RootsTech 2014

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

Tuesday, August 19, 2014 -- search all of the world's digital newspapers at one time makes the claim to search all of the world's digital newspapers at one time. This may be an overstatement, but it does have a search engine that will search 141,628,238 items from 2,677 newspaper titles. Its collections are decidedly slanted to newspapers from Australia and New Zealand but it does have papers from places as diverse as Singapore and Mexico. Part of the huge collection comes from a link to the National Library of Australia's website Another part is linked to the Library of Congress's Chronicling America website.

Here is a screenshot of the top of the current titles page:

As with any large online database, if you find your ancestors you think it is great. If you don't find your ancestors, you don't think it is worth much. But like everything in genealogy; the game is in the search.


My friend, Sharon D. Monson, has debuted her GenSearchandmore website. This is a subscription website anchored by Sharon's books, Beginner Tech Guide and Shortcut to Genealogy Sources. Sharon and her husband, Brad, are well known presenters at conferences around the country. She also has a U.S. Genealogical Research Service.

Sanitizing Genealogy for General Consumption
When products are presented to the public for general consumption, they are nearly always "sanitized." Computers and printers are shown without cables. Garages are shown organized and beautiful. Cars, even when shown on dirt roads, are spotlessly clean. It goes on an on. This even extends to people. Most of the people in the ads are young, beautiful and a sharp contrast to what we see day after day in Walmart and shopping malls. Commercial online genealogy companies are no exception. They present their products in a way to imply that everyone is doing genealogy and having a wonderful time with happy smiling family members.

The results of our monolithic advertising images of young, beautiful, always happy, produces a Leave it to Beaver mentality. But reality is far different than the world of advertising. What happens if we begin to believe the sanitized versions and accept them as reality? One of my favorite images from the advertising world is the "active retirement" couples strolling leisurely along the beach. Yes, I have strolled along a beach once or twice, but that is certainly not my life's goal. Here are some of the most common images contrasting with the reality of genealogy:

Image: Genealogy is enjoyed as a family with happy people gathered around the laptop.
In reality, genealogy is mainly a very solitary activity. This is not to say that genealogical research cannot be cooperative in nature, but gathering together in "study groups" to do research seldom happens. The products of genealogy are enjoyed, if they are at all, in reunions and family gatherings, but the activity that produces the enjoyable material is almost uniformly produced by individual effort, commonly at the risk of alienating other family members.

Image: Genealogists are shown as happy, smiling, beautiful young people.
I am sure that many of us once were happy, smiling, beautiful and young, but those days are long gone and most of us a older and not as thin and beautiful as we once were. There are exceptions, but always portraying genealogists in the average kind of advertising beautiful people mode is really degrading and prejudicial to the reality. In a society the values wealth and beauty above any other values, genealogists are definitely counter-cultural.

Image: The most common icon of genealogy is an idealized family tree or fan chart.
I spent some time yesterday helping a patron at the BYU Family History Library untangle a difficult relationship that was "messed up" in an online family tree program. The lines went through a single mother with no husband to grandparents who actually raised the out-of-wedlock child. The way the program showed the relationships obscured, rather than highlighted, the actual relationships. This is what happens with all fan charts and simplified family tree images. They are forced, by creating an icon, to depict families as neat and ordered when the reality seldom conforms to this image even when the tree depicts only a few generations.

Image: Genealogy is reduced to a logo on a teeshirt.
In our rush to conform to sanitized advertising images, we adopt logos for genealogy as if it were a product to sell to the public. Large genealogy companies employ the same advertising companies as do those who sell electronics and automobiles. Genealogy then becomes a product that people are expected to buy rather than the complicated research activity it is in reality.

Image: Just as computers are shown in advertising without cables, genealogy is shown without the work associated with research.
To "sell" genealogy it is necessary to reduce it to a commodity that can be packaged in a way that the average consumer will "buy" the product. For this reason, the words accompanying ads for genealogy services always emphasize common advertising jargon: free, easy, affordable. If you are aware of what is happening, you will hear some of the same phrases and buzz words used to sell insurance and investments.

This is not at all an exhaustive list of the ways that genealogy is sanitized for public consumption. But my question is why is this necessary? If genealogy really conformed to the sanitized image, I would not be interested in it at all. It is only the difficult parts of genealogy that hold any long-term attraction. I am sure that my life would be less complicated and I might be enjoying an "active retirement" as imaged by all the media, but I would not be anywhere as completely satisfied with my present status as I am involved in the gritty real world of genealogy.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Beware of fake Google+ People

You have decided to join the Google+ community and are getting notifications of people adding you to their circles and requesting to be added back. You are flattered that these people seem to come from all over the world. But a simple check will show something very interesting. These people do not seem to have many people who have them in their circles. In fact, they have chosen you to be one of the first people that they subscribe to. In addition, their posts seem to tend towards pictures of themselves and other websites that have a common theme and that common theme is a little disturbing.

The truth is, these people do not exist. They are fabrications of commercial enterprises selling undesirable products or promoting radical causes. If you add them back into your circles, you may just have found that you are adding in a front for a terrorist organization or a pornographic website. There is a simple solution, examine the feed before you add them to your circles. If by chance they have been added by mistake, take them out of your circles. As genealogists, we do not need this kind of garbage and spam.

Google Alerts for Genealogists?

Let's face it. Browsing the web is a waste of time. Searching the web for specific research items is useful but may have to be done over and over again as new content is added. The idea behind aggregators and readers is to keep current with additions to specific websites, blogs and news feeds. A reader constantly watches websites you designate for updated content. As genealogists we can watch our own family's blogs, the blogs of other genealogists and other interesting content such as genealogical societies, online databases and anything else we are researching. See Wikipedia: Comparison of feed aggregators. If you want to watch a certain topic however, aggregators are often limited to watching specific URLs or website addresses.

The other side of the coin is a website alert. Warning: if you are frustrated by the amount of email you presently receive, you will be overwhelmed with an email alert system. Google Alerts is one of those programs. It is described by Google as follows:
You can get email notifications any time that Google finds new results on a topic you’re interested in. For example, you could get updates about a product you like, find out when people post content about you on the web, or keep up with news stories.
This sounds simple enough, until you choose a broad topic such a following a specific sports team. You will likely be surprised to get hundreds, perhaps thousands of notifications. Remember what happens when you search on Google for a general term such as "genealogy." You get millions of responses. Now think of those in terms of email. To assist with this process, Google suggests that you set up a separate email account just for your alerts. You don't want your regular email to get mixed in with the results of your alert. Google also suggests some specific ways to limit the responses:
  • Try to be as precise as possible. The more precise your search terms are, the more relevant your alerts will be.
  • Use quotes around a group of words if you are looking for them together. For example, ["White house"].
  • Use a minus sign (-) in front of words that you want to exclude. For example, [paris -texas].
  • Use the site: operator to limit your search to specific sites. For example, [congress].
At this point, the alerts begin looking a lot like a news aggregator. This is just one more tool to try and tame the Web.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Google Books Advanced Search

Thanks to Jimmy Zimmerman for a presentation last week at the Utah Valley Technology and Genealogy Group for reminding me about the Google Books Advanced Search. When we do searches in most large online search engines, it is not uncommon for the website to have two or more levels of search capability. If there is an advanced search, it is always a good idea to see what it adds and use it if possible.

The Google Books advanced search is not exactly obvious. Here is a screenshot of the Google Books search window:

There is no apparent link here to the advanced search capabilities. In fact, in poking around on the website, I could not find any reference link at all to the Advanced Search. Here is the sitemap for the Google Books website and there is no mention of an advanced search capability at all:

So where is the advanced search? It is apparently a separate website. Here is another page from Google Books from the About Google Books link:

But, if you do a Google search for "Google books advanced search," there it is. Here is a screenshot showing the proof that it does exist:

I have no idea why the advanced search page is so obscure. The page is pretty well self-explanatory with lots of filters to apply to any book search you wish to do. Remember, Google has over 30,000,000 books and you will need to be specific if you want a small number of returns.

More Questions about Terms and Conditions

I got a couple of readers who called my attention to a post by The Ancestry Insider entitled, " New Terms and Conditions." Like the Ancestry Insider notes, I am not an attorney, but on the other hand, I was one for almost 40 years. My opinions about the subject of terms and conditions in general have been expressed in a number of posts in the past. But it has been a long time since I got into the subject of the terms and conditions of the online genealogy database programs.

If you have little or no background in law, the terms and conditions attached to websites probably are a bunch of mumbo jumbo and you probably ignore them completely. If you use the online program, you have no choice but to agree to the terms of use. The only other option is to decline to use the program. Terms and conditions of use are not unique to, in fact, they are generally used by all of the larger online programs and almost universally used by software companies in general. If you are disturbed by terms and conditions, you might as well get over it because they are everywhere.

Now, the real question is this, what do terms and conditions mean and should you be worried about them? First it is important to note that these types of licenses and agreements are possibly contracts of adhesion. A adhesion contract is defined as a standard form contract between two parties, where the terms and conditions of the contract are set by one of the parties, and the other party has little or no ability to negotiate more favorable terms and is thus placed in a "take it or leave it" position. See Wikipedia: Standard form contract. The enforcement of such contracts has been the subject of a huge number of legal cases and the decisions of the courts around the United States vary from state to state.It is not the idea of a "standard form contract" that is the problem, courts in the United States have found those to be enforceable. The problem is when surprising or unexpected terms are inserted and then enforced.

Should you be worried? General awareness of the legal background of using computer software, either online or desktop is probably a good idea. In my personal opinion, if any software company, including the online genealogy companies, began strictly enforcing their terms and conditions against all users, they would be out of business within a short period of time. Why would these companies publish terms and conditions that are either difficult or impossible to enforce and which are possibly highly detrimental to their business interests? I can answer the question in one word: attorneys. The corporate attorneys think this stuff up to "protect their clients' interests" without a thought about the impact the provisions might have on that same business. If they were in a real negotiation with an opposing party represented by an attorney, these agreements would be far less restrictive and more pertinent to the real legal issues involved. But since there is in reality, no one on the other side of the terms and conditions issues, the attorneys are given free rein to say whatever comes to mind.

The serious problem with these terms and conditions is that if you violate the terms and conditions of use of your software you could be subject to a legal action and could not only lose the ability to use the software but could also be subject to a claim for damages. The possibility of this happening is completely determined by the individual circumstances of each case. There is no way, if I were an attorney, that I could tell you to completely ignore these terms and conditions. On the other hand, the practical reality is that the possibility of there being an actual legal case is very, very low for any one user.

Without doing a huge amount of legal research, I could not personally say whether the provisions outlined by the Ancestry Insider were or were not enforceable and I am not going to take the time to do such research because I am retired from practicing law and do not intend to spend my time looking stuff up for free. If there is an attorney out there who is still practicing who would like to take on and the rest of the large companies, be my guest.