Mobile Accessibility for the Modern Genealogical Researcher

Recent library literature ( Smith, Aaron.  “Cell Internet Use 2012.” Pew Internet and American Life Project.)  explained that Internet use for minority young adults often occurs on cell phones. A recent class meeting indicated that this study was right.

Genealogical research is a hot topic, but there is a disconnect with the young adult age group. Most of them do not relate genealogical research with family stories and for those that do relate the two, they have no idea how to start researching. My app should help to change that. Based on a game-learning system, the point of the game is learning real research techniques and using the app to find the closest places for what there is for documentation at home and in other locations.

Instead of the surname-based system, use geographic searching strategies to make progress in family history. The app isn’t done yet, and all of these ideas are under immediate copyright of the owner/author. I should have at least mock-up’s attempted within the next year or two. I am learning as fast as I can how to code and how to bring other’s coded materials together for collaborative use. Crunching the data may not be the hard part, though I am uncertain. Seeing whether the server can handle more than two searches, move fast, and effortlessly as the app changes how people search could be the bigger thing. I am starting now to wonder how much server space is necessary for making all of this happen.

The intent for the app is the democratization of genealogy. This may be an arrogant assumption, as I have little to no idea what genealogical efforts are under-sway world-wide, though I know that they must be out there. Looking for world conferences on genealogy that actually are world-wide. RootsTech, FHISO, and GEDCOM X are only the beginning tools.

I need something that people can use on their phones or IPads in live-time. Making it social might blow all server possibilities, but may get a grant. We’ll see what happens.

Ask the Missionaries: They Can Help You

During General Conference in October, Elder Nelson mentioned repeatedly in his talk: Ask the missionaries. They can help you. I was watching conference at my Church building and the missionaries for my general area sat a few rows ahead of me. While watching them, they were okay with the things that Elder Nelson was asking them to help with, excepting family history.

Although it is a commandment that people in my Church work on knowing who their ancestors are, the vast majority of Church members that I have come across know almost nothing about the topic. There is not a lot of training  on the topic beyond essentials, at least in the U.S. Outside of the Church, genealogy is a hot topic, and receives much attention. It was not a surprise to watch the sisters look at each other in a mild amount of fear when Elder Nelson asked the missionaries to help with people finding their ancestors. Sister missionaries can range in age but until recently, they were typically in their early twenties. Few people in their twenties are very concerned about their ancestors unless there is a direct need to be so interested such as the death of a loved one.

I became interested in family history (genealogy) when I was a child, and work with the field both inside and outside of the Church with friends and colleagues. It was my Bachelors degree major.

So, I gave the sisters my number to train them in basics. For our first meeting, the computers at the family history center were down. While a little frustrating, that did not stop things very long. We re-scheduled for today, and we ended up meeting at a McDonald’s with wifi near my neighborhood although in their area, and started looking up their family information.

Neither of the sisters knew what to expect. The first sister was pretty shocked when she saw that her ancestors enmeshed with our Church’s historical movements. Some family members were active members, while others went back and forth. However, by the end she knew that the stories she heard were real. She saw what information the Church had on her ancestors in live-time, and saw where the history and her family worked with each other. I gave her explanations as we went to help her see the context of what was happening around the dates in her family’s life.  The dates and places were enough to see that there were multiple stories happening that tied her directly into historical events with which she was familiar but were not real until she saw them on the page.

She took a lot of notes and her eyes bugged out regularly.

For the second sister, she had more questions about modern issues and had other effects where it was unclear what was happening and how things came together but there were still complicated twists and turns in her family’s history. She knew more about her family’s background to start, and in her case it was less of a dramatic unfolding.

Going back to the first sister, I wanted to make sure that she knew that her background was epic. While the first place where we left off was not exactly the happiest, by the end of it she was able to see people who made it through, people who were obviously determined, down to children who made it through when both parents were dead by the age of six. They found their way to being great people. She knew very little about her family’s background coming into our meeting but left with an intense amount of knowledge about herself and her family’s efforts going step by step through Church history starting (in her case) in 1839. Watching the knowledge and paradigms shift was fun.

For me, it was just fun to work with these sisters. I could see that the information whelmed the first sister, but when they were all done, they knew that they could be asked by Church members or others and either help them themselves or knew where the resources were. They also learned that there was a lot more to family history than that they previously understood, including seeing their roles in it. It was a grand afternoon.

I appreciated being able to help, and felt that this was important. One of the sisters will soon be transferred, but they both know more about themselves and their history now. I hope that it made a positive impact and didn’t rock their worldviews out of creation. After a bad week, this was a great thing to be able to help. Now I hope that they can pass it along.

Document Yourself: Genealogy for Beginners

Associates keep asking me how to start their family history. This reply may be so basic that I do not wish to sound obvious, but start with yourself and move backwards. A lot of people understand the conceptual “going backwards” part, but the starting with yourself leaves them with non-connecting looks.

Think of your living space, and/or that of your parents or children. Think of where you work, where you shop, go to Church (if applicable), pay taxes, and everything else. What are the basic records found at each location? What are the major events in your life? Has anything in your life ever cost more than $1,000 (US)? Then there should be some sort of documentation for it, and it probably was a big deal when the purchase happened such as for a house, a car, school, a birth, etc.

Although papers are important, there are many stories that pass down through generations without papers. Sometimes, unless there is a specific need for a paper’s creation, major events do not receive record. But, start with what you have. A) Anything that is paper that has your name on it, which is from an official source of some sort is worth looking at. Driver’s licenses are not paper, exactly, anymore, but they also count.

General guidelines (not the professional standard, but things that I look for when gathering basic documents):

  • Name or variant of name
  • Location or institution of some sort (State of Illinois, Carnegie Mellon University, Holy Cross Hospital*, Department of Defense, Our Father Lutheran Church*- *some of these locations may or may not exist. These are given simply for hypothetical purposes only)
  • Numbers (date, or identifying number of any sort)
  • Anything that looks official or pertinent.

Some items may look official and be complete fluff. Other items could be small or odd shapes, and those are the ones to keep track of carefully as there is usually only one of them in the world. The archivist in me does not want to make copies of items due to light damage, but sometimes only surviving copies ARE the only thing that survives. Not everything is on 100-year microfilm or gold archival-quality DVDs. Scanning helps, but it takes effort to up-date formats. Possibly the hardest thing about family history is that there is no way ever to say that it is done (save Deity says it) and finished due to updating formats for documents alone.  

However, start smaller.  Look around the house. Notice what is on the walls. Pictures are documents in their own right in many cases. Although photoshop works wonders, most people are not about to try to break into your house to steal a 100-year-old picture of Great Aunt Susie to digitally craft something or someone else in there. Despite Hollywood, most people’s families really are not that interesting to anyone outside of their family, if even to them. So work on it in bits and pieces.

Organize the items first by surname, and then by generation. When you deal with much larger quantities of family members, then separation into geographic locations is a better idea. If all of your family documents fit into either a single 2″ binder or a single-drawer file box, then organization by surname is not a bad effort or method entirely.

Make the record of yourself. You think that you are not interesting? Try writing your story and then read it back to yourself out loud. If you need to, read it to a friend or family member. You will be surprised what happens when importance and weight come into play from another’s opinion.

Link

More on GIS Genealogical Apps and Reviewing and Using the FamilySearch 21 Jun 2012 Webinar

21 June FamilySearch Webinar

I am one of many devotees of the Ancestry Insider, the guru who writes unvarnished industry semi-insider information and who makes my life easier as I am the only person who I know that does genealogical tech research in the Windy City. Reading an update, I got the link upon which this blog has basis. I was at one of the first meetings where a major developer or director told us all about how FamilySearch was changing. It is where New FamilySearch came from, and it was part of the BYU Tech Conference back in 2006. Wow, it blew my mind back then. And new.familysearch.org changed how I do family history and upped my participation. I majored in the topic, but I liked the research. I did not especially find use for it afterwards due to cumbersome processes necessary to use said information in manners consistent with my beliefs and practices.

New.familysearch.org was genealogical crack. It was addictive beyond measure, and I noticed that the first two months that I was on it, I had a hard time getting homework done. I ate, slept, did enough to get through assignments, and otherwise was up until 2 every night working on what was there. The live-time aspect floored me and instantly changed my perspective from “this will never happen and this is taking forever and no one knows how to do this” to WOW. This is LIVE-TIME? The change in my view was that of realizing instantly the applicability that the software had to what the Church had and did.

After six years, the toddler (NFS/FamilySearch) took its first steps and now it is time to go to school, so to speak. The webinar describes something called SourceBox. Any genealogist with even minimal training learns quickly that without a source (ANY source, but the more credible, the more accurate, the better), everything is only leads. Leads are good, but they’re only air or legends and those are fairy tales. That will likely insult people who think that absolutely everything has to be taken only on faith, but the thing is that unless the faith has basis on or placed in something or someone TRUE, then it’s meaningless. Devoid of consistency as in devoid of material or spiritual matter. So, there has to be SOMETHING (tangible in this case) that gives the information needed to put a name, date, place, time… something to do with a material object to say that an ancestor lived, breathed, died, whatever the event was. The things that are tangible or intangible evidence (if talking in spiritual terms) are sources. The closer to the event, usually the better.

FamilySearch the Internet site, has not had this capacity in any meaningful format since its inception. As new.familysearch.org grew from the first 700 beta testers (me included) to a world-wide effort, this is an imperative to establish within its framework. I keep seeing familysearch like DNA. There are bits of the human family here and there, sources documenting things, and if there was a visual to it, perhaps all of that information eventually could look like a human body. So many documents, so many pieces of knowledge trained and traced together, and establishing the history of the world according to the people who lived it. THAT is where history comes from. The rest of us are all annotators.

In addition, I see the next steps when watching said webinar. Why only use tools that other people give you? Make your own. The original DIY was the wheel. Making something to fix a problem. Now, it’s using what is there, and (in my head) turning the useful reference books into programs or into a conglomerate site. That is what reference always was and people never truly connected it together. These massive tomes of information: reference books in the genealogical sphere, such as the Handybook for Genealogists, Ancestry’s Redbook (which is kind of almost the same thing, but not quite), the Genealogist’s Address Book– all of these need to be GIS-mapped places that give the basic information for any particular place in live time. Again, in the Zee-maps tradition, mark repositories by places by then make them historically useful.

That means, your ancestor lived in Scotland or Wales, or New Brunswick in 1837. Okay. Most of those places were well-established by 1837. There may have been a few boundary changes, but in general it’s a case of getting to the right land place and then finding out who has those records. I don’t have to know what is actually IN your ancestor’s records, but I do want you to be able to find them without having a direct knowledge of what the place was back in the day. This makes a little more sense for the United States or for parts of Europe that were conquered or re-district-ed, or parts of Russia with name changes or Asia or basically anywhere but the conquering territories and governments.

The United States developed as it went along, similar to a programming project before there were software architects. Dealing with the development of all of those counties, townships, villages, cities, and where their records went as places split, divided, etc. is why the Handybook is my go-to source for anything in the US. But, if I could just stick in a place and a time, and be given all of the libraries, archives, and whatever other repositories were there at that time in addition to what existed to the present and where things ended up! That would be sheer genius. And that is what the historical app ultimately tries to do once I get it to any version of a development stage. It has a lot of layers, and that is the whiz-bang dynamo version of it. It looks so simple in my mind, and this is the first time that I have ever been able to express that level of the app with clarity.

Sure, professional genealogists are still necessary. Being able to read, interpret documents, and everything else necessary for this? It’s kind of feels like breaking the sound barrier, but it’s in genealogical terms, United States research-based. I can mentally hear something akin to a sonic boom-gong going off in my head when speaking about this. I care about the old countries. But if you can’t get back there, that research does me little to no good.

The layers and levels of research necessary to get this app done are a little staggering, but it needs to be done. There have been 30+ years to get to this stage, and the levels and stages ratchet up. It only took six years to get to where FamilySearch is now, and while I wish they installed it six years ago. Now, we get to go back and tell everyone where we got everything. It may be a mish-mash for a few years, but then we get to SOAR as there are documents backing up the information and apps that give clarity to where in the world to find these documents in a quick and efficient method. Boy, we’re going to be tired by the end of this, but wow, what a ride!

I’m not sure what I need to learn to help accomplish this, but it is going to be incredible. That, and I think that I need some help… a LOT of help to make this work properly. Any takers?

Genealogical Research Logs: Integration of Google Calendars

The class project for Digital Media before Spring Break was working on the Glessner House Museum website. While the copy of the site is good and updated, the visual representations need a Web 2.0 or 3.0 streamlining face lift. That said, for GHM3, the group inserted calendar and Google Maps functionality. Apps and embedded code structures are not hard in WSWYG editors. That said, the first commentator said that it was too light and the duplicate event calendar cluttered. No one else had a calendar, and it is easy enough to further streamline. That said, I thought about other applications of the calendar, and using WordPress to embed documents along with calendars and to inter-link between the two. That brought me to the inter-linked reference blog.

While there are literally thousands of genealogical blogs out there, I haven’t seen how they record their information. It’s as if no one thinks about how the person actually does the research, or the process. Sure, there are millions of databases on some heavy-hitting sites like A.com (Ancestry), Heritage Quest, FamilySearch, what have you. There are databases for keeping families together: RootsMagic, FamilyTreeMaker, Brother’s Keeper, the Master Genealogist, Legacy, Ancestral Quest, just to name a few.

Keeping track of how a person knows something is more self-conscious than this. The resource itself has to survive the inter-linking between the different databases, and as of this writing (I have not yet tried RootsMagic 5 but plan to do so soon) none of the database programs do the field justice. There’s no such thing as “one stop shopping” where the database is good enough for the necessary citation models and can keep track of the document by date, etc. There is at least one toolkit that is all about being an electronic filing cabinet. That’s great, but Windows already does that.

Maybe that’s needed for Macs, but I wouldn’t know in that regard. I am a late adopter of Mac basic technologies having had my last atrocious experience with them in 1998 while working on the high school literary magazine. The annual awards ceremony had most commonly heard phrases in the newsroom. “I HATE MACS!” came from me. Considering that Windows isn’t keeping up, I’ll have to look into them more closely, or else break down and buy a Chrome Book soon since I need something that’s more portable and lighter than my work laptop.

All of that said, I want to embed the Gmail Calendar into a Genealogical blog. Add the ability and necessity of uploading pictures of documents and then the text to explain said document. Although the second theory for that sentence is basically standard blogging with a separate application, the next part may make it a bit more complicated, and I’m sure that I’m not the first person to think about it. Adding the Google Calendar with a dynamic interface which GPS records where a person checked in for research: National Archives, Chicago, or the Newberry Library, for example. That needs to automatically be added to the research log aspect of this as also every document and which families apply to the given situation. This doesn’t look hard from the outset, and it seems completely obvious to anyone who uses research tools regularly. I want to find this in a program available today, but maybe it’s not there yet.

It will add to the phenomena idea of “Big Brother is Watching You” but when ISN’T “Big Brother” watching somewhere? A few years ago a news article focused on how that the average person is on a camera seven times a day. I hope not, because it is creepy, but the idea of someone wanting to mess with my business? Why would they? What sort of benefit would it give them? I agree with the tongue-in-cheek analysis of my old History 482 professor from undergrad who said that he almost wanted to get hacked. He definitely didn’t have enough cash for attracting a hacker, but the hacker could have his debt.

So there you have it. Make the research log into a virtual calendar with “check in” abilities to remember what repository you found what thing at, and then anything scanned goes there. I think that I may need to put a portable scanner on my Christmas list. Just something small that I can bring in a backpack or a smaller bag since backpacks are becoming less and less acceptable at repositories as the moral fabric of society erodes and shreds to nothingness. I can’t leave my backpack anywhere in Chicago without locking it. Never realized how valuable lockers were. Hated them in high school. I don’t use them in college. Potentially interested in a rolling backpack, though I’m also learning to literally carry a lighter load where I go. And I’m not into messenger bags for myself. They simply don’t work for me.

Best of luck to the beginning researcher. More basic family history blog posts to follow.

Family History Basics: Part Two (Internet Sources for Kicks and Giggles)

This is a continued series following a request for information on getting started with genealogical research, without using Ancestry. The author has nothing against using Ancestry, but wants to show that there are alternatives as the request stated.

Internet Resources: More Sites

Internet genealogical sources are myriad and scattered across the upper levels of the World Wide Web. There are plenty of deep-level web sites for individual family sources, and things that are kept behind paid or unpaid firewalls for accessibility restrictions due to membership (read: profit) concerns.

Ancestry is the biggest gorilla on the block, but there are also sites like WorldVitalRecords.com, HeritageQuest.com, and Fold3 that do similar functions. Their resources may overlap in a few places, but that depends upon the business model, profit-sharing strategies, and strategic planning.

This is by no means a thorough list, but a small compilation of a few of my go-to resources when at a library. I use Ancestry due to its profundity, but will need to start a Fold3 account soon after reviewing its source possibilities for military records. For someone living in the Windy City, the public libraries are under-staffed due to extreme and severe budget cuts. When you cut a library, you’re cutting your life. That said, there is at least HeritageQuest that is accessible for home use via one of those precious little green library cards. Since HeritageQuest has the censuses (the biggest draw for any US-based online genealogical database image-viewing site) I recommend using that green card and reaping happy benefits.

Client Practice Methodology for the Inclined: Time Needed for Starting Out

Future blog posts will highlight or give more depth to these and other sites in addition to other facets of research. There are myriad ways of starting out, and I typically recommend reserving an hour for beginning and two hours if you want to dig just a bit. The time goes by FAST! Just trust me here. I’ve given enough people a small taste to know that time becomes irrelevant outside of the cost structure. That said, four-hour increments are what I normally see people charge for when performing research for another person. It’s long enough to get some basics together, although not so long that it’s onerous on a client or their pocketbook, typically. For friends, I suggest two hours for simply helping them out in getting started, but will start with one hour and see whether they have more time than that. Once a person starts and gets into it, stopping is close to or nearly impossible.


The Blog Starts Here: Family History and Genealogy for Beginners

I am starting this blog as an effort at keeping up with my professional pursuits and personal obsession with family history and genealogy. For me, the two are used simultaneously, but also mean different things. Genealogy is just bare-bones surname lineage research with a name, date, place, and that’s about it. You can figure things out from it if you analyze, but most people don’t have the patience for it. Family history is “putting meat on the bones.” I’m not the first to use this, but I can’t remember who it was. If you find out, let me know and I can update this.

What the family history analogy means is adding the family stories and provable documentation to the genealogical bone skeletal structure. I think of metal I-beams in place for concrete pouring when building a structure. You make sure that the walls are steady, and then build your house. Most people start out with the blue prints for a house, (family stories) and they never check the engineering (Was it possible for great Great Grandma to have her picture taken on top of the first building built in Chicago?) Potentially, yes. Where was she born? Did she travel? What was her/her husband’s/father’s/any other relative’s job? Things like this help start piecing such puzzles together.

We go from questions to sources to find out information. The way to do personal family history properly is to look into family sources first and then branch out to established histories, and then directing efforts into primary sources. You find out what Great Aunt Martha knows or whomever has the family stories. Unless you’re the last member of your family alive or the only one that you know about, then you know exactly who to ask for family information. There is always that one person [or two people] who are doing it.

If it’s just you, you don’t have the benefit of the blue prints, but you do have sources. Go directly for the primary information in that case. That means, get your own vital records. Birth record, marriage record if applicable, baptismal record, military, or anything that could be an official source of identification. Make a copy of your driver’s license for your own file. If needed, passports or similar documents. Anything that the government or an ecclesiastical or military body or taxing body (or some other governing jurisdiction of which I am not aware) would use, make sure that you have a copy for yourself and your family members. If it’s just you, get a fire-proof (and hopefully that means water-proof?) safe. Consider it your personal black box. My family used to call this the “Important Papers Box” and it locked with a key. Because we lived in a safer neighborhood when I grew up, the key typically stayed with the box. This is not the best for security reasons, but we wanted to get inside the box. Our box held copies of school transcripts, one copy of the school year photos for the children of the family, birth certificates, and documents with SSNs on them just in case. Granted, this would be a very important papers box, and hence the name.

This is more of a one-family project for present day items, but start building files (portable “important papers boxes”) for your ancestors. Start from the present day and work backwards dependent upon the documentation that you already have. death certificates, funeral programs, obituaries attached to the newspaper header information (or I keep complete newspapers from dates of death as more relatives pass) , and take pictures of tombstones. As you back up in time, add other documents as described above. Make sure that you have the pivotal vital records for family members. If you’re not sure where to find such records, ask me. A later blog may include sources and similar materials to get you where you want to go. In the meantime, this should be enough to get you working. You are a part of your family’s history, too.