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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.