Monday, November 15, 2010

Saving compiled genealogies for future generations

DearREADERS,
Using computers to organize the family history I'm compiling has been a high priority for Ol' Myrt. I still haven't thrown away the family group sheets my real Gramma Myrtle created back in the late 1950s. Her work served as the source for much of my original data. Then, out of sheer curiosity, I branched out and began ordering birth, marriage and death records. Then I moved on to searching US federal census records the old-fashioned way -- on microfilm at the National Archives in Washington, DC, in the days before reliable census indexes. Now, online availability of documents, created at the time my ancestors lived, has greatly enhanced my research without requiring extensive on-site work, except at those localities where the records aren't yet filmed or digitized.

I used to keep everything in binders -- and still do for research.

But with the traveling I am now able to do since retiring from teaching at the local Vo-Tech, I realize that I am often separated from my own genealogy "paperwork", thus retarding my research in progress.

Scanning source documents and attaching them to ancestors in my genealogy management database is a workable solution, particularly when I began using DropBox as the location for my files. Then as soon as I arrive in Virginia and turn on this computer, all the data entry and scanned image attachments I completed at the Salt Lake City home are available.

SHARING WITHOUT DATA LOSS

Peer-to-peer data sharing is vital among genealogists, as is sharing of data between an individual researcher's genealogy software and a website.

While I do favor the collaboration aspects of posting one's tree on the web, I believe individuals should use a software management program with data residing in a DropBox-type resource until data is "good enough" to share with others. This is important during the process where research doesn't yet prove that individuals and family groups are indeed part of one's tree.

WORKSPACE FOR DEVELOPING PROOF ARGUMENTSAs genealogists move back in time, we typically cannot find a specific document listing parents, and turn to other documents (for instance an ancestor's sibling's documents). "Inferential genealogy" is emerging as the term to describe this type of intermediate to advanced research. Using something like a personal blog with links to personally scanned source documents and web resources while developing the proof argument is something yet to be explored fully by the genealogy community at large.

COLLABORATION & PEER REVIEW
Placing one's family tree on the web provides opportunities for critical peer review, but unfortunately, the transfer of attached source documents is an important element now missing in the creation of online trees. Peer review is an important element of the GPS Genealogical Proof Standard.

The current GEDCOM (genealogy file sharing protocol) model does not provide for the transfer of multi-media files in either the peer-to-peer or the researcher-to-website scenario. One must upload each document individually, reattaching to each ancestor mentioned in the document. This is a cumbersome task, repeating the painstaking work done on each researcher's personal computer. Consequently, few are uploading those essential source documents, in favor or spending more time on original research. This makes it impossible to fairly evaluate the reliability of a researcher's tree. It is no better than reading a genealogy book that lacks source citations. And in this digital, open source age, sharing is what it's all about.

KINSHIP AND COMMUNITY
Centering the tree around an individual and family in family group and pedigree-style layouts does not consider the importance of documenting the role that other members of a community have in the life of an ancestor.

For instance, suppose a non-relative (or not-yet-proved relative) "Mr. A" is noted as witnessing known Smith family land records, acting as an executor on several Smith family wills, appearing as a Godparent or sponsor at the christenings of the children of several Smith family siblings and cousins, and posting marriage bonds for several known Smith family ancestors.

Now suppose the researcher discovers two individuals in the same community with the unfortunate same "John Smith" name. The researcher wishes to determine which is the ancestor he seeks to add to the Smith family genealogy. Often through the indirect evidence that only one of the two "John Smith" ancestral candidates has notations on his land record and a marriage bond witnessed by "Mr. A", do we lean toward that "John Smith". The other John Smith appears to have no part in the "kinship or community" as he transacts no legal or ecclesiastical business with the known Smiths in the area where "Mr. A" has also figured prominently.


THOUGHTS
We've got some awesome genealogy software and website developers who have created valuable tools for recording our research, and discovering more in digital archives of original documents.

From an end-users standpoint, sharing data needs to be seamless. We have a difficult time merely doing the research. Sharing what we've unearthed should not be a problem.

I am confident that the talented genealogy developers will accomplish the task of data sharing standardization. No single commercial entity can force the issue as most certainly their own ideas would win out, and take precedence over another programmer's work. Hence the technical work going on over at BetterGEDCOM.

End-users like Ol' Myrt here and my DearREADERS can speak with their buying dollars and facilitate the changes to improve data sharing by purchasing products that adhere to new standards for genealogy data exchange.


WHAT'S A GENEALOGIST TO DO?
Frankly, it is keep up with the current technology. There is no point in worrying about the longevity or the lifespan of data -- just keep changing and updating it during your active research days. And sometime in the distant future, provide for turning it over to the younger set for them to carry the torch.


And DO place copies of all your genealogy data, images, videos and voice recordings in multiple places. Again, DropBox.com will come in handy there, particularly if you share the folder with others in your family association.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
DearMYRTLE,
Your friend in genealogy.

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