions and the number had been steady for a number of weeks and is now increasing again.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Legacy and New FamilySearch Integration

Thanks to Renee Zamora for noticing that Legacy had released a statement about its future integration with New FamilySearch. I use Legacy as my primary database, but have moved to Ancestral Quest and RootsMagic 4 due to their integration with New FamilySearch. It was good news to me that Legacy would soon join the integration (synchronization) world.

It is interesting, but I just barely got off of Legacy a few minutes ago and failed to notice the announcement. Oh well.

Quoting from Legacy's Website:

For many years now, the LDS church has worked on developing a web application for its members (and eventually the public) to be able to interact with a very large, unified database of connected genealogical information. This new system is being released in phases for members of the church first. When the system is “perfected”, it should encourage research collaboration and prevent research duplication.

What about Legacy?

Legacy Family Tree is being developed to interact and optionally synchronize with the FamilySearch Family Tree. Using Legacy, you will be able to take advantage of new collaboration and searching tools, and for members of the LDS church, enhanced tools for ordinance work. For a few years now, we have been developing Legacy’s integration tools, and are closer to having our software officially certified by FamilySearch. We are taking a unique approach to integrating with FamilySearch Family Tree which we believe will make it simple for newbies to get started with their family history, and provide the “power” tools for experienced researchers to benefit from the system. It has been challenging to come up with the right combination of features to make it both simple and powerful, but we know it will be well worth the wait.

When will it be available?
After our integration tools have been certified by FamilySearch (hopefully in the next month or so) and then tested, the new tools will be available in both the Standard Edition (free) and Deluxe Edition of Legacy. Of course we wanted to have it done months ago, but we wanted our implementation to be done the right way. We're aiming for the second half of 2009 for these exciting new tools to be released.

Thanks again to Renee for the heads up.

Comments on 8 billion records on

In a recent blog post, The Ancestry Insider noted that past the 8 billion (with a "b") record mark. As of May 31, 2009, the Earth's population is estimated by the United States Census Bureau to be 6,783,421,727. Wikipedia. However, that doesn't mean that has a record for every person on the earth, but it is impressive that it has more records than there are people living. Despite that huge number, it is still possible that you will not find anything in the entire database about any one specific individual. It also means that many people have multiple records, probably some have hundreds or more records. I would assume from the large number, that counts every page of every type of record as a separate "record." So, for example, every page of the U.S. Census is another record. is always one of the first places I go to look for records for someone who has done little or no family history work. When has the scanned records, such as the U.S. Census and World War I Draft Records, the site is extremely helpful. The images often provide much more information than the indexes. However, in some instances, when there are only indexes, the records are sometimes not so useful. Without viewing the original documents to compare to the record transcribed into, I hesitate to rely on the accuracy of the transcribers. I have probably spent more time on than any other online database, but I still find that there is no excuse for viewing original records that have yet to be incorporated into's huge resource.

I also do a significant amount of work in Spanish. I find that has few records that assist in basic Spanish research. For example the 1790 California Census is available only as an index, refers users to the microfilm. Quoting
All available census schedules, from 1790 to 1920, have been microfilmed and are available at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., at the National Archives' regional archives in twelve states, at the LDS Family History Library and LDS family history centers throughout North America, at many large libraries, and through microfilm lending companies. Some state and local agencies may have census schedules only for the state or area served.
8 billion records is very impressive. At some point, however, I think they may need to beef up their search engine to give a broader finding capability. All said and done, is a modern wonder of the computer world.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Is there a Bing in your genealogical future?

Microsoft is trying to play catch-up with Google and has introduced a new search engine/portal Website called "Bing" as is Crosby I guess. cnet news. Actually, the search engine is revamped from its existing site, formerly known as "MSN." But MSN is still online. Perhaps we can excuse the new site for being new, but a search for "Genealogy's Star" did not return anything at all until I put the name in quotes, then I got 33 results. The same search, with the name in quotes, on Google brought up 606 results. That seems like a significant difference. Making the same search in for example, brought up 178 hits.

I never did care for MSN because of all the junk that came up with the search. Although you could customize the interface, you had to start with a lot of things you were not interested in at all. The new Bing is still a lot more than the simple Google Classic startup screen.

Here are a couple of more search results and the comparison with Google.

Bing 38,700,000 Google 99,700,000

Bing 1,140,000,000 Google 2,540,000

Looks like the figures are all over the board. Actually, when I began looking at the hits for "familysearch" some of the returned items were not relevant at all after one or two pages.

I guess I will check back from time to time, but as for now, I still like Google better.