RootsTech 2014

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

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Web Basics for Genealogists -- Wiki Searches

Searching in a wiki program is distinctively different than either using a catalog for searching or utilizing a Google string search. It is true that there are few, if any, purely catalog systems of search online and likewise almost all "string searches" have some underlying structure. Since a wiki program has a distinctive structure, searches for items within the wiki are relatively uniform in nature from online program to program. The largest online genealogy wiki is the Research Wiki.

There seems to be a conditioned distrust of the accuracy of wikis due to their cooperative and collaborative nature. However, I have found this attitude is usually expressed in direct proportion to the extent of the individual's contact with and use of a wiki. Wikis are self correcting and that feature alone is paramount in deciding their degree of accuracy.

The content of a wiki is determined by its originating sponsor as are its rules of operation. In doing both catalog and string searches, the idea is to try and guess the content of the search objective. For example, if you are searching in a library catalog, it helps to understand the library's system. If you are doing a string search on Google, it is important to try and guess an indexed phrase or text phrase in the documents you are researching. In a wiki search, you should automatically begin your search with the most general terms about the subject you can imagine and then allow the wiki to direct your further inquiry.

Let me give an example of a wiki search for an Arizona birth record using the Research Wiki. You would think that you would begin your search by entering "Arizona Birth Record." You could do this, but the best way to search a wiki is by starting with the most general search available. In this case, you would search for Birth Records. The best practice would have you begin with United States Birth Records. If you conducted the search in this manner, you would find the following articles:
  • United States Birth Records
  • Locating United States Vital Records
  • How to Find United States Birth Records
  • United States, How to Use Birth Records
  • How to Estimate United States Birth Information
  • Online U.S. Marriage & Birth Records Indexes
And likely many more. The purpose of the wiki is to answer questions and provide links to sources. By doing a very specific search, you are, in effect, defeating the purpose of the program. Let's suppose that you are already very experienced with the wiki and so do not need all this background information. In that case, the most efficient was to approach the search is by the geographic place where an event occurred. In this case, you go directly to a search for "Arizona" and then select Vital Records from the subject link for the state. However, you should be aware that just as with the subject search for birth records, a place search is likely to show results for jurisdictional subdivisions such as counties, townships, towns and villages. In the case of a search for a birth record, you would expect the wiki to provide you with information about the availability of that type of record at the time and in the place where your ancestral event occurred. 

What I find is that when a researcher does not understand how and why a wiki works the way it does, that searching in the wiki for specific information creates a great deal of frustration on the part of the researcher. In addition, it the wiki is functioning properly, the list of topics above ought to be listed as links on the United States Birth Records page. If this is not the case, any registered user of the wiki should be able to add in that information at any time. 

As you can see from my series on searches, there are significant differences between catalog searches, string searches and the functions of a wiki search. is Planning an Upgrade to the Research Wiki

The issue seems to be links vs. tabs. A recent FamilySearch blog post by Danielle Bateson, entitled "A New Look is Coming for the FamilySearch Research Wiki," states the following:
Here is some exciting news about the FamilySearch Research Wiki. Our Research Wiki site will receive a major upgrade later this year (2014). This future upgrade will provide some welcome improvements. For example, there will be more space on the web page to view enriched text and images. There will also be increased editing capabilities for contributors and several other useful changes.
The announcement links to a survey about the "new look." There are two versions of the new page layout. Here are screenshots of the versions:

Version One:

You will definitely have to click on the image to see the page. Here is Version Two:

They look pretty much the same. In addition, the menu at the bottom of Version Two is usually caused by having the margins of your browser window too narrow and is what you see now in different browsers.

This is the kind of change that usually engenders a great deal of controversy and discussion in the Wiki circles, but almost goes unnoticed by the average user. If you look at Version One in full screen, you will see that the lines are very long and it is difficult to read, but this is easily solved by shrinking your browser window.

I am very glad to see so attention being paid to the Research Wiki, but I am not sure that changing menu items and moving things around a bit constitutes a new look. I find the Wiki extremely useful and I am very proactive in recommending it to everyone at every level of experience.

The Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) launches new website

The Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy or SLIG, has launched a new website. From their new website:
The Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) is a week-long intensive educational experience that takes students deep into their topic of choice. Instead of a breadth of topics like a conference, this institute offers a depth of knowledge. Students attending SLIG have the opportunity to advance their education with renowned genealogy experts during a week-long experience, network through special events, and tap into the wealth of resources at the nearly Family History Library.

Sponsored by the Utah Genealogical Association, SLIG is now in its 20th year. Having outgrown their previous venue, the 2015 program will be held at the Hilton Salt Lake City. This new venue offers plenty of elbow room for learning, networking, and celebrating at the closing awards banquet. Offering SLIG four-star quality at a three-star price, all students desiring to do so will be able to stay at the conference hotel in order to immerse themselves completely in the SLIG experience.
I am looking forward to attending the upcoming SLIG in January of 2015. SLIG 2015 will be held at the Hilton Salt Lake City Center Hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah on January 12-16, 2015. Registration is now open and all of the necessary information is contained on the new website. The SLIG is sponsored by the Utah Genealogical Association.

WikiChicks News

The WikiChicks, Eowyn Langholf and Tami Osmer Glatz announced their new online service in a news release dated 29 July 2014:
The WikiChicks Genealogy News Network (WikiChicks GNN), an engaging genealogical news service, has officially launched. “WikiChicks GNN is a new way for genealogists to stay informed of current industry news and relevant stories. By using social media tools we can provide information in a way that allows folks the ability to both read and share it easily with others” saidTami Osmer Glatz, co-founder of the group. “What I like about this concept is that it is a great example of how genealogists can come together, collaborate and make great things happen!” said Eowyn Langholf, co-founder. WikiChicks is different from existing community news services in that it is accessible through many platforms, and news is shared throughout the day, with evening digests of the day’s events created as a single blog posting.
The news release explains more about the WikiChicks:
The WikiChicks Genealogy News Network (WickiChicks GNN) is a free service that provides social media posts to help educate and inform genealogists and family historians about news, events and research tips. The WikiChicks’ GNN team share information of interest to genealogists daily via popular social media sources, including Facebook, Twitter, PinterestFlipboard, and Storify.

To have your society or group’s events included on the Calendar, or to share news and press releases, please email To learn more about WickiChicks see their website at

What are Crypto-Judaic Studies?

I am back at the International Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies (IAJGS) Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah for the second day. Most of my day will be spent helping out at the Utah Genealogical Association table in the Exhibitors Section of the Conference. Before the Exhibit floor opens, I have an opportunity to attend one class since the classes begin at 7:30 am. The class is entitled, "Crypto-Judaic Studies Panel, Part 1." It looks like I will miss part two. I must admit, I choose this presentation because I wanted to find out about the topic. So, what are crypto-Judaic studies? The presentation is being moderated by my fellow blogger, Schelly Talalay Dardashti. Here is the class description from the Conference:
This panel will bring together leaders in the field, as it raises awareness of specific issues. Panelists will include moderator Schelly Talalay Dardashti (Society for CryptoJudaic Studies board member), Genie Milgrom (JGS of Miami president Society for CryptoJudaic Studies vice president), Art Benveniste (JGSLA, Society for CryptoJudaic Studies treasurer), and Bennett Greenspan ( CEO/president). Other panel participants will be added as confirmed.
Essentially, as I found out, the Cryto-Jews are explained as follows from the presentation handout:
While most crypto-Jewish communities are generally related to the Iberian Inquisition and the terrible events of 1391 and 1492, there are groups in other countries with no connection to Spain, such as the Mashadi community of Iran.
Part of the explanation also comes from the Society for Crypto Judaic Studies which states:
The Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies (SCJS) fosters the research of the historical and contemporary development of crypto-Jews of Iberian origin. Additionally, it provides a venue for the descendants of crypto-Jews, scholars, and other interested parties to network and discuss pertinent issues. The society was founded 1991 by Rabbi Joshua Stampfer of Portland, Oregon; Dr. Stanley Hordes of Santa Fe, New Mexico; and playright Rena Down of New York City.
These are Jews of sephardic origin who have practiced their religion and culture in secret due to persecution. Wikipedia defines crypto-judaism as follows:
Crypto-Judaism is the secret adherence to Judaism while publicly professing to be of another faith; practitioners are referred to as "crypto-Jews" (origin from Greek kryptos - κρυπτός, 'hidden'). The term crypto-Jew is also used to describe descendants who maintain some Jewish traditions of their ancestors while publicly adhering to other faiths. The term is especially applied historically to European Jews who professed Catholicism.[1][2][3][4][5] The phenomenon is especially associated with early modern Spain, following the expulsion of the Jews in 1492.[6] 
I left in all of the links to the sources.

Genealogical research in this community is difficult due to its secretive nature. The Sephardim are defined in a blog post entitled, "What do we mean by the term, "Sephardim." Here is the explanation:
Spanish Jews are called Sephardim; the singular is "Sephardi." The Hebrew "sephardi" or "sepharadi" refers either to a single Spanish Jew, or is used as an adjective meaning pertaining to the Sephardim. For example, Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) called himself Moses… the Sephardi. "Sephardic" is used in English as an adjective, not a noun: someone may be Sephardic, but the people should be called "Sephardim" rather than "Sephardics;" 
Up to the fifteenth century, "Sephardi" was used primarily to refer to the Jewish community in the Iberian peninsula itself, or to someone who was born there. Thus Maimonides called himself "the Sephardi," but his son Abraham, born in Egypt, did not. This changed in the fifteenth and especially sixteenth centuries, primarily as a result of the expulsion of the Jews from the Iberian Peninsula.
If you are interested in pursuing this subject, you should begin by subscribing to the JewishGen website.  If you suspect that you have a Crypto-Jewish heritage, you also might want to investigate the JewishGen Sephardic SIG. See also

Monday, July 28, 2014

Online Digital Newspaper Collections by State -- The Lists by State

Thanks for your patience with this post. I had a trip to Canada and Alaska in the middle of writing this series and then a move to Provo, Utah and got behind. Now to the list of online digital newspaper collections by states. Here is the list (finally) bear in mind that this list is not intended to be comprehensive. I am still working on the list, but here it is through New Hampshire. I will continue to update the list until it is finished, so check back.

Anyway, I doubt that a comprehensive list could be accurate because of the constant changes. The longer I looked for content the more I found. Some of the websites still had microfilm content, but if there was no other digital online content, I listed the microfilm repositories.

Remember that there may be collections of newspapers from any particular state in the general links I had in my previous post introducing the links to the state collections. See Online Digital Newspaper Collections by State -- The Lists Introduced. I suggest that most of the states are in the midst of finishing paper collections, expanding microfilm collections or digitizing existing collections. I have included some statewide efforts even though there is no evidence that the newspapers in question are available online as yet. There may be more than one link to the digital collections since I found that there were other valuable resources listed in different places.

By the way, here are a few more national or regional sources for newspapers online:
American Samoa
District of Columbia
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Northern Marianas Islands
Puerto Rico

Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Virgin Islands
West Virginia

Sharing genealogy online with family trees

In continuing the presentations at the International Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah concluded on Monday, 28 July, 2014 with a panel discussion entitled, "Internet Collaboration: How Do We Share Our Family Trees Online?" This presentation was described as follows:
Genealogists learn most when we collaborate and share information with others. At the start of organized Jewish genealogy, Gary Mokotoff created the Family Finder and the Family Tree of the Jewish People, and we shared our family trees via photocopies. A little later, we exchanged GEDCOM files on floppy disks. Today, we primarily share online either via or on countless stand-alone, family-managed and moderated websites. This panel assembles three experience genealogists who have written widely, and often intently, discussed articles on the topic over the past year, with the goal of developing ideas to bridge the gap between the collaborative and the family-website models. Adam Brown will discuss the collaborative model; Israel Pickholtz will present the family-managed and moderated model; Gary Mokotoff will ofter a plan that combines the advantages of each model. Sallyann Amdur Sack-Pikus will moderate. Audience participation will be encouraged.
If you read my blog posts regularly, you probably recognize that I am clearly in the collaborative camp and I am advocate of Family Tree. None of the panelists suggested using FamilySearch Family Tree. All of the participants were well versed in genealogy and in the nature and use of online family trees. I reviewed the handouts and listened carefully to the presentations from each of the participants.

Israel Pickholtz summarizes each of the positions in his blog post "Genealogy as a Quilting Bee, Maintaining the Integrity of the Database."

There were three different viewpoints expressed:

  • Traditional Genealogy Model
  • Collaborative Family Tree Model
  • Family-managed Family Tree
It appears to me that there were some basic assumptions made about how online family trees function in the genealogical community and how a unified family tree should or does function. I agree with much of what each side of this issue has to say. But I believe there is a fourth possibility, I would add a unified family tree based on the moderated wiki model. I think the differences in the approach to online family trees stems primarily from different expectations and goals of the researchers and contributors. 

As much as any other genealogist, I have been aggravated by sloppy, poorly documented, copied without review, multiple family trees in a variety of websites. It further seemed to me that some of the concerns with a unified family tree model arise from actual or imagined issues with conflicts and controversies between family members. 

Because I will be here at the Conference for the rest of the week. I will take an opportunity after the Conference to elaborate on this subject. If you have a strong opinion on this subject, one way or another, you are welcome to write you opinion in a comment or in your own blog and comment on the link to your post. I will then considered all of the information received in my more in depth blog post.