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

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.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Mesa FamilySearch Library Conference still to be held

 Despite the fact that the Mesa FamilySearch Library is temporarily closed, the staff is still going to proceed with the annual conference. Here is the announcement received:
ANNOUNCING THE 2015 Family History Conference sponsored by the Mesa AZ FamilySearch Library on Saturday, October 24, 2015, at the Tempe Institute of Religion on the ASU Campus in Tempe, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:10 p.m.  The Library may be closed, but family history work goes on!
This year’s conference will feature a keynote address by Todd Powell of FamilySearch.  Mr. Powell is a Senior Product Manager for the FamilyTree Department at FamilySearch.org.  He graduated from BYU and has over 25 years working in technology and business leadership.  Todd is a native of Phoenix and the Gila Valley and enjoys visiting extended family in Arizona.
This year’s theme is “Putting It All Together” and provides a wide variety of over 50 class choices for all types of learners, from beginners to the most advanced genealogists.  Come and learn how to be more effective and efficient when doing your research.  Learn to trace your roots with DNA.  Learn to document your sources.  Get specific information on various ways to research in specific countries.  If you are new to family history, come learn the basics.  Some of the most popular classes are repeated in an effort to accommodate everyone.   Spend all day or come for a single class or two; you may attend a maximum of five classes.
Registration will begin online on Wednesday, September 9, 2015.  At the time of registration, registrants will be given the opportunity to purchase lunch from Jason’s Deli.  Otherwise, the conference is FREE.  See you in October! 
 I would strongly suggest registering as early as possible if you are considering attending the conference. Last year, the registration was closed because all of the classrooms were filled. They have expanded the conference this year but it is still wise to register early.

The Digital Impact on Genealogy -- an updated perspective

I have been reading an interesting book. Here is the cite to the book:

Edwards, Andrew V. Digital Is Destroying Everything: What the Tech Giants Won't Tell You About How Robots, Big Data, and Algorithms Are Radically Remaking Your Future. 2015.

I realized that many of impacts of the digital world were also spilling over into the genealogical community. I have mentioned a few of these before, but, while reading the book, I have been thinking about the subject and realized that the effects are even more far reaching than I had previously anticipated. 

One observation; I am old. I will not live to see all of the changes that are occurring. The analogy is that I am like on of the people who lived in St. Johns, Apache, Arizona back in the early 1900s when the first car came to town. They, like most of us today facing the digital revolution, could not see the impact that the technology, in their case, the automobile, would have on their lives and their town. We are essentially in the same condition. We are facing a time of huge changes due to the digital world invading almost every aspect of our lives. 

One of the observations made in the above book is about large music performances. The author makes the observation that in 1994 there were more than 200 music stadium shows around the United States, but by 2004, there were only 46. The author attributes that decline to the decentralization of the music industry caused by the availability of online, digital music. He goes on to discuss the impact of the digital world on newspapers and other aspects of our world. 

What are the main indications of the impact of the digitization of genealogy? Well, for me, the most obvious is going on right now with one of my friends. I am helping with some research in Mexico. So far, all of the records he has needed to look at for his family have been found online on FamilySearch.org. No visits to a Family History Center to look at microfilm. No searching online. No writing letters or visiting dusty archives. All this was done from his computer in his home. 

Let's suppose that FamilySearch achieves its goal of digitizing all (or nearly all) of the microfilm records in its collections. I would guess that at the present rate of digitization, this will occur in the next few years. Let's further suppose that the other large online genealogical database programs continue increasing their holdings. Going even further, let's suppose that many other institutions and archives continue their digitization processes. As I have observed previously, why would I need to go to a library? The return comment is, what about personal help? Don't I still need to go to classes? Don't I still need to ask questions?

Well, think about webinars. The genealogical community has already been substantially impacted by the common availability of webinars. Every single week there is a webinar from someone in the genealogical community. Just as the musical industry and the newspaper industry have been dramatically decentralized, eventually the genealogical community will begin to feel this impact even more dramatically than it has in the past. I have made observations about the effect of these changes on the genealogical conference circuit. I was reminded of this this week with a discussion among some genealogists about the impact on a local conference here in Utah. Just as some local retailers are having difficulty competing with Walmart and the online giant Amazon.com, through blogs, webinars, online conferences, and other digital offerings I have access to almost any genealogist in the United States. Why would I travel and pay money to go see a prominent genealogist if I can read her blog, listen to her speak, watch a recorded class and read her online digital book?

I admit, there is some "celebrity" attraction. But how many superstar genealogists do we really have?

Although there are some of us who know the reality, the general impression in the genealogical community is that "everything is online." In my opinion, the point where this was true for most people happened years ago. So, what I see today when I go to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City Utah is a bunch of people sitting at computers. I still go to the Family History Library because there are things there that I cannot easily obtain online. But, as I observed above, what if all the microfilms and other documents were available online? How often would I need to go to the Family History Library then?

From my own very personal perspective, I am primarily teaching at the Brigham Young University Family History Library. Many of the classes I teach here are being "digitized" and made available on the BYU Family History Library YouTube channel. I have been regularly putting up new presentations. Some of these online videos are receiving thousands of views. From the standpoint of reaching a large audience and further from the standpoint of saving scarce resources, i.e. my time, it is far more effective for me to do a video than to teach a class at a conference.

If you're reading this blog, you are being affected by the digital revolution. Think about that.