Learning Digital Accessibility the Hard Way

Not all of my music is on iTunes. I actually still own CDs. Considering they are still sold, this is not a horrible thing. It’s probably worse, however, because in my last move I ended up getting rid of my CD player and my netbook doesn’t yet have a USB DVD/CD drive. Conundrums. The solution to either of these concerns would be my either buying the right drive for my computer and burning it all onto iTunes and getting back into “the modern era” or simply finding a CD-player. They can’t have gone the way of DVD-VCR players which are more expensive than regular DVD players.

I used some CDs to DJ a dinner via a laptop last week. Obviously, I’m not a professional DJ, and I don’t have a ton of music. I only buy CDs when I realize that I really like the majority of tracks on the album, and even then- I refuse to become a hipster. Knowing off labels and things of that sort is not that important to me. I like pop, I like radio, and I shop at Walmart when needed. Please don’t sue me.

After finishing the DJ-ing gig (I also organized the event and wow… a LOT of work with an incredibly helpful crew), but I simply brought the CDs home in a plastic Ziploc bag. Didn’t have time to put them away yet. They were next to my nightstand but on the floor. One false drop of a cell phone from on top of my scriptures on my nightstand, and *sadness* a CD that is currently only useful to keep birds away from clean window-doors. A nasty chip out of the CD rendered it completely useless.

This is not a CD that I bought, but one that was originally part of a collection and I am uncertain whether I can replace it. I am now missing Fresh Aire V by Mannheim Steamroller. I have the other Fresh Aire’s in that collection and grew up listening to them during homework besides other classical music, soundtracks, and mainly songs without lyrics when studying. Allowed me to supply my own words while reading and to numb/dumb out the music as background noise. Maybe that is part of why it’s been hard for me to get homework done in really quiet environments. I don’t need music, exactly. I need people around and background noise is fine. White noise puts me to sleep, but background noise helps depending on the level of sound involved.

I actually hadn’t listened to these CDs since my Mom died. The music that I listened to when I was growing up has a lot of memories attached. They’re not bad memories, but the fact that life will NEVER be like that again makes it hurt. Avoiding pain when possible sometimes, I own the CDs, but I do not play the music unless it is useful to someone else.

Having that CD break reminded me of the transitory nature of physical items. The past two years have seen an analog backlash to the digital “permanent/transitory” dialogue regarding accessibility and preservation. Both sides have reasons favoring them, and each have equal detractors. We want the best of both worlds, and sometimes it simply does not work out. Not everything lasts forever when it is made of elemental matter. Few things last more than a fleeting twitch or twinkle of the eyes. Anymore, the only things that have the bulwark and gumption to last are things that some people consider intangible. Or else their tangibility sometimes feels like a dream as so much in this life comes and goes without making a dent.

The real issue is the fragility of civilization and people afraid to lose it in the midst of extreme circumstances like perpetual war. I hope that I can find another copy of that CD, or I may break down and buy more stuff (erg!) and continue to try to move forward. It’s a nasty battle which wages for those with historical-technologically inclined minds.

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?

Family History Basics: Part Three (Home Sources)

A previous post in this series mentioned home sources. This post may help a new researcher recognize what is a home source and what is leftover paper. Anything that helps to prove a name, date, place, or gender has potential of being a “home source.” Mediums vary widely from paper to fabric and even painted wood,   or glass but anything that is a family heirloom with particular reference to family Bibles “counts.” IRS tax records after some time are useful. Medical records, old pictures, photographs or paintings, furniture, or anything that a person typically might find in older historic museum with more than one person’s history displayed are fair game.

Preservationist Intentions

My family has had a lot of deaths in recent years. That said, funeral cards/books and programs feel almost like baseball cards (no irreverence intended) with collecting the deck. Although this is a rather unique way of seeing those items, I prefer paper to ephemera personally. Smaller, lightweight, portable, easily scanned and preservable in the digital realm. Do not get rid of originals. I cannot stress this enough!

Preserve for sharing purposes and in case something bad happens as in a natural disaster. Given the insane state of most weather phenomena over the past five or more years, this is more of a “when” than an “if.” My very first post on this blog mentioned using a fire-proof lock box. Well, that takes care of fires. Now how about floods, hurricanes, typhoons, lightning (it’s possible), bugs, extreme heat, earthquakes, something shattering, and generally anything that can hurt you is also possible for hurting documents. Documents are not more important than people. That said, scan your documents and keep them in multiple online repositories in addition to a tiny multi-gig flash drive on a key chain.

Any place where a person may host a blog can become an instant archive. Also, sites like DropBox.com play host to the Internet’s seemingly never-ending supply of data storage space. I regularly use my email as a storage facility. I remember who I sent what document to, and if I use my keyword system then it’s not too hard to find something quickly. My only reservation is that it is harder to find documents older than 2006 using Gmail, especially when there are a few thousand emails in the box.

What Counts As a Family Source

Preservationist intentions aside, start with the most recent document that shows a name and a date or a place to it. Job offers, business cards (I keep a few of these from each different job; at the least, it helps with remembering for resume purposes), ecclesiastical certificates, insurance information, birth, marriage certificates, school transcripts, immigration materials, immunity boosters and shot records, passports, drivers licenses, school IDs, and generally anything that a person would use normally for identification are things that count. Military IDs and information, letters, diplomas, certificates of completion, wedding dresses, sampler stitchery pieces, quilts, ceramics, and in some cases even older bureaus may give hints and clues.

Don’t forget scrapbooks. These may or likely may not look like modern scrapbooks. Most likely not. I love old leather-bound volumes that usually have no identification as to provenance, source materials inside, etc., excepting that the materials were in a newspaper once upon a time. Hunting down newspaper articles is also a passion. If a person notices an errant newspaper kept whole in a separate or special area, do not throw out the paper until combing through all sections for possibilities of a relative reference. The reference might not be highlighted. Start with obituaries and then work through other areas like weddings and births, and then check the regular articles. Worst case scenario, look through classifieds and ads.

This should help to start on the path of home sources. If not, leave a comment for more discussion on the topic.

The Genealogy Dr

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.