RootsTech 2015

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

Friday, February 27, 2015

Famberry launches “Famberry Search” & GEDCOM Upload


The private collaborative family tree builder program, Famberry.com, has made the following announcement:
London, England (February 27th, 2015) Famberry (www.famberry.com), the private collaborative family tree builder, is please to announce the release of “Famberry Search”, an interactive search facility that uses key indicators from your family tree to give you the most relevant search results and an opportunity to connect with related family. The more you add to your family tree the better the Famberry Search results. 
In addition to the standard checks for matches as you grow your family tree on Famberry, the Famberry Search facility will help users who have hit brick walls with certain names and want to check for any other families that have connections to specific names.

As part of the announcement Famberry is also releasing GEDCOM import and export facilities to allow users to transfer family tree information from their private applications to the sharable family tree environment of Famberry.
This seems to be a concept that is getting more popular, the idea of having a relatively simple family tree structure that allows collaboration and connectivity. I think the die-hard genealogists are not going to be attracted to this type of program as their primary database, but it could be very attractive for families not entirely embroiled in family history, not as a substitute for more detail, but as an adjunct.

GEDCOM or not to GEDCOM, that is the question

My apologies to Shakespeare, but there is a real issue over the now ancient GEDCOM standard. I liken it to those undersized spare tires that come with many modern cars; useful in an emergency but lethal if used too long or too much. It is sort of in the category of the venerable Personal Ancestral File program. It still has adherents and almost fanatical defenders. For me, of course, this journey down memory lane reminds me of the "good ole' times" when we were embroiled in the issues of genealogical data standards. It looks like to me that the partnerships being forged between the larger genealogy companies and the concomitant agreements concerning the APIs back and forth, have predictably obviated the need for a separate genealogical standard. This is especially true due to the background of discussion about the ability to move data from one online tree program to another.

At a very practical level, I consider the use of GEDCOM files to transfer the data from one large family tree to another, to be the point at which the family history industry moves decisively away from source-based reality into the never-never land of imaginary pedigrees. Uploading a huge unsourced family file into the FamilySearch.org Family Tree, for example, would be a disaster for the descendants of all those whose ancestors have now been duplicated. Notwithstanding my fear of this eventuality, I still hear a constant background of noise about the need to upload an entire file and using the GEDCOM file format is presently the only way this is possible.

But using the GEDCOM format is like taking photos through a screen door. You get some of the details and lose others. Individual programs have addressed the need to move the entire data set from one computer to another, but the idea of moving an entire file from one program to another has languished. So here go the pros and cons of GEDCOM as I see them today (February, 2015).

Before I get to the list, I have a comment about large genealogical data files. I have seen files that contain well over 100,000 individuals and some that have grown much larger than that. I am certain that people with such huge files have either spent their entire lives adding people one by one or have copied huge amounts of data from other files. Do you realize that if you had 100,000 people in your file, it would take over 1600 hours just to look at each person for a maximum of one minute? Enough said on that topic for this post.

Pros

  • GEDCOM is presently the only practical way to move a large genealogy database from one program to another. There are limited methods of transferring and synchronizing data between two programs, especially when those two programs are owned by the same company such as an online family tree and the supporting desktop program, but there is no other way to move an entire file from two unrelated programs.
  • For basic data fields, GEDCOM does an very good job of preserving the existing file structure.
  • It is relatively easy to understand and export a GEDCOM file and then import the file into another supporting program. 
  • GEDCOM exports and imports are still supported by the majority of genealogical database programs on all computer platforms and operating systems.
  • GEDCOM has been a way to maintain reasonable data correspondence between different program. 

Cons

  • Depending on the program, a considerable amount of the existing file data may be lost in the transfer process since there are fields and types of media that GEDCOM could, but does not usually support depending on the program. For example, source documentation in Personal Ancestral File does not transfer well into almost all other programs. 
  • Using GEDCOM facilitates the transfer of large, unsupported, unsourced and inaccurate data files. Much of the proliferation of inadequately sourced, online family trees is a result of the use of exporting and importing GEDCOM files.
  • The need to support the GEDCOM standard has imposed arbitrary limits on the way genealogical information is stored and disseminated. 
  • Adding GEDCOM files to an existing family tree may create a large number of duplicates. For this reason, FamilySearch (the organization that originated GEDCOM) now requires uploads to be examined one person at a time and current implementations of the process in the FamilySearch.org Family Tree does not support notes, sources or multimedia. 

These lists are not exhaustive, I intended them to merely indicate the nature of the problems. I am certain that as time passes, there will be ways to exchange data between two online family trees in unrelated websites, either directly or through the mediation of a third party program.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

31 Sessions of RootsTech 2015 now online

You need to check back on the RootsTech.org website for the latest postings of newly added recorded classes from the Conference. There are now 31 sessions online.


If you need a place to start. Watch Ron Tanner.

Utah Genealogical Association DNA Special Interest Group


I received the following notice from the Utah Genealogical Association (UGA). Note that this invitation is for MEMBERS ONLY. Here is the specific information about the meeting:
You are invited to our members-only DNA Special Intrest Group on Wednesday, Mar 4, 2015 at 7:00 PM MST If you are attending in person:  The meeting will be held at the Draper Library, 1136 Pioneer Road, Draper (end of blue line TRAX) from 7:00 pm to 8:45 pm.  A presentation and Q&A will take place from 7:00 to 7:45 and will be followed by a hands-on session with the experts from 7:45 to 8:45 pm.  Please bring your laptop and DNA research questions with you. If you are unable to attend in person:  You may register for the presentation portion of the meeting which will be broadcast via GoToWebinar® from 7:00 to 7:45 pm MST.  You may register here:  https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/2529497233223364354  After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.  Seating is limited; however, it will be recorded and saved behind the member's wall on the UGA website for future viewing if you are unable to join.

You may wish to join UGA and get in on this special opportunity. Membership is open to anyone, even those living outside of Utah. Here is a quote from the UGA website explaining about the organization:
UGA Mission Statement
The Utah Genealogical Association provides genealogical information, sources and education through personal instruction and published media on state, national and international family history topics, while promoting high standards and ethical practices. 
UGA Information
The Utah Genealogical Association was formally organized on September 25, 1971, and chartered on December 1, 1971, by the State of Utah as a nonprofit educational organization. The Association's interests are worldwide while still providing specific materials of interest relating to Utah. It is not affiliated with any religious or political organization. 
The Association is governed by an Executive Committee comprised of the President, 1st Vice-President, and 2nd Vice-President plus a Board of Governors. Members of the Board are elected by the general membership of the Association and serve for a period of three years. 
In addition, dozens of volunteers serve on various committees, staff booths at conferences, and work behind the scenes to assure the membership a vibrant, collegial, and enjoyable Association. 
The Association publishes Crossroads, a quarterly journal of general interest in the field of genealogy and family history. The journal is sent to the general membership of the Association and is also available to the membership in an electronic edition on this website. 
Association members can share information on specific surnames through our Surname Research page. We sponsor an annual meeting wherein outstanding service and accomplishments are recognized and awarded. 
Also available to members is the opportunity to participate in a monthly "virtual chapter" meeting wherein experts in various aspects of genealogy and family history make hour-long presentations on their areas of expertise. These presentations are then archived for member review and access at any time.
Click here to find out about becoming a member.

1930 Denmark Census now on MyHeritage.com


I got the following notice today from MyHeritage.com:
We are pleased to let you know that the census conducted in Denmark in 1930 is now available on MyHeritage, with full images and a complete index of 3.6 million names. This is the first time this important collection of historical records has been completely digitized and made available online. It was done as part of a large-scale digitization project by MyHeritage under agreement with the National Danish Archives.  
See MyHeritage.com
The email notice went on to state the following about the records:
More Information about the 1930 Denmark Census 
The 1930 census was conducted in Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.The following fields are included and searchable: Given name(s), Surname, Gender, Full birthdate, Residence location, Marital status, Marriage date and Relationship in household. The images contain additional fields such as Birthplace, Occupation, Name and address of the firm or business where employed, and more. In the 1930 census, census workers distributed the booklets and an individual within each household completed the forms.  The handwriting varies greatly between households and in some cases individuals within each household filled in their own information as the handwriting can change between records. View sample image 
The 1930 Denmark census will be automatically compared to your family tree and you will receive notifications on Record Matches whenever MyHeritage finds census records relevant to individuals in your family tree. 
There are more images planned for the near future:
The 1930 census is the first of many Danish record collections that MyHeritage will release during 2015 and 2016. The total data set will include approx. 120 million names, and will include Danish census records from 1787 to 1930 and Danish Parish records from 1646 to 1915. Most people with ancestors from Denmark will be able to find them in this data set, more than once, and learn more about their life stories and relatives. Many family history mysteries will be solved and new leads will be found. People with Danish roots will be able to trace back their ancestors many centuries back. Next on our list: the Danish censuses of 1880 and 1890. We are currently digitizing them and will bring them online on MyHeritage very soon. 
We are committed to digitizing important historical records that have never been digitized before, for the benefit of genealogists and family history fans. We hope the 1930 Denmark Census will be useful for your research and help you make many exciting discoveries. 

Digitizing Genealogy -- What is digitization?

Reproduction of a bison of the cave of Altamira
Genealogical jargon can sometimes be difficult. This is especially true when overlaid with legal, scientific, DNA, or technological jargon. In the technological side of genealogy, you will frequently hear the word "digital" in all its forms (digitalize, digitalization, etc. also you may see it spelled with an "s" rather than a "z" in Great Britain).  What is all this?

It gets a little bit involved to understand the concepts and what is actually going on when we talk about digitizing something. Stay with me and I will walk you through how all this came about. 

Since ancient times, humans have tried to capture and preserve their impressions of the physical world. The cave painting depicted above is an example of what could be called an "analog" image. What we mean by an "analog image" is that the method of reproduction of the physical reality is also a physical reality. At the time this image was painted on the wall of the cave, there really was a bison out there in the world running around and eating grass. The technical definition of an analog image would be something like this: relating to or using signals or information represented by a continuously variable physical quantity such as spatial position or voltage. In the case of the cave painting, the "continuously variable physical quantity" is the paint used. 

When a genealogist looks at a document or other record of the past and copies out the information contained in the document, he or she is making an "analog" copy of the information using a pen or pencil and a piece of paper. Obviously, the cave painting above is not an exact replica of the original bison. Just as obviously, the pen or pencil copy of the information in a source document is also not an exact replica of the original. But for thousands of years, the only way to make a copy of a document at all was to copy it by hand. Printing was invented to speed up the process and enable the printer to make multiple copies of the same document. But each of those individual copies was still an "analog" of the original. Making any changes to the original analog copy essentially required remaking an original. If a painter painted a painting of a landscape, the only way I could acquire a copy of the painting was if someone copied the original in some format. 

In 1725, the limitation on making copies of an original began to change when Johann Heinrich Schulze made fleeting "photographs" of words by using stencils, sunlight, and a bottled solution of chalk and silver nitrate, simply as an interesting way to demonstrate that the mixture inside the bottle darkens where it is exposed to light. See Wikipedia, Timeline of photography technology.

If we fast forward through the history of the development of photography, we see that what was happening was that the inventors and developers of the photographic process were working on a new analog process of reproducing images. As photography developed, it became possible to use a camera to take a negative image (first negative invented in 1835 by Henry Fox Talbot) and then make as many positive image copies as desired of the "original" analog photograph. The media for the analog image was the glass plate or film. See Wikipedia, Timeline of photography technology.

Fast forwarding this whole process, for genealogists, the breakthrough for preserving documents came with the introduction of microfilm copies of the originals. The earliest microphotographs were made by John Benjamin Dancer in 1839, shortly after the introduction of the daguerreotype process. See Wikipedia: Microform

It is important to remember that all this fancy photographic stuff was still an analog of the physical reality as long as it involved some kind of physical film for capturing the image. What was important about film photography was the ability to make multiple copies rather cheaply and easily. Photography did for images what book printing did for books. 

So where do digital images come into all this? At the same time photography began to develop, the idea of manipulating information using mechanical and electronic devices also was beginning to emerge. A detailed history of computers is interesting, but beyond the scope of this post series. It is enough to say that the idea of a general-purpose computing device is usually attributed to Charles Babbage, who conceptualized the first mechanical computer beginning in 1833. See Wikipedia: Computer. It was necessary for a lot of other types of technology to develop before the first images could be transmitted electronically in 1920. Quoting from the Wikipedia article on Digital Imaging:
The first digital image was produced in 1920, by the Bartlane cable picture transmission system. British inventors, Harry G. Bartholomew and Maynard D. McFarlane, developed this method. The process consisted of “a series of negatives on zinc plates that were exposed for varying lengths of time, thus producing varying densities,”.[1] The Bartlane cable picture transmission system generated at both its transmitter and its receiver end a punched data card or tape that was recreated as an image.[2]
What happened here is that the "analog" representation of the physical reality had been transformed into a coded representation of the original in the form of electrical impulses. You could argue that this was still an "analog" image and that the medium of transmission had merely changed, but this development was significant to warrant a new category of "digital images." The word "digital" in this context focuses on the fact that the physical reality of the original is represented by a stream of electronic impulses. In the case of the original image transmission back in 1920, the punched data card or tape, was not recognizable as an image until it was processed by the receiver. 

The first digital photograph is attributed to Russell Kirsch in 1957. Here is a copy:

Pioneering digitally scanned image of Russell Kirsch's son Walden, 1957
The first digital camera is believed to be developed by Kodak in 1975. See "The World’s First Digital Camera by Kodak and Steve Sasson." Although the circuits and the devices have become smaller and smaller, the idea that an image can be made by discrete electronic sensors is at the heart of a digitalization. You could argue that the first movable type book was merely a small step from the original handwritten books, but this small step changed the world. Likewise, the first digital images began the same fundamental revolution in the way information was processed and transmitted. 

So, digitization is the process of taking a physical object (book, document, etc.) and using an electronic sensor, transforming the light rays from the object into a series of electronic impulses that can be transmitted, stored, manipulated and altered in an almost infinite number of ways. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

10 Surprising Things about Mobile App Use and Genealogy and why they are not a surprise


The introduction of the FamilySearch.org App Gallery indicates more than just the number of programs becoming FamilySearch Certified. It also indicates some important messages about the present direction of the entire computer world and the direction technology as it applies to genealogy is moving. Here are 10 things that tell us a lot about genealogy, mobile apps and why they should not be a surprise to anyone.

No.1: The sales of mobile devices outnumber stationary, desktop devices.
The number of mobile devices sold in 2014 so far out paces traditional desk-type computers that there is no doubt where the market is going. According to Gartner.com, a online consulting firm, traditional PCs sold at the rate of 308,472,000 in 2014 while mobile devices, including smartphones, tablets, and similar mobile devices sold 2,432,927,000. In short, there were over 2.4 billion mobile devices sold. See "Gartner Says Worldwide Traditional PC, Tablet, Ultramobile and Mobile Phone Shipments to Grow 4.2 Percent in 2014."

No.2: More and more people are using their mobile devices exclusively for their computing.
My own observations indicate that tablets (including iPads, iPhones, and other portable devices) are becoming ubiquitous. This year at RootsTech 2015, many of the bloggers were using their iPad or tablets for their portable computer. This was particularly true among the younger, "lifestyle" bloggers that were there by invitation from FamilySearch. The were still a few of us diehard laptop folks, but even the presentations that I have seen lately were done with an iPad. 

No.3: The so-called "Apps" for mobile devices are daily growing more sophisticated.
In a recent presentation from Bruce Buzbee, the head of RootsMagic, the popular genealogy program, he indicated that many of the functions of the standalone program would be ported over to the mobile app. As the numbers quoted above clearly indicate, if the developers want to expand their market, they will have to move into selling mobile apps and making them more functional. FamilySearch is also indicating that significant changes will be made to their mobile apps in the future.

No. 4: The variety of programs available for mobile devices far outpaces the development of new desktop, local computer based programs.
I do get upgrades to the programs on my main computer, but most of the new programs coming out today are designed to work on mobile devices. It is rumored that Apple's coming operating system will essentially combine the present OS X system with Apple's iOS system into one system that runs the same on all devices. 

No. 5: We are right at the transition point where mobile computing become the norm.
I use my iPad for many things I used my desktop computer for just a few months or years ago. When I bought my present iPad, I looked at the possibility of adding a keyboard and decided that I still needed the connectivity of my laptop. I am in the process of rethinking that position again. 

No. 6: The selection of mobile apps shown on the FamilySearch.org App Gallery will increase dramatically over the next few months.
Many of the programs that are featured in the App Gallery were there before when they were listed as products. But the number of new web-based apps is clearly growing much faster than apps designed for Windows or Mac OS X. 

No. 7: Since most of the programs I now use are either web based or have a web component, moving to a mobile device is a natural transition.
As more and more programs become web-based, the need to have a separate copy of the program for each device diminishes. As long as I can access the Internet, I have access to all of my programs. There is no need to have a stationary computer to hold all of my programs. Now, this works as long as I remember to keep all of my working documents stored in web-accessible applications.

No. 8: Voice recognition software is becoming more and more useful.
Most of the mobile devices today integrate voice recognition features. Presently, I find the mobile devices don't work all that well. However, I am certain that the voice recognition software on these devices will improve dramatically over time, just as the cameras already have. Using a keyboard will not become the obstacle that it is now.

No. 9: The capabilities and storage capacity of mobile devices will eventually exceed those of the desktop computers we have today.
Eventually is an interesting word. Computers are changing rapidly enough that even those of us who are rather old will likely see a few more rounds of changes. Much of the research and development is directed at mobile devices and it is very likely that ways will be found to add interfaces that will let us add and store information more easily.

No. 10: The integration of web apps with mobile devices will expand their capabilities to match those of desktop computers.
I'm not looking to replace my desktop computer with a mobile device anytime in the future, but even today, that is entirely possible. The two things I need the most, a large screen, a good keyboard and massive storage is available for mobile devices now. As long as I can connect my mobile device to a large screen (which I can do now) and a keyboard (which I can also do) there are few barriers left to overcome before I move entirely to a mobile device.

What this means to genealogists is rather simple, They use computers. They use mobile devices. Eventually, all of the genealogy companies will realize this and the programs will be ported to the mobile devices.