Sunday, July 8, 2012

The cost of genealogical research - and potential data loss!

Revisiting my research and sorting it into order has given me a new perspective.

I had started to get my research into control, starting to scan documents into folders. Making electronic backups. This process has been very slow, as I work fulltime, have a family and also study.

Then my husband had a fall while carrying the laptop, and it broke.

Our laptop had our life on it – not just the typical household stuff, photos etc – but my husband’s work portfolio and all my family history research.

Data retrieval cost a pretty penny, but was necessary to do. As cheap as external storage drives now are, we simply hadn’t had the money to purchase sufficient storage to back everything up.

Fortunately, I had my family tree uploaded to Tribal Pages. I’ve always subscribed to the belief that I do not own my ancestors, so freely share my research with people who can prove a family connection. 

I know some people out there think that because they did the research, and paid for the website subscriptions and the BDM certificates that they don’t have to share. From my own experience, I do appreciate that the costs aren’t insignificant (both in terms of time and money), but to each their own, its just not a belief I subscribe to.

I have had some qualms however, when my sharing has meant that my research has been taken and grafted on to someone else’s tree without so much as the courtesy of asking my permission, nor even citing me as a source. It grates even more, when they’ve made numerous mistakes, so obviously don’t have the same research standards as me. But you can’t avoid plagarists, nor “name collectors” in this field unfortunately.

Anyway, I also had some family history research documents on another computer, and some were stored also on DropBox (cloud storage is fabulous!). And I also had my hard copy research. So I could have reassembled most of my research eventually, with only a little loss – but that would have taken time.

This disaster made me think. If we had a fire or similar disaster, what would I do? How much would it cost to replace everything I had? No doubt, the family history research would be the least of my priorities, but eventually, it would rise to the top.

The info stored on TribalPages would be ok. However, this website (714 names) contains only the results of my research. Its not the research, nor is it the evidence. The info contained here, is just the results of more than 12 years research, and collaborations with other family branches. And family history research is much more than just gathering names and dates.

In today’s prices it would cost me £9 to replace every certificate I have got.  At today’s exchange rate, that is $NZ18 per certificate. For each name verified during research, that’s a minimum of two certificates per name (sometimes three). Obviously, I’ve not been able to get a certificate for everyone on my tree – mainly just the direct line ancestors, but I have had to get some “sibling” certificates to support my research sometimes. And this for the four branches of my maternal line, and four branches of my paternal line – at least six generations back each! I haven’t done the maths, but I imagine the cost is not insignificant.

In addition to my certificates, I also have my labour and time. True it’s a labour of love. But I hate to think how much time I have spent. Sometimes information is quick to find, other times you can spend years and years off and on, looking for one small piece of information.

In my early days, I had to do the hard slog, looking through registers in public records offices. Visiting LDS Family History Libraries, looking through reels and reels of microfilms. Ordering microfilms on interloan from some other LDS Family History Library – can’t remember the cost per reel in those days.

More and more has become available online now, and I did subscribe to Ancestry to help with my research – a couple of hundred dollars per year, I think, at the time. 

Then I’ve also had subscriptions to websites to allow me to share the information with family in as user-friendly a manner as possible.  The current one, on TribalPages, costs me about $45 per year. There are most probably better ones out there, but this is the most cost effective, affordable one for me. TribalPages allows collaboration as mentioned previously, but it also offers the ability for people to create their own family tree graphic. Family have chipped in a couple of times.

Now, due to my job, I have free access to Ancestry and FindMyPast at work. However, to do the research for free, I’d need to stay behind after work – which I do, from time to time. 

Also, I can find some of my English information for free on the LDS’s FamilySearch site, which helps.
However, most of the information on these sites, are just indexes. Its not true to say its all online, because its not. Still have to order those expensive certificates. These websites just save you the cost of an airfare to the local public records office.

Unfortunately, the Scottish government now has a firm commercial grip on the information for my Scottish lines. I find ScotlandsPeople horrendously expensive, and it doesn’t allow libraries outside of Scotland to subscribe. 

ScotlandsPeople charge just to view the indexes, then you also have to pay to view the documents. So I’ve been unable to do any Scottish research for a long time because it is currently not in my budget.

One of my father’s branches is from Newfoundland. Happily the Grand Banks website for Newfoundland has a huge team of enthusiastic researchers, who are indexing and providing information for FREE

FamilySearch have also scanned parish registers for Newfoundland, and also provide them for free. As they are not yet indexed, this does cost a time commitment however – as I need to go through each individual image and check for “my” names.

So all this thinking has really pressed home to me, I really need to digitize and ensure I backup adequately – in a coherent manner, so that if the worst happens, I don’t have to waste precious time reassembling my research.

I also need to succession plan. Who to pass the sum of my research on to, in the event of my death? I’d hate to think of future generations having to start again from scratch.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Able Seaman George Henry Harvey

Last year, I wrote a "Tombtone Tuesday" post about the uncle I have never met, after I discovered a picture of his headstone on Flickr.

A couple of months ago, my cousin Mary, sent me a document she found amongst her parents papers. Her father Jim, was George and my father's brother.

Hsving written the review of the Anzac Blog Challenge on my work blog Kintalk, I decided to write an update post.

George died intestate, which is unusual in my experience for a serving man, being sent into action. 

Transcription says: 
I hereby certify that the applicant of Mr James Edward HARVEY, residing at 4 Dorlington Drive, Minster, Sheerness, Kent, claiming as the lawful attorney, duly appointed of Hedley HARVEY, the lawful Father and the only person entitled to the Estate and to the legal representation of George Henry HARVEY an Able Seaman Royal Navy ON C/VX 314419 the unadministered effects of the said George Henry HARVEY who died intestate a bachelor on the 20th September 1943, has been duly verified and attested as proscribed by the ORDER in COUNCIL and the statements therein appearing to be true that the said CLAIMANT is entitled to receive the amount to the credit of the deceased in the BOOKS of the ADMIRALTY (it not exceeding ONE HUNDRED POUNDS) in order to administer the same according to LAW. On behalf of the said Hedley HARVEY.

Naval Prize Money 4.4.= N.P.O. 2556 of 20 Oct 1952.

So my grandfather was paid the princely sum of £4 4s "prize money" for the loss of his son, and had to wait nine years before being granted it.

Seems a small amount of money, to be paid for your life. So sad.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

On bravery and other things

Reading back through my last posts, I realise just how brave it can be - professionally and personally - to admit to making mistakes.

When I started tracing genealogy, no one I knew was also doing it. Libraries and archives were still "hush hush" affairs (i.e.- you avoided talking at all costs). No one showed me what to do. The internet didn't really exist, and I just did the best I knew how.

When I walked into libraries, archives and LDS family history centres, people just got on with what they were doing. If you wanted something you asked at the counter. No one offered you any assistance. Everyone seemed to assume you knew what you were doing.

No one ever asked me if I needed anything more substantial in the way of assistance.

Was I unlucky?

I made heaps of mistakes in the beginning - and have learned by them along the way.

As a librarian, I'd hate to think that we do the same thing these days?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Reviewing my database

I've been busy sorting out my electronic files, and putting them into the correct folders, continuing on from my last post.

Next objective is to use these records and review each against the information input into my genealogical database. I use LeisterPro's Reunion for Mac.

I've only just started, and I can see what a big job its going to be going through the whole lot (800 names). I made some classic beginner's mistakes in the early days.

One was merging other researchers information into my own file, without first ensuring it was consistent with my own. For example, these contributors had a variety of ways of citing sources:- from the very vague, to the very exact. Some had chosen to use "free form" citation sources rather than set field ones.

Also, the other researchers that contributed appear to have also used free-form citations. Ben Sayer from the MacGenealogist explains the dangers of using free-form here GenealogyTools.

I had also been a bit haphazard with my citations in the early days. Improving as I went along, but not stopping to go back to rectify anything until now. Having further appreciated the importance of citations, due to my academic work towards a library degree, I realise the importance now of correctly citing sources to confirm the value of your research.

Source citation is a huge area of contention by some in the genealogy field. I don't want to debate it here, other than to say that I feel that citing sources is hugely desirable, however any research done is better than none at all. Some don't treat their research as seriously as I now do (or realise the significance), and I can respect that. However, I would treat any research without reliably cited sources in the same way I as I do anecdotal information. A useful starting point, but I'd verify every "fact" along the way.

One load of records I had never input was Census records.  Looking at the field types available in Reunion for Census source citations, I can see why. None of the fields appear to match up with the ones you'd need to accurately cite the Census record.

Ben Sayer has another video clip which explains how to move all your sources safely from free-form to field defined. Which looks great and easy to use, if a bit time-consuming. However, the one video I need to see is the one that which he explains how to convert the existing fields in the Census source to user friendly ones that we require. You have to have membership to watch this video, and at the moment I don't have this.

However, reading the reviews on his site, make me wonder if I should convert to Family Tree Maker for Mac 2 instead? If I were to do it, now would be a good time. Or shall I wait and see if a Reunion 10 comes out soon?

Do you use a Mac? What software do you use? Have you had my experience with Reunion?

Anyway, I have a lot more work to do, and a decision to make before I can progress any further.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sorting out my electronic filing

The best way to review your research I think, is to review your "assets", organise and re-organise.

Where to start with my re-organisation? Such a big job. Something I got better at, as the years went by. However, I had no idea it would get so big - nor accumulate so many bits of paper and so many files! I also have a lot of duplication, due to not realising I already had something.

I am a computer-person, so decided to start organising my electronic world, then base my paper filing on it.

I also decided to research how other people organised their filing too, to see if I could learn something new or different.

Funnily enough, a tweet came through on Twitter from @LisaCooke of GenealogyGems, about a YouTube clip she'd made for Family Tree magazine.

It seemed methodical, so I thought I would follow it.

After following it through step by step, I decided that the instructions were very clear and concise and easy to follow.

I made some minor changes and additions.

I added a folder "Research Notes", which will keep any files I create while researching, as well as anecdotal information I have or will collect in the future.

I like things to be easily found. So I've asterisked my maternal-line surname folders, so that they will stay together at the top of the MY TREE folder.

I've also colour-coded the surname folders. Unfortunately, the Mac only has a choice of seven label colours including boring grey. So I decided to give my grandmothers line on both sides blue, and my grandfathers line on both sides red. When it comes to stationery (lever arch folders etc), I might try and differentiate the same colours by using shades. Light blue and dark blue for example.

I figure that these surname folders should probably be copied into other folders as well, such as Photos.

I am pretty happy with my start at the electronic tidy up.

Now I just need to fish out all the existing electronic files and put them in the correct place. And then scan the ones I haven't done yet, and file those ones correctly.

Might take me a while, as I will be doing this methodically, and may have to check backup drives to ensure I have them all!

Meanwhile, I have enjoyed taking the approach of starting from scratch and doing the rebuild from the ground up.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Surname Sunday - MacKenzie of Applecross

Oral family history says that our McKenzies of Aberdeen were descended from Mackenzie of Applecross, who reputedly sheltered Bonnie Prince Charlie prior to Culloden.

To date, I've not managed to verify this story (a good researcher always looks for evidence to back up the anecdotal information). I have another couple of generations to go, to get back to that period; and will revisit it once I've revisited and reviewed my paternal line.

The research into the Mackenzies of Applecross, says that they are descended from Alexander Mackenzie (died 1650) who was the illegitimate son of Colin Carn Mackenzie of Kintail. Colin was a favourite of Mary, Queen of Scots and also her son King James.

Alexander's mother was also a Mackenzie: Margaret, daughter of Roderick Mackenzie of Davochmaluag.

As well as founding the Mackenzies of Applecross, Alexander also founded the Mackenzies of Coul.

On a peninsula only accessible by boat (in those days), the Applecross estate was originally 70,000 acres and stayed in Mackenzie hands almost continuously until the mid-1800s when it was sold to the Duke of Leeds. Briefly, the Mackenzies lost the Applecross lands between 1715 and 1725 in retribution for their part in the 1715 uprising.

Applecross is an anglicised corruption of the Pictish word Aporcrosan (confluence of the river Crossan).

Alexander is a very popular name in our branch of the McKenzies, and crops up repeatedly. There would have been plenty of McKenzies in the Applecross area at the time, and I've not found any proof (yet) that a McKenzie sheltered Charles Stuart.

And although a significant part of the McKenzie clan supported the Stuart cause, there were other McKenzies that fought on the other side. War so often splits families . . . so I do wonder which side my McKenzies fought on.

My mother has memories of being told her great-grandfather coming from a long line of soldiers who fought in a Highland regiment, she thinks the Seaforth. This of course, is entirely possible as well.

Sites I plan to revisit when I'm ready:

I'll use this page as a parking spot for any other links I find on the subject - so feel free to add any within comments, if you find any.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Setting goals - looking forward to 2012

New Year's Resolutions always remind me of the many many times I tried to quit smoking or lose weight. So that term has slightly negative connotations for me.
I did eventually give up smoking (13 years ago), and have lost weight several times :-) 
– but not as a result of any New Year's Resolution.

So these aren't New Year's Resolutions. Just as other geneabloggers are doing,  I am calling this "goal-setting."

So what are my genealogical goals for 2012? I plan on just one, as I have to still juggle study, work and family commitments. I want to avoid biting off more than I can chew, and getting as stressed as I was feeling at the end of 2011.

So what is my goal? - Review and revisit my own family history
This is something that family historians should do on a regular basis anyway. Revisiting your research allows you to spot any discrepancies, highlights any gaps or weaknesses, notice clues you'd missed before.

My own research has been sitting gathering dust since I started studying five years ago. I've never had the time to revisit, choosing to use what precious time I have available to try and add to my research. This could be a false "economy" where my time is concerned. Who knows what I will spot now, especially with my current experience, and my research from the early days when I really had no idea what I was doing? My growth in experience 15 years on could help me see something I really missed, and I most probably will find errors (although hopefully they will be minor).

My filing needs sorting out. I had no idea that my research would gather so much information when I started down this road. I had promised to do this last year, but didn't get to it.

So I don't feel guilty about this taking me away from my living family, I am going to chose to think of this as professional development rather than my hobby. This may mean less time being involved in social media, or maybe mean using my time differently.

I hope to blog as I go through this process. Highlight anything I may do differently.

I'm really excited that I've been asked to give a paper at a conference in June based on my personal research. This will be my first formal paper. My speaking till now, has been more informal: basically just a presentation, talking to a Powerpoint datashow. And its always based on my professional work. So I am thrilled to be asked to talk about my own work for a change.

And of course the conference gives me even more reason to revisit and review my own family history.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Awards and Certificates

I watched with pride, my twin daughters receiving their "graduation" certificate from primary school. They move on to "intermediate" school 2012, to prepare them for high school.

Its been a good year for them. Megan was house leader, Amy class captain. Amy was a peer mediator and a road patroller. Both were school librarians. Their netball team came second in the league (a very close nail-biting second). And accordingly, they collected certificates for their contributions.

As human beings rewards of whatever nature they take on are esteemed and held in high regard. Course people often don't set out to do things because they are seeking awards.

At our end of the year, we had our first all-libraries Christmas Party since our libraries amalgamated.

During the event, I watched while dozens of my colleagues throughout the region, were awarded certificates for their outstanding service above and beyond the call of duty. Its been an immensely busy period, and a period of adjustment for us all, with us settling into the amalgamation.

Its always a fabulous gratifying thing when people's hard work is recognised and rewarded by employers and colleagues. You know that your work hasn't go unnoticed and that your efforts are truly valued.

Some companies I've worked for in the past, have had a different culture - they consider that being paid is a reward in itself. And of course that is true too, especially in such lean times when there are alot of people out of work. Other companies may offer bonus schemes.

On a much grander scale, the New Year's Honours List was recently published in the New Zealand Herald and other publications around the world (see also the Government's website).

The genealogy community was very excited to see that Jan Gow, owner of Beehive Books, Hooked on Genealogy Tours and stalwart of the New Zealand Society of Genealogists, had been awarded the Queens Service Awards (QSM) for services to genealogical research.

For us, this is exciting on many levels. We're so pleased for Jan for her own sake.  She's given so much of herself to the genealogical community, and helped so many people with their family history research. And she has given much assistance and support to professionals like myself as well!

She's speaking at the upcoming 13th Australasian Congress of Genealogy and Heraldry in Adelaide run by AFFHO (Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations).

Jan's speaker's profile gives you a snapshot (tip of the iceberg) of her service to date:
Jan Gow has been a genealogist, tutor, author and lecturer at local, national and international levels (and cruise ships) since 1985. She has served on the APG Board and the New Zealand Society of Genealogists as treasurer and president. Owner of Beehive Books (since 1987) and Hooked on Genealogy Tours (since 1992), each year preparing and escorting genealogists to Salt Lake City and the UK. Awarded the AFFHO (Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations) Award for Meritorious Service to Family History in 2006.
Jan's QSM is also exciting to the genealogical community for the community's sake. Don't know if genealogy has ever appeared in the New Year's Honours List before, but it  means a validation of what has always been thought of as a hobby, and a coming-of-age.

Elsewhere in the world, genealogy is being seen as a valid career and many educational and tertiary institutions have qualifications that can be studied for:- ranging from certificates through to degrees, and Phds etc.

This hasn't happened in New Zealand as yet, but hopefully will soon.

In the meantime, we all want to congratulate Jan. She's worked hard at her passion for many many years. This award is so deserving!

From the primary school certificates and awards, right through to the QSM and higher - we all need to celebrate our successes (other people's as well as our own!)