Resources to replace a deceased FHC

Green Lake Branch, Seattle Public Library, Sea...

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Family History Centers, or FamilySearch Centers, are a less and less used resource. Why? One writer, Mike Voisin, discusses the realities of their use, and I’ve also written about the subject — The New (Ir)Relevance of FamilySearch. One critical example of their resources I’ve used is in A Brief Genealogy of the Maling Family.

Some areas of the country may or may not have access to the resources I do, but here are some sources I use that we can all share.

Private foundations can be handy. Seattle has the Fiske Library, cataloged on WorldCat.

Local and regional genealogy and history societies are great resources. The Seattle Genealogical Society has an improved website and their catalog is online.

The Seattle Public Library has great, nationally recognized genealogy and special collections departments.

The University of Washington’s Suzzallo/Allen Library history and special collections are geared toward academic use, but contain lots of useful material.

The National Archives and Records Administration facility here in Seattle, is a national resource.

Sites like the Internet Archive, and Google Books have content which FamilySearch is trying, and failing, to duplicate.

A great example of how these resources are used is HistoryLink.org. Researchers working with HistoryLink.org’s site focus on materials found in all the above resources, and more. Are these resources available to researchers at an FHC? More likely than not, no. Are they better resources? More direct, original, and primary? Yes.

The librarians and collections curators at these research facilities are far more knowledgeable about their materials and other resources than the volunteers you find at the Family History Centers. These folks will help you decide what is appropriate material, given their area of expertise, and point you to other potential resources. I’ve never been able to get that kind of help from an FHC volunteer.

Will I miss the demise of a local FHC? No.

Follow Friday – Reading Headlines

Rather than follow specific sites, I like to read across a broader range of material on a subject. It’s not every day that one can post on a topic that I think is interesting, and rather than be inundated with those topics, I can focus on what interests me. Google provides a couple of tools which help with focusing research or even just interesting reading. Alert and Reader give you options so you decide what you see on a regular basis, skipping the uninteresting bits and commercials, as it were.

Of course, I have an Alert for the Maling surname. I filter it to exclude references to the places in China which bear the name “Maling.” That kind of article is still intriguing, though, since I’d like to visit there someday. I also filter it to reduce hits on the number of typos that people make to terms such as “mailing list;” that one is a necessity, unfortunately. As well, other families and surnames that I’m interested in get their own alerts. Not all of them show up very often.

A recent item, and one I can’t recall seeing on the popular genealogy news sites, is an announcement of the new Hopkinton (Massachusetts) Historical Society headquarters. That reference came up with a filtered Alert. Historical societies such as Hopkinton’s provide great resources you might not otherwise find with just a focus on genealogy.

With Google Reader, you can collect a list of your favorite blogs and web searches in one space and read them when you have time. It is sort of like an RSS feed, but on-line. It can also be sort of like what Cyndi Howells did with her new (in June 2011) site The Cyndi’s List Daily, or sort of like Dick Eastman’s Newsletter, only “focused-on-my-interests.” For instance, I listened to DearMYRTLE’s “Flourish” piece on the Genealogy Gems podcast and was fascinated by how some genealogists view history terms.

Google’s ability to enable wide-ranging, but focused research reading is great. Both Alert and Reader should be in anyone’s toolkit.

Honest, Responsible Genealogy Sites

Here’s an experiment for you. Make a compilation of popular/relevant sites which have at least some content relating to responsible genealogical research. The criteria for picking these sites is:

1. that they mention the terms

  • “genealogy” “standard” OR “standards”
  • “genealogical research” “standard” OR “standards”
  • “genealogical proof standard”

2. appear in the top 100 results of the search
3. do not also advertise on the top or right of the search results (i.e., in Google)
4. do not have a demonstrated religious, social, cultural, moral, or ethical bias

Comparing John D. Reid’s recent list (and others’ additions thereto), and Alexa.com’s list of “Society>Genealogy>Services” and “Society>Genealogy>Resources” lists, where do the major providers stand?

They don’t.

It seems that applying responsible standards to finding and using genealogically relevant resources is up to the user. The major providers do not care to educate genealogists in the use of the data they provide.

The New (Ir)Relevance of FamilySearch

FamilySearch.org’s goal is to become the Google of genealogy. True, in a way. The reality, however, is that they aim to become a phishing and packet-sniffing site, with users (in)voluntarily turning over their genealogical data for the LDS church’s religious rituals.

How is this happening? The new ‘standard’ they have talked about, for a long time, replacing GEDCOM, is where it happens. They want to get all the major software developers on-board so they can use your genealogy application to give them your hard-researched data. They are trying to make it so easy to search their site and probably find nothing of value, but in the process you involuntarily give them everything of value. They want to ‘sync’ their database with your data while you think you are only getting data from their database into yours. They can do that simply because you’ve agreed to their terms of use. What terms of use? Read it carefully. It will most likely read something like “any information you enter on this site becomes the property of the LDS church. …”

There is an interesting paper floating around on the web that discusses some ways to get around the increasing irrelevance of the FamilySearch organization. It calls the National Genealogical Society’s “Standards for Sound Genealogical Research” document “disturbing.” The quote follows: “While these are sound principles for traditional genealogical research, they carry the disturbing implication that each researcher must verify the work done by anyone else by personally examining the original sources.” Traditional research meaning how any responsible genealogist does his or her work. The filename on the web is “10.1.1.111.2341.pdf”, and the title is “Efficient Genealogy through Personal Extraction and Automated Verification”.

The author of the paper, D. Randall Wilson, advocates creating a database of extracts collected from volunteers; you, whether you like it or not, for the church’s use and to lure other victims. The goal is similar to what Geni.com did: lure people in with free access and tools to share, and then make all of that data available for their church members to change; with you, the original, accurate recorder of the information standing by helplessly.

Mr. Wilson has also written another paper called “Bidirectional Source Linking: Doing Genealogy ‘Once’ and ‘For All'”, filename “wilson.fht2002.bi-link.pdf”. This paper’s title is, in itself ridiculous since genealogy is never done, “once and for all.” The goal of this paper is to create a linking scheme, with their network as the hub, for genealogists to use. They’d use data extraction and data mining tools on all the data crossing that network, and use the data for their own gain. The thing is, even though this sounds like criminal hacking or phishing, it would be ‘voluntary’ because the genealogist implicitly agreed to their practices.

The mere idea of Mr. Wilson’s ‘Bidirectional’ paper and his other (‘Efficient Genealogy’), shows how the LDS church views legitimate family history and genealogy, to an end for their own gain: not to share with others, but to collect others’ dead relatives and use those dead relatives for religious reasons. Somehow, I’m reminded of the Twilight Zone episode called “To Serve Man.” FamilySearch, the Family History Library, their databases, and other ‘genealogical’ resources have always been for the benefit of their members’ use: finding people to attach to their families and baptizing them; regardless of the dead person’s religious beliefs or spiritual leanings.

I’ve been a genealogist for over 10 years, and yes, I have used FHL and FamilySearch.org resources. Thing is, I’ve also always found a different, better source for the same information. Years ago, I used to see lots of references to FHL holdings in serious journals; today I see hardly any. Coincidence? Probably not. A shift in documentation standards? Could be. Like myself, others are probably also finding different, better sources than what’s in the FHL or in their databases. I heartily recommend avoiding any new overtures of data sharing from any group with ulterior motives like the LDS church has espoused.

Extra Blog for related articles

I’ve created a second blog to go with my editing, proofreading, and indexing project. It’s at http://www.seattlebookscouts.wordpress.com/. The primary content of the blog there is the subject of the previous sentence, editing, et cetera. There is some genealogy and genealogically relevant matter discussed as examples, however, so if you are ever in need of more from me … have at it. Like this blog, the other one also offers comments. Happy weekend. I’m gonna stay home, be dry, and do genealogy. 🙂 NPM

On Blogging

One of the things we do as genealogists is read blogs. The information we find in them ranges from interesting and useful to the utterly useless and downright wrong. I find using Google’s blog alert feature one of the more perceptive things a person can do with blogs. In the daily alert, one can set up a search string like that for doing a regular Google search with required, optional, and negative keywords. For instance, if I want to exclude any drivel from a particular blogger, I can simply append the source of the blog to the end of my keyword string, i.e., “-trakkrs”. In all future alerts, these blog posts will be excluded, giving the daily alert at least one more potentially useful post for us to look at.