Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Powerful FamilySearch Partner Apps – #BYUFHGC

Jimmy Zimmerman presenting at RootsTech 2015“Have you ever said to yourself, ‘If only FamilySearch would do this one thing?’ ” asked Jimmy Zimmerman, product manager for FamilySearch Family Tree. Jimmy spoke to the topic “Powerful Partner Apps for FamilySearch” at the 2015 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy.

“There are an infinite number of ideas out there,” Jimmy said, “and FamilySearch has finite resources.” But what if others could add features? Well, FamilySearch has something called an API which allows that.

Diagram showing arrows between apps, through the Internet, to the FamilySearch API

[Insider’s note: An API is like a wall with holes in it set aside for particular actions. An app or website writes information on a piece of paper and, holding the paper in hand, sticks their hand through a specific hole in the wall. On the other side FamilySearch notices the hand sticking through the wall, reads the information on the piece of paper, writes a reply, and shoves the hand back through the wall. For example, an app might write a person identifier (PID) on a piece of paper and stick itthrough a hole labeled “fetch information about a person in Family Tree.” FamilySearch writes the information on the piece of paper and shoves the hand back through the hole.]

To use the API, companies must adhere to a strict set of rules. These are designed to protect the integrity of data in FamilySearch Family Tree and to guarantee best security practices. The rules are so voluminous they are jokingly referred to as “the tax code.” In the FamilySearch App Gallery, each app page indicates capabilities that the app can exercise within the information at FamilySearch.org. Writing and modifying Family Tree requires far more rules than just reading Family Tree.

Jimmy talked about finding available apps in the App Gallery. If you can’t find a way to get to the App Gallery, you can always go to FamilySearch.org/apps. Find apps by searching for the name or description, specifying category, filtering by platform (Windows, iPhone, web, etc.), price option (free, purchase, or subscription), free trial availability, language, FamilySearch capability (read-only, update), and if a FamilySearch login is required.

Some apps are listed without any certification. According to Jimmy, these have been found to be so helpful, FamilySearch lists them despite the lack of certification. He pointed out Ancestry.com’s Family Tree Maker as one example. An audience member asked when MyHeritage will be interacting with FamilySearch Family Tree. Jimmy said that while he couldn’t say, he could tell us it is in progress.

Users can rate apps and write reviews. Please leave reviews. It helps others find the really good apps and it encourages the developers to improve. If you find problems with an app, first contact the company. App reviews may not be a fair place to report problems, as the problems might actually be a FamilySearch API issue.

Some apps with high ratings are:

Jimmy demonstrated a few of the apps. Kinpoint was one that I had not seen before.

Explore Chart of Kinpoint.com

Kinpoint.com displays a fan chart, or Explorer Chart as they call it. Dots on the Explorer Chart are like a to-do list. They mark things like missing vital information, timeline issues, duplicates, lacking sources, and record hints, although some of these are available only with a subscription. The pane on the left displays information about the focus person. A summary pane on the right-hand side shows interesting facts about the persons displayed in the Explore chart, such as the number of countries of origin, number of children per family, youngest and oldest ages, and range of birth dates. Most of these are available only by subscription. Facts can be used to highlight persons on the chart according to available filters. For example, you could see all ancestors highlighted who were 25-30 years of age at the time of their death. The chart can show ancestors or descendants. The subscription features are available for free in a Family History Center.

Jimmy showed MooseRoots.com, a website with census and vital records. MooseRoots is a new company in the family history space, but has its roots in the ability to pull together lots of information. [Insider’s note: The parent company is the newly named Graphiq, a data visualization company, with many vertical search engines.] For example, their census records are married to aggregate census statistics, name origins and meanings, historical stock performance, historical place information, and economic data. [Insider’s note: Some of their data looks pretty rough, like the WWII army enlistment records for The first five names from Cache County, Utah are Edson Bcnson, On Roy Pehr, Meroill W Glevn, Grant C Jarsvn, and Eewzp Thompkwo. If I had to guess, I would say they used OCR on a typed or printed source. No images were available.]

Jimmy wanted to show us their Civil War Soldiers collection, but couldn’t find the link to it. I stumbled across it at http://civil-war-soldiers.findthebest.com/ after a lot of poking around. Graphiq has married the standard Civil War Soldiers database with information about the infantry, battles, and casualty counts.

The same section of the Graphiq website contains information about battles, generals, sailors, and war statistics. They credit the National Park Service for the data and Hal Jespersen (www.cwmaps.com) for the maps.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Ancestry Insider, this is Ryan - lead product manager at MooseRoots. Thanks for talking about our site, would love to talk to you more about what we do. You gave a great overview of us - a free genealogy research site that combines over 1 billion records with rich historical content. We're part of Graphiq Inc. (previously FindTheBest), which allows us to pull in data from our other vertical research sites (politics, real estate, etc). Our data does not come from OCR, but from individual data providers. In the particular case you mentioned (WWII Enlistments), the data came from NARA. We try to keep the data as clean as possible without compromising the integrity of the original data, but there's only so much we can do :) Feel free to contact me at rmillner [at] mooseroots.com if you want to learn more about our embeddable visualizations or site as a whole.

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