Archive for May, 2013

May 28th, 2013

Unlikely Indexers Lighten the Load for the LDS

I came across a great story today, and just had to share it with you. It’s about some volunteers who donate their time to help the LDS index records for the website. So what’s the big deal you might ask? There are many volunteers who do the same thing for a number of organizations around the world. What makes these particular ones so special? Well, let me tell you a bit about them!

Joey Robinson and Theresa Coggins love to spend their time adding to genealogy indexes. They spend hour upon hour indexing at least three days per week, and often imagine the stories behind the names they encounter. They are much like the many volunteers who donate their time and energy to organizations like the LDS, but they differ in that they perform their work from behind bars at the Weber County Correctional facility in Ogden, Utah.

In conjunction with the LDS church, the corrections facility implemented the program about 6 months ago, and it has been so successful that there are plans to extend it to every county jail in the state of Utah.

The initiative was begun by Ogden East Stake President Reed Richards a few emeritus Seventies in the area after holding meetings with those members from the LDS branch at the Utah State Prison. “The state prison is the largest extractor in the world. The inmates don’t have a lot going on, and this gives them purpose,” Richards said.

The Ogden East Stake (administrative unit composed of multiple congregations in the area) included the LDS branch in the Weber County Correctional Facility, so Richards was convinced the success at state level could transfer to the local level — and he was dead on.

The indexing program is run by twelve service missionaries from the stake, which holds two or three sessions composed of women and men every week. There is so much interest from inmates who want to get involved that sessions will soon be increased to twice daily, five days a week.

Seventeen laptops were donated by the LDS Church, and the jail subscribed to an internet provider in order to give inmates access to the databases. It took some time as the internet had to be set up, so that the inmates couldn’t visit any other websites, but it was managed, and the program is in full flow.

The inmates thoroughly enjoy the work. “I enjoy computer work, and I know we are helping someone,” Theresa Coggins said as she adroitly inspected data on her computer screen. “My mom is really into genealogy. I’m a federal inmate, so I have a lot of time here to do this.”

Coggins listed reason after reason that performing the indexing is a positive endeavor. Not only does it provide inmates with an opportunity to use their brains, but they acquire computer skills they can utilize upon their release. The situation is really a win-win-win one; for the inmates, the LDS, and genealogists like ourselves. It has given many of the inmates a sense of purpose, and accelerated the creation of the genealogy databases available at Family Search.

An added bonus of the program is that many of the inmates develop a genuine interest in and passion for the work, and continue after they get out. The prison staff also benefit as well, as the inmates stay busy and out of trouble. According to Weber County Sheriff’s Sgt. Joe Porter, “We like to keep the inmates busy. The busier we keep them, the easier they are to manage,” he said.

The indexing has helped many of the inmates to develop a greater appreciation of family and its importance in our lives. Some have reconnected and even mended broken relationships since they begun the work. That of course is understandable; as every genealogist experiences the same appreciation of family once they begin to discover their past. The great thing of course is that even more records will become available online for future genealogists, and that can’t be a bad thing at all!

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May 21st, 2013

Future Proof Your Family Tree

Imagine spending years to build your family tree only to find out in the future that your files are not compatible with modern technology. The challenge for present day genealogists is not so much to keep up with technology, but to anticipate future developments. You may be quite adept at utilizing the latest mobile apps and cloud computing sites, but have you future-proofed your family tree by considering how to keep your stored data compatible with what might be available or unavailable in the future?

It would be a terrible shame after spending years researching your family history, to find that the data storage system used to record your info is no longer functional or manufactured. With so many people using modern technology and cloud computing options to upload genealogical data and photos, imagine how much information would be lost or inaccessible if current platforms are replaced by more advanced technology. The potential loss of so much data could impact genealogists of all levels, from the professional researcher right down to the individual just beginning to trace their family tree.

Of course, it is impossible to completely anticipate what sort of technology the future might bring, but there are certain things you can do to avoid negative consequences while at the same time preparing for future opportunities. For instance, if you have a digital photograph that had survived for 20 years on your hard drive and a traditional framed photo, which would you choose to keep? Amazingly enough, the traditional, framed photo might be the wiser option! Because technology has the capacity to change so rapidly and drastically, present day hard drives could possibly be obsolete at some point ion the future, and you might not be able to access the digital version of your photo. You can rest assured however, that there will still be methods of scanning traditional photos to digitize them, as different as they could be from current scanners.

As technology advances, file formats change and the platforms with which they are accessed change with them. It is possible for developers to have the mentality that “no one uses that file anymore,” and so omit conversion options for that particular file type in their programs. Suddenly an entire file type is no longer accessible with modern gadgets and you’re stuck with files of that type and no way to view them. Particular media can also become obsolete. A case in point would be the floppy disk. How long has it been since you’ve accessed one?

Steps You Can Take to Future-Proof Your Data

It is of the utmost importance to constantly upgrade your hardware and applications. You might feel that it is expensive to do so, but failing to keep up to date will cost you more down the road when you need to purchase a completely new version of an application. Updating your hardware is a much better option than purchasing platforms to convert your old data files. Rather than buying a floppy drive to add to your system, convert the data on them to CD, DVD, or diskettes. An even better option is to store them on an external hard drive. Keep current with what modern genealogists are using, and look for low-cost or free alternatives when you can. The point is, not to wait until it’s too late to convert.

You are actually future-proofing your data whenever you scan a document or photograph, but whatever you do, don’t throw away the original. Try to keep as many original documents or paper copies as you can, and maker use of dehumidifiers and acid proof paper as often as you can to ensure their longevity. Whenever you do save photos and other documents, save them as JPEG, PDF, or TIFF files to ensure their digital longevity. Slides and home movies can also be transferred to a digital format, and many stores such as CVS, Walgreens, Target, and Wal-Mart offer this service at their photo counters.

If you have old cassette recordings of interviews and such, you should also have them converted to digital format. There are many home and small recording studios that can do this for you, and it is relatively inexpensive to do so. Even CD’s and DVD’s will only realistically last 10 years or so. If you have data stored on aged disks, you should transfer it to a newer one as soon as possible. As an extra-cautionary measure, back them up on an external hard-drive, or upload them to an online data-storage service.

When you’re storing any digital files, try to avoid compressing at all costs. Once files are compressed the format is often lost, and there are other issues that could prevent access as well. Back-up drives are very inexpensive these days, and you can purchase external drives with 2TB of space for under $100.

It’s impossible to be one hundred percent prepared for every possible scenario, but you can take steps to ensure that your family tree will be available to future relatives who may have technology we never dreamed of!

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May 14th, 2013

Don’t Let Opportunity Pass You By – Take Advantage of These Free Genealogy Courses!

There’s no reason anyone should struggle with genealogy issues anymore. I recently decided to put one of my New Year’s Resolutions into practice and take a genealogy course. I jumped on Google, and as frugal as I am typed “free genealogy courses” into the search window. You wouldn’t believe how many courses I found, many of them taught by college professors and professional genealogists! I couldn’t believe that such quality instruction was for free, so I started investigating! Lo and behold, they deliver what they advertise. I found so many that I thought I had to share the ones I thought best with you. It would really be a shame not to take advantage of these excellent free genealogy resources.

It is no surprise that the LDS-run Brigham Young University offers a variety of genealogy courses. The courses are courtesy of their Independent Study department, a non-profit branch of the school. The study department’s courses range from beginning genealogy to courses specializing in individual record types (military, vital, and family records), and also regional and ethnic focused courses such as French and German research. The University has its own Center for Family History and Genealogy which hosts links to a number of online tutorials and helpful websites.

MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology doesn’t offer genealogy-specific courses, but some such as American History to 1865, The Places of Migration in United States History, and the Economic History of Work and Family can be very useful to family historians.

Similarly, Yale University offers genealogy-relevant courses covering topics such as; The American Revolution,  African American History: From Emancipation to Present, and European Civilization, 1648-1945 can all be of immense value to genealogical researchers. The courses are offered through the Yale Open Courses program, which provides materials and lectures from variousYaleCollege courses to anyone with a computer and internet access for free.

There is a group known as Coursera which is a conglomerate of 62 Universities which offers a huge amount of course that are of interest to genealogists. Many of the courses are led by qualified instructors that are scheduled to begin and end at specific times, so you’ll have to sign it on time to “attend” them. There is plenty of pre-recorded material however, and many of the courses are graded and offer certification. Some of the genealogy related courses on offer are Immigration and US Citizenship, Useful Genetics, Women and The Civil Rights Movement, and The Camera Never Lies.

Another site that also offers excellent, high-calibre learning resources is Evidence Explained, developed by Elizabeth Shown Mills to assist researchers and historians of every kind. In the Quick Lessons section of the website you can find tutorials on a number of relevant topics such as; Census Instructions, Who Needs Instructions?, Chasing an Online Record into its Rabbit Hole, and What Constitutes Proof? All of the subjects are presented in tutorial form, so can be taken at your leisure.

At the Canvas Network website you will find a catalogue of free online courses that cover a number of topics. Many of them are of little use to the genealogist, but there are courses such as U.S. History: First Peoples to the Civil War and Reconstruction, and US History which may be of benefit to historical researchers.

There are definitely many additional free online learning opportunities out there, but I thought these were some of the highest quality. You can even tell your friends and family you’re taking a college course! Have a look for yourself at each of them, browse through the courses, and if you decide to take one, come back and tell us your thoughts and how you made out in our comments section!

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May 7th, 2013

Putting Your Family on the Map – Finding Your Ancestors and Mapping Their History

I remember when I was young that my grandfather had a large wall-sized Map of the World which he used to plot the travels of one of his sons (my uncle) around the globe. Said uncle was a merchant seaman, and would let my grandfather know exactly where he was or had been, and granddad would place colored pins on those locations. After 15 years of my uncle’s travels the map was so heavy from the huge amount of pins it was literally falling off the wall, but what a conversation piece it made! Peopled love talking about both family and exotic foreign locations and this is what inspired me to plot the immigration patterns of my ancestors in a similar fashion.

Organizing Your Family Immigration History

The first thing I did before even purchasing a decent sized map was to list every ancestor that I knew of at the time, their place of birth or burial if applicable, last known place of residence, their dates of birth and death, and if I knew it – the year of their emigration. Of course for some I had more information than others, but what data I did have led me to other important facts about my family. I first sorted through all of the old documentation and photos I had in my possession, and put aside any information that placed somebody at a particular location at a specific time. These would become my first map points.  I chose red colored pins for this purpose, but of course you can invent your own color code system. For some ancestors I had information about where they lived, but not the time frame during they lived there. For these challenges I found the Period Approximation Chart very useful.

How to use the Period Approximation Chart

In one instance I had the birth dates of my great-great grandfather’s children, but there were rumours amongst our family members that they might not have been married. I decided to search for a marriage record for them, and the Period Approximation Chart gave me a ballpark time span to look for it in. You will notice that the chart is quite simple. It has three columns; one marked Date Wanted, the second titled Known Information, and the final column contains the Formula you should use. The date I wanted was Marriage, the Known Information I had was the birth dates of several children, and hence I used the corresponding Formula. I haven’t as yet found the marriage record, but at least I have minimized the time frame in which I should look.

Use Gazetteers to Pinpoint Place Names

In some instances documentation I had referred to place names associated with some of my relatives, yet contained no details of where that place might be. In some cases there are villages or towns around the world bearing the same name, and consequently finding the exact one in which your ancestor lived can prove challenging.  In such cases gazetteers are extremely helpful, as they list every place with that name and give a variety of information about each one. The minimum that they will do is to provide you with the region where your relative lived, and some even provide the latitude and longitude. Many countries have their own gazetteers, so if you have an idea of the country or region, you can simply Google a gazetteer for that area.  Keep in mind though, that especially in the UK regions, more than one village with the same name can be located in a single county, so take the time to make sure you have the correct one before searching for further documentation.

Using Land Records to Plot Your Map

I found it much easier to use land records and enter them into some land-plotting software before I transferred the information onto my wall map. I used DeedMapper, but there are others available that you can find by searching online for land plotting programs. What you do is take the information that you glean from land records and enter it into the software which creates a map showing land boundaries, but also organizes your data in a compact, easily accessible format. Before you decide whether or not to purchase and use DeedMapper, you can view their nine tutorial videos which show you the full potential of the program.

Use GIS (Geographical Information Systems) Software to Create Maps

GIS software is also a neat and unique way to create maps, as it allows you to build them using layers of information. You can start with a simple outline of a country, then add a second layer showing towns or villages, then a third denoting specific house or building locations and so on. You can build as many layers as you wish, even showing natural features such as rivers or streams, but to utilize GIS software you’ll need a GIS data viewer. This is basically another type of software, and a free version can be found at The software is called ArcGISExplorer, and can be downloaded, or you can use an online version. You can research data at Data.Gov or the GIS Data Depot.

Directories and newspapers can also yield a wealth of information, both biographical and geographical. Make use of as many sources as you can, including libraries and local genealogy and geographical societies. Once you have collected and organized as much data as possible on your ancestors, you can begin transferring it onto your wall map. Mine took me the better part of three years to complete, but I never lack for interesting conversation when we have visitors!

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