Monday, 29 December 2014

Your Family Tree Magazine issues for 99p/99c

Until the 1 January, all issues of Your Family Tree Magazine are only 99p (or 99c US or $1.99 AU) via iTunes or Google Play. YFT is a great magazine for amateur genealogists and hobbyists and this is a great way to stock up on back issues, or just try out the magazine if you have never read it before.

Full details are available at the YFT blog.

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine have a similar offer, but due to a "technical error" the reduced pricing isn't available on iTunes, only on Google Play. Both magazines are well worth a read - they offer practical advice and tips for those researching their UK ancestors. Both magazines also have helpful user forums on their websites where you can get help from other readers.


Sunday, 28 December 2014

My Golden Rules for Genealogy

In response to Thomas MacEntee's Genealogy Do-Over: Golden Rules of Genealogy I present my take on the Golden Rules of Genealogy:

I don't have a lot of Golden Rules, because I believe the golden rule of golden rules is less is more. Keep the list of golden rules small and they become easier to understand and follow - too many rules just makes my eyes glaze over.

  1. Do not trust any one single source. Always try to find an alternate source for every piece of information. Also, be wary of falling into the trap of thinking two sources are distinct sources when they are in fact copies or deviates of one another. Case in point: Bishop's Transcripts are simply copies of the original parish registers. If you have a copy of the parish register, then the Bishop's Transcript is not a different source. Bishop's transcripts can be useful if the original parish registers cannot be found however.
  2. Listen to family stories, but do not believe them. Family stories can be a valuable tool in tracking down your ancestors' stories, but do not put 100% faith in the remembrances of your relatives. Use the stories to guide your research, but do not be deterred if your research turns up something different. A number of our family tales have been disproven by diligent research, but in most cases there was a grain of truth hidden amongst the stories. Sometimes the truth was much more interesting than the stories!
  3. Document your sources and where possible get copies of all relevant documents. Oh how I wish I had done this when I was starting out. I have a whole heap of documents that I simply have no clue where they came from. Parish registers, census sheets, birth, death and marriage certificates - some great information here, but I do not know where they came from. In some cases I have added events to my ancestors' entries in my tree but I cannot verify the data because I do not know what the source of that information was.
  4. Look beyond the individual you are currently searching for. If you find an entry in a parish register, scan a few pages either side of the one your ancestor appears on to see if there are any siblings or other relatives listed there too. When looking at census records, scan for other houses on the same street - you may just find other relatives living close by. This can be a useful technique to help break through brick walls.
  5. When you keep running into a brick wall, walk away. Not forever, just a brief break. Move on to another relative and come back to the brick wall at a later stage. Sometimes you get yourself into a bit of a rut and will keep running the same searches over and over again. Give it a bit of time and try to approach the search with a fresh mind. Also, keep coming back to your brick walls at a regular intervals - maybe more record sets have been transcribed/indexed which will reveal your ancestor, or maybe you will come up with a novel way of searching for them. Try searching for known relatives of theirs and scan the record sets in the general vicinity for a glimpse of your ancestor. Look for birth/baptism records of a sibling or cousin and then search the register pages near that person. Try looking at nearby parishes, even if you know the town your ancestor was born in - in one case with my family, the family church was being rebuilt so baptisms and funerals took place in a neighbouring parish. Come at your brick walls from a different angle with a fresh mind and you might just have some luck.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

For Aussie genealogists...

Ancestry Australia now offer the option to purchase transcripts of birth certificates at a "discounted" rate. The price appears to be $17.50 for "transcriptions of registry documents in PDF format". At the moment this seems to only cover NSW birth registrations from 1788-1922 but hopefully the service will expand to cover other states.


Friday, 26 December 2014

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas. In recent years Christmas-time has become a quieter affair. I now live with and look after my elderly father who, despite genealogical data saying otherwise, I am certain is descended from either the Grinch or Ebenezer Scrooge. Or possibly both. He is not a fan of Christmas trees or decorations, so the house always feels a little empty this time of year...

One thing we do have, however, is a massive feast for Christmas lunch. Roast turkey with cranberry sauce, roast vegetables galore, a leg of ham, and christmas pudding with brandy custard. After lunch we are both so full that nothing gets done other than sitting in our armchairs watching TV. I didn't do any genealogy, didn't play any games or read any books - Christmas afternoon is just a time to sit and relax. And snooze. ;^)

I did get a very nice present from my ISP - they gave all customers unmetered downloads for Christmas Day, so I made good use of that gift. I must have used over a month's worth of data, but not only is everything now up to date, but I have enough training videos, books, music, movies and games to keep me busy for a while.

At times like this I do wonder what my ancestors did for Christmas. Did they have large family gatherings and feasts like we used to when I was younger? Or was it a more solemn time of year? Or did they have to work through the holidays with little or no time off? What traditions did they have? What kind of gifts were given out and what food was on their Christmas table? I guess the exact answers to these questions may never be known, but it should be possible to find some contemporary accounts of Christmases from the time of my ancestors. I guess that's something to add to my to-do list...

Anyway, cheers and I hope you have happy holidays wherever you are.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Great Christmas gift from Ancestry.com.au

Ancestry Australia are offering free access to all UK records for three days over Christmas starting today! Time to jump online and start researching your UK ancestors! 8^)

Monday, 22 December 2014

So I'm a bit behind the times...

I've just finished reading Ancestry Insider's excellent series on Evidence Management. Quite a good read and it has certainly provided some food for thought. My own software will use a similar approach to Ancestry Insider's, though there are a couple of things I plan on doing that will no doubt raise a few eyebrows... ;^)

Anywho, if you haven't read that series I can highly recommend it - he outlines some sound evidence management practices and shows how Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org get it right and how they get it wrong. I learned quite a bit about those two sites in these articles.

One very interesting takeaway from this series for me was found in a comment. There is a nifty-looking web app called Lineascope in development that directly addresses evidence management and the Genealogical Proof Standard. I probably shouldn't be as surprised as I am that Kinescope is very similar to my own app, however I have taken a slightly different approach in one or two areas. (i.e., I am not strictly following the GPS for some very good reasons (IMHO) that I may explain at a later date.)

Monday, 15 December 2014

Where to?

Okay, so I've decided to (slightly) change focus and become more diligent with my sources. Source, or evidence, based genealogy is the way to go and I need to be more mindful of my sources and source citations. The genealogy software I have been using to date is not really suited to this changed focus - it is more suited to person-based genealogy and just doesn't have the tools required for deep source analysis, plus the citation ability is severely limited. Most traditional "family tree" software exhibits similar flaws, so I'm going to have to re-double my efforts with my custom tools.

What does this mean for me? Well, I have a custom tool I have been developing, but my investigations over the past few weeks have revealed flaws in my thinking. I need more of a focus on source citations and I need to revisit my data model. I find it amazing that GEDCOM a is still the go-to standard for genealogical data, despite its age and weaknesses. Other data models have been proposed, but none of them seem to have got off the drawing board and most have been stalled, in some cases for up to 15 years or more! No credible alternative has appeared on the scene. Which is disheartening. I am definitely not going to be basing my tool(s) on GEDCOM. I will use GEDCOM for data transfer, but that's it - I have seen too many genealogical tools that have obviously been written with GEDCOM a at their core, and all are too tied to GEDCOM and all its flaws.

So what does my tool look like and how will it work? The tool is a source analysis tool that allows the user to extract all pertinent facts (or allegations) from a source and then guide the user to collate facts from many sources into a coherent person. It does a bit more than that, with tools to help interpret disparate facts by using date ranges and locality where appropriate. Once facts have been collated and persons identified, the tool can export data (yes, in GEDCOM format - I will use GEDCOM, but it won't drive the design of the tools) where it can be imported into "traditional" genealogical packages.

The more I think about it, the more I am leaning towards not one, but a series of interconnected tools, each managing a different aspect of the process. I have been studying the Genealogical Proof Standard and several of the proposed genealogical data models and these have given me a lot of food for thought as to how I might make my tools better. But the first priority is to properly document my sources and citations - something I have been lax in doing up until now...

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

The not fun part about genealogy...

My uncle Graham lost his (all too short) battle with cancer last night. Melanoma of the brain. We were told a couple of days ago that his doctors had given him 48 hours to live - the bastards were right. 8^(

Monday, 8 December 2014

Books! Books! Books!

I am up to my eyeballs in books at the moment! Well, not literally of course - they're mostly on my iPad so they don't take up much space at all. And not even figuratively to be honest - just a small handful of books that I am studying.

First there's Genealogy Standards: Fiftieth Anniversary Edition from the Board for Certification of Genealogists - That's a bit bland and light on content. But it does provide a good (if brief) overview of the genealogical standards - I just wish there was more to it, but thankfully there are other books that expand on these standards.

The next book in my (virtual) reading pile is Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W Jones. I haven't got far into this one yet, but it appear to provide a sound introduction to using and applying the Genealogical Proof Standard (as described in the book Genealogy Standards) complete with worked examples and exercises to attempt. I'm going to be in and out of this book quite a bit I expect...

Next up is a book I borrowed from the library - Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian by Elizabeth Shown Mills. While this is a bit old now and has been superseded by the next book in my list, I still think it is an excellent primer to proper source analysis and citation. It is a short book, split in two parts. The first part is a good explanation of the fundamentals of source analysis and citation, while the second part consists of a series of tables with clear examples of different source citations. I cannot find an electronic copy of this so I may have to purchase a hardcopy at some stage.

Evidence Explained:Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace 2nd Edition by Elizabeth Shown Mills is on my wishlist. Written after Evidence! a delving much deeper into the topic, this book is the standard for source analysis and citation. It is also quite a hefty book coming in at 885 pages! An electronic version is available via the author's website Evidence Explained.

The next book doesn't really appear to fit with the theme of the previous four, but Genealogy - Family Tree Research Made Easy by Poppy Sure is a worthwhile guide to the beginner genealogist. Not just a "how to genealogy" book, Poppy covers important areas such as maintaining research logs, sources vs evidence, standards, citation and more. I was quite surprised at how much Poppy covers in what is ostensibly a beginner's book.

Finally, because it's where my family is from, Tracing Your Lancashire Ancestors by Sue Wilks is on the list. This book covers a brief history of Lancashire and also has a good list of research materials and locations for researchers tracing their Lancashire roots. Sadly this one is way down on my reading list, but hopefully when I get back to the task of tracing my family I will be able to turn to this book for some inspiration and direction.

Does anyone have any suggestions for good genealogical books that I should add to my library?

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

A couple of the mistakes I have made. (So far...)

Okay, I have realised that I have made a few mistakes to date in my genealogical wanderings. Not that this was unexpected - I would be a fool if I thought I was going to get things perfect the first time out. So in the interests of full disclosure, here are two of the mistakes I have identified and what I propose to do about them.

1) Not adequately documenting my sources: I have far too many images (scans of census pages, parish registers, birth certificates, etc) that simply do not have any citation information attached. In other words, I do not know where they came from. For most of them I could hazard a guess (most of them I got from AncestryLibrary) but I couldn't tell you what census district, what parish register, where or when these documents were produced. Then there are some odds and ends that I simply have no clue where they came from.

What can I do about this? I'm not going to simply throw out all these documents. Instead, when I get around to restarting the rebuild of my tree I will be searching all the likely repositories and this time I will record the correct citations for the material I use. I had already planned to redo my searches to make sure I haven't missed something out or misinterpreted some material, so this won't be a huge imposition. I just need to make sure I am more disciplined. Part of this will require me to learn more about citing my sources properly and the first step has already been taken - I have a copy of Elizabeth Shown Mills' book Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian and will shortly be obtaining a copy of her follow-up book Evidence Explained. I have also been scouring the interwebs for information on genealogical citation and have found a wealth of material on various genealogy blogs which I need to absorb and understand.

2) Not being discriminating enough with my source selection: I thought I was doing the right thing, honestly I did. But it turns out I was collecting too many duplicate sources. Well, maybe not too many duplicates, but I was not being discerning enough when analysing my sources. The problem here is that I was scouring various repositories for every reference to an ancestor and attaching all those sources to that ancestor's events. In part I was doing the right thing - the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) was a genealogist should conduct a reasonably exhaustive search, but maybe I was being too exhaustive?

As an example, when searching on FamilySearch it is not uncommon to turn up multiple copies of the same information. Much of the information in FamilySearch comes from microfilmed copies of parish registers and census documents that the LDS church has collected over the years. These microfilms have been indexed and transcribed by different projects and sometimes the same source documents may have been filmed and/or indexed and transcribed multiple times. Each of these copies has been entered into FamilySearch's databases and as a result there are sometimes several copies of the same data that get returned by a search. These are not separate sources, but copies of the same source and as such should not always be given equal weight when determining the validity of the data.

Another example is the difference between a parish register and what are known as Bishop's Transcripts. During the 18th and 19th centuries, local parishes recorded baptisms, marriages and burials and on a regular basis copy of the parish register was made for the Bishop's Transcript. In some cases only the Bishop's Transcript remains, in others only the parish register is available, but in many cases both copies still exist. In my tree I have many ancestors for whom both original parish register and the Bishops Transcripts exist. Given that the Bishop's Transcript is a copy of the parish register, they should probably be considered a derivative source and less weight should apply to them. Where the transcript differs from the parish register, the register most likely is the more accurate data. That doesn't mean I should ignore the transcripts, I just need to be more aware of the provenance of the data contained in them.

Finally, I have been getting my source information from multiple sources - AncestryLibrary, FamilySearch, The Lancashire Online Parish Clerk project, etc. In many cases these have all come from the same original source (or microfilms of the original, via the LDS) and as such, they really aren't different sources, just copies of the same source again. Now each of these repositories may have different transcriptions - some better, some worse - which may aid in finding the information I am looking for, but if i can get an image of the original source, I probably don't need to be continuing my search on different repositories for the same information. If I do search multiple locations, I should not be applying the same weight to each result - instead I should probably make an annotation to the effect that this refers to the same original.

What can I do about this? I can spend a little more time analysing the provenance of the source and be mindful of the possibility that the information I am looking at is from the same source as information I already have. Use multiple repositories to find my sources, but don't treat them all as independent sources - accept (and make note of) the fact that the original source material may be the same, or that I may be viewing a derivative of the source. where possible try to get as close to the original source as I can. I won't discard sources I have used, but I won't treat all sources as being of equal value.