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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?

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More thoughts on New Apps?-NUCMC Mobile

Since I plan to learn how to program apps for historical repositories to make the genealogical world an easier place to navigate for friends, relatives, and the rest of the world, I want to work on getting more thoughts down on paper. I make notes everywhere. Can’t stop writing if I wanted to, but they do not always make it here. Must write this down before it leaves my thought processes.

So, NUCMC exists. It’s this massive union catalog of manuscripts done by the Library of Congress.

  •       For anyone not heavily invested in libraries, a union catalog is how a bunch of libraries together (supposedly) try to save money by using one major catalog and adding entries as needed. Since supposedly no government entity has money anymore (and most libraries are the forgotten beneficiaries of Borders closure, hence making a lot of people try to return to libraries that lost funding and programs in the never-ending stream of budget cuts that come out when people lose interest in culture) then the union catalog supposedly helps people find their information faster. Once I had a teacher who was extremely upset about converting a library to a union catalog. I need to hear positive opinions about them before I can give a more-accurate conclusive judgement. So, consider the above paragraph biased due to that experience.

NUCMC is a manuscripts version of OCLC’s WorldCat. In the end, it’s all about finding the right piece of information as quickly as possible. I was wondering when it comes to NUCMC, is there an app for that? I know that is a trade marked catch-phrase from Apple, but really- IS there an app for that? I am investing my time and energy in learning more about how to make existing technology work easier. If something exists and it’s not incredibly easy to use and does not function on a level where it only takes a few taps, then it’s outdated already. Not as if everyone has the time or power to use such technology on a grand scale. That is not the point here. Accessibility, while a hot topic in any archive or library, along with a basic design, (advanced design principles) that clarify and streamline are the essentials to an effective group’s work.

History matters to the people who live it and somehow either loved it or hated it. And it also matters to the people who don’t know about it for themselves, meaning “Was this family story for real?” That is where the repositories come in. The places that physically host or hold the information must be open virtually, 24/7, while the staff go to bed, live, eat, take care of children’s runny noses, and have lives. They don’t have to operate staffed all the time, although this would be a little ideal for the world employment situation. Someone complains about money issues and then everyone curls up in virtual fetal positions or raise their hands and say no.

I can see when war is the only option to divest tyrants, and military actions tend make really great, detailed records, but it’s like no one has the ability to tell me where all of the money went. Congress has not passed a real budget in 3/4 years of the current presidency and runs on these strange executive orders. I’m sorry. I don’t elect kings. I elect a president and I can get them out. America feels more like a police state now than it did ten years ago. I am not a fan of the illusion of security over the reality of corruption in every level of government and spying on your own people because you are afraid of losing your power. That smacks of fear and lack of confidence in a huge degree. I mean, when you are done being president, you continue with your security detail, you have a huge paycheck, and if the spouse wants to, she can run for president, too. I mean, it seems incredibly silly to worry so hard over the power struggle. And no, it’s not a case of scarcity of resources. It’s a struggle against innovation to clean things up versus keeping costs low. Other countries figured out how to get away with much less oil consumption back in the 1970’s during the first oil crisis by using sugar and other plant-based fuels that Americans seem completely unaware of. No, it does not cost more to convert over. It costs lobbyists and politicians their dependence on the fuel profits from corn shares that literally change how all food grows in the US. I may not know a ton on this topic, but I do see inter-connected webs throughout. It’s a pain in the rear.

Back to the libraries and archives, there is need for NUCMC to be accessible by app if it is not already. When thinking about how historians actually work, it’s not just IN libraries and archives. We need as much portability as any other traveler. Most of my research time is on a day off from other things, or maybe on Saturdays. I research on the way to other places instead of that place being the only thing on the list. It’s the only way that I do not feel guilty for taking the time out to make my work happen. I have yet to be able to do a work trip specifically geared for simply research unless I plan it way in advance. I know of other professionals who actually do plan for research trips and spend their time in the libraries and archives akin to gold.

Due to the expenses involved, online record repositories like Ancestry are incredibly popular, and if I am correct, just passed the one billion mark for profits for good reason. Some of the basic records should be free, and it would be the ideal in the best of world for the whole thing to be, but that is not going to happen either in the current economy or any other. A market economy will not allow it. However, instead it comes down to enough people basically buying into the program to lessen the charge for everyone else.

A lot of apps are free or else people do not try them. I want to do things that are free and somehow make ends meet and get paid for it. I am too much of an idealist in that regard. Not sure how in the world it will work out, but I love the idea of flooding the earth with the ability to find what is necessary to get the research done. I am a romantic in this ideal, and I understand it. Going into academia unfortunately will not pay for it, but I also love teaching. Why is it that everything that I get a kick out of does not pay bills?

*sighs from the GenealogyDr*

Ancestors: The Things You Don’t Expect to Learn

There are some things about ancestors where I did not expect to have a “Who Do You Think You Are?” moment. I am a professional and have researched family history (genealogy) for years. I have expertise in the Mid-Atlantic states areas, although I also have familiarity with Slovak, Canadian, and Californian records and I know enough of the basics for being “dangerous.” I love the topic, seemingly never stop talking about it, and I eat, breathe, and generally do things with it more likely than not.

It’s been a long time since I last researched my family. There’s been a break of a few years, full-disclosure. It’s been a rough time, actually. That aside, tonight I needed to get back to my touch-stone. I came to one of my schools in a rain storm because of their Ancestry Library subscription. Usually this means that I start asking “who wants to be found?” and follow whatever guidance there is. Not exactly the professional manner of doing things, but I always find things that way. Going by one’s gut, instincts, or other methods, it produces the same results. And training helps with knowing search patterns, but it was looking and then I came across “nothing” for a while. Searched a few people…whomever looked interesting, but nothing methodical. I was actually distracted by the people next to me.

After looking up my g^x power great-grandma, I was playing on the site and noticed ships manifests… more records were there than were on the site a few years ago. Before, it was always my great-grandfather and his sister. Been there, memorized those. This time, though, it was different.

I saw my great-aunt Regina Opacity’s record. She was a good, nice woman from all accounts. She had some sort of eye problem and came to America and lived with my great-grandfather’s family. Tonight I saw her manifest and then saw her detention record. I looked over her detention report, and although on the manifest it gave the record of who she was going to live with, she was still detained for the following reasons: “LPC Aliens likely to become public charges, P.D. Aliens with mental, physical, economic or educational disqualifications”. That ticked me off. She had someone who she was going to, legitimately. It was the same family member that my great-grandfather went to, and it was not a “fake” family member. So what if she had a problem with her eye? This was prior to EEO, but … I felt defensive for her. I tried to investigate the inspector, but came up with nothing from minimal Google searching.

All that I know is that when I was Ellis Island years ago, I felt drawn to the inspection room for reasons unknown to me. I was honestly scared of the inspection room although I had no legitimate reason for this emotion for my own purposes. I saw the stairs leading up to the room, and the thought of “The stairs! The stairs!” came to mind. Felt like a scared adrenaline rush. It was not my personal thought process. I tried to look into the room but I was too short. Still, I felt compelled to see the inside of that room. Went down the stairs and then up a side stairway to the outer balcony area to try to see into the room as it was set a little lower than the outside for sight lines. I could not see much, but I felt like something that was not positive happened there and I was the first family member back to that place since they all came through originally in the 1920’s. It had been 85 years but something was as fresh as if it was two weeks ago and traumatic. I was witness of some sort, and Regina was NOT happy with whatever happened there. She was dead years before my birth. However, there was a feeling of fiery indignation, and I could assume that whatever happened there was basically humiliating. Unknown character Inspector Marsh was on her detention sheet. I think that she was the only one detained from her ship, and she was at the most 26 years old in 1921. Come to your own conclusions.

Great Hall, Ellis Island

Great Hall, Ellis Island, 2006, Pictures shot by author.

The design of Ellis Island made the Great Hall into two wings. One was where they had the computers for the tourists. Back then, it was crowd control. Took a while to get to the other section where there was a massive glass window made up of miniature windows where there was the most beautiful New York skyline possible. Stuck between the ocean and across a very short bay to a beautiful New York skyline, waiting for a fate that could be anything, better or worse than home.

Ellis Island parapet from archives

Ellis Island Parapet through archives skylight, July 2006.

I made an appointment before arriving there to see what was in their archives on the roof of the building (I could not take pictures in the archive, so I snapped the parapet.) There was a collection of photographs taken by one of the inspectors. Striking, but every photograph had a person dressed up as if they were one step below meeting the queen yet they all had the most hateful, distrustful expressions on their faces. These were not happy people. Dressed to make the best impression that they could, fearful for their lives. Despite the nostalgic view that people on this side of Atlantic have a few generations later about civil liberties and the like, no one came here only because of opportunity. It was either America or in many cases death. Not exactly the best thing ever, but better than starving. I have no idea what kinds of features were available to the travelers, but I know that I have been extremely lucky and blessed in how people treat me thinking about Regina and her treatment upon coming to “the land of opportunity.”

Regina had a happy life with her family, but she never married and never had children. All that I know is that years ago when I was at Ellis Island, I did not expect to see or feel any of that. In going there, I was so happily expectant to make this connection of being somewhere where family members had been and figured that “Yeah. I’m part of America. My family came through Ellis Island,” and I bought two of the same shirt and still wear them. Then I learned more about the struggles of Americans that had nothing to do with military, but had everything to do with freedom. Now, seeing her detention record, I have documentation to back up those impressions. Although my experience was personal, the documentation was there and I found it. I doubt that anyone of my family has seen this since it was first typed over 90 years later. Digitized years after my trip, the document and experience did not come together until tonight and I remembered what happened.

Leaving Ellis Island

Leaving Ellis Island, afternoon July 2006.

Somehow I think that I am not the only person who something like this has happened to, but I wanted to write it down. There’s a lot more out there than natural senses explain and sometimes documents help. Had that not happened, this would be just another document. Her basics vital stats were recent enough that the family knew parts about her life that she came to America, lived with the family and was “everyone’s favorite aunt.” I did not know what else she had been through, and both experiences make her life more fleshed out. I do not know other aspects of her life, but I feel like she is determined to matter to her great-grandniece. I am listening and learning.

Quick Note for Historical Reference Mapping Tool

For the best use of wiki ability, the tool will need embedding features to allow libraries to embed their information on the site and vice versa. At the least, it involves hours and days open and contact info. Better, though, and more because of current trends, we need a tool that correlates all of these groups together. I will look over the RootsTech videos to see whether someone has done this already. It seems incredibly obvious. I’ll be lucky if someone hasn’t made this by the time I graduate.

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.

Mockup of Genealogical Repository GIS App Using Photoshop

Note: All ideas on this page (with the exception of the pictures and references to other software: Padmapper and WikiMapia) are subject to intellectual copyright protections

Assignment for this week is to make a mash-up picture of some sort that works with what we’re learning in class. My Photoshop skills need improvement as it’s been nearly a decade or longer since I last used the software even part-time. That said, it’s time to play. I would love to create something that would help in visually conceptualizing how I want the App to work. To make a prototype of sorts that aids in the structural building blocks later.

Basic details of multiple plans fusing together:

Ethnographic Layer Potential

Layer One (meaning individual layers in the app, not necessarily on Photoshop) and pictorially represented: crisscrossing of the ethnographic layers, possibly in a form akin to the crime detector on Padmapper:

padmapper crime rate view

Padmapper crime rate view, with mass transit overlay of Chicago, no addresses highlighted

I would prefer a view that was more cross-hatched, especially since ethnic groups are not the same as crime rates. Unfortunate thought process for comparative analysis, honestly. But the basic modeling for choosing whatever cross-section is still part of the idea. No idea if I could do this in Photoshop, but I think that I will work on some other layers there.

Naming Scenarios

I think of this application as WikiMap, but that is so generic a name that it needs help. And, it’s also close to WikiMapia which is already being used elsewhere for similar although not the same purposes.

GIS v. GPS?: Crab Cakes Fishing with Chicken Legs

As I search for a name, I also search for elements in the functional processes. The whole application (thus far) is a compendium of different open source formats munching together to make for a new, dynamic medium. Adding the GIS coding (is that inherent in GPS? I have no idea and need to learn.)

The idea is making a crab cake, so to speak. The initial data, censuses and other government documents already encoded and threaded for massive number crunching quality time is the zooplankton that feed off the plant matter (data made from 1850 and onward marching). 

Next, the different web programs that mesh them together is akin to a crab, eating the mussels or chicken legs (yes, crabs eat chicken legs) in the path, scurrying along under the auspices of life expectancy built upon previous good harvests. Finally, I am a fisher woman. I harvest crabs and clean them for my purposes. The cleaned crabs go to users who further mix them with their resources (say, documents and genealogical databases, for example) and then the final product is

Maryland Style Crab cake from Dining Out Chicago

Maryland Style Crab cake

Maryland-style crab cakes. Enough breading, egg, etc. just to barely keep the lump and claw meat together. The stuff that creates legends in the seafood world. I’m not looking for legendary status. I like to know how to fish and to see what other nice little morsels come up for me, too.

Using Padmapper as an example again, this time of how the Wikimap (current name) functions with using random addresses upon the present map, the idea would be a cross between Google Map’s inherent ability to find just about anywhere, and show it live-time with where the cemeteries, libraries, and other needed vital repositories are, akin to the options available for mapping on Padmapper.

Padmapper Example with Various Random Addresses Shown

Padmapper Example with Various Random Addresses Shown in Place of Genealogically Relevant Repositories, Cemeteries, etc.

The final touch, albeit in the future is adding the ability to add the GPS mechanism to the application. It would have the option of being turned on or off. That way, if a person is in any given town, they may instantly see all of the repositories and how far away they are from their present location. If not this tool on the walking or driving or mass-transit routing paths, then simply plugging in the address and performing the same operation is an incredibly useful application.

The final thing to show or prove is how this would work or what I envision it looking like. This does not do it justice whatsoever. I cannot get Photoshop to do the kinds of effects that I need it to do, but this is a beginning.

Ethno-cultural overlay in artistic expression a la Photoshop and Padmapper

Ethno-cultural overlay in artistic expression a la Photoshop and Padmapper

Best efforts from the drawing board of the GenealogyDr.

Note: All ideas on this page (with the exception of the pictures and explicit references to other software Padmapper and WikiMapia) are subject to intellectual copyright protections as published on 23 Feb 2012, and prior during December 2011 to the future.