Technology

Why I Love My Genealogy Software

Randy has posted about his desire to have the ability to generate date-specific lists in genealogy software. So far, he’d been unsuccessful in locating a software program that gave him the ability to generate a list of people who had events on a certain day. For example, generate a list of people in his database that all had birthdays on July 10th. After writing the post, he received a number of replies and learned of a few applications that can do what he desired.

But, then it occurred to me that the program I use seems to be an “underdog” among genealogists. I however, LOVE it and it is my preferred choice so far – I use a program called The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding that is developed by Darrin Lythgoe. My own family tree site using TNG is at http://www.taneya-kalonji.com/family/.

It was this program that got me really started in working on my genealogy as I was on a mission – I wanted to use a genealogy program that I could administrate SOLELY over the internet. TNG allows me to use the internet to manage my genealogy data. I do not need nor do I use a desktop application as my software, instead, I rely solely on TNG. This was important to me two years ago when I started and it remains important to me today. I do not like to be desktop dependent when I can help it. Believe me, I’m still looking for the perfect online hard-drive application so I no longer have to save all my files to my computer. One day… but, I digress.

So, being a database driven site, I can do just about anything. Fortunately, many things are built-in to the interface. When they are not enough however, I can create a custom report or even a custom database SQL query to get the info I need.

Need a list of people all born on July 9th (my birthday :-0) – I simply click on my “Dates & Anniversaries” tab, select the date I want, the tree I want to search, and hit “Enter”. Up comes not only those who were born on my birthday, but also who married, died and was buried on my birthday. That’s cool. I do wish though there was a way to sync this with Google Calendar. I’ve seen some solutions for that, but I’m not a programmer – need someone to make that process easier!

Here is my July 9th list.

TNG has so many other neat features and perhaps I’ll start a little blog series about it – help raise awareness! I think the largest barrier to using it is that it does have to be hosted online, but TNG makes recommendations on who to use if you don’t have your own domain as I already did. And, once it’s online, you really don’t need to know much more because the administration side is a set of well-done form-based web pages for entering data.

The TNG website has a lot of detail about the features that it offers at http://www.lythgoes.net/genealogy/software.php and there is also a link of some of the sites that use the application at http://www.lythgoes.net/genealogy/usersites.php. There are so many things I still have left to learn about this program, but Darrin makes updates often, so I’m sure I don’t have long to wait before things on my wish list show up in the program!

Even with all the upcoming online family tree programs, I still have yet to see anything that matches the flexibility and power of TNG. Go check out some of those User Sites. Prepared to be blown away!

Ancestry Profiles

Last week Ancestry made changes to their member profiles pages – see announcement on their blog.  I’ve taken a few minutes to update my profile and after doing so, I think this is a good move. The comments on that blog post are filled with a lot of negative comments, but I’m pleased by what I see. Do I think it’s ideal? No. But I like!

The profile now has

  • the ability to add you surnames of interest and the counties they are linked to. Though, it seems you can only have one county per surname and I’d appreciate being able to attach multiple counties to one surname
  • links to all of your posts on the Ancestry message boards
  • can add you picture! Though, the picture box is way to big
  • shows the images and docs you’ve recently added
  • shows all of your public family trees and how many people, photos, and sources are attached to them
  • links to your favorite message boards
  • profile shows date of last login – i like that – lets me know if someone is active or not
  • you can also state how you can help others (looking up items at local repositories, take pictures at cemeteries, offer research assistance, etc.)

Here’s a screenshot of my profile page.

Ancestry states that by beefing up the profiles they will be better able to offer connection suggestions – to do so, you have to go to their Main Community Page once you are logged in.  I did so and based on the names and locations I put in, it showed me how many Ancestry members lived in that area, how many Ancestry members were also researching my surnames, and even of those, how many were researching that surname in the area that I am also researching. Very cool.

I did notice a discrepancy though in the connections.  The location field is not restricted to the county, state, country format I’m used to seeing. You can enter either a city or you can enter either a county.  Therefore, this can create issues when matching connections. A few of the surnames I entered are for Washington County, NC, but the connections page shows me people living in Washington City, North Carolina which is in a different county.  Methinks they should standardize this field better.

I wonder if Ancestry will continue to add to the profiles – like having “friends” and being able to send out messages to all either in your city, or all your friends, etc; in short – become more like Facebook.  You can find my profile here.

I have also explored FamilyLink in the past and while I was initially excited, everytime I go there I get frustrated because I don’t quite fill it lives up to my expectations. Hmm.. I’ll keep exploring though.  For now, you can find my Ancestry profile here.  I also have my Footnote profile here about which I’ve blogged about before.

Genealogy Social Networking – i love it!

My Battle With FootNote

Since I first learned about FootNote a couple of years ago, I have been excited about the possibility of the site’s Genealogy 2.0 potential. However, I have found that for me personally, it has not been as useful as it ideally could be. Perhaps this is due to my lack of understanding the structure and content of the types of records they provide? Admittedly, I’m not very familiar with the NARA resources and some of the others they’ve added and I have not yet found much in the site that have provided a beneficial return on investment of my time and my money. However, that may soon change.

A recent blog post from Eastman about FootNote’s latest collection has intrigued me. He posted their announcement of an interactive 1860 census. Knowing the capabilities FootNote offers, I had to go look right away. This may be the point that gets me subscribing to FootNote’s content! Why? Because by adding census records, this may address a feature I only wish was available in Ancestry.

Consider this – wouldn’t it be cool to know what other researchers/family members may be associated with a specific person /familyin the census? You could look at the census record and see who had established themselves in some way to be “connected” with that particular family? From my limited experience thus far, there are a couple of ways that I know this can be done:

  • Ancestry — allows you to add comments to a particular person’s index entry for the census. However, when there are comments, it seems the only way to know this is to click on the “Comments and Corrections” link and then see if there is a link to “View Comments.” Thus, you do not know before you take action, if there is indeed a comment on a particular person’s record. Then, from there you can connect to the person that made the comment, and see their profile, but I find the ways to connect to be a bit removed from the overall interface of the site. Also, comments are not displayed right away when you make them.
  • Lost Cousins — allows you to indicate that person in the census is your ancestor. From my few trial runs of the site, I am rather put off by the fact that you have to go over to use the FamilySearch site to get the person’s info and then come back to Lost Cousins. This is too cumbersome for me personally. Then, when it’s time for me to mark my connection to that person in the census, you have to specify a specific relationship. Well, what if you are not related? What if you are just researching this person, have information about them, and others could benefit from knowing that? Their new features for Upstairs/Downstairs, and Neighbors offers some expansion, but I’m still not convinced.

So, I’ve just spent some time playing around in Footnote and like what I see so far. While not all of the 1860 census is there, I was able to play around with the site some and I like what I see so far.

  • I can browse to specific locations to find the person of interest, then I can contribute to the record once I find them – add images, notes, details, etc. Can also search by name. This is much better than having to input specific microfilm information like Lost Cousins requires.
  • I can connect to the person who made the comment, and the connection process is more integrated than at Ancestry.
  • Anything added to a record is easily displayed on the right side of the screen, so you know right away whether people have touched this record and made contributions
  • When I do add contributions, I get featured briefly on the front page as a recent contributor

Unfortunately:

  • cannot do annotations at this point – it looks like FootNote does not yet have these turned on
  • cannot attach a note to a family cluster -that would be cool
  • user profiles do not have as many fields as Ancestry – but, it is easy to see the history of that person’s contributions and the images, etc. they have
  • Would be even cooler to have feeds to track favorite users so you can keep an eye on what they are doing – think Facebook!

I will continue to play around with the site and see what I find. So much more transparent for this sort of activity than other sites I’m familiar with. But, perhaps I am missing other key resources. If you think I am, please let me know! Hmm.. I’ve just found something suitable for my Black Nashville History & Genealogy Blog. Will update again later! Here’s a link to my FootNote profile.

Update: I found something very moving on FootNote. You can read it here.

Ancestry Family Beta

I am apparently late to the game, having just discovered a feature at Ancestry.com that has been available for almost two months now! But, I just discovered their Family Beta view.  This is exactly the kind of enhancement I’ve been looking for them to add! One of my biggest frustrations when working with trees on Ancestry was the lack of seeing a descendant tree.  I have come to rely on a descendant tree view quite heavily for my own tree and genealogy projects as it really helps to see that graphical represenatation of where people are in a tree.  With the Family Beta view,  they  have made that now possible. Wonderful!

In other genealogy happenings, the time I’ve had to spend on doing genealogy over the past week has pretty much been focused on the tree of James Carroll Napier, a prominent black man from Nashville and trying to connect the dots to a researcher who is of Napier’s from Alabama. I’ll post a much more extended story of that process later on, but you can read a little bit of it over on my Black Nashville History & Genealogy blog.

Using DabbleDB to Keep Track of Sources

I’ve been meaning to blog about this for awhile, but I wanted to share how I manage a problem that I was encountering. Towards the beginning of the year, I began to realize I needed a way to keep track of the published resources (mostly books), that I was using in my research. I didn’t want to lose track of them just in case I needed to refer back to them. Fortunately, I live near the Tennessee State Library & Archives, but even researching their catalog began to be cumbersome as I was needing to do this each time I prepared to visit.

So, I turned to DabbleDB. I first came across DabbleD about 18 months ago I think, and given my preference for web 2.0 tools, the idea of an online database management system was highly appealing to me. At first, I felt limited, but then they opened it up so that you could have a free database as long as you had your information in the public domain. Fine by me.

So, I began to create my database and the current result is a database of all the books I consult, or want to make sure I consult, as I do my genealogy research. The fields I created are for tracking the county a resource covers, what topics it covers, which libraries hold it (not an exhaustive list, but some of my usual suspects), and a citation field so I can create bibliographies.

Then, I have an online link to my reports and then the list can be exported to PDF. Some examples:

  • Let’s say I am about to go to the Tennessee State Library& Archives – I can use my database to create a list of books that they hold so I can have quick referral.
  • Or, what if I get an email from a fellow researcher that wants to know what resources I’m familiar with for Washington County, North Carolina. I can provide them a link to my bibliography. The PDF version is quite nice too.

So far, this is working out very well! Anytime I make a trip to a library, I document the books I’ve consulted in my database. Anytime I’m doing a web search and I find a book that I am interested in, I put it in my database.

What you don’t see in those lists either is my link to Worldcat.org. Having a link in the database directly to the record helps me quickly check for other places to look. Also, Worldcat has an easy link to grab a properly formatted citation for any resource in the catalog so I capture that citation in case I need a formal printed list. Excellent resources and I highly recommend them for keeping track of your materials. If you’re interested in seeing my other reports, I have a link to my overall database in my blogroll list on the side of this blog – “Taneya’s Genealogy Books Database.”

I next need to create a way to track journal articles as I’m starting to use more of these as well. Look for that enhancement in a later post.

Light blogging

My blogging these days has been light but I have been working on genealogy. I have been helping my stepmother’s cousin work on his mother’s tree. Also, I’ve been taking a look at Family Tree Maker 2008 trying to decide if I want to purchase it or not. So far it has some cool features, but I’m not sure it’s right for me. I have such high demands and expectations for genealogy software 🙂

Audio @ Ancestry

I have just read over on the Ancestry Blog that Ancestry has added the ability to add audio to your family tree. I tried it out and it is the coolest thing! Maybe I can convince some of my family members to do it and record some audio clips! You have to go try it out. 🙂

In other genealogy news, I have two new acquisitions to my genealogy book collection.

I got Mills’ book because I need to learn how to standardize my citations, and I got the BCG book b/c I do want to learn how to write good family histories and I like the examples it provides. I’ve added them to my LibraryThing catalog. I see that 228 people in LibraryThing have the Mills book and 112 have the BCG book. Cool.

Ta ta for now… I’m off to do more research on this McNair family.

Genealogy & Web 2.0

Dick Eastman has a WONDERFUL post about the changes we are witnessing in the Internet and how it can apply to genealogy – the web 2.0 revolution. I personally have adopted a philosophy of transforming as much as possible to web-based platforms for the past couple of years and his post resonated deeply with me. On my main blog, I have previously posted my bias towards web 2.0, and on my genealogy blog, I’ve posted how I can see it having such a tremendous impact in this realm. Eastman’s post is much more in-depth now and I’m glad to read that it is being reflected in national venues. Wonderful post! Go read it!

Roots TV

Roots TV is just awesome! Today, after reading Megan’s post of the changes to the site, I decided to take a look again and see what new videos have been posted. There are several videos that I had not yet had the opportunity to view, including lectures from the AAHGS Conference this past October in Salt Lake City. Last month I saw notice of the 2007 conference that will be in Boston and I am going to try and attend, so this is neat to be able to see some of the lectures online.

The lecture that I watched was Beth Wilson’s talk on “Trails Back, Tracing Ancestors in Slavery through Census, Probate and Land Records”and it was very enjoyable. I have to say though, the librarian in me is well suited to genealogy, b/c throughout the lecture she was giving hips/tips/advice for proper methods of genealogy research, the importance of documentation, etc, which all come very natural to me. I was happy to see that I at least knew a little bit of what I was doing.

What I found most helpful about her presentation were her techniques for tracking slaves in records. As I am about to get into original county records for my own slave owner searching, I know have ideas for helping me trace people. One comment she made also had to do with the importance of sharing information with other genealogists. In her case, she had occasion to go through the records of Howard County, Missouri and realized she could help in providing access to others, so she’s transcribed and made databases of the information she’s gathered. This is exactly what I aim to do in my own genealogy research, hence the focus I have right now on newspapers. It is SO important to share.

I hope to be able to watch more videos throughout the rest of the weekend.

Ambitious Goal

Why am I plagued with huge, ambitious goals! It seems that for my hobbies, I tend to develop grand schemas for things I want to accomplish. With my stitching, it was to create a database of cross-stitch patterns that appear in magazines. I did start one, but now that my interests have varied, I find that I really just don’t have the time to dedicate to is as I used to. (well, that and having a 2 year old to run after!).

Now that I’m into genealogy, I am starting to develop grand ideas for this hobby as well. There are so many areas in which I see room for possible contributions that it just paralyzes me sometimes. For example, right now, I am into newspaper transcriptions. I currently have two actively going, and a third one that I have decided I will do, but just need to order additional microfilm. I have a fourth order for microfilm that should arrive to me within the next few weeks, and I’ll start a new transcription blog for that. I find my newspaper transcription to be slow going work, but that’s okay – I enjoy reading the history of the place and even in the short time I’ve been doing it, I find that it is already helping others.

But, just this weekend, I started envisioning another project – creating a community genealogy web site, set up in structure very similar to my own personal family history site. For example, Plymouth, Washington County, NC is where my maternal grandmother is from. I think it would be so cool to create a community genealogy site for the county – that would have gedcom’s and compilation of information from a variety of sources. But, this would be a tremendous undertaking! Of course there would be people who would want to contribute information but still, it would be a huge project. Wouldn’t it be ideal though to be able to get a broader sense of the community of a whole for an area in which you had roots? Genealogy 2.0 apps would be perfect for this.

Just me thinking…..

UPDATE: I think I may have found something for this. I just took a quick look at WeRelate, and I am already amazed by it! I didn’t talk about it in my previous post on technology apps, but I like it already and I see that it has much potential. I plan to spend the next few days testing it out. Stay tuned.