A Faster, Easier Way to Find Collections on FamilySearch

Have you ever felt like FamilySearch doesn’t really want you to find specific collections or figure out what they have for a certain state? Consider the steps you they point you to taking:

  • Clicking the mapfamilysearch-map1
  • Scrolling through the list
  • Clicking on the state or “Start researching in <x>”

Then you end up at a page where there’s a mishmash of collections that are specific to that state along with nationwide collections. And the image-only collections aren’t even listed with the collections you can search.

Ohio Research Page on FamilySearch

Part of the Ohio Research Page on FamilySearch

There has to be a better way to find collections for a certain state. Guess what — there is.

The Faster, Easier Way

Instead of following the prompt to click on the map, click on the link under the map: “Browse All Published Collections.”

familysearch-map

familysearch-filtersYou’ll get a page that lists all of FamilySearch’s collections. You can use the filters on the left side of the page to narrow down the collections. But an even faster way is to type the name of the state in the box at the top.

FamilySearch includes the name of the state (or the country for non-U.S. collections) in the title of collections that are specific to a location. So when I want to see what they have online for Ohio, all I have to do is type in Ohio in that field.

Instead of a confusing page with all sorts of collections, I have one nice, neat list.

Ohio collections on FamilySearch

You can see the steps in action in this video:

Notes from a 1940 Census Arbitrator

My name is Amy and I’m an arbitrator for the 1940 U.S. Census Community Project.1940 U.S. Census Community Project

Ok, you can stop throwing things at your monitor now. (And really, would your mother be happy to hear some of the words that just came out of your mouth?!)

If you’re not familiar with the project, arbitrators are those who referee between the sets of values from the two independent indexers. If Indexer A said the first name was David and Indexer B said the first name was Daniel, the arbitrator has to decide which one was right. (If neither was right, the arbitrator enters what he or she believe is the correct value.)

Since the 1940 census indexing project started, and particularly in the past three weeks, arbitrators have become, at best, persona non grata or, at worst, pariahs of the project.

Indexers can review their batches and see where the arbitrator chose a value other than theirs. This was intended to help indexers see where they’ve made mistakes and to help them be better indexers.

Since nobody knows who the indexers or arbitrators were of any given batch, the indexers don’t know who specifically to complain about. Consequently, indexers complain about arbitrators as a whole.

I gotta tell ya, the past few weeks have not been easy for some of us who are arbitrating the 1940 census.

Let me continue by saying this: There are some bad arbitrators out there. There are some who have not read the updated rules on the FamilySearch wiki, nor the update that appears every time they open the indexing program. There are some who don’t choose “<Blank>” for a 1935 if the person was under 5 years old. (Hello — if they were less than 5, they weren’t even living in 1935!) There are some who expand “R” to “Rural.”

Of course, what bothers people the most is when an arbitrator changes a name (either a person or a place) that the indexer knows is right. Hey, I feel your pain! Been there, done that! I had an arbitrator change my “Broyle” to “Boyle” (there was definitely an R in there) and change “Uhrichsville”, Ohio to “Yrichsville”, Ohio.

But before you go to string up the closest arbitrator by his or her toenails, I’d like for you to think of a few things:

  • Arbitrators are human. As such, they will occasionally make mistakes.
  • You don’t see how many times the arbitrator chose your value instead of the other indexers. Think about all records with strange names and bad handwriting where the arbitrator said you were right.
  • Ask yourself if the different value will really make a difference in someone finding the record. I just explored Broyle/Boyle by doing a search on FamilySearch in the 1930 census. Turns out that searches for John Broyle also gives me results for John Boyle and John Boyles. So even though the arbitrator changed Broyle to Boyle, it should still be discoverable. Similarly, changing that “R” to “Rural” isn’t going to keep anyone from finding that entry.
  • If the arbitrator changed the name to something with a wildcard, it is still discoverable. For example, if they changed your “Burns” to “B*ns”, it can still be found by anyone doing a search for Burns, Byrns, Benns, Borns, Bynns, etc.
  • FamilySearch keeps all of the indexed values: Index A, Index B, and, if applicable, what the arbitrator entered. They’ve said that they will eventually add a search option to go across all values; however, they have not announced a time table for this.
Yes, there are some doozies of names being changed and it is never fun to see your entries changed when you believe they’re correct. But remember that the change often does not affect the ability of someone to find the record….  and arbitrators are human, too.

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.

New RootsTech Conference

FamilySearch has just announced they will be hosting the new RootsTech Conference which will be held in Salt Lake City 10-12 February 2011. Sponsors of the conference include Ancestry.com, New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), and Brigham Young University.

Jim Ericson and Shipley Munson of FamilySearch described it as new type of genealogy/technology conference. Where the GENTECH has had a consumer/user focus and BYU’s Computerized Family History and Genealogy Conference focuses on scholastic/developers, the new RootsTech Conference will merge the two groups.

RootsTech promises to be a forum where “power users” (those who are very comfortable using technology), early adopters and visionaries can interact and collaborate with the creators of that technology. Those creators, in turn, can get feedback from the users. The goal is to spark new innovation, collaboration, and “extend the technology.”

Who should participate, either as attendees or as presenters? According to the website, “Those who want to help define the future of genealogy through technological innovation.”

This is not a replacement of BYU’s annual August conference. As for the annual Computerized Family History Conference (usually held in March), RootsTech was described as what the Computerized conference is evolving into.

FamilySearch anticipates between 1,000 and 1,200 attendees at the first RootsTech conference.

More details can be found at rootstech.familysearch.org. There will also be information available at next week’s Federation of Genealogical Societies conference in Knoxville. (If you are thinking about proposing a talk, you will need to act quickly, as the deadline is 15 September.)

This sounds to me like a very interesting concept. If successful, it could bring about more innovation.

Below is the official press release:

New RootsTech Conference to Bring Technologists Face-to-face with Genealogists
SALT LAKE CITY —Technologists and genealogists from around the world will gather at the first annual RootsTech Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, February 10-12, 2011. The new conference, hosted by FamilySearch and sponsored by leading genealogical organizations, aims to bring technologists and genealogists together to help deepen understanding of current technologies and discover new ideas in applying technology to genealogy. Learn more at rootstech.familysearch.org.

“When the users and creators of technology come together, innovation occurs,” said Jay Verkler, president and CEO of FamilySearch. “The RootsTech Conference will accelerate that innovation through panels, discussion groups, and interactive demonstrations.”

Josh Taylor, Director of Education and Programs for the New England Historic Genealogical Society, says the time is right for such a conference.

“The collection of technologies present at the last National Genealogical Society Conference in Salt Lake City was so impressive that we see a need and opportunity for a strong annual technology genealogy conference to pursue solutions for the unique challenges facing genealogists,” Taylor said.

The RootsTech Conference is designed to foster innovation by bringing technology users and creators together in a meaningful way. Thousands of genealogists who use technology in pursuit of one of the most popular hobbies in the world will discover how new and emerging technologies can improve and simplify their activities. Genealogists will be treated to technology prototype demonstrations, interactive workshops, and opportunities to test innovative new product and service concepts. Technology providers will get the opportunity to demonstrate product concepts face-to-face to their customer—the family history enthusiast—and better understand their needs.

“Technology is driving a revolution in family history,” said Tim Sullivan, CEO of Ancestry.com. “We’re excited to participate in the RootsTech Conference, and we see it as a great chance to explore with genealogists how technology can help them even more in the future.”

The RootsTech 2011 conference will be hosted by FamilySearch and sponsored by Ancestry.com, New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), Brigham Young University, and other leaders in the genealogy community.

“Brigham Young University is pleased to participate in this conference, which brings together the Conference on Computerized Family History and Genealogy and the Family History Technology Workshop under the same umbrella. We think this creates a new and unique national forum for genealogists, software developers, and researchers to move genealogy forward,” said Christophe Giraude-Carrier, Associate Chair and Associate Professor of the Department of Computer Science at Brigham Young University.

Technology creators will discover new and existing technologies and techniques to help their development practices and also see how they can be applied to the unique discipline of genealogy. Anticipated themes for the conference include: using social networking to collaborate as families and societies, data backup and digital preservation, using multimedia, records and media digitization, how to use cloud computing to deploy reliable, scalable systems, handwriting recognition and automated transcription, mobile computing devices and applications, GPS mapping, and much more.
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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. 🙂