Saturday, December 02, 2017

How to Use OCR to Transcribe and Translate Genealogy Documents

How to Use OCR to Transcribe and Translate Genealogy Documents:
While there is never a replacement for careful hand transcriptions, the simpler solution for transcribing your genealogy records is to use modern OCR. OCR stands for optical character recognition and there are a variety of options available online, as apps, in printers and scanners and as downloadable programs. The first step in this process is to have your records available in a digital format – such as a PDF or image (JPG etc). You can scan paper documents to make them digital before applying OCR – or you can apply OCR while you are scanning. See the bottom of this article for a bit more information on this. The rest of this how-to assumes that you are dealing with digital records. We tested a variety of OCR solutions – including FineReader and Google Docs – and found that, for our purposes, a free online option called Online OCR actually produced the most accurate results. It is also very quick and easy to use.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Power Gene?

All US presidents bar one are directly descended from a medieval English king | Daily Mail Online:

What do Barack Obama, Thomas Jefferson, George W. Bush and the other past U.S. presidents have in common? Besides holding the coveted title of commander-in-chief, it appears that all of them but one are cousins. The remarkable discovery was made by 12-year-old BridgeAnne d’Avignon, of Salinas, California, who created a ground-breaking family tree that connected 42 of 43 U.S. presidents to one common, and rather unexpected, ancestor: King John of England.

Friday, November 10, 2017

How to Use the Free GRO Index for English Genealogy Research

A useful article on a useful resource How to Use the Free GRO Index for English Genealogy Research:

the General Register Office does offer direct access to their index for free, but there are some things you should be aware of before setting out to view it directly through their site. The most important thing to know is that, while the index of these records is free to use, you can only view only a portion of the index covering registered births from 1837-1915 and deaths from 1837-1957. Advertisement Unfortunately, this version of the index – which was released to the public late last year – doesn’t include any of the marriage records found in the complete index, and likely won’t anytime soon.
For the periods and records not covered, there is always FreeBMD. The article goes on to tell you how to set up an account with the GRO.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

New Find-a-Grave site is fashionably illegible

The last couple of times I have gone to the Find-a-Grave site I have been taken to the "new" site, and have quickly switched back to the old one, because the new one is much more difficult to use. I am sorry to see that the old one is to be retired soon, because, whatever its other faults, it is at least legible on screen.

It seems to be fashionable among web designers nowadays to make their pages as difficult to read as possible, and the new Find-a-Grave site is no exception to this, and is a particularly egregious example.

After battling to make out what was written on the new site, the moment I switched to the old one everything became clear. This is in spite of the fact that the old site uses a smaller font size than the new one. The difference in legibility is due to the better contrast between text and background on the old site, and also the greater thickness of the letters.

So if one is measuring the site by "user experience", I would rate the old site at 55% and the new one at 5%. The main user experience is frustration at trying to puzzle out what is written on the screen.

The new site may bring oohs and aahs from other 20-something web designers, because it follows all the fashionable trends. But spare a thought for the poor suckers who actually want to use the site. Many of us are over 60, and our eyesight is not what it was when we were 20.

PS My wife looked at the new site on her computer and found it easier to read than I did on my computer. Perhaps if you have one of those old-fashioned monitors with little knurled knobs that you can use for adjusting brightness and contrast you could fiddle with them until some of the presently illegible text might become readable, but my flat-screen Samsung monitor has automatic adjustment of brightness and contrast, so I'm stuck with it. And the fact remains that the old site is perfectly legible to me, and large parts of the new one are not legible, using exactly the same computer and monitor. So I can say unequivocally that the new site is designed to give a very bad user experience. I can't even make out the words on the screen wearing two pairs of glasses and holding a magnifying glass up to the screen.




Tuesday, November 07, 2017

The Forgotten Federal Census of 1885 Can Be Found Online for Free | Family History Daily

Don't get your hopes up too much when reading the headline... The Forgotten Federal Census of 1885 Can Be Found Online for Free | Family History Daily:
In 1879 the U.S. government asked states to take a semi-decennial census in 1885 – in addition to the upcoming 1880 and 1890 censuses – with the promise that they would cover 50% of the costs of the undertaking.

The states of Nebraska, Florida and Colorado completed the request, along with the territories of New Mexico and Dakota. These census schedules include a wealth of information for those who may have had ancestors in those regions in 1885 and are one way to overcome the gap left by the 1890 census.
It only covers a small portion of the US.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

The Battle to Bring the New York State Death Index Online, and How to Find it Free

The Battle to Bring the New York State Death Index Online, and How to Find it Free:
Reclaim The Records, is a not-for-profit activist group of genealogists, historians, researchers, and open government advocates. They identify important genealogical records sets that ought to be in the public domain but which are being wrongly restricted by government archives, libraries, and agencies. They file Freedom of Information and Open Data requests to get that public data released back to the public. And if the government doesn’t comply, they take them to court. Then they digitize everything they win and put it all online for free, without any paywalls or usage restrictions, so that it can never be locked up again. Learn more about their work or sign up for their newsletter.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The One Google Search Trick Every Genealogist Needs to Know Now

The One Google Search Trick Every Genealogist Needs to Know Now:
We’re talking about Advanced Search – and switching over to it will change the way you use Google forever. Many people are unaware that Google even provides an advanced search form, one that goes well beyond what the standard search box is designed for. This advanced search will allow you to use most of the tricks we mention in our Google search tricks for genealogy article, without having to remember the search operators.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Why children need to know their family history | Life and style | The Guardian

Why children need to know their family history | Life and style | The Guardian:
I came across research showing that children who have a strong “family narrative” enjoy better emotional health. Much of this work is from the late 90s, when psychologists Marshall Duke and Robyn Fivush of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, asked 48 families 20 questions about their family history. They found that the more the children knew, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. “Hearing these stories gave the children a sense of their history and a strong ‘intergenerational self’. Even if they were only nine, their identity stretched back 100 years, giving them connection, strength and resilience,” he said.

Friday, August 25, 2017

UN will focus on witchcraft-related violence for first time | The Wild Hunt

UN will focus on witchcraft-related violence for first time | The Wild Hunt:
Although the published reports do regularly populate the international news media, this human rights crisis has gotten very little attention on the international political scene. To date, most of the work has been done by private organizations, such as the Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network (WHRIN) and Under the Same Sun. Or it is being handled by local governments, such as in the creation and enforcement of anti-witchcraft accusation laws. Over the past ten years, an increasing number of countries have, in fact, instituted such laws, including Papua New Guinea, India, South Africa, Tanzania, and others. In 2018, Liberia will play host to a new U.N. human rights office that will reportedly help the country’s government better address, in part, the “accusations of witchcraft and ritualistic killings.”

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Natal marriages in FamilySearch

I've recently being following up some of the "hints" on FamilySearch for possible connections.

Among the records in the "hints" were "Natal Civil Marriages", and at first I rejoiced because they appeared to give an actual date of marriage, whereas I had only had a month and a year.

But on reflection it seems to me that these "marriage dates" are misleading. About 25 years ago I think I looked at some of these records in the Natal Archives and if I recall correctly they are not marriage registers but marriage notifications, and the date recorded is the date of the notification, not the date of the marriage.

This seemed to be confirmed for me when one couple were shown as having married on 8 Oct 1886, but their ante-nuptial contract was only signed on 22 October, which means they could only have got married after the latter date.

Update 24 August 2017

On checking the records concerned again, with a different link for which an image was available, it seems that it was indeed from the original register, so the date is correct. It appears that the couple concerned had a post-nuptial ante-nuptial contract -- they were married on 8 October 1891, and their ante-nuptial was dated 22 October.

The other misleading thing is that it was in fact a church marriage, and not a civil marriage.

So this record at least was indeed from the original registers, and not from the "marriage notifications" in the Natal Archives.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Can HistoryLines Really Build an Instant Personal History of Your Ancestors?

when I read this, I was rather sceptical, and thought it was one ofn those "too good to be true" things Can HistoryLines Really Build an Instant Personal History of Your Ancestors?:
The HistoryLines website bills itself as “Instant Personal History.” Those of us who love family history get really excited when we think we can get a lot of valuable information quick and easy. So at first glance HistoryLines can seem a little disappointing. Instant personal history may be overselling it. But, like any good tool, the more you put into it the more you get out. And on second glance, HistoryLines is a good tool.
But since they offered a free trial, I thought I'd have a look, and, as I suspected, it offered a time line and some boilerplate text.

The first one I chose was my great great grandfather John Bagot Cottam (1836-1911). He was born in Salford, Lancashire, England, and emigrated to Natal in 1863, with his wife Adelaide Herbert (1831-1909) and three daughters. They had more daughters in Durban where he died in 1911.

Now it's possible that the paid-for version offers a bit more, but the free version asks for the first name and surname, date and place of birth and death, and sex of the person and that's all. If it asked for a couple of residence dates and places, or an emigration date and place, it might have been able to come up with more relevant boilerplate information, but it didn't.

It did have the First and Second Anglo-Boer Wars, but failed to mention the Union of South Africa in 1910. It also failed to mention the American Civil War. But why should it, if he was born in England and died in South Africa and was never in the USA?

In the case of John Bagot Cottam, however, that was probably a relevant fact. He emigrated to Natal in 1863 to be accountant to the Natal Cotton Plantation Company. Cotton planting never took off in Natal, but in 1863 the cotton mills of Manchester were desperately looking for alternative sources of raw cotton, since the US Civil War had made the American supply dry up.

If HistoryLines had come up with something like that, I might have seriously considered paying for it. But one can probably get more relevant results by doing your own Google searches using the dates in your family member's time line.

The second test was not a direct ancestor, but a relation who lived in the USA. I thought that as HistoryLines was an American project, it might do better with people in the US, so I thought that to be fair I should try one.

The one I chose was William Nelson Growden (1893-1979). He was born in Tennessee, died in Los Angeles, but spent most of his adult life in Alaska. He lived in Ruby, Alaska, and was in government service, and was at one time a member of the Alaska Territorial House of Representatives.

Again, perhaps if HistoryLines had correlated residence information it might have come up with more relevant boilerplate text, but as it was it did not mention the earthquake and tsunami in Valdez, Alaska, in 1964, which killed William Nelson Growden's youngest son and two of his grandchildren.

So no, though it sounds good in the blurb, I'm not tempted by this one.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

10 Free Genealogy Apps to Help You With Your Research

I tend to use my computer rather than my phone for research, but some of these can copy stuff to your computer as well. 10 Free Genealogy Apps to Help You With Your Research:
Taking the time to properly organize is key to productive and fruitful research. We cover this in detail in our online course. Here are three apps that are a great choice for this purpose. 4. Evernote Organizational apps come and go, but Evernote has had true staying power. Available for the iPhone and Android, it also integrates with numerous other apps and systems in addition to offering a host of its own separate apps that can help with specific tasks – everything from scanning to keeping contact lists. The app is so popular because it’s a powerhouse with seemingly endless possibilities. The downside of that is that because it offers so much it can be a bit intimidating to figure out in the start, but once you invest the energy to learn the system the payoff can be enormous. Warning to iPhone users: the latest version has received very low ratings in the Apple Store.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

My (very informal) research log - Organize Your Family History

My (very informal) research log - Organize Your Family History:
I keep my log in Evernote. I have a notebook there called “2017 Research Log” and each time I do some research I try to create a log entry. I create a new note in the aforenamed notebook and head it with the date. Then I just type notes that I think might be useful in the future. I try to include what I was looking for, what I found and what next steps would be.

Ahmed Timol inquest unravels apartheid cover ups that protected security police | News | M&G

Ahmed Timol inquest unravels apartheid cover ups that protected security police | News | M&G:
The second sitting of the inquest into apartheid activist Ahmed Timol’s death began at the Pretoria high court on Monday. Witnesses have begun testifying and with them the doors of the security branch’s violent history in Johannesburg have once again been pulled wide open to deliver scrutiny on systematic cover-ups to protect police during apartheid. They were called the “resident sweepers” and their job was to make sure apartheid police forces were never implicated in unlawful acts such as torture or murder even if they had to fabricate evidence to the courts in the process. Paul Erasmus, a former member of the Security Branch, revealed an extent of the apartheid-era cover ups in his testimony at the Timol inquest.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

When Incest Is Best: Kissing Cousins Have More Kin - Scientific American

When Incest Is Best: Kissing Cousins Have More Kin - Scientific American:
It is not quite incest. And though it will increase your chances of birthing a healthy baby, it is a bit unorthodox, to say the least. Still, scientists at Icelandic biotechnology company deCODE genetics say that when third and fourth cousins procreate, they generally have scads of kids and grandkids (relative to everyone else).
It's interesting that the canon law of the Orthodox Church prohibits marriage between second cousins or people more closely related, which means there could be quite a lot of third-cousin marriages in small isolated Greek villages, for example.