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

Friday, November 17, 2017

How would you like to live in a condo built over a cemetery?
If you have ever unsuccessfully looked for burial information about an ancestor, you should realize that cemeteries and burial plots are not necessarily permanent. The above news story points out what can happen when a cemetery is on privately owned land. Even cemeteries that are owned by public entities such as towns or cities can be subject to changes in land development. In my own ancestral lines several of the graves turned out to be unmarked and in one case the grave was moved long after the person died. In the above case, the development company intends to move the graves.But this is not always the case. See "New website for Chicago and Cook County Cemeteries."

In the above case also, think about the consequences of having the developer move the graves. What records might be available to show the new locations of the existing graves in the developed cemetery? This important understand from the standpoint of doing genealogical research, that any particular record concerning an individual may have either never been created or may have been lost.

As I pointed out in the title to this post, how would you like to live on an abandoned cemetery site? By the way, you may be living on an abandoned cemetery site and not know it.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

FamilySearch to require users to sign in

Beginning December 13, 2017, for a number of very good reasons, the highly visited website will begin requiring users to sign in before using the website. The announcement came in a blog post entitled, "FamilySearch Free Sign-in Offers Greater Subscriber Experiences and Benefits." Quoting from the post:
Beginning December 13, 2017, patrons visiting will see a prompt to register for a free FamilySearch account or to sign in to their existing account to continue enjoying all the free expanded benefits FamilySearch has to offer. Since its launch in 1999, FamilySearch has added millions of users, billions of various historical records, and many fun, new features like Family Tree, Memories, mobile apps, digital books, and dynamic help. In order to accommodate continued growth of these and future free services, FamilySearch must assure all its partners that its content is offered in a safe and secure online environment. Patrons creating a free account and signing in fulfills that need.

Patron sign in will also enable FamilySearch to satisfy the ongoing need for user authentication. This authentication can deliver rich, personalized discovery, collaboration, and help experiences. Simply put, signed-in visitors can access more searchable content and enjoy more personalized services.
The online world is rapidly changing as circumstances mandate a higher level of website security. Requiring all of the users to sign on will not change the user experience but it will help to preserve the integrity of the website.

An Emotional Reunion between mother and daughter from MyHeritage has shared an emotional reunion between a mother and a daughter who met for the first time on Good Morning America. This all came about as a result of the DNA test from Quoting from MyHeritage,
Angie was a teenage mother who placed her baby Meribeth for adoption in 1986. She never got to hold Meribeth after she gave birth to her, and she always hoped that she was adopted by a loving family. For thirty years, they both wondered about one another. MyHeritage DNA enabled Meribeth and Angie to finally find one another.

Link to video:
This is a remarkable illustration of the power of genealogically related DNA testing when coupled with a huge collection of online family trees. 

The Advent of the 12 TB Hard Drives

Presently, an 8 TB external hard drive is going for under $200 online. Actually, the price has been going down on this level of storage for some time now and has bounced back up recently, perhaps in anticipation of upcoming holiday sales. Interestingly, overall worldwide sales of hard drives have been falling for the past year. When I refer to "hard drive," I mean mechanical, spinning storage devices or HDD. The alternative is Solid State Device (SSD) or flash drive storage. Quoting from the Statistica Portal article entitled, "Global shipments of hard disk drives (HDD) from 4th quarter 2010 to 3rd quarter 2017 (in millions):"
The main competing technology for secondary storage is flash memory in the form of solid-state drives (SSDs). HDDs are expected to remain the most used secondary storage because of a greater recording capacity, a better price per unit of storage, and a longer product lifetime. The advantages offered by SSDs over HDDs is that they are faster, generally more durable, and consume less power.
For example, the new Apple Macintosh Pro model scheduled to ship beginning in December will offer up to 4 TB of internal SSD storage rather than the tradition HDD or hard disk drive storage.  The recent advent of 12 TB HDD devices is slowly making some headway., a major online backup company oriented towards the online genealogical community, recently released its "Hard Drive Stats for Q3 2017" and indicated that they had introduced both 10 TB and 12 TB hard drives into their data centers.

What does this have to do with the average genealogist? Not much, I am afraid. But it does mean that overall data storage costs will continue to trend down with some fluctuations depending on holiday sales and supplies. What is important to note is that backing up your data is relatively inexpensive and the cost of adequate storage should no longer be a major factor in making sure you have an adequate backup system in place. Genealogical Standards are still an Issue
One of the constant background issues in the larger online genealogical community is the lack of coherent and consistent standards for sharing data between both online and desktop genealogy database programs. Over the past few years, several popular genealogy programs have been abandoned by their developers leaving their users with the prospect of moving all of their data to some other program. The only available method for transferring information from one program to another has long been FamilySearch sponsored GEDCOM program. Moving information with GEDCOM is like trying to move water with a sieve. A loss of data is inevitable.

Some members of the genealogical community have recognized the need for uniform data entry standards for genealogical programs in order to enable the complete transfer of data between programs. For example, if I have a family tree on and I wish to share the data with someone who has a family tree on any other program, the only option I have is to download a GEDCOM file and for the other person to upload the GEDCOM file. The problem is that a considerable amount of the information in my file, including any attached sources or media items, will be lost in the transfer process. Hence the analogy to moving water in a sieve.

A few years ago, I was very effectively writing about the subject. At the time, there seem to be a considerable amount of interest in creating a new standard for the transfer data. It appeared, after a very short time, that any interest in the subject had fizzled out although the problem remained. About that time a group of genealogists formed the Family History Information Standards Organization or This organization has existed since 2013. The challenge of this or any other such organization is that any recommendations made by the organization are not binding on anyone. The major commercial genealogical companies have little or no interest in establishing standards for data transfer. The reason for this is simple; they are competitors and facilitating transferring information between such competitors is against their interests.

Why should any company that creates its own database facilitate the transfer of that information to some other database? Especially, if the company makes its income from selling access to the database. The only way that any progress is going to be made towards data-transfer standards was for an independent organization to establish such standards and then attempt to lobby the genealogical community into acceptance. This is the goal of

For further information on this topic see the blog post entitled "Thither FHISO."  As the article points out, in the past, FHISO had substantial support from some of the large online genealogical programs. However, that support evaporated over time. Part of the reason was that some of the larger online programs negotiated their own data-transfer standards through the development of other information sharing avenues.

The larger genealogical online community is hardly uniform. In reality, it is composed of a vast number of individual objectives and concerns. The larger participants vary from nonprofit charitable organizations to giant corporations. As I already mentioned, very few of these participants share a common objective. Getting them to agree is like pushing a rope. In most cases, data-transfer standards must be arbitrary and presently, even the large online database companies cannot agree on any consistent standard for data entry.

I do not have a solution for this problem. As I have done in the past many times, I can only comment on the lack of a present solution.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Newspaper Clippings and Copyright: Another Thorny Problem

Newspapers are one of the most valuable resources for genealogical research. Millions upon millions of newspaper pages have been digitized and are available online. Some of the major digital newspaper repositories are fee-based, but many other websites are free. One thorny issue with newspapers is that their content is subject to claims of copyright just like any other publication. It is fairly obvious that most of the genealogical community is entirely unaware of the fact that additionally reproducing a newspaper article may involve the violation of the copyright. Some online family tree programs that allow the addition of digital copies to support the entries in their family trees will refuse to post a full page of a newspaper but will allow the reproduction of an individual article. I thought it would be interesting to explore the parameters of the restrictions that may be imposed by the copyright law on posting copies of articles from newspapers by genealogists.

Before we get to the issue of whether or not a newspaper article is subject to a copyright claim, we must know if such a claim could exist at all, i.e. whether or not the law extends to the publication and the time of the publication of a particular newspaper article. For one of my recent posts on this issue, see "The Copyright Boat Anchor on Creativity and Research."

Another of the fundamental issues here is the idea that facts cannot be copyrighted. In the case of Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Services Co., Inc., 499 US 340, 111 S. Ct. 1282, 113 L. Ed. 2d 358 - Supreme Court, 1991, The Supreme Court of the United States stated essentially that while compilations of facts may be subject to copyright protection insofar as the arrangement of the facts reflects creativity, the facts themselves are not subject to protection against copying or distribution, thereby decisively repudiating the "sweat-of-the-brow" theory. If I were to apply this ruling to genealogy, I would say that a pedigree chart was not subject to a claim of copyright unless it was presented in some original or artistic fashion. Even in that case, the information contained in the pedigree would not be subject to a claim of copyright. Also, you are not entitled to a claim of copyright merely because you spent the time and effort to compile the information. See also, Barclays Capital Inc. v. Theflyonthewall. com700 F. Supp. 2d 310 - Dist. Court, SD New York, 2010.

This distinction between the actual facts presented in the publication and the format of the publication is the underlying issue governing claims of copyright for newspapers. Copying an entire page of a newspaper copies their unique arrangement. Copying a single article may not.  This distinction is not trivial. Here is an explanation of the newspapers' position from the Arizona Republic newspaper's website.
Copyright law evolved a great deal during the last quarter of the 20th century, but civil litigation continues in the 21st because the U.S. Code Title 17 allows much subjectivity about what constitutes an outsider’s “fair use” of a newspaper’s work. Generally, if you want the material for a business purpose, consider any newspaper editorial content off-limits for reproducing in whole without written consent. If you plan to do more than briefly excerpt the work, you're in a gray area. You will definitely need a lawyer, because the newspaper almost certainly has attorneys on staff or on retainer.
Further on in the article, it states:
A newspaper might sometimes label a specific important article as, say, “Copyright 2012 by The Arizona Republic.” Actually, all the newspaper’s original material is protected by copyright law, but the copyright credit line makes the article stand out. The AP, as a newspaper collective, has the right to distribute news content from member papers. The copyright designation tells the AP and member newspapers that the originating newspaper must be credited with breaking the news, even if your news entity competes against it and is likewise an AP member.
Fair use is a complicated legal doctrine. There are no clear guidelines as to what is and what is not fair use. Every case is decided on its own merits by the District Courts and ultimately by the U.S. Supreme Court. Because of this case-by-case need to review the application of the fair use doctrine, it is difficult for anyone, even an attorney experienced in copyright law to give more than an opinion in any given situation. Read my post cited above for more information on this subject.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Entering Non-Engiish Character Sets for Genealogy

Many languages have an "alphabet" set that has some characters that are different than the standard English language set of 26 letters and a number of symbols. Genealogists need to be aware of and use the character sets for the languages of the countries where they are doing research. The best practice in today's world is for these researchers make their entries in their family tree using the correct set that reflects the time and place where their ancestors lived.

I am always surprised when those attending a class I am teaching are surprised that there are computer programs that allow typing on alternative character keyboards. The standard English ASCII Character set, used by almost every English language computer system, contains 128 characters. Here is a screenshot of the list.

This, now traditional, set of characters is limited to 128 because of the original limitations of the computer processors. This standard set is arbitrary. That means that any programmer who wishes to use a different set merely has to define the alternative set of characters in the program being written. This is usually not a very good idea since there is also a standard English language keyboard layout. As a side note, there have been many attempts over the years to implement alternative keyboard layouts without much success.

The screenshot at the beginning of this post illustrates a configuration for using a standard keyboard layout with Hebrew characters. Most keyboard sets can be expanded by using some of the keys for switching to alternative letters, i.e. shift, control or command, shift-option etc. Of course, if we move to an alternative keyboard, we usually lose our ability to "touch type" and are reduced to hunting and picking out the letters one by one.

Thinking that there is only one keyboard layout is really parochial. For example, here is a German language layout.

CC BY-SA 3.0,
Obviously, it is impracticable to buy a new keyboard for every change in the language needed to transcribe genealogical data. The alternative is to use a keyboard designed to work within the confines of either the operating system of your computer or one designed to allow "virtual" typing. All of the currently popular computer operating systems allow you to change the character set of your keyboard to a target language. Here is an example from my Apple OS X operating system.

This option is usually found in the preference or setup section of your system. You can do a Google search for specific instructions. Unfortunately, changing the character set does not change the hardware keyboard symbols so you have to have a reference either on the screen or printed out to find the characters you need. If you happen to live in a country where English is not the predominant language, you can probably purchase a keyboard that reflects your character set. (You might notice that I needed to charge my keyboard. I plugged it in and fixed that when I saw the level.)

If you are working online, you can bring up a program that provides an alternative "virtual" keyboard that will let you type with your cursor on the screen. One easily used such set of keyboards is part of Google Translate. Here is a screenshot of the program showing the keyboard for German.

When you select a language, you will usually get an icon showing a keyboard. The icon is a drop-down menu of the keyboard options offered. You can then use your cursor to select the letters you want to type and then copy them and insert them into whatever other program you are using.

There are a number of other options available online also. But you need to be specific in your online searches since the term "keyboard" is also used for music and other topics. I suggest searching for "custom on screen keyboard" and including the target language.