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

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Google+ remains pretty strange

I have noticed in past posts that Google+ seems to be focused completely on genealogy as far as the people in my circles are concerned. I am not only surprised at the vast number of genealogists who are on Google+, I equally amazed at how few of my other acquaintances are even aware that it exists. Not even my very computer oriented family members are on Google+. I find that utterly strange. Why has Google+ apparently hit a chord with genealogists and not any of the other people I have on Facebook for example? Any thoughts? I am mystified.

Who are the genealogists? An update.

During the past year, I have written and read several posts about the identity of a "genealogical community." Whether or not a community exists, who are these people that we consider to be genealogists? What constitutes the practice of genealogy? In some states, not Arizona, there are laws against people practicing law without a license. What if there were laws that you had to have a license to practice genealogy? How would you prove you were a genealogist? (Actually, the laws in Arizona about practicing law are complicated. Technically, you do not need a license, but the Arizona Supreme Court has rules concerning who can appear in court. The Supreme Court also licenses document preparers as distinct from attorneys).

Let's suppose that we wanted to have licensing requirements for genealogists, (ignoring the fact of whether or not this makes sense), what would you have to do to become a genealogist? Most licensing requirements for professionals, trades people and such, require a test, certification, proof of experience or some kind of education. But even in Arizona, you don't need an attorney to represent yourself in court. So, it would make sense that you would not need a license to do your own genealogy. But what about people like me that do genealogy for others? Is there a need for us to be licensed? In Arizona, like most states, the Arizona State Bar Association has a monopoly over the licensing of lawyers. You are either a member of the Arizona State Bar Association or you do not practice law in the Arizona State court system representing clients. Do we want to give that type of licensing authority to an organization controlling the genealogy profession? By the way, it doesn't matter whether or not I am being paid to represent someone in court, I simply cannot practice law by representing clients irrespective of whether or not I get paid. So should genealogists be licensed even if they were doing genealogy for free?

Now, who are these people that might (or might not) need to be licensed and what does it mean to "practice genealogy?"

Well, one way of determining who we are is to look at the demographics of my blog readership relative to the general Internet population. (I know, I have talked about this before, but in a different context). Here is is:

Age: 55+
Education: Graduate School
Gender: Male (this is a dramatic change from previous reviews of my demographics)
Has Children: No
Browsing Location: Work
Income: definitely over $30,000 a year with a lot of readers over $60,000 a year
Ethnicity: I am definitely not popular in Asia and decidedly Caucasian (whatever that is)

If you compare my demographics to, for example: has a slightly lower age readership has fewer graduate school readers and more general college educated readers has decidedly more female than mail readers, just the opposite of my blog has the same demographic for people with no children is decidedly a home based program contrasting to my at work readers has a similar, though not as marked income distribution is more popular among African Americans than I am

Has this changed?  As noted, yes, apparently I now have more male readers than the general Internet population.

So who are the genealogists today? A well educated, older person, with no children (I would assume this means at home), that makes a better than average income. Hmm, just the type of people who are ripe for regulation and licensing. Just kidding.

Now let's get this straight. I think certification is desirable for those who are professionally involved in providing a service for hire. I do not think there should be any qualifications requirements at all for anyone else. I certainly do not want to get the government involved in issuing any kind of license for genealogists.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Digital Books Webinar

On January 4, 2012, I will be participating in a live Webinar with Geoff Rasmussen of Millenia's Legacy Family Tree. Here is the description of the content of the Webinar:
Digital Books and Sites for Genealogists. Learn how to take advantage of the online explosion of digitized books for genealogy. You will learn about sources for digitized books including the Internet Archive, Google Books, WorldCat, Library of Congress, and More. Tens of thousands of these digitized books are local and family histories, some of which have had limited or no distribution previously. There are sites, such as the Family History Archive that have thousands of ree genealogy-related books and are virtually unknown. Other well-known sites like Google Books contain a wealth of past issues of prominent genealogical publications such as the Ancestry Magazine and the Journal of American Ancestry.
The Webinar will be at the following times:

2:00 PM Eastern (U.S.)
1:00 PM Central
12:00 PM Mountain
11:00 AM Pacific
7:00 PM GMT

I am particularly enthusiastic about this topic and I am looking forward to the presentation. I understand that more than a 1000 people have already registered, so if you are even thinking about attending I would suggest registering as soon as possible. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Where do we go from here?

I am one of those who only make the briefest attempts at New Year's resolutions. I mostly am too busy to think about what I intend to do for a whole year, I worry about what I am going to eat for breakfast for two seconds and that is about my level of planning. This is witnessed by the fact that I began this post down in Southern Arizona, where I had no idea I would be yesterday morning. Vague plans have a tendency to crystallize quickly. But rather than resolutions, I do have some general ideas about the work I intend to do in 2012.

First on my list is scanning. I am doing a scanning project now that involves 42 years of records. I estimate 10,000 scans. That will take me about a month to finish. Then I have an endless pile of boxes of more documents to scan. Even with my 40 ppm scanner this will take a long time since I estimate another 50,000 to 100,000 scans. In addition, as I noted in a recent post, I got a lead on another gold mine of family photos that might add as many as ten boxes of additional scanning. The most time consuming part is identifying and adding metadata to the photos. This goes on continually.

Next on my list is teaching and helping at the Mesa Regional Family History Center and at various conferences. Right now, I am scheduled for five conferences, a webinar and another presentation for a genealogy club. I also teach at least two or three classes up to eight a week at the Center and spend some time helping patrons and the other volunteers. I will be a featured Blogger at all of the Conferences and that should be interesting.

I am working on the support team for the FamilySearch Research Wiki and that entails meetings and editing and adding content to the Wiki every week. Some weeks I spend a lot of time on the Wiki, other weeks not so much.

Then, of course, there is writing. I finished my book, The Guide to FamilySearch Online (see the link above) and will have a second book on the FamilySearch Research Wiki finished shortly. I have the Blogs and FamilySearch TechTips that I write for regularly.

I will be out taking photos for that are mostly all posted to Google Earth. This does take some time but is mostly something I do in between everything else.

I have a continual background of helping people with their genealogy research. This is mostly like the weather, something that goes on continually and never seems to stop which is fortunate. I even work in some of my own research and update my files.

There really are some other things going on in my real life outside of genealogy which are extremely complicated also. I am sure I have forgotten a lot of things that need to be done but I guess I will handle those as they come along.

One thing you can count on, I will probably write a lot.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Blog Power in Genealogy

About two years ago, my daughter posted a request on her blog, TheAncestorFiles asking for the whereabouts of the photographs taken by the Great- Grandmother, Margaret Jarvis Overson. Grandmother Overson was one of the very early women to be a professional photographer in the State of Arizona. Her father, my Great-great Grandfather Charles Jarvis (born De Friez) was also a photographer. I had a few of Grandmother's photographs but I assumed that there had to be a whole lot more somewhere. I had discussed this problem with my daughter and hence the blog request.

A few months ago, I got a call from a distant relative who had seen my blog posts on Facebook. She told me about some of the photos that had been given to a Family History Center in Eastern Arizona. But the photos at the FHC did not appear to be all of the presumably hundreds of photos taken over the years. Meanwhile, we got into a discussion with the local FHC that had the photos over whether or not they could be copied. Someone had apparently told them that copying these old late 1800s and early 1900s photos would violate some sort of privacy law. I still haven't figured out that set of photos.

Just yesterday, my daughter called me to tell me she had finally had a response to the blog post. To make a long story not quite so long, it turns out that the bulk of the photos went to Grandmother Overson's granddaughter, who was the mother of the person who called. This great-grandson has about twenty boxes of photos, equipment, letters and other documents. A tremendous treasure. What is interesting is that he was relieved to find someone who wanted the whole collection and could digitize it for the family. Since I have digitized tens of thousands of documents and photos, I was glad to get the lead.

The point of this blog post is simple: genealogy blogging works. The cousin with the photos was searching online and found the notice posted by my daughter. We still need to make arrangements to pick up the photos but I will let you know how all this turns out and how many more documents I will have to scan in addition to the thousands and tens of thousands I still have left in my own collection to scan. My last file backup had over 120,000 files. Who ever heard of spare time?

Monday, December 26, 2011

A capital mistake

In the book, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in a story called "A Scandal in Bohemia," Holmes in responding to a question from Doctor Watson says, "I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts." See Doyle, Arthur Conan, and Sidney Paget. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. London: G. Newnes, 1892. and about a hundred editions since then.

It is very easy to jump to conclusions and it is not so easy to jump back. I find that genealogical researchers are often prone to make unwarranted conclusions from very little data. For example, it is common to conclude because only a certain number of children are listed in the U.S. Census records that there were no more children in the family. If you make this unwarranted assumption, you will almost always miss a child who was born after one Census and died before the next. You will also miss any children who may have been living in some other household at the time of the Census. In one of the U.S. Census records for my Great-grandfather, there is an additional child with the same surname listed who is not a child of my Great-grandfather and his wife. Obviously, if this person was living with my Great-grandfather's family at the time of the Census, this person may not have been listed in his own family. Sometimes families that seem to vanish from the Census records are really there but living in some other household where their surname was recorded incorrectly.

I am frequently asked why I continue to gather documents about my ancestors when I already know the minimum vital record information, birth, death, marriage etc? The answer is simple, you cannot know too many facts about your family. You may just be surprised to learn of an undiscovered family member or solve some other unexpected mystery.

As Holmes says, it is most serious to begin to draw conclusions from limited data. A question of relationship, especially parentage, is not solved until there is sufficient evidence to support no other theory. That does not mean that you should not use the data you collect to support further research, it merely means that you do not draw conclusions until the evidence is there to support the conclusion.

When a jury is instructed by a judge during the course of a criminal trial, the judge will almost always give the following jury instruction or something similar to it:

You will decide what the facts are from the evidence that will be presented in this courtroom. That evidence will consist of the testimony of witnesses, documents and other material admitted into evidence as exhibits, and any facts on which the lawyers agree or that I may instruct you to accept.
The following are not evidence and you must not consider them as evidence in deciding the facts of this case:
  • statements and arguments by the attorneys,
  • questions and objections of the attorneys, and
  • testimony that I instruct you to disregard.
There are two kinds of evidence: direct and circumstantial. Direct evidence is testimony by a witness about what that witness personally saw or heard or did. Circumstantial evidence is indirect evidence; that is, it is evidence from which you can infer another fact. As an example: if you wake up in the morning and see that the sidewalk is wet, you may infer that it rained during the night. The wet sidewalk is circumstantial evidence that it rained. Other evidence, however, may provide another explanation for the water on the sidewalk, such as a garden hose that was left on overnight. Therefore, before you decide that a fact has been proved by circumstantial evidence, you must consider all the evidence in the light of reason, experience and common sense.
In deciding this case, you may consider both direct and circumstantial evidence. The law permits you to give equal weight to both, but it is for you to decide how much weight to give to any evidence.
Some evidence may be admitted for a limited purpose only. When I instruct you that a piece of evidence has been admitted for a limited purpose, you must consider it only for that purpose and for no other.
It is a good idea to use the same kind of standard when considering your own genealogical evidence. If you do not have complete documentation of a fact, remain skeptical until the issue is resolved by competent evidence.  

E-Stats Report and RootsTech 2012

If you purchased an electronic device during the last few weeks of 2011, you had a lot of company. The latest official figures are for November, 2011 from the U.S. Census Bureau News dated November 17 and December 13, 2011 show electronic and appliance sales up 6.2% over November 2010. What is also interesting is that eCommerce sales continue to rise dramatically as a percentage of overall sales. That means you were more likely to have purchase some kind of electronic device this year over last year and that purchase was even more likely to have happened online. Overall eCommerce sales were up 13.7% over the same period in 2010. But notwithstanding the increase in online sales, less than 5% of all sales take place online.

Current figures for particular electronics devices are hard to come by. For example, Apple iPad sales for 2011 were estimated to be over 40 million units earlier in the year compared to sales of 14.8 million during 2010. There are no specific figures for Amazon's Kindle sales, but Amazon acknowledges "millions" being sold. When you add in iPhone, Android phone, tablet and other electronics sales, you can begin to appreciate the size of the electronics market.

The sales figures portend an even more dramatic movement away from traditional information dissemination services and a shift to all online digitized media. Even the traditional print media is conceding the ascendancy of the electronic media. In a very recent news story, the UK/s Guardian newspaper had an online story entitled, "iPads and Kindles force newspapers further away from print, Economics of the digital world are only too evident to the press as handheld devices strike a death knell for old business models." The story goes on to explain,
A million iPads and Kindles may have been unwrapped on Sunday – according to tentative analyst estimates – an influx of portable technology that is expected to hasten a decline in the already faltering sales of printed newspapers, adding pressure on traditional business models that have traditionally supported so many titles around the country.

Publishers, preparing for the handheld arrivals, took the chance to break with a tradition that dates back to 1912, when publishers agreed not to produce Christmas Day papers to give paperboys, among others, a day off. For the first time in its 190-year history the Sunday Times published a digital-only edition on 25 December – with the normally paid for product given away in the hope of luring sought after digital subscribers.
The Guardian article goes on to relate the dramatic decline in print newspaper circulation,
Fifty years ago two national dailies – the Daily Mirror and the Daily Express – sold more than 4m copies each; today the bestselling Sun sells 2.6m. In the last year alone, printed sales declined by 10% for daily broadsheets and by 5% for daily tabloids – and when the News of the World stopped printing last July 600,000 copy sales simply disappeared.

 At the beginning of February, whether you attend or not, there will be a seminal event for genealogists in the RootsTech 2012 Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. One of the hallmarks of this Conference will be that the publicity leading up to the Conference has taken place and will take place almost entirely in the electronic media. Even the local Salt Lake City newspaper, the Deseret News, has given little print space to the conference. Almost all of the thousands of attendees will have learned about the Conference online either through the Conference website or through blog posts such as this one.

If you think that the revolution in print media is not going to affect genealogy in a dramatic way, then you will be sadly mistaken. It is now time to move forward with the technological changes coming to the entire spectrum of information/media services.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A huge holiday gift

If I counted correctly, added or updated 74 Historic Record Collections just this past week from 19 December 2011 to 23 December 2011. There are literally millions of new records. As usual, most of the collections have images. The collections stretch around the world and some of the collections cover as much as 400 years of records from a locality. It is sort-of like playing Bingo, you sit around and wait for your collection to come up.

Attack Site

One of the links I cited in a previous blog post called "Gingerbread Cameras" was reported as an attack site and has been blocked by Google. Apparently, even though there was no warning at the time I viewed the site, it came up later as a phishing site. Sorry to anyone who had a problem with the site. You need to always be aware of the possibility that a site you visit may not be legitimate.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative

Quoting from the The Signal Digital Preservation, the blog of the Library of Congress:
Saving the nation’s cultural heritage is an increasingly important matter for government agencies that hold large amounts of material documenting the national record. While saving traditional printed archival materials continues to be important, the exponential growth of digitized material, and collections, has created a new set of challenges related to producing and preserving materials in digital format over the long term.
Having spent a considerable time this past year involved in scanning projects, I fully understand the challenge of maintaining the huge files of scanned documents that accumulate quickly as you digitize entire collections. The Library of Congress is just one of eighteen Federal Agencies that form the Still Image Working Group.  There is also an Audio-Visual Working Group consisting of some of the same agencies. The purpose of the Still Image Working Group initiative is expressed as follows:
This group is involved in a cooperative effort to develop common digitization guidelines for historical and cultural materials that can be reproduced as still images, such as textual content, maps, photographic prints and negatives. The overall goal is to enhance the exchange of research results and development, encourage collaborative digitization practices and projects among federal agencies, and provide the public with a product of uniform quality. It will also serve to establish a common set of benchmarks for digitization service providers and manufacturers.  In addition to digital imaging and encoding, guidelines will be developed for the metadata that is embedded in digital image files.
For example, the Smithsonian Institution presently has the ability to search over 7.4 million records with 568,100 images, video and sound files, electronic journals and other resources from the Smithsonian's museums, archives & libraries.

As genealogists we sometimes have a narrow view of the importance of preserving all types of cultural artifacts since we focus primarily on those documents that provide direct genealogical information. But without the accompanying cultural, social and political background, our work produces little more than a list of names and dates. In all of our efforts we need to be aware of the greater picture, the context in which the people lived and died. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Plumbing the depths of Court Records

If any of your ancestors were involved in a civil trial, there is a strong likelyhood that there is some portion or all of the trial record preserved somewhere. Almost the first thing I can hear when I make this statement is Oh, but my families records were destroyed in a fire. Well, that may or may not be true. Only the records that were actually in the courthouse at the time of the fire were lost, sometimes that event was not as catastrophic as it may appear. The courthouse was not always the only repository of the records. Don't just give up when you read about a courthouse fire, search further to see what records survived.

OK, now that I have gotten that issue out of the way, back to court trials. Here is a simplified general outline of the civil trial process with an indication of what kinds of records you might find at each step in the proceedings:

Discovery: Discovery is the legal process of finding out what the other side of case is going to present at trial. Discovery can take the form of affidavits, oral testimony, written questions called interrogatories and disclosure of documents. Historically, very little pretrial discovery was done by the litigants. People were expected to show up at trial and testify and then a decision was made. Sometimes the litigants had no idea what the other side's evidence might be. More recently, the idea of trial by ambush has been abandoned and anything used at trial has be disclosed. Until very recently, most of these disclosure documents were filed with the court. If there is any record of pretrial discovery, whether they be depositions, interrogatories or whatever, they can be a rich source of information about the parties.  Bear in mind that some (or all) of the information discovered may never make it to the trial.

Pretrial Motions: There are an amazing number of motions that could and can be brought before the trial ever takes place. If there are any pretrial motions, they should be examined carefully for statements of the facts. Sometimes the whole case is decided in the pretrial motions and the case never gets to trial. Don't assume because there was no trial that there is no evidence recorded in the court documents.

Trial: If there was a trial, look to see if there was a trial transcript. This might be a simple summary of what happened or a complete transcription of every word spoken at the trial. The trial is broken down into different parts:

Jury Selection: If any of the questions asked of the jury (known as voir dire) are preserved, then these can be helpful in understanding what the parties are trying to prove. Sometimes the potential jury members were stricken or disqualified because of their relationship to one or more of the parties. This is helpful information.

Opening statements of the attorneys: Usually can't be relied upon for veracity and fidelity to the facts. The openings are usually highly slanted one way or another, but there may be factual clues in the attorneys' statements if they happen to be recorded. If there were no attorneys, then the parties usually made their own statements and these might be more revealing of information.

Plaintiff's case: After the opening statements, the plaintiff or plaintiffs present all their evidence. If the testimony is recorded, this is one of the best places to find out what the case is about and to learn information about the parties. Witnesses will often give introductory testimony telling who they are and how they are related to the case. Each witness testifies, then the opposing side (attorney if there is one) asks questions in cross-examination. This can go on for a long time. Then the witness gets to testify some more on what is called direct testimony to clear up any issues raised by the opposing party's cross-examination. The court might allow this to happen several times.

When the plaintiff is through with his or her witnesses, the Plaintiff is said to rest his or her case.

Defendant's case: The defendant gets to do the same thing the Plaintiff did and present why the jury (or the judge) should decided against the plaintiff. Look for the same types of information that my be present from the plaintiff.

When the defendant is through with his or her case, then the defendant is said to rest and the trial is over for all practical purposes.

Closing arguments: Helpful because, if recorded, they might show what happened during the trial and summarize the evidence.

Decision or judgement: May be the only thing left in the file of the case in older cases. May or may not be helpful to the genealogist.

Now when I say simplified, I mean simplified. Some cases, especially those with multiple parties can become really complex with parties testifying out of order, witnesses showing up at different times and testifying whenever they are available. From TV you probably realize some trials go on for days or weeks or months or even years. If one of your relatives was mixed up in a major trial, there may be more information in the newspapers and in comments made in media.

The point here is that genealogical information can show up in great variety of places in the litigation process. When you find that your ancestor was in court, you should always ask, "Is there anything more about this trial?"

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Good and Bad News -- everything electronic and more

Because of the holiday selling season, there are a lot of rumors, news releases and updates going on with the computer world. Here's the latest news but I warn you, it is not all good.

This is new feature for Genealogy's Star. I just thought since I had to see all this stuff, you might like an idea of what was going on.

Family History Expos Call for Bloggers

I got the following invitation from Holly Hansen at Family History Expos. I thought it would be a good thing to pass along.
Family History Expos is now accepting applications from those interested in participating as Bloggers of Honor at one of the following 2012 Expos:

Yuma Arizona Expo January 17
Hilton Garden Inn / Pivot Point Conference Center
310 Madison
Yuma, AZ 85364

Mesa Arizona Expo January 20-21
Mesa Convention Center
263 N. Center Street
Mesa, AZ 85201

St. George Utah Expo February 24-25
The Dixie Center
1835 Convention Center Dr.
St. George, UT 84790

Types of Blogs that will qualify you as a Blogger of Honor:
  • Family History or Genealogy Blog
  • Family History Product or Service Provider
  • Library, Archive or Research Center
  • Professional Genealogist
  • Preservation Awareness
  • Restoration Projects
  • Information Provider
  • Other Blogs of Historical Interest

Chosen Bloggers of Honor will receive:
  • Full Registration Benefits
  • Listing on Event Website with Hotlink to Blog
  • Promotion on Family History Expos Blog
  • Gift Bag Provided by Expo Sponsors and Exhibitors

Bloggers of Honor will be expected to:
  • Pre-event
  • Announce the Expo and Sponsors
  • Promote Expo Speakers, Exhibitors, and Activities
  • Share Press Release Information
  • On-site
  • Highlight Websites, Tools, and Discoveries Made
  • Share Blogging Tips with Attendees
  • Report Daily on Presentations and Exhibits
  • Post-Event
  • Summarize Overall Expo Experience

To be considered as a Blogger of Honor fill out the application below and submit to Family History Expos at

Your Full Name:
Email Address:
Blog URL:
Blog Description:
Which Event(s):
Three References:
Name and contact information (Phone and email address)
Name and contact information (Phone and email address)
Name and contact information (Phone and email address)

300 word essay on why you want to be a Blogger of Honor:

Family History Expos, Inc.
PO Box 187
Morgan, Utah 84050


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Digitizing like the pros

If you do any investigation at all of the parameters for scanning documents for archival preservation, you will quickly find a rather broad spectrum of recommendations. But what do the professional archivists do if they have all of the possible options? Fortunately, we have a pretty high degree of transparency from the Library of Congress. They probably spend as much time agonizing over file formats, dpi and such as anyone I can find on the Web. One example is the current digitization project being conducted by the Copyright Office of all the copyright records.

The first project, consisting of 2.5 million catalog cards constituting the indexes to assignments and transfers of copyrights from 1870 to 1977 has already been completed. The second project, digitization of the 7.7 million registration catalog cards from the period 1971 to 1977, has also been completed and over 2.4 million cards from the 1955 to 1970 have been scanned. They are continuing the scanning.

The third project is the 660 bound volumes of the Catalogs of Copyright Entries of which 417 volumes had been scanned as of December, 2011.

Now, what scanning parameters were they using to scan all of these millions of documents? Here is there explanation,
For optimal preservation, the records will be scanned in uncompressed tagged image file format (TIFF) at a minimum of 300 pixels per inch (ppi) in 24 bit color. For routine access to the digitized records, derivative files will be created in high quality JPEG and JPEG2000 format at 50:1 compression.
For the record, I now scan my own documents at 400 dpi, 24 bit color and also save the files as TIFF images.  What do other archivists do? It isn't surprising, but most follow the standards being espoused by the Library of Congress. See for example, Proposed Digital Imaging Standards and Best PracticesIndiana Memory and LSTA Digitization Projects

But what about photographic images rather than documents? Are the scanning parameters different? Here is a link to the Federal Agencies Digitization Initiative Still Image Working Group's Technical Guidelines for Digitizing Cultural Heritage Materials: Creation of Raster Image Master Files. You will find that the recommendations are very similar to those for documents, but they are very specific as to the size of the output.  

So now you know.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Challenge of Digital Formats

Did you realize that our online PDF family currently has fifteen separate descriptions, including entities like versions 1.3, 1.4, 1.6, and 1.7, and the multiple flavors of PDF/A (three now, four more on the way)? See Digital Formats, part 1: Lots of ‘Em and More to Come from The Signal, Digital Preservation, the blog of the digital preservation section of the Library of Congress. The real concern about the multiplicity of file formats is the viability of any one format.

As genealogists we run into this problem frequently with people who did some "genealogy" a few years or more ago on their computer and now expect to be able to resurrect the files. I recently dealt with a situation where there was a old Personal Ancestral File backup file from a damaged hard disk. I was able to open the file as a text file and thereby make the information in the older file available. The file would not open with Ancestral Quest or any of the current programs. An alternative would have been to find an older program that might have retrieved the data.

As time passes, this issue becomes more and more pertinent to what we do every day. Is my particular genealogy program's file format going to survive? And if so, how long? But if you do not know, even with your present programs, what kind of file format you are using, then what chance have you to know if the format is going to persist?

In another example, when I use Adobe Photoshop to edit my photos, I can potentially save the images into twenty different image formats from Photoshop and I have no idea what some of them are or why I would use them? What if I use a format that is not recognized by any other program?

Yet another example, if you have the latest version of Microsoft Word, take a look at the potential file formats for saving a file. Go to any Word document and then to the File menu to Save as. There is a box you may not have focused on called Format: This is a pull-down menu. Check out the list. I looked at my copy of Microsoft Word:Mac 2011 and found 14 different formats in addition to the now standard .docx. To get an idea of the overall problem, look at Wikipedia:List of file formats (alphabetical).

The Library of Congress discusses a number of what it calls sustainability factors. These include the following:
  • Disclosure. This is the degree to which the specifications and software tools are available to access the digital content.
  • Adoption. How much the format is already being used.
  • Transparency. Whether or not the format is open to human readability. In the case of the file from PAF this saved the day.
  • Self-documentation. Does the format include its own description?
  • External dependencies. How closely is the format allied to a certain hardware or operating system? 
  • Impact of patents. Can the format be used without a license?
  • Technical protection mechanisms. Think DVD and VCR copy protection schemes.
This is only a brief summary of a very complex subject. When we digitize a document, do we automatically think that we have ended the process of preservation? If so, we are sadly mistaken. But it is comforting to know that someone is thinking about the problems.

If you know a genealogist with an older computer or computer system or who is still using a very old program (more than 7 or 8 years old) then please initiate a discussion about migrating their data to a newer system or hardware, at least for a backup.

Genealogical advice from Sherlock Holmes

In the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes [Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. London: G. Newnes, 1894] the story entitled Silver Blaze addresses the problem of conflicting evidence. Holmes' recitation of the principles of examination have amazing relevance to genealogical research today. Here is the beginning of the quote from the story:
It is one of those cases where the art of the reasoner should be used rather for the sifting of details than for the acquiring of fresh evidence. The tragedy has been so uncommon, so complete and of such personal importance to so many people, that we are suffering from a plethora of surmise, conjecture, and hypothesis. The difficulty is to detach the framework of fact—of absolute undeniable fact—from the embellishments of theorists and reporters. Then, having established ourselves upon this sound basis, it is our duty to see what inferences may be drawn and what are the special points upon which the whole mystery turns.
Sometimes our investigations are just as Holmes portrays, a sifting of details rather than acquiring fresh evidence. The answer to the puzzle may be right before our eyes and we cannot see it. All of the great detectives of fiction, Holmes, Marple, Poirot, Monk use superior talents of observation to seem almost superhuman. How much attention do we pay to the evidence we already have. What does what we have suggest? Have we really gotten all of the information out of those census records, or is there more that can be learned? Holmes goes on to say:

At least I have got a grip of the essential facts of the case. I shall enumerate them to you, for nothing clears up a case so much as stating it to another person...
 Do we "get the grip of the essential facts of the case?" How many times do we jump ahead to what we want to know before we understand what is already known? Do we go looking for the lost grandparent in Ohio before we know that is where he really lived? Are we too busy to go back and review what we know about his children or grandchildren before we jump back two generations?

After reciting the facts to Watson, Holmes says, "Those are the main facts of the case, stripped of all surmise, and stated as baldly as possible." Don't forget, sometimes the only way to make headway in a case is to enumerate it to someone else. Note here that Holmes doesn't expect help from Watson, he just needs to state the facts so he can understand them better himself.

Well, back to reading Sherlock Holmes, then on to Agatha Christie.

Wherein I eat my words...

I expressed the opinion that the Internet created a way to have genealogical community for the first time. As several commentators pointed out, genealogical societies have been around for a long time. The question that is raised is whether genealogical societies are communities? As my wife also pointed out, I don't always have to be right. Of course, the answer depends on your idea of a community.

In my area of the world we have a lot of what are called "gated communities." These are subdivisions created by developers to attract people who want an "exclusive" lifestyle. All of these communities have a locked entrance gate that requires a code to enter the "community." Some of them even have guards who require you to explain who you are and why you think it necessary to enter "their community." Most of these so-called communities have somewhat dictatorial rules and deed restrictions. They are governed by a community board that are usually elected but in effect, self appointed. I spent the last 15 years or so suing these communities, referred to collectively as home owners associations, for overstepping the bounds of their rules and deed restrictions, even to the extent of persecuting minorities and excluding people they did not like. In one case, the former president of the Board of Directors of a Homeowners Association testified in open court that the reason they had taken action against my client was because the just didn't want him in the community.

In the sense of homeowner associations being communities, I would extend that same definition to genealogical societies. Some are very good, some are not so good and some are very exclusive and bad. But in each case, the societies (and the homeowners associations) have the goal to promote the general well being of their members. I could go on and on about the problems I see with exclusive membership organizations like homeowners associations. But the ultimate argument is you didn't have to buy property in this association (read community) if you didn't want to adhere to the rules. They same can be said about genealogy societies, if you don't like the way they are run or the rules for entry, you don't have to join. Using an expansive definition of the term "community;" formal or informal, exclusive or inclusive, they can all be considered communities. So, from that standpoint I was wrong and I eat my words.

At the time I wrote, my main idea was that for the first time, we have a global inclusive genealogical community. One commentator questioned whether or not the new genealogical community had "gatekeepers." If it does, I don't know who or what they are. You could argue that the community is limited by technology. I have to own a computer and purchase an Internet connection. Not necessarily true. I can go to many different places, including my public library, and use the Internet for free (or at their expense). There are, of course, a lot of other discussion points about access to the Internet and class divisions based on that access, but focusing on genealogy, anyone who wants to join the community can do so.

Do I care if someone is a "minority?" Will I exclude someone because of their personal beliefs or race or social orientation? How will I know this unless the contributor makes it an issue? Am I the gatekeeper? Not on your life.

So, are genealogical societies communities? I have to answer yes. Were they precursors of the present online community? I am not so sure about that one. They still exist and many societies are almost antithetical to the online community or at least, ignore it. How many of your local societies have yet to acquire an online presence at all? But that is another discussion point.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

eBooks -- Fad or portent

I just read an article about a segment of the book industry in conjunction with brick and mortar bookstores. The article even discussed various "best sellers lists" from major publications. What was remarkable about the article was the total failure to mention ebooks. In the ebook realm the author can be the publisher and the marketing department and reap the benefits of having the entire income of the book minus the costs of distribution. For example, will epublish a book for their Kindle line of products and give the author, depending on the program, from 30% to 70% of the sales price. These self-published ebooks can and do sell into the hundreds of thousands of copies and now appear on the lists compiled by such sources as the New York Times.

Significantly, the number two book this week on the combined ebook and hardcover book list for the New York Times, is an ebook that does not appear at all on the hardcover fiction book list. In other words, the book is second on the best seller list and is entirely available only as an ebook. What does this mean to the genealogical community? What does this mean to the overall book industry? What does it mean to you and me personally?

The last five books I have read completely through were ebooks. When I find time to read, I have my iPhone handy and I can read for two minutes or half an hour while I wait for appointments or even while standing in line at the bank.

With a few exceptions, where are the genealogy ebooks? For example, the third edition of Szucs, Loretto Dennis, and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Provo, UT: Ancestry, 2006 is not available in ebook format and the ebook copy on either or Google Books is an older version for search only from the University of Wisconsin.

Ebooks are definitely not a fad, they are here to stay and will likely become the predominant form of book publication in a few short years (if they have not already become so). Nevertheless, almost none of the books I have on genealogy are available in ebook format. As a contrast, the book Helm, Matthew, and April Leigh Helm. Genealogy Online for Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2011 is readily available as an ebook.

What if you had been taught to read on an ebook and did not have any paper books? Wouldn't you think it was cumbersome and limited to physically turn pages and have to carry around this heavy book? Most of us like books because they are books, but people also like horses because they are horses and I can get along very well without one, thank you. When was the last time you went to a library to check out a book, not to do research, but just to read?

I think there will be a number of changes. There will be decline in the number of libraries and brick and mortar bookstores. Books will still be around as long as any of us are alive, but younger ebook users will simply ignore them. The entire book industry will radically change as more successful books are epublished with no physical copy of the book. Books will become the sheet music of the next decade, only purchased for specific reasons.

That's what I see happening and it looks like the changes will accelerate in the near future.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

iPhone vs. GPS Device or why I still haven't bought a GPS

You really could argue that I already have a GPS device since that ability is built into my iPhone, but with prices crashing all around, it is enticing when you see a GPS for $49.95 from Walmart, to go ahead a stick one of those things on windshield of my car. Like most things electronic, the GPS folks keeping adding features to their devices so that they claim to do everything except wash your car. But how well do they really work in real world situations?

Now, before you get all huffy, remember I live in the wide open spaces of the West. I can usually see generally where I am going. I don't have huge trees lining every road. I have also driven almost every paved road in Arizona and Utah and most of the dirt roads. I can drive almost anywhere in either state without looking at a GPS or consulting my iPhone. But then there is the issue of the alternate route. If you are trying to make an appointment half way across the state of Arizona, you might be driving 300 miles and every few minutes saved is crucial.

But, you say, we are genealogists not attorneys, we don't have any pressure or appointments to worry about. We just sit in libraries or play on the Internet. Why do we care about iPhones or GPS or any of the stuff? Yeah, well, you do have point. But there is always the allure of the new gadget and GPS can hardly be considered new by now. Most of us have been subjected to that amazingly annoying, "Turn left and next intersection" at least once or twice. Here is the crux of the matter. No matter how sophisticated these silly machines get, they really can't see the overturned semi-truck in front of you and have no idea why you are turning right instead of left.

Let's just say that most of my children seem to have the technology in places where you can't avoid getting lost, like Pennsylvania and North Carolina and even Florida. In Texas one time the GPS told me to stop and let the children out for school, when we were in a cul-de-sac. I kept looking around for something that looked like a school and finally my granddaughter said she knew where we were and directed me about a mile away to the real school. So even the best of the GPS devices aren't foolproof. There is always the current TV commercial showing the GPS saying "Turn left" as the car goes over the cliff.

Now, why am I writing about this now? Because of the ad from Walmart obviously. But really because we just got back from another episode of try to find your way around Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida. So my wife is the navigator, sitting there with the iPhone and Google Maps and we have my son in back seat with his Android phone and the GPS stuck to the front window. Guess what? None of them agree. Of course we can't argue with the deaf lady in the GPS, but there is a rather long conversation going on between the iPhone and the Android phone. Most of the discussion started when the GPS told me to exit the Freeway and the only Exit went to a toll road that I didn't want to be on. My son then indicated that his Android had not been set to avoid toll roads. Meanwhile my wife kept telling me when to turn. Well, it turned out that both the Android and the iPhone worked a whole lot more accurately than the simple minded GPS. My wife did not have to keep recalculating, she could just tell me to turn at the next light.

I guess I was not overly impressed with the GPS, but of course there is one major problem. I might get arrested for using my cell phone while driving if I use the iPhone for directions. How many accidents do you think are caused by GPS devices telling drivers to turn? If my wife isn't in the car, then I really do have to stop occasionally and find the location I am looking for on a map, Arizona or no Arizona and I really do think, after  a lot of experience, the iPhone (or Android) really does a better job of finding obscure places than the GPS devices. As they say, your results may vary.

Migration of FTM 2012 PC to FTM 2 Mac

I got the new upgrade of's Family Tree Maker 2 for the Macintosh and was pleasantly surprised to find a migration tool that will assist in transferring the files from the FTM 2012 version for the PC to the Mac FTM 2 version. I didn't have time to get into the program when it first showed up, but finally got the new version installed. I then went through the process of converting the file I had been working on in FTM 2012 on the PC to my Mac version.

The ReadMe file in PDF format that comes with the migration program officially called the "Family Tree Maker for Mac 2, File Migration Utility Guide" gives this overview:
The Family Tree Maker File Migration Utility converts Family Tree Maker Windows files so they can be opened on a Mac (and vice versa). Because Family Tree Maker 2012 and Family Tree Maker for Mac 2 differ significantly from previous versions of the software, you can’t migrate older files directly into the new versions. For example, you can migrate a 2012 Windows file to a Mac 2 file, but you cannot migrate a 2011 Windows file to a Mac 2 file. If you wanted to use a 2011 Windows file in Mac 2, you’ll need to migrate the 2011 file to a Mac 1 file and then import the file into Mac 2.
OK, so you have to be awfully careful about which versions of which programs you have and want to migrate. But the Utility Guide does say, "Files created in older versions of Family Tree Maker versions 5 to 16 (.ftw and .fbk files) do not need to be converted using this tool; they can be imported directly into Family Tree Maker for Mac 2." I had no trouble migrating my Family Tree Maker file from the first Mac version over into the newer Mac 2 version.

As with most file conversion processes (or migration or whatever) you have to be careful about where the files end up on your computer. Fortunately, all of the files for Family Tree Maker are stored in the Family Tree Maker file created when you install the program. This is not my first choice of where to store my data files but it does simplify the problem of locating the latest version of the files that you have on your computer.

I commonly find people with several different data files, all created at different times, on their computer. I get around this problem by including the date the file is created in the file name.

One really strange limitation of the new Family Tree Maker files is that even though the programs will synchronize with an online Family Tree on, each program has to have its own version of the Family Tree online. So, for example, if I have FTM 2012 on my PC (or my PC partition on my iMac) then I can synchronize with an online Family Tree, but I cannot use the same online Family Tree to synchronize with my Mac version (on the same computer). So there is no way to keep both my Mac version and PC version in sync. In addition, you cannot use the program to sync information between computers, you can only create a link with a Family Tree on one computer at a time. If overcame that one significant step in the process, that is, letting the users sync to more than one program, you could really have a hugely valuable way to collaborate. For example, if this were true, I could do all my research on my Mac 2 program and then sync the data with my online Family Tree File. Then my daughter, living across the country, could sync her FTM 2012 PC or Mac 2 or whatever to the same Family Tree. But, hasn't gotten there yet.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Things here and about

Rather than do a whole blog post on some of these subjects, there seems to be a lot going on, so I decided to do some highlights. Here is my selection:

John D. Reid, of Anglo-Celtic Connections calls our attention to the genealogy-based website rankings using is still up on top of the rankings and many of the products rank high in their own right. The top three spots are rounded out by and I should point out that lower numbers are better. Dick Eastman easily has the top spot among the genealogy blogs. gives global rankings as well as those for just the U.S. or any other country. Looking at the numbers for Genealogy's Star, I would have made John's list just below Automated Genealogy. These numbers change every day by the way. Also, Dick Eastman ranks 10,125 in the U.S. Good work Dick! Interestingly, Genealogy's Star ranks number 3,983 in New Zealand and Dick Eastman ranks 1,971. Thanks to all those down under.

Next topic, has a fabulous website called the FamilySearch Research Wiki.  The site currently has 65,336 articles about genealogy including how-to articles, geographically related articles and more than you can imagine. If the statistics are correct the startup page for the Wiki has been accessed 296,780,976 times as of this date. The controversy is that the site is essentially buried. No where on the startup page is there any mention of the Wiki or even a link directly to the Wiki. You have to click on the "Learn" tab at the top of the page to get any closer. But then have to click again on the Wiki link to actually find the page. Those of us working on the Wiki think that this valuable resource needs to have more visibility. The new proto-type startup page for did not address this issue. We could use some help in this area. Here is a link to the Community Feedback for Take some time to read the posts and you will see the problem. The posts go back over a year when this subject first came up with the original release of the Wiki with's makeover.

January and February will be busy months for genealogy conferences. Of course we have the first week in February, but there are Family History Expo conferences in Yuma, Arizona, Mesa, Arizona and St. George, Utah, all nice places to visit. Check them out and look for me to be presenting at all these conferences.

Don't believe much of what you read about tablet sales (or anything else)

Preliminary note, in a weak attempt to be fair, if you read my posts you know I am one of the original Apple guys and despite attacks by the true-believer Apple community, I remain extremely into Apple products.

If you were watching the news feeds for technology, during the past few months you would have seen dozens of supposed news articles extolling the virtues of the release of "new" tablet computer and claiming that the product would be an "Apple iPad killer." You need to understand that these so-called news articles are really not even thinly disguised propaganda, just like statements made about the economy, housing sales, immigration and many other topics. None of the tablet computers were more touted as the end of the iPad than the flagship tablet from Samsung. Most recently, Amazon's Kindle was taking the world by storm (or so the articles would lead you to believe). So what happened in the real world outside of the propaganda?

Third Quarter sales' figures are out and the headlines read, iPad leads as Q3 tablet shipments jump 264 percent. Here is a quote from the c/net article,

During the three-month period ended September 30, 18.1 million tablets were shipped worldwide, representing a 23.9 percent gain over the second quarter, and a whopping 264.5 percent increase over the third quarter of 2010. However, IDC had expected 19.2 million tablets would hit store shelves last quarter, indicating the market was a little more sluggish than it had anticipated.
Regardless, several companies did well during the third quarter, and Apple was chief among them. The iPad maker shipped 11.1 million tablet units, according to IDC, helping it nab 61.5 percent of the market. Samsung's tablet line secured 5.6 percent market share to grab the second spot.
Surprisingly, HP's TouchPad was the third-most-popular tablet during the period, shipping 903,000 units and securing 5 percent market share.
Now, ask yourself, why did so many more people buy an iPad rather than the cheaper, Android-based alternatives? The article does point out that Apple's market share dropped slightly. The same thing started happening with the computer sales, the market got so large that huge sales became less and less of a share of the entire market. But think about this, Apple's sales were such in the third quarter it is like the entire city of Los Angeles except for a few suburbs, almost every man, woman and child, went out and bought an iPad.

Interestingly, if you go on to read the rest of the c/net article, the writer is still predicting the demise of Apple. Quarter four will tell. That will be the first time Kindle sales will be recorded. Estimates are that over 63 million tablet computers will be sold in 2011. I suggest that they will start giving them away as premiums when you get your oil changed.

You might want to exclusively read my tech side on FamilySearch's TechTips

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Genealogy Meme for RootsTech 2012

 Here are the instructions for the 2012 meme. I guess I would start out with a few additions, but after thinking about it for all of about one second, I put my own suggestions at the end.

If you want to join in the fun and show off your own tech cred, here are the rules for the My Rooted Technology meme:
  • Technology you already use: bold face type
  • Technology you would like to use or learn more about: italicize (color optional)
  • Technology you don’t use, have no interest in using or no longer use: plain type
  • Explain or give opinions in brackets [     ] at the end of each bullet point
  1. I have a tablet computer such as an iPad that I use for genealogy.
  2. I have downloaded one or more apps to a Smart Phone or similar device.
  3. I belong to a genealogy society that uses social media.
  4. I use GEDCOM files and understand the various compatibility issues involved.
  5. I have added metadata to some of my files and digital photos.
  6. I have utilized an API from a genealogy-related application or website.
  7. I have taken a DNA test related to my genealogy research. [I have personally yet to find a use for DNA testing].
  8. I have used the FamilySearch Research Wiki.
  9. I have a Facebook account and use it regularly for genealogy.
  10. I use tech tools to help me cite my sources in genealogy research.
  11. I have developed a genealogy-related app for a Smart Phone or similar device.
  12. I use a genealogy database program (Family Tree Maker, Legacy Family Tree, RootsMagic etc.)
  13. I use cloud computer resources to store my genealogy data.
  14. I have made one or more contributions to the FamilySearch Research Wiki.
  15. I have attended a genealogy webinar.
  16. I have organized and administered a DNA testing group related to my genealogy.
  17. I use apps involving GPS and Geo-caching for my genealogy research.
  18. I have a Google+ account and use it regularly for genealogy.
  19. I have created and published a family history e-book.
  20. I have create a wiki related to my genealogy research.
  21. Here are my own suggested criteria for tech:

1. I have an iPhone, an iPad, a MacBook Pro and an iMac and I often use them all at the same time.
2.  I use Skype, GoogleTalk, and instant messaging all the time my computer is on which is most of the time I am awake.
3.  I have spent more money on computers than any other item, including my house.
4.  I was personally in San Francisco at the Macintosh intro in 1984.
5.  I helped found the Arizona Macintosh Users Group.
6.  At one time I was a certified Apple technician and an HP certified laser printer tech.
7.  I have been running or helping to run tech related businesses now for thirty years.
8.  When traveling I move from one WiFi hotspot to another.
9. I am writing this My Rooted Technology Meme.

I guess we get to brag a lot if we write our own posts.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Well Said Tom, Here's My Response

Tom MacEntee summed up last weekend's commentary in a thoughtful and even touching way. See Open Thread Thursday: Do We Eat Our Own In The Genealogy Industry?
Reading his blog, you can see why he is so well liked and well known. But more than that he expresses the feeling of community that exists among the genealogy bloggers. Quoting from his blog post, I would like to comment on the following:
Or is it more a case of “we know we can do and be better than this” and we’re seeking to ensure a vibrant community filled with resources covering every aspect of genealogy?  Are we willing to risk the loss of an event or a resource in lieu of something better? Do we properly channel our energies and opinions? Should vendors and others be wary of working with genealogists who blog, use social media, etc. because we are opinionated and sometimes critical?
I don't think that historically there has been a "genealogical community." I believe that the bloggers are in the process of creating such a community. Before there was the "professional, journal writing" genealogical group but I don't think you could view them as a "community." Now, I view myself as a member of a global genealogical community where we care about each other and what we do is genealogy in a more expansive sense than was ever previously possible. This is surprising because I personally don't even fit the demographics of my own blog. 

I have been on Facebook for a long time but I don't believe I have ever made a "Facebook" friend in all that time. To the contrary, I count many of the bloggers as friends, even those who have yet to meet personally. We turn out to have a lot in common and we react to injustice and unfairness in about the same way.

There is always a risk in any endeavor. I wasn't sure what kind of reaction I would receive from my initial post of the RootsTech issue, but having been a trial attorney for more years than I care to think about, I really decided that I was going to express my opinion despite the risk (or maybe because of it).

Are our energies and opinions properly channeled? I can say that my own style and content has evolved dramatically over the past years of blogging. Have I reached a proper channel? Who knows? If you like my blog posts, maybe you think yes, if not, you probably aren't reading this anyway. This points out a fundamental principle, a blogger will only keep blogging if he or she is committed, passionate and has content worth reading. Without passion, there is no community.

Should the vendors beware? No, I think they need to grow up. I think they need to realize as Bob Dylan said,
Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’
Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
For the loser now will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’
For genealogy, the times they are a-changin' and the vendors, whether they be profit or non-profit, need to know that if your time to you is worth savin', then you better start swimmin' or you'll sink like a stone. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Where is the genealogy in a civil lawsuit and what is a tort feasor?

Civil law is entirely different than criminal law, not just a little different. The rules, the case law, the procedures, the jargon or terminology, all of these things and more are different even though, from TV and the movies, you are given the impression that the law is all the same. A lot more of your ancestors were probably involved with the civil court system than the criminal court system. Civil law includes probate, divorces, adoptions, land disputes, name changes, contracts, bankruptcies, foreclosures and a whole lot more. Unfortunately for the genealogical researcher each of these areas of the law also have their own jargon, procedures, rules and case law. Subsequently, most attorneys emphasize one type of law or narrow their practice to related types of law.

Now, I am not going to cover the whole subject of civil law in one post. The point of this sort-of series of posts is to illustrate not just the complexity of the law but to illustrate the vast amount of information locked up in the court system that is valuable to genealogists. 

Essentially, if a law case is not a criminal case, it is a civil case. It is far easier to define what is criminal law than it is to describe civil law. Black's Law Dictionary presently has well over 800 pages of legal definitions most of which apply to civil law (see Garner, Bryan A., and Henry Campbell Black. Black's Law Dictionary. St. Paul, Minn: Thomson West, 2009). At a very minimum, if you are going to attempt to do research in court cases you should, at a minimum, be familiar with Black's Law Dictionary. The very first day I attended law school, after the first classes, there was a stampede of students to the library to try and figure out what the professors had said that day. There is no way that you can assume that the words you read in the court cases have the same meanings that they would have in common practice outside of law. In addition, some of the terms are extremely strange and some are still in Latin. For example, it is not uncommon for people to go to court without an attorney. When they do so, they are said to be proceeding in propria persona or pro per. As a side note, let's just say that some very interesting things come out of cases where people represent themselves in court.

If you fail to understand the language of the court, you are liable to end up with a conclusion about a case that is absolutely the opposite of what actually happened. Now all that said, law cases can be a gold mine of genealogical information. Just one example. Many civil lawsuits involve taking testimony both in court during hearings and trials, but also out of court at depositions or oral testimony under oath. Of course, even though people are under oath to tell the truth, this doesn't always happen. But the range of information given in court testimony can be extensive. It is not uncommon for the attorney asking questions during testimony to review the whole life story of the person testifying especially if the history of the person's life is pertinent to the issues before the court.

But before getting into any details, it is a good idea to get at least a basic idea of the jargon or terminology so we are speaking the same language. A law suit is a civil action brought before a judge in some court for a decision. A law suit is started by filing (depositing a copy of a document) a complaint or petition. The person filing the complaint or petition is variously called the plaintiff or petitioner. The complaint or petition asks the court to do something usually to award damages for an injury or wrong committed by another person. Of course, life would be easy if things were that simple. Beginning a law suit in each of the different areas of the law all have their own forms and procedures. So in some instances the complaint or petition may be called an application or some other term.

Once a law suit is filed, a copy of the initiating document, complaint or petition, is served on the opposing party if there is one. I say this because some types of court actions have only one party. For example, a name change is a court action in which there is a petition, but no response is ever filed. Only extremely rarely are name changes opposed by anyone. In each case the designation of the opposing party depends on the type of document required by a particular action. If the document is a complaint and the filing party is the plaintiff, then the opposing party is called the defendant. In a action involving a petition, the person filing the action is the petitioner and the opposing party, if any, is the respondent. In other types of legal actions, the parties may have other designations.

Before going further, you need to be aware that all of this terminology has possibly changed dramatically over time. For example, in a probate case, the person administrating the will of the deceased has been called an executor (executrix for a female), administrator (administratrix), and currently in some states, personal representative of the estate. They all mean essentially the same thing at different times and in different places.To understand a case in the 1800s or the 1700s, you might have to learn a different set of terms depending on the type of lawsuit.

Next, I need to move on to what happens when the case is opened by the court and where you might find some of the genealogically important records. But it is time to end for today. Hmm. I never got around to tort feasor did I? Well, now you have something to look forward to.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sync your Google+ profile with your Blogger profile?

OK, so Google has now integrated their Google+ social networking site with Blogger. If you decided to do so, your Google+ profile replaces your Blogger Profile and your blog or blogs, as the case may be, appear linked to your Google+ Profile. And so what? Well that is a very good question. Other than some sort of consolidation, the advantage to the user is entirely unclear. I guess it keeps you from having to update two profiles, but that was never much of an issue for me anyway. Actually, according to the word on the street, Google plans to rebrand its photo-sharing platform Picasa and the blogging platform Blogger and will re-introduce them as Google Photos and Google Blogs. All this forms part of a massive feature addition to Google's new social network, Google+." So apparently, whether you think this is a good idea or not, if the process continues as outlined, you will likely be consolidating whether you think it is a good idea or not.

You might have noticed that Google+ has a new menu showing some of the Google products in a pop-up, pull-down menu. I assume this means that Google+ is intended as the gateway or maybe a gateway into the Google world.

What's going on with FamilySearch? Try the 1930 U.S. Census with images among other things

I guess the question of what's going on with FamilySearch could be answered either nothing or a lot depending on your perspective on RootsTech 2012 and how often you return to all the FamilySearch websites. It is time to go back through all of the various websites and update what has happened in the last month or so.
The flag ship of the fleet so to speak has continued to evolve. The biggest change in the website itself was the mysterious appearance of a completely different startup page that appeared on some user's computers and not on others. I was at the Mesa Regional Family History Center when one of the missionaries called my attention to the new screen. I went to another computer to look at it in more detail and it did not appear. Within in few minutes, it had vanished from all of the computers and I have not seen it again. This is probably a good thing because I was all ready to make some comments and FamilySearch is probably not too anxious to have my comments.

The big news with is the huge, monstrous, gigantic, (you get the point) number of new Historical Record Collections going online everyday. If you have checked today, you have missed another million or ten million new records. Several bloggers report the new collections in long lists, but even when they do that, it is old news because there are already more changes. To remind you how find the new records, go to All the Collections on the startup page and then click on the Last Updated column. The records will then be sorted chronologically. Today's big news: The entire 1930 U.S. Census complete indexed WITH IMAGES. OK, so everyone has already seen the Census but this is just one significant place to see the Census with images for free. You do have to sign in to see the images, but you can use either an LDS Account or a FamilySearch Account, both of which are free.

Consider all the other fabulous (I tend to superlatives) records; 47 huge collections since the first of December, 2012, bringing the total number to 913 collections, most of which have images.

There have also been a few changes to the startup page making a search a little more detailed. continues to work on its search engines and they do work quite well. There is a link to a page telling about the search changes.

I still have to comment again about the disappearance of the Feedback tab and the fact that many resources are buried on the Learn page, but progress is being made.

FamilySearch Research Wiki
With over 65,000 articles on genealogical resources, the Research Wiki is way ahead of whatever is in second place for finding resources and learning about genealogy. This is the most valuable resource on the Internet for genealogical resources and probably one of the lesser known and lesser used. Presently, there are Projects for adding resources for Utah, New York, Illinois, and many other locations and subjects.

FamilySearch Indexing
With over 100,000 volunteers, this valuable activity, indexing the images in the Historical Record Collections, goes rolling along adding names by the millions. As usual, they are still looking for more volunteers and especially for those with language skills.

FamilySearch TechTips
Another hidden gem of a website from FamilySearch. What can I say since I write most of the articles? I think you will find this a very useful site, especially if you haven't visited it before.

Some of the projects at FamilySearch seem to languish in the background. Take Family History Books for example. There is a link to this project on the startup page, but it is also mentioned in the website. Other new Labs projects include Submit Your Tree an add on to This newer program allows you upload a GEDCOM file to New FamilySearch and it will automatically compare your file with what is already on New FamilySearch. Presently, the file is not saved, but it is still useful. If you have a huge file it could take hours of searching.
There hasn't been much news about the Beta version released to about 1000 users. I have seen almost no blog posts about the Beta Test version. There haven't been any changes good or bad, in the program for a while. I am hoping that there will be more information available at RootsTech in February. 

Community Trees
Another of the FamilySearch hidden gems, this site is constantly being updated with huge databases of specific geographic areas. Described as lineage-linked genealogies from specific time periods and geographic localities around the world, it is very, very interesting and can be useful if you happen to need information in the areas covered.

FamilySearch seems to have a significant number of programs that are hidden deep in the recesses of the website and Forums is no exception to the rule of hidden programs. You can find this program only if you look really hard and click on a lot a menus in the Research Wiki. But here you have research assistance from a huge number of researchers, including the staff at the Family History Library.

As you can see, the whole family continues to mature and is beginning to move from infancy and the terrible two's into young childhood. You really need to have a look at each of the valuable resources on a regular basis to keep up with all the changes.


Social media does go one 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 or 366 days a year but that does not mean that the participants or bloggers or whatever they are called depending on the media, go on that long or stay online that long. Some of us don't check Facebook every few minutes, in fact, some of us don't check Facebook until there is something going on or we get a message. But what does it really mean that social media goes on all the time?

When I was young we had a crank telephone that connected us to a switchboard operator located on the main street sort of downtown, if you could call it a town. The telephone was on a party line and would ring a certain number of times, like ring, ring, ring, for us and a different number for someone else on the party line. If you picked up the phone and stayed really still, you could listen in on any number of conversations. Subsequently, everyone in town knew everything about everybody else. That is, unless you were very circumspect and didn't say much over the telephone. But inevitably, everyone found out everything anyway.

One advantage of having the switchboard operator was that you could call her on the telephone and ask questions, like "Have you seen my father downtown?" or "Is the store still open?" or "What is the movie tonight at the theater?" Since she was sitting right there in front of a big window, she saw everything going on and obviously, she could listen in to any conversation she chose. That was real power. The switchboard operator was the de facto ruler of the town's social affairs. If she didn't know something, it was because she simply wasn't interested.

Now, the telephones only worked when they wanted to. Calling someone outside of town, formerly known as "long distance" was a chore and very expensive. No one called except for deaths and sometimes for money. Before too long the system was upgraded to a rotary phone system and the whole social structure created by that technology crumbled away to dust.

I think there are some striking similarities between the old switchboard system and today's social networking. The main differences are speed and size. Of course, our present evolving system is huge, global in nature. I can talk as easily to someone in Australia as I can to someone next door. In fact, I am more likely to talk to someone in Australia than I am someone next door. No matter the time of day, it is always daytime somewhere, I can chat or text or write to whomever I please.

What goes around comes around. There is no guarantee that an entirely different system of communication and technological advance won't make the present system obsolete in a heartbeat and send us off in a different direction. But guess what? There are these neat little switches on my laptop, my iPhone, the iPad and every other device. They are called on/off switches. When I turn off the device, I am back in my small town before the telephone came into my life. No one knows where I am or what I am doing (within reason, of course). At least no one in the "social network." I can opt out or in the parlance of my age, drop out.

So why do I choose to opt in? In my case it is simple, I am a compulsive writer. Now, that I don't write legal briefs everyday all day long, I still have the urge to write and write I must. Now comes the real question. Do I care if anyone reads what I write? That is a harder question to answer. I am gratified when someone reads what I write, but deep down, I am not motivated simply by having an audience. I am certainly, in my own mind, not motivated to maintain any kind of social contact by means of social networking. I never report in. I hardly ever answer questions other than those directed at me personally and I certainly don't send any kind of chain notices to anyone or respond to any sent to me.  So am I a social networker  or not? Not.

Oh, you say. You are a hypocrite, you blog incessantly. I do not view blogging as a social activity. My blogging is nearly all one way. Me out. Sometimes I will respond to a comment but rarely do I get engaged in a dialogue. I think it is the dialogue that creates the social part of networking.

Why don't I participate? I have other things to do. Real things with real people and real responsibilities. I don't need to live my life online. Then why write at all? Back to square one. Some people breathe, I write.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Why I am still going to RootsTech and why you should also

The decisions made by the RootsTech committee (or whoever) to limit vendors at the upcoming conference is an issue, but it is not the end of the world type issue. Although it is extremely unfortunate for those who were planning on selling at the conference, it does not change the tremendous opportunity for meeting and learning about technology offered at this one Conference. The list of presentations continues to grow, making the decision of which to hear and which to miss even harder to make. When it comes down to it, the conference will be a fabulous opportunity to hear information that is presented in no other forum in such a concentrated form. Those who fail to go to the Conference due to this one issue, will be the losers but I am sure they will have a lot of other opportunities to go to conferences more suited to their interests.

My comments about the decision made to exclude certain vendors are limited to that one issue. As far as the decision goes by RootsTech it is basically an issue of "its my game and I get to say who plays." But it is equally a foolish to fail to participate for that reason alone. What if the Conference planners made the decision to have no vendors at all? Would that make the opportunity to learn any less? Is the RootsTech a vendors' conference? It is true that the vendors provide one type of experience, but maybe there is a reason for limited the type of vendors? It is clear from a review of the proposed presentations that there is decidedly more tech than genealogy.

I recently went to Sea World, a commercial establishment with a capital C. This amusement park is superficially billed as an educational experience. At every turn and in every single activity, there is a commercial sale attached. Exhibits are "sponsored" by airlines and other businesses. Even though the entrance fee was $82 per adult, there were thousands of people there all willing to not only pay the entrance fee but also pay extra for many attractions and a huge premium for drinks and food and be advertised to all day and into the night accompanied by Christmas music.  I really enjoyed the day with my grandchildren, but the experience, in light of some of the reactions to the RootsTech issue, raises some other questions.

Why would people be willing to spend hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars to travel to an amusement park where the whole idea is selling and some of those same people feel deprived because they couldn't buy things at a genealogy conference? Is the Conference commercial or educational or part of both? Are we conditioned to associate selling with learning? I must say as an aside, the educational content of Sea World would fit in a 100 page book and I am not sure I see the educational benefit of dancing porpoises. But I didn't take my grandchildren to Sea World to be educated, we got what we paid for.

My point is at RootsTech you will likely get more education than you pay for and you will not have to pay a premium for food and drink. Maybe genealogists need to come out of the 19th Century. Maybe the move by RootsTech is not so much as a commentary on the place of books in our society but a commentary on the emphasis of the Conference itself. Maybe hard copy book publication and sales is in a revolutionary transition and this is only a small indication of what is happening.

Now, that I have said all that, I still think it unfair to those who were led to believe that they were going to participate as vendors were allowed to rely on that belief until only a few short weeks before the Conference, there would be no real harm to RootsTech, but a real harm to the vendors by making that decision. It may be too late to change the decision, but hopefully in future years the rules of the game won't be changed at the last minute. How would the blogger feel, if at the last minute the RootsTech people decided not to have bloggers at the conference?

By the way, you can still buy books and other services from the excluded vendors, please do so.

Even More on RootsTech

John Reid of Anglo-Celtic Connections has hit the nail on the head with his comments about the decision by RootsTech 2012 to ban book publishers/sellers and genealogy related vendors. In his post No Books, he said,
This appears to continue the trend I sensed last year from the conference  - nothing to learn from the past, no room for the conventional. Reminds me of the Dot Com bubble days when we were told the old ways of evaluating stocks no longer applied.

Best use all tools at your disposal, and use them together.
The decision is extremely short-sighted and very exclusive of the general genealogical community. I doubt that the people making this decision have any feeling for genealogy or genealogists. I fear for the vast majority of the older, mature genealogists who are going to be lured to this Conference and find that they are out-of-date and no longer relevant. Given the demographics of the average genealogist, who do they think will attend. Last year there was a mix of the old and new, but as John Reid puts it, there seems no room for the conventional at this year's conference. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

More on the RootsTech issue

I received this comment to my last post from Bill and Nancy Barns of Stories to Tell but is is worth repeating in a blog post.  They recount the same problems experienced by Leland Meitzler as reported in my last post.
We had the same experience Leland describes! On Friday we finally received an email from Gordon Clark of Roots Tech, almost identical to the one you got. We were equally shocked.
First, because our firm, Stories To Tell, provides editing and book design services, not book publishing – a technical service requiring book design software. Second, because RootsTech thought we were “technical” enough to have us teach a class “Self Publish Your MS Word Book Like a Pro” In addition, the RootsTech Program Committee contacted us November 15th to see if we would be willing to present another class as a lab. We said we would. 
We had sent in an exhibitor application at the RootsTech Booth at the California Family History Expo in early October. The RootsTech staffer at the Expo told us that we would hear from somebody from RootsTech within “a couple of weeks.” When we didn’t hear from anyone, we sent an inquiry on October 26th. We got no response. Finally, on December 8th, we sent another email inquiry and got Mr. Clark’s curt and dismissive reply the next day. We immediately telephoned to discuss the situation as Mr. Clark had invited us to do. Guess what. No reply. We are still hoping to speak with Mr. Clark.
We, like you, are shocked by RootsTech’s misguided policy. To suggest that books aren’t an essential part of the tech world is simply to deny reality. 
Let’s hope that reason will prevail and RootsTech will reverse this ill-considered decision.
Good luck Leland!
Is there anyone else at RootsTech to appeal to? There must be a more sympathetic and knowledgeable person at Family Search who understands the importance of written information!
I suggest you also read the latest comments from DearMYRTLE on the subject. Perhaps it would be  appropriate to send some of these comments to the RootsTech people who made these decisions. Why is it such a big deal to determine the composition of the vendors at a conference? Isn't the idea that since they pay their own way, rent the space and do all the work that the more the merrier? Why the exclusion of vendors? What possible purpose can be served by antagonizing legitimate conference attendees and the entire genealogical community?