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  I have an outdated version of my own family tree up, as well as a few other trees, but did not pursue fully linking individuals in them to Ancestry records, etc.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!

Genealogy with the Kids

Earlier this week as I was reading Randy’s “Best of the Genealogy Blogs,” I checked out Amy of WeTree’s post on getting kids into the genealogy fix.  In her post, Amy shares some wonderful suggestions for how to get kids involved with your genealogy efforts and shares some interesting experiences.  Bribes of course are one tactic :-)

Her post was quite timely for me as this past weekend I took the kids out to a nearby cemetery. I wanted to photograph some tombstones to add to FindAGrave and they cooperated suprisingly well.  This is about the 3rd time I’ve taken them to a cemetery with me and I had no complaints this time.  Of course, I did use a bribe – telling them that if they allowed me an hour to do this, I’d treat them to a special surprise in the afternoon.  The surprise? Frozen yogurt. Yummy!

So, we went to Harpeth Hills Cemetery which is about a 10 minute drive from me. I’d not been there before, and though I expected it to be a large cemetery given the present number of listings on FindAGrave, it was a lot larger than I thought.  I was not looking for any one’s grave in particular, though next time I go, I’ll try to fulfill some photo requests.

When we arrived at the cemetery, I found a place to park and just had to stare at the view in front of me for a few minutes. It was absolutely gorgeous!

And, there was another large tree-covered hill to the right of this view.

I was telling the kids that back in the day, people used to visit cemeteries much in the same manner as we visit parks today. I learned that in my Death & Dying course in college. :-) While we were there, they ran all over that field above, and then came and walked with me as I took pictures.  Lately, Kaleya has been talking about an imaginary friend of hers named Cherry, so of course when we passed the headstone of John R. Cherry Jr., Jihad pointed this out to her. She loved it. I think she can now recognize the word Cherry.

At this cemetery, I took about 150 photos so over the next couple of weeks I’ll be adding them online.  I truly think the kids enjoyed it.  As we were leaving, we saw a family that had brought balloons to a gravesite to celebrate the birthday of the deceased. I think it was a child, for they were singing Happy Birthday and taking pictures.  It was nice to see this.  It was touching.

So, after that cemetery, I made one more stop to a local church cemetery, the Pasquo Church of Christ.  I almost felt bad about stopping, but as soon as we parked, Jihad noticed that one of the grave markers was for a McPherson family and he was game – we live on a street named McPherson so he recognized the name.  He wants me to research who this family was. I think I am going to save that for a different time as maybe I can suggest he looks them up and get him to go on a visit with me to the state archives.

So, after this, I fulfilled my promise and took them to get some frozen yogurt.  They were quite content.

And, I think Jihad now has a bit of a genealogy bug.  He asked me the next day if we could go back and now he wants to fill out his own family tree.   I of course can accommodate this and prepared a short list of questions for him to ask his mom about her family.   Within 10 minutes of finding out his grandfather’s name, I was able to locate a picture of him and show it to Jihad.

This was due to the fact that in Evansville, where both Kalonji and Jihad’s mom’s families are from, there is an excellent database of newspaper obituary listings that spans more than 50 years, the Browning Genealogy Database and sure enough, several of Jihad’s mom’s family members and ancestors are included!

I now have much work to do to work w/ Jihad to prepare his newfound family tree, but I think it will be a great experience for him!  On our next trip to Evansville, I’ll be taking him to help find the tombstones of his own relatives, I think he will get a lot from that.

These type of activities certainly make it all worthwhile.  :-)  Thanks Amy for the excellent post which inspired me to write this one.

Facebook Frenzy

Facebook is now allowing users to grab a vanity URL.  Thanks to watching my Twitter stream and seeing a couple of fellow genealogists tweet about getting theirs, I was able to go over and snag my name. You can now catch me at http://www.facebook.com/taneya

This past week I’ve been exploring Jing further for screen capture, so I decided to take a video of the frequency of Twitter updates on the hashtag #facebook – very interesting!

Happy Birthday Rashid

Sunday, June 7th, 2009 is my brother’s birthday.  Happy Birthday Rashid!  I’m posting this slightly early becuase he is overseas, so for him, it’s already his birthday.

In order to mark the occasion, here’s a flashback from the past – a picture from when he was just a itty bitty baby. Awww……

Search Enhancements At GenealogyBank

I really need to go to bed, but I just had to post this!

I was sneaking a peek in GenealogyBank.com tonight and noticed that they have made some enhancements to their search interface for the Historical Newspapers Collection.   When you go to the search screen, you are shown several new search options that were not there last time I searched about a month ago.  I don’t see an announcement on the GenealogyBank blog though. (update 2/18/09 — today, they made a blog post about it)

The first new item on the search screen is the option to search the *updated content* that is added to the database.  GB often adds new pages and I’d written to them several months ago that it would be nice to be able to search the new additions only.  I was told that it was coming, and now it’s here.  At the time of this post, the options for searching just the updated content allow you to select things added since Feb 2009, since Jan 2009, or since Dec 2008.

genealogybank

They have also added a graphic map of the United States with blue dots to represent locations where they have newspaper content.   While it’s not my dream vision of seeing a Google Maps ultra-mashup of all the online digitized newspapers online, it is a nice view to get a sense for where they have coverage and where they don’t.  I wish all providers of historical newspapers would do something similar.   Beneath the graphic is a list of all the states and you can select which states to limit your search to.  Previously, you could only select one state at at time; now you can select multiple states.

If you haven’t searched GenealogyBank in awhile, you should revisit it.  If you are not a subscriber,  try out the one-month trial.  (No affiliation, just a very happy customer).

To add to my excitement about the new search options, I also found something of great interest to me.  In my last post, I shared how this week has been all about my Koonce research.   A lot has happened this past week with that.  Well, as I often do, I did a keyword search for a city of interest for blog fodder, and one of my results was a slave runaway advertisement that I’d seen before and blogged about previously.  I’d selected to search new content only, so even though this was something I’d seen before, I knew that often ads were run in multiple issues.  I decided to take a look at this particular issue of  the New Bern Sentinel and as I was browsing the pages, I came across this marriage announcement

kooncedavid_marriage

Source: “Marriage: David Nunn & Alice Koonce.” New Bern Sentinel 6 Sept. 1823. GenealogyBank. 16 Feb. 2009 <http://www.genealogybank.com>.

This is the marriage notice of David Nunn and Alice Koonce who married in Jones County, North Carolina in 1823.  I am quite happy to see this! I have Alice Koonce & David Nunn in my “other” Koonce gedcom collection.  I added David & Alice after *meeting* Jennifer, another African-American Koonce researcher who is descended from a slave David sold to his brother-in-law Isaac, named Solomon.   Isaac, as part of some of the pioneer families migrating from North Carolina, moved to Tennessee, bringing Solomon with him and that is where Jennifer’s family is from.  She’s got a wonderful website and blog with more details.  In any case, I just happened to browse the pages and I see a notice of David & Alice’s wedding.   Up until now, I’d only had secondary sources for their marriage.   I can’t believe I have yet another Koonce-related discovery and I wasn’t even searching for it!

In Memory of Aunt Hazel

On Monday, February 2, 2009, my great-aunt, Mrs. Hazel Koonce Harper, of Kinston, North Carolina passed away.  She was 94 years old.  I only have vague memories of meeting her, but I did have a chance to speak with her a couple of years ago about her family and she provided me with valuable information that I had not previously known. 

Hazel was born August 24th, 1914 in Craven County, North Carolina, the daughter of my great-grandparents, Barfield Koonce and Josephine Holloway Koonce.  Hazel’s youngest brother William was my paternal grandfather.  Here is Hazel and the family in the 1920 census (Township 3, Craven County) where she was at the time the youngest enumerated

barfield_census1920

Hazel was the mother of 10 children and her online obituary at the Kinston Free Press newspaper indicates that she had 52 grandchildren.  

My thoughts are with the family today as she is interred at St. John’s AME Zion Church in Fort Barnwell, the final resting place of her maternal grandmother, Polly Hood Holloway and aunt Priscilla Holloway Smith.

Update 2/14/09– Aunt Hazel was not interred at St. John’s AME, but instead at Oak Hill Cemetery.

 

New Look for Genealogy Site

At the beginning of this year, I updated the theme on this blog. Now I have just finished updating the look for my main genealogy site as well. I use TNG: The Next Generation for my site and find it to be a perfect match for what I need in a genealogy program.

Up until this week, there were only 7 choices to select from for your site theme, unless you wanted to take that task on yourself. I don’t know CSS very well, and have not wanted to try and merge the site into a content management system just yet, so this was my old theme. This week, a new theme was offered and I just finished applying it to my site. I actually think it goes very well with my current blog theme.

gensite

You can click on the picture above to go to my site. 

With this new theme, there were only a few things I tweaked in order to customize it. I changed the words across the top “Our Genealogy Site” to be hyperlink to the front page;  I customized the image that runs across the top with pictures from our own family; I like the Random Photo feature — the interesting thing is that I have so many genealogies (both family, non-family, and special projects), that a visitor may find themselves wonderign questions such as “What in the world does Commodore Vanderbilt have to do with Taneya?  (explanation here);  I put my same custom links on the front page. When I visit other TNG pages, I often find myself wanting to know explicitly, that person’s tree and many times I don’t see that. So, it was important to me to put my specific tree on the front page.  Then, I use the other links as starting points whenever I’m working on some of the other genealogies.  It’s much easier to have the direct link than use the search or surname browse and then go to their specific tree.  And, I added a graphic to lead over here to the Genealogy Blog that I created at cooltext.com

 

This and a trip to the state archives yesterday is as much genealogy as I’ve done this weekend; too busy playing Dance Dance Revolution!

My First ScanFest

This weekend I participated in my first Scanfest. It was fun! Though, I did do things a little unconventionally. I did not scan anything during the actual time frame, but instead, earlier that day, I scanned in some pages I photocopied when I visited the Tennesse State Library & Archives on Saturday.  Here is an example of one of the things I scanned and posted online – it is an index of a WPA tombstone transcription book from 1938. 

Index to Blount Cemetery Records from the WPA

 
I’ve decided I’m on a mission to provide as many indexes as I can. The TSLA has a great collection and I feel fortunate to live close to it. I learned this week for the first time of plans for GenSeek (see here and here); I think it would be very cool to be able to submit indexes to those resources that are not available full-text online.

I also scanned in several more that I will be gradually getting online and adding to my Special Projects page by the end of the week.

Death of Innocence

deathofinnocence Today I picked up the book, The Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America by Mamie Till-Mobley. Mamie is the mother of Emmett Till. I’ve blogged previously about a connection I share with Emmett Till – one of my maternal grandmother’s brothers married into the family of Moses Wright – Emmett’s great-uncle from whose home he was taken. I’m looking forward to reading Mamie’s book and learning more about the events of what happened.

Number 1000

On Saturday night, Randy shared on his blog his experience trying to locate the 1,000th person in his database, and invited us all to do the same. Well, I thought, this should be easy enough. Well, I found them, but it was not as straightfoward as I thought!  I use TNG: The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding as my software.  I have more than 3300 people in the gedcom associated with my name (i have several other gedcoms too for different research projects)

Attempt #1

TNG has a number of web-based forms that are used for data entry and reports. So, I went first to the webform for the administration of people.  The form has a field to enter search criteria, and beneath that is a table of results.

I use this form all the time. But, just now realized that the column headers are not sortable and the order which people are listed by default is not by ID, it is by name.

Attempt #2

Given the database backend of the software, the ID number of each person is included in the URL for that person’s page. For example, my great-grandfather, Barfield Koonce has a URL of http://www.taneya-kalonji.com/family/getperson.php?personID=I26&tree=1.  You see in the URL that personID=I26 refers to his ID number in the database. So, I thought, let me just change that to personID=1000 and after doing so I got a broken URL message.  Hmm… what’s up with that?

Attempt #3

Since TNG does use a database, I then decided to go look at the database tables themselves. I use phpMyAdmin to administer my MySQL databases on my website, so I have a lot of flexibility for querying fields, running SQL queries and sorting data.

I went specifically to the table of people, limited the results to those in my main gedcom (tree=1) and then sorted by ID number. This is when I realized that the personID numbers skip around, there is no personID=1000. It goes from 973 to 1003. I’m not sure why, but let’s try something else. Let’s look at the 1,000th record in the list, regardless of perosnID.

That person is Vincent Hutchinson. Vincent is my 2nd cousin and is related to me on my maternal grandfather’s side. I’ve never met him, but I do have a picture of him.  I don’t even have his birthdate/year. Looks like I need to contact his father again :-).  Last time I spoke to his father was about two years ago.

That was certainly an exercise.