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

Monday, August 31, 2009

Have you looked at the USCIS Genealogy Program?

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Genealogy Program is a "fee-for-service program providing family historians and other researchers with timely access to historical immigration and naturalization records. Click the links at right and below to learn about our services and records." Again quoting from the Website, there are two services:
  • Index Search: Using biographical information provided by the researcher, USCIS searches its historical immigration and naturalization record indices for citations related to a specific immigrant. Search results (record citations) are returned to the researcher, along with instructions on how to request the file(s) from USCIS or the National Archives. Fee: $20.00.
  • Record Copy Request: Researchers with valid record citations (USCIS file numbers), gained through a USCIS Genealogy Program index search or through independent research, may request copies of historical immigration and naturalization records. Fee: $20.00/$35.00 (depending on the record type).
The records available through the USCIS include the following:
  • Naturalization Certificate Files (C-files) from September 27, 1906 to April 1, 1956
  • Alien Registration Forms from August 1, 1940 to March 31, 1944
  • Visa files from July 1, 1924 to March 31, 1944
  • Registry Files from March 2, 1929 to March 31, 1944
  • Alien Files (A-files) numbered below 8 million (A8000000) and documents therein dated prior to May 1, 1951
I became aware of this valuable source of information through an article in the Family Tree Magazine by David A. Fryxell.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Looking under the street lamp

I had an experience at the Mesa Regional Family History Center (MRFHC) recently that reminds of a old Bazooka Joe comic. In the comic, one of Joe's friends is searching for something under a street lamp. Joe comes up and asks what he is looking for. The friend says he lost a quarter down the street a ways. Joe then asks why he is looking under the street lamp and the reply is "That is where the light is!!!" In my experience at the MRFHC, one of the patrons was looking for a marriage date for his grandparents in Ohio. I started helping him find Ohio records but we could not find the grandparents listed anywhere. Finally, he suggested that we might look in Cook County, Illinois. I asked why and he replied because that was where they were from.

The first problem with this scenario is that the researcher is looking for an event rather than looking for a person. In these cases, focus on the people, not on the events. Who were these people? Where did they live? Another example comes from my own life. My family lived mostly in Arizona for generations. My parents were married in the small town where all of my grandparents and most of my great-grandparents had lived. Before I was born, my mother's parents moved to Utah. At the time I was born, my father was in the Army and my mother went to Utah to be with her mother when the baby was born. So even though my family is all from Arizona, I was born in Utah. If you were one of my descendants you could look forever in Arizona records and not find my birth record.

In each of these examples, it is absolutely necessary to look at the bigger picture. In the case of the Ohio marriage records, it would be better to start with the grandparent's family's birthplace to look for their parents' marriage records. In other words, start looking one generation closer to the present for records. Always put the person in the historical context of the event. In my case, I was born during World War II and therefore could have been born anywhere in the U.S. where my father was stationed, had my mother chosen to follow her husband rather than go home to her mother.

No event takes place in a vacuum of history. In the case of the patron, he knew next to nothing about his family or about the history of the areas where they lived. Had he stepped back a bit and learned about the areas and his family, he might find that they belonged to a particular church or came from a particular area and thereby solve the marriage problem.

What do you know about the history of your ancestors? If they moved from Europe to America, why did they leave Europe? If they moved west across the United States, why did they move? Were they Germans? French? Russians? Danish? Did they speak English? There are a million questions you can ask that will help you to understand your ancestors and then find them.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Another 3,817,381 digitized records online

In an initial search of this online digital repository for some of the nation's great research libraries, I found over 11,000 items relating directly to the search term "genealogy." Quoting a news release earlier this year, "The HathiTrust Digital Library, a partnership among some of the nation's largest academic research libraries, has launched a new digital catalog search that delivers nearly 3 million records through an Internet browser." Formed from a consortium of 12 universities, many of the books and records contain the full text. The consortium includes the following universities:
• California Digital Library
• Indiana University
• Michigan State University
• Northwestern University
• The Ohio State University
• Penn State University
• Purdue University
• University of California Berkeley
• University of California Davis
• University of California Irvine
• University of California Los Angeles
• University of California Merced
• University of California Riverside
• University of California San Diego
• University of California San Francisco
• University of California Santa Barbara
• University of California Santa Cruz
• The University of Chicago
• University of Illinois
• University of Illinois at Chicago
• The University of Iowa
• University of Michigan
• University of Minnesota
• University of Wisconsin-Madison
• University of Virginia
This particular online collection has been in existence less than a year. Although some of the books do not appear with full text, they are still searchable. As you can see from the title to this post there are 3,817,381 volumes, comprised of 1,336,083,350 pages, consisting of 142 terabytes of information or 45 miles of shelf space or 3,102 tons of records with 604,450 volumes (~16% of total) in the public domain.

There seems to be no end to the number of digitized collections available to the genealogical community.

Friday, August 28, 2009

New FamilySearch release date announce for 29 Stakes

29 Stakes in the St. George Temple District have an announced release date of 31 August 2009.

The Stakes to go online with the program are as follows:

Stake Name Release Date
Beaver Utah

Bloomington Utah

Cedar City University 1st

Cedar City University 2nd

Cedar City University 3rd

Cedar City Utah

Cedar City Utah Canyon View Aug 31, 09
Cedar City Utah Cross Hollow Aug 31, 09
Cedar City Utah North Aug 31, 09
Cedar City Utah West

Ely Nevada Aug 31, 09
Enoch Utah Aug 31, 09
Enterprise Utah Aug 31, 09
Escalante Utah

Hurricane Utah Aug 31, 09
Hurricane Utah West Aug 31, 09
Ivins Utah Aug 31, 09
Kanab Utah

Kanab Utah Kaibab

La Verkin Utah Aug 31, 09
Mesquite Nevada Aug 31, 09
Milford Utah Aug 31, 09
Page Arizona Aug 31, 09
Panaca Nevada Aug 31, 09
Panguitch Utah Aug 31, 09
Parowan Utah Aug 31, 09
Santa Clara Utah Aug 31, 09
St George Utah

St George Utah Bloomington Hills Aug 31, 09
St George Utah College 1st

St George Utah College 2nd Aug 31, 09
St George Utah East

St George Utah Green Valley Aug 31, 09
St George Utah Little Valley Aug 31, 09
St George Utah Morningside Aug 31, 09
St George Utah North Aug 31, 09
St George Utah Pine View Aug 31, 09
St George Utah Red Cliffs

St George Utah Snow Canyon Aug 31, 09
St George Utah Sunset

St George Utah Washington Fields Aug 31, 09
Washington Utah Aug 31, 09
Washington Utah East Aug 31, 09
Washington Utah Buena Vista Aug 31, 09

Is stealing my genealogy illegal?

An anonymous comment to my post on who owns genealogy said, "Its true that names and dates aren't "ownable", but if someone writes up their family history in a narrative format, it is copyrighted, and any reproduction without permission is illegal." Fortunately, we do not yet have copyright police in the United States. In fact, there is no agency at all, in the entire government, that enforces copyright claims. The comment shows a very common misconception, blurring the distinction between civil and criminal law. Criminal laws are those enforced by some level of government that have criminal penalties for their violation. For example, theft with a penalty of a possible jail term. The state (city, county, state, or Federal government) is always the plaintiff or complaining party in a criminal action. A jail sentence can only be imposed for violation of a criminal statute or law.

On the other hand, statutes like the copyright law, may or may not impose criminal penalty. Almost all of us are familiar with the annoying FBI notice at the beginning of any movie on a DVD. That notice is a reference to a criminal violation of the criminal law of copyright. Most, nearly all, violations of the copyright law do not result in any criminal penalties. When we speak of some activity as being "illegal," it can only be illegal if the activity has a criminal penalty. Copying someones genealogy file, even their "family history in narrative format," is not illegal. The statutory provisions give rise to a civil claim for monetary damages and perhaps, for a court order prohibiting the copying (injunctive relief). So if you tell someone that it is "illegal" to copy a file, what you really mean is that if you do so and you suffer damages, you may be able to bring a lawsuit in the Federal Court to prevent the person from copying your works and for damages you may have suffered.

It might also be important to note, that there are several prerequisites to filing an action for copyright infringement in a Federal District Court. The first is that the Federal Courts have original jurisdiction in all copyright claims. That means you can't sue someone for a copyright violation in a state or county court. Next, you have to register your work if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. To quote the U.S. Copyright office, "Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney's fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within 5 years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration” and Circular 38b, Highlights of Copyright Amendments Contained in the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA), on non-U.S. works."

Perhaps, you should read some of the descriptions of copyright laws before you tell someone what they are doing is illegal.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Evidence of Salt Lake Valley New FamilySearch

During the past few months I have been focusing on the announcements of New FamilySearch introductions throughout Utah and Idaho. Those of us in Arizona have been waiting for the Wasatch Front Temple Districts to have the program introduced. Well, it now seems that they already have limited access to the program. I have started seeing Ordinance Cards printed from New FamilySearch with addresses in the Salt Lake Valley. Apparently, enough of the consultants and their friends have access to the program to start to make an impact.

Checking the News Website, shows that all of the remaining Temple Districts are now listed as receiving preparation notifications. This list does not have any specific dates for release of the program but quite a few people already have access despite the lack of a formal date. The remaining Temple Districts listed in the announcement are:
It looks like this extra long introduction process is growing to a close.

Mining legal records for genealogical gold

Modern mining operations develop huge open pit mines. In these monster excavations, the mining companies process millions of tons of rocks to extract a small percentage of valuable minerals. Even though these mines exploit copper or other minerals, often there is a very small, but significant percentage of gold and silver as a by-product of the mining operation.

These large scale mining operations have a direct analogy to a genealogical search through legal records, you have to search a lot of records and the amount of information you gather may be small but very valuable. There are two huge legal record mining operations in the world, Westlaw and LexisNexis. Both of these Websites are rather expensive subscription sites, however, it is likely that they may be available, either for free or for a fee, at a law library near your home.

Both Westlaw and LexisNexis contain vast numbers of legal documents, including almost every reported case in the history of the United States. Both have a complex search engine technology designed to help legal professionals find case law, statutes, forms, commentary and many other resources. We are a very litigious society and it would not be unusual for a family member or ancestor to be involved in some legal dispute. Finding the case reported in the database means that there are likely a lot more legal documents sitting in some courthouse across the country. Many of the older cases are now on microfilm or even online.

Westlaw has a newer database called a Peoplemap, which is advertised as follows:

Westlaw PeopleMap will help you:
  • Quickly discover relationships between people, assets, and other public records
  • Visualize results to make your research more focused
  • Communicate your research findings more easily with professional reports
Before you've even started your research, Westlaw PeopleMap already has made connections between individuals from billions of public records across the country. Westlaw PeopleMap then brings those connections to you, making it faster and easier to identify a person of interest and their relevant relationships.
Westlaw PeopleMap features:
  • Smart linking technology connecting billions of records to individuals
  • An intuitive interface that's easy to use, simplifying your research
  • A dynamic interactive graphical view that helps you see connections quickly
  • A mapping feature to help home in on the person you're looking for
  • Downloadable reports in professional formats to easily communicate your findings
Expand your research in the graphical interface
If you want, you can expand your research with the intuitive graphical interface with identifying icons to easily see connections between people and records. Just click on an icon and see where the dynamic trail leads you.
Then, download a professional report with the information that's relevant to you: Comprehensive, Core, Assets, or Adverse.

Sometimes genealogists get a bit insular, believing that their records and databases are all there are in the world to help with genealogical research. You might try branching out to help from other disciplines.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Projects and Information Around the World from FamilySearch

FamilySearch, formerly The Genealogical Society of Utah, is "is dedicated to promoting the preservation of genealogical information throughout the world. To quote the FamilySearch Website:
In cooperation with record-keeping institutions, the Genealogical Society of Utah began microfilming records in 1938; its digital imaging projects began in 1998. The Society has microfilmed important family history sources in over 100 countries worldwide. At any given time, there are over 200 microfilming projects in over 40 countries. FamilySearch creates over 40 million digital images and 20 thousand rolls of microfilm each year.
To get an idea of the worldwide scope of FamilySearch, you may wish to browse the records summary in the Countries, States and Provinces of the World on their Projects page. From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, FamilySearch has record collections for almost every country in the world. For example, there are 3053 microfilms from Zimbabwe and 30 published materials. All of those millions of microfilms are available through the Family History Library. It is impressive to see the results of a search for Zimbabwe in the Family History Library Catalog.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

She stole my genealogy!

In rummaging through an online family tree service, George was surprised and angered to find his whole genealogy file posted by someone he didn't even know. He immediately sent several E-mails accusing the person of stealing his genealogy. Why did George believe that he owned the family tree information?

The issue of ownership of information goes much deeper into our society than the legal issues of copyright. Humans are definitely territorial. Try sitting in someone's accustomed seat at church for example, or taking someone's parking space. Just drive down any country road and read all the no trespassing signs, not to forget all the wars fought over territorial boundaries. Unfortunately, this same instinct carries over into the world of genealogy.

To begin, George probably did not think a lot about who owned the information he was gathering into "his" file. Even though he may have paid, in money, for some of the information he obtained, it is unlikely he thought about how and where the information was originally gathered and stored. His idea of ownership came about a result of the fact that this particular pile of information was on his side of the fence, in other words, putting the information on his computer, in his database program gave his automatic ownership of the information. Although he had and has no legal right to the information superior to anyone else who could obtain it from the same source, once he has control over the information, it is now his.

This attitude is rampant among genealogists (and a lot of other people too) and on occasion, can dramatically interfere with family relations and any common interest others may have in their own ancestors which happen to be ours also. I have seen countless time where people as so possessive of their own "genealogy" they are afraid to even let me look at it on the slim chance I will steal their information.

Since we have such a huge and active community of people willing to share their genealogy, we seldom see public evidence of the hoarders. But they do exist. I think there is partially, an underlying feeling that somehow the genealogy has some kind of monetary value and that if I give it away, I will lose the ability to "make money" out of all my effort. This attitude is hard to understand given the almost non-existent market for personal family history books, many of which cannot even be given away to relatives. I speak from experience, having boxes of family history books in my garage that I practically have to pay family members to take.

Like many challenges, hoarding of genealogy can be addressed by kindness and education. Sometimes, the person just needs to realize that in order for their work to have any value, it must be shared with others in the same family. How many boxes of valuable genealogical information have been destroyed by family members who did not appreciate what was there, because the person who accumulated the information did not share it, in a meaningful way, with those in the family who may have had an interest?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Who owns genealogy? Part Two

Your Great-aunt sends you a GEDCOM file of your ancestry on her side of the family. The file includes hundreds of individuals with notes and sources. You immediately decided to publish the information for your family and eventually, you publish a book containing the information from your Great-aunt as well as some of your own work. Did your Great-aunt own any of the information she sent to you? Do you own a copyright in the book you have just published? What parts, if not all, of your work is protected?

The first thing to understand about the current state of copyright law in the U.S. is that "[y]our work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device." Registration is not necessary to obtain protection, and for that matter, it is not even necessary to have a copyright notice on the work. As the U.S. Copyright Office states, "In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration.” See U.S. Copyright Office.

So, if any portion of your Great-aunt's work was subject to a copyright, she had those rights when she sent the work to you, even if she didn't claim any copyright protection at the time. Likewise, if any portion of your own publication was your original work, then it too was protected by copyright.

However, you have no copyright protection for the historical information contained in either a computer genealogy file or even a book. Again quoting from the U.S. Copyright Office, "
Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section "What Works Are Protected." More specifically, several categories of material are not protected by copyright, including "Works consisting entirely of information that is common
property and containing no original authorship (for example: standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources)." See What Works are Protected.

What if I don't care about copyright? Even if you own the copyright to your work, you do not have to enforce it. You can allow your work to enter the public domain or even notify anyone who cares, that your work is in the public domain.

But if you do care, you need to be consistent and make efforts to protect your copyright. If you find someone has used your material without permission, you must take steps to demand that the material be removed or claim a right to any damages, that is, loss of income you may have suffered as a result of the improper publication or use. Failure to enforce your copyright may end up with your work being in the public domain.

So, the information from your Great-aunt is probably not subject to copyright, like the names, dates, sources etc. but if she wrote any notes about the family, using her own words and expressions, those notes are subject to a copyright claim.

As a final note, for the moment, you cannot take a document that is already in the public domain and somehow make it subject to your copyright. Your index or comments might be protected by you can't prevent people from using the information. Again, to quote the U.S. Copyright Office about works not covered by copyright, they include, "Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration."

More to come.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Who owns genealogy? Part One

Who owns the U.S. Census records? If I have a copy of the U.S. Census can I charge you to look at it? Who owns the Social Security Death Index? Again, if I have a copy, can I charge you to look at it? Do the individual states own their vital records? Do churches own their membership records? All of these questions have different answers depending on specific circumstances. Some of the answers involve copyright law and some involve practical business interests.

Starting with the U.S. Census, works produced by the U.S. Government as not available for copyright protection. However, the United States Government is not precluded from receiving and holding copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest (gift), or otherwise. See Title 17 of United States Code, Chapter 1, Section 105. For that reason, you can copy the U.S. Census records and reproduce them without violating any copyright held by the U.S. Government. Then how can someone sell access to the U.S. Census? The answer is simply that an index may be copyrighted. The business reason is also simple, people will pay for the convenience of looking up the records. But if someone chose to put the U.S. Census online without an index, it could be done without violating anyone's copyright.

Now what about the Social Security Death Index (SSDI)? It is already an index and comes from the U.S. Government. Could I charge you a fee to look at the SSDI? Yes, and if you are willing to pay me, I might make some money. But there are "free" copies of the SSDI on the Internet already.

The issue of the ownership of state and local records is more challenging. Generally, just as with U.S. documents and records, the states do not have copyright protection. But, generally, states charge for copies of the documents and records in their possession. Only a few states, for example, have put any of their birth and death records online, and their is almost uniformly a charge for their reproduction. But once you have paid for a copy of the record, a birth certificate for example, you could use a copy of the certificate in a publication without worrying about copyright.

European jurisdictions vary in their attitude towards the records created by the governments. In some countries, like Sweden, for example, the Government charges for access to its record copies. In Denmark, on the other hand the records are generally free and online. There seems to be no consistency in whether a given type of record will be free or subject to a fee payment for a copy.

What about old private records? The U.S. Copyright Office explains, "You can register copyright in [an old record] only if you own the rights to the work, for example, by will or by inheritance. Copyright is the right of the author of the work or the author's heirs or assignees, not of the one who only owns or possesses the physical work itself. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Who Can Claim Copyright.” A work that is out of copyright, either due to age or use, is said to be in the "public domain." It is best not to assume that a work is not copyrighted. Even old works may be subject to some one's claim of ownership.

For more information, see Copyright Basics from the U.S. Copyright Office.

More later.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A short note on copying items on the Web

Some bloggers, even those with genealogical interests, apparently feel that anything posted on the Web is fair game for copying without even courtesy of attribution. Not only is this practice readily apparent from reading posts, but it is lauded by some as a good practice. I try to make sure that any time I copy something from a Web source that I give credit to the originator by providing a link, putting the material in quotes or indenting it to show that it is a quote. If I fail to do this, I would expect to be notified immediately of my mistake by a reader.

Sometimes, it is not evident that the material used in a blog post is copied. No one could really know unless they happened on the original source. Sometimes the material copied is clearly outside the realm of copyright protection, but still not original. In all these cases there is an ethical duty to disclose your sources. Plagiarism is no less plagiarism simply because it is difficult to detect.

It is clear that in the electronic world, copyright issues are blurred. On the Internet where material can move rapidly and be copied literally thousands or millions of times in a very short while, plagiarism and copyright violations may be difficult to detect. U.S. Copyright laws have, for the most part, failed to keep up adequately with the issues raised by rampant copying.

Copyright laws are extensively available. The U.S. Copyright office, has explanations and forms for all kinds of copyright issues. You may also wish to read the Statement of Marybeth Peters, The Register of Copyrights before the Committee on the Judiciary United States House of Representatives of the 111th Congress 1st Session February 25, 2009. Although this article deals mostly with television broadcasting, there is much here that applies to other media and the article illustrates the difficulty the legislatures are having in adapting the law to current conditions.

One way to slow the growth of rampant copying is to comment when a blogger posts something that is copied without proper attribution.

Now, what about old records and documents? It isn't plagiarism to copy an old document and make it available on the Web. Likewise, it isn't a violation of copyright to make old records (pre-1920) on the Web. Some people in their zeal to claim credit for something that isn't their's or to try to make some money, claim an ownership rights in documents and records that are certainly not subject to copyright. This area of the law is very complex especially when it comes to claiming a copyright to a certain format or design. Can I take all my Great-grandmother's old letters and put them in a book or online and claim a copyright to the content? I will address that issue in another post, but the answer is a qualified "it depends." It is clear, however, that you cannot legally prevent someone else from copying the content of the letters, although some would try to do so.

One difficult question in our society, which we face as genealogists, is who "owns" old records. Can governments claim ownership of their old records? Can churches claim ownership of their old records? I know they do so every day, but how is their ownership interest established other than by force? As in, I have the records so therefore you must pay to see or use them.

I would appreciate comments and questions.

RootsMagic announces multiple upgrades

In the RootsMagic Blog for 21 August 2009, Bruce Buzbee announced the new update to RootsMagic 4, now version Quoting from the announcement the program now has these important new features:
  • Children in narrative reports that are in the next generation now print birth, marr, and death info in the child list
  • Added “Search > Move to primary position” to move the highlighted person (really only useful in pedigree and descendant views)
  • Added a button to FamilySearch match and sync screen to view the person on the FamilySearch website
  • Added birth year to FamilySearch sync screen for relationships (both RM and FS sides)
  • Added FamilySearch import to import a tree from New FamilySearch into an RM file (File > FamilySearch > FamilySearch Import)
  • Added Remove to the FamilySearch ordinance request screen to unreserve names
Several features of the program were also fixed or changed. For a complete list please refer to Mr. Buzbee's Blog.

At the same time RootsMagic also announce upgrades to Personal Historian and Family Atlas which provide support for importing the new RootsMagic files. In a recent interview on Roots Television, Mr. Buzbee commented that the code for RootsMagic 4 had been completely rewritten. You may wish to view this short interview.

The latest additions to FamilySearch Record Search Pilot

The past few weeks have seen downtime for the FamilySearch Record Search Pilot, but 22 August 2009 brought new records collections. Record Search acknowledges that some images are missing and being reloaded onto the site, but the new collections add more millions of individuals.

Added to the site in this update:
  • Indexes to the Wisconsin Censuses of 1875, 1885 and 1895
  • Venezuela Merida Church Records, 1654 through 1992
  • Mexico Chihuahua Catholic Church Records, 1622 through 1958
The Mexican Census records are now 19% complete.

If you hadn't noticed, Record Search is adding records from Mexican States in alphabetical order.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Revisiting standardized geographic names

The comments to my last post on geographic naming raise a number of issues. The two main questions deal with changes in political subdivisions over time and the need to identify the location of local records. In the western states, where I live, there is not really much of a challenge, but in the eastern states and, of course, in Europe, place names may have change dozens of times. These changes are really an opportunity to become familiar with local history.

I suggest that the proper methodology for approaching geographic naming issues begins with a thorough examination of historical maps. It is important to identify the physical location of the event, independent of the changing place names. Just like a real estate title examiner who must follow the chain of ownership, to make progress in finding genealogically significant records, you must have a clear chain of jurisdictions. Recognizing that as the jurisdictions changed, i.e. from village to township to county, the repository for the local records may also have changed. Particularly, with county splits, some of the records may have remained in the parent county and some of the records may have gone to the newly created counties. That is, unless all of the records stayed in the parent county or were sent to a central repository, such as the state archives.

European jurisdictions have the additional challenges of wars and annexation. Not only do place names change, but the language spoken and the country may have also changed over time. Language and population movements occur in the U.S. also, but on a much smaller scale and over a much shorter time period.

The main reasons for using the name of the place at the time of the event, is not only to be historically accurate but to give the best opportunity for identifying the present location of local records. Most current lineage linked database programs (like RootsMagic, Legacy, Ancestral Quest, Family Tree Maker and others) have an option to record alternative events which could include adding another location for an event. If that feature is not available in the program you are using, then you may have to result to notes explaining the changes in the place name.

One comment questioned using an obscure place name that was used for a limited time period and concluded that the issue might be ignored and the current location name used. I disagree. Not only is it important to preserve the historical accuracy of the records, but place name changes may reflect other social and political issues that should be recorded as part of the family history. How many times have you searched for a location, only to find that the name is no longer used. If you ignore the original place names in favor of standardized naming, you lose valuable historical connections to the original population of the area.

There are many good arguments for standardizing place names, when the place name is subject to standardization, but not when the standard name obscures the actual place and history.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Graveyard Rabbits Revisited

Since my last post on the subject, The Association of Graveyard Rabbits has had many editions of their Carnival. The topic for this month's edition is "favorite photo." Take a moment to check out some of the links, they may give you a new perspective on the importance of graveyards to genealogy. Upcoming Carnival topics include:
  • October 2009 – Funeral Cards
  • November 2009 – Write Your Own Epitaph
  • December 2009 – In the News
  • January 2010 – The Final Resting Place
  • February 2010 – Cemetery Critters
  • March 2010 – Forgotten Cemeteries
  • April 2010 – Anonymous Graves
I note that the organization shows extensive growth, with many more bloggers participating about cemeteries in their specific geographic area. Don't forget these experts on local cemetery history and content. If you have not looked at their Websites, you have missed a valuable research resource.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The problem with standardized place names

One feature of the New FamilySearch program is the introduction of the Standard Finder, a utility for looking up and regularizing place names around the world. There is a problem with using this, or any other geographic look-up function, due to changes in jurisdictions over time. Many of the current lineage linked database programs also include a link to a geographic database. Relying on this function may create change an accurate characterization of the locality, to its modern equivalent.

It is a well established rule in genealogical documentation, that an event is recorded with the appropriate geographic location existing at the time of the event. Here is an example from early Arizona history.

There is a small community in northern Arizona, presently called Joseph City. Originally, founded in 1876 with the name "Allen's Camp" the name of the town was changed to St. Josoph in January of 1878. Later, in 1923, the name of the town was changed to Joseph City to avoid confusion with St. Joseph, Missouri which was on the same mail and freight route across the country. Joseph City is presently in Navajo County. However, Navajo County was formed from Apache County on March 21, 1895. Apache County was created in 1879 from Yavapai County, one of the Arizona Territory's four original counties created in 1865.

This history is relatively uncomplicated compared to some geographic locations, but it illustrates the problem. A child born in that small Arizona town in 1878 would have been born in St. Joseph, Yavapai, Arizona Territory, United States. It would be very incorrect to record the birthplace as Joseph City, Navajo, Arizona, United States, which is what you get from the standardized place names. What is the answer? Don't use standardized place names unless they match the accurate designation of the location at the time of the event.

Here is a listing of a seach in the Standard Finder for "St. Joseph, Yavapai, Arizona":

Joseph City Apache > Arizona > United States > World
joseph city, st joseph, Unknown Joseph City, Apache, Arizona, United States North America US-AZ 34.93333 N
110.3 W
St. Joseph Apache > Arizona > United States > World
st joseph, Unknown St. Joseph, Apache, Arizona, United States North America US-AZ
Joseph City Navajo > Arizona > United States > World
allen camp, allens camp, joseph city, saint joesph, st joseph, Populated Place Joseph City, Navajo, Arizona, United States North America US-AZ 34.95583 N
110.33333 W
Saint Joseph Navajo > Arizona > United States > World
s jsph, saint joseph, st joe, st joesph, st jos, st joseph, st josephs, st js, st jsph, Unknown Saint Joseph, Navajo, Arizona, United States North America US-AZ 34.93333 N
110.33333 W

As you can see, it is pretty much of a mess. Without some time line information, it would be impossible to make an accurate choice of which of the variations was the most acceptable.

Why is it important to record place names in effect at the time of the event? One very simple answer is that as jurisdictions change, so do record repositories. If you don't know the jurisdiction at the time of the event, then you may never find the records.

More later on this important subject.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

History is the key to genealogy and genealogy is the key to history

My brother and I have both taught at the college level for years. After dealing with so many students, one fact is more than apparent to both of us; most students' knowledge of history is abysmally poor. History, as such, is no longer taught in many high schools or grade schools. Now, the children have classes in "social studies." Which is a euphemism for whatever popular social activist philosophy is current at the time.

I remember my own history classes in high school and grade school and it seemed that we never got past the U.S. Civil War by the end of the year. Even after taking classes that "covered" the Civil War, I can remember when, later in life, I read a number of books about the War to be surprised at what happened. My school classes never really explained the War in sufficient detail for me to understand what had actually happened.

Now, what does this have to do with genealogy? Everything. Given a particular date and place, can you tell what was happening in that township or county at the time? Unless you have made a particular effort to do so, it is unlikely that your general knowledge of history supplies any clues. As a result, as I have found in my own family, people make incredible errors in time and place.

In one example, one of my Great-great (back a ways) Grandfathers was supposedly born in the Salt Lake Valley in 1795! (Just in case that doesn't mean anything to you, the pioneers didn't reach Utah until 1847). I find this kind of error all the time. But there is a more significant problem. That is, assuming that just because you have a date and a place, you are finished with the story and the research.

I have talked to dozens (probably hundreds) of people who express the idea that they have reached a "brick wall." In almost every single case, (there are exceptions and you, the reader, are probably one of them) the person turns out to know almost nothing about the local history where they are looking. Most fishermen know more about the fish and the lake bottom than genealogists know about the history of the local areas they research.

This post is not aimed at the meticulous historian/genealogists who know all about their ancestor's personal lives and history. It is aimed at the vast majority, who never bother to read a history book or check to see if one exists.

By the way, pick a county in the U.S. Now go to Google Books and look for a county history. What did you find? Have you read the book or at least looked at it? Here is an example:

Monday, August 17, 2009

Social network for genealogists

Generally patterned after other social networking sites like Facebook, GenealogyWise has quickly grown to more than 12,000 members. With an active forum, videos, blogs and photos, this site seems to be advancing into the forefront of the genealogical community.

GenealogyWise was created by FamilyLink is probably best known in the genealogical community for its WorldVitalRecords Website. But the network of, Inc. is much more. Here is a quote from the FamilyLink Website:, Inc. network of sites became one of the Top 500 Web companies in the world earlier this year, based on Quantcast statistics. Currently ranked at 37,, Inc. is a family of services that includes,,, and the We’re Related and MyFamily applications on Facebook. The focus of the company is to provide innovative tools to connect families. Founded in 2006 by Paul Allen and several key members of the original team, provides affordable access to genealogy databases and family history tools. More than 30,000 individuals have subscribed to With more than a billion records and thousands of databases—including birth, death, military, census, and parish records— helps fill in missing information in your family tree. Some of its partners include Everton Publishers, Quintin Publications, Archive CD Books Australia, Gould Genealogy, Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild, Archive CD Books Canada, The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc., SmallTownPapers®, Accessible Archives, Genealogical Publishing Company, Find My Past, Godfrey Memorial Library, Find A Grave, and FamilySearch. Investors include vSpring Capital and several angel investors.
With that kind of backing, you can assume that GenealogyWise will continue to grow in its influence in the community.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

FamilySearch introduces England Jurisdictions 1851

Quoting from the FamilySearch Labs Website, "The England Jurisdictions 1851 project simplifies research by consolidating data from many finding aids into a single searchable repository that can be accessed by clicking in a parish boundary. Features include contiguous parish and radius search lists and relevant jurisdictions as they existed in England in 1851. Data includes changes to parishes prior to 1851 and lists of non-conformist denominations in a parish.
(requires Internet Explorer 7, Firefox 3, Safari 3 or newer."

The Project has a very colorful and impressive database, apparently using a Google Maps base. By clicking on a county, you obtain links to a list of all the parishes, a list of contiguous counties, a link to the Family History Library Catalog and a link to a search in the FamilySearch Wiki. The layers of the map includes counties, Civil Registrations Districts, Diocese, Rural Deaneries, Poor Law Union, the Hundred, Province and the Ordinance Survey.

This is certainly and interesting new product from FamilySearch.

FamilySearch introduces Forums

FamilySearch Labs has introduced a new project, Forums. To quote the information from the Labs Website,
The Forums project is aimed at providing the most up to date information to anyone who uses FamilySearch products to work on their family history. Through the Forums anyone can ask questions about product features, research techniques, hints and tips, or even about specific families in specific locations. And anyone who knows the answer can reply. Instead of a limited number of support agents available to answer the questions there will be tens of thousands of users collaborating together. There will even be special forums for Family History Consultants, or leaders assigned to foster local family history participation. Come participate and give us your feedback. The more who use it the better the information.
The site is still listed as in "beta" but already has a substantial number of threads and posts. Forums was previously a part of the FamilySearch Wiki and had a sort-of marginal number of visitors. Speculating, this move apparently makes the Forum a possible stand-alone Website, only indirectly related to the FamilySearch Wiki. However, you can still enter the Forums Website by going directly to the FamilySearch Wiki. It would be interesting to know why Forums was considered for further development in Labs.

Renovations to FamilySearch

FamilySearch is in the process of making major renovations to the Website. Indications of the process are being displayed online at the FamilySearch Alpha project. Beyond cosmetic changes to the design of the Website, the new Alpha version contains several new items not directly available from the present FamilySearch Website.

The first of these is a blog. However, despite more recent changes to the Alpha site, the latest blog post dates back to March, 2009.

The Search Tab on the menu bar takes the user directly to FamilySearch Record Search Pilot rather than to the older list of FamilySearch regulars, such as Ancestral File and IGI. By the way, the FamilySearch Record Search Pilot Website has been down the last couple of days for maintenance.

The feature with the most extensive promise in the Alpha version is the Learning Tab, which shows some innovative ideas for presenting research information. Unfortunately, few of the features are yet active.

The information on the Library Tab is current but most of the features are not yet connected to active Web pages. One editorial comment, the picture they used of the Reference Consultants showed a definite bias towards very young consultants, that is certainly not my experience at any genealogical library, including the one in Salt Lake.

All in all, the Alpha Website is promising, but very incomplete. It is something you may wish to check now and again for progress.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Long term digital storage

How long do yo think your digitized images will still be useful and available? 50 years? 10 years? 1 year? My earliest experience with the issue of long term storage occurred with my personal journal. During my first years of computerized journal writing, I used MacWrite, a popular Macintosh word processing program. After a few years, I went back to retrieve my older journal entries and found the my old MacWrite documents were no longer readable. Rather than panic, I went to our old computers and found one that still had programs that would read MacWrite. My brother was able to use the older programs and migrate the data into a current version of Microsoft Word.

The issue of data permanence raises serious issue, not just for genealogists, but for all computer users. An important report on the subject warns that "Digital information is at risk of being lost." That is the warning from 276 long-term archive practitioners who participated in the Storage Networking Industry Association's (SNIA's) 100 Year Archive Requirements Survey Report. Although the report is now dated, (2007), it is still relevant to today's storage conditions.

To quote part of the report:
One survey respondent illustrates the challenge before us this way, "When using a digital archive understand you will have a long hard expensive road to keep the records. You have to think about the ability of your great, great, great, great ... grandchildren being able to read and logically interpret what your history was."
In another publication, Defining Storage Practices and Standards for Long-Term Digital Information Retention, two points stand out as related to genealogical information:
• Physical migration is a big problem. Only 30% declared they
were doing it correctly at 3-5 year intervals. The rest of the
group is placing their digital information at risk.
• 60% of respondents say they are highly dissatisfied that they
will be able to read their retained information in 50 years.
I commonly experience the fact that even ten year old data may be unreadable due to the lack of availability. This coincides with the survey's findings that defined long-term as periods over 10 to 15 years.

What is the solution?

To avoid data loss, the only solution is a constant an vigilant system of data migration. That is, continually moving your data to new programs, new hardware and maintaining adequate back-up capability.

Given this solution, what about all of those hundreds of thousands of genealogists who are depending on Personal Ancestral File for their data storage when the program has not been upgraded since 2002?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

New Certified Affiliates for New FamilySearch

FamilySearch announces new certified affiliates. To quote the FamilySearch Website, "FamilySearch Certified Affiliates are third-party companies and organizations that provide products and services with features that are compatible with FamilySearch programs. Certification indicates the affiliate’s declaration of compliance with FamilySearch requirements. Note that these products and services are independently developed and supported by their respective organizations, not by FamilySearch."

The newly announce affiliates are:
Issues from Armidale Software
AllMyCousins from GeneSys Foundation
LiveRoots from Genealogy Today LLC
In addition to having their previous certifications, the following products are now also certified to reserve ordinances and print Family Ordinance Requests:
Ancestral Quest from Incline Software
FamilyInsight from Ohana Software
The FamilySearch Affiliates and Product Certification page has a definition list of the certified features.

Update to New FamilySearch -- major additions to the program

The August 2009 release of changes to the New FamilySearch program is extensive. The explanation of the changes is 12 pages long. The changes include additions to the following functions of the program:
  • The Temple Ordinance List
  • Reserving Ordinances
  • Reprinting Family Ordinance Cards
  • Displaying and Printing Family Group Records
  • Solving problems related to Family Ordinance Cards
  • Converting a TempleReady Submission File to a Family Ordinance Request (FOR)
In addition, there are additional options on the Home Page that include Temple Information and families and individuals reserved for Temple ordinances.

The release also includes corrections and additions to the User's Guide and the Help Center. One new option allows users to find their local Family History Consultant.

One of the new features, that has been a long time coming, is the ability to remove individuals from your temple ordinances list. This cancels your reservation for all ordinances not yet complete so that other Church members can do them. (Previous releases of the new FamilySearch Web site did not allow you to cancel ordinance reservations.)

More later on these extensive changes to the program.

The Valley of the Shadow -- genealogy at its finest

If you have ever wondered what could be done with family history and just history in general on the Internet, you now have the opportunity to view a premier Website project created by the Virginia Center for Digital History at the University of Virginia. The Website is called "The Valley of the Shadow" and is " a digital archive of primary sources that document the lives of people in Augusta County, Virginia, and Franklin County, Pennsylvania, during the era of the American Civil War. Here you may explore thousands of original documents that allow you to see what life was like during the Civil War for the men and women of Augusta and Franklin." Quoting from the site.

I found this site when I was looking for records from the Freedmen's Bureau. It turns out that this site has the records only for the two counties that are part of the focus of the collection, but in the course of looking at the records I realized that the Website contained a huge collection of original resource documents with clear references to the source citations. Although I did not have any specific research objectives in the two counties, I found the format and content to be a good example of what could be done with other records.

It turns out that the Virginia Center for Digital History contains a number of interesting and source rich projects:
  • The Valley of the Shadow
    [ about | link ]
  • Virtual Jamestown
    [ about | link ]
  • Civil Rights Television News Archive, 1950-1970
    [ about | link ]
  • The American Civil War Center and Historic Tredegar: Educational Web Companion
    [ about | link ]
  • The Virginia Emigrants to Liberia Project
    [ about | link ]
  • The History Engine
    [ about | link ]
  • The Countryside Transformed: The Eastern Shore of Virginia and the Railroad
    [ about | link ]
  • Race and Place: An African American Community in the Jim Crow South
    [ about | link ]
  • The Geography of Slavery Project
    [ about | link ]
  • The Dolley Madison Project
    [ about | link ]
  • The Ground Beneath Our Feet
    [ about | link ]
  • One Hundred Years of Life on the Lawn
    [ about | link ]
  • Wednesdays in Mississippi
    [ about | link ]
There is always something new to look at on the Internet.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ancestral Quest 12.1 -- Now Runs On A Flash Drive

The newest release of Ancestral Quest 12.1 build 19, allows you to install it on a removable drive. You can install Ancestral Quest on both the removable drive and your main internal hard drive. If you would like a more complete review of all of the features of the program, refer back to my post on August 3, 2009.

Original is not a category in genealogical evidence

In my last post I began a discussion on the concept of original documents. In this day of digitized photos and documents, there is a real issue as to what is or is not an "original." There is also an issue as to whether the idea of an "original" has any meaning in the context of genealogical research.

There are two divergent areas of concern when the issue of an original document arises, first is the issue of provenance, that is, attribution to a specific source. Over the years there has been a lot of controversy over forged or fraudulent documents. Obviously, this problem is somewhat limited to document attributed to famous individuals. No one would spend the time to forge a letter from an unknown farmer or factory worker unless there was some way to obtain some prestige or monetary reward for the effort. But a forgery of a document by Abraham Lincoln or some other famous person would immediately arouse a lot of interest, especially if the forgery were good enough to fool the experts.

Genealogy is not immune to forgery, albeit on a very much limited scale. It is not unheard of for individuals to falsify documents to obtain membership in heritage organizations such as descendants of certain immigrants or participants in a certain war. However, recourse to the original source records, if available, usually uncovers such frauds.

Apart from the issue of fraudulent documents, the other major concern about originality is an effort to make sure that the information obtained is as accurate as possible. Although it may not always be the case, there is an underlying assumption in historical research of all kinds, including genealogy, that the nearer the document is in place and time to the event the more reliable the document becomes. Hence, the search for original documents, or those produced during the event.

But it is always important to maintain the distinction between the "document" as an artifact and the document as a container of information. In the day to day world of genealogy, a copy of a birth certificate is as valuable as the "original" as long as the copy is of sufficient quality to reproduce all of the information contained in the "original." In fact, a digital copy of the original may be more accessible than the original document merely because the computer allows the user to enlarge the text, add contrast, take out defects and otherwise improve the quality of the "original."

In this context, the idea of obtaining original sources somewhat different. Many genealogists (and just people in general) take great care in preserving their "original" birth certificate, for example. However, it is usually relatively easy to obtain a new "original" birth certificate anytime you want to pay the money to obtain one.

The fact that I have the original birth certificate does not make the information contained on the document any more reliable than it were a photo copy or a digitized representation of the document. A good researcher will not put any more credence in the "original" of a document than the document merits. Just because you have the original document does not lend any more credence to the information contained on the document than a copy. In court, for example, just because you produce the original deed or contract, you do not automatically resolve any factual issues that may exist about the formation of the contract or the accuracy of the deed.

Evidence has to do with the reliability of the information contained in the document and the reliability may or may not be enhanced by looking at the originally created document. Originals may have wrong information.

I will continue this analysis in future posts.

The dilemma of the original in genealogy

Here is the dilemma, when is it important to keep or have the "original" document? Genealogists are constantly reminded of the need to provide sources. Although this was not always the case, and is still a subject of some controversy, almost every currently available instruction book or article on the subject of genealogy will encourage the reader to document the source of any information from birth dates to immigration. So when is it necessary to view the original document? And even more important, in this day of digitization, what is an original document?

Years ago, in my early days in court, if we brought a copy of a document to a trial we were required to verify or lay foundation for the copy before it could be introduced into evidence. For example, using a genealogically relevant document, if I brought a copy of a deed into court, I had to produce a witness who could testify when and how the copy was made. This was the rule with photocopies as well as the more ancient hand written ones. It was even especially true of so-called carbon copies.

Over the years, this court rule changed. In a recent trial, I never saw any original documents. Every piece of documentary evidence consisted of photocopies of originals. Presently, in almost every case, a photocopy of a document can be substituted for an "original" without laying any foundation for the exchange. So what now is the value of an "original?"

At this point it is probably important to make a distinction between types of originals. The first category of documents I will call reproducible originals, like birth certificates and such. The second category are those documents, like an original handwritten letter from my great-grandmother, who is now deceased, that cannot be duplicated. Unfortunately, some documents in the first category may make their way to the second if the government agency that created the document is no longer in existence. We must also think of the distinction between the information conveyed by the document and the document as an historical artifact.

Let's take the example of my grandmother's letter, if I photocopy the letter, I have preserved all of the information contained in the document. But no one would deny that having the actual original piece of paper signed by my grandmother is more intrinsically valuable to our family than the photocopy. If the copy were equivalent to the original there would be no market for collectibles at all in our society. As a people, we place a high premium on originality, in art, in books, in antiques, in almost everything. This is reason that I will keep boxes and boxes of letters even though I have scanned the contents into the computer. This is why their are huge historical special collections in libraries. I may be able to get an exact copy of a first edition of a book, but there is no one that will not realize that the actual first edition is likely worth more.

So what does this mean to genealogists? We need to determine the intrinsic value of documents and preserve those that have real value, such as original letters and such. But at the same time, we need to be aware that in this world of copies, the original as such, is meaningless from an informational standpoint. A digitized copy of the letter suffices for all purposes to convey the information contained therein. But we do not throw away the letter merely because we have a digitized copy, unless the documents themselves have no intrinsic value.

What is intrinsic value? I learned about this early in life collecting postage stamps. Just because a stamp was old did not make it valuable. Value came from a combination of factors including condition and scarcity. Would you like to find an original handwritten letter signed by Abraham Lincoln? What do you think it would be worth? See what I mean. For this reason it is not necessary to keep the original junk mail saved by our grandmothers, but it may be interesting to have digitized copies, maybe, possibly? Even I have a difficult time making this distinction, but it is a good idea to be aware of the distinction.

Monday, August 10, 2009

More on the Australian Newspapers Digitisation Program

The Australian Newspapers Digitisation Program (yes, it is spelled that way in Australia), is a collaboration of the National Library of Australia and the Australian State and Territorial libraries to digitize out of copyright newspapers. Quoting from the Website:
In July 2008 the Australian Newspapers Beta was released to the public. This is a free online service that enables full-text searching of newspaper articles. The service includes newspapers published in each state and territory from the 1800s to the mid-1950s, when copyright applies. The first Australian newspaper, published in Sydney in 1803, is included in the service. By 2010 the service will comprise 40 million searchable articles.
Eventually, the program will include 475,000 individual newspaper issues, which will consist of 40 million news stories.

If you would like a perspective on digitization, see "The Current State-of-art in Newspaper Digitization, A Market Perspective" by Edwin Klijn. As noted by that article, "From 2007 to 2011, within the framework of the project Databank of Digital Daily Newspapers (DDD), the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (KB, the National Library of the Netherlands) will digitize and put online 8 million pages from a selection of national, regional, local and colonial Dutch daily newspapers."