FamilySearch Pictures and Sources: Using the Facelift

Changes in FamilySearch’s user interface spawned new research efforts when sources transfer easily from software to social ware (FamilySearch) for accuracy and depth in ancestral research.

Little inspired me to try FamilySearch for research and posting outside of their LDS-specific uses in ages. As such, I did not keep up with changes until the last two months. Initially, the information I really wanted to review was on new.familysearch.org, After becoming spoiled by Ancestry.com’s instant abilities, I waited while FamilySearch brought their collections “up to code” with the monolith.

For any researcher, the sources are what turns cute family stories into real family history. Pictures (now ubiquitous and essential to Internet life) are easily uploaded and connected to ancestors. Instead of image-less names, dates, and places, uploaded pictures and stories make lives of the dead.

Any information taken out of context is easily misinterpreted, or misrepresented. Although reaching back to the past does not guarantee “accuracy in reporting,” meat on the bones (stories, pictures, and the daily stuff that is often relegated of being no importance to the person at the time) is important in sparking interest for the instant Internet and media-based generation, often a hundred or more years ahead of what someone once thought of as “boring.”

Outside of and including historical professorships, history is bigger and bigger business. Applied and marketable history is not a bad thing and teaches faster than monographs. While considered the standard for “serious” research, unless there is a connection to a direct past event, why read the monograph?

Adding applicable, accessible, and non-copyright restrictive photos and basic source materials gives a reason to review a historic monograph. Consider family history or genealogy as “front lines” history when trying to teach the subject.

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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.

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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?

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.