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UPDATE 2005: The Internet, Genealogists & the Future 
NOTE: Originally published in The Godfrey Update, Winter 2005 pp 16-19. www.godfrey.org

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THAT WAS THEN: Back in the "dark ages" of the Internet circa 1998, I wrote: "...Hmmm! Improved access to original documents through effective indexing and scanning projects -- all available at a reasonable cost through the Internet! Then our research dollars can be saved for visiting the places our ancestors once lived. NOTHING can substitute for getting the lay of the land by strolling exactly where our ancestors once walked! Throw in a restored homestead or a church cemetery and I am in heaven!"

THIS IS NOW: In the spring of 2005, I'll take that research trip. Once I've updated my schedule on my Palm(r), I'll fly up to Pennsylvania using my latest winning-bid e-ticket from Priceline(r). At the airport I'll Blackberry(r) my family that I have arrived safely before I pick up the electric & gas-powered hybrid rental, prearranged on line, of course. I'll drive to Conrad Weiser's 18th century homestead following directions provided by MapQuest(r), augmented by the car's onboard navigation system.

The new PalmCorder(r) will come in handy to document my tour of the homestead; and I'll use it to take some still shots of Conrad's writing desk, spring house and keeping room fireplace for the Weiser Family website.

I'll mark the spot of his wife Anne Eve Feck's tombstone with my hand-held GPS. If in my excitement I lock the keys in the car, I can always call On-Star(r) for remote access.

I’ll check into my hotel room showing the reservation confirmation from Expedia.com. There I will enjoy standard-fare high speed Internet access for my laptop so I can PayPal ® $20 to my grandson and send him a BlueMountain® birthday e-card. Next I’ll firewire the PalmCorder® to my laptop and locate a short video clip of the day’s travel to send to my children. Fortunately their Gmail™ and Yahoo® accounts provide 1=2 GIG of free storage space. For dinner, I’ll meet at the home of a long-lost cousin, who will probably ask me for a copy of my compiled genealogy. I’ll be happy to share the database, digital photos and scanned documents since I keep the most recent backup on my key chain in a 2GB ThumbDrive™. I am hoping he will have more interesting data on my collateral Muhlenburg line, which I can download to my Thumb as well.

When I return home, I’ll eBay® some vintage postcards and a family bible rescued from a garage sale on the way home from the airport. I’ll detail my genealogical gleanings on surname boards at Ancestry.com™, make a few mailing list postings at RootsWeb, send some tombstone photos to the USGenWeb Archives and enter another childhood memory in my personal blog. I’ll order that new genealogy how-to book at Amazon.com and ask them to locate an out-of-print book about Pennsylvania Germans. Since my Romba® really knows how to clean up fore me, I’ll have plenty of time to create a digital report of my research trip. I’ll simply use Windows Movie Maker to splice together an assortment of video clips, adding digital copies of ancestor photos touched up in PhotoShop. I’ll insert personal impressions as a voice over. I’ll download an MP3 of Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” for a dramatic musical ending before burning the entire presentation to CD.

Switching gears, I’ll still have time, while microwaving dinner, to import my cousin’s database from my Thumb to my main genealogy program on my desktop. To relax, I’ll catch a TIVO of the latest BBC episode of “Who do you think you are?” and Ancestry’s “Extreme Reunions” on my wide screen, high definition plasma TV with surround sound. After my shower, I’ll hit the remote to set the house alarm and adjust the outdoor lighting before I hit the sack. For comic relief I’ll read the a best selling e-book on my Palm®, using old-fashioned bifocals, since we won’t make that decision about Lasik eye surgery until early next summer.

In the morning I’ll make the 30 second commute to the studio in my home office, recording a VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) telephone interview with a noted Italian genealogy research expert, and schedule it to air on my next DearMYRTLE’s Family History Hour internet radio show podcast. Then I’ll happily spend the rest of the morning carefully match/merging duplicates in my genealogy database. I’ll spend a few hours after lunch solving new research challenges posed by GenSmarts before polishing up a column on the subject for release later in the week.

THE FUTURE? One thing’s for sure: I will be the FIRST one in line for a “spell check” brain implant.

Back in 1998, Heritage Quest Magazine featured one of my DearMYRTLE columns titled “THE INTERNET, GENEALOGISTS & THE FUTURE” as the cover story for the Nov/Dec issue. As usual, it began with a letter from a reader:

From: An Inquiring Mind
DearMYRTLE,

I have begun studying my family history using the internet. Why is it that nearly every place I go requires a membership fee? Is this reasonable?

Would you believe that I continue to receive emails of this sort a few times a day from genealogy newbies all over the world? So, honestly, have things changed much for genealogists during the past 7 years?

YES, but people are still justifiably confused by the plethora of genealogy sites – some charging, some not. Quite frankly a Google™ search returning “about 7,340,000 hits for Smith family in 0.70 seconds” is daunting to say the least. But if I were to rate the future prospects for genealogical research, I’d give it “two thumbs up.”

Let’s compare some of my 1998 predictions with what has happened, and at the end, I’ll throw in a few new predictions. As fast as things are happening in the world of genealogical technology, you can bet it won’t be another 7 years before we’ll need another update.

ADVERTISING IS A NECESSARY EVIL BUT… -- In 1998 I stated “The real fact is it costs money to run a web site. Someone has to pay for it. If genealogists aren’t willing to pay subscription fees to offset costs, then advertising is the alternative.” I recall mentioning that I don’t mind looking at an ad for peanut butter sandwiches as long as the jelly doesn’t spill on my computer.

Little did I know it would be “cookies” not “jelly” that could take over my computer and slow things down to a crawl. I quite simply didn’t anticipate how insidious the advertising would become in 7 years. I particularly detest the banner ads made to look like real Windows ® operating system warnings, such as “Your computer has a deadly virus, click here to fix it (or else!)" If you make the innocent mistake of clicking something other than the X to close the window, you are taken to an offensive site, and within a matter of minutes, your computer is filled with literally hundreds of unseen “cookies” that report your every move on the net to web advertisers.

Just as we all remember the olden days when people didn’t bother to lock their cars or front doors, so too were we living a life of “internet innocence” back in 1998. Now, SPAM is no longer just a type of processed meat that comes in a can, and SPIM (SPAM Instant Messages) mar our view of the information super highway with raunchy invitations that would make a sailor blush. Keeping our computers clean and functioning at capacity in this day and age requires careful attention to activating a firewall, adding spy software (like Spyware Blaster & SpyBot) and setting up automatic anti-virus updates and daily scans with programs like McAfee or Norton AV, augmented by periodic online scans offered by specialists like www.pandasoftware.com

MEMBERSHIP FEES SOMETIMES REQUIRED – In 1998 I stated, “In my opinion, certain websites are justified in charging for the presentation of genealogical material, especially where there are acquisition, programmer and royalty fees that must be paid. However, this is not to discount the incredible amount of valuable free information out on the Net.“ I still agree with this, and to every genealogist’s delight, we’ve had an incredible influx of reliable index databases and scanned image web sites. If we walked into an ancestor’s distant courthouse, we’d be paying for gas (currently over $2 per gallon), food, and lodging in addition to photocopies, so why not speed up the process using online resources? Using major credit cards over secure servers removes the once cumbersome process of making payments via snail mail with fluctuating foreign currency exchange rates. I still recommend subscribing to www.Ancestry.com and www.genealogy.com. Newcomers of note since 1998 (in no particular order) include:

  • www.1837online.com solves the difficult problem of searching the quarterly indexes of birth, marriage and deaths for England & Wales 1837-2002, British Nationals overseas 1761-1994. Using codes listed by an ancestor’s name in the index, one may order certificates over the Internet for immediate processing. (NOTE: I received 2 death records and a marriage record within 2 weeks of ordering online, from the Public Record Office to England to my home in Florida .)
  • HeritageQuestOnline. HQ wobbled back and forth with various owners, but has settled with ProQuest, known for its extensive UMI archives. Since the service is sold to libraries, individual researchers must arrange a method for access. I chose to use the venerable Godfrey Library’s brand new Genealogy Portal www.Godfrey.org where I may search HQO and hundreds of other genealogy databases with the click of a mouse.
  • Census View at www.Ancestry.com. Scanned images of 1790-1930 US federal census images may be browsed or searched via independent indexing projects. Yes, ol’ Myrt here uses both HQO and Ancestry census pages, checking for an ancestor in each index and deciding which census page looks best for a printout. Ancestry also has hundreds of maps and databases for most parts of the US and the UK .
  • www.ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk is one of the best examples of how a national government can make public vital records available online, for a small fee. Particularly useful is the ability to search for an ancestor by name.
  • www.NewEnglandAncestors.org Home of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, founded in 1847.

FREE GENEALOGY WEB SITES In 1998 I wrote about RootsWeb and USGenWeb particularly to point up the value of volunteerism. Indeed these and www.worldGenWeb.org continue to thrive as experienced researchers provide useful links and research tips. Here’s a smattering of what else is out there: 

  • www.FamilySearch.org the website of the Family History Library currently boasts 11.6 million hits per day. Include: Ancestral File ,IGI, 1881 British & Canadian Census Index, 1880 US Federal Census Index, FHL Catalog, Pedigree Resource File and valuable research outlines for each US state, Canadian province and most major countries and regions of the world.
  • www.EllisIslandRecords.org provides a searchable index to over 22 million people who came through the Port of New York between 1892-1924. Links include scanned images of original passenger lists, in addition to descriptions and photos of ships.
  • http://memory.loc.gov/ammem Library of Congress’ American Memory Project providing access “to written and spoken words, sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps and sheet music that document the American experience. It is a digital record of American history and creativity.”
  • www.itd.nps.gov/cwss  The National Park Service’s Civil War Soldiers & Sailors System database of over 5 million entries for both Union & Confederate.
  • http://freebmd.rootsweb.com FreeBMD aims to “transcribe the Civil Registration index of births, marriages and deaths for England and Wales, and to provide free Internet access to the transcribed records. It currently holds nearly 105 million records.
  • www.immigrantships.net Home of the Immigrant Ship’s Transcribers Guild.
  • www.Afrigeneas.com including the Slave Data Project and how-to articles.
  • www.iarchives.com/anc_04/search.jsp scanned and searchable pages from the published Pennsylvania Archives.
  • http://www.genuki.org.uk GENUKI stands for Genealogy of the UK and Ireland .
  • www.JewishGen.org features Family Finder, ShtetLinks of over 200 communities, ShtetlSeeker and perhaps the largest project known as the Jewish Records Indexing-Poland. Name searches employ the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex System.

MEGA LIST SITES & GLOBAL SEARCH CAPABILITIES – In 1998 I stated that “sites listing or indexing other sites are useful when figuring out where to go on the information super highway are provided free due to support from commercial sponsors. Most webmasters site a handful of other genealogy sites as their particular favorites. However, experienced internet genealogists have long favored Cyndi Howells’ List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet.” www.cyndislist.com is still there, though everything is not listed. Alternatives include:

·        Matt & April Helm’s Tool Box www.genealogytoolbox.com

·        Genealogy Resources on the Internet www.rootsweb.com/~jfuller/internet.html

·        Google, particularly the advanced search www.google.com  

DNA STUDIES – In 1998 I didn’t even write about DNA studies. Periodically, I receive an email from someone wanting a referral to a DNA service to fill in names on his family tree. DNA studies currently compare DNA from individuals to determine relationship. They can also place one’s genes as originating in a particular country or region of the world. DNA studies are not going to tell you the name of your 2nd great-grandfather nor explain his military service during the US Civil War.  

  • Family Tree DNA www.familytreeDNA.com reports “There is no reason to expect that two participants should match because they have the same surname and are from the same country. Surnames can have multiple points of origin, within a country as well as in more than one country, and migrations spread a surname geographically.”
  • Oxford Ancestors www.oxfordancestors.com “Offers DNA-based services in genealogy MatriLinetm  uses mitochondrial DNA to place a person in an evolutionary framework going back 150,000 years. MatriLinetm   interprets your maternal ancestry linking you – if your roots are in Europe – to one of seven “foremothers.”
  • Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation www.smgf.org explains “The SMGF has a large y-chromosome portions of their database available to search. This dataset links y-chromosome haplotypes, surnames, dates and places of birth prior to the 1900s.

MEDICAL FAMILY HISTORIES – In 1998 I didn’t write about the need to compile a medical family history. As the practice of medicine expands understanding of the human body and the impact of inherited tendencies for disease, the importance of tracking our medical pedigrees becomes increasingly evident. GeneWeaver www.geneweaveronline.com is a program that will assist you in maintaining a database with printable charts to take with you to the doctor’s office.

DearMYRTLE’s WISH LIST FOR FUTURE GENEALOGISTS 

SMARTER EXPORT CAPABILITIES OF GENEALOGY SOFTWARE, particularly where it comes to embedding the linked photos and scanned documents. Right now it’s cumbersome to place copies of scanned images with an imported database into the exact directory structure on your computer as indicated by links to those images from your cousin’s computer. In fact the current GEDCOM (export) capabilities can preserve the links, but do not copy the digital images, so its more than likely your cousin won’t think to send all the photos he’s collected, scanned and linked to ancestors in his database. The genealogy software producers have just about perfected the other parts of their genealogy programs, so hopefully they will be able to spend R&D time working out the links in this area, while still maintaining the low cost of $29 for the average program.

MORE ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE Forget the use of that term in the context of the 2004 Presidential campaign. “Artificial intelligence" is the up and coming tool for savvy genealogists. Our dining room tables aren’t large enough and our brains aren’t fast enough to correlate the dates/localities where our ancestors once lived with online genealogy databases and library catalogs. That’s where programs like GenSmarts www.GenSmarts.com step in and evaluate our compiled genealogies. Computers are quicker at noticing a timeline or migration pattern, and are able to point to a list of databases and books to continue research for evidence of our ancestors. Even my own column could be “read” to you by a virtual “Myrt.” We have the technology and we know how to use it.

CREATIVE TOMBSTONING Have you noticed that some tombstones now include a small ceramic photo like those described at : www.funeraldepot.com/portraitsizechart.htm > How about an interactive tombstone, where you can download the photo and pages of family history of the deceased to your Thumb or laptop? Memory Medallions www.memorymedallion.com

COMPUTER-BASED TRAINING: Combining online tutorials, interactive chat rooms and detailed genealogy research assignments, we’ll see more genealogy classes like those offered at:

ORDERING MICROFILM ONLINE TO BE PRESENTED IN DIGITAL FORMAT at FamilySearch.org. If digital scanners can work through a microfilm at 3 frames per second, and if there are 1200 frames per 35mm roll, it will take a little over 6 minutes to digitize the entire reel. This will greatly streamline the current microfilm ordering process, since it takes more than six minutes to pull a microfilm, print a mailing label, box and ship a reel to your local LDS Family History Center. Once the film is digitized and placed on a website, it can be available to anyone else online as well. Why is this important?

As it stands now, the Family History Library’s collection includes over 3 million rolls of microfilmed genealogical records, 742,000 microfiche; 310,000 books serials and other formats, 4,500 periodicals; 700 electronic resources.” IBID. Note: “Approximately 200 cameras are currently microfilming records in over 45 countries. Records have been microfilmed in over 110 countries, territories and possessions.” IBID. In an interview this week, Mike Provard, of Family History Support, talked more about this worldwide microfilming project. He explained that at this point “a small percentage of the microfilming is now done with digital cameras” and that “the microfilming projects are still going strong.”

MORE SOURCE DOCUMENTS As I wrote back in 1998, “online index references to ancestors are not considered first-hand or primary sources of information. It is most certainly at least one step removed from the original document. Even if someone painstakingly typed in all the information from an old will propped on the desk beside his keyboard, you must admit there will understandably be transcription errors. It is humanly impossible to decipher every single word of an ancient document without error. Even our understanding of the meanings of words has changed over time. Also we must consider the reliability of the source of the information.” Now, despite improvements in OCR (Optical Character Recognition) technology, which work only on typed documents, we’re still at the mercy of indexers.

WAYBACK MACHINE BECOMES INCREASINGLY POPULAR The webmaster explains “Browse through 30 billion web pages archived from 1996 to a few months ago.” I first learned about this tremendous archive from Robert Ragan of “Pajama Genealogy” fame. All too often a smaller family history website closes down, making links to that source of genealogy data obsolete. Simply copy/paste the original URL from your source citation to the Wayback Machine to view the page in its original form. www.archive.org/web/web.php

WHAT WAS TRUE IN 1998 WE STILL CAN’T IGNORE: There is simply no substitute for obtaining a copy of an original document proving our lineage.

Fortunately more digitized images of original old documents are showing up on the web every day. Genealogists compile reliable family histories when basing lineage assumptions on a variety of primary record sources. These are documents created at the time an ancestor lived.

If genealogists can find online scanned images of the documents in great-grampa’s probate packet, does this mean an end of research in dusty old courthouse books or ancient parish registers? Probably not in my lifetime.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt      :)
DearMYRTLE,
6023 26th Street West PMB 352 
Bradenton, FL 34207
http://www.DearMYRTLE.com  


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