Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Stop by Springfield, Win Prizes - #FGS2016

The main part of the 2016 conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies starts tomorrow, 1 September 2016 in Springfield, Illinois at the Prairie Capital Convention Center. You don’t have to be a member of a genealogical society to go. Registration onsite begins Wednesday from 7am to 6pm (except during lunch, 11:30-12:30). Registration on Thursday runs 7am to 2pm. Friday and Saturday hours are 7am to 10am. For more information, visit http://www.fgsconference.org.

FGS 2016 Conference

If attendance isn’t in your budget, but you live in the area, consider stopping by the free exhibit hall. In the exhibit hall there are a number of presentations you can attend, again, for free. Those in the demo area start 10 minutes after each hour. The schedule, as of 1 August was:

Thursday, 1 September 2016
Thursday Demo Area Schedule for FGS 2016
Note that Ancestry.com’s Juliana Szucs presents at 12:10. (Did you know that FGS was founded in Juliana’s mother’s dining room back in Illinois in 1975?) FamilySearch’s Mike Provard presents at 4:10.

Friday, 2 September 2016
Friday Demo Area Schedule for FGS 2016
Notice that FamilySearch’s Robert Kehrer presents at 1:10.

Saturday, 3 September 2016
Saturday Demo Area Schedule for FGS 2016
Notice that AncestryDNA’s Anna Swayne presents at 11:10.

FamilySearch makes 30 minute presentations in their booth. Most are between regular conference sessions.

  Thursday
10:00 am Searching for Elusive Records
10:30 am Publishing the World’s Genealogy Records
Noon FamilySearch Hinting
12:30 pm FamilySearch Mobile Apps
1:00 pm Searching on FamilySearch
1:30 pm FamilySearch Family Tree
3:00 pm Publishing the World’s Genealogy Records

Friday:

  Friday
10:00 am  
10:30 am FamilySearch and Partners
Noon FamilySearch Mobile Apps
12:30 pm FamilySearch and Partners
1:00 pm FamilySearch Hinting
1:30 pm FamilySearch Photos and Stories
3:00 pm FamilySearch Family Tree

Saturday:

  Saturday
10:00 am  
10:30 am FamilySearch Mobile Apps
Noon Searching for Elusive Records
12:30 pm FamilySearch Hinting
1:00 pm FamilySearch Indexing
1:30 pm  
3:00 pm  

Ancestry also teaches classes in their booth. They post schedules once the hall opens. I’ll try and publish their schedule once I know it, perhaps on my Facebook page.

Genealogy Gems’ Lisa Louise Cooke is again presenting 30 minute classes in her booth (#200), according to her blog. She is joined this time by Diahan Southard (Your DNA Guide) and Jim Beidler (Family Tree Magazine). Their schedule is:

FGS 2016 Genealogy Gems booth schedule

Other vendors will gladly teach you anything you want to know about their products. Some will give you discounts for stopping by and talking with them. See the list of exhibitors here.

The exhibit hall includes a Cyber Café (sponsored by Ancestry, Lexmark, and MyHeritage) adjacent to the demo area.

While you won't find food or drink in this café, it is the perfect place to relax and check e-mail…or recharge your phone, iPad, table, or laptop. It is open during Exhibit Hall hours on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

The exhibit hall hours are

  • Thursday, 9:30am – 5pm
  • Friday, 9am-5pm
  • Saturday, 9am-3pm

To sweeten the pot, I have a few items I’ll try to give to one person who comes to the exhibit hall who isn’t registered for the conference. I received some items in my conference bag that I am willing to give away. They are:

  • An FGS conference tote bag
  • About 30 door prize tickets
  • A $10 cash back coupon – Buy something from a vendor, have them notarize the coupon, and redeem it for $10 cash back.
  • A coupon for $50 off Family Tree Maker.
  • (Sorry; I’ve lost my conference passport, so I can’t give that away.)
  • And you get to meet the Ancestry Insider in person.

Okay; that last one is probably more a downside. Be that as it may, if you want the items, send me an email with “FGS Items Request” in the subject line. I’ll pick someone and make some attempt to meet them and give them the items. I make no guarantees and you promise you won’t hold me responsible for anything that happens in connection with the items.

Hope to see you in Springfield!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Ancestry Library Edition Bookmark from Librarian’s Day – #FGS2016

I’m in Springfield, Illinois for the 2016 conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies. The main sessions start Thursday, 1 September 2016, in the Prairie Capital Convention Center, but I attended Librarians’ Day on Tuesday, 30 August 2016. ProQuest sponsored the day and provided attendees a few bookmarks about some genealogy products they sell to libraries. If you use these products at your library (or at home with your own subscription), you may benefit from them.

Here is the Ancestry Library Edition bookmark:

Ancestry Library Edition bookmark by ProQuest

Pre-FGS 2016 Ketchup

Insider KetchupI’m headed off to the 2016 Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference in Springfield, Illinois. Tomorrow I’ll be turning my focus over to the conference for the remainder of this week. Time to ketchup.

FamilySearch tree bullet On Friday, FamilySearch released its “What’s New” for August.

  • FamilySearch added the ability to quickly attached unindexed FamilySearch Historical Records as sources in FamilySearch Family Tree.
  • They will soon release a new home page. It will provide individualized information for you based on your activity in Family Tree, photos and stories others have posted about your relatives, recommended tasks, and recently viewed persons.
  • They have changed which page you go to when you select Memories in the menu bar. For a while it went straight to gallery. Now they’ve restored a landing page from which you can go to various parts of the Memories section of FamilySearch.org.
  • As I reported during the BYU conference, the Memories App now provides a suggested list of questions that you can ask of a relative.
  • They added a Search Historical Records option to the main menu of the Family Tree mobile app. It just takes you to the Search Historical Records section on the web.
  • Like the person page on FamilySearch Family Tree on the web, you can tap a search button and search for that person either in Family Tree or on Ancestry.com.
  • In the Family Tree mobile app you can add Notes about a person.
  • In the Family Tree mobile app they added a page to view all memories about a person.
  • In Family Tree on iOS (Android coming soon), you can view a map showing the location of an event in a person’s life.

For more information, see “What’s New on FamilySearch—August 2016” on the FamilySearch blog.

Bullet Ancestry.com Reader BKip pointed out that Ancestry.com has done something relative to the RootsWeb free pages manager at http://freepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/fileman/file_manager.cgi. It now returns a different error message. That’s good in the sense that it means they’ve turned their attention to this portion of the RootsWeb website.

FamilySearch tree bullet FamilySearch is presenting a week-long European Family History Conference, online or in person at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. In person seating is limited to 190 and online participation to 500, so register soon. Lab participation is even more limited, 26 onsite and 100 online. The conference is free and will be held 12-16 September 2016. It is for beginner and intermediate genealogists. “Explore such topics as census, church, immigration, and vital records. Learn more about German, Swiss, Russian, and Polish research. Discover new techniques, strategies, and methodology to apply to your genealogical research problems.” A syllabus will be available for anyone to download. For more information, see “European Family History Conference” on the FamilySearch blog.

BulletTree I came across a record set on Findmypast for a database that I think they obtained through the Mocavo purchase: The California birth index. It should be viewable for free, but I wasn’t able to figure out how. Has anyone else found a way to view the former Mocavo databases for free on Findmypast? Let everyone know. I wonder if Findmypast will put together a page listing all the Mocavo databases. That would be a good way to attract potential customers. I could only find a couple Mocavo databases mentioned online: the California birth index, the California death index, the Social Security Death Index, and the Connecticut death index.

FamilySearch tree bullet Judging from his slides, I missed a good presentation about FamilySearch at the July 2016 Riverton FamilySearch Library Saturday Seminar by Dan Peay. While a lot of the information was directed at members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, some might be of general interest. Dan showed that FamilySearch’s executive leadership from the Church—the FamilySearch board of directors, if you will—has changed. Elder Allan Packer has been replace by Elder Bradley D. Foster as the executive director (chairman of the board). He is assisted by directors with regional assignments: Elder C. Scott Grow over the United States and Canada, Elder Eduardo Gavarret over the rest of the Americas, Elder Ian S. Ardern over southern Asia, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, and Elder Erich W. Kopischke over Africa, Europe, and north Asia. Rod DeGiulio, formerly over the Records Division of FamilySearch, now leads a division named Priesthood Area Support, with direct reports corresponding to each of the aforementioned areas of the world.

Dan showed some numbers: 6.0 B searchable names, 1.5 M new names daily, 18 P [petabytes] digital storage.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Monday Mailbox: FamilySearch Indexing

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxIn response to my article about Jim Ericson’s frank talk about FamilySearch Indexing, several readers posed some frank questions. In the spirit of Jim’s talk, I’m going to give some frank answers.

Dear Ancestry Insider,

Are any records going to be every-name indexed, such as (say) partitions in Chancery, petitions for administration listing (perhaps dozens of) heirs, wills, or deeds?

Signed,
Geolover

Dear Geolover,

I noticed this morning in the Kentucky marriage record project in FamilySearch Indexing that FamilySearch is not indexing the birth places of the bride, her parents, the groom, or his parents. Because it is cheaper to leave out some of the vital information, FamilySearch volunteers are able to achieve the big numbers Jim showed. Picking out all the names from a free-form record is even more expensive than indexing all the birthplaces from a form.

Does that answer your question?

Signed,
The Ancestry Insider


Dear Ancestry Insider,

I tried to get FamilySearch to correct an error on the 1940 Census. Well I was pretty much informed that even if it was wrong it would stay because 3 people had looked at it. Never mind that is was my aunt and uncle that I had been aware of and knew their names the error is still there.

Signed,
Gale Nash

Dear Gale,

Whoever told you that names could not be corrected in the 1940 census because three people had already looked at them was unauthorized and incorrect (and was, frankly, a little “up in the night”). The real reason is that FamilySearch has no mechanism (like Ancestry.com does) allowing error corrections. FamilySearch has said publicly that they will provide that mechanism someday, but haven’t said whether or not they are currently working on it. One can imagine that preventing their website from pulling a Hindenburg pulled their attention elsewhere.

Signed,
The Ancestry Insider


Dear Ancestry Insider,

I think that FamilySearch should let volunteers pick projects that they are familiar with, such as transcribing foreign countries where they are familiar with surnames. The Croatian church is one example where I am researching. I don't care if 3 people looked at it, they have all butchered the names.

Signed,
Alojzija

Dear Alojzija,

You are absolutely right. People do a terrible job indexing unfamiliar names. In 2010 I wrote “Indexing Errors: Test, Check the Boxes” about “cold indexing.” Frankly, I would expect a 5th generation Utahn of English extraction to butcher Croatian names worse than a highly trained Chinese keyer.

However, FamilySearch does allow volunteers to pick projects. But to be frank, most non-English language speakers aren’t indexing. (If you are one of the few, good on ya, mate.) FamilySearch isn’t going to provide lots of non-English FamilySearch Indexing projects to choose from if they are just going to sit there glacially indexed.

I think the solution is “Laissez Faire Indexing,” as I called it back in 2011. FamilySearch should scan everything in the vault and take everything they are currently photographing and throw it immediately, unindexed, on their website. Then let anyone index anything, anytime. Don’t require any involvement from FamilySearch, or they become the bottleneck. Don’t require them to set up projects or write indexing instructions or block images or anything else. Sure, they can organize formal projects like they do now; but don’t require it. There are downsides, to be sure. See the referenced article for more information.

Signed,
The Ancestry Insider


One reader gave me a friendly jab over a typo in the first article about Jim’s talk: “Jim provided some tips for success. Work with a fried or get some training.”

Dear Insider

I hope we don't all have to work "fried." Winking smile I sincerely appreciate all of your messages -- THANKS for all you do !!!!!

Signed,
Phil Besselievre

Dear Phil,

That was on purpose. It’s state fair time. Everything is served up fried. Winking smile

Signed,
The Ancestry Insider

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Jim Ericson and FamilySearch Indexing (Part 2) – #BYUFHGC

Jim Ericson of FamilySearch addressed the 2016 BYU Conference on Family History and GenealogyThis is the second of two articles about Jim’s presentation.

Jim Ericson of FamilySearch gave a presentation titled “Straight Talk about the State of Indexing” at the 2016 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy. His purpose was to “answer several key questions related to FamilySearch indexing and the program’s future in a direct, no nonsense way.”

Where is indexing headed in the future?

FamilySearch is preparing a new indexing system. Jim said the new system is up and running but FamilySearch is still testing and figuring things out. It will probably be after the beginning of 2017 before it is available.

[At this point I have to poke fun at FamilySearch not about you, Jim. FamilySearch has been saying “this year” or “next year” for a long time. Here’s what they’ve said at several dates in the past:

My first career was as a software engineer and my managers were always asking, “How long will it take you to do this thing that no one has ever done before? And I was always thinking, “Are you listening to what you are saying?” I would dutifully try to figure out how long it would take me. Then I would tell my boss twice that long. Without me knowing it, he would double the number before telling the director, who would double it before reporting to the vice president. In the end, the project would take twice that long.

What moving target will I make light of after FamilySearch really release this program? Hmmm. I guess there is always: “We will be done scanning the vault in five years.”]

In the new indexing program FamilySearch will not use double keying. There are a lot of projects that are simple forms and it doesn’t make sense to have 3 people key them. So when it is appropriate, FamilySearch may have single key indexing for an entire record, or for just select fields. A field like gender is probably okay having just one person key the field, while the name should be indexed by two indexers. A qualified volunteer might be able to produce a better index than 3 people.

Another model FamilySearch will use is single-key indexing plus peer review. One person keys the work, but another person reviews it for correctness. This eliminates the problem of arbitrators working in isolation. This is not another name for arbitration. The reviewer doesn’t have to have more competence than the original indexers. It’s like checking a classmate’s homework. It eliminates the adversarial relationship between volunteers.

Coming in the future is the deployment of new technologies.

For things that are typewritten it is really easy for the computer to read those characters. Another technology is something FamilySearch calls robokeying. It reads and interprets text and “indexes” it. It goes beyond OCR. The results are audited. FamilySearch has done extensive testing of the results. There are technologies for recognizing all alphabets.

FamilySearch is testing with Kanji the ability to do handwriting recognition. That is the holy grail of the future.

However, we will always need volunteers, Jim said, not just for indexing, but other tasks like zoning areas of a news page for indexing to work with.

Microtasking is something FamilySearch could employee in the future. There would be specialized tasks like zoning, blocking fields in a form, or recognizing where names are in a record. A microtask could be to identify data types. A microtask could be keying specific fields, like just the name. A microtask could be verifying names. The microtasking system could use a personalized page that directs efforts towards currently needed tasks. This is the direction we are trying to go, he said.

In the future, we are headed towards more difficult projects, Jim said. The biggest factor for indexing volume is currently how easy or interesting the project is. “We’ve done a lot of the easy ones,” he said. The U.S. census only comes once per decade. The Freedmen’s bureau project is an example of a really difficult record type that the future holds. These records are going to be increasingly complex. About 60% of all the really valuable US collections have been completed, and about 40% in the UK. That leaves us with spotty coverage for the rest of the world, so we have huge needs when it comes to indexing in other languages, he said.

Jim took a number of questions.

Q. Will you allow people to be signed in for more than one day at a time?

Yes. That is one of the things we are working on. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is very sensitive when it comes to security. The online version will allow two weeks like Family Tree.

Q. When can I do indexing on my smart phone?

“No time soon.” The new online indexing program can be done on a tablet, but requires more real estate than available on a phone. We want to do it. We are evaluating doing it. But it would be irresponsible for me to give a date.

Q. When will the indexing effort be done?

Never. Only about 30% of published records on FamilySearch.org are indexed. And we are still going to be acquiring records. And we have ongoing partnerships with organizations with projects for records we want access to. And new records are created every day. A big problem we have today is getting images imaged before the records are destroyed.

Q. From the time a project is indexed, how long does it take before the collection is published?

The 1940 census was the best we had ever done. Within days we were putting up states. Most projects are more complex and require more auditing and review. A project can get stuck in arbitration, quality assurance, or reindexing. We have some projects that have been hanging at 99% for more than a year. The model is to shorten that time.

Q. Once in a while you find a record that was misindexed, but there is no way to go back and correct it.

The number one question is, by far, “how do I fix a record that has been indexed incorrectly?” One solution we are considering is in the indexing step: preserve both a and b key. The other side is post-publication. That is the holy grail that we want to fix.

Q. Ancestry has had it for years.

Q. I’ve been arbitrating Kentucky marriage records. No one is following the rules. Should I do the job for them or send it back?

If they are done incorrectly, it depends on how diligent you are. If you want to send it back, that would be fine. If they are missing records from part of the image, send it back and indexers can see what they are missing.

Let me finish off with some recent indexing numbers. I received an email recently with this information:

FamilySearch Indexing English records indexed

And the FamilySearch Indexing page has this information as of 13 August 2016:

FamilySearch Indexing Statistics

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Jim Ericson and FamilySearch Indexing (Part 1) – #BYUFHGC

Jim Ericson of FamilySearch gave a presentation titled “Straight Talk about the State of Indexing” at the 2016 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy. His purpose was to “answer several key questions related to FamilySearch indexing and the program’s future in a direct, no nonsense way.” [It’s been so long since the conference, I’m starting to forget things that aren’t in my notes. Hopefully I don’t mess it up too badly. This will be the first of two articles about Jim’s presentation. Here goes…]

To lead off, Jim thanked those who have indexed. There have been 3 billion names indexed in 1.4 billion records through the FamilySearch indexing program. There have been nearly 250,000 indexers so far in 2016. [Since Jim’s presentation, that number has grown to 262,868 according to the FamilySearch Indexing website.]

For the recent world-wide indexing event 116,000 people indexed 10 million records. Participants represented 110 different countries. While some, like Tonga and Samoa had only a few, this is amazing.

FamilySearch's Jim Erickson talks about the world-wide indexing event.

There were 10,000 youth ages 8 to 17 who participated. FamilySearch likes to get youth involved. Youth indexers come and go, Jim said.

FamilySearch's Jim Erickson talks about the world-wide indexing event.

More than 23,000 (19%) participants were not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On Facebook there was huge interest by the general public. First time indexers composed 23% of participants. Jim said that is why they do these events. It extends the number of indexers.

Jim told his indexing story. He searched for hours and hours to find the maiden name of William Worley’s wife, Betsy G. He finally found their marriage record and learned it was Gilson.

Jim Erickson spent hours and hours searching for the marriage record of William Worley and Betsy Gilson.

Since then, FamilySearch volunteers have indexed that record and Jim has attached it to Family Tree. “Now people don’t have to go through the process I went through to find Betsy G.,” he said.

Jim said indexing helps us all personally. We learn about family history and learn how to read handwriting. We serve others. We belong to an amazing volunteer community. We improve data entry skills. We increase unity with family and friends and we gain a deeper appreciate for the worth of all men. FamilySearch doesn’t recommend that children start indexing records on their own, but it is a way to collaborate and build family unity, Jim said.

What are the biggest challenges of indexing?

Indexing can be really challenging, especially for beginners. It has an unintuitive software interface. People’s expectation is that you should be able to get started without helps or hints. The handwriting is difficult to read has sometimes has poor legibility. The last few batches often take a long time until researchers buckle down and do the last, hard batches. Instructions vary by project, which is a problem if arbitrators don’t read the instructions and change batches that had been done right. There can be a variety of records, even within the same project.

The software FamilySearch is using can be a challenge. It has had a long, miraculous journey, Jim said. There was a small company called iArchives that was providing software for commercial offshore keying companies. FamilySearch took that software, meant for a trained workforce working on a few projects, and deployed it to a large, diverse workforce. Even though FamilySearch is coming out with web-based indexing, the current software will be used for a long, long time. Some projects have to be offline. But it is now an amazing effort to keep this legacy system running. During the world-wide indexing event an engineer was restarting the server every 10 minutes to prevent it from crashing.

A big challenge of indexing involves human factors. For example, the indexing program used to have a screen showing the percentage of an indexer’s work that was not changed by arbitrators. We’ve removed that because it was causing friction, Jim said. (See “What’s New with Indexing—June 2016” on the FamilySearch blog for more information.) If the indexer has really studied and the arbitrator hasn’t and overrides the correct information, it is really frustrating. You have to remember that indexers and arbitrators are volunteers, Jim said. “We can’t fire them for not doing a good job.” They are doing their best and FamilySearch Indexing is achieving mid-to-high 90th percentile accuracy.

Jim provided some tips for success. Work with a fried or get some training. Focus on a single project at a time for quality and efficiency. Follow the directions. Reach out and help others. Be patient. And stretch yourself into harder projects. “That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do—not that the nature of the thing is changed, but that our power to do is increased.” (Attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, quoted by Heber J. Grant.)

Tune in next time to learn what is coming in the future and to answers to attendees’ questions.