Thursday, January 28, 2010

52 Weeks - Challenge 4 - Inter Library Loan

I am participating in 52 weeks to better genealogy. This week's challenge is:

Learn about your local public library’s inter-library loan (ILL) policy. Pick a genealogy-related book that you want to read that is not in your library’s collection. Ask the librarian how to request the book from another library. Find the different library systems from which you can request books through your own library, as this can dramatically increase the number of genealogy books to which you have access. If you have a genealogy blog, write about your experience with requesting items through your library’s ILL service.

Once again I am finding it difficult to get out of the house. Fortunately, the local library describes the Interlibrary loan service on their website. According to the website, it's possible to request an interlibrary loan for a fee of $13.20 per item, or per 30 photocopied pages. Books may take weeks to arrive. If you are in the library, you can access Libraries Australia to search for the book. If not, you can search Trove, which is a relatively new consolidated search facility from the National Library of Australia.

I also looked at the interlibrary loan service from the National Library. Like the local library service, the NLA charges $13.20 however, you can only read the book onsite. Photocopied pages are a little cheaper than the local library service at $13.20 for 50 consecutive pages. I'm sure I also saw somewhere on the site (but can't find it now!) mention that the NLA can look for books overseas. It's not clear if the local library service will do that.

It would have been better to complete this challenge by visiting the library and talking to a real live librarian.
I will certainly keep interlibrary loans in mind, and talk to a librarian if there's something I want to find.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Australia Day

Today is 26 January, Australia Day. My idea for this blog post was to list out the events from my family tree that occurred on that date. On searching my family tree there were only two such events!

One was the birth of a still-living person. Happy Birthday, [name omitted to protect her privacy]!

The other was the death of my GGGG grandmother, Christina MORRISON. She died in Latheron, Caithness, Scotland, of bronchitis on the 26 January 1877 at age 74. Her husband, Alexander MILLER, a couper and boat-builder, died of chronic bronchitis just a few months later, also aged 74. Both were paupers at the time of their death.

Although they lived and died in Scotland, Christina and Alexander had a connection with Australia. By 26 January 1877 their eldest(?) daughter, Isabella, her husband Robert COUPER and their son, Daniel, had lived in Oakleigh, Victoria for almost 25 years. Daniel also was born in Scotland, but by 1877 he had eight Australian-born brothers and sisters.

If you see a family connection here, please get in touch. I would love to hear from you.

Monday, January 25, 2010

52 Weeks - Challenge 3 - Assess Yourself!

I'm participating in Amy Coffin's "52 Weeks to Better Genealogy" challenge. Having missed week 2 entirely, I'm now submitting the Week 3 challenge late.

Week 3: Assess yourself! You’re great at researching everyone else’s history, but how much of your own have you recorded? Do an assessment of your personal records and timeline events to ensure your own life is as well-documented as that of your ancestors. If you have a genealogy blog, write about the status of your own research and steps you may take to fill gaps and document your own life.

My first reaction to this challenge was to think that I haven't done too badly.
  • My birth and marriage are listed in my database, with appropriate source citations. Hard copies of my birth and marriage certificates are in my genealogy file. 
  • My education and employment history is listed in full, although not with source citations. I will have to at least write a note to put on file as a source. 
  • The residence information in there is accurate, but again not sourced. I'll use the same solution for that - write a note for my file and use that as a source. It's really just a formalised way of saying the source is me, but at least there will be a piece of paper for someone someday, perhaps, to find even if they regard it as only a clue.
  • I've not done quite so well on recording home ownership. I've recorded the purchase of my first house but not it's sale or the purchase of my current home.

A notable absence from the list is census returns. We have 5-yearly censuses here, the next one should be in 2011. I had good intentions to take copies of the census forms I filled out for the last few censuses, but never actually did it. That is definately something I will have to improve on in future.
Overall I think the basic information is mostly there, but it's a bit dull. If we were talking about one of my ancestors I would love to find photos, newpaper clippings, letters... anything that gives a glimpse of them as something more than an entry in a database. This I think should be my highest priority where my own life is concerned. It's the kind of information that you can't get (eventually) from public sources. The challenge, and I think it's a tough one, is deciding what is likely to be of any interest to anyone!!

Friday, January 15, 2010

A chance discovery

Among my grandfather's family papers was a little newspaper clipping. A young man's death notice. According to the notice the young man accidentally drowned in New Guinea, 1978, on his birthday. The notice gave enough information to construct a partial family tree, including a grandparent referred to only as "Couper".

Couper happens to be my grandfather's mother's maiden name, and every other paper stored with this clipping was a family paper. It seemed that this unfortunate young man was a relative, but despite knowing a little about his immediate family, I never knew how he fitted in and I've never tried in any serious way to find out.

Tonight, I stumbled onto a clue! Quite by chance I discovered that he was buried in the same plot as some of my known Couper relatives. Obviously the body was brought back to Australia for burial. The burial details still don't tell me exactly how he was connected, but they give a me a very plausible theory to work on!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Searching the library catalogue via google

This may be old news, but it's new to me. I was doing a google search today on some work-related subject, when one of the search results caught my inner genealogist's eye. Or not so much the result itself, but the site it came from.   -   The catalogue of the National Library of Australia (NLA).

I tried searching google for the names of a few reasonably obscure Australian titles, and sure enough an NLA result came up on the first page. Interesting! When I clicked into a result it looked like the standard NLA result page, except that it also contained a big blue box explaining what the catalogue was, services offered by the library, and how to get back to google.

I've mentioned before that the NLA newspaper site is searchable via google, but I didn't realise that the entire catalogue was.

Time to experiment
I tried searching on the words "Avoca history" in the NLA catalogue and came up with 38 results. The google search "Avoca history" came up with 478 results. Looking down the list of results, I soon saw a likely reason for the difference in numbers. The google search was reading the entire catalogue page, including headings such as "search history", not just the record results.

I tried the NLA catalogue again without the word "history". This time I had 236 results. Not enough to account for the difference. The gap widened when I tried google on just "Avoca". 2,810 results. Hmmm.

Another scan of the google results, and I could see that they not only included catalogue record pages, but also catalogue search pages, record comment pages, and possibly others attached to the record itself. Difference explained, I think.

I find the NLA's own search results more useful than the google results. They offer all sorts of relevant filtering and sorting options and don't have google's repetition of the real content, the item record. The one time I think I would want to use the google results is to get at the cached pages if the NLA site was unavailable for some reason!

But still, I thought it an interesting discovery. It's nice to think that a relevant NLA catalogue entry could appear in the results for someone who would never have thought to look there otherwise, when doing a google search.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

52 Weeks - Challenge 1 - Local library

I'm not sure how many weeks I will manage, but I will at least make a start on Amy Coffin's '52 Weeks to Better Genealogy'. The first challenge was posted on facebook here. It is:

Week 1: Go to your local public library branch. Make a note of the genealogy books in the collection that may help you gain research knowledge. Don’t forget to check the shelves in both the non-fiction section and the reference section. If you do not already have a library card, take the time to get one. If you have a genealogy blog, write about what you find in your library’s genealogy collection.

Unfortunately this week I'm finding it hard to get to the library. I will do the challenge in a virtual sense using the library catalog, which is online. I often use the local library service that way, as I am able to request items from any branch and collect them from my local library. It's very convenient.

I started with a broad search of the catalog, entering the general keyword "genealogy". 512 titles were returned. Among the results were:
  • general guidebooks - with "for dummies" and "on the internet" titles featuring prominently;
  • more guidebooks - particularly those published by the local family history society;
  • a few country guides, eg Scotland and Ireland. I will have to keep these in mind when my research next leads me there;
  • "how to write" type guides;
  • even more guidebooks again, focusing on specific subjects such as female ancestors, soldiers;
  • some local family histories;
  • newsletters and magazines from the local and some other Australian family history societies;
  • local transcriptions and indexes;
  • old copies of the Genealogy Research Directory;
  • DVDs - "Who do you think you are?";
  • DVD - "A video guide to handling and preserving records";
  • Some of the "digger" CDs (early Victoria, Australia, BMD indexes). They appeared to be available to borrow, which was surprising;
  • fiction titles.
There were a few books that I would like to borrow sometime. I must remember to take a closer look at some of the more specialised guides, in particular. The library provides Ancestry Library Edition onsite, but they have such a painfully slow internet connection that I would rather pay for a month subscription at home every so often as the need arises.

I also tried searching on some of the place names where my family lived hoping for some histories, with no luck. I didn't really expect to find anything as my family don't come from this area. For that sort of search I would normally go to the National Library of Australia (NLA). Publishers in Australia are legally obliged to provide both the NLA and the relevant State library with a copy of each book they publish. 

This challenge was a little nostalgic for me... when I first became interested in family history more than 20(!) years ago the first place I went was the local library, where I found a basic how-to book for Australia.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Software review - Geves

I've only found two software packages that attempt the kind of source-based data entry I describe in my previous post (not counting products such as Custodian or Clooz, as their purpose is different). They are 'Genealogy Research System' and another that I found a few weeks ago, 'Geves'. I've been having a ball playing with Geves since I downloaded the trial. I used the deluxe version, which has more customisation options that the standard version. The version I downloaded was 1.3.28.

Just quickly before I begin - I have no financial interest in this product other than as a customer and have not been offered anything by anyone to write this. I'm writing the review purely because I found the program interesting. 

Geves - how it works 

The good

While it's possible to go to an individual person's view and enter information, Geves is based around the idea of entering data from a source document. The best way to start is not adding details to a person view, but by choosing the type of source you want to insert.

The program gives a reasonable selection of data entry forms for England, Scotland and Wales and some general purpose forms. If the birth death or marriage form you want isn't there (eg I need Australian certificates) you can choose the most similar form and adapt it to your needs. That didn't work too badly with my Australian BMD records for data entry but they do end up labelled as the wrong type of certificate which is annoying.

Here's an almost completed form for a Scottish ancestor, James Couper, who was kind enough to pass away in 1855 - giving me a death certificate with more than usual detail! If you attach an image to the source record, Geves displays it in a split screen below the data entry form. It makes data entry and checking against the source very easy.

The yellow dropdown boxes are where you choose which individual or place the name in the record relates to - or you can add a new person at a click of a button. If you do choose from the dropdown, a box appears when you hover over a name with the events from that person's life. You can also use the extensive list and search windows to find the correct person in the database, then drag and drop their name across to the box.

I very much like the adjustable split screen source display. The forms aren't too bad, so far as they go. I did find occasionally that some detail seemed to be missing but that's relatively easy to correct. There is some data validation, with cells coming up in shades of orange or red if you accidentally try to make someone their own grandfather. The data entry was quick and easy - completing and checking the form took only a few minutes.

Individual and place names are as recorded on the source. You make the link to a individual in the database or a place on the map for the purpose of searches. So far so good, and it's all quite efficient. But... it gets better.

The very good
The program includes a web browser. For certain records (primarily UK census) on selected genealogy sites you can download the information into the appropriate form at the click of a button, including the source image(s). It takes about 20 seconds and all that's left to do is correct the information against the image (add in any data not in the transcription), and link it up to the right people and places. Even a fairly large household took me less than five minutes to enter this way, from start to finish. I was mostly using FindMyPast. When I tried Ancestry, Geves managed to suck information into the form that wasn't visible on the page. Clever.

In less than two weeks, when I was looking after a sick baby and was also unwell myself, I still managed to enter every detail for 125 UK census households without breaking a sweat. 125. Every detail. Really! I told you I had a ball with it! I got a kick out of seeing the forms fill themselves out every time.

The other very nice thing is that if you do enter a source only to find that the John Smith in that source isn't the John Smith you thought, it's very easy to undo. Just clear the dropdown box where you identify who (in your database) the John Smith in the source relates to. All the other bits and pieces from the source - residence, employment, birth year, whatever - will disappear from your John Smith's record.

You can't please all the people all the time...
As you enter data into the source template Geves translates it into events for you, including lineage connections between the people. Obviously the program has to make a lot of assumptions along the way, and they may not always be assumptions you agree with. If this only happens occasionally it's no big deal to fix. On the other hand all the time and effort saving made in data entry would be lost if you disagreed with something the program did in a systematic way, as there is nowhere (that I saw) to vary any of the assumptions that Geves makes.

Here are the events automatically created by Geves for the death certificate above...


And here's the family tree it has constructed...


The program does a great job where the family connections are defined by the form (eg father and mother on a birth certificate) including spouse and parent-child relationships to the head person on a census form. It makes no attempt (and nor should it) to make more ambiguous connections eg a niece or stepson. You can quite quickly and easily add events to the source yourself. For example, a birth record for the niece with just the name of the child and the parents. You don't need to put in any details that are already generated by the form, such as estimated birthdate or place of a birth for a niece on a census form. There are a few more issues along these lines for census forms in particular, and it is worth reading the help file to be aware of them and understand how to work around them. 

Geves does not have all the event types you usually find. Census entries were recorded as a residence, or "Visited at" depending on the description. I would prefer to use a census event and say that the person was "enumerated at". Maybe that's just me. It does have a research screen to see what censuses you have found for each person so I suppose I could live with it - but there may well be other decisions that grate.

Once you have multiple sources for an event, Geves makes more assumptions about which source is more reliable in order to combine the information. Unfortunately there is little description of how this decision is made, either. It's obvious which events are merged, though, and you are able to change the outcome of the merged event or mark it as confirmed.

Here's a screenshot of the events tab for James Couper after I added 1841 and 1851 census information.

Merged events have a blue square around the icon, and are marked "Merged". As you click on events, you can see the source (or sources) for the information in that event underneath.

To be fair, making assumptions is always going to be a perilous business. Overall I think this part of the program is quite well-handled.

The not-so-good and really-quite-bad...

The first not-so-good thing that I noticed about Geves was the very basic output options. From a person page you can access a few simple lists of events (not a lot of detail), an ancestor report and a descendent report. There are no options about what should or should not be included in these. You can change the font, but that's it. You can also print out lists which are really very good, with whatever fields and sorting you want, but it's not the same thing.

Worse, though, there were no source citations on the reports! I could hardly believe that!

It occured to me that you could enter data here, then use another program to do reports and charts if only the GEDCOM export worked nicely with your other program. I shall defer here to someone with better knowledge than myself. Tamura Jones reviewed a beta copy of Geves back in 2007 and gave the program a rating of "Dismal" citing, among other things, GEDCOM import and export problems. I don't know if any of the problems mentioned have been fixed since then, but the ones I was able to check on with my definately non-expert knowledge of GEDCOM had not been. This was disappointing. Source-based data entry loses its gloss if you're not sure of getting the information out again! 

The other stuff
Otherwise, I had no particular problems using the program. It has been stable for me. There was a full 5 second delay going to and from one particular source with 24 sub-records but that was the only lag I noticed. I'm not sure how the program would handle large files. My experimental file was relatively small with just over 700 individuals (many of whom were probably the same people, but I hadn't made the connection yet) and aside from the delay I mentioned I didn't have any problem.

Although the general reports were lacking, the lists were good and very editable. Some fields were easy to add, some you had to start writing expressions. I get the impression that the lists could be very powerful, if only you could work out how to write the expressions. There was some information on that in the help file.

What else...? Photos are treated like source images. The source form relating to the photo has fields for date, place, event, photographer and allows you to mark with a box (which then becomes a passport photo for the individual) who is in the picture. If using the deluxe version you can add your own custom fields to sources, people, events, repositories or whatever. I think I would want to add a custom caption or description field to the source record. It was difficult to find how to access the custom forms you created. I eventually found the answer not in the help file but on the user forum. As an aside, judging by the forum the user base is very small, but the developer is quick to give a helpful response to questions.

I don't know how those custom fields are treated in GEDCOM export. There did seem to be an ability to customise how sources were exported for each template. I didn't experiment with it, but if using the program to export I would. The default export for the source was the one line description given to it although all the other information you would need for a proper source citiation was generally tucked away on the source forms.

The conclusion
I haven't covered every aspect of the program here. In some ways it has surprising depth and is very customisable, in others it's inflexible and falls a little short. Although I have raised concerns and criticisms of the program, I did buy a copy at the end of the free 30 day trial.

Yes, I am perhaps a little besotted with the data entry to the exclusion of all else. They do say love is blind.

I'm not planning on using Geves as my primary genealogy software. I used it in the trial period to begin sorting out the Tregoning families in Gwennap, Cornwall, England. At least 2 of the 17 households with Tregonings in 1841 are of interest to me.

Thanks to Geves I am now confident that I've followed through to the correct 1881 census entry for my great-great-great grandmother, Mary Tregoning, and I think I know which death record is hers, too. I'll enter just the information relating to my family into my main database. It's going to seem so sloooow after Geves, but at least I'll be able to assume whatever I want and make some pretty charts. With source citations.

By the way, Happy New Year!