Saturday, March 9, 2013

Go Towards the Light

I read an interesting post today on The Legal Genealogist. And while I can understand the author's position, I have to respectfully, but completely, disagree with him.

The author, a guest writer on the blog, Craig R. Scott, CG, President of Heritage Books. (A company I LOVE and have thinned my wallet at numerous times.).

His post was apparently triggered by the FHL's recent announcement that they will now be providing free look-ups and page scans for requesting patrons. (The big news not really being the service, since the FHL has always been extremely helpful that way, but the fact that since by scanning and e-mailing the image the cost of paper and shipping are virtually eliminated, so is the cost to the patron).

But the FHL is not the only victim in his attack, he also brings in Google Books with their free snippets and any other library that heaven-forbid wants to serve and feel useful.

His concern is that this service "will harm authors and book publishers to the point where authors will not write and publishers will not publish." and that "genealogical book publishers will go the way of the gas light or the telegraph, no longer having a useful function in society having been replaced by the digital age."

That attitude will harm authors and publishers more than any snippet mentality will. Think for a moment, if we were still relying on the telegraph, do you think we would have one in every home, let alone one in the pocket of nearly everyone 10 and up? Progress did not kill telegraph companies, for those willing to adapt, it gave them a larger market. It can do the same for authors and publishers.

Snippet services, whether via Google, or through libraries are a HUGE marketing tool.

Let's start with Google Books. I can now sit down at my computer, enter a name, and within a few seconds find out that that name is listed in a book. A book that I may never have even known existed, or never had thought to look in otherwise. And even if I had known it was there, and decided to look in it, what are the chances that I would have been able to find it somewhere that I could access it to even SEE if that person or family was in the book. I'm not the type of person that's going to spend my genealogy budget on chances. But now that I know that the book has a mention of my family, no matter how brief, I want a copy of the book. And I'm going to go right back to that search engine and try to find where I can get a copy of that book so I can see what else is in it, and share it with my other family members, who will then get excited over a book that they never knew existed before either, and which they may very well want a copy of as well.

I can do the same with an area. or group of people (such as a tribe) I'm researching, or an event.

Ideally the library snippets could work the same way. But in the present model, the patron would have to know the book and ideally the page. Mr. Scott talks about the demand placed on a library to order additional copies of a book if enough people were wanting to borrow it, particularly if they were using inter-library loan to do so. It's my experience, however, that if a book was in that high of a demand, the library would simply refuse to loan it out, via inter-library loan or otherwise.

So let me toss out another scenario here. Let's say I'm a young working mother. My budget is limited, so is my time. I have a slight interest in family history. Thanks to the digital age, I can now fit research into my busy life, just a a few minutes at a time. But I still haven't done much about it. So one day, I'm at the library with my kids and something sets off a spark in me. So I sit down on the computer next to my child and start looking for books that could help me research or could tell me more about a place or event I know an ancestor was involved in. (Maybe my child's project is even a family history one and that sparks my interest too). My library, who is also limited on funds and space, doesn't have the book I want, so I put in an inter-library loan request. Even if the book is available for check-out at the other library, it takes over a week to get to me. By then my interest is elsewhere, I've got some other project taking up my time, or my kids have another project taking up my time. The book just ends up sitting there until its time to go back. (Hopefully I return it in time so the next person can get it too). My genealogy spark is lost til who knows when.

Or then there's alternate ending #2. In this scenario, instead of inter-library loan, I can put in an electronic request, telling the library that I'm interested in information about such-and-such from this book in their collection. Before I even get the kids in bed that night, I have an e-mail with the info I asked for. My spark is getting fanned, its growing bigger. I'm now feeling really excited, I'm diving in, can't wait to read about it. But then that's not enough. I want MORE. I want to read the rest of the book. Or I want to find out what other books are out there on that person, place, or event. Or maybe now I've found out that information, I start to think of someone else that I want to know more about. I'm now starving for this information. I've caught the bug, I'm addicted. And I'm going to spend the next 50+ years researching, believing in the power of books to assist that research, and teaching others about the treasures found in this often over-looked resource. Instead of waiting until the kids are grown and I'm retired to even start thinking about researching again.

Mr. Scott spoke of all the time and money authors pour into their books and the publishers invest into those books, they deserve a return. And agreed, they do. But sometimes those returns don't always come they way they think, they have to open to other forms of payment as well.

Authors are not going away. If anything, they are in even greater abundance today. No longer are writers even tied to their desks to type away on the computer, to say nothing of the painstaking ways of writing pre-computer. Now they're typing away on their phones and their tablet, whenever they have half a minute. We also have this new method of journaling/writing called blogging. And its become the cool/trendy thing to do. There are more authors now, no threat of extinction here.

And if authors aren't going away, neither are publishers.;

In fact, when it comes to genealogy books, its quite common to fall head over heels in love with an out-of-print book. Neither authors or publishers are making any money on those books. If we want a copy we have to scour the used book stores for years, set-up saved searches on e-bay and google, hoping that maybe just maybe a copy will pop-up for sale somewhere before we've given up all hope on getting it and forgotten why we were so in-love with it in the first place.

Oh, but what's that you say? The publisher has that title as a PRINT ON DEMAND! Hook me up! I'll take a copy! Actually, make it 20, I'd love to give some as gifts to my family members this Christmas.

Oh, but some of my family members live in small apartments, or they move around a lot, they don't like having a lot of books around. Oh, you could sell us digital versions of the book?!? FABULOUS! I'll take a few of those as well.

Neither is quite the same as getting an original, so the originals still retain their value for the rare book owners and sellers, but MORE money to be made for publishers and authors.

It's a win-win-win!

And oh hey! You publish on demand, tell me this, my great grandmother just died, and we found this box of journals in her attic. She has over 150 descendents and we can't seem to agree who should get them. If we were to scan them and get you a digital copy, could you print those for us too?

What? for a small fee, you'll also scan them for us so we have a better, more professional version and less hassle? SOLD!

Oh, and I've been writing this family history blog to document my research, but I'm afraid that the information is going to be lost, the site will go down, or its just getting too big that the information is hard to find, even with search engines, can you help there too? Oh you can? You can show me how to download the data, and then you'll counsel with me to better organize it into a book format that you can publish for me?  And you have editors too? Of course I'll pay for that!

Or then there's always the possibility of helping with web-publishing too.

But let's set aside personal/family/area history books for a minute and look at the how-to set of genealogy books.

Guess what else the digital age has done? It's brought us podcasts, webinars, virtual conferences. Suddenly I'm able to attend research classes from the comfort of my own home, or while sitting in the car, or in line at the dmv, on my own schedule, so whenever, wherever. I don't have to make travel plans, or take time off work, find a baby-sitter, pay expensive conference fees, or pay for hotel rooms etc.

And guess what those classes are doing for me? They're getting me excited about researching. I'm finding out about a webinar being offered on Scottih research. I have ancestry there I haven't spent much time searching out because I just don't know where to look. I think I'll tune in.

Now I want to jump in and research that area! But I'm not sure I'm ready after just one class. Or maybe I think I am, but after jumping in, have other questions.  The instructor recommended these books, maybe I should BUY them to read them. (since even IF my library had them, I don't have time to read the whole thing during their check-out period, I'm a busy working mom!)

Or maybe they didn't recommend any books, so I start searching to find some other books that might help, (or maybe I'm googling webpages that might help and come up with a book) but I don't know, will this book really help me, or will it just be a waste of money? I better not gamble my kids' college education money on it. I won't buy it. I'll see if I can find something else somewhere, or I'll just go back to not worrying about this area right now.

But WAIT, here's a snippet of the book on Google Books. Hey, that looks like a good book! I think it will help a lot. I'm going to go ahead and buy it! I want to find my ancestors! Yay! Oh look! There's another one! It looks great too! Add to cart! (and pray my kids get scholarships)

Of course free is better. We all like free. And we are definitely seeing more and more of the pay-it-forward mindset out there where people want to give things free either because they've gotten free things or because they want to get free things. And the more that's provided free, the more free is expected.

But the people who are going to be spending hours trying to figure out how to get the next page to come up on snippet so they can download it and get a free copy, are the same ones that would be copying the entire book in the library (or now checking it out and scanning it at home to save the cost of the paper).

But if you get rid of the snippets just because it may or may not make it easier for those people, then you can guarantee you've made it a whole lot harder for everyone else to even find your book, let alone decide they want to buy it.

Digital books are not the enemy to physical books. Whether the book was published digitally, or scanned after-the-fact. Sure they make it easier to take an entire library with you in less space and weight than one physical book. And digital books make it instantaneously searchable which is an incredible time-saver for research (and allows you to access more books in less time). Even when I can get an entire book copyright free, for free, there is something magical about holding books in your hand, and being able to take them places and show them to people without being limited to wi-fi, that leads me to want to buy the book.

You don't want libraries scanning your books? SCAN THEM YOURSELF. Sell the libraries your digital copies. In most cases, the digital versions have more safe-guards in place to prevent unfair use copies than actually having the book sitting there on the shelf. So save the libraries the trouble. And while you're at it, put digital versions up on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, or wherever. Then even without snippets, you've greatly expanded your marketplace and interested audience for next to nothing in cost. And last I checked, that equation generally results in larger profits.

Love history. But don't get so focused on what you think time will erase, that you can't see all that time can give you too. The light isn't going out, its shining brighter than ever! I hope it continues to shine on Heritage Books.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

5 million day

FamilySearch challenged its volunteers to index 5 million names in one day, and break the previous record of 4.9 million, set back in April. The troops rallied. They met the goal, twice over. It was so fun to be involved. So in celebration:

Thursday, June 28, 2012

1940 Census

It's been so great to be a part of the effort to index the 1940 Census. I'm a little slow in posting since it's now about 75% complete, but I still thought I should post the badges for the 50% completion celebration, as well as the states I've worked on. At first I was focused only on the states where I knew I'd find my family, but after a while I thought it would be fun to see how many different states I could do. Of course by then, several states were already completed, so I couldn't get them all, but it was still fun to "travel" the county that way.

I helped index the first half of the 1940 US census

Thursday, January 26, 2012

SLIG - Day 4

Funny how things can change, Tuesday was such bliss I was almost ready to call it a week, feeling fully satisfied already by my experiences. But here we are on Thursday and I want to cry over the fact that we're almost done.

This morning's classes were presented by Pamela Boyer Sayre, CG, CGL. And as I mentioned in my last post, today dealt more with NARA (National Archive)

Mrs. Sayer gave a brief tour of the website, emphasizing that there are several ways to get to the same place, so its really best to just get in there and play around, knowing that you can't get too lost because you do have the "back" button on your browser. She also emphasized that NARA tried to be helpful by breaking links into various categories such as "Teacher Resources" but don't let that limit you, you'll find important resources in each grouping.

Earlier in the week, Tom Jones mentioned that its cheaper to actually higher a DC researcher to go in and copy/photograph the records you want, than to pay NARA to do it. Mrs. Sayre stated that it really depended on what records you wanted and what researcher you wanted to use.

Whether ordering, hiring, or making a trip yourself, its important to spend a lot of time on the website ahead of time to determine exactly what it is you want, and what's available etc. In the next class we also learned its important to determine WHERE the records are, as they may be at a regional NARA site rather than in DC. I wasn't even aware there were Regional National Archives, but now I know what I'm doing next time I'm in Denver or Seattle.

She emphasized that no matter where you went, call ahead, verify the records location, and make arrangements for your visits. Spend time on-line (or on the phone) finding out what else you need to know, such as security procedures (be graceful about, don't complain, its for the good of everyone), find out if you need a patron/visitor pass, parking permit etc.

Dr. Colletta finished the day with two more classes on Federal records. First of all addressing lesser-used federal/NARA records such as passport applications, homestead files, civil war income tax records, postmaster appointments and civil war draft registrations. He again emphasized that the important thing is to think about your ancestor and where their life may have intercepted with the government because there should be a record of that somewhere (or at least was.)

The last class was on Federal Court Records. There are several indexes available through FamilySearch or the NARA site. But you probably also want to check out docket books and use them as a sort of unalphabatized index. As well as visit a law library (or lawyer) to look at a set of Federal Cases books, a 30 volume set which lists cases from 1789-1880 which set precedence. Vol 30 is a digest version which serves as a great index as well. (I know the Research Center at the Archives Tuesday had quite a few law books, so that's another possible place to look.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

SLIG - Day 3

How do you beat yesterday?

Ok, probably don't. But that doesn't mean today wasn't amazing and fabulous.

Day started out with Dr. Colletta teaching on County Courthouses, what types of records are there, how to find out what's there etc. He reiterated that 1/2 the battle is just knowing what records are available. The county clerks are supposed to know everything they have, but you rarely deal with county clerks anymore, and of course as a researcher your best strategy is always to know what you want to find before you make the trip.

So where do you find out what records are available? Some of the best places to go are to published county histories (or county historians). You can also check State Archive websites, Genealogy manuals, either ones for the county/state or something like Redbook or Handybook. The FamilySearch Library Catalog is also a great resource, as they often have indexes etc. to help, even if they don't have the records themselves. USGENWEB is still a great source, though often forgotten about.

The next two classes were taught by Paula Stuart-Warren, CG.

The first class was all about NUCMC (& its "cousins"). What a great resource that I'd never heard of before!!!! And apparently I'm not the only one, Mrs. Warren stated that even most the librarians who have the printed version of NUCMC have never heard of it. NUCMC = The National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections. Think WorldCat for Manuscript collections.

Not every repository participates, but nearly 2,000 do. This catalog (available on-line in many locations, or in printed form at some libraries etc.) may tell you what happened to the pioneer dr's records or the midwives records, or even the family bible that got handed down the "other brother's line" until someone decided to donate it.

Her next course addressed searching the records of old settler's organizations. She said these can really be a gold mine and often contain vital info and familial data, as well as where the settler immigrated from and/or where the emigrated to.

Sadly my kids pulled a trump card so I had to bow out of the last class of the afternoon, which was focusing on the National Archive and how to use it, definitely a subject I wanted to hear more about. (Sadly, they're doing the same thing Friday afternoon, and night so I'll miss another course, and the banquet, but what do you do?) The syllabus does contain a long list of resources and guides so I can do some personal study, and some of tomorrow's classes deal with NARA as well, so maybe I can pick up a few things.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

SLIG - Day 2

I spent the whole morning feeling like I was back in grade school, anxiously waiting for the afternoon field trip. Luckily, I was grown-up enough to not spend the whole morning fidgeting in my seat, even I was doing just that on the inside.

The morning sessions focused on State Archives, the records they might contain, and how they differ from state to state with a lot of examples and case studies. Dr. Colletta also gave us a quick explanation of naturalization records, and laws.

When I registered I kinda grumbled about the fact that we were "stuck" in one course, one subject, instead of the traditional conference format of picking and choosing each hour. But as it turns out, I kinda like this way. Not only do I not have to decide every single hour what I want to take, but since we are taking the same series of classes, when the lecturer goes over, we can request that he/she keep going, instead of cutting the lecture short, and just sacrificing some of our break time, and/or adjusting the schedule as needed. No worrying about having to run to other classes, or someone else needing the classroom etc.

We further discussed the differences between State Archives, State Libraries, State Historical Societies, and the responsibilities of each. There are 2 basic types of state archives, centralized (one for the whole state) or regional (several scattered across the state). Though thanks to recent digitization efforts, there are now mixtures popping up.

Some records you may find in State Archives are state census, military, prison, state hospital, state court records, maps, photographs, land records. Some may have gathered up county, or even city records, some may have copies of NARA microfilms.

We learned that the key is just to contemplate your ancestor's life and think when and why they would have had to deal with the government. Even times like applying for business licenses. Personally, I've had fun with the on-line Brands and Markings collection on the Utah State Archive site, just finding what brands my ranching ancestors used.

A great site to help you find archives is (National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators)

Archive Finder is another great tool to not only help you find the archive, but help you know what they have, unfortunately they are a subscription site. But try your local library or university for access.

As for naturalization: I especially liked learning about naturalization laws, who could be naturalized and when. For example, it wasn't until 1922 that married women had to file their own naturalization papers. Previously, they simply had the same status as their husband.

Then came lunch and the field trip!!!!

After arriving at the archive, we went into a classroom where the Head Archivist, Patricia Smith-Mansfield, taught us about the purpose of State Archives, about manuscript collections, an overview of record laws.

Then came the tour. First stop was the archive room itself with a demo of the machine that automatically pulls the container-a bookshelf type thing holding several archive boxes-and brings it down to a person who can then scan the box barcode for the requested box to help track it.

Next stop was the imaging labs where we were shown a digital capture camera, and a microfilm scanner (both of which I'm more than familiar with) and then up to the digital specialist for more talk of preserving and some cool audio transfer equipment.

Finally, we ended up in the research room for a tour of that area.

Our tour was scheduled to end at 3. (and thus that's when the bus was coming to get us). But the research room was open to 4.

I decided to stick around, and was rewarded with copies of pictures that my GGG took, as well as some good ones of a couple of his stores as they changed over the years. I'm always on the lookout for his photos. He was a photographer before photography was cool, so many of his photos have a lot of historical value, especially since he was also one of the early founders of Provo, UT, so has many pictures of the city in its early years. But most of these were ones I hadn't seen before, and showed features of the town that I hadn't seen before.

As I mentioned, I've spent time on their website, and in their digital collections, but this was my first trip to the archives/historical society. I came up with a long to-do list as I heard more about what records are there. So I look forward both to spending more time in their on-line catalog, and more personal visit time.

Since another course I'd really wanted to take was the New England course with Josh Taylor, I didn't want to miss his evening class on the topic. But even with the hour of research time, I had 3 hours to kill. I tried to decide if I was going to head to the FHL, or to the study room for some homework time, or lesson prep time for a class I'm teaching Friday night, or just hanging out and visiting with other classmates.

I ended up grabbing some dinner at a great restaurant I've been meaning to try, then wound up running into some friends, and ended up killing over 2 hours that way. So then I just decided to "bag it" and enjoy the city. It was just the day-cation I needed!!!! I'd forgotten what it felt like to not have to be constantly rushing from one place to another, to be worrying about the mile long to-do list, or the kids or...

And of course Joshua's class was wonderful! If you haven't had the chance to hear him speak, do everything you can to get that opportunity. He's absolutely fabulous! And gave a lot of great resources for New England research, particularly Colonial NE.
His favorite sites are (of course) FamilySearch, American Ancestors, and Google Books

He also recommended a lot of great books, many depending on what state you're researching in. He also told us that when he moves he packs by priority. The books he uses most get top priority, then next and so forth so he knows what order to unpack, who cares about kitchen stuff or bedsheets. Sounds pretty familiar, is it any wonder I love his presentations?!?!

He claimed early New England research is some of the best there is because there is such a wide variety of records, so many compiled sources (so many compiled sources in public domain hence the Google Books link), so many on-line resources etc.

This is also one area that really does require your due diligence aka "exhaustive" searches, since there are many conflicting sources. He brought up how there are often debating and/or correcting TAG records. (TAG=The American Genealogist, published by the NEHGS). Not to mention other conflicting records.

I learned just enough about the NEHGS holdings to wet my appetite, but not enough that I feel confident in my ability to jump right into this area. But that's what the other guides and resources he recommended are for.

Monday, January 23, 2012

SLIG - Day 1

Last night did not go as planned....neither did today.

Homework took me a lot longer than I thought, and still wasn't finished. Consequently, I stayed up later than I'd planned, and decided to take the bus in so I could work during the commute time. But that of course meant an even earlier morning to catch the bus.

Managed to get here, and enjoyed a fabulous breakfast! Then, as a bonus, had an hour between breakfast and the first class. Even better, the brilliant people at UGA who organized this, made plans for "study rooms." I was so there to make another effort at the homework since I really didn't want it hanging over my head all day. I made tremendous progress, and felt much more ready to turn my focus to the courses at hand.

My primary "professor" is John Phillip Colletta of "They came in Ships" fame. A very charismatic (and experienced) lecturer, very easy to listen to. YAY!!! (nothing like getting a dull professor to listen to the whole time, I get enough of that in college).

We also had Tom Jones lecture in the afternoon today

There are 4 classes each day, two in the morning, two in the afternoon, with 15 min breaks in-between and 90min for lunch.

Today's courses included a general overview, how to evaluate the evidence you find, case studies that could only be solved via original sources, and 5 ways to prove (or not prove) who your ancestor was.

All 4 courses included a lot of great case studies, and both lecturer's knew how to tell them in a way to keep you glued. The last class was one of the best classes on the Genealogical Proof Standard that I've attended. I particularly liked that he pointed out the GPS includes "reasonable exhaustive search" and that far too often we focus on the "exhaustive" part and we forget that its "reasonable." We hear time and time again of people spending 30 years to proof or disprove one thing. It can be very overwhelming. Using his methods, it seems much simpler, without becoming willey-nilley searches.

The GPS is used for determining if a relationship, identity, situation or event is substantially credible based on:
  • a reasonably exhaustive search
  • complete, accurate source citations (he also pointed out that we don't want our work tossed out when we die, so essentially we are doing all our work for someone else, thus increasing the importance of this)
  • skilled analysis and correlation of the data
  • resolution of contradictory evidence
  • a soundly reasoned conclusion
To meet this, he basically said 1. don't rely solely on family sources (Aunt Jane said that so-and-so told her that....) 2. Don't rely on any single source, no matter how high the quality. 3. And don't just follow a single trail of evidence until you find what you're looking for. But DO 1. gather multiple correlating sources and 2. weigh conflicting evidence and resolve the conflicts.

All logical and seemingly basic, but good reminders.

Dr. Colletta seemed to hit the public vs. private issue quite a bit, reminding us to check both, and explaining that a lot of places do have multiple archives, historical societies, etc. because one may have been started with private funding while the other was established with public funds (even though now both are often run with both type of funds).

He also brought up that each state handles their archives differently, some are connected with their historical society, some are separate.

There are numerous ways to find the repositories you need. Of course the internet is a great place to start, but there are also genealogy manuals which contain the info and other guides, catalogs, indexes, inventories etc. may mention the repositories as well.

One major item that you'll probably need to get on-site are manuscript collections. I recently learned from the catalogers at work that Manuscripts are basically anything not intended for publication. (though the definition of "publication" is coming to debate in our new age of e-publishing). Basically, they're collections of papers, mostly loose papers, but it might also include family bibles, or journals, newspaper clippings. Basically that box of "family history stuff" and memorabilia that Uncle Joe kept for years but his kids had no idea what to do with so donated to the local library, archive, or historical society. But it may also be the papers of an organization, a company or societal group.

Life got even more "exciting" when, during the break, my computer started to crash and show signs of a virus. Luckily, I'm close enough to the office that I was able to run over during lunch and get a techie to save me. I lost a few things, but the homework was saved. (One item lost: homework time during lunch). Then of course, since I wasn't able to sit near one of the scattered few outlets in the conf room, so my battery was low, the outlet on the bus was also not working so I lost power 10min into the ride home.

Did finally get my homework done, just in the nick of time.

Despite all the frustrations, the classes were so great I can't even call it a bad day!