RootsTech 2014

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

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The way names are spelled

Table Alphabeticall
It always amuses me when someone insists that their family name is spelled a certain way. I often hear how my name is spelled with an "e" instead of an "o" or some other variation. A little bit of history goes a long way in curing genealogists of this problem, but the secondary problem is that some researchers never learn the history and keep believing the myth.

Although the concept of a dictionary goes back into antiquity, the idea that words should be spelled a certain way evolved only slowly. The earliest English language dictionaries were essentially word lists, sometimes with other language equivalents. The earliest dictionary is usually attributed to John of Galand (Johannes de Garlandia). His Dictionarius was published in about 1200. But the first dictionary to use alphabetical order wasn't published until 400 years later in 1604. It was the
Table Alphabeticall (shown above) by Robert Cawdrey.

I selected this example to illustrate the fact that focusing on the "correct" spelling of any word, including the names of our ancestors, ignores the historical reality: English and all other languages were and are in state of constant flux. If you would like to see an interesting analysis of this issue as reflected in the 1790 U.S. Census records, see the following:
American Council of Learned Societies. Surnames in the United States Census of 1790: An Analysis of National Origins of the Population. Baltimore, MD: Clearfield Co, 1990.
See also:
Matheson, Robert E. Special Report on Surnames in Ireland: [Together with] Varieties and Synonymes of Surnames and Christian Names in Ireland. Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co, 1988.
 See Wikipedia: Surname and Wikipedia: Family name.

A good example of the process of the adoption of specific surnames comes from Denmark. Here is a summary of the process from Wikipedia:
The first naming act in Denmark was issued in 1526 and made heritable names compulsory for nobility. Other higher class people took heritable surnames during the following centuries, clergy often Latinized names (e.g. Pontoppidan made from Broby) and artisans often Germanized names. Naming acts applying to all citizens were issued 1771 (for the Duchy of Schleswig only) and in 1828. The rural population only reluctantly gave up the traditional primary patronyms. Several naming acts replaced the first; in 1856, 1904, 1961, 1981, 2005. The result of the first act was that most people took a patronymic surname as their heritable family name, with the overwhelming dominance of a few surnames as a consequence. Later acts have attempted to motivate people to change to surnames that would allow safer identification of individuals.
Slavish insistence on a particular spelling of any name from the historical past (or even the present) is one of the most persistent obstacles to genealogical research. I have instances in my own family where my ancestor's surname was spelled one way before immigration. another way after immigration, changed back to the original spelling by one or more of the immigrant's descendants and then changed back to the changed form by the next generation.

Many times, in examining old documents, you will find the same person's name spelled in more than one or two different ways. One of the most famous examples of these variations is the name of William Shakespeare. Here is a quote from Wikipedia: Spelling of Shakespeare's name as an example:
The spelling of William Shakespeare's name has varied over time. It was not consistently spelled any single way during his lifetime, in manuscript or in printed form. After his death the name was spelled variously by editors of his work and the spelling was not fixed until well into the 20th century.
All I can say further is you need a very liberal attitude when looking for people by name.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Great Challenges of Genealogy My Grandson is starting to do 3D drawings on his computer. This is an early example. 
It is important to “step outside” of genealogy occasionally and consider the pursuit as a whole. In doing so, it is apparent that there are certain issues that can be characterized as challenges that presently have only very partial solutions. These include the following:
  • The lack of a way to adequately prevent the loss of genealogical research through the death or incapacity of individual genealogists
  • The vast duplication of effort caused by individual genealogists doing the same research concerning the same ancestors
  • The inability of genealogists to collaborate due to a lack of understanding and trust
  • The fragmentation of storage methods for preserving genealogical research
  • The inability of the various database programs to adequately represent the complexity of the information needed to be preserved
  • The ongoing destruction of genealogically valuable records
The tragedy of these challenges is that some of them have readily available solutions. The further tragedy is that they are all manifestations of the limitations in our world societies and cultures. Some of these challenges are the genealogical manifestations of underlying problems that confront our modern societies as a whole and as they exist around the world. They are also partially caused by all the human failings of mankind; dishonesty, deceit, theft, ignorance, poverty, and all of the other fundamental human frailties. From that standpoint, the genealogical challenges could be considered trivial issues, but only if you are either ignorant of or entirely uninterested in genealogy.

OK, if you have read this far and think that I am going to propose solutions to each of these great challenges, you are only partially mistaken. I do have strong opinions about each of the outlined challenges, but I am realistic enough to realize that all the writing and teaching I have left in my life probably will have little effect on any one of them. Just one example, I have been eminently unsuccessful in convincing any of the researchers I have met who think they own their genealogy to share it with their relatives so that their life's work will not be lost. But during the next few days and weeks, I am going to direct a complete blog post to each of these challenges.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

What is and what is not already online?

I get into a lot of discussions that leave a number of questions about what is and what is not already digitized and available on the Internet either free or through subscription services. On one hand, we have the online genealogy database programs telling us how many millions and millions of records they are putting online each week and on the other hand, those of us who have searched extensively online are more than aware of the vast number of records that still remain locked in either paper or microfilm copies. The question has become a conundrum. We even have those researchers who are "convinced" that "everything is now available online." 

Is there some way to get an accurate estimate for how much of the world's genealogically valuable records are now online? I decided that I would start to answer this question by giving one particular example involving the U.S. National Archives. On their website they have a section that answers the question "what is a record?" Here is what they have to say on that subject:
Now, think about the United States. Billions of letters, photographs, video and audio recordings, drawings, maps, treaties, posters, and other informative materials exist that tell the stories of America’s history as a nation. From the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights to census records that account for every citizen—the preservation of important American documents helps illustrate what happened in the United States before and after we were born.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is America’s record keeper. NARA is the Government agency that not only preserves documents and materials related to the United States but also makes sure people can access the information. It has facilities all over the country, including Presidential libraries and materials projects that maintain records and artifacts from the administrations of Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and William J. Clinton.
What do they mean when they say they have "billions of records?" Here is an explanation:
NARA keeps only those Federal records that are judged to have continuing value—about 2 to 5 percent of those generated in any given year. By now, they add up to a formidable number, diverse in form as well as in content. There are approximately 10 billion pages of textual records; 12 million maps, charts, and architectural and engineering drawings; 25 million still photographs and graphics; 24 million aerial photographs; 300,000 reels of motion picture film; 400,000 video and sound recordings; and 133 terabytes of electronic data. All of these materials are preserved because they are important to the workings of Government, have long-term research worth, or provide information of value to citizens.
Now, if you think about this for just a few minutes, you will realize that the U.S. National Archives is just one of many repositories around the world. So how much of this is (1) digitized and (2) available to the public? The answer is a only a vanishingly small number of records of the total number held in the National Archives. Finding this information about the number of available records is a real challenge. It turns out that the majority of the online records are available through and the associated website,  The U.S. National Archives has only about 126,500 digitized copies of documents and photographs available on their website. Look at the numbers above and then think about this.

The next time someone makes a statement about how much has been digitized online, simply remind yourself that the U.S. National Archives is one example where that impression, that all has been digitized, is not yet, and may never be, a reality.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

First RootsTech Keynote Speaker Announced

In following the trend started last year, RootsTech has gone outside of the traditional genealogy or technology venue to select a celebrity Keynote Speaker. This year's first announcement is singer, actor, triple-threat television series host (talk show, game show, variety show), best-selling author (his autobiography entered the UK bestseller chart at #1), commercial spokesman, motivational speaker, and even a race car driver, Donny Osmond. It also helps that he is from Utah Valley and a local celebrity. Here is the rest of the announcement:
Throughout his illustrious career, Donny earned 33 gold records; selling roughly 120 million albums. In 2011, he and Marie released their first studio album “Donny and Marie” in over two decades. The single “A Beautiful Life” became #1 on the US Country Charts. 
Within the last few years, Donny has entertained an array of audiences. In 2007, he starred on Broadway as Gaston in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast; hosted two television series on British network television; was a special correspondent for Entertainment Tonight; and in 2009 was crowned Dancing with the Stars champion. 
Today, Donny performs at the Flamingo Las Vegas alongside his sister, Marie, in their show “The Donny & Marie Show” which earned “Best of Las Vegas” by the Las Vegas Review Journal three years in a row.
It will be interesting to see how the rest of the lineup appears. I guess the days of the genealogy company CEOs giving keynotes is over.

Genealogy and The British Horseracing Board Ltd and Others v William Hill Organization Ltd.

I recently wrote about the status of copyright law as it was applied in the U.K. to databases. My post was really about the application of copyright law to facts, but the discussion turned around the issue of the application of the law to database. The law known as Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations 1997 (the "Regulations") was extraordinarily vague and just as broad in its scope. In my opinion, after reading through the law as passed, it would only be a matter of time before the law was challenged in court. I was right because there was case called The British Horseracing Board Ltd and Others v William Hill Organization Ltd. that severely limited the application of the statute. 

The reason this issue came up is because of a claim by a reader of my blog that the U.K. statute established that facts were covered by the copyright law. Of course, if this were true, it would be very significant for those who claim that their "genealogy had been stolen" by someone or some entity. My opinion in the earlier post was that there was little possibility of a genealogical breach of copyright case ever coming before the U.K. or E.U. courts for the same reasons that there have yet to be any genealogically inspired family tree copyright cases in the United States. In my opinion, the main reason is that no one can show damages statutory or actual.

I indicated at the time I wrote the first blog post that I would be turning my attention to the law case. So here are my thoughts on the case. The opinion in the case is 42 pages long, which in my experience, is a little longer than many but not as long as some. In order to understand the impact of the decision in the case, it is necessary to have a copy of the legislation along side the opinion because the judge in writing the opinion only makes notes on the original legislation and does proceed in a narrative fashion as is common in the United States. It is also important to first read the Judgment in the case to understand the opinion. Here is the explanation of the case from the Judgement:
This reference for a preliminary ruling concerns the interpretation of Article 7 and Article 10(3) of Directive 96/9/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 1996 on the legal protection of databases (OJ 1996 L 77, p. 20, 'the directive'). 
The reference was made in the course of proceedings brought by The British Horseracing Board Ltd, the Jockey Club and Weatherbys Group Ltd ('the BHB and Others') against William Hill Organization Ltd ('William Hill'). The litigation arose over the use by William Hill, for the purpose of organising betting on horse racing, of information taken from the BHB database.
Let's just say the ruling is rather complicated but it would seem from the Court's ruling that the possibility of the law being extended to a privately compiled family tree is slim to none. The database in question in the lawsuit is further described as follows:
The BHB database contains essential information not only for those directly involved in horse racing but also for radio and television broadcasters and for bookmakers and their clients. The cost of running the BHB database is approximately £4 million per annum. The fees charged to third parties for the use of the information in the database cover about a quarter of that amount.
After reading the case and examining the statute (legislation, law whatever), I believe even more firmly that a privately compiled database such as a genealogical family tree, that was compiled from sources readily available to the public would not be covered by the law. One of the main differences between the genealogical case and the one decided by the court is that relatives have the same relationship to the data (family tree), If genealogical family trees could be copyrighted, then the first person to do the research would have an absolute right to prevent anyone else related to the same people from using that database. But then how would you prove that I copied your database if I independently did the research and came up with exactly the same tree except for those people who were not mutual relatives? Ultimately, how is anyone harmed when someone else is proven to be a relative in a family tree?

Oh, about the issue of facts being protected, the court rules as follows:
Against that background, the expression 'investment in ... the obtaining ... of the contents' of a database must, as William Hill and the Belgian, German and Portuguese Governments point out, be understood to refer to the resources used to seek out existing independent materials and collect them in the database, and not to the resources used for the creation as such of independent materials. The purpose of the protection by the sui generis right provided for by the directive is to promote the establishment of storage and processing systems for existing information and not the creation of materials capable of being collected subsequently in a database.
Here the term "creation of materials" refers to the gathering of facts. The ruling very arguably states that facts are not covered by the statute.

It is also apparent from the Judgment, that the objective of the Court was to protect the economic interests of the maker of the database. It further appears that the maker of the database has to take some steps to benefit monetarily from the creation, correction and maintenance of the database.  This is stated in the Judgment as follows:
Of course, the maker of a database can reserve exclusive access to his database to himself or reserve access to specific people. However, if he himself makes the contents of his database or a part of it accessible to the public, his sui generis right does not allow him to prevent third parties from consulting that base.
 It appears to me that the case turns on the issue of whether or not the maker of the database is harmed by failing to recoup the investment made in the database. Unless a genealogist could prove that they undertook the research in creating their family tree for the express purpose of making money on the project, I doubt that any court would impose sanctions under the statute.

It would be interesting to see if there have been any subsequent cases regarding this statute.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

23andMe and MyHeritage Announce Strategic Collaboration and Product Integration

One of the challenges of doing genealogical research using DNA analysis is the difficulty of finding relatives willing and able to share their DNA. I have commented on this subject in the past. Today, 23andMe and MyHeritage announced a strategic collaboration and product integration that will make finding DNA collaboration as easy as MyHeritage's Smart Matches. Here is a quote from the press release on the blog:
23andMe pioneered autosomal DNA analysis which can find relatives across all ancestral lines, and have built the largest autosomal DNA ancestry service in the world. 23andMe helps people access and benefit from the human genome, offering them a deeper understanding of how their genes relate to their ancestry. 
DNA analysis can provide new information about your ancestors and your geographic and ethnic origins. It can also connect you with unknown relatives descending from common ancestors who lived centuries ago, who you may not have discovered otherwise. 
MyHeritage's 5.5 billion global historical records, 1.5 billion family tree profiles in 27 million family trees and innovative matching technologies, combined with 23andMe's DNA analysis, will provide users with an integrated and enhanced experience to uncover their family history. Combining documented genealogy - family trees, family stories and family memories - with DNA-based ancestry is the next evolution in family history research. While DNA testing can find relatives from shared ancestors, it's the family trees and historical records that are critical to fully map and understand these connections.
This development adds a significant value to a subscription.

What about Copyright in Australia and New Zealand?

Well, both Australia and New Zealand have their own copyright laws. Australia has been a contracting party of the Berne Convention since 1928. New Zealand has also been a contracting party since 1928. To contrast, the United States only ratified the Berne Convention in 1988 and it did not go into effect until 1989. The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, usually known as the Berne Convention, is an international agreement governing copyright, which was first accepted in Berne,Switzerland, in 1886. As outlined in Wikipedia:
The Berne Convention requires its signatories to recognize the copyright of works of authors from other signatory countries (known as members of the Berne Union) in the same way as it recognizes the copyright of its own nationals. For example, French copyright law applies to anything published or performed in France, regardless of where it was originally created. 
In addition to establishing a system of equal treatment that internationalized copyright amongst signatories, the agreement also required member states to provide strong minimum standards for copyright law. 
Copyright under the Berne Convention must be automatic; it is prohibited to require formal registration (note however that when the United States joined the Convention in 1988, it continued to make statutory damages and attorney's fees only available for registered works).
Quoting from the Intellectual Property Australia website:
Copyright protection is free and automatic in Australia and protects the original expression of ideas, and not the ideas themselves. 
Common works protected by copyright are:
  • books
  • films
  • music
  • sound recordings
  • newspapers
  • magazines
  • artwork
Copyright also protects originally created:
  • typographical arrangements
  • databases
  • media broadcasts
  • computer programs
  • compositions of other people's work such as academic journals or CD compilations
Australian copyright is administered by the Attorney-General's Department.
The duration of Australian copyrights is:
Depending on the material, copyright for literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works generally lasts 70 years from the year of the author's death or from the year of first publication after the author's death. 
Copyright for films and sound recordings lasts 70 years from their publication and for broadcasts, 70 years from the year in which they were made.
Some other helpful websites include:
In New Zealand, copyright protects original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, sound recordings, films, communication works and the typographical arrangement of published editions.
For more information, see our information sheet An introduction to copyright in New Zealand prepared by the Copyright Council of New Zealand.

Quoting from the Copyright Council of New Zealand concerning the duration of copyright protection:
Copyright in literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works continues for 50 years after the end of the calendar year in which the author died.

Copyright in sound recordings and films continues for 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which they were made. However, if the work is made available to the public before the end of that 50 year period, copyright continues for 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which it was first made available. 
Copyright in a communication work continues for 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which it was first communicated to the public. Copyright in a repeated communication work expires at the same time as copyright in the initial communication work expires. 
A publisher's copyright in the typography of a published edition lasts for 25 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was first published.
The text of the New Zealand Copyright Act can be found at

As I mentioned above, as is the case with the law in all contracting parties to the Berne Convention, there is no requirement for a copyright notice.