Genealogical Societies and I

This afternoon,  one of my genea-buddies posted a blog post about the benefits of joining a genealogy society.  She notes that membership of gen societies are down and ponders how more genealogists can be recruited to join & she offers great examples of how mutually beneficial the relationship can be.

As I read her post, a lot of thoughts came to mind because this is a topic that I’ve been thinking about the past couple of years myself.   I have often been personally frustrated with the gen societies I’ve interacted with for various reasons.  Not that I don’t see the benefit, but I need to see more in light of what works for me.  As of today, I am a member of only one gen society.  Here are sample reasons why they have not worked out well for me…

a) Payment – this may seem a trivial point for most, but if I have to pull out my checkbook to pay for something, it’s not likely I’m going to do it.  I do not like the hassle of having to write a check, mail it and wait for my membership to be processed.  Signing up to accept money by services such as PayPal is easy enough to do and IMHO, not enough gen societies take advantage of online payments.  I was ecstatic when I learned that the North Carolina Genealogical Society accepted online payments and that made it very convenient for me to join – my membership was processed within a few days.

b) Community - I have joined four societies over the past few years. I appreciate the talent and expertise of people in the society, but I’ve found it difficult to get to know of each members’ expertise.  I have not felt as strong a sense of community as I think could be made possible.  Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by my extensive social networking experiences and the fabulous geneablogger community! I find that what I crave are the online conversations among members.  Here are examples:

- Society A – I’ve been a member of this society the longest so I do feel I have a better awareness of who belongs to the group, but there is no member list made available anywhere.  I know a couple of the officers and a couple of other researchers who do not live in that area, but other than that, I can’t tell you any more about who is in the society besides the names I see in the newsletter.

Society B – I’m no longer a paying member of this society, but when I joined, I did learn there was an email list, which I thought was great! However, when I asked for the email list I was told I was not allowed to have access to it for member protection.  Well, how I am I supposed to get to know who the other members are, especially when I live in another state? What is the point of being a gen society member if you don’t want it known that you are a member? Again, I know a couple of the officers, but beyond that, I don’t know who the members are or how many members there are.  The newsletter of this society is quite well-done I must say and has won awards, but that in and of itself was not enough for me to sustain membership.  I do still contribute information to the newsletter though.

Society C – this society is local to me and I was a member for one year.  Though this society is local, I was not able to go to any of the meetings due to my own personal schedule.  They offer good programming at the meetings and there are some I’d like to go to this year now that my schedule is opening up, but again, I don’t know who the members are, nor how many there are.  That could change if I could attend meetings, but I’d like to see an online community too.

Society D – this is a larger society that I joined but when I asked at the beginning how people get to know each other, the response was through meetings & volunteering and through the newsletter.  Well, again, I don’t live in the state, so I can’t go to the meetings.  There is no strong online community presence, & no email list for members.  They do have a Facebook page, but it is not used much.  And honestly, I don’t find Facebook to be the best avenue for a “group” presence.  Messages, discussions, & wall posts for any particular group get lost among all your friends’ activity.  The newsletter and journals are well done but I would like to interact more with the membership.  I do plan to write an article for the next newsletter so maybe that will help.  I eventually wish to contribute to the journal.  This society blogs infrequently, but you can’t post comments on the posts.  This is a missed opportunity; especially for non-members checking the site who may be potential new members.

Society E – this is a society to which I’ve never been a paid member, but I like what I see of their online presence.  They have a blog to which I’ve contributed content to many times.  I have met a couple of the members and they too have good programming.  They work extremely well in tandem with the local genealogy library and do great things.  I don’t live in the area but this is the society I’m most likely to join next.   If they offered online payment to join, I’d sign up tomorrow. :-)

With each of these societies though, if they blogged to  summarize what occurs at the meetings, as Randy does for the Chula Vista Genealogical Society, I’d feel at least like I had a clue.  If the member roster were made more accessible and I had a way to see online profiles of members and interact with them, I’d feel more like I belonged.   I of course understand that not everyone wants to have an online presence, but I would like to see more online interactivity; more of an online community established for members.   Facebook, GenealogyWise, BuddyPress — so many options exist and you can make a community private if people are concerned about their postings being public.

I’ve posted before my desires to see more video-conferencing technology enabled for those that aren’t able to attend here and here.  The combined expertise and know-how of the members of these groups are probably massive, but if I tonight had a research question and needed help, there is only one of the 5 mentioned above that I would feel like I had a good & fast way (sending it in to the newsletter is not suffice for me) to solicit input from the group members.  And, even in that case, it would have to be sent out for me; I’d not be able to send it out myself.  This really is not acceptable IMHO.  At the minimum a society could publicize the use of the Ancestry/Rootsweb county email groups?  Make a badge/widget for display on those members’ sites that do have an online presence to help with promotion.

c) Publishing — I’m not a fan of the current publishing model of most genealogical societies.

– Newsletters and journals should be done electronically – it would save money on publishing costs; or at the minimum, only send the print version to those who specifically request it.  Print versions could also be sent to libraries (I’m a librarian – so yes, we need preservation copies and for indexing in PERSI).  But, e-publishing needs to happen more consistently.

–  Only one of the gen societies I reference above publish electronically — and in that case, I just a couple of days ago received the journal in the mail when I’d much rather have just received it electronically.   Genealogy societies often do stellar jobs at publishing data and making it more accessible, but again – move towards e-publishing rather than mass book production.

d)  Services — ever since I first learned of the Genlighten service, I immediately thought of how genealogy societies could leverage it.  Join Genlighten and promote your ability to offer lookups of local county & state resources and earn income for it!  I recognize that many libraries do this as well, but again for me personally, I can’t order an obit online (remember my *issue* with writing checks?) from most of the libraries I’ve ever interacted with.  If a gen society connected with Genlighten, I know that I could order the obit and get it in my email and I’d love it! Yes, I can order vital records for less than a $1 from most of the counties in NC, but if the gen society were willing to photocopy the record from the courthouse and send it to me electronically, I’d gladly pay more for it rather than deal with the hassle of sending a written request to the courthouse and then wait a week or more to receive it in the mail if I knew I could get it electronically in a few days.  Best of all, I can pay w/ my credit card online.   Or, index the local newspaper, put the index online (maybe on a USGenWeb county site?), and then charge for the full-text of the obit.  Again, with something like Genlighten, I could make requests online.  It’s a win-win situation.

Okay, I’ve rambled quite a bit, but I honestly am not as willing to pay the annual fee for a gen society if I can’t get or be involved in these kinds of efforts.  You could argue that I should be more involved and try to change it and that is exactly what I plan to do.  I’ve been limited the past two years because I am in a degree program, but that is coming to an end and I’m strategizing on how to make more of a difference.  I am planning to attend FGS this August, so maybe I’ll see more of these types of issues discussed there.  I know I may be the atypical demographic for a gen society, but others have expressed similar thoughts (e.g. Elyse, Dick Eastman – here, here and here).

There are several societies who do some of these and do it well, so I don’t mean to indicate no one is;  I simply crave more.  :-)  I’m not trying to be harsh, but I’m trying to offer my perspective.  As mentioned by Miriam in comment to Elyse’s blog post I just mentioned, I may have to start offering to trade my skills for free membership!

This is actually a blog post I’ve been wanting to write for a long time now, so I thank Brenda for the prompt. :-)   In the words of Madonna in Evita “Have I said too much? There’s nothing more I can think of to say to you.” (shout out to the recent Glee Madonna episode!)

Anyone have thoughts to share?

Open Library Just Made My Week!

This is just one of those totally geeky librarian moments you’re about to read about.

Two days ago, the Open Library project announced a soft-launch of their new interface. The Open Library is an initiative of the Internet Archive with a goal to have one page for every book.

I am a fan of the Internet Archive; you may have noticed several blog posts of mine the past few weeks announcing resources I’ve located through IA.   It is a fantastic resource.  However, the navigability of books at the IA leave much to be desired.  The Open Library project helps overcome some of the limitations and is actively seeking to encourage collaboration.

Why does the new Open Library project make me so happy?  For awhile now I’ve longed for a way to contribute information so that we can all as researchers

  • be aware when a book exists in digital format online
  • contribute to lacking information about a book if we have additional data to add (e.g.  a PDF to the index, or list the Table of Contents)

I’ve sought this out via other means:

  • FamilyLink’s GenSeek (it’s current iteration as a Facebook App) did not meet my expectations.  Though I could link to the electronic location of the book online the record did not update to reflect it’s electronic status.
  • WorldCat.org has great potential and I’ve shared feedback with the development team there.  They think it’s a great idea; already partner with Google Books, and have explored how they can further work with the Internet Archive.  It’s just later on in their development cycle.

But, Open Library let’s me do it!  Check it out (pun intended, ha!).

Step 1: I do a search for a book that was recently added to the Internet Archive yesterday,  The Ingersolls of Hampshire: a genealogical history of the family from their settlement in America, in the line of John Ingersoll of Westfield, Mass. The book was added to the IA February 18th, 2010, but the Open Library record does not have it marked an e-book.  Nor does it indicate it can be borrowed from any library.  Well, guess what?  We can change it for Open Library is a wiki!!

Step 2: To edit the record to change it’s status as not an ebook and not able to borrowed,  you go in and edit the ID Numbers section.  Clicking on Edit brings up all the data about the book and on the tab labeled What’s It About? you can edit the ID Numbers section.  There is  a drop down list of options to choose from including “Internet Archive”  & “OCLC”.     Grab the ID number from the IA URL (the portion of the URL that comes after the /details/) and get the OCLC number from the WorldCat entry and add them to the information already there:

Step 3: Go to the bottom of the page and click Save and guess what happens?

The record is immediately changed and others will now know of it’s availability as an ebook and link to the WorldCat.org record to find it at a library.

Their new site logo says “Ever Wanted to Play Librarian? It’s Okay. We All Do.”  Well, I am a librarian and I naturally want to play librarian for genealogy resources.  Open Library just helped me accomplish that.   You may still be wondering why this means so much to mean, but believe me, this has implications and stirs up many ideas and potential uses.  Expect another blog post pretty soon from me outlining some of them.    This is Librarianship 2.0  and/or Genealogy 2.o at some of it’s finest if you ask me.   :-)

Welcome to the e-conference

Back in October, I posted about my desire to see more genealogy societies and organizations leveraging webconference technology.   For those of us that may be interested in attending but aren’t able to physically make it, I wondered if there would be a push from any group to do this kind of e-conference activity.   I come back to this topic b/c I want to share an example of how my professional organization is handling this approach.

I am a medical librarian/information specialist by profession, and our professional group is the Medical Library Association.  New to the annual meeting this year in DC is the e-conference; the ability to register to “attend” the conference virtually and get online access to several elements of the conference –  audio of sessions with electronic content, streaming video of keynote & plenary sessions,  posters & various 5-minute presentations.  The e-conference fee for association members is only $100 (compared to $460 for physical registration).

There is also an interactive online portal planned to accompany the e-conference.   This e-conference concept is brand new to our association this year.  Last year,  online access to posters was experimented with and that must have gone well.  I am glad to see the organizers try to provide access for those that can’t attend.  The other major component of the meeting, the paper presentation sessions, are not included in the e-conference this year, but maybe they will expand to include that next year if the experiment goes well.   I am looking forward to seeing MLA’s after-meeting assessment of how well this approach works.

Wouldn’t an approach like this be wonderful for genealogy conferences?

Faces of America: Episode 1

Last night I eagerly watched the first episode in the new PBS Series, Faces of America, facilitated by Henry Louis Gates.   There’s been a lot of buzz in the genealogy community in anticipation of the show.  It comes at the heels of Gates’ popular African-American Lives & African-American Lives 2 series. After the show, I then participated in a fun post-show chat hosted over at Geneabloggers to talk about our perceptions and thoughts.

Thomas has put together a RSS feed to see the geneablogsphere reactions to the show that are all interesting to read.   Here are my thoughts:

  • Many have commented on the desire to have seen more of the research process explained in the show.  I understand the show producers may have wanted to focus more on the emotional connections for the show, but in the books that have been written to compliment the African American Lives series and the Finding Oprah’s Roots show, there is more detail and emphasis on the research process.  I have both books, In Search of Our Roots & Finding Oprah’s Roots and even learned a few tips and strategies while reading them.   The benefit of the show is that in can increase the awareness among the general population and I am hopeful that those that are more serious will take the time to read the books by either looking for them at their local public library or by purchasing outright.  I would like to see a companion book published for Faces of America as well.
  • I’m a big proponent of the social web.  I’ve posted before on this topic, but I’ll say it again – I do think there is a missed opportunity from the show producers to leverage the interest and use it for greater genealogical good. With African-American Lives 2, they did establish an online forum for users to share their personal stories and used tagging to help structure the stories that were being shared. But, can you imagine the database that could be built if they also asked people to fill in 3 or 4 generation ancestor charts?  They could have an online “facilitator” to help answer people’s questions and guide them to well-established resources, or host their own chat sessions for interested parties.  With 4 episodes to air, this could have been a several weeks long endeavor and really capitalize on the generated interest (the website pretty much crashed last night; there was interest!). Many of the stories presented on the older show sites have details, but much of it is unstructured. As a knowledge management and information professional I highly encourage structure.
  • After watching the show last night, I began to think about the upcoming Who Do You Think You Are series.  I’ve never seen the UK show, so off to YouTube I went in search of episodes.  I watched two last night – that of actor David Suchet and also that of Zoe Wannamaker.  They were excellent!  It was cool to see David Suchet b/c he’s known for playing the Agatha Christie character Hercule Poirot. I’ve not seen the British shows with him, but I have read many a Hercule Poirot mystery. I think I have found a new television series to watch and I posted part 1 of his episode as my Featured Video in the sidebar on the right. I am eager to see the NBC show even more now after watching these episodes.
  • Did you promote the show among your friends and family? I certainly did! I have some coworkers who I dabble in their family trees every now and then and so I told them all and sent them each a little extra piece of family history  — one of them is a descendant of long lineage associated with eastern tennessee whom I recently found a book in the Internet Archive with information about the emigrating ancestor that was written in the 1920s; another has ties to Hawaii and I shared with her a new website/blog focusing on Hawaiian genealogy that could be a useful resource moving forward; and the third I was able to send pictures of her ancestors headstones that were just added to FindAGrave within the past two months. Just a little bit to keep the motivation going :-)

So, I’m excited at the prospects and do still look forward to the additional episodes.  It had its strenghts and weaknesses, but overall I am glad for this opportunity to promote the need for us all to more closely study and understand our family histories.   If you missed it, you can watch in online.

What I Want From Footnote

I’m in the middle of working on a presentation that I have due tomorrow, but I had to take a break to do this post before I forget about it.

So, today I’m in the car on the way home listening to my first Genealogy Guys Podcast.  A few minutes into it, I learn from them that Footnote has released another virtual wall – this time it’s the USS Arizona Memorial in honor of the anniversary of Pearl Harbor.  I visited Pearl Harbor in May, so I perked up when I heard about it.  (the fact that I missed this announcement in the first place goes to show “out of it” I’ve been w/ my genealogy news of late).

In any case, I just visited the online, interactive memorial and I have to say I’m a little disappointed.  Why? Because to date, while I think Footnote has a great idea to create the ability to contribute to a Person’s Page, they seem to be creating so many duplicate Person Pages that it detracts from the appeal for me.  Is there a way to get Footnote to “merge” individual Person Pages rather than just “Link” two together?  Footnote now has it so that there are Person Pages for the individual collections of the 1930 census, the Vietnam Memorial, the Arizona Memorial, the Social Security Death Index, plus anyone can create a Person Page.

In my own family tree, there are two pages that exist for my great-grandmother, Josephine Holloway Koonce (page 1 and page 2).  I have added information to both of them because at first I didn’t realize there were two different pages.  I do know that one comes from the 1930 census but I don’t remember how the other was generated.  But, I would love to able to merge these two pages as one instead of having Footnote build up multiple copies of her “page” each time a collection came around that included her in it.  Understandably I recognize that there could be data control issues as people could be merged erroneously, but I’d love to see some approaches to how this could be enabled.  Kinda like how Ancestry does their member trees – a person looking can see a “compilation” record of an individual, as well as still see all the separate trees that include what the system thinks may be the same person.   Footnote could let actual people initiate the merge and possibly combine that with computer algorithms.

The “Link” option just does not take care of this concern for me, and until I’m able to initiate a merge, I doubt I’ll be an active user of Person Page Beta.

Another wish item for Footnote? Instead of just “linking” a relative as a Related page, actually create fields for relationships on that person’s page for parents, siblings, spouses, children etc.  The potential to build up a Footnote Family Tree is there, it just needs to be further developed.

Don’t get me wrong, I do like FootNote a lot! Last year, I found an extremely moving account of someone I’ve been researching in the Missing Air Crew Reports, But, I also have big dreams.  I believe Footnote is dreaming big too in order to even start such a large project.

Okay, back to my work. :-)

Update 12/10 — a Footnote representative responded to my comment on their blog post and explained how you can make a suggestion to merge two individuals.  They do plan to enable such a feature in the future, so submit your suggestions now and they will make sure to address them when they make further progress with the project. Thanks Peter!

Video Conferencing & Genealogy Societies

Some random thoughts from me as I’ve pondered this over the past several weeks.  Are there any genealogy societies out there that Skype in (or use other videoconferencing apps) to the meeting people who wish to participate but are not able to physically be there?

Over the past few months, I’ve seen some interesting articles on various genealogy blogs describing some interesting approaches to running a genealogy society meeting.  Dean described presenting at the Elgin Genealogical Society meeting in July and his very positive impressions of how the meeting was run and their venue in the public library.  Dick Eastman posted in September about a genealogy meeting he attended at a Massachusetts Public Library where the number of people who showed up was far higher than his initial anticipation.   Randy Seaver posts a synopsis of the meetings of the Chula Vista Genealogical Society’s Research Group meeting over on their blog that I always find interesting due to their format of sharing their latest research efforts and how guidance is often provided to each other.  As I read posts like these, I feel like I am missing out tremendously.

I would love to be able to join in on genealogy meetings but often am just not able to get to them.  For example:

– the genealogy society in my grandmother’s home area, Washington County, North Carolina is having a meeting October 21st that I would have loved to be able to attend

– the Chula Vista group had a speaker on Sept 30 who spoke about cemeteries of San Diego. I’ve got absolutely no research interests in that area of the country, but I would have paid to be able to listen in to the speaker as I love cemeteries.

– I received a flyer in the mail just on Saturday from the Middle Tennessee Genealogy Society of a meeting they are having in a couple of weekends.  Even though it is being held here in the city where I live, I won’t be able to attend in person.  I would though, pay to be able to listen in virtually.  That would save me the hassle of trying to find a sitter for the children.

– Over Halloween weekend, there is going to be the International Black Genealogy Summit held in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Again, I can’t go, but I’d pay to be able to listen in to the presentations or even be happy if select presentations were available for videoconferencing.  I bet there are a lot of other genealogists who are in my same position.  Unless I’m missing it though, I don’t see any hints of this feature on their site.  I’ve not seen this on any other major genealogy meetings either.

There really are numerous talks, presentations, etc. that I get to learn about through my online reading, yet I only wish I could participate in more.   Are any organizations making efforts to experiment with allowing people to pay to attend lectures/conferences virtually?  I know that Ancestry has their webinars, and GenealogyWise dose a chat series – both ideas that I think are great, but this is not exactly quite what I’m looking for.

Elyse had a great post in July about the need for genealogy societies to look towards the future and more fully engage & embrace Web 2.0 applications — I would love to see this also expand to include videoconferencing techniques.   Denise also had a post in July describing how the American Legion offered members to join by videoconference and she too mentions that it would be great if more genealogy organizations offered this ability.

I wonder who’s going to be the first to systematically do this?  For those of you that present frequently (see Geneabloggers Speakers Bureau and Dick Eastman too), why not get set up so the rest of us can participate too!

Update on NCGenWeb

Thanks everyone who commented on the NCGenWeb redesign and all of my other crazy activities.  Over the past couple of days I’ve continued to work on NCGenWeb “stuff” and am quite excited by all that is developing.   As I take the time to futher explore more of the county sites, I am finding information & connections that I did not even know was avaialable.

For example, I was speaking with the State Coordinator, Diane, who is also the County Coordinator for Craven County – that is the county my father is from.  In reviewing the cemetery photos she has posted to the site, I saw that she had my father’s family cemetery there, Mitchell Cemetery.  My father’s parents, along with many of his aunts & uncles and cousins are all buried there and I was ecstatic to see it.  I last visited the cemetery in 2006 when my grandmother died and while I’d taken pictures, I did not get everyone.  A couple of years ago, a FindAGrave volunteer posted photos in the cemetery, but it was nice to see Mitchell represented on the Craven site as well.

I was also corresponding with the County Coordinator for Henderson county on some technical matters and as I was reviewing that site, I noticed in the surname list the name Kirkpatrick/Kilpatrick.   One of my ancestors, Silas Kilpatrick, is said by family tradition to have come from Black Mountain, NC, which is in a county next to Henderson.  We know that Silas was a slave within the white Kilpatrick family, but I had not yet had time to investigate any Kilpatrick associations on that side of the state, and since I was told Black Mountain, I would have likely focused on it’s county instead of the neighbor county.  Well, Kathy informed me that there is a white Silas Kirkpatrick  listed in the 1835 Poll Book, residing in Crabtree precinct of Haywood County NC which is not too far from Black Mountain! This is great and gives me another lead for my family research.

In addition, I posted on the NCGenWeb News blog about the Randolph County Coordinator setting up an RSS feed for the county site.  He already Twitters on behalf of the project so this is yet another avenue for further promoting the information available.   Also, I am helping two county coordinators better understand WordPress as an option for redesigning their county sites.

Exciting time in NC indeed!

Flurry of Activity

I hardly know where to even begin with this post – I have so much going on these days! In the past week, I’ve hardly kept up with all the geneablogsphere activity as I’ve been rather self-absorbed in my newest endeavors.  In the past three weeks or so, I’ve agreed to several genealogy activities.

#1) I will be named as a member of an committee  for a National Endowment for the Humanities grant for digitizing 100,000 pages of newspapers from 1823-1922.   If the grant is awarded then our work begins in Summer 2010 and the committee will help make the decisions on which papers will get digitized.  I have a strong interest and like for historical newspaper research, so when the call was put out, I sent my information in quickly!  Keep your fingers crossed for me.

#2) For this committe, I had to do a resume of my genealogy activities.  While I have a nice professional resume for my day job, I did not have anything that I felt reprsented my genealogy endeavors succinctly.  So, after some browsing and checking out my geneablogger-sphere,  I asked Thomas if he’d let me use his resume template.  He agreed and I created my own 1pg version of a Genealogy Resume.

Taneya’s Genealogy Resume

#3) But, my resume is going to have to be expanded beyond 1pg.  Also recently, I was asked by a local company to come and do a talk on beginning genealogy.  The focus is really to be an informal overview of how I set about my genealogy research and give an overview of some of the basic research approaches, record types etc.  They were willing to pay me, but I turned the money down for I have never done a genealogy-specific presentation before.  I’ve presented plenty for my career, but I also look at it as an opportunity to learn.  This presentation will occur next month.

#4) This week though has been busiest of all, for I agreed to become the new webmaster for the NCGenWeb project…

#5) and also take on site coordinator responsibilities for two additional NC counties- Jones & Onslow.  I already had Martin.  I chose Jones & Onslow because of my Koonce ancestry.   The white Koonce family to which my ancestors belonged to, originated from Jones county.  Additionally, the Koonce family was large, so there were cousins over in Onslow county.   Over the past few months, I’ve begin “collecting Koonces” and have begun the initial seeds of  Koonce surname genealogy study for Koonces everywhere, so  my interest in Jones & Onslow counties are deep-rooted.

I’ve written before about my experience with many of the USGenWeb sites; I applaud the efforts of all those that contribute data for without them, the USGenWeb project would not exist, however, I also would like to see the websites have better organization than many currently do.  So, if I’m going to be involved, I have to reoganize them.  I did this for Blount County, TN & Martin County, NC when I took them on.   Fortunately, the newly elected NCGenWeb Site Coordinator also wanted a revamp of the site, so our interests were well-aligned on this matter.

So, over the past few nights I’ve been busy redoing the NCGenWeb site.  I am rather pleased if I can say so myself – WordPress ABSOLUTELY ROCKS!  We even now have a blog, NCGenWeb News, to which I hope we can post something at least a few times each month.  Click on the picture to visit the site – and show us some love by leaving a comment!

I am very excited to have been able to work with the NCGenWeb board and get it online so quickly.

I also have figured out how I am going to restructure the Onslow County site; again, I’l be using WordPress.  After I get Onslow done,  Jones will probably be organized very similarly.  Here is a sneak peek of what I’m planning for Onslow.

This involvement has made me even more excited about USGenWeb projects in general – we should all make sure we do our part to help out by contributing data whenever we can!  These site coordinators do great jobs in helping us access genealogical information, but I do think it is time for more modern interfaces (generally speaking).  I’m doing my part to move this along as best as I can!

Using Ancestry Trees

With the recent news of Ancestry updating their Online Member Trees I have been thinking over this for a few days now.  Randy’s excellent post describing his experiences with the new interface prompted me to go ahead and explore it for myself and I was quite pleased.  While the changes they have currently implemented are an improvement from my own personal use experience, I am eagerly looking forward to the additional enhancements that are planned that will create an online environment more like Footnote’s that really helps promote social networking.

One of my projects I’ve been working on for the past three years is indexing old issues of the Roanoke Beacon Newspaper of Plymouth, Washington County, North Carolina.  I have a web database of information extracted from the paper and a corresponding blog.  I use these as avenues for sharing the information that I find.  I also will post items to the mailing listservs on Ancestry in order to further get the word out there.  I know that those related to the people mentioned in the newspapers would welcome the chance to read more about their ancestors.  In my experience so far, I’ve received feedback from other genealogists on how an obituary or wedding announcement has helped lead to knew areas of research, or make connections they were previously unable to prove.  That is why I love doing this! However, I’m always seeking ways to further spread some of the information I find.  With the changes at Ancestry, I thought this might be the time to give it another try.  I have an outdated version of my own family tree up, as well as a few other trees, but did not pursue fully linking individuals in them to Ancestry records, etc.

Over the weekend, I uploaded my GEDCOM of individuals from Washington & Martin counties, NC.  I’d initially started doing this file on my own website using TNG: the Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding software.  I had an idea in the past to do a broad community-based approach, so as I collected information about individuals, I would add them.   It had been awhile since I actively added anything of significance to this GEDCOM, so I uploaded it to the Ancestry Online Member Trees.

The upload was very fast, and it was then I discovered that my file was larger than I thought, with more than 700 people.  Those Ancestry shaky leafs immediately started to appear and I started linking people to Ancestry records.  So far, I have enjoyed using the site.  Navigation is easy, pages load quickly, and I am able to quickly see what other Ancestry users have these individuals as part of their tree.  For each newspaper item that I put online, I am linking it to the appropriate people and building up their family trees.

Here is an example of an article I found about an Easter recital of young Emily Harney. The description of the church’s reaction to her recital is precious – could you imagine this being your own ancestor and learning about this? Emily  was only 4 years old at the time too and I wonder if this was ever known to her or passed down to other family members?

There are five names mentioned in the article, and I’ve connected each person to it.  This is especially helpful since often in this time period (late 1800s, early 1900s) , women were identified as Mrs. (insert husband name here).  I n this example, Mrs. P.W. Brinkley is Addie May (Latham) Brinkley,  Mrs. W.C. Hassell is Martha (Ward) Hassell, Emily’s mom was named Hope (Hunter) Harney.  Lossie was the last person I linked up and guess what I discovered?  She married a man name Amos KOONCE! (gotta love it! – now that gives me a new person for my Koonce Genealogy Surname project — more details on that later).

I was able to trace little Emily’s  line forward very quickly in about 30 minutes and found a couple of possible current descendants of hers, one on Facebook. But, at the least, having it online at Ancestry may help anyone actively seeking for her or her family.  So now, as I have time and continue to transcribe these newspaper issues, I’ll begin to do more of this online tree work.   Despite all the advantages I can see with this, the major disadvantage is that you have to be a subscriber to see it.  However, I think Ancestry’s membership is going to continue to rapidly expand, and I always have the option of downloading my GEDCOM and creating reports that I can subseqently share with others in free venues and sites.

Based on my experiences the last few days, even though I do like it tremendously, of course I have suggestions for improvements:

1. Bio excerpt – I would appreciate having a part of the screen where we could put a 2-3 bio of a person so that at a glance I know a bit about them without having to look through the timeline.  This may not be an issue for one’s own personal tree, but I know many of us work on trees of others and individuals to whom we are not related.  There is some blank space currently at the top underneath the birth/death details where this could sit.

2. Know when your photo is used – Since photos & documents posted to someone else’s tree, it would be great to receive notification when this happens. For example, another Ancestry user had a picture of the headstone for Addie May Latham, so I linked that picture to my tree. Did the original submitter receive any notification that I’d done this? I don’t have a lot of pictures on Ancestry, but I’ve never received notifications such as this. It is helpful to see where it is linked when I go to the actual item, but alerts can speed up the process of being informed.

3. Uploading a photo — speaking of photos, currently, when an image is uploaded, the default “type” is set to Photo.  However, Ancestry recognizes several different types – Photo, Site, Headstone, Document & Other.  If you upload an image and it is not a photo, it takes several more clicks to get back to the “Edit Information” screen to change the type.   I would like the option to set the Type on the same screen when I upload the photo.

4.  Photo permanency –  If I attach someone else’s photo to my tree and they delete that photo -does it get deleted from my tree too?  If so, I would like to see this change.  Of course the photo would “belong” to the submitter, but i would like to see copyright options added (such as Creative Commons), that would help facilitate more permanent access — sort of like submitting the photo to Wikipedia/Flickr/Picasa Commons to let others know that it can be reused with appropriate attributions.

5. Ancestry Hints — after I read through all the comments on Ancestry’s post announcing the changes with the online trees, I see that they separated out Ancestry Tree hints from Historical Document hints on a person’s profile page.   That is quite helpful! I would however like to suggest this be extended a bit further. When you are on the “Pedigree View” or the “People with Hints” pages, there is an indication of how many Ancestry Hints you have, but only the number is given. I would like to see these pages offer a visual distinction of if the hint was a Tree vs. Historical hint.

6.  More generations in Descendant View — the current Pedigree view options for descendants only lets you see 2 generations below the selected individual. I would like to see this expanded to 4 or 5 generations.  I think their zoom in/zoom out bar can handle that!  On a related note, last night Randy posted his 2nd post about using the online trees and he comments that moving from generation to generation is still cumbersome and there is a lack of useful reports that can be printed. Agreed! I am sure they will, in time, get around to fixing this.

7. Better customer service — as I’ve been exploring the trees and getting used to them again, I’ve had several questions.  I’ve sent three questions to Ancestry.com – two through their formal help on their website and one through Twitter.  I’ve had no response to any of them.  I could have posted to their blog I guess, but I felt it would be out of place then.

So, I’ll continue to use the online trees to build up this community, and will add more newspaper information but am definitely interested in the next phase and seeing if any of my suggestions make it into the update!

Weekly Prompt #14 – Genealogy Technology

I’m feeling particularly uninspired this week with my genealogy, so I was happy to see that this week’s Weekly Genealogy prompt was right up my alley.  Thanks to We Tree for creating the weekly prompts, and thanks to Thomas for keeping allo of our events organized and sending reminders via the Facebook Genea-Bloggers group.

This week’s prompt is to write about the technology we use for our genealogy.  I consider myself to be quite technologically adept and as much as I can, I try to utilize a cloud computing approach.  

-For organizing all of my family tree information, I use TNG: The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding for my Genealogy page.  The benefits of having my family trees online and accessible from any computer with an internet connection are numerous! 

-I use blogs extensively to communicate, share, and record my genealogy endeavors.  I started my first personal blog in 2003, and at that time, my hobby of choice was cross-stitching,  so I mostly shared my progress with the pieces I was working on.  In early 2006 I started this genealogy blog and over the past three years,  I’ve created 7 other genealogy-focused blogs since then.  I even have one more in progress that I expect to begin seriously working on this summer sometime.   I use WordPress for all my blogs, with about half of them being self-hosted.  I would love them all to be self-hosted, but for now, I can’t deal with the headache of moving them to my server right now while I’m still in school.  That will happen after I graduate in 2010. 

– In the social networking realm I belong to Facebook, MySpace (though I hardly use that anymore), and Twitter.  I have profiles that I maintain on Ancestry & Footnote.  I am on Geni & FamilyHistoryLink, and WeRelate, but for various reasons have not been impressed in the long-run with their offerings. 

– For my paperwork, I try as much as possible to stay digital and rarely print anything out. I also try to actively get my papers scanned into digital formats.  For most of my image editing, I use a free program, PhotoPlus, and if I’m at a computer where I don’t have it installed, I have been known to use PicNik and Adobe’s online editing platforms. 

-I use GoogleReader extensively to keep up with the latest news.  Not only for genealogy but for my professional and other interests as well.   RSS feeds are absolutely fantastic for me, truly like my own personal newspaper.  I even get upset when I visit a website these days and they don’t have an RSS feed!  Not only is Google Reader great for just staying aware, but I also use it quite a bit as my own personal search engine. 

Over the past few months, I’ve been increasingly contacted by people who find information I’ve put online and I enjoy corresponding with them and learning more about their backgrounds and their genealogical process.  I’ve found new distant relatives, made new friendships, and have had the opportunity to increase my own knowledge of different source materials as a result.    Technology is a very powerful medium and I will continue to maximize it as best I can.