Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The BYU Family History Library -- Possibly the second largest genealogy library in the world

I have now been in Provo, Utah for almost a year. During that time, I have had hundreds of opportunities to visit and serve at the Brigham Young University Family History Library (BYU FHL). I have also had ample opportunities to visit and work at the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City, Utah, about an hour and half away by train or car. After spending this intense time in both libraries, I am somewhat amazed at the comparison of the two. I fully realize that people come from all over the world to visit the Salt Lake Library. It has the reputation of being the largest such library in the world. But what about the BYU Family History Library?

The collection at the Salt Lake FHL is summarized as follows:
The collection includes over 2.4 million rolls of microfilmed genealogical records; 727,000 microfiche; 356,000 books, serials, and other formats; over 4,500 periodicals and 3,725 electronic resources. 
Records available are from the United States, Canada, the British Isles, Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa.
What about this? How does this compare to the BYU FHL? First of all, you need to realize that the BYU facility is part of the Harold B. Lee Library, on the campus of the Brigham Young University. It is not a FamilySearch Library. It is a professionally run, major educational institution, library. As such, it is just as open to the public for research as the FHL in Salt Lake City, Utah. My impression is that there are very few genealogical researchers who take advantage of their own local university libraries, much less think of the BYU FHL as a destination for research.

Here are a few statistics from the Harold B. Lee library. Remember, the BYU FHL is sitting right dab in the middle of the vast Harold B. Lee Library. It is not a separate building out somewhere, it is right in the middle of the campus. There is one limitation. The BYU facilities are designed for student and faculty use. It is not like there is a cadre of volunteers, like there is in Salt Lake, simply sitting there waiting to help. At BYU, you actually have to do some research and work.

My guess is that in reality, the BYU FHL and its strategic position as part of the Harold B. Lee Library, makes is, possibly the second largest genealogical library in the world. Here are the numbers for 2014:

Number of patrons: 2.064.127
Volumes: 4,362,039
Serials: 128,013
Microforms: 3,061,042
Government Documents: 376,445
Maps: 288,995
Graphics: 1,690,045
Audio: 267,349
Film and Video: 41,340
Total materials: 10,215,268

Now, granted, this is the entire library, but how much of this is pertinent to family history? You will never know until you look. What constitutes a valuable resource for genealogical research? If you can answer that question, you are a far better a better researcher than I am. How do you really know if some book or other document is going to have information that will help you with your genealogical research? Doesn't it stand to reason that somewhere in this vast collection of books and records, that there are some things that might help you along?

What is important to note is that the BYU FHL is part of these numbers. Around 300,000 of the total number of microfilms available are in the Family History Library section of the library. Very frequently, I find that the film I need is sitting in the BYU FHL and if it isn't, I can order the film and it then stays in the BYU FHL on permanent storage and there is no charge for ordering film inside the Library that is sent to the BYU FHL.

Now, I could go on indefinitely extolling the virtues of the BYU FHL and the opportunity that it affords by being inside of a major, world-class, university library, but I realize that there are only a very few people who would understand what I am talking about.

Let me leave just one or two thoughts. Look at the number of maps in the BYU Library. Think about how many maps are in your own local library or even in the Salt Lake FHL. Look at the number of books in both libraries. Think about the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Library which is also part of the BYU Harold B. Lee Library. Here is the note about the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Library, which is right downstairs from the BYU FHL.
The L. Tom Perry Special Collections Library preserves and houses materials requiring regulation. Because of their uniqueness, value, or fragility, these materials are given great care to protect them from damage or theft and to ensure their proper long-term use. 
Hence, Special Collections acquires, preserves, and makes available for use printed materials (280,000 books, pamphlets, prints, etc.) and a vast array of items comprising manuscript materials (8,000 manuscript collections including diaries, journals, papers, music scores, university records [including records of retired faculty], and 500,000 photographs). 
In keeping with the vision of Brigham Young University, all undergraduates are encouraged to have a graduate-level research experience at BYU. Special Collections wants to help in this mission by allowing all students the opportunity to research the vast collection of primary sources in its holdings. All other patrons outside of BYU including researchers from other universities are also invited to visit and do research.
Think about it. Maybe Provo should be your next research destination?



Friday, September 4, 2015

More comments on spam comments to blogs and phishing

In making comments to a blog post, you may have been required to transcribe an image or take some other action before your comment can be posted. The reason for this is rather simple. There seems to be an undercurrent of spam comments being posted automatically to older blog posts. I personally review every single comment made to my blogs before they are published. I have recently reviewed and upgraded some of my settings with regards to comments. This has come about because of an increase in spam comments.

These comments usually take the form of some flattering statement about the quality of the blog but nearly always contain no content referring to the actual blog post. In addition, nearly always the spam comments contain a link to another website. Purpose of these spam comments is to increase the links to the website and thus affect its ranking and searches. As completely as possible I delete every single one of these comments. Many of them are written in a non-English language and in some of the comments the grammar is so poor as to be obvious.

 This particular issue is rather minor although it does involve some time commitment to remove the offensive blog comments.

Another more serious issue is the brother marked increase in email phishing. The purpose of an email phishing scheme is to try and get you to click on an attachment to an email and thereby infect your computer with a virus or Trojan horse. Both of these can damage your computer's operating system. I recently reported about a phishing scam that involved an invitation to a Dropbox.com document that turned out to be from another entity other than the one named in the invitation. My wife recently investigated one of these and found that the invitation had been sent from Nigeria. Some of the phishing invitations are rather simple and the sender is not identified or is identified only by a single name, such as "Martha." In these cases, you are requested to click on a link to view a document.

In all of these cases, it is rather important that you delete the email message without either opening at or clicking on the link. In my wife's case, she had clicked on the link and it was necessary to reset a number of her passwords to prevent further access. There are programs that will protect against some viruses, but if you invite the infection by clicking on a document your computer's security system may not prevent infection.

Another scam has recently appeared when I got an invitation from one of my Facebook "friends" who had tagged me In a photo. However, when I went to view the tag, I was one of many people who had been spammed with an objectionable web link. I immediately deleted that person or "unfriended" him.

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. See Wendell Phillips see also, This Day in Quotes.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

New Chips = New Deal

Intel Corporation has announced a whole new 6th generation family of CPU chips called "Skylake." A whole new chipset means that whatever computer you happen to be using presently is now one generation older. When I say "computer" I mean everything from mobile devices to desktop computers. The ripple effect of a new chipset is that we will shortly see another round of significant upgrades to both software and computer peripherals. Eventually, the changes will affect online programs. Most of these changes will begin to appear in the Spring of 2016. Quoting from the product introduction statement from Intel entitled, "Introducing 6th Generation Intel® Core™, Intel's Best Processor Ever"
  • 6th Gen Intel® Core™ processors set a new standard with new, sleek designs that are thinner than ever, are capable of starting in about half a second, and offer up to two and a half times the performance and triple the battery life when compared to the computers many people currently own.
  • 6th Gen Intel Core processors have been optimized to best run Windows 10, enabling new experiences, removing computing pain points and providing more secure computing.
  • 6th Gen Intel Core processor family is the most scalable ever for consumers and businesses, enabling the broadest range of designs from the smallest Intel® Compute Stick and All-in-One desktops, to 2 in 1s, notebooks and the first-ever Intel® Xeon® processor for mobile workstations.
Genealogists by and large are older computer users and in my experience are prone to have older computers with outdated operating systems. In the same announcement, Intel makes the following observation:
There are over 500 million computers in use today that are four to five years old or older. They are slow to wake, their batteries don't last long, and they can't take advantage of all the new experiences available today. Built on the new Skylake microarchitecture on Intel's leading 14nm manufacturing process technology, 6th Gen Intel Core processors deliver up to two and a half times better performance, triple the battery life, and graphics that are 30 times better for seamless and smooth gaming and video experiences versus the average 5-year-old computer. They can also be half as thin and half the weight, have faster wake up time, and battery life that lasts virtually all day.
 Let me pose a hypothetical situation as an analogy. Let's suppose that someone suddenly invented an electric car that you could plug into regular house current and recharge in five minutes or less and that would run 700 miles on a battery charge. How long do you think your gasoline powered vehicle would be a practical alternative? Although that type of change would be obvious, but new chipset from Intel is practically the same type of situation as set forth in the analogy. Most of the larger software developers have probably had access to the specifications of this new product for some time and changes will begin to appear immediately. Of course, manufacturers who use chips other than those supplied by Intel will be forced to upgrade their own offerings.

What do you need to do? You need to backup your data regularly. You need to be ready to upgrade your operating system. If you are one of those people with an older computer system, you need to seriously start planning for an upgrade in the coming year.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

170 Million U.S. Wills and Probate Records on Ancestry.com


In a very interesting announcement, Ancestry.com states the following:

An extraordinary set of records. A wealth of family stories.
Introducing an entirely new collection that was never before available online, featuring more than 170 million documents from all 50 states. With detailed lists of possessions, the names and residences of beneficiaries, and even the discovery of new family members, you'll gain unique insight into your ancestors' lives, relationships, and wishes for the future.

You can only explore these records on the new Ancestry site, and you'll find the entire experience – from searching to viewing to browsing – better than ever before.

 

Statistics support substantial shift in online usage

For the past year, I have observed a decided shift away from some of the traditional online outlets, such as blogs and blog postings, and a movement towards social media. The statics come from the Pew Research Center in a report dated 19 August 2015, entitled, "Mobile Messaging and Social Media 2015." This report chronicles a dramatic increase in the usage of Pinterest and Instagram, in fact usage of both of these websites has doubled since 2012. This exactly confirms my personal observations. In addition, the percentage of Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn users has increased significantly since 2014.

There is only so much time in a day. If there is a dramatic shift in online use, then there must be a decrease in other areas, even if the total number of users has also increased. The Pew Research Center report notes that growth in the usage of Facebook has largely plateaued. The study reports that 85% of the adults in the United States are now Internet users and 67% are smartphone users. Here are three conclusions from the report:
I've been recently commenting on my observations concerning the decrease in blogging activity among genealogists.  Although there are some prominent exceptions, the day-to-day blogging activity among the less active bloggers has decreased dramatically. In my own family, my children and their spouses have a total of approximately 30 blogs. I have noticed a marked decrease in activity in the blogs and an increase, I might say a dramatic increase, in Instagram activity. Although one day's activity in the genealogical blogging community cannot be argued to be indicative of the entire community, the activity on any given day is illustrative of the overall trend.

Today, for example, in my blog reader, Feedly.com, I have 53 posts listed. Upon examining those posts, I find 26 to be newsfeeds from CNET. After reviewing those posts, that leaves me with only 27 new feeds.  I say only 27 new feeds because normally I would see well over 100 every day. If I fail to review the feeds for more than a day, I will easily have over 200 feeds. Of the remaining 27 feeds, 10 of those feeds were from non-genealogy blogs.

Looking at the 17 remaining blogs posts, every single post is from either an established genealogy company or one of the diehard, well-known, genealogy bloggers.

I am very unlikely to move my emphasis from writing a blog to using one of the popular social media outlets such as Facebook or Instagram. Neither of these venues is particularly suited to discourse. As I recently pointed out, my emphasis has shifted from doing presentations in conferences around the country to producing videos from classes at the Brigham Young University Family History Library. I find that the audience for the videos is much greater than any possible contact I could have at a conference. I'm not ruling out speaking at conferences, I am merely changing my emphasis. If I were to find that my blog posts were remaining unread or if I found that another venue was more productive, I would change immediately. I see blogs as carrying on a conversation with the world whereas I see social media is much more limited. With few exceptions, Facebook and the other social media outlets are from my perspective, extremely trivial.

 Since I see blogs as more substantive than other social media outlets, I would suggest that if you are caught up in the triviality of Facebook et al. that you might want to come back to blogging.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

So you want to publish a genealogy book?




If you have ever considered publishing a book about an ancestor or other book related to family history, then you may have become aware of the many options for publishing. The book publishing industry has undergone some of the same fundamental changes as the rest of the world in response to the impact of the digital world. There are probably hundreds of large and small business in the United States that specialize in publishing books about genealogy. Most of these businesses advertise that they will publish your personal family history. So what are the current options for publication and what are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

All books start with an idea. The traditional (pre-computer) world of publishing was highly structured and controlled. Publishing a book commercially involved finding someone who would accept the job of producing the book, publishing the book and then distributing the book for sale. Self-publishing a book was difficult and very time consuming. For genealogy books, finding a commercial publisher who was willing to "publish" a limited print run was next to impossible. There were a number of printers who were willing to print a short-run, individually published book, but the cost of each book was usually substantial. There was a small, cottage industry in the genealogical community of people who "specialized" in short-run genealogy books. 

Many genealogists envisioned printing a beautiful, hard-bound book that would become a family keepsake. The reality was that the cost of publishing under 100 books at a time was usually so high, that the books would have a substantial book production cost. In addition, the genealogist turned publisher, would soon find out that his or her relatives were not so anxious to purchase the book and many genealogists ended up with cases of unsold books. I happen to have a number of boxes of unsold family history books in my own basement, so I am well acquainted with the process. 

For almost thirty years, I helped run Tanner Digital Graphics, a family design and printing business. We published a number of hard-bound books and thousands of other printed items, so I am well acquainted with the business. 

Today, there are several options for publishing a book. To understand the process and the advantages and disadvantages of each, it is important to be aware of the steps in the process. Even though the technology has changed, the steps that you have to go through in order to publish book remained pretty constant. Here's a brief outline:
  • Conceptualization
  • Writing
  • Editing
  • Formatting and layout
  • Final editing
  • Publication
  • Promotion and distribution
 Traditionally, the process from editing through distribution's was handled by the publisher. For commercial books, the process also involved illustrations and jacket and cover design. With the advent of computers, the process became less centralized but really no easier. It became possible for an individual to perform all of the steps to produce a final book. However, to obtain a quality, hard-bound final copy, it was still necessary to employ a printer and a bookbinder. As an observation, some of the books and other documents produced by individuals were high quality, but the vast majority were just awful. With the continued development of the Internet, electronic versions of books became popular, commonly called e-books.

With the introduction of e-books, self publication became a reality. The process of producing an e-book is much simplified. The cost of producing a genealogy book for a very limited audience is now entirely possible. Of course, the traditional ideal of a hardbound book disappears but the alternative is that more of the family can both afford the copies and distribution is simplified.

The major difficulty, even with the advent of e-books, for any commercial enterprise is to promote the book in a way that it actually sells. Only so many copies are going to be purchased by your friends and relatives and at some point you will need to find a way to publicize the book to a greater audience. Some writers use blogs, Facebook and other social media to promote their books. Other authors go to the expense of renting space at a major conference. There is no real way to avoid all of the steps in the publication process, the only real question is how many of those steps are you willing to do yourself?

Traditional publishers still exist and there may be booksellers who are willing to "carry" your book in their catalog but these alternatives are not available to a self published surname book, that is, a book that is about a specific family. Just because you are knowledgeable about your topic and extremely enthusiastic does not mean a book on the subject will sell.

Recognizing that genealogists, for the most part, are older and more conservative than the general population, some authors have elected to publish both a print and an e-book version. Obviously, these writers and self publishers charge more for the printed version of the book that they do for the e-book version.

Bear in mind, that there are companies who specialize in not only producing a published version of your book but will assist you and actually writing the book. The trade-off is between doing the work yourself and hiring someone to do the work for you. Since the process is fairly complicated, despite the changes in technology, we were able to keep our own graphic design and publishing business going for over 30 years. The reason was simple, what we did was complicated and in many cases highly technical. The fact that computers allow you to become involved in the process personally does not mean that you either have the time or the talent or the initiative to do the work yourself.

One last point, if you do decide to publish a book using the traditional paper, hardbound book format, take the time to get subscriptions for the book before you buy a pile of printed copies.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Genealogical Journals and PERSI


The Periodical Source Index or PERSI contains more than 2.7 million, fully-searchable entries from articles and records in over 8,000 historical, genealogical and ethnic publications. It is currently available on the Findmypast.com website. Here is a short description of the collection:
The Periodical Source Index is compiled quarterly by the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and will be simultaneously updated on findmypast. Along with these updates, findmypast is also working to provide access to the same articles indexed in PERSI through our site. Images from PERSI-indexed articles are regularly added every month.
 The main limitation of the collection is described in this quote from a post by The Ancestry Insider:
While indexing all these articles, PERSI doesn’t actually include them. Researchers must subsequently find a copy of the periodical. Fortunately, PERSI includes a list of institutions holding the respective titles. Or one can pay a small copying fee and get copies of articles from the Allen County Public Library.
You’ll recall that Findmypast added the PERSI index to their website back in February 2014. As part of that partnership, Findmypast is digitizing indexed articles, which increases the value of PERSI by several orders of magnitude. While I hope Findmypast can negotiate posting of recent periodicals, the list indicates that thus far they have not done so. All currently posted articles are from magazine issues for which the copyright has expired.
Now, the real issue here is the genealogical journal.  As noted above, there are of have been over 8000 of these publications across the United States. A Google Book search for "genealogy journal publication" comes up with 2,570 results. Varying the terms could come up with either more or fewer publications. Some of these on Google Books are in the public domain and are complete runs. Some of the other online digital books sites, such as the Internet Archive and the HathiTrust.org have also managed to acquire various genealogical journals. One source for journals and other publications you may end up overlooking is FamilySearch.org's Books section. It is a good idea to search for various associated terms, including geographical and bibliographic terms. For example, on FamilySearch.org's Book search I searched for "journal" and had over 53,000 results. When you find a list like this, then start using the words of the titles of the publications as search terms to find even more listings.

The quality of the articles varies from useful to useless but there is always the chance that what is included is unique and available no where else. On occasion, the local journals and historical society publications contain list extracted from original records that are either hard to locate or have long since disappeared.