Sunday, June 14, 2015

In support of Wikipedia

When speaking to others about Wikipedia, I often get reactions not unlike the attitudes toward the public family trees found all over the Web (but predominantly on Ancestry.com), namely, that you should never trust it, because it is nothing but errors.

Of course, one major difference between Wikipedia and public family trees is that each tree is normally the work of an individual, while a Wikipedia article can be the work of dozens if not hundreds of individuals. I suppose one could more reasonably compare Wikipedia to the unified family trees found on such sites as FamilySearch (to name the best-known example). And yes, even there, there are errors too.

The problem with the nay-saying on Wikipedia is that it seems to deify information found in print, as if one could leave critical thinking at the door and embrace whatever one finds in black-and-white on paper. Maybe genealogists have forgotten that printed family histories can be just as prone to error as anything one might find online. And the same can be said for non-genealogical print works. We imagine that there are armies of editors fact-checking anything that ends up in print, but the reality is, errors are printed and they *may* be caught and corrected in future printings or future editions. Or may not.

I'm not alone in these thoughts. I just discovered the following article, which expresses the same idea: "Why It's Time the World Embraced Wikipedia".

Saturday, June 13, 2015

A few tech/genealogy words you may be typing/using incorrectly

Genealogical research is one of those activities that requires crystal-clear communication between researchers, in order to prevent misunderstandings and to facilitate searching for needed information.

Unfortunately, our hobby and profession that requires very close attention to detail nonetheless often suffers from sloppy language usage.  So let me lay out a few terms that could be more carefully written (the company and product names below are typically trademarked):

  • Upload/download.  In a general sense, you upload *from* your own device (usually a desktop or laptop computer, but increasingly a tablet or smartphone) and upload *to* an online server, usually using a website.  For example, you might upload a photo from your tablet to a photo-sharing website, or a GEDCOM-format file from your desktop computer to a website that lets you share family trees with others.  The opposite, then, is that you download *from* a cloud-based server, and download *to* your own device.  You might download a census image from a records-hosting service to your smartphone, or download a set of DNA test results from a DNA testing company to your laptop.  (If it helps, think of your own devices as "down" and all those Web-based services, increasingly referred to as "cloud-based", as "up".)
  • FamilySearch, Ancestry.com, Findmypast, and MyHeritage. FamilySearch is one word, with the S capitalized.  Ancestry.com does not have the "C" capitalized.  Findmypast, which is one word, is a bit tricky, since it "styles" its logo as "findmypast", but unless you're using its actual logo, capitalize it (and no other letter in its name).  MyHeritage is one word, with the "H" capitalized.
  • GEDCOM and GEDmatch. As more and more people have begun using GEDmatch, these two similar sounding terms have caused some confusion.  GEDCOM is an LDS-supported file format more than 30 years old, allowing the communication of genealogical data (ergo its name, GEnealogical Data COMmunication, or GEDCOM) between one genealogy database program or online family tree server and another.  GEDmatch is a website allowing the comparison of autosomal DNA test results from any of the 3 major U.S. testing companies. Things get a bit confused not just because of the somewhat similar names but also because you can upload a GEDCOM file to GEDmatch (aren't you glad we already covered "upload to"?).  
  • HeritageQuest Online. The HeritageQuest part is one word, with the "Q" capitalized, and is written that way with the intention of reflecting the name of its owner, ProQuest (also one word with the "Q" capitalized).  "Online" is part of the name, so include it if you write about it.
  • RootsWeb, RootsMagic, and RootsTech.  Each of those are one word, with the second part capitalized. They aren't related to each other, unless you count the RootsMagic-Users mailing list, which is hosted at RootsWeb (along with more than 30,000 other genealogy mailing lists). RootsMagic users often abbreviate their product as RM.  The RootsTech logo is styled as "rootstech", but unless you're using the actual logo, write it as RootsTech.  
  • Family Tree DNA, Family Tree Maker, and Family Tree Builder.  First, they are unrelated. Second, Family Tree DNA is three words, but its logo styles it as one word.  (The company and its users frequently use the shorter form of FTDNA.)  Family Tree Maker and Family Tree Builder, competitor family tree software programs, are three words each, but Family Tree Maker users often abbreviate their product as FTM.  
  • GenealogyBank and NewspaperARCHIVE.com/NewspaperArchive.com. The former is owned by NewsBank, so its name reflects that relationship (one word, the second part capitalized). The latter's own website sometimes writes its name as "NewspaperARCHIVE" and sometimes as "NewspaperArchive", so I'm not sure what to recommend there. I suppose you'll be correct no matter which one you choose to write.
Did I overlook a genealogy-related term that you frequently see mistyped or misused?  Let me know.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

When wireless devices need batteries, think Eneloop

Over the years I've gone through a lot of batteries for my wireless keyboards and wireless mice.  At work, the department bought me a package of name-brand rechargeable batteries and a charger, but I have not been impressed with how well those batteries recharge or how long they last before needing to recharge again. 

So when I decided to replace my usual batteries with rechargeables for my home computer keyboard and mouse, I did some research into the best options.  All of the most favorable reviews pointed me toward the Panasonic Eneloops (originally a Sanyo product). 

While there are different varieties of these (Lite, Pro, etc.), the regular version seemed to suit me fine.  I ordered these online on Amazon, and bought enough batteries so that I would always have 4 in the charger ready to use, while the other 4 were in the keyboard and mouse. 

These are rated for 2100 recharge cycles, and after 5 years, should still be able to be recharged up to 70% of capacity.  Even if I recharged them once a week (and in reality, I don't need to recharge them but perhaps every 2 weeks), they would arguably last 40 years. 

I think these have paid for themselves in only a few months, and I am quite happy with the switch from disposables to these Eneloop rechargeables.  

Monday, January 26, 2015

Methodology - Jumping to grandparents and back again

Real genealogical research rarely resembles the pure idea of starting with an individual and working backwards one generation at a time. On occasion, you may jump to the side (say, to a sibling), or even two steps back (to possible grandparents) before filling in the generations you need. 

Today, I ran into a case on Facebook where someone was looking for a Benjamin Franklin Cummings.  The given information was that his son was born in Walnut Shade in Taney County, Missouri, and that Benjamin was born in approximately 1879 in Missouri.

Could we find the parents of Benjamin Franklin Cummings?

A search of Find A Grave quickly located a Benjamin Franklin Cummings buried in Walnut Shade, with a tombstone photo indicating a birth of May 28, 1878.  The burial was in the "Cummings Cemetery". 

Immediately I was struck with wondering who else was buried in that same cemetery.  His parents, possibly?  Find A Grave had 6 burials there, and two others were Captain Vincent Monroe Cummings (born 1826) and Henrietta Mooney Cummings (born 1827).

At first, without much thought, I jumped to the idea that they were the parents of Benjamin F. Cummings.  But I suddenly realized that Henrietta was more than 50 years older than Benjamin, and that Vincent and Henrietta were actually better candidates for being Benjamin's paternal grandparents.  If so, I had the grandparents, but not the intervening generation.

Given that Benjamin was listed as being born in 1878, I expected to find him in the 1880 census, hopefully with his parents.  And soon I found a Benj. F. Cummings in Stone County, Missouri, age 2.  A look at Missouri maps let me know that Stone County was adjacent to Taney County.

And the Stone County 2-year-old had a 5-month-old sister named Heneritt.  Not a surprising name if her paternal grandmother was named Henrietta.

The parents of Benj. F. and Heneritt were 28-year-old Jas. and his wife Elija.  Now all I needed to do was to look in the 1870 Missouri census to find an 18-year-old James Cummings in the home of Vincent and Henrietta Cummings.  And there in 1870 Taney County were Vincent and Henrietta Cummins, with a number of children, including 18-year-old James.  Another child of Vincent and Henrietta was 15-year-old Ruben, and in the 1880 census, 26-year-old Ruben Cummings and his wife were living next door to James and Elija. 

A good example, I think, of how you may find the grandparents first, which then helps you find the parents.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Finding and Documenting African-American Families (July 20-25, 2014)

My friends J. Mark Lowe and Deborah Abbott are teaching 4 and a half days of workshops on the subject of "Finding and Documenting African-American Families".  For more information, visit www.gripitt.org.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The mystery of Dorit Kum, aka Darr Imon

Quite recently, someone posted a death certificate (they didn't say from where, but probably from a New England state), where they were trying to puzzle out the mother's name.  Half of those guessing opted for "Dorit Kum".

The other half of us had a different idea.  But before I reveal that one, I should mention that I have also looked to see if there are any records for a Dorit Kum.  I checked FamilySearch and Ancestry.com.  Nothing popped up in FamilySearch, but one Dorit Kum popped up in Ancestry, and it happens that she was listed as the mother on a death certificate for a North Carolina death.  I looked at that image, too.

Two different Dorit Kums?  Whose only fact in common (their only discoverable fact of any kind) was being the mother of a deceased individual?  I did some more digging, and discovered a woman named Darr Imon.  She too was the mother of someone who had passed.

Alas, I would wager that all three women were the same, but not in the sense that they were an actual human being.

No, I feel quite confident that the name of the mother on each death certificate was, in actuality, "Don't know".

As my good friend Cyndi Ingle might say, it's truly best not to overthink what you see handwritten on a genealogical document. 

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Why Copyright Is Important to Me

In a recent posting to his blog, James Tanner writes: "I am talking about all the other stuff, blog posts, notes on family trees, biographies, surname books etc. that have absolutely no expectation of making a dime for their authors. What then is the benefit of copyright to these people?"

First, all the stuff that I write on my blog may not pay me *directly*, but may pay me *indirectly*, by enhancing my reputation, so that societies may pay me to speak, and publishers may pay me to write.

Second, I have the right to *control* how my copyrightable material gets used.  The reality is, there are individuals and organizations who I support, and individuals and organizations who I do not support.  If someone I support asks me to use my material, I may happily give them permission.  If someone I do not support asks me, I may choose to refuse.  Without copyright protection, I would not have this option.