Archive for February, 2014

February 26th, 2014

You May Already Own the Web Space to Build a Basic Genealogy Website

For those of you who have decided that building your own website may be the way to go, you’ll first want to know how a website works. It’s not as difficult to understand as you may think, and a basic knowledge of what a website is and how it’s presented on the internet will help you to get the most out of your personal site. One good thing about modern technology is that it continues to make it increasingly easier to construct a website without having many technical skills.

There are hosting companies that supply templates for websites to which you only have to add your information, whether it be in text or image form, and you simply pay them a monthly or annual fee to host your website. Some of these hosting sites are very advanced in the options they offer you as far as what you can post to your website, but some are very basic. Even the most advanced hosting sites however may not be able to convert your GEDCOM files or allow you to upload them. Let’s take a look then at what a website actually is, and how web pages and web space (internet address) relate to the scenario.

The Mechanics of a Website

A website is basically a collection of individual files that are stored on what is known as a web serve. A web server is a computer, usually quite a large one or combination of several, which has a permanent connection to the worldwide web. The server has the capacity to handle multiple requests from many different computers all looking for information on the internet. Large corporations usually have what is known as their own dedicated server, while individuals and smaller companies will rent a small portion of the file space on the server to house their collection of files, and consequently their personal web site. You’ll upload your files to the server as web pages, which in turn will compose your website. There are three essential things you’ll need in order to create your own website. They are:

Web Space – which will be your internet address
Software to create your web pages
Software to upload your web pages to your web space

You may also need separate software for uploading graphics and image files, but some software is capable of both. There is a variety of software for creating web pages, all you have to do is search something like “simple software for creating web pages” and you’ll be amazed at the choices you’ll have. The good thing is that you can use your home computer, and you may even be able to use your web browser to upload your web pages.

A Brief Description of Web Space

Most Internet Service Providers (the company that provides you with internet access) include an amount of web space in their subscription package. Before purchasing web space from an independent company, check to see if your own ISP includes this facility in the internet package that you have. Usually what they provide is enough to build a simple personal web site, however if you are planning on adding high resolution graphics or compiling your own databases, you may have to purchase additional web space, either from your current provider or another company. There are a number of companies that provide free web space regardless of which provider you’re using, however these companies often expect you to place advertising of their choice on your site. It is well worth investing in purchasing some web space so that you maintain full control over what appears on your site. For a small personal genealogy website though, what your ISP offers in your current package should be enough.

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February 19th, 2014

Potential Problems with Indexes, Images and Transcripts

The three main ways that you’ll find data represented on the internet are through images, indexes and transcriptions. Images are usually scanned original documents, a transcription will hold the full textual content of the document in a file, while an index will contain a list of names with or without additional details regarding its members, and may direct you to where the original document is held.

An online index would ideally lead you to a full transcription of the original document you seek, which could then be compared against a scanned image of the original. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and in spite of the great technological progress we’ve made, digital images take up a lot of disk space and bandwidth, and so are rarely found online. It is simply more financially feasible to provide text only data, for both free websites run by volunteers, and commercial sites. Images can, and are supplied economically for census returns however, as there is a massive demand for them, which in turn covers the cost of providing them.

Believe it or not, as rare as images of original documents are on the internet, transcriptions are even harder to find. It takes much time, and major effort to prepare a transcription, and for many documents it is not really required. Indexes that are connected or linked to images are therefore the major source of most genealogical data to be found on the internet. Keep in mind, especially if you’re a beginner, that you can’t accomplish all your genealogical research on the internet. It is a valuable tool, but everything you find will eventually have to be authenticated by checking it with the original source. Let’s take a look at some of the potential problems you might experience with indexes.

Potential Index Related Problems

The majority of indexes on the internet today are made available through the valuable contributions of time and resources by other genealogists. Often working from micro films or digitized versions of original documents, it is understandable that information is sometimes transcribed inaccurately. Ideally indexes would be created by professional palaeographers, with an excellent knowledge of place names and surnames, but this is not true even on large scale projects, whose data is usually transcribed an input by clerical workers.

Data validation is also an area of concern when browsing indexes on the internet. Of course it is much easier to check the authenticity of twenty first or twentieth century records than that of those of previous centuries, so unfortunately validation has been overlooked by some projects. The “the let’s don’t and say we did “attitude has led to the critical failure of some indexes, and consequently many genealogist’s family histories. Unfortunately many spelling errors and typos are made when transcribing, and unfortunately these mistakes end up being published. I have come across surnames with numbers in the middle of them, misspelled surnames, and even gender misidentification; one website had over one thousand female Johns in its index.

These are some of the things you’ll want to look out for when using an online index, and the reason that online information should always be verified via comparison to the original documentation. On a positive note, the greatest value of an index is that it can tell you where to find that original document.

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February 12th, 2014

Getting Connected Through Surname Interests and Pedigrees

One of the most important compiled sources for genealogists is surname and pedigree compilations. There are many people who have posted their pedigree online, and there are a number of websites to which genealogists can submit details of the surnames that they’re interested in. This enables other researchers who are following a similar vein of research to get in touch with genealogists who might have information that they are looking for, or whom may be looking for info that they have. Let’s take a look at surname interests and how they can help us to find our ancestors.

Surname Interests

One of the fastest ways to make progress with your family pedigree is by working with other genealogists who have an interest in the same surnames as yourself. It is known for genealogists to find cousins who are pursuing the same family line; I can confirm this as it has happened to me. At the very least, it will help you to find out how much research has been done on the name that you’re studying. Some genealogists undertake what is known as a “one name study” and may contain valuable information from primary sources that they may be willing to share with you.

This ability to connect rather quickly with other researchers is one of the major assets of the internet. Previously you would have had to research many individual sources; both published and unpublished, burrowed through volume upon volume of genealogical directories, and still not have gotten very far. You’ll still have to verify the data you discover online with these original sources, but the internet hastens that part of your research by letting you know exactly where they can be found. Whatever you do, don’t completely overlook offline sources. Many professional and experienced genealogists do not have a website; some don’t even use the internet.

If coming upon a surname interests database you find that it doesn’t contain certain information that you possess, please consider submitting your own data. This is how genealogy works, by sharing information freely, it’s how families are brought together and ancestors are found. It is the very heart and soul of genealogy, so give something back whenever you can. Provide a way for other genealogists to contact you as well, whether by post or email, that’s up to you. Many websites have a submission form for you to fill out which makes the procedure an easy one. If there is a means of doing this, read the instructions carefully band fill it in exactly as required, some website managers may ignore something or discard it if it’s not formatted correctly.

Occasionally you may come across contact details that are no longer valid. Unfortunately there is nothing you can do about this, except to make sure that it doesn’t happen to other researchers when they try to contact you. Keep you details up to date if you move or begin using a new email address.

Try the Guild of One Name Studies

This is an organization that was set up for people who are researching a particular surname. The website contains a searchable listing for everyone involved in the research of over 7,000 surnames registered with the Guild. This is an international focused organization; in fact a requirement for membership is that your surname search is an international one. Much of the registrants are professional genealogists and other types of researchers, and though you may not have common ancestors with them, they may have uncovered information about your family.

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February 5th, 2014

4 Common Technical Problems Your Browser May Encounter on Commercial Websites

The configuration of your web browser could cause potential problems during your genealogical search, especially on commercial sites. It is not possible for me to cover every possible situation you may encounter in this Blog post, but I can point out some of the most common problems a browser’s settings may cause, especially for beginners. If you don’t know what a browser is, it is simply the program you use to surf the net, i.e. Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Netscape etc.

Problem #1 – Cookies

Websites store bits of information about your likes and interests on your hard disk so that they can direct you to where they think you want to go on their website. Though marketed as a convenience to you in order to save you time, cookies are sales tools used by companies to get you to the pages where you’re most likely to buy something as soon as possible. But, they are a part of internet life, and we can’t avoid them. Ever wonder how your user name is already filled in when visiting your favourite website; cookies! Some browsers can be configured to reject cookies, which can make commercial and other pay-to-view sites unusable. To enable cookies in your browser, go to Tools, then Options, then Privacy, and there you should see a box to check with enable cookies or something similar, depending on which browser you use.

Problem #2 – Java Script

The main concern of JavaScript to the average internet user is that it allows a web page to validate whatever a user enters into an online form. If you ever wondered how a web page knows you’ve left a field blank when you’ve filled in an online form, it’s through JavaScript. Most sites provide instruction on how to enable JavaScript in your browser, as your browser itself should. In Mozilla Firefox for example, you click on Tools in your browsers toolbar, then Options, and then Content, which will give you an enable JavaScript option.

Problem #3 – Plug-ins

Plug-ins are small utility programs for your browser to use in displaying content on a website when its own built in programs don’t allow it. Most are fairly standard, such as: Flash, Shockwave, Adobe etc. Some websites however, have their own plug-ins for viewing some material. You’ll need to download the program from that website before you can view the data. Most are harmless and are provided for your convenience, enhanced pleasure and ease of usage while on their website.

Problem #4 – Compatibility

Some genealogical websites have been around since the birth of the internet, and consequently may not be compatible with the latest version of some browsers. Other web designers insist on developing sites compatible with only one particular browser, which you may have to download to browse that site or access any of its information. The main browsers can all be downloaded for free, so there’s no reason for not having the latest version of them all, unless you have an old computer operating system or limited memory space.

If you experience problems with online data sources that are not fixed by the things mentioned here, most provide an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section, and commercial sites usually have a Help page and accompanying customer support contact information such as their email address and phone number.

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