Monday, 30 April 2007

Marian's Links for Ontario Genealogy

Marian Press is one person I always try and find time to listen to when at a conference. Marian, a librarian and lecturer on information literacy at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, teaches courses on website creation and using the internet as a genealogical information source.

On Saturday Marian gave a lecture for a conference organized by the Ontario Genealogical Society Region V. The handout, with links to web sites of particular interest to folks searching Ontario genealogy, is online here.

Likely you'll find most of these Canadian and Ontario resources on Cyndi's List, which I always suggest as a starting point when venturing into unfamiliar genealogical territory. But you won't find them as easily accessible as on Marian's Links categorized under the topics:

Getting Started; Getting Here; Hatch,Match and Despatch; Death; Census Records; Directories; Where Did They Live Exactly? Going to War; Were They in the News? Finding Your Canadian Ancestors in Books; Keeping Up With What’s New.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Unusual names in family history - update

One of the delights of an Ancestry.com subscription is exploring newly available databases. This week "English Settlers in Barbados, 1637-1800" came online. I took the opportunity to search some of the less common surnames in my family, without success, and then remembered the one previous occasion I'd had to explore Barbados' records.

One of the two men from the Ottawa Company of Sharpshooters who died at the Battle of Cut Knife Hill on 2 May1885 was John Rogers, a native of Barbados. While researching for the book "The Ottawa Sharpshooters" I found his mother was baptized Mary Licorish Kidney, one of the most unusual names I've ever found. It rivals a Norfolk man I stumbled on baptized February Backlog.

Previous information was that Mary had been born in Barbados in 1818, too late for this dataset. There were lots of Kidney and Licorish family members, and John's paternal line was tentatively extended back to a g-g-grandfather named Andrew. That's a nice bonus benefit on this useful subscription.

Update

Ancestry.com have also added a new database, Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies, 1812-1834, which includes information on Barbados slave owners as well as slaves. I probably should not have been surprised to kind that James T(homas) Rogers, father of John Rogers who died at the Battle of Cut Knife Hill, owned more than 100 slaves in 1834. the Kidney family owned 21 and the Licorish family 116 slaves.

Saturday, 28 April 2007

Archive CD Books Canada to provide FREE look-up service at OGS Seminar, 1 - 3 June 2007.

The following is a news release from Archive CD Books Canada about a unique opportunity to search a wide range of offerings from the Archive CD Books partners.

Archive CD books Canada are pleased to announced that, as their contribution to the success of this year's OGS Seminar, to be held at Algonquin College in Ottawa between 1st and 3rd of June 2007, they will be providing free access to their entire inventory of CANADIAN, USA, IRISH and AUSTRALIAN books on CD. You can preview the inventory at: www.ArchiveCDBooks.ca/

The access will be through a self-service computer work station and will feature their new FastFind enhanced search technology. Using this great new feature it will be possible to search the contents of hundreds of books in just a few seconds. To further enhance the search speed it will also be possible to confine your search to selected countries.

This is a unique opportunity to gain full access to the contents of the International Archive CD Books Project inventory - absolutely free of charge.

The computer work station will be provided with complete instructions to assist you in making your search, or you can select to review any book on CD in its entirety. You will be welcome to take notes from the books for your reference or records.

Archive CD Books Canada personnel will also be pleased to meet you at their vendor display in the Market Place to discuss your research needs or answer your questions.

Information about the OGS Seminar 2007 can be found at: www.ogsseminar.org

Released by Archive CD Books Canada Inc., 26 April 2007. For more information please contact Malcolm Moody, President, by e-mail at Malcolm@ArchiveCDBooks.ca or by phone at (613) 692-2667. Web site: www.ArchiveCDBooks.ca/

Friday, 27 April 2007

Find that lost genealogy website

You have a website bookmarked, or find it referenced, and when you try and go to it you get an error message. Frustrating. What do you do?

It may just be the site is temporarily down, perhaps owing to a power cut or maintenance. If so just wait until it returns, possibly only a few seconds, sometimes overnight.

It may be the site is, like the Python's Norwegian Blue Parrot "no more, ceased to be, expired and gone to meet it's maker, bereft of life it rests in peace. " It's an ex-website.

Fortunately there's a place to retrieve some websites bereft of life. It's called the Internet Archive, also known as the Wayback Machine. You can browse through 85 billion web pages archived from 1996 to a few months ago.

You enter the web address of a site or page where you would like to start, and press enter. Then select from the archived dates available. The resulting pages point to other archived pages at as close a date as possible. You may find some of the formatting, and sometimes images, are lost, but the basic content should remain. What you will not find is material from the hidden web, pages not accessible by a web spider, especially searcheable databases and the like.

Unfortunately keyword searching isn't supported. You need to know the web address, perhaps from a bookmark, published reference or dead link on an existing page.

If it looks like your goose is cooked the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine may just save your bacon!

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Did your mother come from Ireland? So what?

How about your grandmother, or her grandmother? Wherever you live there's a good chance many folks celebrate their Irish roots on St Patrick's Day, and throughout the year. In the Ottawa area that's reflected in a very active Irish research group that meets monthly under the sponsorship of the Ottawa Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society.

The Irish population of 4.5 million in 1901 had dropped from 8.2 million in 1841 with the decline continuing decade after decade as emigration continued.

One oft quoted statistic is that in 1891, 39 per cent of all Irish-born persons in the world were living outside Ireland. Where did they go? The pie chart shows about 25% were in the US, 6% in England and Wales, over 3% in Australia, 2.5% in Scotland and 2% in Canada. Canada's Irish-born population peaked earlier, likely around 1861 as did that in England. In the US and Australia the migration continued longer. Their Irish-born population peaked in the 1890s.

Can you relate these trends to your family history? The migration was so extensive that if your "mother" came from Ireland the chances are you have cousins to discover in one or more of the other countries.

Randy's Musings

A tip of the hat, and more practically a link on my blogroll, to Randy Seaver who mentioned my post on the top ten genealogy words. It has created a spike in visits here. Randy is a driving force behind the Chula Vista Genealogical Society. I frequently visit his blog for ideas and inspiration.

Randy also does most of the postings on the new Chula Vista Genealogy Cafe blog. which already contains some useful postings on genealogy basics, with a San Diego area emphasis. My southern California genealogy is a bit hazy but apparently San Diego is a suburb of Chula Vista.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

St George's and other fraternal societies

April 23rd is St George's Day, set aside for the patron saint of England who in legend killed a dragon.

There was an active St George's Society in Ottawa from 1844 to 1956. Its objectives were uniting English people and their descendants for social and patriotic purposes and affording its members advice and pecuniary assistance in case of need. The announcement shown was placed in the Ottawa Journal in February 1895 on the funeral of William Mills, mentioned here recently. It shows the logo of St George killing the dragon.

Ottawa in 1923 boasted many similar societies: the Ancient Order of Hibernians of America; Ladies' Auxilliaries of Carleton County; Ancient Order of United Workmen; Catholic Mutual Benefit Association; Foresters - Ancient Order; Foresters - Canadian Order; Foresters - Independent Order; Free Masons; Order of the Eastern Star; Royal Arcanum; Knights of the Maccabees; Knights of the Pythias; Loyal Orange Association; Loyal True Blue Association; Oddfellowes - Canadian Order; Oddfellows - Independent Order; Rebekahs; St Andrew's Society; St George's Society; St Vincent de Paul Society; Sons of England Benefit Society; Sons of Scotland; Ladies' Auxilliary of St George's Society; Daughters and Maids of England; Women's Christian Temperance Union.

St George's societies existed in Toronto and Montreal and likely many other communities. Their records may be an unexploited resource for family history. Ottawa's St George's Society records are with Library and Archives Canada.


Saturday, 21 April 2007

Ken Aitken Passes

I'm saddened to receive news of the passing of noted Canadian genealogical speaker, librarian and blogger, Ken Aitken.

"Kenneth George Aitken passed away April 21, 2007 at the age of 59 in Penticton, British Columbia. He was born and grew up in Penticton, but spent most of his working years in Saskatchewan as the librarian supervisor of the Prairie History Room at the Regina Public Library. Ken was a well-known genealogist and a popular genealogy speaker and educator in western Canada and the United States. Active in genealogical organizations for many years, Ken was the charter president of the Hambrook Family History Society and served for 15 years as editor of the journal of that society. With the Saskatchewan Genealogical Society he served as a branch chairman, a director and as second vice-president of the Society. He also served briefly as the Director of Student Recruitment for Canada for the National Institute for Genealogical Studies.

He was predeceased by his mother Winifred Margaret Hambrook and father George Neil Aitken. He will be greatly missed by his loving wife Christine Mei-Chiang; his son Neil Aitken; his daughter Emele (Adam) Dykes; his grandson Thomas Dykes; and his siblings: Janet Taggart; M. Neil Aitken (Ruth); Peigi Sakota (Jay); and numerous nephews and nieces.About Ken’s Life:Ken held a BA in Linguistics, and a Master of Library Science degree from the University of British Columbia. He had also undertaken course work in local and family history with Brigham Young University and with the University of British Columbia.Ken was a member of the Genealogical Speakers Guild and the Association of Professional Genealogists. Ken had been a professional genealogist for over 25 years, a genealogy librarian for over 20 years and an adult educator for more than 40 years. He was currently focusing on genealogical education and was working on a book on evidence analysis. Active in genealogical organizations for many years Ken was charter president of the Hambrook Family History Society and served for 15 years as editor of the journal of that society. With the Saskatchewan Genealogical Society he served as a branch chairman, a director and as second vice-president of the Society.

Articles by Kenneth Aitken appeared in genealogical and family history journals and other scholarly journals in Canada, Australia, the U.S. and England.

As a lecturer, Ken spoke at conferences, seminars and workshops of the National Genealogical Society, BrighamYoung University, Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society, Saskatchewan Genealogical Society, Alberta Family Histories Society, Alberta Genealogical Society, Manitoba Genealogical Society, Ontario Genealogical Society, British Columbia Genealogical society, Kamloops Family History Society, and the Kelowna & District Genealogical Society as well as to local genealogical groups in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, British Columbia, Washington State and England.Over the past two decades he had been involved in family and local history. Ken had taught classes for libraries, community colleges, church and community groups. For many years he regularly taught local and family history classes at the Regina Public Library.A memorial service and celebration of his life will be held at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2946 South Main St., Penticton, B.C., Saturday, April 28th, 2007 at 2:00 pm. "

Friday, 20 April 2007

Improve your genealogy research skills

Mary Poppins sang "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down." That's true of the task of improving your research skills. Here's how.

Archive CD Books Canada have just added to their catalogue "A Rideau Jaunt in 1872". It's timely as 2007 is the 175th anniversary of the Rideau Canal, the development that made Ottawa. The CD contains the first hand description of an adventure on a steam paddle-wheeler from Ottawa to Kingston down the Rideau Canal made in 1872. The story has never before been published, this is a reproduction of the originally handsomely hand-written document. There's a sample for download from this page.

How is this useful to improve your research skills? The author was
Ottawa public servant William Mills. According to additional information on the download page, draw from other Archives CD Books Canada publications, he was born on 17 July, 1824, and first became a Civil Servant on 10th August 1858 (at the age of 34). Some Ottawa addresses where he lived were also given.

This was an opportunity to hone my research skills by finding out more about him. In genealogy research the three ways to improve are: practice, practice, practice. You make a few mistake and learn, Attaching that practice to an event can be a challenge .. fun .. snap, the jobs' a game. It can even provide material for a presentation, article -- or a blog.

How did I research William Mills? From the 1881 census, he was English-born, his wife was Mary Ann and daughter Nellie. There is a tempting
IGI entry for the birth of William Peter Mills on the same exact date, 17 July, 1824, son of William Mills and Sarah , with baptism the following year in Stepney, London.

There is an
Ontario registration for a death of a William Mills in Ottawa on 25 February 1895.

Checking the Ottawa Journal for the next few days reveals notices that he was long time Treasurer of the St George Society, and a Mason.


He is listed amongst burials at Beechwood cemetery, with his wife buried in 1913 in the same plot.

She is in the 1901 census living in the home of a son-in-law. The entry gives her birth date, 21 Apr 1834, and year of immigration, 1858. Note, that's the year William started working for the government.

The 1901 census also helps link her to others buried in the plot at Beechwood Cemetery which takes the family forward four generations.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

A web site to be proud of

As a long-time board member of the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa I've been delighted to see the Society grow over the years while continually improving. Monthly Saturday morning meetings in the auditorium of Library and Archives Canada are regularly attended by well over 100 members. There is research on home children, especially those brought to Canada by the organization founded by John T Middlemore. The quarterly chronicle, Anglo-Celtic Roots, is an award winner.

Webmaster Andy Coates has done a fine job in updating the look and content of the site in recent weeks. Admire his work and find out more about the Society at www.bifhsgo.ca

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

DNA or house history?

There are two meeting choices in Ottawa this Saturday morning, April 21. Both start at 9:30

BIFHSGO is holding an interest group meeting on DNA and genealogy at Library and Archives Canada. Those who have had a DNA test for genealogy, and those thinking of having one done, are welcome.

Do you know the history of your Ottawa home? The Ottawa Public Library is running a session at their Main Branch on Metcalfe Street revealing resources and information to help your search. Registration is required: 613-580-2424 x32165.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Microfilm or digital for genealogy?

Dick Eastman had a posting in his plus edition lamenting a decision to microfilm rather than digitize a dataset. It's "so 1980s" was his comment. There's still a lot of microfilm around. How 1980s is it? Here's what the Rootsweb archives mailing list search engine I've been using in recent posts has to show.

The bar graph shows percent of postings for the year that mention microfilm*, digit*, and for good measure, CD.

Microfilm* was mentioned in 1.4% of postings in 1996, peaked at over 1.5% in 1999 and has declined slowly to about 1.1%.

Digit*, including "digitized", "digital", "digitization" and other forms with this root, has doubled from 0.4% in 1996 to 0.8% in 2006.

Microfilm* is still mentioned in more postings than digit*. For a dying technology it's making a healthy contribution.

The trend that surprised me most was for CD. 1996 was an especially successful year for CD at over 2%, dropped back to just over 1.5% and spiked in 2002 at 2.2%. A more substantial decline has followed. It looks like this is a technology on the way out. DVD technology, not shown on the graph, has seen a consistent increase. It still gets only a tenth the mentions of CD.

It's evident that with microfilm, CD and other physical media we are seeing legacy technologies. Does anyone really want a microfilm or CD sitting in storage in their home of office? What they want is the data on it, and a small part of the data at that? Physical media will still have a role as robust storage, secure against damage by a major electromagnetic pulse.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Top ten genealogy words

Here it is, a definitive list of the top words used by the genealogical community, counted down from ten to one. I searched the contents of 31,127,950 messages in the Rootsweb mailing list database using their archives search engine. You may find a surprise or two.

TEN: Death
Appearing in 2,736,649 documents, death was slightly more popular than marriage, which may say more about marriage than death. Both were mentioned more than birth.

NINE: Daughter
Despite there being more women than men genealogists, males were mentioned more often than females. Daughters were mentioned more than mothers; every mother is a daughter but not every daughter a mother.

EIGHT: Genealogy
You expected Scrabble?

SEVEN: Father
That male preference again.

SIX: Date
Dates are fundamental. When did an event happened? Looking a bit deeper, here may be a good reason why May has four times more mentions than any other month. The next most frequently mentioned is June, also a woman's name. Is this where the gender balance gets restored? March – July all have significantly more mentions that the other months. December, closely followed by February, has fewest mentions.

FIVE: Son
More sons than fathers too.

FOUR: Census
The most popular documentary source. The word is found in 14% of Rootsweb mailing list messages.

THREE: Children
Where would we be without them? May they all grow up in good health ready to become happy taxpayers contributing to my pension.

TWO: Name
Genealogy is about names, dates and relationships. Finding a name is the most fundamental thing we do as genealogists. We rejoice when we identify another generation back, and fret about remembering colleague’s names.

ONE: Family
For genealogists it’s Family first. Many of us pursue our family history as a way to unite or reunite the bonds of family, or to see the ties that bind the larger family of mankind. Organizations recognize this with names like Family Tree DNA, Family Tree Maker, Your Family Tree and Familysearch.

Other words tested, in descending order of use were: History, Mother, Marriage, Search, Cemetery, Book, Research, Year, Birth, Living, Surname, Web, Index, Record, Child, Tree.

A few words were eliminated from the ranking. Stop words, like “the” and “a”, could not be searched. The most hits, over 12 million, came for the word “list”, next came “message”, both to be expected for messages posted to Rootsweb mailing lists, but not specific to genealogy.

Friday, 13 April 2007

The rise and fall of the Rootsweb mailing list

Genealogists love Rootsweb; just not quite as much as before. Using the new improved Rootsweb mailing list search capability the bar chart in red shows year by year the number of messages posted on all Rootsweb mailing lists. A steep rise to 2000 was followed by two years of slight increase. The peak in 2002 saw over 4.1 million messages posted. 2003 saw a drop which has continued as a gentle decline since.
What's happening? Is interest in genealogy declining? Is the mailing list moving out of favour as a technology as the blog and web 2.0 take over? Have all the questions been asked, with the answers available on the mailing list archive? Something else?
Other searches show technology trends. Microfiche are mentioned half as frequently in postings in 2006 as 10 years earlier.
The chart in blue, postings with DNA in the message body, shows healthy growth as interest in this area continues to develop after commercial DNA tests for genealogy started in 2000. Lest we get too excited, that's still less than 3.3% of all postings in 2006.
Another emerging word is blog. There were nearly 5000 postings with the word in 2006, up from just nine in 2001 when the word first appears with its current popular meaning.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Library Thing for genealogy

Library Thing is an online service where you can enter the books in your collection. I've never thought there was much benefit in entering recipes, CDs, books and other collections into a computer database. Library Thing and the online world have changed my ideas a bit.

I gave this system a try with my books on genealogy and related topics. The first pleasant surprise was how easy it is to enter the data. Because everything is online all you have to do is enter, say, the title and a pick-list appears for you to select the appropriate book. If it doesn't you can switch to another major database, such as a major national library catalogue, amazon.ca, amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and many others. Select the appropriate title and all the other data, author, publisher, number of pages, ISBN, and more is ingested. If available you also link an image of the cover, or you can add it.

What you get in return is the ability to see your collection in context. Apparently 106 other Library Thing users own "Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians", 44 have "Ancestral Trails: The Complete Guide to British Genealogy and Family History." "In Search of Your British & Irish Roots: A Complete Guide to Tracing Your English, Welsh, Scottish, & Irish Ancestors", by the late Angus Baxter, the first genealogy book I ever owned, is held in 38 collections.

You can also get suggestions for other books you might want based on those owned by Library Thing members who have similar holdings. The system even explains why it makes the suggestion. I was a bit disappointed that the recommendations were US-oriented, even though my collection is British and Canadian. It would be nice to have a way to indicates aspects of a topic that are not of interest.

You can enter up to 200 books for free, as many as you like for $10 (year) or $25 (life).

The image above shows my books most owned by others.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Contemplating the Future of Genealogy

Dick Eastman recently published an article "A New Computer Revolution is rising around us?"
in his newsletter. It got more attention and reaction than most things he writes. The thrust was to draw attention to the emergence of web-based applications vying to replace stand alone genealogy software.

But what about longer term trends; accelerating technological change and the pace at which knowledge continues to be generated? Is there any danger that all the genealogy possible will one day soon be done, and if so when? There's a short video, Shift Happens, I can recommend viewing when you contemplate the global trends that will play into answering these question. I stumbled upon it courtesy of Stephen's Lighthouse.

Monday, 9 April 2007

Genealogy Odds and Ends

Ancestry have now completed the transcriptions of the Scottish census from 1841 to 1901. Transcriptions for 1881 and 1901 were added on April 3.

Also new on Ancestry as of April 5, Oxford University Alumni, 1500-1886. It's based on the publications Alumni Oxonienses: The Members of the University of Oxford, 1715-1886 and Alumni Oxonienses: The Members of the University of Oxford, 1500-1714.

Ancestors on Board have added the third decade, 1909-1919 to their database of passenger lists from ships outbound from Britain.

There is a database of some British taken prisoner of war in 1914-1918 here. It's part of the Long, Long Trail web site on The British Army in the Great War.

The Canadian edition of "Who do you think you are?" exploring family history's of celebrities, is expected to debut on CBC on Sunday 7 October.

Saturday, 7 April 2007

Military history and family history: students and immigrants

The media are providing close to saturation coverage of the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, considered by many a defining event in Canada's development as a nation. The Ottawa Citizen has been running a series on Vimy and its significance with involvement of a panel of recent immigrants, and another panel of students. A larger group of students have travelled to Vimy for the unveiling of the restored memorial, after having researched a soldier involved in the battle.

Anyone can research a soldier. I chose, almost at random except for his last name, Ernest Howe Reid. He served with the 78th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry (Manitoba Regiment), died on 9 April 1917 at the Battle of Vimy Ridge, is commemorated at the Vimy Memorial and recorded in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site here. Like many of his soldier compatriots he was an immigrant to Canada. His attestation paper informs he was born in County Cavan, Ireland, on 27 January 1889.

I'm not sure it has come out but Vimy shows for me the importance of immigrants to Canada. Although seemingly not a popular things to point out, checking randomly in the CEF deaths at Vimy I estimate half were immigrants, born in Britain, including Ireland. Canada is a country where immigrants play a leading role. Unlike in the US, that can be and is up to and including the highest office in the land. The present and previous Governor General demonstrate the leadership role. Vimy shows the importance for Canada's development of more ordinary, yet exceptional, immigrants

What did I find in researching Ernest Howe Reid?

On the attestation paper his wife's name was Irene, living in North Battleford, Saskatchewan. Reid enlisted on 24 April 1915 giving his occupation as railway fireman. He is found with his wife and a son, James, born February 1910, in North Battleford in the 1911 census giving his month of birth as February 1890, emigration as the same year as his wife, 1907. She was born in India in July 1892.

The best fit for him on a passenger list departing the UK is Ernest Reid, single, age 18, who sailed third class on the Lake Erie from Belfast on the 26th of September 1907, arriving in Quebec on the 6th of October. He gave his occupation as farm labourer. This is found at Ancestors on Board, a commercial database.The corresponding passenger list deposited on arrival in Quebec, found at Library and Archives Canada, indicates he is bound for North Battleford.

There is a land grant in his name for 10th section in township 47, range 16, W3 meridian.

Going to the Irish civil registration index, not online, the birth of Ernest Reid is registered in the district of Cavan in the 1st quarter of 1889.

Apparently Irene and James moved to BC shortly after the war. She remarried. The son, James Howe Reid, was a fatality during WW2. An attachment to his file on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial, here, includes a mention of his father dying at Vimy.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Create your own Google genealogy map

It's free and easy. Google has just implemented a method of placing your significant landmarks on a map, labelling them, even linking in photos and videos, and sharing them with relatives, your family history society, or the world if you wish.

You need a free Google account, then click on My Maps and start creating your personalized map. I've done one of places relevant for family history in Ottawa, including address and links to web sites. It includes archives, libraries, major cemeteries and a few other sites from Gatineau to Vernon.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

John Green: whose father was he?

This month BIFHSGO has an Easter treat for you -- a day before the chocolate Easter eggs appear. Alison Hare, a previous winner of BIFHSGO's best presentation of the year award, will speak on "John Green: whose father was he?"

Alison writes about the presentation "In 1836 John Green petitioned for land in the Ottawa Valley near an unnamed son he said had come to Canada at the time of the Peter Robinson settlers. Research eventually determined that none of the Peter Robinson settlers were viable candidates. When all the possibilities have been ruled out, what is a researcher to do? This case study will reveal the surprising answer to the mystery; and demonstrate how the Genealogical Proof Standard can help solve difficult problems."

Alison is a BCG certified genealogist, a former journalist and graduate of the Carleton School of Journalism and served for five years as editor of Ottawa (OGS) Branch News. I always learn something from her presentations, even on hearing them a second time.

That's this Saturday, April 7 at 10:00 am in the auditorium at Library and Archives Canada.

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Update on Welsh parish registers

Last July I posted on an agreement reached to film and digitize Welsh parish registers, long withheld from the LDS (GSU) microfilming program. An item posted on GENBBRIT-L reports on progress.

Filming started in Gwent last October and has been completed, namely: Baptisms, up to 1906; Marriages up to 1921; Burials up to 1958.

The Monmouthshire film is beginning to show in the Family History Library catalogue.

Glamorganshire filming should be finished by now but will be awaiting cataloguing in Salt Lake City

Reportedly the agreement was a contract included GSU indexing all the parish registers, and to be completed in two years. I wonder if these films will show up as projects within Family Search Indexing?

Monday, 2 April 2007

Family Search Indexing

There's been a lot of buzz about Family Search Indexing, an initiative from the LDS Church. They're looking for volunteers to extract family history information from digital images of historical documents. This will create indexes that "assist everyone in finding their ancestors." The web site boasts "in 30 minutes you can help people find their ancestors!" I thought I'd try it.

Before you can index you have to register and download the special application. It runs independent of your regular browser. Registration is online. You don't have to give personal information -- but you do have to provide an email address. When I registered it took a day for them to get back to me with the password, likely too long to be able to use one of those temporary email addresses.

The application download is 28.6MB, not something you want to try on dial-up. Installation went smoothly and, after changing the initial password, I was ready to download the first batch of images. You have a choice of projects to work on. See the list here.

First I tried a page of the 1900 US census from New York. The screen is divided into two, the original image on top, the transcription you are making below. They attempt to highlight the element you should be transcribing, and usually come close.

It's good to read the instructions first so you know what to do when anomalies arise, such as missing data or entries that don't match the default format. Failing that information is repeated for each element as you come to it in a small box to the lower right.

If you're reasonably computer literate it's reading the original document image that you'll find to be the greatest challenge. Even with a good capability to magnify it can be tough. No doubt that improves with practice, I didn't feel I'd anywhere near mastered the skill.

For the second batch I switched to transcribing Ontario death registrations and felt more comfortable as I have a better grasp on the geography. The data wasn't as compact as on the census and you got a second chance at the name as there was repetition.

It turns out the images I dealt with had already been transcribed by Ancestry, although not in as much detail. It was certainly tempting to check what I read against the Ancestry transcription. I tried it a couple of times and didn't feel I did any better a job. It's also tempting where you find something difficult to read to search for a complementary record, like a census, to resolve the problems. In most cases where I thought I found one it was hard to justify using the spelling from that other record. You might question whether that one is correct anyway.

I couldn't complete a batch transcription in 30 minutes, which seemed to be the promise. Maybe I'm slow and will get there with practice. You can always work for 30 minutes, save the result and come back later to continue the task.

At the end of the batch the program allows you to run through and review elements it finds unusual. I had quite a few in each batch, some for missing elements, some for names that were non-English. Apparently the same batch is served to two different people, then a third looks at items where those two differ.

Given that the data I was indexing was already on Ancestry, for which I have a subscription, I found my motivation flagging a bit. You can go in and see a list of the items you've completed but it would be nice to receive some additional feedback. Part of the problem was that there were no records on offer that I had a personal motivation to index. Presumably that will change as the project gets up to full steam.

My recommendation? Why not give it a try. We all benefit when more data becomes available. Even if it's already indexed the competition helps keep the commercial guys honest.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Famous Relatives?

April Fools Day seems like an appropriate occasion to post this item. What do Oliver Wendell Holmes, T.S. Eliot, Louisa May Alcott, Butch Cassidy, E.E. Cummings, Jane Austin, Henry David Thoreau, John Milton, Spencer Tracy, Jimmy Hoffa and William Lamb have in common?

If you believe the genealogy behind the beta "Find Famous Relatives" tool in Ancestry's One World Tree they all have a documented common ancestor with my late sister-in-law. They vary from 5th cousin, several time removed in the case of Milton and Cassidy, to 9th cousin.

Given that the connection is made based on family trees submitted by patrons I'm not putting much stock in the information. It does attract family interest, but it may not pay to look too closely. There are people holding high elected public office in this world I would rather not be related to, April Fools Day or any other day.