Altspace Genealogy Family History Meetup Notes – 8 Oct 2018

This meetup is an introduction to DNA testing for family history research. This is an incredibly vast topic and we will be sharing more on how this all works in the future, but for this event, we kept things very simple and concentrated specifically on:

  1. Choosing a DNA testing company.
  2. What to do while waiting for the test results.
  3. What to do after you receive the test results.

Choosing a DNA Testing Company

DNA tests are not the answer to every family history brickwall nor genealogical question. DNA tests are just one of many tools in your genealogy tool box.

DNA tests show you where on Earth people who share your DNA are most like to be today, not necessarily where they were in the past. Combined with historical references and the data in your family tree on the DNA testing site, the results are assumptions of where your ancestors may have been in the past.

We recommend that you test across multiple companies to get a more fair view of your ethnicity, ancestry, and answers to your genealogy questions.

Test yourself and your oldest living relatives in your direct line, and your cousins’ lines such as a great aunt or uncle. The more tests you have, and the more you share the information from your tests, the easier it is to answer your DNA and genealogical questions.

Ask yourself:

  • What do you want to know?
    • Answers to health and medical concerns?
    • Discover your ethnic roots?
    • Find matches to other people, living or dead?
      • Answer genealogical questions?
      • Have adoption or unknown parentage questions?
      • Support your family history research?
    • Identify geographic regions your ancestors came from?
    • And do you like surprises?

Answers to these questions will narrow down the decision on which tests, and which companies, to start with.

The most popular consumer DNA testing companies with a focus on family history are:

DNA Test Types

There are three common DNA test types for family history research, beyond the scope of medical and health tests. All of these tests will generate matches with people who’ve also tested. If these matches also offer public or accessible family tree data, it makes the process easier to understand your familial matches and expand your family tree data.

Y-Chromosomal DNA Tests: This test explores the father-to-son or paternal line of your ancestors. If you are specifically researching surnames or identification of male direct line ancestors, this is an appropriate test. Family Tree DNA and 23andMe are the most popular testing companies for this test.

mtDNA – Mitochondrial DNA Tests: This test explores the maternal line, the mother-to-daughter pedigree. If you wish to identify the direct line female ancestors, your mother, your maternal grandmother, your maternal grandmother’s grandmother, this is the test for you. It may also help to narrow down or identify hard-to-find females in your family tree if your matches have well-documented family trees. Family Tree DNA and 23andMe are the most popular testing companies for this test.

Autosomal DNA Tests: This test explores both the male and female pedigrees based upon speculative maternal and paternal lines. Using sophisticated chromosomal matching techniques against reference DNA groups and individuals as well as those who’ve taken the same test, it helps to identify what is called “cousin matches.” While it make identify siblings, parentage, and other closer relationships, more often it identifies cousins to multiple degrees of separation such as first, second, third, and so on cousins, or cousins once or twice or more removed. This is the most common test available to the general public. All consumer DNA testing companies offer this test including Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, Ancestry.com, MyHeritage, and Living DNA Ancestry.

The following chart is a simple assessment of the five most popular DNA testing companies and their options.

Simple comparison chart of DNA testing companies Oct 2018The average price of a DNA test as of October 2018 ranges from $49-99 USD and up, depending upon the specialty and options of the tests. Look for upcoming holiday and Black Friday sales and discounts for even better prices.

What to Do While Waiting for DNA Test Results

We’ve gathered some anecdotal data and found that the waiting times for DNA results, including ordering and shipping, taking and mailing the test, and waiting for the results, to be an estimated total wait time of 4-12 weeks. So there is plenty of time to prepare and improve your DNA results by researching your ancestors and building your family tree.

The better the information in your public family tree, the better the results for DNA companies with family trees.

  1. Build your family tree on the DNA testing service. Ensure it is public (and the living are marked living to hide their identities).
    1. Start with what you know.
    2. Support what you know with fact-based evidence and records.
    3. Identify the missing pieces.
    4. Research, find, and document the answers.
  2. Learn more about family history research.

The more you learn about family history research by studying online, reading books, reading blogs, joining family history groups online, attending conferences and workshops, and joining local genealogy societies and attending meetings, the easier and better your research and the more you will improve the odds of finding valuate information in your DNA results.

What do Do When You Get the DNA Results

It is exciting for many when notification by email comes in regarding the results of your DNA test. Many are nervous, others eager for answers. Remember, your expectations and hopes may not meet the reality of the information you receive, so be ready for disappointments, confusion, and surprises, just in case. Otherwise, expect to have fun with this.

We say this because some people have found out, at 70 years old, that they were adopted and no one in the family alive today knew anything about it. Or find out that the family story of your ancestors being from Spain or Portugal is revealed to be actually Northern Africa or the Middle East, hidden from the descendants for some reason. Discovering a new ancestor may reveal that they were a criminal, adulterer, or some other surprise. Most people find out their family history is normal, and their expectations are met, but many find a variety of surprises, good and bad.

When you get your DNA results, explore your diversity. Find your tribe. Research them. The more you learn about the groups your ancestors are associated with, the better for everyone, especially with your family when you share this story.

Identify the locations of your ancestors. This expands the areas you may wish to research and find records and documents about their lives. It may also inspire you for your next vacation destination.

This is an opportunity to not only find living cousins but expand the data in your family tree through the open and public family trees of those who match. This is great for planning your next family reunion with new additions to the family.

Most importantly, if you have genealogical questions, like who were the parents of your grandmother, or what were the names of your grandmother’s sister’s children and what happened to them, this is where you may find the answers.

Ancestry.com currently offers the most visual, easy-to-understand maps and charts regarding your family’s DNA and ancestral information.

Be ready for anything. And make it fun. This is fun. Family history research can be hard work, involve a wide variety of research plans, but it is mostly fun. Even the surprises can be fun. At the very least, the information adds to your family’s stories. The visual maps and charts hook into historical references for massive migration moments in history and big events to help put your family history in context of the times.

MyHeritage offers similar features but they are new to the consumer DNA market and expect to see changes and improvements over time. This applies to all DNA testing companies. Ancestry.com just updated their algorithms and many were unhappy with the changes. Expect them as the technology improves.

Once you have had fun looking at all the charts and information, shared them with friends and family, and contacted some living cousins for more information and answers to your questions, expand your reach.

In addition to taking more DNA tests and getting as many older family members to test, you can export the raw DNA data from most companies and share it with others as well as upload it to other third-party DNA tools and services. This not only gets you more bang for your DNA buck, so to speak, it helps you expand the potential for matches and help others do the same.

Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage allow for uploads of tests from other companies to create cross-reference data points.

GEDMatch and DNAGedcom allow you to upload the DNA test data from most of the other popular companies to their services so you may use their free tools to analyze your DNA or compare it to other DNA tests. You also become a larger part of the DNA reference pool, increasing the odds of finding more matches and family history data.

For more information on DNA testing and choosing and using DNA tests, see:

Upcoming Events

We highly recommend you become involved with your local genealogy and family history society or group. Check out a list of them from the US Federation of Genealogy Societies (FGS), FamilySearch Wiki’s List of US Genealogy Societies, and your state and providence historical societies and governments. Also consider joining the Virtual Genealogical Association, a new society based on the web and irrespective of geographic locale.

Rootstech LogoRootsTech has announced two conferences this coming year, one in Salt Lake City, Feb 27-March 2, 2019, and a new one in London, England, Oct 24-26, 2019. The Salt Lake City conference opens registration September 20.

2018 Virtual Genealogy Fair with US Archives.The Annual Free Virtual Genealogy Fair with the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is Wednesday, October 24, 2018, from 10AM – 4PM EDT. We will be Live Streaming the day-long event in Altspace, so please join us. Desktop/2D access is recommended.

For information about local and international genealogy and family history events, chek out ConferenceKeeper and their calendar.

Q&A and Things to Know

As this was our first meeting, much of the meeting was spent discussion the future of this meetup.

Please note that because we will have speakers over time as well as educational and informative events, it is good to know that there are two free ways to access Altspace.

  1. Virtual Reality: Using a headset such as Samsung Gear, Oculus Go, Rift, or another, you may participate in 3D, which means your eyes will be covered and it is a challenge to take notes.
  2. 2D/Desktop: Altspace installs directly to your computer or phone as an independent program or app. Once installed, you may enter Altspace in 2D on your Windows or Mac machine, using your mouse and keyboard to navigate, or your phone with the option “without headset.” Both methods are “eyes-free,” meaning your hands are free to type or take notes during the meetup.

Future topics were suggested and included:

  • 3D Tools and Modeling
  • AR Tools and Apps
  • Certification
  • Digitization
  • DNA
  • Genealogy Technology
  • Guest Speakers
  • Industry News
  • Regional Research
  • Research Techniques
  • Society Issues and Challenges
  • Study/Research Groups
  • VR Applications
  • Watch Webinars

Much thanks also goes to my assistant, Darrell Gulstrom, professional genealogist.

The next meeting is 22 Oct 2018 at 6PM PDT. Hope to see you there!

Altspace Genealogy Family History Meetup Notes – 24 Sep 2018

Our first Genealogy Family History VR Meetup in Altspace was a success, believed to be the first genealogy meetup in virtual reality. Today is “episode two” in our Altspace Genealogy Family History VR Meetup.

Due to popular demand at the last meeting, I and my team of volunteers have been asked to offer some some workshops at this and the next few meetups on the basics of family history research. Many have recently purchased DNA tests and wish to know more about the process of researching their genealogy, so here is the first of these Basic Family History workshops.

Family History Basics

We played two family history games during this meetup, Interviewing Yourself and How Many Records, two ways to begin to think about the process of family history research.

The simple basics of family history research are:

  1. Plan
  2. Research
  3. Analyze
  4. Document
  5. Share

At this meetup, we focused on the first step: Plan.

The Research Plan: Interviews

To begin any family history research, you begin with making a plan. When planning for an event, activity, or project in life or work, we tend to list everything we need to do to get it done. In family history, we’ve learned that this can quickly overwhelm a researcher, new or advanced. So we work with simple questions, research questions, that begin with:

  1. What do I know?
  2. What don’t I know?
  3. What do I want to know?
  4. Where will I find answers?

As with all family history research, you should start with the living and move onto the dead. Ask yourself the above questions of all living people in your family, then move on to ask them to help you answer these questions about their lives.

Many family history researchers focus on the BMD, the Birth, Marriage, Death events of a person’s life. Just as there is more to your life than these three events, there is more to everyone in your family tree. It is critical to gather as much information about the story of a life.

The Interview Yourself Game

To demonstrate this process, we introduced the “Interviewing Yourself” game. By starting the interview process with yourself, it is easier to apply to other living members of your family or others researching their family tree.

Signs with template fill-in-the-blanks paragraphs were posted around the room and participants were invited to gather in pairs under each sign. They had 3 minutes to complete the template paragraph without discussion, just nudges of help if necessary. Then participants moved to the next sign, and so on until all six signs were completed.

The template paragraphs were:

  • Birth: I was born ___________. My parents were __________. I was ___________.
  • Childhood: My earliest childhood memories are _____________.
  • School: I was _____________ in school. My favorite subjects were ___________. My least favorite were ______________.
  • Work: My career started with ______________ then ____________. I succeeded with ______. I struggled with __________.
  • Relationships: I started dating when I was _________. Significant experiences included __________. I am now ________________.
  • Life in General: Regrets: __________. Wishes: ____________. Happiest Moments: _________. Want people to know: _______________.

This is a fun activity, formal or informally presented, at reunions and family history meetups and meetings. Other topics could have included Family Life (childhood and adulthood), Health, Finances, Mental Health, Family Details (great grandparents, parents, siblings, children, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc.), and so on, but we decided to keep it brief for this first round as an example.

We then discussed some discoveries and how we would apply this to other family members to start our research.

Moving onto developing a research plan, we briefly tackled the concept of Where to find the answers?

How Many Records Game

Before playing the game, “How Many Records,” we discussed two of the three types of evidence found in researching family trees.

  1. Direct Evidence: Information that answers the question directly.
  2. Indirect Evidence: Information that infers an answer but isn’t the answer.

Using the example research question, “When did Martha Bell marry Todd Edlestein?,” we listed examples of the two types of evidence:

  • Direct Evidence:
    • Marriage Certificate
    • Marriage Records
    • Newspaper Article(s)
    • Living Witness
  • Indirect Evidence:
    • Scrapbook
    • Wedding Invitations
    • Diaries
    • Photographs
    • Living Witness

Comparing the two, a marriage certificate or record and newspaper article are created after the event as verification of the event. The first two are typically signed by or list the participates, officials, and witnesses to the event, and the newspaper article(s) contain information supplied by witnesses and easily corroborated evidence. These are direct evidence of the event taking place.

A wedding invitation is indirect evidence. Why? Because the marriage might not have happened. Same with other types of records such as marriage applications, intentions, and bonds. They are pledges and agreements that a marriage is to take place, but we don’t know if there was follow-through.

Scrapbooks, diaries, and photographs are evidence of a marriage, with photographs of the ceremony and participants, but sometimes the information in these are vague. If specific, listing the date and including copies of the marriage certificate would transfer these to the direct evidence column, but often they contain information such as “A June Wedding” or “Marriage August 1965” with no other information about the actual date, location, or other relevant information that answers the research question.

Notice that “Living Witness” is on both lists. This is where we learn about the quality of the evidence. In genealogy, we measure the quality of the evidence of living witnesses (or testimonials by now deceased individuals) by their direct involvement in the event, their relationship to the parties involved and the event, the distance in time between the event and the testimony or record creation, and other details.

“I was there,” isn’t good enough any more. While it lends credibility, the family history detective must find collaborating evidence to support their testimony. Once the quality of their testimony about the event is collaborated, then it could be direct evidence or indirect (“I’m sure it was sometime in May 1965.”).

We don’t judge the evidence as good or bad. We analyze and evaluate it. We collaborate it. Part of the Genealogical Proof Standard of ethics and practices genealogists live by states that “complete and accurate source citations” or evidence must come from at least two separate, verifiable, informants. In other words, two witnesses, so to speak.

For example, to determine my grandfather’s birth date, a man raised for many years in an orphanage in Portland, Oregon, who knew his parents, I have no birth certificate, but dozens of records indicating he was born on Sept. 29 or 30th, 1903, 1904, or 1906 in Michigan, Washington, or Canada, or somewhere in between. After years of research, I could’ve concluded he was born on 29 Sep 1904 based on the quantity of answers. Then I realized that he provided information for every record. He was the informant. Someone must have told him that these were his birth days, and he played around with the birth year for gain, lying to get into the military at an older age, pensions collected early, etc. We may never know, but in analyzing the information, I learned more about my grandfather and his relationship to his birth.

Onto the game, “How Many Records,” we asked participants to come up with as many record sources to answer the research question:

What is the birth date of Sally Smith born in the US in the 1960s?

My team came up with almost 50 answers, so it was fun to see how many the group thought of.

  1. Baptismal Records
  2. Birth Certificates
  3. Birth Records
  4. Cemetery (tombstones)
  5. Census, Federal
  6. Chancery Court Records
  7. Church newsletters
  8. Church records
  9. Compiled Genealogies
  10. Confirmation Records
  11. Consent Papers
  12. Court Records
  13. Criminal Records
  14. Death Certificates
  15. Divorce Certificates
  16. Divorce Papers
  17. Draft Records
  18. Driver’s License
  19. Employment Records
  20. Family Bible Records
  21. Family Pedigree Books
  22. Funeral Home Records
  23. Funeral Records
  24. Hospital Records (Archives)
  25. International Genealogical Index
  26. Land/Property Records
  27. Marriage Applications
  28. Marriage License
  29. Marriage Records
  30. Memberships
  31. Military Records
  32. Newspapers (birth)
  33. Newspapers (death)
  34. Newspapers (marriage)
  35. Obituary
  36. Online Family Trees
  37. Parish Records
  38. Passports
  39. Pension Files
  40. Personal Letters/Papers/Diaries
  41. Photo Albums/Scrapbooks
  42. Photographs
  43. Probate Records
  44. Returns and Registers
  45. Social Security Death Index
  46. Tax Records
  47. Town Histories
  48. Yearbooks
  49. Ask the living

Again, these may offer either direct or indirect evidence to answer the question.

When you start any family history research plan, this is the process to go through. You create a very specific research question, list all the sources that may provide an answer, then make a plan to find each of the records until you have enough information to draw a well-formed conclusion on the answer.

Upcoming Events

We highly recommend you become involved with your local genealogy and family history society or group. Check out a list of them from the US Federation of Genealogy Societies (FGS), FamilySearch Wiki’s List of US Genealogy Societies, and your state and providence historical societies and governments. Also consider joining the Virtual Genealogical Association, a new society based on the web and irrespective of geographic locale.

Rootstech LogoRootsTech has announced two conferences this coming year, one in Salt Lake City, Feb 27-March 2, 2019, and a new one in London, England, Oct 24-26, 2019. The Salt Lake City conference opens registration September 20.

2018 Virtual Genealogy Fair with US Archives.The Annual Free Virtual Genealogy Fair with the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is Wednesday, October 24, 2018, from 10AM – 4PM EDT. We will be Live Streaming the day-long event in Altspace, so please join us. Desktop/2D access is recommended.

For information about local and international genealogy and family history events, check out ConferenceKeeper and their calendar.

Q&A and Things to Know

As this was our first meeting, much of the meeting was spent discussion the future of this meetup.

Please note that because we will have speakers over time as well as educational and informative events, it is good to know that there are two free ways to access Altspace.

  1. Virtual Reality: Using a headset, such as Samsung Gear, Oculus Go, Rift, or another, means your eyes will be covered, making it a challenge to take notes.
  2. 2D/Desktop: Altspace installs directly to your computer or phone as an independent program or app. Once installed, you may enter Altspace in 2D on your Windows or Mac machine, using your mouse and keyboard to navigate, or your phone with the option “without headset.” Both methods are “eyes-free,” meaning your hands are free to type or take notes during the meetup.

We will be continuing with these basic family history workshops for the next month or so. We are also working on presenting and bringing in guest speakers on the following topics per your feedback (keep it coming):

  • 3D Tools and Modeling
  • AR Tools and Apps
  • Certification
  • Digitization
  • DNA
  • Genealogy Technology
  • Research Organization
  • Industry News
  • Regional Research
  • Research Techniques
  • Society Issues and Challenges
  • Study/Research Groups
  • VR Applications
  • Genealogy Software and Applications
  • Genealogy Mobile Apps

Much thanks also goes to my assistants, Darrell Gulstrom (“Darrell”), professional genealogist, and Kelly P. Leonard (“Kelly”), teacher and family historian.

If you would like to volunteer to help or present on a family history topic, please let us know. I am “Relle” in Altspace or you may also use the contact form on this site to connect with us.

The next meeting is 8 Oct 2018 at 6PM PDT. Hope to see you there!

Altspace Genealogy Family History Meetup Notes – 10 Sep 2018

Our first Genealogy Family History VR Meetup in Altspace was a success. It is believed that this was the first ever genealogy meetup in virtual reality, and much appreciation goes to the awesome events team at Altspace for helping make it a success.

Here are the notes from the meetup.

Recreation of Ireland’s Beyond 2022 VR Project

In 1922, Dublin’s Four Courts Public Record Office building was burned to the ground at the beginning of the Irish Civil War, destroying hundreds of years of birth, marriage, death, and other national to local records and documents. Trinity College Dublin’s School of Histories and Humanities and the ADAPT Centre for Digital Content Technology in the School of Computer Science and Statistics, along with The National Archives of Ireland, The UK National Archives, The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, and The Irish Manuscripts Commission are working together on Beyond 2022: Ireland’s Virtual Record Treasury. Their goal is to recreate the original building, complete with access to as many books and records digitized from international collections, in virtual reality.

…Dr Patrick Prendergast, Provost of Trinity, said: “Ireland’s Virtual Record Treasury will be a public and academic resource with global reach and impact. This international, collaborative project makes a significant contribution to the national commemorative effort by reuniting collections destroyed by war. It forms part of our strategic research theme ‘Making Ireland’ — a transformative collaboration in Irish studies.

“By reconstructing a lost treasure, Trinity is seeking to create a lasting and meaningful legacy and an invaluable resource for researchers and educators at all levels which will continue to grow beyond 2022. By moving beyond the divisive legacy of the period, the project will also reopen Ireland’s deeper past to the general public at home and in the wider diaspora.”

You can find more information on Facebook and the project site, Beyond 2022.

Upcoming Events

We highly recommend you become involved with your local genealogy and family history society or group. Check out a list of them from the US Federation of Genealogy Societies (FGS), FamilySearch Wiki’s List of US Genealogy Societies, and your state and providence historical societies and governments. Also consider joining the Virtual Genealogical Association, a new society based on the web and irrespective of geographic locale.

Rootstech LogoRootsTech has announced two conferences this coming year, one in Salt Lake City, Feb 27-March 2, 2019, and a new one in London, England, Oct 24-26, 2019. The Salt Lake City conference opens registration September 20.

2018 Virtual Genealogy Fair with US Archives.The Annual Free Virtual Genealogy Fair with the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is Wednesday, October 24, 2018, from 10AM – 4PM EDT. We will be Live Streaming the day-long event in Altspace, so please join us. Desktop/2D access is recommended.

For information about local and international genealogy and family history events, chek out ConferenceKeeper and their calendar.

Q&A and Things to Know

As this was our first meeting, much of the meeting was spent discussion the future of this meetup.

Please note that because we will have speakers over time as well as educational and informative events, it is good to know that there are two free ways to access Altspace.

  1. Virtual Reality: Using a headset such as Samsung Gear, Oculus Go, Rift, or another, you may participate in 3D, which means your eyes will be covered and it is a challenge to take notes.
  2. 2D/Desktop: Altspace installs directly to your computer or phone as an independent program or app. Once installed, you may enter Altspace in 2D on your Windows or Mac machine, using your mouse and keyboard to navigate, or your phone with the option “without headset.” Both methods are “eyes-free,” meaning your hands are free to type or take notes during the meetup.

Future topics were suggested and included:

  • 3D Tools and Modeling
  • AR Tools and Apps
  • Certification
  • Digitization
  • DNA
  • Genealogy Technology
  • Guest Speakers
  • Industry News
  • Regional Research
  • Research Techniques
  • Society Issues and Challenges
  • Study/Research Groups
  • VR Applications
  • Watch Webinars

Much thanks also goes to my assistant, Darrell Gulstrom, professional genealogist.

The next meeting is 24 Sep 2018 at 6PM PDT. Hope to see you there!

RootsWeb is Back Up and Ready for You To Back Up

Rootsweb logoRootsWeb.com was one of the most invaluable sites during the early days of the internet, so much so, this grassroots effort to present and preserve genealogical information and society collections is back online…sort of.

In 2000, RootsWeb was purchased by Ancestry.com, causing many, including myself, to be wary of its future. Still, we like to believe that the commercial site, not associated directly with the LDS Church today, is trustworthy as we pay hundreds of dollars a year for access to their records, trees, and DNA. When a security hack brought down the site in December 2017, we felt that the power and vast resources of Ancestry would be able to restore the free sites and data quickly.

This past week it was announced that RootsWeb is back up and working, again, sort of. Mostly. Checking the calendar. End of August. Eight months later.

We can speculate on why it took so long…old servers, old tech, developers with little backwards compatibility expertise, the volume of data to repair, the damage done by the hack…but it is now up and it is time to ensure the information you need for your research, or your society’s data, is backed up and protected, and other strategies considered such as copying the information to another site under your control.

In the 1990s, I began to use RootsWeb to find genealogical societies with information about my personal research. They were beginning to share their databases, indexing projects, history, and record information via the wiki and society hosted free web pages. No longer did I need to pick up the phone, write letters, or get on a plane to find the information I needed to continue my research. There was still some of that, but those efforts were streamlined and made more efficient because of the online information.

From large genealogical societies to tiny family history groups, RootsWeb was an equal access platform to share information. Run mostly by volunteers, it became a passion for many, a frustration for just as many, I’m sure. Larger, more financially stable groups went on to create their own full-fledged sites, but others had a place to reach out to those seeking birth and death records in Shawano County, Wisconsin, or Raisin, Michigan. International family history groups and associations added to the wealth of information over time, and it soon became a first stop on your family history hunt.

As with all things online, the shuffle from owner to owner, host to host, and the ever-changing hands of control from the highest administration to the smallest web page manager took its toll. By the 2010s, there were calls to close RootsWeb or at least make changes to improve the quality of the material, or preserve it and walk away. I heard many rumors, opinions, suggestions, and assumptions over the years, but it kept hanging in there, and I kept reaping the rewards.

Today, it is back up and running. Groups around the world with information on their service should rush to check it, and update it if they can. And back it up.

This is what I’m going to do now that RootsWeb is back up.

How to Preserve Your Research Data on RootsWeb

While it is true that we can use the Wayback Machine to access many of the web pages found within RootsWeb dating back years, I found that some of the pages I relied upon for my research were hard to find through the Wayback Machine.

Here are a couple alternatives.

  • Saving Single Web Pages: If you have single web pages you wish to preserve for future reference and research, use the save web page as PDF method. Title the saved PDF file appropriately and store it where you can find it easily again.
  • Save Websites: Rootsweb is actually a collection of mini-sites, so to speak, called subdomains or sub-websites. They have a unique address, and using the techniques described in my article on how to save everything you find on the web, you can use the HTTrack web copier or an alternative to set the address for the specific address and download everything within that URL’s range.
    • An example of a sub-website is https://sites.rootsweb.com/~mialhn2/ for the Michigan American Local History Network. Enter that as the starting URL.
    • Take care to set the options to download only to one or two levels, not everything, to minimize time and the number of files.
    • Save the results with a name you will recognize in the future and place the folder with your other research material.
    • An alternative is to open the downloaded web pages and save each as a PDF to keep things better organized.

I’m going to do a combination of both to ensure I have today the information I’ve used in the past and may in the future…just in case.

I hate “just in case” issues, but that’s the world we live in. If we learn anything from the RootsWeb experience, let it be to save our research to keep it under our control for those just in case moments.

All Ellis Island Passenger Records Now Online Free

FamilySearch announced that Ellis Island Immigrant Records 1820-1957 are now online and free to access on FamilySearch.

Check out the “Great Wave” of immigration (1880s–early 1920s) among the complete collection of Ellis Island passenger lists.

According to the announcement:

Ship passenger lists can teach you more than you might think about your traveling ancestors. Earlier records may include a full name, age, gender, occupation, nationality, intended destination (country), name of ship and date of arrival. Later records may also name traveling companions and relatives “back home” or in the United States. You may also learn a relative’s marital status, physical description, last permanent residence, or birthplace. Any of these details can help you build your family tree and connect with your immigrant ancestors.

Personally, I’ve found surprising information tucked into passenger logs and immigration records on my own ancestors.

The collection includes:

The records of Ellis Island (and Castle Rock) were originally preserved on microfilm, a technology FamilySearch and others are quickly digitizing with the help of many FamilySearch volunteers. The announcement of the joint project between Statue of Liberty–Ellis Island Foundation and FamilySearch noted that it took 165,590 online FamilySearch volunteers to convert and transcribe the 9.3 million images of records totaling 63.7 million names, “including immigrants, crew, and other passengers traveling to and from the United States through the nation’s largest port of entry.”

Luckily for us, all of these records are free to access through FamilySearchch, though registration to log into FamilySearch is required.

Modern Historical Perspective on the News Industry

In a beautifully written long-read post on The Guardian, veteran newspaper editor (and reporter) Alan Rusbridger wrote about trust in the media, looking back over his long career that started in the 1970s.

For 20 years I edited a newspaper in the throes of this tumultuous revolution. The paper I took over in 1995 was composed of words printed on newsprint involving technologies that had changed little since Victorian times. It was, in many ways, a vertically arranged world. We – the organs of information – owned printing presses and, with them, the exclusive power to hand down the news we had gathered. The readers handed up the money – and so did advertisers, who had few other ways of reaching our audience. But today advertisers can often reach consumers much more effectively through other channels. People are much more reluctant to part with money for news. And, however you measure it, there is widespread scepticism, confusion and mistrust about mainstream journalism.

The stories he tells of how the newspaper industry worked, and changed with modern technology, says much about who we are as well as where we’ve been. I thoroughly enjoyed his description of learning to work the police beat early in his career with a seasoned journalist.

More important to me was Fulton Gillespie, the chief reporter, known as Jock – a growling, silver-haired Glaswegian with dark glasses and the stub of a cigar permanently lodged between bearded lips.

Jock saw it as his duty to school us in hard knocks. We would begin the day with the calls – a round trip to the police, ambulance and fire services. As we set off in the office Mini, he would deliver one of a small repertoire of homilies about our craft. “If you write for dukes, only dukes will understand, but if you write for the dustman, both will understand. Keep it short, keep it simple, write it in language you would use if you were telling your mum or dad.”

He explained that police work involved keeping one foot on the pavement and one in the gutter. You got their respect by kicking them in the balls at regular intervals, because, in the long run, they needed us more than we needed them. That, he emphasised, was a good rule applicable to all those in authority. It had been hammered into him by the old hacks on the Falkirk Herald, and it would always be true. He repeated this often in case I had failed to grasp it: they needed us more than we needed them. We owned the printing presses; they didn’t. End of.

This is the media I grew up with, the school of hard knocks knocking back, gritty street reporting mixed with saucy community gossip and school and sports news, a time when our local newspapers were the records of our lives and our neighborhoods.

Genealogists spend much of their time learning about history as well as learning from history, and newspapers are a part of our deep research in family history.

Many of us grew up with the newspaper mythology story (mixed with truth) from the movie, Citizen Kane. You’ve heard stories of William Randolph Hearst and his newspaper empire built on yellow journalism, described in Wikipedia as:

…newspapers that present little or no legitimate well-researched news while instead using eye-catching headlines for increased sales. Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism.

In other words, yesteryear’s fake news. Or better described as today’s tabloid journalism.

Hearst sensationalized the 1898 Spanish American War, causing it to escalate with his false or at least exaggerated reports. Yet, according to some Cuban historians, Hearst is considered a hero for liberating Cuba from Spain.

Hearst wasn’t alone when it came to yellow journalism and sensationalism. Joseph Pulitzer of the Pulizter Prize fame was notorious for his sensationalized news stories, often referred to as the “father of tabloid news.” Governments, businesses, and newspapers in general have long had bias, influencing voters, opinions, wars, and governments, for good and for evil, all to sell a paper. Not all, but enough to make us question their integrity when accused of falsehoods.

It’s not just newspapers but photographs and the stories they tell, or don’t tell, as they mislead the viewer. Photopreneur featured a list of the most infamous staged photos including the famous photograph by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, Eddie Adams, of Colonel Ngyen Ngoc Loan shooting a Viet Cong prisoner in the head. It became a rallying cry for the end of the Vietnam war and defeating such a brutal government. The event captured was real, but the fact not publicized was how the executed man had been found guilty of murdering another officer’s entire family. The execution was to take place indoors, but the Colonel wanted to make this a lesson to others, so he ordered it moved outside so the light would be better for the news photographers, thus staging the execution. Propaganda twisted it into another story.

Another iconic image from the Vietnam war was the Napalm Girl in Vietnam, photographed by Nick Ut, a Vietnamese news reporter, used around the globe as a symbol for the American incursion and destruction of a society and culture. What wasn’t well known is that the girl was fleeing not from American forces but Vietnamese air forces dropping napalm on the village, killing many of the girl’s family and setting her clothes on fire. She stripped them off as she and others ran for safety. She suffered burns over almost 50% of her body. She spent much of her life being used as propaganda by the Vietnamese government until she emigrated to Canada where she still lives to tell the real story.

Even today the term “clickbait” is considered a form of sensationalism, modern yellow journalism if you will, as it lures the web user to click through to something that may look like a news story but is really an ad, fake story, or boring story jazzed up to attract attention and earn income based upon clickthroughs. Clickbait titles use tabloid terms such as shocking, amazing, you’ll never believe, and other attention-getting terms punctuated with exclamation points.

These are just a few of the many examples of sloppy, unprofessional, and sleazy journalism deeds. Does this history combined with frequent claims today of “fake news” justify labeling all journalists charlatans?

No.

Two things we’ve learned from studying history is that we learn from our mistakes and these things happen in cycles because, to use Alan Rusbridger’s comment about the police, “You got their respect by kicking them in the balls at regular intervals, because, in the long run, they needed us more than we needed them.”

When newspapers and journalists get out of control, the backlash is a good kick to straighten up and remember who and what they represent and whom they serve. Pulitzer’s sensationalist work during his lifetime is now dedicated to higher standards to ensure recognition for those who rise above the fray, an attempt to reverse the cycle.

We’ve needed their kicks as well. The Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) annually honors outstanding journalism and reporting with their Edward R. Murrow Awards, named after the respected journalist who stood tall and resisted his own censure to stop the witch hunt of McCarthyism, another dark time in our history where the news media kept us from the abyss. He stands as an example of how the news media rose above a bean-counter call for sensationalism at a time when conspiracies ruled, and people thought there was a Russian conspirator under every rock, celebrity, and politician, stopped by a reporter calling for respect for human dignity and freedom of choice and speech.

The lifetime of work by Woodward and Bernstein from Watergate to the present shows us how true investigative journalism combined with a supportive editorial and corporate staff can work for the betterment of society. In spite of a culture of praise and trust for US politicians, their work exposed the corruption in the presidency and election process, and a nation was changed. Yet, it feels like we’re cycling back again in that direction.

The US Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), an independent journalism organization working alongside other noteworthy and trusted news agencies, has a long history of award-winning news investigations, reports, and documentaries uncovering fraud in consumer products, consumer product testing, Medicare billing, wiretapping, data mining, false imprisonments, myths of clean coal and responsible nuclear policies, and other police, FBI, and government abuse and corruptions. Their work has changed laws and made laws.

With tremendous foresight, the Scott Trust was created to secure and fund The Guardian to ensure remains dedicated to “safeguard the journalistic freedom and liberal values of the Guardian free from commercial or political interference” since 1936, with reinvestment “in journalism rather than to benefit an owner or shareholders.”

In 1997, The Guardian revealed investigations into affairs and abuse of power by Tory Ministers (MPs), winning Newspaper of the Year Award for two years in a row for their continued news coverage. It won again in 2011 for its partnership with WikiLeaks and the leaked US embassy cables, and was honored again with its coverage of the Panama Papers. Their reporters broke the news about leading media companies tapping the phones of celebrities and politicians in England illegally, believed to be fake news for a few years before the truth came out. Today, their thoughtful and intuitive respect for healthy debate, criticism, bravery, and honesty is a bright light in these darker days.

If anything, recent attacks on the journalism and news industry helped it reflect upon its policies for truth in advertising and reporting. NPR, POLITICO, and others are working overtime to maintain and defend their fairly unbiased reports on current events, including being honest with their roles in the the history of fake news with Politico’s “How ‘Fake News’ Was Born at the 1968 DNC and BBC News’ “The (almost) complete history of ‘fake news.’ Even the stalwart Smithsonian jumped in with The Age-Old Problem of “Fake News.”

Throughout history, as long as governments and money control the actions of the media, we get what is paid for. The US First Amendment is a conditional guarantee of free speech, not a promise of truth in speech or publishing. There is a fine legal line between freedom of speech, hate speech, and censorship.

To honor the 100th anniversary of The Guardian, an essay by Guardian editor J.C. Scott titled “A Hundred Years” is now considered a “blueprint for independent journalism” as the Guardian nears its 200th anniversary.

In all living things there must be a certain unity, a principle of vitality and growth. It is so with a newspaper, and the more complete and clear this unity the more vigorous and fruitful the growth. I ask myself what the paper stood for when first I knew it, what it has stood for since and stands for now. A newspaper has two sides to it. It is a business, like any other, and has to pay in the material sense in order to live. But it is much more than a business; it is an institution; it reflects and it influences the life of a whole community; it may affect even wider destinies. It is, in its way, an instrument of government. It plays on the minds and consciences of men. It may educate, stimulate, assist, or it may do the opposite. It has, therefore, a moral as well as a material existence, and its character and influence are in the main determined by the balance of these two forces. It may make profit or power its first object, or it may conceive itself as fulfilling a higher and more exacting function.

Tackling the issues of financial stability and the transparency of truth in the news, he continued:

A newspaper is of necessity something of a monopoly, and its first duty is to shun the temptations of monopoly. Its primary office is the gathering of news. At the peril of its soul it must see that the supply is not tainted. Neither in what it gives, nor in what it does not give, nor in the mode of presentation must the unclouded face of truth suffer wrong. Comment is free, but facts are sacred. “Propaganda”, so called, by this means is hateful. The voice of opponents no less than that of friends has a right to be heard. Comment also is justly subject to a self-imposed restraint. It is well to be frank; it is even better to be fair. This is an ideal. Achievement in such matters is hardly given to man. Perhaps none of us can attain to it in the desirable measure. We can but try, ask pardon for shortcomings, and there leave the matter.

He ends with a powerful statement that sets the model for journalistic integrity:

One of the virtues, perhaps almost the chief virtue, of a newspaper is its independence. Whatever its position or character, at least it should have a soul of its own.

For us historically-minded spirits who’ve spent years digging through old newspapers reading sensationalized article titles, snake-oil salesmen pitches, over-blown obituaries, and gossip columns, this history and debate is fascinating today. If you can’t tell the truth, accuse the media of lying. Still, it’s nothing new. We’ve seen it come and go.But some of us would like to see it become old sooner rather than laterer.

Best Tech of IFA 2018 Awards

Digital Trends reported on the best of the IFA Awards this year, and I took a look to see if there was something of interest to us genealogists.

The IFA is the largest innovative technology product show in Europe, similar to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in the US in January. IFA often features the latest technology products before CES does, as the event is held in Berlin in August, just in time for the holiday shopping season.

If you are shopping for a new laptop, while I still recommend Microsoft’s Surface Pro, consider these IFA award winners: Asus’ ZenBooks, Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Extreme, and the Lenovo Yoga Book C930. They look sweet and will be serious competition for the other laptops and notebooks arriving soon.

Ready for a new monitor? The CJ79 by Samsung is a beautiful beast, declared by Digital Trends the “best ultrawide monitor ever since it was launched.” They say that the curved 34-inch monitor (with 43 and 49-inch versions) is even better with Thunderbolt 3 support and a “whopping 3,000:1 contrast ratio.” It will set you back a few dollars, but if you are looking for the best of show, this is indeed a beautiful thing.

They also highlied the Huawei Kirin 980 mobile processor. For a geek like me, their stats on this made my head spin with lust.

…when the Huawei Kirin 980 was announced during the IFA 2018 keynote, it was accompanied by so many eye-widening statistics — from containing 6.9 billion transistors to two Neural Processing Units for onboard artificial intelligence — that it was impossible not to sit up and notice.

Check out the announcement and show details for more awesome new technology.

I can dream, can’t I? At least lust a little. 😀