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52 Weeks To Better Genealogy – Week 22 (Find-A-Grave)

A couple of months ago I read an article about a Vanderbilt Engineering student named Ben Gotow and his work developing iPhone apps.  He developed an iPhone app for artists that has sold more than 20,000 units to date, an app for a Vanderbilt informatics group that allows anesthesiologists to view what’s going on in various operating rooms from their iPhones, and considered another app that immediately caught my attention and sparked my thoughts on the topic of this blog post.  It’ s a blog post I’ve been bouncing around for a couple of months and this week’s prompt for Find-A-Grave gives me the perfect opportunity to present the idea.

What was that other app? The app that was mentioned that particularly caught my eye was described in the following manner in the article I read about him

Gotow hopes to develop an app that would allow users to point their phones at a building anywhere on Vanderbilt’s campus and receive information about what is going on inside as well as the building’s history.

When I read this sentence, I had an immediate realization at how cool something like this could be for a genealogical/historical researcher! Not only for Vanderbilt buildings, but if it were crowdsourced somehow or drew from Wikipedia for use from any location.  Wouldn’t that be cool?  Then, as I thought about its potential for use from any location, I realized that something like this could be useful for Find-A-Grave.  Imaging pointing your smartphone towards any cemetery and getting information about that cemetery?

I’m tweaking the original 52 Weeks to Better Genealogy prompt’s objective, but here are my thoughts on how a FindAGrave app could work:

  • it would use GPS coordinates and map data to show you what cemeteries are near you (a la FourSquare)
  • from the app, you’d retrieve the list of burials as noted in Find-A-Grave an easy-to-visualize method of knowing which ones have pictures or not.  The Find-A-Grave site uses a tombstone marker image to designate the availability of a tombstone photo so this could be the case as well for the app.
  • if there is not a tombstone marker for the grave it would allow you to click on a camera icon to launch your smartphone camera, take a picture and upload that pic to FindAGrave right away.   Find-A-Grave currently has a photo size restriction so ideally, the app would resize your photo since it will probably be much larger than the maximum image allowed
  • if there is not an entry for that burial, have a simple version of the form to add a new entry and then as above, add the picture of the tombstone.
  • Sign-in should be required to use the app so then it could keep track of the graves you added and/or took photos for so you can go back and enhance the data later if needed (ideally,  it would work in tandem w/ the Find-A-Grave website so you could manage the info online)
  • integration w/ other social sites — wouldn’t it be fun if you were in a cemetery and could tweet/Facebook  something like, “I just found my great-grandmother’s tombstone @ XYZ Cemetery!”  along w/ the picture?
  • a “check-in” feature (again, a la FourSquare or Waymarking) that would let you know what other people may have visited the cemetery (and or grave)?  this could possibly lead to connecting with other researchers with familial ties?
  • in June 2009 I posted my wish-list for the Find-A-Grave website — maybe the app could incorporate some of them?

Using an app like this while surveying, viewing a cemetery would be interesting.  It may extend the time needed to survey a cemetery, but with all the steps combined of taking a picture and uploading it to the site, it may in the end save time.  I’d love to try something like this out.   The argument could be made that since smartphones can render websites, the regular Find-A-Grave site could be used, but I personally find usability issues when using the regular site on my Android.  Either a specifically designed mobile version of the site or an app would be better from a  usability perspective.  It is time like these that I wish I were a programmer, or at least had enough money to hire a programmer.

Thanks for the inspiration Ben! Maybe I can get someone at Find-A-Grave, or someone with programming expertise to take this on.  I’d need a Droid version though.  :-)

Update 5/31 — Thomas tweeted a link to a forum discussion on an iPhone app for Find-A-Grave and I posted a comment there.  Also, I had another idea. Here’s the scenario:

Today I am visiting family in Indiana and I’m planning to go visit a cemetery.  Maybe a potential function of the app would be to provide me a % of tombstones photographed at cemeteries around me. I could target some of the cemeteries with fewer percentage of tombstones photographed to start with.  Recognizing that there may not be headstones for everyone listed at a particular cemetery, it would still be an interesting way to know how to best focus my efforts to help contribute to the site.

I also learned that there is a beta version of the app that was just released a couple of weeks ago. The site to learn more about it is here and you can see comments here.  I will do a blog post about it later.

Browse papers in Google News Archive

I posted this on the NCGenWeb blog, but I wanted to do a quick mention here too.  I recently learned  that back in March, Google implemented a browse feature in Google News Archive that now makes it much easier to determine what issues of a specific paper have been digitized.

So far, I’ve made a list of 73 US Newspapers included in the Archive and the date ranges covered. More details over on the NCGenWeb blog, including a spreadsheet that lists them all.  Keep in mind, this may not be exhaustive of the US papers as finding out what’s there is not the easiest task.  I’m hopeful that Google continues to make improvements such as this!

Miriam, I fully expect to see these links added to your Online Historical Newspaper Website! :-)

Internet Archive RSS Feeds

Today on her AnceStories blog, Miriam gave me a shout-out in reference to sharing directories added to the Internet Archive (IA).   Thanks Miriam for the mention.  It prompted me to write this post to share the fact that I’ve been subscribing to IA feeds for several months now and I find it an easy way to keep track of new items.  The IA is such a vast repository of information (they recently hit the 2 million book mark), that every family history researcher should explore it.

Let me share with you some of the feeds I follow (each header is a link to their feed)

And there are so many more!  If you don’t subscribe, you will definitely want to pick at least a couple to follow.  Who knows what you’ll stumble across?

NARA Records: Eastern Cherokee Applications Going Online

The Allen County Public Genealogy Center crew is doing it up! They’ve started adding another collection of NARA microfilm to the Internet Archive.  I’ve already posted about the following two collections

The latest collection is that of the Eastern Cherokee Applications of the U.S. Court of Claims, 1906—1909 (M1104). This record set is a collection of 348 rolls of microfilm of applications submitted for by Cherokee tribe members for money appropriated for them by Congress on June 30, 1906.  Applicants had to prove they were members of the Eastern Cherokee tribe during 1835, 1836 & 1845 treaties.  More information about them can be found on the NARA website.  The Eastern Cherokee Reservation consists of approximately 56,668 acres in five counties in North Carolina: Cherokee, Graham, Jackson, Macon, and Swain Counties.

Just as I’ve done with the other collections, I’ve started a spreadsheet for tracking updates (at the time of this writing, there was only one reel, but ACPL should be adding more).

Similar to the Compiled Service Records, these too are also on Footnote.com.   There are indexes to Volume 1 & 2 of the collection to make it easier to locate persons of interest. The index is in abc order by surname and provides name, state & application number.  The applications are rich with genealogical data; often providing details of 4 generations.  They are definitely worth taking a look.  Here is a direct link to the first reel they’ve added.

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.   :-)

Scribd Joins the Genealogy Bandwagon

Well now!  Here’s  another example of how much penetration genealogy is getting.   As I was uploading a document to Scribd.com, I saw that they have now added a designation under their Research category for genealogy!  That was not there a few weeks ago when I last uploaded a document and needless to say I am quite pleased to see it there.  I was getting tired of having to use History as the category of choice.   Of course it would help if they spelled genealogy correctly, but it’s a start right??  :-)

To explore all documents assigned to the Genealogy category – visit their browsing interface.   The browse page also suggests that this category is new as there are only 2 pages of documents so far; other categories such as History have over 200 pages to browse.  Check it out.  Upload your documents.  Help their Genealogy collection grow!

P.S. — What was I uploading? An index to a 1960s book of gravestone records for the Duplin County, NCGenWeb project.  I’m helping the new county coordinator rebuild the site and thought this would be of help for county researchers.

NARA Compiled Service Records @ Internet Archive

Last month I posted about the Allen County Public Library adding NARA microfilm records to the Internet Archive.  In following my RSS feed, today I saw that they began adding another set — the Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War (M881).

The Compiled Service Records are available as part of Footnote.com’s offerings and you can read more about them on their page.  It will be great to have freely available access to these now through the efforts of the ACPL.

The organization of the records are by regiment, so it’ s not as easy to immediately locate a person of interest, so it may be easier to search the Footnote collection and then take note of the location of the record.

As with the VA Pension List, I am maintaining a list as they become available. So far, there are 20 rolls online (out of 1,096).   And, to give an update on the VA Pension Records — when I first posted there were about 30 rolls available; there are now more than 140.

Back Issues of Ancestry Magazine

What can I say? I’m a librarian, these types of announcements make me happy :-)

Megan Smolenyak posted on her weekly round-up that the back issues of Ancestry Magazine are now available in Google Books.   Ancestry announced in January that the magazine would be discontinued, so how great it is now to have access to all the issues they’ve done!  This is a great model for any other publishers/organizations that may be discontinuing.

That’s 96 issues of goodness to read through.  Where am I ever going to find the time?  Access the issues here.

VA Pension Cards 1907-1933 Going Online

For the last two months I have been actively monitoring items added to the Texts collection at the Internet Archive (IA).  By subscribing to several different RSS feeds, I’m able to check them every few days and see what is being uploaded.  For example, I learned that UNC Chapel Hill Library has been adding old issues of yearbooks and blogged about this incredible resource even well before their official announcement.  Even then, their announcement was only for the yearbooks from UNC-Chapel Hill, when they’ve added yearbooks for many other schools besides just UNC-CH.

So many goodies are being posted at the Internet Archive, but here is another one definitely worth mentioning.  The Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center has started uploading NARA microfilm records of the Veterans Administration Pension Cards: 1907-1933.  Military records are still sources that I’m quite unfamiliar, but a just looking through the records themselves + Google searching quickly made me realize how valuable these can be for genealogical research.

The pension records are arranged alphabetically by surname; the entire collection has 2, 539 reels and includes about 2 million cards (Microfilm collection M850 at NARA).  Two types of cards are included – those for soldiers themselves and then the Army/Navy Widow Cards.

What kind of information can you find on them?  These listed below, plus more.

  • Veteran’s name
  • Unit of service
  • Rate and dates of payment
  • Date of death
  • Home town

And, on the widow cards you’ll find

  • Wife’s name
  • Veteran’s name
  • Rate & record of payments
  • Record of any payments made to minors

As I write this a little more than 30 reels from the “A” alphabet have been deposited to the IA.   To help keep track of them I have created a spreadsheet that lists each roll and I will continue to add to it as they add more.  I can only hope that ACPL Genealogy Center will start a list/directory on their website though and/or blogs about it soon – I may get tired before they get all 2,539 reels done!  :-)  UPDATE: Curt Witcher, Manager of the Genealogy Center, just confirmed for me via email that they do plan on putting all the reels up.

Some links for ya

If you’d like a version of the surname listing for all reels in a more accessible format, I spliced those pages off and uploaded them to Scribd. You can get it below.   I’m looking forward to seeing more of these reels come online.

VAPensionCards_1907_1933

Guest Blogger on Worldcat.org!

Guess what? I’m featured as a guest blogger on the Worldcat.org blog!  While I have not yet participated in the 52 Weeks to Better Genealogy series yet this year, I was particularly interested in the goal of Week 5 – to explore Worldcat.org.  As a librarian, I’ve been familiar with Worldcat for many years and since the Worldcat.org site launched have been an avid user.   Just as Week 5 was coming to an end I emailed WorldCat to let them know that many genealogists were exploring the site and posting their experiences with it and that they may be interested in this user perspective.

Then, one the marketing directors, Alice,  emailed me back saying that she had indeed been aware of the series and even invited me to guest blog about it!  So, my post went live today.

On top of this, I also inquired about WorldCat’s possibility of more extensively linking to books that are available full-text online (for example, through Google Books or the Internet Archive).   As a user of WorldCat, I’ve recently seen a potential value as I’ve been closely monitoring books uploaded to  Internet Archive.  Alice reminded me that they do indeed already have an integration with Google Books and are exploring how to do this with the Internet Archive.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could also know of full-text of books from the WorldCat item record?  I’ve been very pleased with how responsive WorldCat has been to suggestions & feedback.  I think I’ll have to consider this as my post for Week 5 now, even though it’s about two weeks late :-)