Friday, July 10, 2009

Why Splinter Genealogists Away from their Cousins

This week the folks at FamilyLink, in an attempt to generate another revenue stream, invited genealogists to join a Ning network site named GenealogyWise.com, and in fact, offerred to pimp (oh, sorry, pay) some of them to make the new site look "lived in" with content prior to an official launch later this month.

I have no issue with Ning networks, and in fact manage two myself. The concept of creating your own themed social network is wonderful, and might be something Facebook should consider offering.

Where I think the GenealogyWise concept is a bit misguided in trying to splinter genealogists away from Facebook for the purpose of making it look like the "official" genealogy social network. This will undoubtedly help them attract non-facebook genealogists to the site, which they will need to do in order to generate revenue.

Rather than try to pry genealogists away from Facebook to connect with non-Facebook genealogists, why not come up with a slick way to draw more non-Facebook genealogists into Facebook? Oh, right, if they did that, how would they make money off of the reputations of hard-working professional genealogists and bloggers?

Where GenealogyWise cannot compete with Facebook, is in connecting genealogists with cousins that have (or have had) no interest in genealogy. I have no interest in abandoning Facebook (as some genealogists on Facebook have suggested) and the relatives that I've been able to connect with. I've seen comments from some genealogists new to Facebook to the effect that "they don't understand what Facebook is all about." Well, it's a phenomenal tool for connecting with distant cousins that you may not otherwise have been able to locate.

Sure, the Ning functionality is cool (like I said, I run two Ning networks myself), but something about GenealogyWise makes me feel uneasy. It just doesn't seem right that a for-profit genealogy company should be fueling a social network that should be independent and neutral (as Facebook is). Will the folks from Ancestry.com or Footnote.com be joining GenealogyWise and contributing? Or will they remain on Facebook? I value my interactions with them.

And why not own up to it? Why doesn't the masthead banner say something like "A FamilyLink Service"? Do the 1,400 members realize that this site is operated by FamilyLink who will profit from their use of GenealogyWise through advertising? How come when Ancestry.com flipped RootsWeb.com to RootsWeb.Ancestry.com (and added advertising), many genealogists chose to abandon the site, and yet "we" seem to have no problem with GenealogyWise doing the same thing?

Yes, I joined GenealogyWise and intend to stay involved, but I'd rather see the site turned into a neutral, not-for-profit network so everyone can participate. At a minimum, FamilyLink should step up to the plate and clearly disclose that they are the company behind GenealogyWise (just as Ancestry does on the RootsWeb home page).

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

It's nice to visit a place mentioned in an item that I transcribe

Last week, I picked up a document at auction that listed the pew holders for a church in Morristown, which is very close to where I live. The name sounded familiar, as we spent New Year's Eve at Morristown's First Night recently. The document was "List of the Pew Holders and Sitters in the Church of the Assumption, Morristown, N. J., January 1st, 1898," and after uploading the transcribed information this morning, I decided to take a drive and photograph the church.

There's a historical marker outside the church that reads, "Gothic revival building is the oldest standing church in Morristown. Replaced 1848 wooden church which ministered to Irish immigrant families in surrounding Dublin area."

From the church's website: "In 1847, a lot of land was purchased by Father Louis Senez, (pastor of St. Vincent Parish in Madison) for $400 to build the first Catholic Church in Morristown. The building of the church was then left to Father Bernard McQuaid. The original wooden church structure stood on the site of the present-day rectory. By August 15,1948, the modest church was roofed and Father McQuaid gave the church the title of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mass was said for the first time in the church on Christmas Day, 1948. The new church was dedicated on March 5, 1849."

The church is located at 91 Maple Ave, Morristown, NJ 07960.

On the cover of the document that I acquired it states, "Every resident of this Parish is in duty bound to contribute his and her share to the support of the Church and the Church Work. The principal source of revenue is the renting of pews and sittings. Nobody may reasonably expect to participate in the benefits of the Parish, unless identified with it by the renting of a pew or sitting."

It was such a nice pleasure to be able to visit a place mentioned in one of the documents included in my Family Tree Connection project. All of the photos were uploaded to a folder on Flickr.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Is Dan Lynch the Indiana Jones of Genealogy?

Last night I had the pleasure of listening to Dan Lynch speak at a local library about his book, Google Your Family Tree. I have to be honest, I've known about Dan's book since it was released, and had wondered in the past why he chose to write on this topic, and also why genealogists would want to buy such a book. But hearing Dan talk about the subject, and seeing the audience reactions, made me realize that I've really taken Google (and searching techniques) for granted.

I especially love the subtitle of Dan's book, "Unlock the Hidden Power of Google." It's a great reminder of how much genealogy research, especially in the online world, is truly an "adventure." And just like Indiana Jones in the movies, genealogists need the skills necessary to filter through the enormous amount of information on the Internet and avoid those poisonous darts (i.e. overwhelming search results) that frustrate us.

The talk last night was sponsored by the Family History Interest Group (FHIG) of Bernards Township Library, and the Morris Area Genealogy Society (MAGS), and was a packed room full of avid genealogists equally curious to learn some of Dan's "secrets" about the all-too-familiar Google search engine. The crowd was quiet for the first thirty minutes, or so, as Dan covered some of the basics to ensure everyone understood the essential components of Google. Then the "oohs" and "aahs" started, as Dan revealled some of his favorite tips for filtering results.

Oh sure, I bet you were hoping that I'd spill the beans and share Dan's top tips. No such luck, there's no shortcut to becoming a better search engine user. Dan's talk was just the tip of the iceburg, and you really need to dig into his book (most folks I've talked to say every time they pick up their copy and re-read certain chapters, they learn something new).

Bravo to Dan for taking on the challenge of making all genealogists better online sleuths. I now see how his efforts will benefit all information providers (small and large), by teaching genealogists to find what they are looking for more efficiently. Genealogists often speculate that the information they need to break down their brickwalls is "out there" somewhere. Why not spend $34.95 and purchase this book to gain the skills needed to actually find it!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Vital Records for Railroad Employees

At a recent live auction that I attended there were three box lots of a monthly publication for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen listed. I had been collecting a similar publication for the same group that later merged with another and became the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen, so my interest in these three lots was high.

Locomotive Firemen Magazine (January 1889)This may sound weird, but at these auctions I prefer NOT to look too closely at the items or lots. I look just enough to ensure that there is some genealogical value. That way I'm less disappointed if I don't win the lot.

I "went for it" on these three, won them, and quickly shuffled them off to my truck. (Sadly, items do tend to mysteriously walk away at these auctions). The next morning I flew to Raleigh, N. C. for the NGS conference; it wasn't until this weekend that I finally had a chance to sit down and sort through the boxes.

Just to put into perspective how exciting this find was, my previous collection of these publications focused between 1908 to 1916, although I did win a large lot off eBay covering 1928-1933. Recently, I managed to get a handful of copies from some dealers dating back to 1897.

After sorting all 98 issues in these three boxes, I was amazed to see that they went all the way back to 1889! This is earlier than any issue I've ever seen for sale or online. Oh, why do I like these publications? They are filled with promotions, marriages, births of children and deaths of the members (i.e. railroad employees).

Yesterday, I transcribed the ten issues from 1889 (March and November were missing), and just posted them online as part of my Family Tree Connection (subscription) database project. The name indexes are free to search, and you can browse through the issues by visiting http://LiveRoots.com or using the Live Roots for Facebook application.

Each week, I will attempt to post another year of this amazing collection.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Industry Professionals are Genealogy Resources

When I started the Live Roots project, including living people was one of the first things that I considered. Behind every genealogical resource (e.g. website, book, podcast, etc.) is a person (or a group of people), and it's helpful to genealogists to know the "who's who" of our industry. The Live Roots project makes it easy to explore related resources from the same person, so you can see if they blog, write books, speak at events, all from their profile page. Genealogy researchers, writers and speakers are invited to signup for a free Live Roots profile at either the GenealogyToday.com or LiveRoots.com websites.

Did you know that back in 1981, Mary Keysor Meyer and P. William Filby edited a book called Who's Who in Genealogy & Heraldry (published by Gale Research Co)? I actually have a copy of the 1990 revised edition. Pretty neat book. Each listing has personal (with DOB), career activities and genealogical publications sections. Amazing how many industry professionals there were even back then; the second edition boasts 1,100 biographees. At a quick glance, I see that my friends Leland Meitzler, Arlene Eakle, Tom Kemp, Craig Scott and Kory Meyerink are all listed.

This book is a reminder of just how important industry professionals, many of whom make genealogy their full-time occupation, are to genealogists around the world. It would be incredible to capture as many individuals in the Live Roots project.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Megan Smolenyak was Genetealogically Speaking in Secaucus, NJ Today

I had the pleasure of attending a very informative talk by Megan Smolenyak at the Secaucus Public Library, hosted by the Hudson County Genealogical Society. Genetealogy is a term that Megan coined for the growing offshoot of genealogy focusing on how genetics can supplement traditional genealogical research.

I've sat through other genetic genealogy talks and read dozens of articles, so I had a general understanding of the topic. Megan's talk, however, was wonderful as she reviewed each of the genetic testing options and how they relate to genealogy. She highlighted many misconceptions about DNA & genealogy, and suggested ways to counter them when persuading those stubborn relatives who haven't opened their mouths for you to swab.

Many genealogists are driven to research to find deeper connections to their ancestors. What better way than through the DNA running throughout our bodies! One quote from Megan really caught my attention. She said we are all "living representatives of our ancestors," which is a great way of looking at this. All men carry the same Y-Chromosome as their male ancestors, and women share common MtDNA with their female ancestors.

What I love about Megan's talks is that she keeps them very current. Her active role in the industry allows her to share trends she has observed and make predictions as to where this all may lead. She relates which projects are just launching, and which have been around (and thus have a larger DNA sampling databases).

While I had a Y-33 test done of myself back at the end of 2007, there haven't been any exact matches yet, but a quick check on DNA.Ancestry.com is showing more close matches have appeared since my last visit. Megan shared with the group the websites that have DNA searches, so I really should take my haplotype data and check for matches in those other projects. My quick visit to DNA.Ancestry.com also revealed they have refined their haplogroup predictions. When I got the results in 2007 they said it was J2. Now they are saying its J2a1h, also known as the "Cultivators".

If you hear about an upcoming Megan speaking event in your area, make sure you attend. If you don't have that luxury, you can always purchase her Trace Your Roots with DNA book and perhaps learns some new tricks for breaking down those brick walls.

Thanks go to the Hudson County Genealogical Society for hosting this excellent genealogy session. If you have roots in Hudson County, New Jersey, be sure to join this group. They publish a quarterly newsletter that includes a schedule of upcoming meetings.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Oldest Genealogy Sites - Class of 1995

After developing the Genealogy WHOIS service on Live Roots, I thought it would be interesting to see which web sites were launched right when (or a few minutes before) the World Wide Web started becoming mainstream. Here they are:
This is, of course, based on the date the domain name was registered, and does not indicate that the web site went online at that time. Likewise, there were probably a bunch of genealogy sites popping up on public domains (e.g. aol.com, compuserve.com) that I don't have an easy method of capturing. The class of 1996 looks to be a bit larger... stay tuned! (If I missed one, please share the details with me so I can add it)

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