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Friday, December 18, 2009

My vision for genealogy data entry

If I had written a Genea-Santa letter, I would have asked for perfect genealogy software. One of the features of my utopian software (and there's a long list) is source-based data entry.

Here's my thinking... 
Sources are important. I don't enter information into my genealogy software unless I have a source. That source may be something as simple as a note I write to myself (eg noting a conversation with a relative) but it will be something I can use to identify where a particular piece of information came from, and how reliable that information is likely to be.

A lot of the source documentation we use come in forms of one sort or another. Births, deaths, marriages, census information - all entered into forms.

When it comes time to do data entry, there I am sitting in front of my computer with a source document in my hand or on my screen. It's quite likely that the information will be recorded in a form that I have seen before, and I will see again. Typically, I will set up a source record and lock it on while I am entering the data. Then it's a matter of going through the source document in a systematic way, navigating to the appropriate person in my database, and adding or editing events in the person's life.

The way I described it, it sounds pretty efficient. It's not really. There's an awful lot of moving from person to person, editing a bit, moving around again, finding your place on the form, not to mention re-entering the same information over and again (eg an address on a census form). Every time you move around you are distracted from where you are on the form. Every time you have to enter a piece of information again, you may enter it differently. If you want to check over your data entry you have to navigate around all over again.

What if you enter the information only to realise you had the wrong person? Who would have thought there could be more than one John Smith?! Then you have to track down and undo all those little changes you made.

It's slow. It's prone to error. It's hard to check. It's hard to undo.

A feature of my imaginary ideal genealogy software is the ability to enter data, where possible, in the template of the source document. The act of entering the data should generate all the citation details (maybe add a field or two for anything relevant not on the form itself, eg repository) and should handle the data entry. You would enter the data once.  Perhaps I'm fundamentally lazy, but if I have typed something in once, I don't want to have to type it in again.

Data entry would be quick and easy because you would not have to constantly find your place in the database and in the source document again. It would be very clear if any fact had been missed, because you would see an empty field in your template. It would be easy to check the data for errors because it's all there in one place looking much like the source document.

My ideal software would have an easy way to identify individuals in the document as individuals who are already in the database, or as new people to add. You wouldn't have to come up with some elaborate identification scheme. If you later decided that the source didn't refer to that person, you should just be able to unlink that identification without having to change anything else.

The software should make some sensible assumptions about how the information in the source document fits together and build the lineage links for you on that basis - but you should be able to review and override those assumptions if you wish. It should also be easy to add in any information from the source that is not standard for the template. You should also be able to add information from other sources that don't come neatly presented in a form.

It seems like a big ask, which makes this post seem like a rant... but guess what? Just under two weeks ago I stumbled across a genealogy package I hadn't heard of before. It promised source-based data entry along the lines I describe. I've been having a ball playing with the trial version for nearly two weeks now. While it's not perfect, I think it's interesting enough to write about in my next post...

That's one element of my ideal for genealogy software. Is there a genealogy software feature that seems so obvious and sensible to you that you just can't understand why anyone hasn't done it (to your satisfaction) before?!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Advent Calender - December 6 - Santa Claus

Growing up, we received gifts from Father Christmas. It was never Santa Claus until we made the move from Melbourne to Canberra. I don't know if the change in terminology is a Victoria/New South Wales thing, or if the name more commonly used just changed over time. Either way, it was a visit from Father Christmas that I looked forward to.

Most years I looked forward to the presents entirely too much. Not only my own presents, everyone's presents! I just loved that we were all getting something. I still love seeing nicely wrapped gifts under a tree, even if I know that none of them are for me.

One of my earliest Christmas memories is tip-toeing out from my room in the night, to the living room where Father Christmas left his gifts. I remember standing there and looking at the shapes, trying to imagine what could be hidden under the wrapping paper, but not touching anything. Going back to sleep seemed impossible. It was a long night!

When morning finally came the excitement was too much to bear... my stomach was churning... I unwrapped my toys with a bucket by my side, and I used it. From that point on the entire family would get up at whatever time I awoke (typically 2-4am) on Christmas day and we would all unwrap our gifts, then go back to bed. I insisted that everyone had to get up, it was no fun if we weren't all opening presents together!

I don't remember if this was before or after I found out "the truth". Finding out wasn't a big deal for me. I had my suspicions and one year asked my father about it. His response... "Do you really think I would spend that much money on toys for you?". Faced with the competing concepts of a large red-suited man who flew around the entire world in a night, somehow getting in and out of houses and depositing presents without being seen OR my Dad buying lots of toys, what was I to believe? That kept me believing in Father Christmas for at least another year.

Speaking of Father Christmas, here he is.

I recently posted one of my efforts at fixing up my family photos. I wasn't entirely happy with the result. Inspired by a comment from John Patten, I tried again. I'm almost happy with it now. Almost! As I look at it now, I can see half a dozen things that I could have done better, but I think I'm on the right track.

Joining in the Geneabloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories fun

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Advent Calendar - December 2 - Holiday foods

In Australia, Christmas is in summer. It's hot. So, most years we have a summer version of traditional Christmas foods. The turkey is just one of several cold sliced meats on offer, and instead of roasted vegetables we have a salad. Sometimes we may have had a barbeque.

Those are not the Christmas foods I most strongly remember.

Some years, we wanted Christmas to be extra special. Perhaps because we had relatives staying, or perhaps just because. Whatever the reason, what could be more special than a traditional Christmas lunch with your family?

Picture this... temperatures in the high 30s (that would be the 90s in Fahrenheit) and there we are eating a big roast turkey lunch complete with stuffing, roast vegetables and gravy (don't forget the cranberry sauce!) then finishing off with plum pudding with custard, served hot. All very filling and warming, and completely inappropriate to the climate! The Christmas carols playing are full of sleighs and snow. I'm sure we even had some snowflake decorations on our Christmas tree.

Eating a big, hot meal in the middle of the day in summer is absurd. Ridiculous even! I'm sure that newcomers to Australia would sigh and say that Christmas just doesn't feel the same. To me, though, the absurdity of a hot meal on a hot day isn't ridiculous - it's part of the magic of Christmas!

Joining in the Geneabloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories fun