Saturday, February 21, 2009

"Web-Based Genealogy" with Gary Hoffman at CGSSD today

I attended the Computer Genealogy Society of San Diego (CGSSD) meeting today, and enjoyed all of it! I will summarize the meeting in two posts.

In the first hour, Gary Hoffman was the leader of the new Special Interest Group on Web-Based Genealogy. Gary's email introduction to the subject included:

"This new special interest group will focus ... on the practice of storing and managing your genealogy data on a web site instead of, or in addition to, on your personal computer. As most members will recall, I've advocated using the web to store and publish genealogy data for over a dozen years. As a result, the board has asked me to lead a SIG meeting in this topic. Members and guests are welcome to attend without risking disloyalty to your favorite genealogy program.

"At our first meeting this Saturday ... we will survey members to see what web sites they prefer to store their genealogy and how they maintain control over their own data. I'll demonstrate some of the sites I use and how these might work for you. And we'll try to outline an agenda for future meetings so that we can keep up with advances in web technology."

I got there a bit late, so I missed the survey of the members. Gary put three task and activity descriptions on the board -

* Research/Find
* Record/Organize
* Publish/Share

Then he broke "Web-based Genealogy" sites into three categories -

* Nearline
* Collection
* Universal Database

On the screen, he shared live Internet views of each type of genealogy web site using his own research as examples. Some discussion of each category:

1. NearLine (defined as online, but under a user's control) -- In this category are the web pages that use dynamic family tree creation programs like The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding (TNG) and PhpGedView. Gary has a web site - the Tarvin Family Association, which uses TNG and has 1,100 registered members. Gary thinks that this type of web site is used mainly for recording, organizing, publishing and sharing genealogy information among members, rather than for doing research and search tasks. There is also a social aspect here, as you can see on the association web site - members get news of family and reunion activities.

2. Collection (online, perhaps under a user's control) -- Gary's example here was a Private Member Tree, where he posts his research, tries to find records to add to his research, and invites others to view his work. He demonstrated how the Ancestry Hints can be used to add information to your family tree without manual entry of the data. Gary noted that this type of site is useful to research information, record and organize the search results, and to share with others, but publishing is not really great. A user here is basically collecting material from other people or the Ancestry databases, often with poor or no source citations, and the online data is difficult to correct.

3. Universal Database (online, based on user-contributions in part, but not under user control) -- Examples that Gary mentioned here are and New FamilySearch. The over-arching purpose of these sites is to create one big human species family tree. He didn't spend any time on OneGreatFamily but spent some time discussing New FamilySearch. This was interesting to me because I am not LDS and have not had the opportunity to see much of what they are doing (besides the FamilySearch Labs previews at but the Family Tree link doesn't work for non-LDS members). Some of Gary's comments were:

* New FamilySearch is one big pedigree chart that includes all available LDS information and member submissions.
* The church will preserve this information forever.
* The current effort is to combine data records on persons so that each person has one entry in the database. The big problem is the number of duplicate entries for many historic people (e.g., many LDS have Joseph Smith in their ancestry and he has thousands of entries in Ancestral File).
* Combining duplicate records is being done by people with knowledge about the people.
* For each person, there are links for event details, a timeline, maps, sources, pictures and videos, and a historical record of changes made to the online records.
* Several software companies (he mentioned Ancestral Quest, FamilyInsight, RootsMagic and Legacy Family Tree) will be able to access the database and extract information for the software users - directly to the database, not via the web site).
* It may be another 18 months before New FamilySearch is available online to non-LDS members.

This was an excellent presentation of a diverse subject, and Gary handled it well. There were at least 50 people in the audience and perhaps more. I especially appreciated being able to get a look at New FamilySearch!

I will discuss the presentation "Using Google for your Genealogy" by Gena Philibert Ortega in a separate post.


M. Diane Rogers said...

What a very interesting theme for a Special Interest Group. I hope you blog the next meeting too. No matter what our personal opinions, I bet most of us will be doing something along this line in the future. Even if in limited ways, I think many of us already are.

Enno Borgsteede said...

Here's another site where you can upload your GEDCOM, merge data, and edit things in a wiki: