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.)

 

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.

Celebrate Ohio Statehood Day with These Resources

Today is Ohio Statehood Day. Happy 208th Birthday, Ohio! (You don’t look a day over 207!) What better way to celebrate than by checking out some great resources for Ohio research. Here are some of my favorites, including some that are rather off the beaten path:

  • Ohio Deaths, 1908-1953 at FamilySearch.org. Digital images of death certificates — gotta love ’em. You do need to be logged into FamilySearch to see the images. (Registration is free.)
  • Ohio History Central. An online encyclopedia of Ohio history. Remember — you need to learn the history of an area to begin to understand the people.
  • Ohio Memory. Digital images from collections all across the state.
  • Ohio Cemetery Locations by The Ohio Genealogical Society. The free version gives the township and county. OGS members can log in and get much more detailed information, including GPS coordinates, alternate names, condition, etc.
  • Roster of Ohio Soldiers at OGS’ Ohio Civil War Genealogy Center. This is data from the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System. However, this search is much more flexible. Unlike the CWSS site, here you can search by Soundex. You can also get an entire regiment or a specific company in a regiment.
  • Remarkable Ohio. Searchable database of more than 1,300 historic markers around the state. They even have an app for iPhone! (I’m still waiting for them to come out with a version for Android.)

There’s an interesting footnote to Ohio Statehood Day. Ohio considers 1 March 1803 to be its “official” statehood date, as that is the date that the state’s General Assembly first met. It’s the date you’ll see listed in virtually every resource. However, there is a pretty convincing argument that statehood day should actually be February 19, 1803, which is when Thomas Jefferson endorsed the legislation approving Ohio’s admission to the Union. What would Ohio be without a little political controversy? :)

Celebrating the 2nd War for Independence

While celebrating Independence Day this weekend, think about not only the American Revolution but also the 2nd War for Independence: the War of 1812.

Although England agreed to withdraw her troops as a condition of the Treaty of Paris (ending the American Revolution), British troops remained in territory claimed by the United States. Most were positioned near and around the Great Lakes, in places such as Detroit and present-day Mackinaw City, Michigan. The Shawnee leader Tecumseh was successful in forging a pan-Indian confederation which worked with the British against the Americans. War was finally declared in 1812.

Ohio was key in the War of 1812. Not only was it the site of the pivotal American victory in the Battle of Lake Erie, but she also supplied numerous troops to aid the U.S. effort.

Surprisingly, the National Archives has never microfilmed the War of 1812 pension files. They are among the most-often requested records, with approximately 3,000 of them requested every year.

Preserve the PensionsRecently, the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) announced a program — Preserve the Pensions! — which seeks to raise $3.7 million to digitize these 7.2 million pages. The files have been prepared and the digital cameras are ready to roll. The only thing the National Archives needs is the funding.

You can help. Each dollar donated to Preserve the Pensions will digitize two pages of War of 1812 pension files. Further, FGS has reached an agreement with the National Archives so that the digitized images will be freely available on the Internet — not “trapped” in a website that you need to pay for.

So as you’re celebrating Independence Day, celebrate both of the wars for Independence and consider making a tax-deductible donation to Preserve the Pensions.

Our Military Heritage – An Update

You are probably familiar with the fantastic genealogical collection at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. What you might not be familiar with is their growing collection of databases available on their website.

One section of the website is “Our Military Heritage,” which is a collection of digitized books, photographs, letters, diaries…  anything that pertains to military service. There are resources for military engagements from the colonial wars all the way through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve written about this collection before, but my how it has grown!

The World War II collection has some fascinating resources, including four large collections of letters. “Another Side of War: Soldiers Letters to Miss Ann Adang” includes digitized images of the hundreds of letters sent by twelve soldiers to Ann Adang of Fort Wayne. It is very interesting to read the similarities and differences of the soldiers and sailors from different backgrounds serving in different parts of the world. “Letters of Glenn and Ellen Baker and Letters from Home, World War II” includes the letters exchanged between a husband and wife separated by war.

There is an extensive Civil War section, including unit histories, GAR publications, and pension/service records. One of my favorite resources on this site is Woman’s Work in the Civil War: A Record of Heroism, Patriotism and Patience. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that a copy of my senior honors thesis “With Diplomas of Patriotism: African American Civil War Veterans in Ohio” is also available on this site.)

Some of the resources are quite lengthy, while others, such as the WWI military record of Nicholas J. Martin, are a single page.

Printed materials have been run through an OCR program and are full text searchable.

A Way to Honor Your Military Ancestors

The Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library offers you the opportunity not only to research your military ancestors, but also to share your military resources. If you would like to contribute letters to and from service personnel, diaries of military ancestors, copies of pension and service records, pictures of medals and citations, discharge papers, military burials and the like, please contact Curt Witcher [CWitcher@ACPL.Info or 260.421.1226] or simply send digital copies of the military documents (scanned at 300 dpi) to:
The Genealogy Center, Attn.: Curt Witcher, Allen County Public Library, 900 Library Plaza, Ft.Wayne, IN 46802.

Tricking a Database into Giving Me What I Want

Tonight while I was on Flickr, I came across this photo of Leon L. Devall’s tombstone with the title “135 years old?” According to the tombstone, he died in 1934. Since he’s buried in Ohio, I decided to look for his death certificate in the digitized Ohio Death Certificates on pilot.familysearch.org. The collection covers 1908-1953, so he should be in there (presuming he died in Ohio, of course). The problem — I couldn’t find him.

I tried searching for Leon Devall. No luck. I tried Devall with a death date of 1934. Nothing. I tried to do a wildcard search for Leon D*l, but was told that the wildcard had to be the last character in the search string and there had to be at least 3 letters in front of it. I tried dev*, but still didn’t find what I was looking for.

Curiosity got the better of me, so I went to the Ohio Historical Society’s online death certificate index. It wouldn’t give me the image, but it was another place to check to see if he actually died in Ohio. I entered Leon Devall and found him — died in Franklin County, 7 September 1934. This index has a wonderful feature — it lists the certificate number. That number (54218) became the key I needed to trick the FamilySearch database.

The OHS death certificate index also has an advanced search. In the advanced search, I looked for certificate 54217 — which should be the certificate right before Leon’s — with a death in Franklin County. In 1934, certificate 54217 belonged to Ella Urban. It is important to pay attention to the year of death, as each year the numbering of the certificates begin again at 1.

So now I know that Ella Urban is on the certificate immediately preceding Leon Devall. Back to the FamilySearch database, except that this time I looked for Ella Urban. She was in the database, exactly where I expected her to be. I clicked on the image and then — here’s the trick — I clicked on the arrow to see the next image:

Ella Urban's death certificate. The red circle shows where I clicked to get the next image in the collection.

When I clicked on that — lo and behold — there was certificate # 54218 “Leon De Vall.” (Out of curiosity, I did another search in the FamilySearch database to see if I could figure out exactly how he was indexed. As it turns out, he was indexed exactly as his name appears on the death certificate — with a space between “De” and “Vall.”) It took a trick and a back-door approach, but I made the FamilySearch database give me what I wanted.

Leon De Vall death certificate, #54218 (1934), Ohio Death Certificate collection, digitized image, FamilySearch.org. Image downloaded 20 May 2010.

As for the original question posed on Flickr: no, he was not born in 1809. He was born in 1869 and died at the age of 64, not 135. :-)

OhioCivilWar150.org

The Ohio Historical Society has just launched a new website to raise awareness of Ohio’s role in the Civil War: OhioCivilWar150.org. The site features:

  • Digital collections, such as Ohio regimental battle flags
  • A timeline of Civil War events
  • News about upcoming events
  • Discussion forum
  • A section for teachers

I am looking forward to watching this site grow as we get closer to the sesquicentennial in 2011. (Is that really only a little more than a year away?!)

Lincoln Collection at the Allen County Public Library

Ever since the announcement that the documents from the Lincoln Collection at the former Lincoln Museum would move to the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, I’ve been anxious to see just what treasures are in the collection. If the first round of digital images are any indication, the collection is beyond “cool.”

When the Lincoln Museum closed, the Lincoln Financial Foundation gave the artifacts to the Indiana State Museum and the records to the Allen County Public Library. Work has begun on digitizing the records and posting them online. The images that they’ve posted so far are rather tantalizing. My favorite is an undated note written by Lincoln: “Let Master Tad have a Navy sword. A. Lincoln”.

Although not part of the Lincoln Collection, the Genealogy Center at ACPL also has posted an image of a silk ribbon commemorating Lincoln’s death. As they note on the website, it is a rare glimpse into life in Fort Wayne at the time, as the newspapers from April 1865 have been lost.

A recent article in the Journal Gazette has some behind-the-scene photos and more detail about the Lincoln Collection at ACPL. It will be interesting to watch as more and more images are posted on the Lincoln Collection website.

Ohio Tax Records – Digitized and Online for Free

Some Ohio researchers are familiar with FamilySearch’s partnership with the Ohio Genealogical Society to index early Ohio tax records. After countless hundreds of hours of volunteer time, we are seeing the fruits of the labor! The tax records from 1816 – 1838 for Columbiana, Guernsey, Harrison and Jefferson counties are now on the site, fully indexed and linked to the digital image.

Go to http://pilot.familysearch.org, click on the map of the United States, then scroll down to “Ohio Tax Records, 1816-1838.”

Later today, I will work up some more screenshots showing how to navigate the site. Meanwhile, enjoy these early Ohio tax records!

 

Results for John Ramsey in the Ohio Tax Records on FamilySearch.org.

Results for John Ramsey in the Ohio Tax Records on FamilySearch.org.

 

Showing an early Ohio tax record on FamilySearch.org.

Showing an early Ohio tax record on FamilySearch.org.