Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Insider Named RootsTech 2011 Blogger

RootsTech 2011 Official Blogger

I’ve been named an Official RootsTech 2011 Blogger! This is quite an honor. RootsTech is shaping up to be an exciting event. The conference is scheduled for 10-12 February 2011 at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City.

The two national conferences, NGS and FGS, have found West coast conference facilities so expensive that they rarely come out this way. Last year’s NGS conference demonstrated the unfilled demand.

The conference also fills the vacuum left by the demise of the GenTech Conferences of many years ago.

RootsTech replaces the trifecta of spring BYU conferences: the Conference on Computerized Family History, the Family History Technology Workshop, and the FamilySearch Developers Conference. Since the three conferences targeted different audiences, it will be interesting to see if conference organizers can effectively address each audience’s needs.

The BYU conferences failed to meet demand because of the limited size of the BYU facility. Attendance had to be capped. Classrooms were too small. Exhibitors were divvied up into small, far-flung rooms. General sessions were divided among multiple rooms. Moving into the Salt Palace Convention Center will make it possible for all who wish, to attend the conference.

Early bird registration is $99 through 7 January 2011. At that time the price goes up to $150. For more information and to register, visit http://www.rootstech.org .

Monday, December 20, 2010

Monday Mailbox: Printed Research Guides

Dear Ancestry Insider,

The state and country research guides have been moved to the FamilySearch wiki. That's a good way to keep them up to date. Unfortunately they've created no way to easily print them. That's a really ill-conceived development. A lot of people like to have printed guides that they can look at when their computers are turned off.

From Anonymous*

Dear Out of Print,

I thought a bit about your comment last night. For us who live all day in the computer, it is too easy to dismiss your concern. You know our type. If we don’t have at least two gadgets on our selves at all time, we start to fidget and wring our hands.

I remember experiencing your same feelings. I went to college between punch cards and personal computers. All we programmers printed our programs when we left the computer lab early each morning. We poured over those printouts for the hours we were out of the lab. We wrote new code in pencil in the margins and marked up the lines of arcane symbols, only to return to the lab that night, enter the changes and repeat the cycle.

Once I graduated to full-time employment my program printouts exploded in size from a dozen pages to hundreds of pages. I quickly found myself alone by the printer, watching the group’s entire paper budget emerge from the machine. It took quite some time to adjust to the small window my computer screen afforded into a document I previously viewed unfettered.

Unfortunately—well, actually fortunately, man’s accumulation of knowledge is like a gas, expanding to fill the space allotted it. The 40 page research guide of the 90s has now expanded, probably ten times or more. Guides previously restrained to country or state coverage now extend to counties, provinces, and municipalities. Printing out all the pages corresponding to an old paper guide is not only super inconvenient—as you may have found—it is completely impractical.

I have no easy answer for you. If a compelling number of people were willing to pay $20 or $30 bucks for a printed guide of hundreds of pages, a FamilySearch affiliate might try to fill the vacuum.

Short of that, I think you’re going to be stuck with printing your own. You will have to reset your expectations, settling for a much less desirable solution than afforded in the past. Don’t even think about printing all the pages replacing a hardcopy guide. Be choosy. Print only the articles that you need offline, short term.

That’s all I’ve got. Does anyone else have suggestions?


The Ancestry Insider

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

We Want Tech: Automatic Citations

At the 2010 NGS Conference GenTech Luncheon David Rencher presented “The Top 10 Areas Where Technology Can Still Make a Real Difference in Genealogy : Could You Please Hurry?” In “We Want Tech and We Want It Now” I review technologies already available, at least in infant form. Today I look at:

#10 – Internet Citation Download

David complained that the download of a source document from the Internet should include citation information. I share David’s frustration here. But for some collections Ancestry.com and FamilySearch still don’t display complete citation information. Little wonder they haven’t worked on the exchange of citation information with tree management programs.

The good news is, automatic citation download is starting to happen outside the genealogy industry. The bad news is non-published sources are not well supported.

Zotero extends your Firefox browser, allowing you to automatically collect, manage, and cite Internet sources.

Perhaps the most important feature of Zotero is its ability to sense when you are looking at an item (or items) on a web page. For instance, if you are looking at the record for a book on an online library catalog, Zotero’s book icon will appear in Firefox’s location bar (at the top of the browser window, where the current web address, or URL, appears), like so:

Simply click on the book icon and Zotero will save all of the citation information about that book into your library. …

Zotero senses information through site translators. Zotero's translators should work with most library catalogs, some popular websites such as Amazon and the New York Times, and many gated databases. Just look for icons in the location bar. (For more information or for some sites to try out, see our Compatible Sites list.) The Zotero team will be adding support for additional sites over time.

If Ancestry.com and FamilySearch won’t support citation exchange, maybe we can talk Zotero into adding site translators for Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org.

For more information about Zotero, check out http://www.zotero.org .

Citation Assistance

There are a number of websites that assist in generating citations, but they are pretty much limited to published materials:

  • EasyBib is an Internet site that can assist in generating citations. For more information, visit www.easybib.com.
  • BibMe is a free website with an automatic citation formatter that supports MLA, APA, Chicago, and Turabian formatting. BibMe leverages WorldCat external databases to auto-fill citation information. BibMe will format citations and compile a bibliography according to the style manual. For more information, visit www.bibme.org.
  • Landmarks Son Of Citation Machine is a free website that formats citations. Select the source type, fill in the form, and the website automatically formats the citation. See http://citationmachine.net.
  • OttoBib is a free website that creates book citations based on ISBN.
  • NoodleBib is a research assistance tool that includes citation entry.

What are your favorite citation software tools? Leave a comment…

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Beta.familysearch.org Replaces www.familysearch.org

The change is now official. The beta.familysearch.org website has “gone live,” replacing the old www.familysearch.org. For several days I have been reporting signs that the change was eminent.

The official announcement, “FamilySearch.org Website Changes,” came last night at 5:25pm.

If you haven’t yet, read my earlier article, “Comparing the Old and the New,” for a brief summary of what works and what doesn’t.

Initial feedback is somewhat polarized and can be grouped around these sentiments:

  • What happened to (blank)? Fill in: IGI, PRF, Ancestral File, Historical Books,… (Aren’t you glad you read the Ancestry Insider? :-)
  • It looks great, but…
  • Don’t like changes. It is harder to use.
  • Search used to be much better. (Do I hear Ancestry.com chuckling?)
  • Wow! More records!

Some of the comments make you wonder. I thought this one was interesting:

“What happened to the ability to make changes to our own previous submissions?”

What do you think of the new site? Ready for prime-time? What needs to be fixed before FamilySearch shuts down the old site? Do you have favorite bookmarks that are now broken? What kudos can you give?

Click on Comments, below.

Vote for Your Favorite Blogs

40bestblogs2011_vote Once again Family Tree Magazine is soliciting your assistance. Help choose their 2011 reader’s choice “Best Genealogy Blogs.”

To vote, use the survey at www.surveymonkey.com/s/ft40-2011voting.

Voting closes Monday night, so vote this very minute before you forget. Click the icon to the right, or the link above. (You may vote multiple times.)

The nominees are divided into eight categories and you can vote for five in each. You can vote for the Ancestry Insider in the Technology category. I’m not trying to say you should vote for me. But you know me… always trying to be helpful. If you do wish to vote for me, click here now. You can always finish this article later.

(Hang on a minute while I go vote for the Ancestry Insider…)

(OK; I’m back.)

The eight categories are:

  • Everything (I suppose this is general and miscellaneous blogs.)
  • Cemeteries
  • Technology (That’s where you can vote for the Ancestry Insider. Not that you have to. I’m just saying…)
  • Heritage Groups
  • Research Advice and How-To
  • Local and Regional Research
  • New
  • My Family History

While I don’t recommend that all of you vote multiple times for the Ancestry Insider, there is a particular class of reader (and you know who you are) that I am asking: my mother.

You can use this annual list to check out other blogs that might interest you. Links to each nominee can be found on Thomas MacEntee’s Geneabloggers website. While you’re at it, don’t forget to check out the blogs of the panelists themselves:

Disclaimer: Any subliminal messaging in this article (vote multiple times for the Ancestry Insider) is totally not supposed to be subliminal.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Comparing the Old and the New

FamilySearch online booklet helps users adjust to new websiteSaturday morning another uncertain indication showed up that beta.familysearch.org will go live this month. This comment showed up temporarily on the FamilySearch Wiki early Saturday morning:

The FamilySearch Wiki Engineering Team modified a link on this page so it will not break when the Family History Library Catalog changes in late December.

The comment and the modification disappeared before the end of the day.

Documentation on beta.familysearch.org goes through the features of the old FamilySearch.org and gives a report card, of sorts, noting differences or deficiencies with the new FamilySearch.org website. I’ve added my own candid take, below.

To you, my friends outside FamilySearch, remember that these are my personal opinions and I do not speak for FamilySearch.

To you, my friends inside FamilySearch, I mean no offense. I know you care for quality, are aware of the issues, and are working to fix them. I have faith in you and ever growing respect. Although you may hear some things here first, I only repeat publicly available information.  My criticisms are offered as a service to our users.

Feature from old FamilySearch.org Status of the feature on the new beta.FamilySearch.org
Links to the Home page The logo works as it did before, taking you back to the home page.

The new website does not have a home button. I hear users saying they want it; I’m surprised FamilySearch hasn’t complied.
Search Records Search Records, Advanced Search, and RecordSearch pilot have all been replaced with Historical Records search. Surprising, there are no links to this central feature of the new FamilySearch.org website. None in the header. None in the footer.

Here’s an insider tip: Click the FamilySearch logo.
Library Catalog I wrote about the FHLC after the November release (here and here). Product Manager, Robert Kehrer, responded with additional information you’ll want to read. (Thanks, Robert!)
Historical Books The new FamilySearch.org website provides no way to search Historical Books and no link to search them on the BYU website. There are links to individual titles in the Family History Library Catalog. The documentation states, “You cannot currently search the historical books directly.” I hope that means FamilySearch is planning on adding Historical Book search.
Web Sites Google and other search engines do a far better job of searching other websites. Further, it is beyond FamilySearch’s ability to maintain a categorized directory of genealogy websites. With the FamilySearch Wiki, FamilySearch has given users the ability to provide, categorize, and maintain links to other websites.
Ancestral File
The new website’s Ancestral File has Individual view only. Pedigree and family views are coming. Thankfully FamilySearch has concentrated on higher quality historical records and readying the new FamilySearch Tree for public use. Hopefully this meager effort to include Ancestral File is but a placeholder for the latter.
Census The 1880 U.S. Census is present on the new website, along with additional years! Some minor losses of functionality have occurred, including links to subscription websites, where the images were free for some FamilySearch accounts. (BTW, the image links on the old website no longer work. But I digress…)

The 1881 British Census is not available on the new website. Use the old one.

The 1881 Canadian Census is present, along with additional years!
International Genealogical Index As I’ve mentioned before, the good stuff—the extraction records—have been moved into FamilySearch Historical Records, available on the new website now. Patron submissions were moved to the new FamilySearch Tree. I’ll have a lot more to say about the IGI.
Pedigree Resource File Not added yet. Users are instructed to use the old website. Ditto here my comments about Ancestral File.
US Social Security Death Index The US Social Security Death Index was added to FamilySearch Historical Records last week!
image The Vital Records Index is present, but incomplete. I tried one record from each of the five countries. Twenty percent of my teeny, tiny unscientific sample were missing. Has FamilySearch compared batch counts to know how many records are missing?

*  Mexico: Albino Perez
*  Denmark: Lars Peter Johansen, 19 Oct. 1877; Sigersted, Sorø, D.
-  Finland: Matt Johansson, 12 Sep 1867; Sippola, Viipuri, Finland
*  Norway: Ellen Johannesdatter; Askim, Ostfold, Norway
*  Sweden: Nils Johansson, 5 July 1801;Stånga, Gotland, Sweden
Index Records I don’t get it. If Historical Records are the central feature of the new FamilySearch.org website, then FamilySearch Indexing is its lifeblood. The FamilySearch Indexing page is buried two links under the home page. The first link is secret. The second is hidden.

Should you solve the mystery of the first, secret link, don’t bother clicking the big “FamilySearch Indexing” title or the large, beckoning image. The link is hidden after a couple of paragraphs into the page text.

Insider tip: Click Give Back in the row of links near the top of any page. Then click Get Me Started.

(On second thought, don’t get me started…)
Share My Genealogy “Share My Genealogy” is not present on the new website. Ditto my comment on Ancestral File.
Research Helps Research Helps have been copied into the FamilySearch Wiki and in many cases improved. Click Learn, then search for the topic of interest.
Research Guidance
The FamilySearch research assistantResearch Guidance is a virtual reference consultant found on the old FamilySearch.org website. “Chatty Cathy” (as we sometimes call her) asks you a series of questions about an ancestor and then gives you an ordered list of records to consult, based on the locale, time frame, and the vital event of your ancestor.

Because Research Guidance has long been the hidden gem, the Cinderella stepchild of the old FamilySearch.org website, I fear Cathy won’t find her way to the new website.
Search the Wiki The Wiki is not really a part of the old website. It is part of the new website.
Ask a Question Ask a Question is a link to the Forums, also a new, not old, website.
Online Classes The online research classes have been copied to the new website. Click on Learn, then click on a link you can’t see until you scroll the page down. Don’t scroll too far or the link will disappear off the top of the page. Don’t scroll too little or the link will not appear. Do a Goldilocks scroll. Don’t click “Research Courses.” The color looks like a link to me, but it is not. Keep reading, scrolling if necessary.

Insider hint: Click on View the Courses.
Family History Library Find information about the Salt Lake Family History Library by clicking on FamilySearch Centers, scrolling to the bottom of the page, and clicking the hidden link.

Insider Hint: To find hidden links, move your mouse around over possible spots. When the cursor changes (a pointing finger on most browsers), it is pointing to a link.
Family History Centers To find a nearby family history center, click on FamilySearch Centers, enter the location, and click Search. Notice the snazzy new map.
Education “The site currently does not provide information about genealogical institutes, university and home study courses on family history, online genealogical presentations, and upcoming genealogical conferences. Much of this information will be available in future updates of the site.”
Library Catalog This is redundant. I covered it in the Search Records menu.
Help and Product Support It looks like the same Help Center software added a few years ago to the old website, and used on the new FamilySearch Tree website, is being used on the new site.

To learn more about the differences between the soon-to-be new www.FamilySearch.org and classic FamilySearch.org, start at beta.familysearch.org, click on Help, then “What are the Differences between Classic FamilySearch and Beta FamilySearch?” Use the interactive guide. And click “View or Print Handout” to access “Adjusting to the New Version of www.familysearch.org (8 December 2010).”

Thursday, December 9, 2010

FamilySearch Poised to Replace www.familysearch.org

Indications are surfacing publicly that FamilySearch is readying to replace www.familysearch.org with beta.familysearch.org possibly before the end of the year.

“[The] FamilySearch website will change to a new version by [the] end of 2010,” says a December newsletter sent to Salt Lake area family history consultants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The newsletter excerpts a document made public by FamilySearch titled Adjusting to the New Version of www.familysearch.org (8 December 2010).

The document outlines the differences between the previous site and the new site and explains how to perform tasks commonly done on the old site.

“The updated version of the FamilySearch website gives you a richer family history experience by putting all FamilySearch content, services, and products on the same site,” according to the document.

Not everything has been moved to the new site yet, such as the Pedigree Resource File. “Until it is available, scroll to the bottom of [the] screen, and click Use the previous version of FamilySearch.org.”

“The Social Security Death Index will be added to the website on or shortly after 10 December 2010.”

I’ll report more as I have time. Stay tuned…

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

FamilySearch Indexing by the Numbers

Total Records Indexed 2010

  • 166,466,352 – Records indexed this year as of 23 November 2010.9
  • 165,952,000 – Records indexed this year as of 24 November 2010.8 Probably post dated.
  • 148,445,100 – Records indexed this year as of 18 October 2010.9
  • 117,094,600? – Records indexed this year as of 10 September 2010?10 Probably a typo.
  • 118,140,160 – Records indexed this year as of 2 August 2010.2
  • 117,094,600 – Records indexed this year as of 30 July 2010.1
  • 100,795,360 – Records indexed this year as of July 2010.3
  •   32,500,000 – Records indexed this year as of 11 March 2010.4

Records Indexed Monthly

     Source: FamilySearch Indexing Facebook page13

  • 900,000,000 – Number of records accessible from FamilySearch indexing initiative.1 
  •   21,000,000 – Most records completed in one month (March 2010) as of Sep. 2010.10
Records Top Indexer Week of (2010)
14,395 Dhoytbrown22554 4 Aug
11,230 Paloma10 23 Nov13
Records Top Arbitrator Week of (2010)
17,593 Saradepagazamonroy 4 Aug
36,276 Bjones1943 23 Nov13


Records Indexed Annually

  • 200 million – New goal for 2010. Each record must be keyed twice and revisited a third time when the first two are not the same.12
  • 169 million – Original goal for 2010.12
  • 140 million – Records indexed in 2009.4

Total Records Indexed

  • 418,595,500 – Total records indexed as of 24 November 2010.8
  • 401,088,600 – Total records indexed as of 18 October 2010.9
  • 369,738,100 – Total records indexed as of 10 September 2010.10
  • 356,081,200 – Total records indexed as of 30 July 2010.1
  • 343,421,000 – Total names indexed as of 6 July 2010.5
  • 339,782,331 – Total records indexed as of July 2010.3
  • 349,000,000? – Total records indexed as of 14 April 2010?11 Obviously an approximation, but doesn’t jive with adjacent values.
  • 383,944,092 – Total names indexed as of 9 March 2010.6 It appears this number and the numbers on the graph below were calculated differently than subsequent numbers.

FamilySearch Indexing records through 2009
     Source: FamilySearch Wiki7

FamilySearch Indexers

  • 400,589 – Registered indexers as of 24 November 2010.8
  • 383,810 – Registered indexers as of 18 October 2010.9
  • 368,620 – Registered indexers as of 10 September 2010.10
  • 354,328 – Registered indexers as of 30 July 2010.1
  • 340,041 – Registered indexers as of 6 July 2010.5
  • 315,985 – Registered indexers as of 14 April 2010.11
  • 297,869 – Registered indexers as of 9 March 2010.6

FamilySearch Indexing registered indexers through 2009
     Source: FamilySearch Wiki7

  • 46,017 – Active volunteers in 2010 as of 11 March 2010.4
  • 95,000 – Active volunteers “in the past year.”12 Is that the 12 months previous? Or 2009?
  • 87,537 – Active volunteers in 2009.4


     1.  “FamilySearch Indexing Statistics,” FamilySearch Indexing Update, August 2010, e-mail newsletter, received 30 July 2010; online archive (http://us1.campaign-archive.com/?u=6a13a38a955e01499f3215f48&id=e3c381af01 : accessed 29 November 2010).

     2.  “FamilySearch Indexing,” Facebook organization page, Facebook (www.facebook.com : accessed 4 August 2010), Welcome tab.

     3.  “FamilySearch Indexing Statistics,” FamilySearch Indexing, Indexing Update, July 2010, e-mail newsletter; online archive (http://us1.campaign-archive.com/?u=6a13a38a955e01499f3215f48&id=68aca7dbdb : accessed 5 August 2010).

     4.  GaleK, “Thank You, Indexers!” blog post, FamilySearch [beta] (http://familysearch.org : dated 11 March 2010, 3:28pm).

     5.  FamilySearch Support to [Ancestry Insider], bulk e-mail, 6 July 2010, “[Ancestry Insider], please help us arbitrate records for FamilySearch Indexing;” online archive (http://us1.campaign-archive.com/?u=6a13a38a955e01499f3215f48&id=935b90cde5 :accessed 5 August 2010).

     6.  FamilySearch Support to [Ancestry Insider], bulk e-mail, 9 March 2010, “[Ancestry Insider], please help us arbitrate records for FamilySearch Indexing;” online archive (http://us1.campaign-archive.com/?u=6a13a38a955e01499f3215f48&id=0e4227ee84 :accessed 5 August 2010).

     7.  JensenFA [Fran Jensen], “Update on FamilySearch Indexing 2010,” wiki article, FamilySearch [beta] (http://familysearch.org : dated 27 April 2010, 17:39).

     8.  “FamilySearch Indexing Statistics,” FamilySearch Indexing Update, November 2010, e-mail newsletter, received 24 November 2010; online archive (http://us1.campaign-archive.com/?u=6a13a38a955e01499f3215f48&id=f00581f8a6&e=22e8853b96 : accessed 29 November 2010).

     9.  “FamilySearch Indexing Statistics,” FamilySearch Indexing Update, October 2010, e-mail newsletter, published 18 October 2010; online archive (http://us1.campaign-archive.com/?u=6a13a38a955e01499f3215f48&id=39f3b2c03c : accessed 29 November 2010).

     10.  “FamilySearch Indexing Statistics,” FamilySearch Indexing Update, September 2010, e-mail newsletter, published 10 September 2010; online archive (http://us1.campaign-archive.com/?u=6a13a38a955e01499f3215f48&id=08b243231f : accessed 29 November 2010).

     11.  “Statistiques de l’indexation FamilySearch,” Indexation FamilySearch Demande D’aide, 14 April 2010, French language e-mail newsletter; online archive (http://us1.campaign-archive.com/?u=6a13a38a955e01499f3215f48&id=db9146b6a2 : accessed 29 November 2010).

     12.  GaleK, “Indexing Goal: 200 Million Records Complete in 2010” blog post, FamilySearch [beta] (http://familysearch.org : dated 29 July 2010, 1:36pm).

     13.  “FamilySearch Indexing,” Facebook organization page, Facebook (www.facebook.com : updated 23 November 2010, accessed 29 November), Goals tab.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Mailbox Monday: Stitching

Comments about last Wednesday's article, "We Want Tech: When You Can't Stitch":

Dear Insider,

Maybe I am misunderstanding what you see as a problem here, but ...

Both versions of your stitched map have an inverted keystone shape, suggesting that the lower part of the map was photographed at camera level and you tilted the camera up to get the upper part. Tilting or panning works if you are stitching a landscape, but to get a square document to come out square in the stitching you have to move the camera to keep it pointing directly at the center of the part of the document you are currently photographing.


Dear Anonymous and Misunderstood,

You are correct that the bottom half of the Halifax map was shot straight on and then the camera, mounted on a tripod, was tilted upward for the upper part.

But you are only partially correct assuming that the stitched result won't be square if the individual photographs are not square. Look back at “We Want Tech: Stitching Folio Size Documents.” The photographs of the FHL wall mural were all shot from a tripod at a fixed point. Here is one:

One of the photographs

I used three levels of tilting and five positions of panning. The stitching program corrected the distortion and created a square result:

Descendants of Robert White and Bridget Allgar
Distortion is corrected in the stitched image

Isn’t that amazing?!

— The Insider

Dear Insider,


Stitching photos has been around for a long time and is hugely represented by many sophisticated software programs and even camera manufacturer's programs like Canon's software. There are some extensive sites online discussing the panoramic photo process. It looks like I will have to write something about this.

James Tanner*

Dear James,

I am so glad you’ve taken notice. Thank you for your article, “A Stitch in Time, in Genealogy, Saves Nine (Photographs).” David Rencher, myself, and everyone else looking for a solution are grateful. If you or anyone else want to take a stab at stitching David’s map example, I’ve posted the nine photographs on Flickr at


They are named “Drogheda Map Photo#”.

— The Insider

Friday, December 3, 2010

Tips for Using Image Composition Editor

The past two Wednesday’s I’ve talked about using Microsoft Image Composite Editor to stitch together photographs of a map or large document that was too large to capture legibly in a single photograph.

Image Composite Editor is not officially supported nor does it include a manual or a Help File. But it’s free! And if you are moderately technical, you can spelunk your way through it. Sorry; I’m too busy (or lazy) to field any questions you might have. Go ahead and post questions here and if another reader can answer, I invite them to chime in.

One thing that I wasn’t able to intuit was the editor’s four stitching modes. The editor calls them Camera Motions because each is optimized for a different camera scenario. The editor will automatically choose one for you, but you should try all four to see which gives the best results.

  • Rotating Motion – Designed for pictures taken from a single spot.
  • Planar Motion 1 – Designed for scans from a flat-bed scanner.
  • Planar Motion 3 – Designed for level photographs taken from various positions.
  • Planar Motion 2 – Designed for non-documents and skewed photographs.

Use a Tripod

ICE-Perspective-Controls_thumb9If you can’t use a scanner, use a tripod.

The first Camera Motion is Rotating Motion and is optimized for a tripod. This is the Camera Motion that I used for the FHL wall mural.

Position the camera so when pointed at the center of the document the camera is square with the document and the lens is parallel to it. Said another way, there should be no tilt, pan, or rotation when the camera is pointed at the center of the document.

Images taken from a fixed point suffer from perspective distortion. Use the composition editor’s perspective controls to correct the distortion. Use the four steps in the illustration to the right.



That’s all I’ve got for you. Give it a whirl and see how you do. In Monday’s mailbox I’ll respond to feedback from this week’s articles.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

We Want Tech: When You Can’t Stitch

This wall map was reproduced by stitching together 3 photosHow can Microsoft Research’s Image Composite Editor successfully stitch together 15 photographs of a large wall mural but fail on a 9 photograph map? (See last week's article, "We Want Tech: Stitching Folio Size Documents.")

I decided to try a map of my own.

To make the test as realistic as possible, I flew to the opposite side of the country, drove several hours to a small town in New England and took pictures of a wall-mounted map tucked away behind the coffee machine in the town hall (several rooms attached to the school house). I took three overlapping photographs of the map, drove back to the airport, flew home, and fed the photographs into Image Composite Editor.

It successfully stitched them, but distorted the map something fierce. (See the image to the right.) While passable for general purposes, it might be difficult to use for plotting metes and bounds. Click on the image to magnify it a bit. The full size image is 29 megapixels (4950 x 5879).

The Family History Library wall mural may have been much bigger, but it may have been easier to stitch because it is all orthogonal lines and boxes.

Back to Rencher’s Map

If you can’t stitch your map photographs, are there alternatives? You bet. Microsoft Photosynth is a photograph viewer that makes it easy to move from photograph to photograph based on their overlap. It’s a nice alternative to stitching. You zoom into any image as close as you need. You pan around the image. When you reach an edge, a ghost of the next image appears. Click on the ghost to view it—without distortion.

Below is an example Photosynth of Rencher’s map. I zoomed out far enough to see the ghosts surrounding the central photograph. This view reveals a problem that may have caused the failure in Image Composite Editor.

Photosynth of David Rencher's map of Drogheda, Ireland

Notice the photograph that I colored yellow. It was shot closer to the map (or with greater zoom). It doesn’t overlap any other photo besides the one below it. It leaves a hole in the map. Further complicating things, I was working with low resolution copies of Rencher’s photographs. But even with these problems, Photosynth successfully positioned all nine images. Click the above image to see Rencher’s map of Drogheda, Ireland.

Click this image to see a Photosynth of a map of Halifax, VermontI redid my test map in Photosynth. Click on the image to the right to see the result. Compare it with the stitched result from Image Composite Editor at the top of this article. Do you prefer working with a deformed stitched image? Or with a non-stitched, non-deformed Photosynth?

Photography Tips

As we’ve seen, success depends in part on how carefully you take the photographs. Computers are stupid and easily confused. Try to keep things simple:

  • Don’t change camera zoom between images.
  • Keep the camera level.
  • Light the document well and uniformly.
  • Overlap adjacent images by an ample amount, perhaps as much as 25%.
  • Use a tripod.

Stay tuned for more of David Rencher’s technology wish list.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Los Angeles Family History Library Opens

LAFHL open house
Photo by Richard Radstone, LDS Church News

When it closed for remodeling, it was the Los Angeles Regional Family History Center. November 6th it reopened as the Los Angeles Family History Library. The facility occupies the basement underneath the visitor center behind the Los Angeles Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The remodel follows the pattern set by the Riverton FamilySearch Library. The library now has 78 computers, access to premium websites, two training classrooms, and a large microfilm collection.

The remodeled LAFHL adds computers, video conference training roomsEach classroom as 24 computers and video conferencing equipment that can either receive or originate real time training lectures, sharing expertise with the Salt Lake City Family History Library, the Riverton FamilySearch Library, and other facilities via video conferencing.

The library’s extensive microfilm and microfiche collections, numbering 56,000 and 40,000 respectively, give it one of the largest permanent collections of any branch of the Salt Lake Family History Library. The library has 18 film readers, three scanners, and a couple of printers.

The library’s website catalogs its current microfilm holdings and gives instructions for ordering additional films by mail. FamilySearch is expanding the Salt Lake FHL Catalog to include holdings of the Los Angeles library. (See example.)

Among the premium websites available free of charge at the library are:

Large numbers of the library’s 30,000 printed volumes have been digitized, cutting the physical collection to 6,000. The library also has maps, reference and rare books, and area-specific collections. The facility includes patron lockers and a snack area. The library is open from 9 am to 5 pm, Monday through Saturday. The library has extended hours Tuesday to Thursday, closing at 9 pm. The library is closed Sundays.

For more information, check these sources:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

We Want Tech: Stitching Folio Size Documents

Rencher's Photo Stitching ExampleAt the 2010 NGS Conference GenTech Luncheon David Rencher presented “The Top 10 Areas Where Technology Can Still Make a Real Difference in Genealogy : Could You Please Hurry?” David, I have good news. Some are already available, at least in infant form. Today I look at:

#2 - Imaging Folio Size Documents

It’s a common occurrence to find oversized documents that can’t be captured legibly in one photograph, even with today’s high resolution cameras. Genealogists need software that can stitch together photos of parts of the document, such as Rencher’s example (to the right), a map divided into nine individual photographs.

I had previously played with Image Composite Editor (ICE) from Microsoft Research with moderate success. I felt it was up to the task of stitching Rencher’s map. And it is free.

It failed. I was surprised.

Was Image Composite Editor the problem? Or was it the images?

I decided to give the editor a test, a really big test. The descendancy wall mural on the ground floor of the FamilySearch Family History Library seemed a worthy opponent. Some ten feet high and twenty feet wide.

I took 15 photographs and fed them into the editor. The result? Impressive. Here’s a low resolution copy:

Descendants of Robert White and Bridget Allgar

  • The stitching is nearly flawless. (You can see a couple of errors in the border. More subtle errors are not visible above.)
  • Nearly all the text is crisp. (The smallest font furthest from the camera in the darkest areas is marginal. For example, look at the biographical information for Lucille Ball.)
  • Image quality is good (though grainy in places.)

Microsoft Photosynth

Wall Mural Icon on the FHL in Bing MapsThe result of my little experiment was not little: a whopping 49 megapixels! Fortunately, Microsoft Photosynth provided free storage space online. To see the stitched image, click on the image above.

If you don’t have Microsoft Silverlight, you’ll be prompted to install it.

One way to organize and share your images is to assign them to locations in Bing Maps. See a map showing the location of this wall mural. Click the green camera icon on the FHL to open the image.

So what gives? Why did the editor handle this huge test near flawlessly? What about Rencher’s map? If images are not suitable for stitching, are there no alternatives?

Stay tuned… And if I don’t see you again before tomorrow, Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Monday Mailbox: Indexing Place Names

Indexing place name abbreviations“When census enumerators wrote ‘Ind.’ and the person is named Charlotte Smith,” wrote Brad, “and yet the birthplace is transcribed as India, I just have to laugh.”

Brad, you may be interested to learn that Ancestry.com and FamilySearch handle abbreviated place names differently.

Ancestry.com indexers enter abbreviations exactly as written. It is Ancestry.com themselves that erroneously expand “Ind.” to “India.” I understand they have fixed these. If you can find any surviving errors of this type, I would be interested to learn of them. Because indexers were asked to enter the information exactly, Ancestry.com can go back and efficiently reprocess millions of records. Preserving the exact contents of the fields is a best practice in the archival world.

FamilySearch Indexing, on the other hand, asks indexers to interpret place names, correct spelling, and expand abbreviations. This generally produces better results when indexers have sufficient contextual knowledge. But misinterpretations occur, such as picking a far away place in the same state instead of a really close place just across a state line. Because exact contents of records are not captured, errors can not be corrected without re-indexing.

-- The Insider

Mailbox Monday: Family Hydra

Regarding “Family Hydra,” the census family with two heads, thank you all for your comments and John and Joan especially.

Dear Insider,

I find this not strange. This is two family groups living in the same household. The second family is headed by a widow. She might be, or might not be a relative. It would not be impossible for her to be the mother of the wife, at the early age of 15 or 16.


Dear Insider,

Why must we assume this is incorrect. I think it is two family units and each has a head. Maybe this was before the IRS told us there could only be one head (as defined by their rules) in each household.


Dear Anonymous and Joan,

Your points are well made. Certainly it is not strange to have two families headed by two people in one house. Presumably, that is why column 3, number of dwelling house, wasn’t incremented.

It is the census record that is strange. Each family should have a head and each head should have a family number in column 4. One family should have one number and one head. Two families should have two numbers and two heads. See paragraphs 100-2 and 109 of the 1920 Census Enumerators Instructions.

Here’s part of paragraph 100:

100. Column 4. Number of family in order of visitation.—In this column number the families in your district in the order in which they are enumerated, entering the number opposite the name of the head of EACH family

Keep those comments coming,

-- The Insider

Yes, records say the darnedest things.

Note: Letters and comments are edited for length, clarity, and editorial style.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Can You Say “Surprise Child?”

Records say the darnedest things

We depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about our pasts.

Yet sometimes records have anomalies.
Some are amusing or humorous.
Some are interesting or weird.
Some are peculiar or suspicious.
Some are infuriating, even downright laughable.

Yes, Records Say the Darnedest Things.”

Records Say the Darnedest Things: Can You Say “Surprise Child?”

I recently mentioned the sampler of the Chester Goodale family found in his Revolutionary War pension file. Upon examination the sampler includes a warning to researchers seeking all the children in a family. Chester and Asenath are married in August 1790. The children then come as expected, the first 8 months later, the second two years after that, and the third two years after that. The careless researcher might then give up, missing the last child, Phebe, who is not born for another 9 years.

Sampler from the Chester Goodale pension file

But it seems the Goodale family was not done yet. A closer inspection shows one last child, almost a family footnote, added below the strawberry and vine border. Samuel Goodale was born nine years after Phebe, when his mother was 43 (and two older sisters were in their child-bearing years).

Detail from the Chester Goodale samplerSource: Laura Goodale, “Sampler of Chester Goodale,” ca. 1809; application file of Chester Goodale of Connecticut, Case Files of Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Applications Based on Revolutionary War Service, Record Group 15; NARA, Washington, DC.; digital image, ARC no. 1656127 (www.archives.gov : accessed 3 October 2010).

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Answers to Indexing Illustration

These are the eight presidents from yesterday’s indexing illustration:

Presidents Answer

How’d you do before knowing something about the names?

How'd you do once you knew they were presidents?

The point is that context makes it easier to read names.

For us less experienced genealogists, the context is usually information known for several family members: names, genders, probable birth states, and estimated birth years. Once you have matched lots of known information with what is written legibly, you start to approach the illegible names with some confidence. You match expected letter forms against what you see. Pretty much without thinking about the complex brain gyrations, you "read" names that cold indexers can not.

For more experienced genealogists, you build up a name probability dictionary in your head for particular times and places. You pull from it to compare names against letter forms, allowing you to "read" names that others can not.

I conclude that cold indexers will never outperform someone with more context.

What do you think?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Indexing Errors: Test, Check the Boxes

Last week I talked about Elizabeth Shown Mills's lecture on boxes we trap ourselves in. And I asked that everyone come prepared today to work more boxes.

Did everyone remember to bring your #2 pencil? Good; I’m glad you remembered…

…that you didn’t need to bring one. (Marking a computer screen with a pencil… Well, that’s just silly.)

Remember that Elizabeth Shown Mills illustrated a point in her class with two individuals with the same name, living in the same place, at the same time. When she mentioned that the two were both listed in the census, I opened up Ancestry.com to see for myself. It was a little difficult to find them because…


Sorry; I didn’t mean to shout. But it just seems like every time I search I find indexing errors.

Then it occurred to me that this would make a good test case. Are the Ancestry.com indexes inferior because they were done by non-English speakers? Will the FamilySearch volunteer indexers do a better job?

The problem may not be non-English indexers. Another possibility to consider is that reading a record cold is not nearly as easy as targeted searching. Contrast the indexer who comes at a record cold with the searcher who examines the record armed with information about the target individual and family members. The targeted searcher has the liberty to ask, "with so many other legible bits of information matching my guy, is the shape of that miserable ink blot—masquerading as handwriting—consistent with the name I am looking for?"

Indexing Illustration

Consider the following illustration. Try to cold-index the following eight names, written by an enumerator who has the worst handwriting in the entire world. I’ll publish the answers tomorrow.

Cold Indexing Challenge

Now try targeted searching. Here’s the context:

A long-lived census employee has enumerated the White House for over 200 years, enumerating presidents from George Washington to Barak Obama. This sample shows eight of the better known presidents.

After writing each character, he drew a box around it and colored it in—perhaps a misguided attempt at security. As you check the boxes, notice some letters descend below the base line (like g, j, p, …), and some ascend higher than others (b, d, f, …). It is really easy to pick out dotted letters (i and j).

Check the boxes again and see how many you can read—despite the atrocious handwriting.

This illustration (hopefully) shows why cold indexers can not match your ability to read the names of your ancestors.

Can FamilySearch indexers do a better job than Ancestry.com indexers? Is the cold indexing handicap sufficient to account for the problems in Ancestry.com’s indexes? Or does the language of the indexer also affect the quality?

What if a native English speaker in Uganda that had never learned anything about U.S. presidents tried the illustration? Perhaps the problem with offshore indexing is not one of language but of historical and cultural knowledge.

Back to My Test Case

That brings us back to my little test case. I didn’t tell you the misindexed name from Elizabeth Shown Mills lecture because I don’t want anyone entering the correction because I think FamilySearch is incorporating corrections on Ancestry.com into their indexes. After FamilySearch publishes the relevant index, I’ll check and see if they did any better.

Stay tuned…

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

New FamilySearch Beta Website

Last Wednesday FamilySearch revised their beta.familysearch.org website. Yesterday I reviewed some of the changes in the library catalog. Today I’ll look at other changes.

More Catalog

At the close of yesterday’s article, I was looking at the search results for Drogheda, Ireland. Next, I clicked on “Ireland, Louth, Drogheda – Church Records.” The old catalog opened a new page and displayed the three titles. The new beta catalog slid the remaining items down and displayed the three titles in it.

List of titles for a record type

Unlike yesterday’s subtle alphabetizing error, here the beta catalog makes no attempt to alphabetize the titles.

I already mentioned yesterday the beta’s weird handling of narrow windows. That is the cause of the brown Feedback button in the middle of the window (above right).

Next I clicked on the parochial registers of St. Peter’s. The old catalog has the annoying habit of showing either title details or film notes. To see both, click to view the printable version (below, left). The new beta catalog displayed all the same information as the old catalog, including film notes, without the extra mouse click.

The new beta catalog contains all the same information as the old catalog

There you have it. The new beta catalog is not the loser that it once was. But FamilySearch is still seeking your feedback. Click the brown feedback button on the right edge of the window and let ‘em have it.

Historical Record Search

A brown bar (circled in yellow, below) separates close matches from partial matches. Made more obvious in this release is the preview arrow (a delta, really) to the right of each result. (See the examples circled in red.) Click the downward arrow to reveal the full content of the record (circled in purple, below) without leaving the results page. Click the upward arrow to re-hide it.

New search features in November 10th beta

Give Back

The Give Back page contains some familiar messages, and something new for FamilySearch.

Beta website revisions seem to be occurring about every four weeks. Slow, but sure, the beta is being readied to replace the old www.familysearch.org.

Don’t rush to conclusions because previous versions were wanting. Rush to beta.familysearch.org instead. Get on. Try it out. Leave feedback. Then stay tuned…