52 Weeks to Better Genealogy – Week 22 (Part II) – Find-A-Grave

In my last post, I expressed my desire for a Find-A-Grave app for my smartphone and outlined several specific features I wished to see in the app.  After posting and sharing the link, I learned from Thomas that there was an ongoing discussion on the Find-A-Grave forums, and then someone posted a link to a beta version of an app in the Android Market. Sweet! I have an Android phone.

Eager to see how it works, I quickly installed it.   The app’s page has several screenshots that will allow you to see how it currently works and I see much promise.   It was released May 11, 2010 so is a very early version.  So far, it provides basic access to the data at the Find-A-Grave website, but it does not have any of the 7 functions I listed in my post.  To be fair though, it is clear from the current menus that many of these are planned, and I am excited!

Overall, the usability of the site is aligned with what I envisioned. It is fast, easy to use and instructions are clear.  I believe the developer is definitely heading in the right direction.  Now I just need to figure out a way to let the developer know of my blog post!

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.

Vacation Day 3 – Can’t Get Enough Yearbooks

After learning yesterday that the Nashville Metropolitan Archives had a strong yearbook collection, I decided to spend my afternoon there today.

I wrote to the email reference of the Archives last night and received a response that they had a print listing of the yearbooks they have available, so I requested this list upon my arrival.  They have a few hundred yearbooks from area schools & colleges.

I first wanted to look at any yearbooks they had for African-American schools.  Since their yearbook collection is established mostly via donations, they had only a few available.  I scanned the senior class listings from them so I can transcribe them for the Davidson County TNGenWeb site.  The ones I captured were  Pearl High School from 1955, 1965, 1975 and a school publication from 1942.

Then it was on to my obsession, Vanderbilt! They have many years of Vanderbilt yearbooks, so I captured the graduating classes of many years up to 1919; specifically – 1908, 1911, 1912, 1916, 1917, 1918 & 1919

All in all, a good few hours spent this afternoon!

Caption: As he feels on graduation. From the 1908 Vanderbilt University yearbook.

Vacation Day 2 – Nashville Public Library

The genealogy vacation extravaganza continues! Today I spent my time at the Nashville Public Library in their Nashville Room.  I came to realized I’d seriously underappreciated the resources in the Nashville Room for I learned today much more about their holdings.  As with yesterday, everything I gathered today will eventually go to the TNGenWeb & NCGenWeb projects to aid others doing family history research.

The reason I went to NPL was to capture digital images off of a couple of microfilm rolls I ordered years ago from the NC State Library & Archives.   In the past I’d paid to have two rolls scanned by a professional microfilm company, but I keep trying out different ways to do it myself.  Our public library has two microfilm machines hooked up to computers and this makes scanning quite easy to do.

I captured key information from:

  • Roanoke Beacon of Plymouth, NC from April – June of 1890.  This is a weekly paper.
  • Kinston Free Press of Kinston, NC from a couple of weeks in January 1910 and a couple of weeks in Aug/Sep 1910.  This is a daily paper.

One of my recreational blogs is Black Nashville History & Genealogy.  Most of the info for the site comes from the Nashville Globe, an African-American newspaper that ran in the early-mid 1900s.   Today, I captured:

  • Nashville Globe-Independent — death notices & obituaries from Jan – Jun 1960.

Then, I discovered that the public library has quite a number of yearbooks.  I’ve been in yearbook deluge lately so I had to continue and look at those.  I even had to take a picture.

yearbooks at the Nashville Public Library

Today I captured the senior class listings for:

  • Vanderbilt University – 1896, 1902, 1903, 1904, 1905,
  • Ward Seminary for Young Women -  a girl’s high school.  I got the names of the 1902 seniors.
  • University of Tennessee – 1897, 1914, 1915 – these are all online already having been digitized by the University of Tennessee, but I took a few pictures anyway
  • Hume Fogg High School – 1919, 1921

I also learned that the Nashville Metro Archives has a large yearbook collection so I will need to plan a visit there one day to look at them.  Another very productive day! Unfortunately, tomorrow I need to run errands so no genealogy for me, but these past couple of days have been stellar.  I now need to start my genealogy project Works-In-Progress List so I can keep track of my status with each of these.

Ward Seminary For Young Women - 1902

Researching While On Vacation

Today was the start of my 2 week vacation and you know how I spent it? Like any true genealogist – in the library :-).  I visited the Tennessee State Library & Archives to gather information to share on the TNGenWeb & NCGenWeb sites in which I participate/ccordinate.  I also pulled a couple of obituaries for researchers who have contacted me during the past month.

I captured a lot of information today and this was the first time I really put my new handheld, portable scanner to use (see my blog post about it here) and it was great! I captured hundreds of images today between it and my camera.  I used it on books and even the microfilm reader to capture newspaper images.  I still need to learn to tweak the microfilm machine for best capture, but for my purposes, what I was able to obtain today will go a long way.

Here is an example of a capture I was able to get by using it on the microfilm machine screen.  It’s not perfect, but it is good enough for me to the abstract decedent, date of death, & cemetery info that I am planning to use.

Here is my list of what I gathered today:

  • Index pages to Blount  County Court Minutes 1795-1804, 1804-1807, and 1808-1811.   I plan to turn these pages into an online listing to assist county researchers for my Blount County TNGenWeb site.  These were compiled in the 1930s as part of the Works Progress Administration.
  • Deaths in the Maryville Enterprise newspaper (Blount County, TN) from January – June 1961.  A Blount County researcher has done an amazing job indexing obituaries from 1867-1960 so I’d like to begin to expand upon what he’s done.   Using the handheld scanner makes this a more feasible project.   Photocopies using the microfilm readers are .25 each.  My method is free.
  • Index to Martin County Madison County Circuit Court Minutes 1821-1828 – for the Madison County TNGenWeb project.
  • Davidson County Wills & Inventories 1795-1804 pt. 1 – I scanned in half of this volume so that I can submit them to the Davidson County TNGenWeb project.  These too were compiled in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration.
  • Vanderbilt University Yearbooks  for 1909, 1910, 1913, 1914, & 1915.  I am currently indexing hundreds of North Carolina yearbooks so am interested in yearbooks these days.  I want to start indexing those from the Nashville area, so what better university to start with than my new alma mater (and place of employment for the past 10 years!).   I focused on capturing the senior class members only for now.   The next school I’d like to do is Fisk so that I can get some much needed African-American representation as well.   This too will be contributed to the Davidson County TNGenWeb project.

I’ve had a busy day don’t ya think?  :-)  This is going to be great material to keep me busy for awhile, but I am trying to get back tomorrow to gather more.

Vanderbilt 1910 Girls Basketball Team - Lamar Ryals (mascot), Eleanor Richardson, Mattie Stocks, Ada Raines (Captain), Rebecca Young, & Stella Katherine Vaughn

Library of Congress Visit

This weekend I traveled to Washington D.C. for a professional conference. My trip was short, but I did get to spend most of the day Friday at the Library of Congress (LOC). I’ve been to LOC before as a visitor/tourist, so I didn’t feel compelled to take many pictures. I’d not been as a user of their collection however.

I’d not prepared for the trip, other than spending a few minutes reading the website, so, I did not have clear cut goals. Because of this, I decided to focus more on seeing what I could find of value for the NCGenWeb project rather than my own personal research.

Upon getting to the library, I went first to get my Reader Identification Card. Good for two years, the card is used to gain entry into the numerous reading rooms and request books from the closed library stacks.

The process for obtaining the card was straightfoward and easy so I was done in less than half an hour. After getting the card I then took the underground tunnel from the Madison Building over to the Jefferson Building to go to the Local History & Genealogy Room.

This is the view from my position in the research room looking towards the front.  The reference desk is hidden behind the atlas. You see those TV screens? They have cameras so they can see what’s going on in all parts of the room.  There is free wireless access which I loved having available!

My first order of business was to request books from the closed stacks.  I knew that this would take approximately 50 minutes for them to be retrieved so I jumped online, identified some books of interest, and then made the request using the paper slips they make available in the room. There is no limit to the number of books you can request to have pulled at one time.

After filling out many of these slips, when I handed them in, I asked the staff person if there were any plans to allow requests to be submitted electronically.  At that time, he gave me instructions on how to do just that! I only wished the staff person who gave me the room orientation had told me this beforehand.

The room has 7,000+ items present so I was able to extract information from some of the North Carolina holdings while I waited for my books to be delivered.   I then spent the next few hours going through the books, taking digital pictures of pages of interest.  I took over 300 pictures with my cell phone of information that I plan to use throughout various NCGenWeb sites for other researchers.   Sweet.  Maybe next time, I can look for particular sources that may help my own individual research.

Following the Local History & Genealogy Room, I then went to the Newspapers & Current Periodicals Room.  My visit here was not as nearly productive.   First of all, the staff person didn’t seem to quite understand my vague request for a newspaper reel from the 1880s that included various NC newspapers.  I guess they are used to people seeking specific titles, but I tried to explain that from the library catalog record I knew that the reel contained multiple newspapers and I just wanted the reel.  He kept insisting that I put a specific title on the request form, but the reel contained about 20 different titles.  Eventually I jotted down one of the titles on the reel and sure enough when the reel was delivered the title was not on there but instead it read “Misc. NC newspapers”.  Yeah.

Now, I was looking forward to using their digital machines.  It is advertised on their homepage that you can bring your USB drive and download images to the microfilm reader.   In addition to all the standard types of microform readers, they have 4 ST-200 machines.

While I was initially excited, my excitement quickly waned.  I do not like this machine.  :-(

It seemed that there was not an easy way to view a readable image of an entire newspaper page nor capture a high-resolution image of an entire page.  Without being able to see the whole page at a sufficient zoom level, it was difficult to know what was on each page.   I was able to zoom in on the page, but then I’d spend a lot of time moving the plate around in order to see different parts of each page.  Cumbersome is not even the word.

I then tried the digital capture and tried to download it to my external harddrive.  Turns out, when they say download to your USB drive, they mean USB drive – it wasn’t compatible with my external harddrive.  Oh well. Not a biggie.  I used a workaround and snapped some more pictures with my phone’s camera.  I guess I could have asked for help, but I was trying to figure it out on my own.

Overall though, if I’d had more time, I’d definitely have requested more rolls of film and relied on the traditional microfilm machines.  I did spend the afternoon regretting that I’d not been interested in genealogy when I lived in DC! I lived there for a year in 1999-2000 and if I’d only have been interested I could have been spending a LOT of time at the Library of Congress.

And you know what else? I found out that the cemetery I lived next to when I did live in DC was the cemetery where F. Scott Fitzgerald was originally buried.  I remember passing that cemetery often too!

All in all, I had a great day though and am very glad I had the opportunity to go visit LOC and see friends.   For more tips on visiting LOC, check out Missy’s blog post.

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

How can you can resist reading a fiction mystery book that begins with a family tree?  Last week on a trip to Target I was browsing the paperbacks for a book to read and saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I’ve been keeping my eye on the run of the movie ever since reading Eastman’s blog post about the movie back in March.   In his post, Eastman mentions that there is a genealogy subtext to the book – a fact very much evident from the first few pages -specifically with the fact that a family tree is displayed.

As Eastman mentions, to solve the mystery the main characters do much research — including spending time researching the ancestors, researching photo & newspaper archives, analyzing old photos, and interviewing the Vanger family members and friends.  For us genealogists, this is sure to be a book you’ll enjoy.

The book is the first in a trilogy; the second book is The Girl Who Played With Fire, and the third, soon-to-be-released book is The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.  I plan on reading both of the remaining books.   The movie is playing at one of our local theaters so I hope I can get to it soon.

I put a video of the trailer on my blog right sidebar.

A Graduation Timeline: Making My Own History

On Friday,  May 14th,  I received my Masters of Public Health degree from Vanderbilt University.  I blogged about it on my family blog if you’re interested in reading the details, but I was prompted by this recent milestone to tell my stories about my previous graduations.   ‘Tis the season for graduations after all right?  Forgive the poor quality of the pictures; they are pictures of pictures and I will do better next time.

HIGH SCHOOL:  I graduated high school in 1993 from the North Carolina School of Science & Math in Durham, NC.  NCSSM is a residential high school for North Carolina 11th & 12th grade students. Nowadays, many school systems have graduations at younger grade levels, but this was my first graduation ceremony.  Oh goodness – here’s a picture of my oh so much younger self with my now deceased grandmother Cora, and my father.

Grandma Cora, me & daddy

walking off the podium

I still remember the procession for the ceremony; we exited the buildings near the old Watts Hospital side of the complex.  The first family member I saw when we walked outside was my uncle Al.   After the ceremony,  I rushed back to my room to begin packing up to head home.  I think we were packed and ready to go within an hour.  My father doesn’t play!

BACHELORS DEGREES: On Sunday May 11, 1997 I graduated from Emory University (Atlanta, GA) with a Bachelors of Science in Biology and a Bachelor of Arts in Religion.   It was Mother’s Day that year and above mentioned Uncle Al wasn’t able to attend as he and his wife welcomed their youngest into the world that same day.    My friends and I were all very excited and CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour was our commencement speaker.   I had no idea who she was then, but I’ve been following her career ever since then and feel connected to her in some way.  I have a VHS tape of the commencement ceremony that I guess I really should get transferred to DVD huh?

me in the center of the group

mommy, me and daddy

MASTERS OF SCIENCE IN LIBRARY SCIENCE:  In August 1999 I graduated from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill with my MLS degree.   In college,  I decided my junior year to become a librarian and went directly into the UNC program.  At that time, the path I envisioned was quite different from what I actually do now, but learning how to organize & critique information is a skill set that is highly transferable! If only most people understood what it is I actually do :-).

I don’t have any graduation photos from my MLS degree b/c I did not have a planned participation in the May ceremony.  I was an August graduate and we’d been told that we would walk in the University’s December ceremony.  However, methinks some communication paths were crossed for while my fellow August graduates and I were at the May event in the audience merely to support our May graduate classmates,  they ended up asking the August group to come on the stage anyway! No gown, no hat, no tassel for me that day.  I’m cool with that though, for I really do still remember the experience.  Overall, I felt happy that we had some acknowledgment that day.

And now,  in 2010,  11 years after my last degree,  I have degree #3 (if you don’t count high school)!  This time around was so challenging. I do not think I’ll be going to school again but they say “Never Say Never” right?

Me,the happy graduate

Now, on a more genealogical note within the next few weeks I’ll be announcing a graduation-related genealogy project I’ve been working on for the NCGenWeb Project. Details to come soon!

I’m Honored

I’ve discovered that my genealogy blog was featured on MyHeritage.com’s Top 100 Genealogy Sites.  How very cool! They purposely sought to highlight lesser known blogs.  Their criteria were

1) high quality content

2) originality in topic choice, approach and design; and

3) frequently updated

I’m honored to be on the list and I look forward to exploring many of the others they highlight.  Thanks MyHeritage.com!

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! :-)