New Blog Home

Livingston HouseOh give me a home, where my blog can roam…  (Ok, I’ll stop singing and stick to writing.)

After much deliberation, I have decided to merge my blog (Amy’s Genealogy, etc. Blog) with my “regular” website. In the very near future, my old blog will automatically redirect here. Don’t worry — all your favorite olds posts will still be accessible. You’ll still be able to read about my seriously cool Route 66 bag as well as why I don’t care where you put the comma.

If you haven’t already, please update your RSS feed. (The link is on the right.) And feel free to tell a friend!

 

Preserving Stories on 1000memories

In the past couple of years, there has been an shifting emphasis in genealogy/family history. Momentum has been building around capturing not only the names, dates, and places — the cold, hard facts — about our ancestors, but also capturing their story. As Lisa Alzo put it in her presentation on writing your family history at the recent Federation of Genealogical Societies conference, “You may have a family tree as long as this hall, but what do you know about any of those ancestors?” Curt Witcher talked about the importance of story in his keynote at RootsTech 2011. It’s the story that engages people.

In this day and age of Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Skype, and texting, it’s easier than ever before to share our stories. But how do we preserve them?

That’s where a new website called 1000memories comes in.

At 1000memories, the emphasis in on sharing and preserving stories of ourselves and our ancestors. It’s a place “to remember everyone,” as co-founder Jonathan Good describes it. It’s free to register and free to use. If you can type, you can post photos, stories, documents, sound clips, movies — anything that will tell a bit about who that person was.

You might be thinking, “Hey, I can do that on my blog or on Facebook. Why do I need 1000memories?” Unlike your blog or Facebook, 1000memories is working to preserve the material forever. (And as Prince sang, that’s a mighty long time.) They’re serious about this. 1000memories takes extraordinary measures to keep these materials safe. (One thing that isn’t mentioned on that page is their partnership with Internet Archives, the group that gives us the awesome Wayback Machine among all sort of other preserved digital material. I told you — these folks are serious!)

So how easy is it to share photos and stories? At the FGS conference, I stopped by the booth for a brief demo. I had not tried to post anything prior to talking with Michael Katchen, so I was starting from square one. Michael showed me how to login via Facebook, which took all of about 10 seconds. I could see all of my Facebook albums. All I had to do was choose which album and then click the photos I wanted to import into 1000memories. I chose this photo of my grandparents:

Grandma and Grandpa Johnson, Easter 1965

Within a couple minutes, I had imported that photo, created a page for Grandma, a page for Grandpa, and started the frame of a family tree. It really is that easy. I was hooked. That afternoon, I skipped sessions at the conference, and went back to my room so I could upload more photos from my laptop. I added more photos, and typed up a quick story about my great-uncle Harold.

Since then, I’ve gone back through some older family photos that had just vague identifications on them. “Great-Grandma Young and her children.” Considering that she had 10 children, I needed some help on the specifics. I emailed the photo to my Dad and he identified everyone. I cannot wait to get more photos and more stories uploaded.

The top part of the page I created for my grandma.

Pages can have different privacy levels. For example, you can make pages for deceased family members open to everyone (only registered users can add to or edit the page) , but set pages for living people so that only invited people can share content or even set it so only invited people can view the page.

1000memories makes it so easy. All of my cousins can go on any of the pages I’ve created and add their own photos and stories. I’m the youngest of the grandchildren, and I know that my stories of Grandma and Grandpa aren’t the same as those of my older cousins. Now we have a way for all of our stories to be shared and preserved.

I plan on writing more about 1000memories in the near future. But the site is so easy to use, you really don’t need a lot of tutorials to get started!

Learn more:
Michael Katchen of 1000memories will be a guest on GeneaBloggers Radio this evening at 10:00 Eastern.

You can also watch co-founder Jonathan Good’s presentation at the 2011 TEDxSF.


Disclaimer: I attended the “Engaging Your Family in Genealogy” breakfast panel at the FGS conference. However, I can honestly say that the free (small) glass of orange juice and the rather dry cheese danish did not influence this review. 

FamilySearch Has Lost Its Flash

It’s official. FamilySearch has lost its Flash. No, not the sparkly, “gee, this is the most awesome site since the dawn of time” kind of flash. I’m talking about Adobe Flash, which FamilySearch was using as its method to display images. Why does this mean anything to us as researchers? Because it changes how we can work with the image.

The positive side:
  • Drag the image around to pan. No more clicking on different areas of the thumbnail to move to the top or bottom. (In fact, there aren’t any thumbnails anymore.)
  • No more dependence upon updated versions of Flash. This wasn’t so much of an issue, as their implementation was pretty straightforward; however, it could have been had FamilySearch done much more.
  • Images can now be seen on more devices in more browsers. Yes! I can finally use FamilySearch on my iPad without having to use the Puffin browser (which was the only reason I used Puffin).
The negative side:
  • Printing is now all or nothing. Now when you print directly from the page, you get the whole thing — there is no option to print just part of it. FamilySearch, you’re killing me here! That wasn’t just a cool feature — that was a necessity! There are some images, like many death certificates, that have a large black border as part of the image. Ink is expensive! By allowing me to print just a portion of the image, I could crop out the black “background” and print just the certificate. But the really big deal about this is that census pages really don’t like to be printed on 8 1/2 X 11. (Especially when you’re talking about something like the 1900 US census which is wider than it is tall. Makes for itty, bitty, teeny, tiny print… )

I completely understand (and tend to agree with) FamilySearch’s decision to move away from Flash. Putting aside the browser and version compatibility issues, Flash has been plagued by a host of security flaws over the years. In fact, Adobe announced another new version of Flash today, in part to deal with another exploited security vulnerability.

However, I sincerely hope (oh please, oh please, oh please!) that FamilySearch will find a way to allow printing portions of images. That was too valuable of a feature to be thrown out with the proverbial bathwater.

On the Radio This Saturday

Federation of Genealogical Societies logoThis Saturday, 27 August, I will be the “FGS 2011 Conference Speaker of the Week” on the Federation of Genealogical Societies’ My Society radio show. The show begins at 2:00 ET/1:00 CT. My portion will begin at approximately 2:30 (1:30 central). I’ll be talking about my sessions at the upcoming FGS conference as well as some of my other genealogical activities.

FGS My Society is an Internet radio show. If you have an Internet connection, you can listen! There is a chat room that runs simultaneously with the radio show. If you want to participate in that, you need to register. It’s free to register; you can also register through your Facebook account.

So tune in this Saturday for fun, excitement, genealogy, and my dulcet tones!

WeRelate sees increase in new users

WeRelate.org, the world’s largest genealogy wiki, saw a doubling of new users from Saturday, August 13 to Monday, August 15 over the same period the week before (August 6-8). Since people don’t have to give a reason for joining, it’s impossible to tell why the sudden bump in new users, but I strongly suspect it has to do with the user policy changes at Geni.com.

NOTE: Geni.com announced last Thursday a major change in how users with free accounts can access data. This has not gone over very well. Several geneabloggers have shared their opinions, including Randy Seaver, Thomas MacEntee, and Elizabeth O’Neal at Little Bytes of Life. I have never used Geni.com, so I’m not going to offer my opinion of whether or not their change in the terms of service are good or bad.

I will say that I love WeRelate. The atmosphere is friendly. Everyone truly wants to get the best data out there.

You can follow WeRelate on Twitter and on Facebook.

I plan to post more about WeRelate in the near future.

(Disclaimer: I am a volunteer administrator for WeRelate. I am not compensated for any of my work.)

 

Managing Circles on Google+

Google PlusCircles are Google+’s way of helping users organize people in their network. You can have a circle for friends (the kind you know in “real life”), co-workers, family, etc. You can create circles however you want to. Circles make it easy to share information with the people who would be most interested in it. You can post your vacation plans to Family and information about a new conference to Co-workers.

What trips people up is that people can add you to one of their circles without you authorizing it. You get a notice that they’ve added you, so it’s not like it’s totally anonymous. People who are more accustomed to Facebook than Twitter tend to get confused by this. “Who is this person and why did they add me?” Well, they might have seen a post you made to Public or that was shared by someone in your Circles. They might have seen you in the list of “Suggestions” (people who Google thinks you might have something in common with).

You do NOT need to reciprocate if you don’t want to. If Bob adds you to one of his Circles and you don’t add him to one of yours, the only posts of yours he will see are things you post to Public (or Extended Circles, if he’s in a circle of someone in your circle). You will not see his posts in your regular Stream. You can see his posts if you click “Incoming.”

Here’s the conundrum people find themselves in: They want to have a large network, but they don’t want the posts of a gajillion people cluttering up their Stream. Let’s say you have a topic that you tend to post about, perhaps the Civil War. You want to reach as many people with an interest in the Civil War, but you don’t necessarily want all their posts coming in. (Let’s face it — there are some people who post everything to Public, even though “Public” really doesn’t care about the lunch they just ate.)

So how do you build a large network of people in a specific topic that you want to send to, but you don’t necessarily want to follow them? My solution:

Two separate Circles.

Create one Circle for topic and another Circle for topic – not following.

Going back to the Civil War example, you’d have a Circle for Civil War. This would be all the people you want to send Civil War-related posts and you want to read their posts, too. Your other Circle would be Civil War – not following. Here would be the people you want to send Civil War-related posts, but you do NOT want to read their posts on a regular basis.

When you post something related to the Civil War, send to both of those Circles.

How does this help? You can narrow your Stream by circle. To read the good stuff about the Civil War (or, at least, those people you think typically post good Civil War stuff), click on Civil War.

You should occasionally look at your topic – not following Circle to see if there’s any good stuff there. Maybe someone there has figured out that “Public” doesn’t want to see pictures of their kid’s hamsters :-)

Review of BillionGraves.com – Part 2

When I posted the first part of my review of BillionGraves.com, I had not yet created an account. This is what happened when I registered and used the site.

Creating an account is free. It was a bit odd, however. I filled in the form (username, email address, and entered the password twice) and got a pop-up message that my registration was complete. I was then directed to the login screen. If I just created an account successfully, why do I have to go through a separate login process?

I logged in and chose the Transcribe tab. I was taken to a random image that needed to be transcribed.

Transcribing an image

Right away, I could see a problem. There is no link to a help screen. You might ask, “How hard can it be to transcribe a tombstone?” It’s harder than you might think. For example, if a stone has a woman’s maiden name and her married name, where do you put the maiden name? Does it go in the first name field or in the “family names” field? If a tombstone lists the age at death rather than stating the birthday, do you calculate the birthday and enter that or do you leave it blank?

Illegible tombstone

There is no way to mark an image as illegible. I would love to transcribe this little tombstone on the left, but there is no way it can be read.

Many of the tombstones that needed to be transcribed were obviously the reverse side of a tombstone. Which brings up another unfortunate shortcoming of Billion Graves: records can only have one image attached to them. They can have multiple people, but only one image.

I came across this image listed in Evergreen Cemetery in Springville, Utah:

Reverse of tombstone

Each name is listed in Billion Graves — but whose children are they? Not only do we miss out on who their mother is, but if we had found her record, we’d miss out on a wonderful list of her children.

Another drawback to having only one image per record is inability to have multiple views. Often on tombstones, the inscription is only legible when read close-up. However, it is good to have a photo of the entire tombstone for context. Yes, you can upload both photos and transcribe both of them, but are the two records connected? Unless someone notices that there are two identical records, it would be easy to look at one and not see the other.

One concern that I had in my first review was that the full record doesn’t show the name of the cemetery. I wondered if that was something that was available only when you logged in. No. Even after logging in, the full record still does not show the name of the cemetery.

Ok, so I’ve explored transcribing and I’ve looked at full records after logging in. What is the upload process like? I’d love to tell you, but I can’t. MAJOR FLAW with Billion Graves: You can only upload photos from your iPhone. What?!?! I spend hours in cemeteries. I go to cemeteries even when I know I don’t have relatives buried there. I go to cemeteries when I’m on vacation. I have more than one thousand tombstone photos sitting on my computer and I cannot upload any of them to Billion Graves.

I understand that the BillionGraves app is designed to allow people to upload their photos and automatically geotag them in the process. That’s cool. I like that concept. However, to completely disregard the contributions that non-iPhone users could make is extraordinarily short-sighted. Right now, not even Android users can upload via a BillionGraves app. Currently, unless you have an iPhone, you’re not going to add any images. BillionGraves reports that they are working on an Android version. But that still leaves out those who don’t take tombstone photos with smartphones.

I should be able to choose a cemetery, select “Upload image” and upload it from my computer or non-iPhone smartphone. It might not be geotagged, but it would be in the right cemetery and people would be able to access the image and the record.

I’m a long-time FindAGrave user and contributor, but there are things about the site that drive me batty. I had hoped that Billion Graves would give FindAGrave a run for its money. I think healthy competition is a good thing. Innovation tends to flow in a healthy competitive environment. I had hoped that Billion Graves would either force FindAGrave to make some improvements or would become the “go to” site for tombstone images. As it stands right now, Billion Graves is not the competition I had hoped it would be. Maybe they will be willing to listen to some constructive criticism.

Review of BillionGraves.com

Midge Frazel over at Granite in My Blood has been blogging about the new Billion Graves app for the iPhone. I’ve downloaded it to my iPad and thought I’d take a look at the BillionGraves.com website. I took a test drive at Billion Graves. I think the site has potential. I’m hoping that some what I’ve seen so far is just glitches of a new system getting hit hard in its first weekend.

The stated goal of Billion Graves is “to provide an expansive family history database for records and images from the world’s cemeteries—but it’s not something we can do alone. We need you to help us by collecting images from your local cemeteries and transcribing the information those headstone images provide.” That’s a lofty goal, considering the reach of FindAGrave.com and its 62 million cemetery records. Will researchers and cemetery enthusiasts be willing to consider contributing to another site?

The search screen has four fields: first name, last name (required), birth year, and death year. I used the search term I use whenever I’m testing a new system: last name = smith. I got 44 results.

Person search and results


Above the results list is a dropdown menu to sort the results, with the options of Last Name A-Z, Last Name Z-A, First Name A-Z, First Name Z-A, Birth Date, or Death Date. However, none of the sort options would work. I tried on Firefox, Chrome, and Safari on my laptop and on Safari on my iPad. I tried selecting a sort option and then clicking “Search” again, I tried refreshing the page — the sort never changed.

I can understand the developers of Billion Graves wanting to keep their search form simple. However, if they get any sort of mass of records, there must be more search options. I can’t imagine trying to find my John Johnson only being able to search by name, birth year and death year. What if I didn’t know when he died? Having “place of burial” (even if it is just a state) is essential.

I clicked on the first result to see what the full entry looked like.

Full record

A couple of things puzzle me. First, why isn’t the name of the cemetery listed? If I share the URL to the page with this image, someone else visiting it has no idea where it is unless they click “View on Map.” When you do that, you are told that it is necessary to login to view that page. I hope that Billion Graves isn’t intentionally withholding the name and/or location of the cemetery unless the viewer is logged in. That’s not the way to make an inviting, welcoming site that people want to contribute to.

The second thing that puzzles me is the format of the date. Why show it in the record as “10/12/1946″? Those of us in the United States would probably interpret it as October 12, but it could be interpreted by Europeans as December 10. If the goal is to have a worldwide cemetery resource, the data need to be presented in a global-friendly format.

Billion Graves will allow you to search for a cemetery, using dropdowns for country, state, and county. You can also enter the cemetery name. I entered United States, Ohio, Fairfield and got 144 hits. There was the message “Showing only the first 100 results. Please narrow your search.” Why not list the first hundred and then give me the option to page through all of the cemeteries in that location? Also, the results came back in seemingly random order. They were alphabetical until the entry for Zwingly [sic] Cemetery, followed by County Infirmary and then the alphabet started over again.

Cemetery search and results

There appears to be a glitch in the system. When I clicked on a cemetery name, there was no option to search for another cemetery, so I used my browser’s back button. It took me back to the cemetery search, but the only options for states were Utah, Texas, and Tennessee (in that order). Out of curiosity, I clicked on Utah, and Beaver County was automatically selected. Thinking that maybe it was just showing cemeteries with records, I clicked on the first one. However, there were no records for it. When I used my back button to go back to the cemetery search page, United States and Utah were filled in — but the counties choices were Utah, Texas, and Tennessee. (I’m pretty sure those aren’t counties in Utah.)

Overall, I like the interface. It is easy to use (except where it isn’t) and it is easy to read. As I mentioned, I hope that some of what I’m seeing — sort options not working, cemetery name not displaying, glitch in the cemetery search — is the result of a young system getting hit hard.

Later this evening, I am going to create a BillionGraves.com account and see what, if anything, changes.

UPDATE: I’ve posted Part 2 of my review.