August 4 deadline for feedback on FamilySearch Wiki redesign

It is hard to keep up with everything.  I just discovered an important page on the FamilySearch Wiki asking for feedback on a redesign of their Wiki pages.  This link opens the page in a new window.  I encourage you to compare the two pages and give your feedback.

For what it is worth, I very strongly prefer design 2.  If you agree with me, I would be happy to have your votes added to mine.  If you don’t agree, you will surely want to submit a counter vote.

I found I had to print the pages out to do a comparison, but printing page 1 did not include a whole column of data on the right hand side, so the visual effect of the page on the printed copy is distorted.

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Mea Culpa

Over a decade ago, I started my website, Bobbie’s Genealogy Classroom.  Using simple web page creation software  included with one of the browsers I used the website to provide links for my genealogy students so they didn’t have to scribble urls in class.

Over time it grew.  I reorganized it.  It grew more.  I switched from simple software to Dreamweaver.   It grew and I reorganized it again.  But I have never kept up with keeping the pages current and complete

In addition to the usual impediments of time, energy and diverted attention spans, it takes me longer and longer to locate and identify free, useful content on the web.

When I began, there was limited genealogy content on the web and  a huge amount of it was not only free,  the pages were without ads.  I usually did not link to sites that were cluttered with ads.  (Kimberly Powell’s posts in About.com were an exception because they were so well written.)    Over the years, the number of pages exploded, most carrying advertising and many of the older pages languished.  Large websites, especially those maintained by institution,  are often complicated and it can be difficult to ferret out the pages that contain pertinent information.   Our information highway is clogged with out of date information, dead links and ubiquitous advertising.  Excepting the advertising, I contribute to this.  I apologize.

I am selective about what I link to  and it takes a great deal of time to assess the quality of a page in a non subscription site.   I have three basic criteria:

  1. How well the page is maintained: is new information added? Are bad links corrected? Is it, in other words current and complete — a criteria I fail at on my own pages.
  2. Is the quality of the information good?
  3. Is the page so cluttered with advertising that it is difficult to use?  Worse, is it just generic information thrown up to provide a billboard for advertising?

So I will continue with an advertising free website.  I will continue to include only information that I think is especially helpful. Unfortunately, I see no way I will be able to maintain the currency of the pages as well as I should.   But I promise to do the best I can.

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Considering SLIG 2015

SLIG (Salt Lake City Institute of Genealogy) is being held January 12-16, 2015.  Why think about it now?  Because registration begins June 14th 9 a.m. MT (11 a.m. ET) and it fills up fast!

If you sign up to attend, you will elect to take one of twelve tracks offered.  Each track  is a full week class, taught by expert instructors.  It is not cheap (at least by my standards) – almost $400 — but it is worth it if you want to advance your skills in one of the areas being taught.  An added bonus is time to research at the Family History Library.   And there is a bargain rate at the hotels for attendees.

Perhaps I will see you there!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Update on Ancestry.com results problem

Earlier I posted a problem I had with the results display of an Ancestry.com search and promised to tell you what happened.  Two things:

1. The response to the query I sent them by email was canned.  It was clear that the person had paid no attention to the details I sent.  I would post the response, but I immediately trashed it, it was so off point.

2.  I turned around and posted the same query on the Ancestry.com Facebook page.   The Ancestry.com representative there read my post, investigated, discovered a small glitch and it was quickly fixed.

Ancestry.com is huge and I can not fault them for having canned answers or for having to limit the amount of time they spend on one query.  Further, I try to be as clear and concise as I can when wording a question, but it is difficult and I know I sometimes fall short.   I’ll bet that is true of others, too — especially people who are frustrated.

The display of results is very important and is one area that I think needs great improvement.

First, it would be helpful if we were told the parameters by which the display is sorted.   Also, it would be great if we could control how the displayed results appear.  For example, if we could sort the results by county, then by birthdate within the county.  Or sort the results  by first name, then by county.

I think it is possible that the new sliders are giving us some control over how things display, not necessarily the number of results, but I’m not sure… it would be nice to understand better how they work.

In the old search system, you could sort categories of results by number of hits or alphabetically.  In case you don’t remember how the categories display, try clicking the right tab.  Here is what it looks like:

Results

And here is how the results appear

Categories result

This was for a search that specified James Withey residence Michigan.

The results are sorted within each category by the number of hits in that category.   In the Birth Marriage and Death category, I really don’t want to see the England and Scotland hits — I want to see any birth, marriage or death record for Michigan.   If I could sort the categories alphabetically, I could more readily find them.   It’s not perfect, as some  Michigan records might be in a collection that doesn’t start with Mich… but this scatters them everywhere on what will be a very long list once I click “see all 155, 516 results”

I know this is possible as it used to be an option to sort categories alphabetically.   For all I know the ability for me to do that is there right now and I just haven’t figured out how to use it.

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Ancestry.com Results

I just sent this email to support@ancestry.com.  I hope I get an answer; I will let you know.  The files I mention in the first sentence will appear at the end of the quoted material.

I attach two files.  One is an image of a search for anyone with the name Hoover in Wood Co. Ohio (1880 U.S.Census) The second is the results list… notice how far down you have to read to get the first Wood Co. hit.   

The results display is not helpful, but more to the point… it makes no sense.   Why would the Wood Co. Ohio lists not float to the top?

My suggestion: tell searchers the order in which the search results display AND give users the option of sorting results by column.  e.g. by birthdate or by name or by location.  

 In this case, sorting by location is problematic because of the thousands of results, I’d have to find OHIO, Wood Co…. so it would also be helpful to allow users to restrict results.  I might want to restrict to place name includes Ohio Wood Co.  but I might also want to restrict to place name includes Ohio, as I might want to look at other counties of interest also. 

But something has to be done to help us make better use of search results.  

 

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Keeping Up With PERSI

July 2013 a  FindMyPast posted a news article announcing a partnership with the Allen County Public Library that would result in PERSI being added to the FindMyPast website.

PERSI (Periodical Source Index)  is an invaluable index to thousands of genealogy related periodicals.  It indexes titles, not full text, but through PERSI you can find articles that have a personal name,a location or a topic in the title.  The announcement promises that “Findmypast.com subscribers will be able to search and view digitized images of the articles, allowing unprecedented access to the information contained in these periodicals.” (bolding mine)

Currently you can search PERSI at any library that owns the set of paper volumes (only current through the mid 1990’s)  or online through Heritage Quest, a database that which is offered only through libraries. At this time the online index covers periodicals published as late as mid 2009. Many libraries subscribe to Heritage Quest; all Michigan residents have access through MEL (as well as your public library) and access is available at Family History Centers.  (PERSI used to be available on Ancestry.com, but that is no longer the case. )

If you find an article you want to read, you can use a mail-in order form to get a copy from the Allen Co. Public Library.  How wonderful to have a subscription that allows you to click through to an online image of the article.   I decided to check into the status of this project.

An email to FindMyPast resulted in assurances that the database is one they hope to add in the future and advice to watch their news blog or social media for an announcement.   I also emailed the Allen County Public Library’s reference staff and their reply was along the same lines, but included the encouraging words “very close to launching the index”  and the very reasonable explanation that  links to any given article will depend on having permission from the publisher.

Oh dear… another subscription to consider.   In the past I ignored FindMyPast because I do little UK work.  Even though it has U.S. content, there was not enough to make it a necessity.  Will this change my mind?  I’m going to wait and see what appears.  A very nice feature of FindMyPast is that you can search for free, pay through a subscription or as you find items you want.   So it will be easy to test it out.

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Taking my own advice… more on LibGuides

After yesterday’s post I wondered if I could find a more efficient way to find helpful LibGuides than looking for them on each library’s web site.   A quick Google check and I found that there is a LibGuides Community site that allows you to “search and explore 404,761 guides by 63,016 librarians at 4516 libraries worldwide!”   Yes!

The problem in front of me this morning: Find a newspaper from Long Beach (California) publishing in 1975.  I put in the search words Long Beach Newspapers and this LibGuide topped the list: Long Beach And Local History — with a Tab to a whole page on Long Beach newspapers.  The library site that houses this LibGuide is University of California — Long Beach.

This was one of several hits.  A little further down the list is a University of Pennsylvania LibGuide: Historical Newspapers by State a guide that will be helpful in the future, even though it is not specific to this  query.

I found no explanation of how the search works, but from experimenting determined that it is best to use search words with no quotation marks.  It finds the words anywhere on the same page, of course, but putting quotation marks on the term brought up some odd results.

I am optimistic that this site is going to help me locate some very helpful LibGuides as I continue my research.  Thank heaven for libraries and librarians !

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A scoop — a Bowling Green State University LibGuide of interest to genealogists.

I found* this online today:  a Bowling Green State University LibGuide: Historical Canadian Newspapers Online.  It has dozens of links to both national and local historical newspapers in Canada.  Thank you Bowling Green State University!

“LibGuides” is software that libraries use to prepare Guides for their students and it is not unusual to find at least one or two of interest to genealogists on the website of any large library.   If you see a link to LibGuides on a library website, check it out.

* How did I find this scoop?  Sometimes I read Cyndi’s List Browse New Links page links to new and not yet categorized links.  This was on the January 4, 2014 list.

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Looking a gift horse in the mouth — digital images online

I’ve been working with FamilySearch digital images online and my conclusion is this:  if I want to do research on material in the film beyond a quick check of one item, I will order the film.

It is cumbersome to go back and forth; I have some trouble with pages not loading, especially after I’ve viewed several pages. If I happen to move my fingers wrong on the touch pad the screen moves.   Some pages aren’t in the correct order.

In the end, I tend to find what I want and not try to get much more information from the source — which is poor research technique.

I used to think microfilm was an unfriendly media, but to tell the truth, I think I prefer it to digital images on a viewer.

This problem is not limited to FamilySearch.  Some online viewers are better than others, but on the whole,  I can do more with the information if I have the film.

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Free on the Web…

I finished updating the page “Free Websites for Genealogists”   Hope you find it useful.

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