RootsTech 2014

Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Off to the IAJGS Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah

As I mentioned in previous posts, courtesy of the IAJGS, I will be attending the Conference the next five days in Salt Lake City, Utah. I plan to travel to Salt Lake from Provo on the FrontRunner train. I will see how that works out. If I drive, it takes about an hour or so with parking and all, I can ride the train and not have a parking issue and work while I am on the train (hopefully). I am not really aware of some of the logistics of the Conference so that part of the experience will probably be an adventure. One thing in my favor is that I very well acquainted with downtown Salt Lake and should have no trouble in that regard.

I am certainly looking forward to saying hello to friends at the Conference and making some new ones. If any of you were wondering if I would get involved in genealogy after my move to Utah and particularly to Provo, I can set your minds at ease, I will be just as busy or busier here in Utah than I was in Arizona.

I hope to blog regularly about the Conference. Depending on the WiFi availability, I may be writing at the conference and then posting when I get a connection.

A Short Note on Spam Comments

Comments are, for the most part, very helpful to bloggers and especially to genealogy bloggers. I read an think about every comment. If there is an issue, I try to respond, at least with an acknowledgement that I saw the comment. But recently, we are getting a whole new category of comments, "spam comments." These comments are purposely deceptively complimentary. They usually tell how wonderful the post is and then leave a long or short link or mention of an unrelated business entity. It is getting to the point that if I see anything complimentary that is not very specific about a post, I immediately assume it is spam. I try to delete all of these before they are published, but some are harder to detect than others. Many times the effusive nature of these spam comments does not match the content of the post at all.

My suggestion is that we unitedly, as bloggers, delete all such comments before they are published. We can use any number of systems for reviewing all comments before they are published and making those who comment prove they are human, but what it comes down to is that the comments should not be allowed to go online.

It is my nature, in an event, when someone starts complementing me, I immediately suspect something. This is probably a conditioned reflex from practicing law for nearly 40 years, but it keeps me from getting too carried away with my own importance. As I get effusive and complimentary comments, I always remind myself, being thought important in genealogy is like being the Mayor of Nutrioso, Arizona, a title and not much more (my apologies to the real mayor of Nutrioso, Arizona if there is one).

Where does the antagonism against the big genealogy websites come from?

I suppose this should really be a post on psychology not genealogy, but I am the one stuck with the brunt of the antagonism against the large online genealogy websites. If I am out and about, teaching classes and helping people with their genealogy, I get an almost constant negative stream of comments about the larger genealogy companies. It would not be so noticeable if it were not so constantly repetitious.  The complaints seem to fall into categories, so I will discuss the main categories I detect. Some of the criticism is so contradictory as to be ridiculous, but some of the comments reflect some of my own feelings (maybe I need the psychology also).

Complaints about the inability to "find" what researchers are looking for are the most common. There seems to be an underlying assumption here that because they are big, they should have every record. If the researcher fails to find the specific record they are searching for, it is not their own fault for failing to search properly, but the fault of the website for "not having the record." It never seems to occur to the complainers that the record may be missing or never applied to their ancestor. This common complaint seems to be consistent with a general societal feeling of entitlement. It is as if they feel they have a right to find the record and the failure of the website to instantly provide what they want at that moment is a violation of their right to entitlement. How dare the websites make them think and search further!

This complaint of entitlement blends into a complaint that the websites change too frequently. I still get comments to old blog posts complaining about the demise of the old, old, FamilySearch.org website or the loss of the old search engine used by Ancestry.com. This would seem to come with the demographics of the genealogy community of an older, very conservative group. But the desire to go back to an old search engine or a very limited old website verge on something more than merely being uncomfortable with change. This complaint brings up the next one, complaints about having to learn yet another program.

It is interesting to me how many negative comments I get about change in general and new programs in particular. Every time there is a round of upgrades, I get the same round of comments. I don't have a clear view of what other countries experience in this regard, but our society seems resistant to change in any form. Genealogists seem to look at changes to websites and programs as threats rather than opportunities. It is as if the need to learn is an imposition. These complaints are focused on the large genealogy companies because this is where the researchers see the most changes. They use these programs the most and therefore are most upset when they change. It is as if they blame the large companies for the changes.

Another dimension of the complaints comes from the size of the big companies. This is especially true of FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com. I find that even if genealogists are familiar with findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com, they do not see either as being a prominent or big company. In fact, when I teach about MyHeritage.com for example, those in my class are always very surprised to learn how large and influential this company really is. I got an interesting comment about MyHeritage.com this past week, when one of the class participants asked why they did not have saturation advertising on TV like Ancestry.com if they were so big? It was almost as if the questioner equated advertising with validation.

Then, of course, there are the conspiracists. They think there is a conspiracy around every corner and under every rock. The most common comments I get involve the purchase of one or the other of the large companies. I might say, that this may be one area where anything is possible. I usually get this question about whether Ancestry.com is going to buy FamilySearch.org or the opposite, whether FamilySearch is going to by Ancestry. In that same class this week, I got the question as to whether Ancestry.com was going to buy MyHeritage.com. I am not sure where these types of questions come from, but the endless series of acquisitions by the three commercial companies I am sure contributes to this viewpoint.

Among genealogists who use each of the big websites frequently, there are a whole different class of negative comments. These always seem to revolve around one or more features of the programs. The complainers always seem to want some other feature or do not like some feature or another. Sometimes in begin to feel like the cartoon character Lucy, with her booth saying Psychiatric Help 5 cents, and the sign that the doctor is in.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Web Basics for Genealogists -- Catalog Searches

This post is an expansion of some topics I introduced in an earlier post entitled, "Web Basics for Genealogists -- Part Two: Beginning our Understanding of Searches." I decided that each of the different types of searches warranted its own post. This particular post will focus on catalogs and catalog searches. The other two types of searches, wiki and string search, will follow shortly.

Important to know. Most online catalogs are not accessible by a Google search. For example, the entries in the FamilySearch Catalog are searchable by the catalog search, not by Google. This is why this article was written.

If you are old enough, you probably remember working with a "card catalog" made up of drawers of 3x5 or so inch cards in long pull-out drawers. I vaguely remember sitting in the library during high school while the librarian gave us instruction about how to find things in the library. By that time, I had been looking for books in the card catalog since I was about 8 or 9 years old and already knew the subject areas I was interested in reading about. I guess it would make a good story if I could tell about how I was inspired to read and research by a dedicated librarian, but the reality was that they tolerated me and I mostly ignored them. Most of my early library experiences were in the Phoenix Public Library on hot summer days when it was one of the few air conditioned buildings that I could visit on my own without a parent in tow.

Two things about the catalog were easily understood and very apparent, books and other materials were organized by subject and and also alphanumerically. Many years later, I began a job as a bibliographer at the University of Utah Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. As I worked at the library over the next four years, I learned a lot more about library organization and cataloging. I realized that cataloging was partially a science but more of an art. I also found that in a large library, it was easy to discover that books with exactly the same subject matter were cataloged and therefore located physically in different parts of the library. If you really wanted to find books on a specific topic, you "walked the shelves." Walking the shelves consisted of walking slowly along the stacks of books and looking up and down to identify every subject covered and then randomly pulling out books of interest. Since my job was to find books ordered by professors and others, and verify whether or not the books were in the library before they were ordered, we spent a whole lot of time looking at catalogs and books.

I probably spent 20 hours a week or more for years, looking at the library's huge card catalog and other catalog sources such as the National Union Catalog. Here is the description of the NUC from the Library of Congress:
The National Union Catalog (NUC) is a record of publications held in more than eleven hundred libraries in the United States and Canada, including the Library of Congress. Major portions of the NUC are published in two principal series: one covering post-1955 publications and the other pre-1956 imprints. Since 1983, the NUC has been issued on microfiche. The NUC, an author catalog, contains some entries for works in the Library's collections that are not listed in its own general catalogs; consequently, it should be consulted in any thorough examination of the Library's resources.
Now, don't be discouraged. Learning to use catalogs does not involve a lifetime of experience, but it does help to have some experience. I relate my background so you will understand why I would be writing about this kind of subject.

The idea of a catalog is that a collection of information (historically books, manuscripts, periodicals etc.) is organized in some fashion to allow researchers to find what they are searching for. The Dewey Decimal System is one such type of classification. It began back in 1876 and was invented by Melvil Dewey. See Wikipedia: Dewey Decimal Classification.  Now, learning about libraries and cataloging systems is not likely on many people's must learn list, but as genealogists, we actually live and die with catalogs whether we realize their importance or not.

Now fast forward to the present. Many libraries still use the Dewey Decimal classification system. In addition, however, larger libraries are converting to computer-based classification and searching systems. The most prominent of these is the Online Computer Library Center, Inc. or the OCLC. Founded back in 1967, OCLC now operates the WorldCat.org online catalog, easiest the largest catalog in the world.

Think for a minute. How many books about genealogy or containing genealogically valuable information have the words "genealogy" or "family history" in their title? Would you be able to identify a valuable genealogy book by the name of its author? How do you know if a book or other publication contains information about your family? In answering all of these questions, we rely on catalogers or people who look at books and tell us what they are about. If you want to know how complicated this can become, you can start by looking at the Library of Congress Classification Outline and then trying to find how genealogy is classified by the Library of Congress. Just so you don't get frustrated, genealogy is classified as "C -- Auxiliary Sciences of History" and the further as "CS -- Genealogy."

When you go to FamilySearch.org, for example, and then click on the Search link, you will find a further link to the FamilySearch Catalog. You will also see the follow link to the OCLC WorldCat.org catalog and the Archive Grid.


Under the explanation about the contents, you will see the link that says, "Learn more about the catalog and how to access materials." How many times have you taken the time to read what they say? The link goes to an article in the FamilySearch Research Wiki entitled, "Introduction to the FamilySearch Catalog." Before you dive in and do another frustrating catalog search, I suggest you read about how the catalog works and what you can expect. The important thing to know about catalogs of all types, is that they require a lot of work from the user before they become very useful.

Every time you go to a website or actually visit a research repository, you are probably depending on some type of catalog to locate what you are searching for. Do you know how each of these catalogs work? Do you usually take some time figuring out how the catalog works before you start searching? How many times do you abandon your search because you can't find anything you think will help your with your research?

Remember, a catalog is an arbitrary organization of its contents. You may or may not find what you are looking for unless you understand how the particular catalog you are searching is organized and how it works. Every time you click on a website and it refers to "search the catalog" you are entering this world of catalogs. Unfortunately, almost every catalog is unique and requires you to learn about how best to use its resources.

The promise is as you keep working with catalogs and searches, the process becomes more familiar, never really easy, but manageable.



First Annual SLIG Colloquium to be Held in January 2015

A colloquium is an academic conference or seminar. SLIG is the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy sponsored by the Utah Genealogical Association.  The announcement is as follows:
The first annual SLIG Colloquium will be held in January 2015.

This colloquium will consist of the reading and discussion of four papers meant to advance our profession. For example, anything that puts forward a new theory, a new analysis tool, or a new way to look at a genealogical problem. 
The colloquium will be held January 10, 2015, the Saturday before the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy in Salt Lake City. The event will consist of a networking lunch (prices to be determined) and an evening banquet. The evening banquet will be open to the public and will include a brief overview of the papers presented. 
The papers will be edited and combined into a publication available for purchase through the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. This will be an annual event and hope that it aids the genealogy profession by creating a body of advanced literature.

Paper submissions are due to Christy Fillerup no later than October 1st. They will be reviewed by a selection committee and four papers will be chosen for presentation. More than four papers may be chosen for publication.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Old and archaic family relationship terms

The MyHeritage.com blog had a post entitled "Avuncles and Niblings: Unusual words for the family." The post was taken from another post in the mental_floss blog with the further title of "11 Little-Known Words for Specific Family Members." You might want to test your knowledge on the following words and then go to the articles for the answers:

  • Patruel
  • Avuncle
  • Niblings
  • Fadu
  • Modrige
  • FÅ’dra
  • Eam
  • Brother-uterine
  • Brother-German
  • Double cousin
  • Machetonim

The post with the longer list makes the observation, more than once, that the words are "not in the dictionary." All of the words except, patruel, do show up in the dictionary. I began to wonder what dictionary they were referring to. The simplest way to to find the meaning of any strange word is to do a Google search using the format: "define [enter the unusual word]." This means if I wanted to know the meaning of patruel, I would type in "define patruel." Doing this takes me to an earlier blog post in blog entitled, Words Gone Wild, with an extensive definition. Other results from this simple search give references to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which, by the way is what I would call, The Dictionary. The official OED website is a subscription site, but it is possible that your library subscribes. I don't really think the OED wants individual subscriptions, the price is very high for a dictionary website. By the way, even the Old English term was found instantly by Google. 

If you like books, you can also used two that I found interesting. 

Evans, Barbara Jean. A to Zax: A Comprehensive Dictionary for Genealogists & Historians. Alexandria, VA: Hearthside Press, 1995.

and

FitzHugh, Terrick V. H. The Dictionary of Genealogy. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble, 1985.

Oh, the reason the words may not "show up in the dictionary" you might be using is because some of them are really in Latin or Yiddish or Old English or whatever. 

American University of Beirut to create 100,000 volume online Arabic Library

In an article in albawaba Business, the American University of Beirut Libraries have joined Arabic Collections Online (ACO), a five-year project funded by New York University Abu Dhabi that aims to digitize and make accessible worldwide over 100,000 volumes of Arabic content.

Quoting from the article,
Along with New York University Libraries and its partners, the AUB libraries will create the Arabic Collections Online (ACO) project, a major digitization project funded by New York University Abu Dhabi, whose aim is to create a digital library of public-domain Arabic language content of over 100,000 volumes. Partners in this substantial digitization of Arabic content already include numerous prominent North American institutions, and the AUB Libraries are the first ones outside the United States to join the project. The AUB Libraries will contribute several thousand titles from their growing rich and historical Arabic collections in a variety of subjects and disciplines.

The AUB Libraries are widely regarded as one of the best academic libraries in the Middle East and North Africa. Their collections include over 1.2 million volumes of print and electronic books, 10,000 rare and unique books, 10,000 print periodicals (of which 3,500 are in Arabic), 140,000 electronic journals and conference proceedings, 300 electronic databases, hundreds of major reference works, and 1.2 million audiovisual items in various formats (the majority of which are microforms of local and regional newspapers and magazines dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries). The Archives and Special Collections contain 700 linear feet of archival material (including papers of famous Lebanese and Arab intellectuals); 1,400 manuscripts; 9,000 volumes of AUB theses and dissertations dating back to 1907; 5,000 posters; 1,900 maps; and 50,000 photographs. The collections are developed and enriched on an ongoing basis to support the academic and research programs of the AUB, one of the leading universities in the region.
I see almost no news such as this from the Middle East. I have a number of friends and genealogical researchers from Lebanon and I find this to be a significant breakthrough.