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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Connecting the Unconnected - I hope



How can I find the connections among numerous people with the same surname who lived in the same area at the same time? Complicating things is the fact that some of them also share common first names.

How can I find the connection between families that I KNOW are related but I don’t have evidence of the connection?

I’m hoping that Clooz software can help me make those connections.

Most genealogy software is lineage based. You enter the people you know are related and use documents to supply evidence of the relationships. Clooz is document based.  You enter documents and the people in those documents. You can then analyze the collection of documents for possible kinships among those people.

My evidence from Polish ancestors comes from Roman Catholic church records that have been microfilmed by the Mormon church.  These records can give clues to relationships that are not obvious.  A Baptismal record is hard evidence of parentage, but it also lists the infant’s godparents.  Who are these people?  They are clearly important people in the lives of the baby’s parents.  Are they siblings?  Cousins?  In-laws?  Neighbors?  The same holds for the witnesses shown in marriage records. They are undoubtedly close to the bride and groom – but how? I want to find the connections.

Problem is that it’s almost like starting from scratch because I must manually enter the documents. And I find the Clooz documentation to be only minimally helpful. The good news is that there are only a few families for which I need to do that.

I still don’t know for absolutely certain where my grandfather, Stanley Dachtera was born.  When I began my research I found many people with the Dachtera surname in a relatively small geographic area. There were also a lot with variations on that name.  How are they all connected?  ARE they connected?

Back fifteen years ago I was able to print the pages from the microfilms but had to take them as they were – no enhancement was possible. Many of them are almost impossible to read.  They’re smudged, or faded or very dark.  And, of course they’re written in Polish or Latin in ancient handwriting.

So I’m going back to those microfilms again.  This time with technology that lets me make electronic copies and even try to clear up and enhance the images before I copy them. Then I can use Photoshop to clean them up even more.

It is a bit daunting. Rereading the films. Learning new software. Entering the data.  I sure hope it solves some mysteries.



Saturday, October 18, 2014

I’m a Producer!



I’m a producer – and a legend in my own mind.

I finally finished my first attempt at my first family history video.  It was a challenge. The subject is one set of my great grandparents while they lived in Poland.

Challenge:
Visual content.  There are no photographs of them from that time and, of course, no moving pictures.  I chose images of them that I’d cropped from a later family portrait.  They’re fuzzy, but they’re all I have.  I captured Google Earth images of their home towns  I used photos of the ships on which they arrived in the US.

Challenge:
Script.  I never knew these ancestors so my knowledge comes from oral family history and from documents found during my research.  I also wanted to include a bit of history to put their lives in Poland in context. I ended up modifying the script as I recorded it.

Challenge:
Video software. I’d heard of free software called Movie Maker from Microsoft.  My expectation was that it would be very basic and pretty user friendly. Not for this user.  The download includes no documentation and I could find no “help” button. It was extremely frustrating.

So I dug out my 10 year old Adobe Premier Elements hoping that it would run on Windows 7. It does. It is very user friendly, and it has excellent help and tutorials.

Challenge:
Timing.  I’d learned that 6 minutes is a good upper limit for time.  It turned out that I had so little visual content that it came in at 3 minutes.

Challenge:
Audio software.  Here I was very lucky.  I found free software called Audacity.  It is very highly rated and although it has features needed by professionals, it is extremely easy to use for those of us who know nothing about the intricacies of sound recording.  It comes with excellent documentation.

Challenge:
Recording:  Do I speak clearly enough?  How’s my voice modulation and pacing?  Etc. etc. etc.  I recorded in segments and for reasons I don't yet understand,  the sound level is not equal across them all.  I'll have to learn more about using the software to ensure uniform sound levels.

In the end, I actually came up with a 3 minute video that I’m willing to show to a few other people, but not the whole world.  I’ll show it to those who, I believe, will give it a fair evaluation so that I can make improvements.

I’ll definitely do more like this.  I’m a producer!!



Thursday, October 9, 2014

Video Project Progress


What an education this has been.  I backed off of my original concept and instead am working on a short video about one set of my great grandparents.  I'd originally thought that it would be easiest to use as subjects, the family I know least about.  Couldn't get past square 1.5.

Movie Maker is free from Microsoft.  It is relatively new and I thought that MS would provide very user friendly basic video software.  Wrong. Not for me. I struggled trying to figure it out and finally gave up.  Instead I reloaded my 10 year old Adobe Premier Elements. It was written for Windows XP so I kept my fingers crossed that it would work on Windows 7. It does.  I don't even know if Adobe makes an "Elements" version of Premier anymore.

I also learned just how important it is to do a storyboard - something I'd had no experience with. Some internet research helped a lot and I found a free storyboard template that uses MS Word.

This is a Ken Burns kind of project. I have no actual video footage,  It will be a series of graphics and still pictures with my narration.

This project will cover only the time from 1850 when my great grandfather was born, to 1887 when the family emigrated from Poland to the United States. And I really know nothing about their lives in Poland.  It should be less than 5 minutes long.

It has taken much longer than I expected to select the visuals.  If time wasn't an issue, it might have been easier to just include everything I've found, but I don't like videos longer than 5 minutes so that's my limit..

Script writing has also been a challenge.  How to I tell a reasonable short story?  What is important information and what isn't.  Can I make it interesting? Probably not.

Next step is to record the narration. That scares me.  How is my voice quality?  Can I speak clearly enough and naturally enough?

When I finish, will I have the guts to let anyone else  see it?

Time will tell.



Thursday, October 2, 2014

Welcome to the 21st Century



There’s a new genealogy website that seems to be causing much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth in the genealogy community – especially, it seems, among traditional genealogists who’ve been doing this long before online genealogy exploded into what it is today.

The new site is FamilyTreeNow.com and the controversy is over its inclusion of Living People.  Privacy concerns have always limited publicly available family history and family trees to include only the deceased. This makes perfect sense – especially since the breadth of our tree may include individuals that we don’t know and who may not even know that we exist.   Mine does.  Birth records are available online, as are marriage and divorce records. It is easy to find the name of a distant cousin’s spouse. But those records are from the past and are usually restricted to exclude the most current data.

Now comes FamilyTreeNow that not only has the usual collection of census, birth, marriage, death, etc. records but also searches for living people.  Horrors!!!

But the fact is that there have always been online people locators.  If you enter a name into Google search, your results are very likely to include one or more search services that will give you address information, phone number and even more. Some are free of charge but some have a fee and include more information.  FamilyTreeNow apparently has simply aggregated these people finders.

Why are people shocked??

Even though genealogists do painstaking searches of old public records, some people are upset to see the trail they, themselves, have left.  Many times we don’t realize just how visible is our trip through life – especially these days.  We pore through old city directories looking for relatives without thinking of just how many public phone directories, church and school directories have registered our whereabouts over the years; and just how many traces we’ve left behind in public documents.

Unless you’ve lived completely off the grid for a few years, any sufficiently motivated person can find you and members of your family.  I’ve read that even the Witness Protection Program has holes.  If you do a web search for a recipe and then go to the site, you may find that in addition to the recipe a sidebar will have ads for grocery stores near you.  They know where you live.  It’s life in the 21st century.




Thursday, September 25, 2014

This is more complex than I thought




I’ve started on the YouTube project I mentioned in a previous post. Lured by the ease of use of Microsoft Movie Maker, I dived right in.  Problem is that planning the video is the hard part.  My first effort will be for my eyes only – just an experiment, but that doesn’t mean that it’s simple.

First, decide which line to start with.  I picked the one for which I have the least information because I thought that would make for easier decisions on content – not too much to choose from.  I’m rethinking that decision.

Starting with a mind map using XMind (free software), I laid out the kind of content to include.  Very simple for my first project.




I have no old photos because this is not my family – its my children’s paternal heritage.  So I went off looking for old photos of Prague. Not very many that don’t have full copyright restrictions.  Then I looked for old photos of late 19th century Chicago which was much easier.  I’ll use images of census documents to show the families.

The next step would be a script, or so I thought.  Actually the next step is a storyboard.  I just use an outline for planning the flow of the video.  It’s not complex enough to need a true storyboard.

Then I started a script.  This is not as simple as just writing.  I tend to be pretty wordy, and I have a time constraint so scripting is a challenge.  I wonder how many versions will be created before I get one that will work.  I’m using Marlis Humphrey’s guidelines for a video which means it should run no longer than 6 minutes.  Mine will be much shorter than that partly because I’m having trouble coming up with the right narration content; and partly because I don’t like watching videos that are more than 3 or 4 minutes long.

Getting my mind around this has been a challenge.

So I’m thinking of shelving this project and doing my first attempt using one of my own lines.  Maybe it will be more comfortable working with the ancestors I know the most about.  Will having more material make it more difficult?  Hope not.

So I’m off to start another mind map.




Sunday, September 21, 2014

Genealogy??? Family History???



Are Genealogy and Family History the same thing?  Mostly but not always.

Tony Proctor addressed this in a recent blog post titled The Lineage Trap on his Parallax View blog.  He points out that for most people family history is as important as mere lineage. 


 There are dozens of brands of genealogy software available. After doing a brief survey of what’s out there, it appears that only Family Historian  - developed in the UK - permits non-familial connections between individuals. 

I started searching my roots to try to answer the question: Who am I, and why am I here? That means finding my ancestors as far back as I can. More than that, It means trying to learn just who these people were. Where and how did they live?  What were the current events of their lives?  How did history and culture shape them  - and me and my descendants?

Members of the LDS church have specific goals in tracing their lineage. There are probably still a few folks who trace their families in hopes of finding royalty or at least someone famous. Most of us, I believe, are really looking for more than a chart showing who begat whom. We want to know the stories of our families.

These stories include more than bloodlines. The people who were the official witnesses of baptisms and marriages and other legal documents were important in our ancestors’ lives. How do we record these connections?  In my own database there are several families with the same surname who are little islands because I haven’t found a direct connection to my family, but have found indirect connections.  In a few cases, my research has discovered connections between previously unconnected families.

Clooz is a different kind of genealogy software.  It is document based rather than people based and looks like it could do the things I want to do.  Problem is that I use Family Tree Maker and Clooz cannot import from that because Anecstry.com (owner of Family Tree Maker)  will not make available the specs that would allow Clooz’ developers to create import capability.

So I’m in a quandary. Switch to other software?  Which other software? I like the ability to synchronize my FTM and Ancestry.com databases. Run two local programs and maintain changes in them both? 

I’ll be grateful for comments and suggestions from anyone who has solved this dilemma.




Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Going off on a tangent



I am starting a publishing project – that is “modern” publishing - and taking a break from serious researching.

Marlis Humphrey  www.myAncestories.com was the speaker at the September meeting of Indian River Genealogy Society. Marlis is nationally recognized as an expert on publishing family histories. She presented at the most recent RootsTech and has been invited to present again at the next one.

Marlis defines publishing in a broad context with the emphasis on getting the target audience to pay attention and actually enjoy the content.  This means that books are pretty much at the bottom of her list of how to communicate our research results to our families, including the youngest members of the family.

Like many family historians, I’ve embarked on a few very wordy narrations of what I’ve discovered.  Even if I added photos, it would be rather dull reading for most people.

Marlis’ presentation was on using electronic media to tell our family stories. Our grandchildren, nieces and nephews are more attuned to the visual.

Probably the most straight forward of these would be a PowerPoint presentation with voice-over audio added. 

The most complex would be an electronic magazine using software such as Issuu or Flipboard.

I’m going to try creating a movie for YouTube. That doesn’t necessarily mean using a video camera to produce content.  Marlis asks us to think of the wonderful work of Ken Burns.  Some of his documentaries easily contain more still photos than actual video footage.  What a concept!  She showed us a few examples of what others have done with this idea.

Movie Maker is free software from Microsoft.  It looks very easy to use so that’s my choice, not to mention the “free”part.


It’s going to be a challenge, but it should be fun.