Friday, December 19, 2008

Where Did Your Surname Come From?

Do you know where your surname comes from, or how many people you share it with? To find out more about your history, click on 'Search for Surname' and you will open the National Trust Names website which presents the findings of a project based at University College London (UCL) that is investigating the distribution of surnames in Great Britain, both current and historic. It allows users to search the databases that we have created, and to trace the geography and history of their family names. On each page of the website, you will find a Help link on the top-right corner which We hope will answer any questions you might have.

New England Ancestors Free Online Seminars

NEHGS ONLINE SEMINAR SERIES
We are excited to announce our new online seminar series. Lectures will be presented by our staff of genealogists. We will be offering new seminars on a regular basis so please check back frequently for updates.
Online Seminars
Seminar Links
Researching Your Newfoundland Ancestors Part One
Bridging the Atlantic - Methods of Tracing Your 17th Century New England Ancestors Across the Water
An Overview of the NEHGS Manuscript Collection
Library resources at NEHGS
Finding Your Ancestors Online
Who Was Your Mother's Mother's Mother's Mother?
Getting Started in Irish Genealogy Part 1
Applying to Lineage Societies
Genealogical Tips: Transcribing Gravestones
Getting Started in Genealogy - Part 1
Getting Started in Genealogy - Part 2
Getting Started in Genealogy - Part 3
Civil War Pension Research: Union Soldiers
Methods of Finding a Wife's Maiden Name

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Web Search Strategies


CommonCraft Show Sachi LeFever is the project manager, video editor, and "chief party pooper". She gets things done. You can find Sachi on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Lee LeFever is the communicator and idea guy. You can connect to him on Flickr, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
About the Show
Each new video we publish appears as a free version on this link. You are free to share Common Craft Show videos for non-commercial purposes.
Downloadable, licensed versions can be found in the Common Craft Store.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Small Inexpensive NetBook's : Great for FamilyHistory

Small is beautiful - Dec 4th 2008 From The Economist print edition
Computing: Netbooks are small computers that are cheaper and lighter than full-scale laptops. They have their merits—but do not ask too much of them

STEVE JOBS says Apple does not know how to make a $500 computer “that’s not a piece of junk”. Yet this article was written on a small computer that costs less than that—and barely a quarter of the price of the Apple iMac that sits on the desk beside it. Small, cheap mini-notebooks like this, or “netbooks” as they have come to be called, are not as fast or as capable as a big computer like an iMac, and in performance terms they trail behind most laptops. But they are certainly not junk, and for some people they may be the best computers money can buy.

Netbooks are a hot-selling consumer product. The first to appear on the market, a year or so ago, were aimed at children. But now they are proving popular not just with families and first-time computer buyers but also with power users who want something small, lightweight and cheap.

They typically have screens measuring seven to ten inches diagonally. They have built-in wireless networking, but lack an optical drive for CDs or DVDs. Some use flash memory for storage instead of a hard disk, which makes them more robust and extends battery life. Netbooks generally cost less than $500. IDC, a market-research firm, reckons worldwide sales of netbooks will reach 10.8m in 2008 and more than 20m in 2009, during which they will represent 11-12% of the entire laptop market.

Keep it simple: Most current models, including Samsung’s NC10, much of the Asus Eee range, the MSI Wind and the Acer Aspire One, use Intel’s Atom as their central processor. This is the chipmaker’s smallest processor, designed specifically for low-cost and portable devices, not for intensive number-crunching. But because a lot of things that people do with computers, such as e-mail, writing and web browsing, do not require fancy graphics or lots of processing power, netbooks can still be extremely useful.

The number of netbooks available is growing as more producers pile into the market (but not Apple—at least, not yet). But if you are buying one, avoid the temptation to get the slickest, most powerful machine available. Much advice on offer online suggests souping up the specification of a netbook so it can run Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system, rather than the free, open-source Linux system that is offered as standard on many netbooks.

Yet increasing the specification only makes sense for people who want to run (and to pay for) Windows and specific Windows-based applications. The extra hardware and software costs start to push the price of a netbook towards that of a standard laptop, which will invariably be better because it has a bigger processor and superior graphics. For many users, the basic, free software shipped with a netbook will be quite enough.

The most basic model of the Acer Aspire One can be found for £179 in Britain and around $300 in America. It simply switches on and runs with the minimum of fuss. It has 8 gigabytes (GB) of flash storage and 512 megabytes of RAM, which is a bit puny. But that is perfectly adequate to run the customised version of Linux that comes pre-installed on it, along with a suite of software, including Open Office. With no hard drive, and a switch to turn off the wireless connection (not the fastest in the world), power can be conserved. So a bigger, bulkier battery may not be necessary either, unless you want to use the computer untethered for long periods. Because it boots up in a few seconds, rather than thinking of the Acer as a mini laptop it might make more sense to view it as a beefed-up personal digital assistant, such as an old PalmPilot or Psion, but with a better screen and a proper keyboard.

But what about the lack of storage? Again, the way the machine can be used addresses this problem. First, netbooks are designed to be used with the net, which is where an increasing number of people now store a lot of their stuff, such as e-mail, videos and photos, and where people do other work with online applications. Second, with three USB ports it can always be plugged into devices, such as a portable hard drive, to store things locally. Storage space can also be boosted by plugging a small SD-card flash memory (16GB versions are now widely available) into one of two ports, one of which is designated to act as semi-permanent storage.

As for the software, Open Office was surprisingly easy to use—a doddle for anyone who has used Microsoft Office. Moreover, the ability to save work in different formats presented no compatibility problems when sending files to a Windows-based machine. Photo software and other applications were simple to use too. The machine is not up to much for playing games, but then a dedicated games console beats most computers when it comes to games anyway.

The Acer has a built-in webcam, which makes it ideal for video-calling services such as Skype. Admittedly, installing third-party software can be a bit of a fiddle, and some of the advice available online threatens to lure users into the tangled depths of the Linux undergrowth, where few people will want to venture. But as netbooks become more prevalent, such difficulties are likely to ease.

The upshot is that netbooks are great as cheap, simple and small computers for performing basic tasks—especially if the pre-installed software does what you want it to. They will never satisfy power users who want to edit video and play elaborate games, but they are not meant to. Provided they do not expect too much, most users will be delighted with them.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

25,000 Historical Titles Now Free Online

FamilySearch Digital Preservation Initiative Hits a Milestone

Salt Lake City, Utah—FamilySearch International reached a milestone today with the digitization of its 25,000th publication online. It began the initiative in 2007 and is ramping up to do even more—and faster. The effort targets published family, society, county, and town histories, as well as numerous other historical publications that are digitally preserved and made accessible for free online. The digital publications can be searched at www.FamilySearch.org (Go to FamilySearch.org, then click Search Records, then click Historical Books).

The 25,000th digitized publication was A History of Lewis County, in the State of New York, from the Beginning of Its Settlement to the Present Time by Franklin B. Hough. The book was published in 1860. The lengths of titles digitized to date vary in length, but the average is about 350 pages. There are even publications in Spanish, German, French, and Russian.

FamilySearch has nearly a million publications in its famous Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, and there are millions of similar publications elsewhere in the United States. “The problem with the collection [of out-of-print titles] is limited access,” said Ransom Love, FamilySearch senior vice president of Strategic Relations. “To view the publications, patrons have to travel to Salt Lake City or one of FamilySearch’s affiliate libraries. If you are lucky, you might be able to order a microfilm copy, but then you have to wait for it to arrive at your local family history center. And there’s the inconvenience of having to read it on a film reader,” added Love.

FamilySearch aims to change all of that. Working with volunteers and select affiliate libraries, it plans to create the largest digital collection of published histories on the Web. It is targeting a wide range of historical publications—for example, users might be pleasantly surprised to find digital copies of Hawaii Sugar Planters Association Filipino Laborer files (1909-1949), medieval family history resource titles, and oral history abstracts (mostly from Hawaii), and numerous gazetteers.

“These are publications that were usually limited in the number originally printed and therefore only accessible in a few libraries or special collections worldwide. Yet there can be some great information of genealogical significance in the publications that only a few people would have access to prior to now,” said Love.

Through its Records Access Program, FamilySearch is digitally preserving a copy of the publications and making them available online for the masses. Once digitized, the collections have "every word" search capability, which allows users to search by name, location, date, or other fields across the collection. The search results are then linked to high quality digital images of the original publication.

FamilySearch is not stopping with its own collection either. Over the past year, it announced that it is also helping to digitize and publish collections from the Brigham Young University Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University—Hawaii Joseph F. Smith Library, Allen County Public Library (ACPL) in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Houston Public Library, in Houston, Texas, and Mid-Continent Public Library Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, Missouri. When all is said and done, there will be over a million publications in the digital collection online. It will be the largest free resource of its kind.

New FamilySearch (Where we are now)


New FamilySearch (NFS) is a single family tree that all of us share and work on in common, as if we all shared one PAF file. FamilySearch is temporarily calling it New FamilySearch and it is temporarily located at http://new.familysearch.org. But eventually it will be called FamilySearch Family Tree and will be relocated to www.familysearch.org. The 1.0 version will be available to all, members of the Church and non-members alike.

However, the first priority for NFS was to stop the flood of duplicate temple ordinances by replacing TempleReady and the associated need to check the International Genealogical Index (IGI) to avoid duplication. Accordingly, a version 0.9 was written to this end. It lacks many niceties considered standard in a genealogy product, but those features are not central to replacing TempleReady and can wait for a 1.0 product.

After alpha and beta testing were complete, a multiple-phase rollout was commenced on 26 June 2007 when St. Louis started using NFS. From that moment on, NFS has not been in some extended beta test as some suppose, but has been in real use in real temples.

Early users of NFS found bugs, of course, as well as user interface problems. That is one reason for doing a phased release. But these problems were nothing, in retrospect. Like the hero of a tragedy, NFS 0.9 contained an unknown fatal flaw that doomed it to failure as soon as the rollout began. Ironically, the flaw arises out of the problem that NFS is designed to avoid: too much duplication.

Our hero's tragic flaw

Somewhere along the line, two conflicting mantras were established for NFS. Our hero's fatal flaw results from an unforeseen interaction between the two.

No one can change your data except you.
To keep things simple, New FamilySearch combines Ancestral File, Pedigree Resource File and the International Genealogy Index into one database.
Not knowing the number of duplicates beforehand, the first mantra was kept by keeping a full copy of every piece of data, no matter how often duplicated. After the rollout began, users began combining duplicates from these three databases. Some individuals were duplicated many, many more times than expected and when NFS users combined them, "individuals of unusual size" (IOUS) started to grow.

Steps were taken to slow IOUS growth. The addition of PRF disks was halted. The import of complete GEDCOMs was frowned upon. And NFS continued to perform its primary function, adequately replacing TempleReady.

The Arizona

Then on 5 February 2008 the rollout hit Arizona. Because of the large number of Church members there who are descended from early Church members, the growth rate of IOUSes exploded and IOUSes became large enough to swamp the computer servers running NFS. The system was sometimes too slow to use. I'm sure within a week FamilySearch knew they had big problems. The decision to freeze would have been gut wrenching and probably had to reach to the highest levels. On the 19th, word first leaked out. On the 21st, official word was sent out. The rollout was stopped, frozen solid.

Emergency steps were taken to rehabilitate system performance. Hard limits were placed on the number of duplicates that can be combined. (I believe it is currently 85?) GEDCOM import size was restricted. I imagine the length of the delay was predicated on how long it took database engineers to scan through all the millions of individuals in NFS to find and split the IOUSes into pieces small enough for the system to handle.This had to be done while the system was in operation, actively serving 26 temples.

The result was an NFS that worked near flawlessly as a TempleReady replacement for anyone who doesn't have ancestors that were famous or were members of the Church. These ancestors were the ones becoming IOUSes. When the freeze thawed, the rollout could continue only in districts where most members didn't have many ancestors fitting this characterization. By 14 October the tragedy had run its course. Utah, Idaho and Las Vegas have been on hold ever since, waiting for a true fix to the IOUS problem. Rumors have pointed to Q3 or Q4 of next year before this newer than New FamilySearch will be ready.

Family Tree

While all this was going on, work on a 1.0 user interface was progressing. Developers are using a system called Agile Development that encourages regular user interaction during iterative development. This allows us, the future users of the program, to try things out along the way, identify design flaws and influence the product before it is set in stone. If you have a New FamilySearch account, you should feel a responsibility to do this at labs.familysearch.org.

That brings you up to the unexpected announcement that Vegas was going live without the rest of us! What does that mean? Obviously, FamilySearch feels like the system is robust enough to handle the additional traffic and that letting Las Vegas start using the system is worthwhile, despite members inability to combine all duplicates together.

Originally published on "The Ancestry Insider" Blog.