30 March 2013

A Fan Chart Idea: My ancestors colored by year discovered

Not long ago I got the idea to color a fan chart by the year that our family discovered each of our direct ancestors. I got this printed for free by GenealogyWallCharts at RootsTech and decided it was time to do some coloring.

Red: 1999-2003 (starting, what we got from family)
Black: 2004
Yellow: 2005
Blue: ~2008
Brown: 2010
Purple: 2011
Orange: 2012
Green: 2013

I used some memory, dates on scanned documents, and upload dates to help narrow down when each ancestor within 9 generations was found. It might not be the right year on a few because I didn't want to spend too much time, but it gives a good general idea.

I thought this chart would be encouraging as well as do the usual job of reminding me what lines I should work on next. This way I can quickly see that success has been a process over the past several years. It reminds me that I should keep at it, and it takes time. It reminds me of the times that each name was found and the good memories surrounding it. Some few of these people have not been sourced beyond doubt, but most have.

After doing genealogy for more than 10 years, I am often surprised that the miracles just keep happening. Seeking our ancestors with patience and faith continues to lead to many miracles.

25 March 2013

My RootsTech 2013: Day 3 - I attend LDS training all day

On day one, I spent a lot of time in the exhibit hall and took in some good news.

The second day, I focused on future technology topics.

Then on the third day I focused completely on LDS styled meetings where I felt uplifted and inspired.

Though these classes were part of the special offerings for consultants--and I could have watched them all online later--I thoroughly enjoyed it. I feel excitement when learning about how technology can help genealogy, but even more important is the spirit of turning our hearts. Turning our hearts to our families is what really moves this great endeavor of family history. At one point, I began to cry as I listened because my heart was touched. Learn more about what family history means to Mormons.

23 March 2013

My RootsTech 2013: Day 2 - Ancestry.com breaking news, FHISO and GEDCOMX, handwriting recognition

 As always, a highlight of the day was the keynote. Today it was sponsored by Ancestry.com who took the opportunity to talk about family history collaboration in general, using online trees for collaboration, and--breaking news--their biggest partnership with FamilySearch yet:
  • Over the next 3 years, Ancestry.com will index approximately 140 million pages of probate records previously microfilmed by FamilySearch.
  • Ancestry.com also announced the new price ($99) for their DNA test. ($99 for everyone, not just subscribers as when they launched it)
 One of my acquaintances at FamilySearch, Ben Baker (seen on the left), invited me via e-mail to talk to him about his relationship calculator idea during the lunch hour. He was presenting his idea in the BYU Technology Workshop demo area outside room 260. My only regret was not knowing about the BYU Technology Workshop offerings sooner. Some of the "how to" complexities are lost on my user (non-developer) brain, but it was well worth my time. Most things were discussed in concept and user-friendly language.

The relationship calculator can be tweaked to include more or less relationship types, capped at a certain generation or left infinite; the main concern Ben seemed to have at this time is that his model would take too long to process information inside the FamilySearch database. He displayed two different algorithms he has tried.

 Randy Wilson of FamilySearch demos his ideas about working toward a model that could become a standard for data transfer (data transfer, think GEDCOMX) that is used for indexed record data. He showed a concept like part of Ancestry.com's attaching sources (the part when you choose which indexed data to merge into your tree). As a caveat, my favorite class of the day was the 4:15pm class on GEDCOMX, when Ryan Heaton of FamilySearch explained their vision to the point. Randy's concept of a model for indexed data was mentioned as a post-"GEDCOMX 1.0" priority by Ryan later.

In the FHISO (Family History Information Standards Organization) class at 3pm, many of us voiced the community's opinion that FHISO was working too slowly and we wanted to see FamilySearch working with them. To the credit of both FHISO and Ryan of GEDCOMX (FamilySearch), they mentioned each other in a friendly manner. The points in the FHISO discussion seemed not to be answered to the satisfaction of many present. For example, it was asked what we have to work with today regarding a better GEDCOM model. It was asked where we might read more specifics of a suggested model for any particular standards. While the answers there seemed soft and tentative, the GEDCOMX vision discussed in the next hour was well defined--an exampe of a modern and live (within FamilySearch) model that could be used by FHISO and altered to the community's needs. Ryan was enthusiastic about the idea of working with FHISO to adjust the "open" GEDCOMX. The complexities were interesting. It was mentioned that the name GEDCOMX is owned by FamilySearch and requires a citation crediting them, but the things needed to implement it are all open and may be altered without permission. When we asked Ryan about why FamilySearch had not officially joined FHISO, Ryan told us that he wanted the same thing and we should take it to upper management because his recommendation was previously dismissed. We do not know why the choice was made, so it is our job to try and find contact information for the right person (that isn't easy) and tell them we want to see an official partnership.

 Back to the BYU Tech. Workshop, at 145pm I attended the session depicted to the left. There were about three shorter talks, with all of them being pretty easy for me to understand except the last which was still interesting. The over-all take-away message (I think) was that FamilySearch is listening to the students at BYU and others about their research. They want to be able to use some automation soon, but it is still rather complex. Various models for handwriting recognition were discussed. Larger research organizations were mentioned. From June 2011 - March 2012 FamilySearch had an evaluation done to measure accuracy of one method. BYU students have done evaluations too. The general result was handwriting recognition between 50-90% accuracy. The 90% figure was from a single author study where the model words were taken from the same handwriting style (author) as the writing being tested against. Tests were closer to 70% accuracy when multiple authors were tested against. The variation in error was significant depending on method, type of record, etc. One of the FamilySearch representatives commented that the accuracy percentage is high enough for limited data fields like gender, marital status, and other simple census fields that such a thing could be used soon to at least provide a suggestion to an indexer/arbitrator. No specific future use plans were revealed, but the overall feel from the workshop and Dennis Brimhall's unconferencing comment (as I recall) is that FamilySearch will seriously look at using this is some form within the next year or two. No time-frame was mentioned, but that is my estimate based on sentiment of those in a position to decide. I think it is key that the community of bloggers and tech-loving-genealogists understand the realities so we do not expect too much too soon. Though it sounds realistic to have at least limited fields on form based records available as a key-A in an indexing experience (as a practical application example). Any time saved without introducing more error is good. People index with 7-8% error on average as FamilySearch reported in this workshop session. If some fields can be pre-filled at 90% accuracy based on today's technology by the computer then I say let us do it--but not as a final result (something to be arbitrated).

To the right, a BYU student shows his project on word recognition in headstones. He is in talks with BillionGraves whom I mentioned is looking at this kind of technology from my post yesterday. Perhaps this is the guy that prompted them looking into it. At any rate, we know it is being worked on by someone and that is exciting.

It turns out that all workshop ideas above are not fully implemented or ready for prime-time. That is easily the nature of a technology workshop from any cutting edge genealogy technologists.

My main take away is that people-who-know-more-than-I-do want the technologies I want just as much as I do, but they also understand the complexities more than I do. After hearing some of their complexities, I will be much less likely to complain to my blogger and other friends. Perhaps this should be a required experience so we all can understand more of the hard work and determination behind-the-scenes. Even though it is complex, they are closer every year to solving these issues--an exciting idea, and what RootsTech is about for people like me.

  • RootsMagic released update for RootsMagic 6 that is the first program to work directly with FamilySearch Family Tree instead of the dying new.FamilySearch.org
  • Between David Rencher's class yesterday (my favorite Thursday class) and the FGS RPAC (Records Preservation and Access Committee) unconferencing session today, I've enjoyed trying to stay in the loop with legislative issues. It is an important area to be involved and there is much opportunity to help.

21 March 2013

My RootsTech 2013: Day 1 - FamilySearch reveals website beta and vision, BillionGraves tech plans

I guess most of all I am glad about the focus to beginners and pre-beginners. We need to share the joy of story, family, love, etc. Many of the "reveals" at the conference are "soft"and this added beginner emphasis is an important aspect of FamilySearch's vision.

With about an hour left until I head to the Mormon Tabernacle to listen to the choir, I hope to give a somewhat decent overview of highlights from my first day. With so much to do, everyone's experience will be different.

Favorite classes
  • Genealogy Legislation with David Rencher
  • Unconferencing with Dennis Brimhall

Favorite exhibit hall happenings
  • Meet a few more enthusiasts who I previously only knew online: James Tanner, Dan Peay, John de Jong, Carol P., and several others who I spent less time with.

I was not as interested in some of the afternoon classes today so I spent a couple of the class periods in the exhibit hall collecting ribbons for my badge and meeting exhibitors. I did the card for entry to win an ipad, got my picture taken at both the FindMyPast and FamilySearch Indexing booth, and picked up two free family history charts, a t-shirt, took my photo in front of the BillionGraves booth to tweet as part of their contest, enjoyed a demo in a nice cushy sofa chair, and just loved the feeling of being with a bunch of wonderful people who love this stuff as much as I do.

What's new? This is subjective and biased by my opinion.
  • FamilySearch reveals website overhaul (mobile friendly, additional LDS features, photos, stories, fan chart view...)
  • BillionGraves anticipates My Legacy Memorial app to be available in the iOS store within days-weeks (in Apple approval now)
  • BillionGraves working to use OCR on headstones to provide a draft transcript that transcribing volunteers can then correct (instead of transcribing from scratch) One of the staff at the booth told me.
  • FamilySearch wants to reach out to those who don't use computers, reach out to youth, reach out to everyone. Only 8% of sponsor's members are registered for FamilySearch.org. Family history is more than genealogy, includes discovering self, talking to family (focus from CEO Dennis Brimhall)
  • FamilySearch still working towards form and letter recognition (regarding FamilySearch Indexing), as well as availability in more languages. (No release date, but closer than last year. Some additional relationships with companies and organizations who can help them reach those goals.) Dennis Brimhall was the source for most of this.
  • Lots of story sharing apps and tools