Collaborative Family History

February 2, 2009

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Filed under: Genealogy, New Features, Research — becky @ 3:43 pm

When I first started researching my family’s genealogy, I took many classes to learn what resources were available, how to use them, and how reliable they were. In one of the classes, my husband and I were shown a photo of a gravestone and asked to interpret the information. The information seemed fairly straightforward and clear. I was taken aback when my husband thought it was equally clear, but had a completely different interpretation. Discussion of this photo lasted quite a while, and my husband and I continued discussing it afterwards. This really taught me how open to interpretation all documents and sources are.

While extractions are definitely needed and useful, nothing compares to the original source with all the info intact. It is invaluable to have a duplication to study for yourself and place in context of its time and history.

Coming soon, you will be able to upload any image to your Family Pursuit Private Family Tree and attach it as a source for others in your family to view and interpret. The advantage of sharing copies of original documents is invaluable to collaboration. Once the image is uploaded, anyone in your tree can view it and, through discussions, the ambiguity can be clarified. This is also another great way to help mentor the new genealogist. The image can be used for teaching, or a beginner can be assigned a task to get the image for the family to then analyze.

Images are not the only file that can be uploaded. Video and audio files are also accepted and are a great way to help younger generations connect to their older relatives by hearing their voice or seeing them in action.

Technology has greatly enhanced the amateur’s ability to get quality files. For digital photos Dick Eastman’s Forum has a great discussion about techniques and devices to use to ensure high-quality images: http://www.eogn.com/forum/index.php/topic,61.0.html. This discussion thread is contributed by other genealogists and is very interesting and helpful. It is relatively inexpensive to purchase an audio recorder that can be used to record interviews then plugged in to the computer to upload the files – no conversion necessary. Camcorders and webcams have facilitated recording home movies and interviews.

Sharing images, audio, and video will not only enhance the collaboration and mentoring ability available through Family Pursuit, but, more importantly, it will personalize your ancestors to help your entire family feel more connected to them.

January 21, 2009

The Beginning Genealogist

Filed under: Collaboration, Genealogy, Research — becky @ 1:40 pm

I am new to be writing on this blog, so I will introduce myself.  My name is Becky and I am Michael Martineau’s wife.  It was a few years ago that Mike became interested in genealogy and his family’s history.  So we went to some classes and dutifully filled out our pedigree charts and family group sheets.  We each contacted our respective families to gather information about ancestors.

Mike has very active family organizations for both sides of his family.  He contacted his father’s side and was given a family name to research then sent on his way (or something like that).  I have the exact opposite situation.  My mom sent me copies of what she had from her genealogy attempts some 30 years earlier.  There wasn’t much to go on.

So, we both ended up in the same boat – we each had a name to research and no clue what to do next.  And this brings me to the point of this blog – once a brand new genealogist has a name to research how do they know what to do next?  There is a whole new vocabulary to learn and resources to learn about – what is a GEDCOM?, why can’t I find the 1890 US federal census?, who cares about land records?  There are things in the genealogy culture that everyone seems to know, but must be learned by each person at some point.

This learning curve is a huge detriment to those who want to get involved but don’t have a lot of time to learn how to conduct research before they can even start researching.  I know many people who only have a few hours a week to spare for genealogy, but since they don’t know how to get started and don’t have anyone to really walk them through it, those precious few hours are given to an easier project with less learning curve.

I believe this is one of the most important problems that Family Pursuit addresses.  Research Projects was designed specifically to address and overcome the learning curve and lack of time.  Through a research project, someone who is more experienced can slowly teach a new genealogist by assigning them a single task instead of a single individual.  An example of that task could be: “Find John Doe in each federal census between 1860 and 1910”.  Specific instructions can then be written to explain how to do this.  For example, “Log on to HeritageQuest (free at most libraries) and search one census at a time.  The 1890 census was destroyed by fire, so don’t waste your time searching for it.  Create a separate extraction for each census.  I think John was living in New Jersey in 1860 and was about 25, so start there.”  In this way, a new researcher can make a meaningful contribution with his/her 2 hrs/wk that is available and also be learning how to do research.  The experienced researcher can get the help needed while not having to spend a great deal of time teaching.  Discussion posts are available for questions or additional instruction and every change can be rolled back and undone if it was a mistake.

This is actually my favorite part of the whole website.  I have used many Research Projects to get my mom and brother involved.  We are spread across the country and all very busy, but the research is slowly getting done and it is all recorded for those times when we have to leave it for a few months.  It is a great tool to help those in our family.  I would encourage anyone who is experienced to try to remember the learning curve and to utilize this tool to help out the beginners in their family.

April 17, 2007

Involving your Family

Filed under: Collaboration, Family Pursuit, Genealogy, Research — Les Eldredge @ 9:23 am

In our mission statement, we refer to specific tools within Family Pursuit which will “enable genealogy enthusiasts to involve family members who have never engaged in family history work.“ Largely this objective has stemmed from our personal experiences in our own families, however since we began sharing our software with numerous genealogists, there has been further encouragement from nearly everyone we demonstrate to. Each time we demonstrate Family Pursuit’s capabilities of welcoming new individuals into the research process, an expression of excitement and relief forms on the faces of our viewers.

The pursuit of family history is an amazing and rewarding adventure, yet there is so much to accomplish. How can we share the load if all of our family believes everything is already done, or that we are going to somehow accomplish it by ourselves?

A declaration in American Demographics revealed a statistic of 19 million active genealogists. But a more important statistic is the article’s reference to 113 million people having expressed an interest in genealogy. (Fulkerson, Jennifer. “Climbing the Family Tree.” American Demographics, Dec 95 vol. 17 issue 12 p42). The numbers of interest are there, even within our own families. But, even if we reach out to family members, how do we truly involve them when they don’t know where to start? The learning curve for becoming comfortable in genealogy research is a steep one, and often loses the attention of new comers.

Family Pursuit is bringing new ways to recruit your family members and plant the “Genealogy Bug” that has captured us all. These tools provide a doorway for individuals with no experience to work directly with you, under your guidance, to quickly get engaged. You will be able to share the work, lighten your load, and build relationships along the way.

P.S. – I came across the statistic I quoted in this article some time ago and was hoping to find a more current statistic, but my research was unsuccessful. If anyone has any up-to-date stats we would love to have you share them in our comments section below.

April 4, 2007

Source Analysis in a Collaborative Environment

Filed under: Collaboration, Family Pursuit, Genealogy, Research, Source Citation — Michael Martineau @ 12:28 pm

One of the focal points of Family Pursuit involves source analysis in a collaborative environment. We want to give people the ability to collaborate not only on researching their ancestors, but also on the sources that document their ancestors’ lives.

One of the problems we have faced as we have designed the Family Pursuit system, is how to manage sources in an environment where users are working together, each with their own notions on how a source and evidence provided by a source should be analyzed, classified and weighted. Many genealogists classify a source as original, primary or secondary evidence supporting a particular fact or relationship. Experienced genealogists know how important it is to carefully analyze their sources to determine the validity of the information contained in the source. They have taken the time to understand how to analyze sources and how to classify them. Thus, when they determine that a source provides direct primary evidence for a conclusion, they know what that means. Depending on their skill, they are consistent (hopefully) in their definitions of what primary, secondary, original, direct etc. means. What happens now when multiple people are working together, each with their own pre-conceived definitions for those terms? Often the differences in definitions are subtle, causing collaborating researchers to think they are talking about the same thing, only to find later they had defined the terms differently. Miscommunication of this type can lessen the effectiveness of a collaborative environment.

In the Family Pursuit system, not all of our users are going to be experienced genealogists. Not everyone will have read books or taken classes on the proper way to cite sources. Even experienced genealogists sometimes forget to consider pertinent details in their analyses of a source. How do we deal with this?

After consulting with experienced genealogists and published works on the subject, and after considerable thought into the subject, we have decided to largely remove those “words” from the vocabulary of Family Pursuit and approach the problem from a different angle. We believe we have developed a solution that will enable both experienced and novice genealogists to work together and understand one another. Time will tell, as we get feedback from our beta testers starting in June.

By the way, one of the books we consulted was Evidence!: Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian by Elizabeth Shown Mills. I recommend this book, especially the section on “Fundamentals of Analysis”, to anyone wanting to become a better researcher.

March 13, 2007

Revision Based Collaboration

Filed under: Collaboration, Family Pursuit, Research, Software — Michael Martineau @ 2:16 pm

I am excited to see the progress we have made in developing the Family Pursuit genealogy management software. Finally, this week we will be demonstrating how Family Pursuit enables families to not only collaborate by locating and contacting distant relatives, but also provides a platform where they can coordinate and organize their research. I’ve needed this functionality in my own family which is why I have spent the last few years developing this product.

One of the difficult challenges we have faced as we designed Family Pursuit is how to enable multiple family members to truly collaborate and work together in a common family tree without stepping on each others’ toes. After looking at several options, we determined that a wiki approach would be the best solution. This would give family members the flexibility of making changes, without fear of losing any data.

I personally believe this is the best choice for a collaborative environment. In Family Pursuit, we allow family members to make whatever change they want to the data, but the system stores all changes. That way, less experienced (and sometimes more experienced) family members who make mistakes in their research can revert the changes they made to an earlier version. Often, I have found that genealogists need this functionality even in their own personal genealogy software. They make a change based on information they find, only to find later that they had made a mistake, and the original entry was correct.

I realize this level of collaboration is new to many genealogists, but I believe it is the wave of the future for genealogy research. It will enable families to collaborate in a way they never had before.

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