Thursday, May 28, 2015

Managing My Multiple Online Trees

I recently discussed some of the benefits of having an online family tree, and one of those was that they assisted in allowing the automated search features of online database companies such as Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com and Mocavo.com.  

In addition, there are several websites that are attempting to create a single family tree for all of humanity - the most popular free services being FamilySearch.org and WikiTree.com

But what does one do if trying to maintain multiple trees? This is a dilemma that I really struggle with on a regular basis.  And the question is connected to one of those questions that I grapple with frequently - which offline genealogy software should I use?

I connect maintaining online trees with genealogy software because several sync with one of the online services.  Family Tree Maker syncs with Ancestry.com, MyHeritage FamilyTreeBuilder obviously syncs with MyHeritage.com, RootsMagic 7 and Legacy 8 interact to some extent with FamilySearch.org. So there is some synergy between the trees and the software.

Now, there is a complication for me. I am in a same sex relationship. FamilySearch.org can't handle that, because the Mormon Church does not acknowledge our legal relationship.  RootsMagic can handle our marriage but Legacy cannot.  Family Tree Maker and Ancestry.com are OK except that they insist that each of us has a husband.  MyHeritage rocks this perfectly, but I find their online site cartoonish (not in a good way) and unpleasant to use.

However, the real problem ultimately is that I have multiple trees.  This dramatically increases the difficulty in eliminating errors and maintaining consistency. 

I need to get better organized.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Genealogy Jamboree 2015 is Almost Here!

Online registration is closed for Genealogy Jamboree, and in just over a week I will be headed to Burbank. I debated registering for a couple of the meals, but the costs are just so high and I am not sure that I will really be in the mood to be chatty by Friday night or Saturday morning.

I start out on Thursday at DNA Day, and I expect to be really insanely busy that day, trying to soak up as much information as possible.  DNA is the area that I am really exploring most right now, as I am hoping to find matches who are real cousins who may be holding the keys to hidden doors in my brick walls (OK, mixing analogies here is a bit problematic).

If you can't make it to Burbank but want to see a few of the DNA sessions being streamed for a fee, go to:  http://streaming.webcastandbeyond.com/scgs/dna/  There may be some free sessions during Jamboree proper, but I haven't seen the schedule for those yet.

On Friday morning I am signed up for the sold out Autosomal DNA Chromosome Matching Workshop from Dr. Tim Janzen.  This is the one session that has me nervous, because it is the only one that I have any specific hopes about and I hate having dreams dashed at events like this.  But it is hands on and I need to get serious about chromosome mapping if I want to squeeze every juicy nugget out of my DNA tests.

It should be obvious that after all of that, I will already have my brain sizzling. So a day and a half of normal workshops on Friday afternoon and Saturday will undoubtedly be enough for me.  Hence I am flying back to Oakland on Saturday night, saving a night's hotel stay and catching a cheaper flight.  (Plus I am spending the following Monday lobbying on behalf of the California judiciary and I wanted a little downtime for transitioning.)

I will be blogging from Jamboree, and hopefully will be all sorts of excited by the festivities.




Monday, May 25, 2015

The Costs and Benefits of Having Online Trees

I have been rewriting this post for the past month, trying to figure out how to structure my discussion about online family trees. I was going to split this into a series of separate posts, but the flow never worked.

Public online trees are the source of immense problems. I have discussed some of them in prior posts. Ultimately there are two main sources of problems: transmitting erroneous information and transmitting "private" information.  By private I am referring to information both about living people as well as information about the deceased that the family does not want publicized.  I will discuss each of those in other posts.

Some of these problems can be mitigated by making the trees private.  What is a private tree? Well, let me start by explaining what I mean by "online" tree.

Online information in family tree form really comes in from three sources.  First, and probably best known from Ancestry.com, is a family tree that an individual puts online through one of the various commercial database services.  Second, there are common trees that multiple people contribute to, such as the tree on FamilySearch.org and WikiTree.com.  Finally, there are personal websites set up which contain navigable family trees.

Some of the commercial database services let the user designate a tree as private, allowing only invited people to view the information. Also, a personal website can be password protected, allowing the owner to choose which people allow access to family details.  This is what I mean by a private tree.

There are a number of real benefits from having an online tree, some of which are reduced or eliminated by keeping information private.

First, most of the online database companies have some sort of automated search feature that rummages through the tree and locates possible matching data, The best known example of this is Ancestry.com's "shaky leaf" (technically it is called a "hint").  Not having a tree means losing access to this valuable information, and by making that tree private, one diminishes the possibility of transmitting errors in the tree or disclosing touchy information (such as that a cousin's deceased sainted mother was illegitimate or that her second husband was a bigomist).

Second, online trees are wonderful "cousin bait."  I was researching one of my great grandmothers and found a descendant of her older brother who had been researching the family for decades, and we met last year.  Making the tree private pretty much eliminates it from serving that purpose.

Finally, public online trees are a way of sharing real. accurate information with others. Over the past several years I have discovered that the memories of some of my older cousins died with them, and their children, not knowing what to do with the photographs and scraps of information that they did have, disposed of these mysterious relics.  I wish that I had talked to them, to record their memories and to scan their photographs.

Another downside of private trees is related to that first benefit - unsearchable or inaccessible data is lost to us. It is like having a private library with the book you really need, but they are only open by reservation by e-mail, if they reply.

I find this particularly frustrating in the area of genetic matches on Ancestry.com, where a majority of my matches have kept their trees private and do not respond to entreaties to share the information.

This is particularly a problem with the branches of my family that are lost to the mists of time (actually, more commonly a long ocean voyage) and for whom a DNA match is either a light in the fog or a wisp seeking to lead me astray. (Potential DNA matches get more speculative the further back in time they go.)

An alternative is to maintain two versions of the tree - a solid, public tree and a more speculative, private tree.  However, I have found that keeping multiple versions updated is actually more than twice the effort, as the private tree will keep getting search hits from the public tree.  It is a lot of work.

So, now that I have given a little context re: the costs and benefits of online trees both public and private, I can start discussing some of the specific issues on my mind in subsequent posts.  Hopefully this will mean that the blog will actually be up and rolling now.



Thursday, May 14, 2015

Perils of Blogging While Being A Busy Professional

Years ago, I had a regular blog and I had no trouble with keeping it timely and topical. So when I decided to create a genealogy blog, I thought that it would be pretty easy to keep up a nice, breezy blog.

Unfortunately, it hasn't been as simple this time around for a couple of reasons. 

First, for some reason I come home from work more tired these days, and I seem to take naps on weekends. 

Second, there are so many good genealogy blogs that it is hard to think of topical things that aren't covered in far more and better detail elsewhere.

Finally, a lot of the content that I want to include is substantive, and requires a level of rigor in writing that I didn't need to provide before.

Hence, I have fallen behind my self-imposed schedule of posting.  However, I am not giving up, as I have two entries in partial draft stage that I hope to get online before the end of the month.

More to come soon.