Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Firefox Scrapbooking

Kindred Matters recently wrote about a Firefox extension called Scrapbook that had been recommended to her. I really don't need another way to save notes which I'll probably forget about, but this extension is cool. The ability to save a webpage's formatting of text and images is very useful.

Update: Using Scrapbook to compile a list of books to look at during upcoming visits to the library is working great.

[Tag: ]

Passage Express

Passage Express (PE), formerly known as Family History CD, has apparently been around for a while. I recently heard about the program but hadn't gotten around to trying the free demo. When word got out that the company was looking for beta testers to try out the program's compatibility with Ancestral Quest (AQ), I jumped at the chance.

The primary goal was to test how PE imported AQ files. Although there were some initial problems, the programmer (Jefferson) was quick to address any issues that the group of beta testers brought up. Some AQ files (like mine) were stubborn to cooperate with PE, while other testers reported minor problems or none at all. In a relatively short time, whatever was locking up my import was fixed.

During the time I had trouble with the AQ imports and waited for a resolution, I played around with other features of the program. Manually creating a multimedia project in PE was at first a little difficult, but once I learned the tools the task was easy. I'd have to say that computer novices might be a little intimidated by PE at first, but I would definitely recommend they give the program a chance and stick with it for a while. (Jefferson is currently tweaking the menu layout to make it more user friendly for first timers.) The alternative would likely be much more frustrating; by that I mean using a program like Photoshop to edit photos and create graphics, using [insert favorite program here] to record audio, and [insert favorite program here] to make slide shows. PE does a lot of little things well.

One of my favorite features is the ability to add audio to an image. That audio can then be played when the image is viewed in the final presentation or as part of a slide show. Another great feature is an editor for your project's welcome screen. Not being the artistic type, I found the tools very easy to use and pre-installed templates and graphics a huge help and inspiration for layouts.

Once the AQ import issue was fixed, I tested how PE handled the AQ file and included it as part of a presentation. I was impressed, though because AQ is not as widely used as other genealogical programs (why not, people?!) I don't know how often I'd use such a feature. Those viewing my presentation could install a demo file of AQ, of course, but I don't know how many would be willing to do so.

All in all, I would highly recommend that others looking for a way to bring together their genealogical data, scanned photos, videos, PDFs, and audio at least download and try the Passage Express demo. Passage Express currently works with Legacy, PAF and RootsMagic. If you don't use one of those programs, you could still try the PE demo to create a multimedia project.

[Tag: ]

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Case-sensitive searches for common surnames

The guest on today's Relatively Speaking radio show hosted by Irene Johnson mentioned that AltaVista is better than Google when it comes to case-sensitive searches. Apparently Google ignores how you enter the search term. This is ideal for surnames that are also common words.

That's a great tip, but I don't know that I'll be able to put it to much use. Even if I were to filter out search matches for someone writing about a hall or burger, there are still too many HALLs and BURGERs out there.

I wonder how the THE family deals with Internet searches?

[Tags: , ]

Instant Messenging

Skype: The ability to conference call is great, but it seems like the audio quality suffers a bit when multiple people are involved. There's also a bit of lag at times. Voicemail is only available with a subscription. The VSkype plug-in for webcams is a nice feature. File sharing works well, but can interfere with the your audio quality as it uses up bandwidth.

Gizmo Project: Voicemail is free; files are delivered by email. The hold feature is amusing — choose your favorite awful sound file and annoy the person on hold just like it's a customer service call. Gizmo sounds a little better than Skype, but it seemed like making a connection took a bit longer. We haven't tested the conference call feature yet.

Yahoo! Messenger: Lots of features means you'll need lots of RAM. This program seems like a resource hog, but it's hard to argue with the results. Messenger does instant messenging very well and integrates voice nicely, too. The selection of emoticons is OK. The "audibles" are more fun, though that could wear off. Some will not only like the audibles, but the ability to play games within the IM window. Messenger also has a very nice photo sharing feature and offers the ability to stream a webcam (not yet tested). File sharing works well, too. Voicemail is stored within the program.

Google Talk: It's brand new and lacks many of the features (conference call, voicemail, etc.) other programs offer. The upside is that you barely notice the program when it loads and runs in the background. We haven't played with this yet, but I've read some reviews that claim the audio quality surpasses what the aforementioned programs deliver. I do like that Google Talk is integrated with Gmail and can notify you of new mail.

At this time, I'd say that Yahoo! Messenger offers the most options and works well. You'd better have the system for it, though. If you're looking for simplicity, Gizmo Project or Google Talk would be the way to go. If and when Google starts to upgrade Google Talk, watch out. Chances are they will blow away the rest of the field.

Film Review: Borgholzhausen Lutheran Church Records

It makes sense, I guess, that since Borgholzhausen and Bockhorst were so close, that the records would be similar in format. The good news is that the Borgholzhausen Church records were more detailed than what was found on the Bockhorst reels. The bad news is that there were still instances of being stumped in the mid- and late-18th century. Researching the KOCH name didn't make it very easy to begin with, and the other names (ELLERBECK, FREUNING and GEINER) weren't "cooperating." I'm left with the assumption that some of the families came from elsewhere, or at least attended another area church besides those in Bockhorst and Borgholzhausen, before a certain point.

I would score these reels as a nine out of ten, but there were some sections that looked like I had hurriedly written the records — scary. Had I been looking up every KOCH baptism or marriage in the IGI, I would have had trouble completing the list in one month's time. Overall, though, the records are easy to read and made nice prints.

There are ten reels of Borgholzhausen church records and I'll have to rent at least two more, so another review will be posted when those have been viewed.

Title: Kirchenbuch, Evangelische Kirche Borgholzhausen
Film number: 0473583, 0473588
Film quality: 8/10

[Tags: , , , , ]

Saturday, August 27, 2005

NARA microfilm

Genealogyblog wrote that the National Archives will be raising the price of microfilm to $65 per reel. That's a big increase, sure, but it's still a better deal than what they charge for some of their copy fees. For example, $17.25 for passenger lists, $17.50 for federal census forms, and $37.00 for pension files more than 75 years old.

I can't help with the pension files, but if anyone wants to pay $17 for copies of passenger lists and census forms, by all means contact me.

[Tag: ]

1884 Steamboat Wreckage Visible

The recent lack of rain in the area caused the Missouri River's water level to drop. I don't know if this is the lowest it has been in a while, but media reports about an old steamboat wreck being visible are something I do not recall from the past. KMOV has an article, photo and streaming video. (Their site may or may not require free registration. It did not when I searched for the article, but I went back to check something and got the registration page. Annoying.) Google News seems to show the same AP article used by various media outlets.

I looked at microfilm of the St. Charles Demokrat (German) and The St. Charles Cosmos for an article from 1884. I found one in both papers, but only printed the English version since I didn't feel like translating the story from German.

The St. Charles Cosmos, 25 June 1884, p. 4

If anyone cares, the Demokrat's article was on page three of the June 27th edition.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Local Records Center to Close?

The Post-Dispatch wrote that "the Base Realignment and Closure Commission voted to move the Human Resources Command from Overland" to Fort Knox, Kentucky. If that is the Records Center I'm thinking of, it's time to finally pay them a visit. They may have one file of interest and I'd hate for it to be twelve hours (at least, round trip) away.

[Tag: ]

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Family Trees: Handwritten History

A few hours ago my brother emailed me a link to the MSNBC/Newsweek article Family Trees: Handwritten History. Interesting. Unfortunately, I don't think we have any old family letters. I wonder if the small collection of signatures I've been trying to collect would offer enough of a sample for a graphologist to analyze an ancestor? Here's a few:

[Tags: , , , , ]

Friday, August 19, 2005

Odd Fellows

We went to the Odd Fellows Cemetery near Granite City (Madison County), Illinois, today hoping to find the stone for Jacob HEATON, which according to a published index is the only HEATON stone in the cemetery. I'll have to double-check that book because today, as you can see, we saw that the cemetery was established in 1851 — several years too late to be the final resting place of earlier HEATON and KENSLER family members.

The cemetery is so overgrown and it was so hot and humid that I decided it wasn't wise to venture down any of rows. It would have been very easy to trip over low-sitting or broken markers and who knows how many snakes were out there. When it cools off and the weeds die down, we'll see about finding Jacob's marker.

[Tags: , , ]

Coming to a cemetery near you?

My first reaction to a tombstone that plays a video is, man, that's tacky. Then I kick it around for a moment and think it's not too bad of an idea, but I wonder if it would really be worth it.

Wouldn't it be a better (and more cost effective) idea to make a DVD with a longer, (presumably) higher quality movie or photo slideshow that could be distributed to family members?

Wouldn't these tombstones become a favorite target of vandals?

If this kind of product is going to take off, why not install a small storage device* with a GEDCOM of the deceased's ancestors that could be downloaded by visitors, or other files such as a digital copy of their obituary?

Never mind. My first impression was probably right.

* Update: Lee Anders notes that such a device already exists. Thanks!

"Consider for a moment the ability to visit a cemetery or monument and actually be able to read, see and even hear details about a family member, friend, or famous individual. Imagine having history come to life and be able to take this important information with you."

"The Memory Medallion's Patent Pending process offers a revolutionary way to store, retrieve, and modify information in a remote location. It is a weather resistant, extremely durable stainless steel computer memory device about the size of two stacked quarters, which allows storage of multiple pages of text and digital images in any location without the need for electric current."

[Tag: ]

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Film review: Bockhorst Lutheran Church Records

Thanks to the Bockhorst Church records, the WIEDEY family can be traced back to about 1721. Where the family lived and attended church before that time is a not known, but the records were useful despite most pre-1810 entries lacking the kind of details genealogists hope to find each time they load a reel of film onto a reader.

Some pages were blurry — undoubtedly because of the source material and not the result of poor filming — but overall the Bockhorst Lutheran Church records were easy to read and made nice paper copies. Many of the entries were not written in the German script you would expect to find, so finding names was easier than was believed at the time the film was ordered.

The church in Bockhorst is not that far from the church in Borgholzhausen and there were instances of families migrating between the parishes. Because death/burial records are not indexed, it may even be the case that some family members "missing" from Bockhorst and Borgholzhausen records were buried from another nearby church. Those researching families in this area should be prepared to order multiple films, not only because of the proximity of parishes but because the Bockhorst records are on five different reels of film.

Title: Kirchenbuch, Evangelische Kirche Bockhorst
Film number: 0473560, 0473563, 0473564
Film quality: 8/10

[Tags: , ]

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Film review: 1867 Census of Mecklenburg-Schwerin

Fritz BULL and his family left for America a couple of months before the 1867 census of Mecklenburg-Schwerin was recorded. Even so, I ordered microfilm for the town of Finkenthal, hoping to find his mother, Dorothea (SCHUKNECHT) BULL. She wasn't listed, either. (I later found out that Dorothea had died in 1865.) Some BULL family members remained, but the film didn't hold my interest. The quality was good, though, and I'm sure it would have made nice printouts. The handwriting was legible enough to make out 80-90% of the text. Someone with a better grasp of German would undoubtedly be able to transcribe nearly everything in these records, at least based on the reel of film I rented.

The 1867 census does not have as many useful details as the 1819 version, but it would still be worthwhile to order the film if your ancestors were living in Mecklenburg-Schwerin at the time. Again, these forms really put American census records to shame.

Title: Volkszählung am 3. Dezember 1867
Film number: 1974197
Film quality: 9/10

[Tags: , , ]

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Kind Hearts and Coronets

Turner Classic Movies recently aired a few of Alec Guinness' movies. Wanting to see him in something besides the handful of his movies I had seen, I put a tape in the VCR and let it record for a few hours. Kind Hearts and Coronets stood out because of its dark humor and genealogical plot. Although twisted, it was funny to see how Louis Mazzini used his family tree.

[Tag: ]

Proving a 1930s birth

I don't often read Bill McClellan in the Post-Dispatch, but his recent column had an interesting genealogical twist: A 72-year-old man will soon face the challenge of proving who he is to the state. I immediately thought that the 1940 census, if it had already been released, might help. But McClellan writes that the man moved to St. Louis in 1939 at the age of six and his surname was changed to that of his stepfather. Never mind the census, not that he would have been granted access anyway (right?). If found, would the state accept a baptism record? What would be left to research?

[Tag: ]

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Castle Garden (again)

Steve Morse has created a search form for the Castle Garden site that offers a few more options. This helps, but soundex and wildcard support is still lacking and much needed.

The New York Times wrote about Castle Garden recently.

[Tag: ]

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Another problem with CastleGarden.org

I previously wrote that I felt the lack of search flexibility was CastleGarden.org's biggest drawback. I still think that's the case, but I neglected to mention another criticism I emailed to the site developer: data accuracy. I read a few mailing lists posts from earlier today on this subject and felt I should write about what I found. I didn't try finding every ancestor I know who immigrated at New York, so I won't even guess at a percentage when it comes to how well the entries matched the original manifests. I did try a handful of surnames and found various problems with each.

The number one issue I found was that names, and in one case an age, simply did not match what was written on the manifests found on National Archives microfilm. I know that sometimes people will transcribe or interpret old records differently and not being familiar with certain names can be a problem. But in these cases, if they were using the same records I have, I do not know how some of these discrepancies can be explained. If a name is written "Theod." it's obvious the man's name was Theodor. But the index, in my opinion, should reflect what was on the original record, not what you think it should be. I also found an "Eva M." listed as "Eva Maria" at CastleGarden.org — how did they know that was her name? In the case of the age discrepancy, a child was listed as 11 months old on the manifest but the index shows her as 5 years old.

Seeing such problems with the data makes me think there has to be another source of information. I immediately thought of the Hamburg emigration lists, but I've researched those, too, and I don't believe that's where these errors are coming from. So what's the explanation?

In another case, I was unable to locate a family of six that arrived at New York in 1881.

I don't know that the site developer had or has anything to do with the data, but I felt it was worth mentioning just in case he could forward my comments to whomever oversees that. Does this detract from the site? Yes. But I still think CastleGarden.org is a very useful tool, especially if you do not have a subscription to Ancestry's immigration collection or live too far from a full set of "Germans to America."

Remember, you should always track down a document after finding a reference to it in a book, online or receiving a tip from someone. That way you can examine the record and see what someone may have missed or misunderstood. If I was just beginning immigrant research, I'd take the information from CastleGarden.org and look at the NARA microfilm myself to verify the details, not to mention print out a copy for record keeping.

[Tag: ]

CastleGarden.org — impressive!

After playing around with it a little bit yesterday, I can honestly say that this site will definitely be one of the top ten genealogy sites I can recommend to others.

The layout is attractive and site navigation is easy to use. More importantly, though, the information that CastleGarden.org offers should eliminate many instances of having to check "Germans to America" at the library (and quite a few GtA lookup requests at message boards and on mailing lists from those not near a set of GtA), at least for New York arrivals. (Is a New Orleans project in the works?)

Last night, CastleGarden.org's lead developer contacted me after seeing my previous blog entry. He was looking for feedback and I was happy to offer my opinion. The biggest issue I found was that the search feature did not allow for wildcards or soundex. I alluded to this in yesterday's post. Because spellings were so inconsistent from record to record back then, I really think CastleGarden.org needs to consider upgrading their search functionality. If that happens, I don't see how it couldn't become one of the premier genealogy sites. It's very good right now because of the content, but if that material is made more accesible, the site will be fantastic.

[Tag: ]