Saturday, November 14, 2009

SDGS Family History Seminar Highlights

I had an enjoyable day at the San Diego Genealogical Society (SDGS) meeting today - it was an Family History Seminar at The Handlery Hotel and Resort in Mission Valley (in San Diego), from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. About 300 were in attendance (I heard that 170 were SDGS members, the rest were guests), including several from Orange County and Riverside County. The meeting room was packed wall-to-wall, and two projectors and large screens were used to show the Powerpoint and online presentations.

During the day, there were four presentations, along with the SDGS elections and announcements, a nice box lunch, document and photo scanning sessions, and door prize drawings. The four presentations by Suzanne Russo Adams of were:

1. "The Best Strategies for Getting the Most Out of"

This was a combination of two parts of the handout - "Getting the Most from" covered the goals and vision of the company,, and briefly described the site tools and products. The mission of was "To help everyone discover, preserve and share their family history." Site content was described as Data Content (records, document images, etc.), Rich Content (photos, postcards, yearbooks, maps) and Member Contributed Content (Family Trees, Photos, Stories, Self-Published Books). Brief mention was made of the Learning Center and Expert Connect features on

The second part of the handout was "Best Search Strategies for," and in this part of the first presentation, Suzanne described the Home Page, the different Search Strategies that can be used, and provided recommendations for doing a "Top down approach" and key pieces of a "Global ranked search." The inherent problems associated with name spellings, dates and ages, place names and relationships were explored. The use of search tools like Name Authority lists, Ranked searches using Soundex methods, the Lifespan filter, Location selection lists, Wildcards, Keyword exact phrases, and Family Tree leaves/hints were discussed and demonstrated. Searching within a category (e.g., census records, military records) and searching within specific data collections (e.g., the 1920 census, the New York Passenger Lists) were discussed. Only "New Search" with "Ranked matches" were demonstrated - no "Exact matches" or "Old Search" were shown, but were briefly mentioned. A show of hands indicated that very few (less than 5%) of the attendees even knew there was an "Old Search."

Based on a show of hands, I estimated that about 70% of the attendees were Ancestry subscribers, about 30% have Ancestry Member Trees, about 30% considered themselves beginners, about 50% intermediate, and about 20% advanced researchers.

2. "Tapping into the Ancestry and Rootsweb Community"

The handout for this talk included details about the Learning Center, the Collaborate features (Family Trees, Public Profiles, Member Directory, Member Connections, and Message Boards), RootsWeb features (My Account, WorldConnect, Mailing Lists, Hosted Websites, Databases, RootsWeb Guide to Tracing Family Trees, RootsWeb Review, etc.), but Suzanne focused her presentation on Mailing Lists, Message Boards, Family Trees and Member Connections.

Suggestions for effective mailing list and message board submissions were made. Ancestry Member Trees were described and demonstrated in some detail, noting that any registered person can have a Member Tree (either Public or Private) on These trees can be input one person at a time or a GEDCOM file, created by a software program, can be uploaded to Ancestry. One of the questions was about how long the Member Tree would be on the site, and the answer was "forever," even if the submitter ends their subscription or dies, unless the user deletes the tree. A non-subscriber cannot attach records from databases to their tree, but they can upload images to their own tree, and can search Public Member Trees. The ability of a user to upload a tree directly from Family Tree Maker 2010, or download a tree directly to Family Tree Maker 2010, or to upload a GEDCOM file from another software program, and to download a GEDCOM file from for any software program, was described. Where should a user keep their "master" file? Suzanne keeps hers on her computer, not online on

The Member Connections aspect of was a major focus of this presentation. There are three main places to find Member connect on - on the enhanced image page (the user can see which users have saved, commented on or added to a certain database record or image); in Family Trees (the user can determine which persons in their family trees are shared with other users, can contact each other and share research); and the Recent Member Connect Activities list on the Home Page (the user can receive a list of information added to or copied from or to their own Member Tree). The user can communicate anonymously (if they wish) with other users via an online message system (subscribers only).

3. "The Ancestry World Archives Project"

In the third session, Suzanne briefly described the "journey of a record" from discovery, acquisition, digitization, indexing, data preparation to posting online. She showed several slides of books and records that needed extensive preparation before they could be digitized, including the Gretna Green, Scotland records and the 1851 UK Census for Manchester. The use of document forensics to bring invisible writing to visibility was shown. For some records, 25 to 30% of the images are indeterminate or illegible.

The World Archives Project was discussed in much detail - the goals are preservation and accessibility of historical records. This is a volunteer project for individuals and societies or groups that can index imaged records using an Ancestry provided keying tool. Indexing is done by two different volunteers, and an arbitrator settles disputes.

SDGS is participating in this Project, and members are indexing California Naturalization Originals, 1795-1872 (25% complete) for San Diego (1883-1936) and Los Angeles Counties (1887-1942), and Southern California Naturalization Indexes (81% complete).

The Archives Project results in free indexes for everybody on, and volunteers with high keying rates can obtain subscription discounts. If the society or group provided the records for scanning and indexing, then the society receives the index and a digital copy of the database for their own use.

Suzanne noted that projects are selected by the local societies or groups. The keying tool works on a MacIntosh computer if the user has a Windows simulator like Parallels. The Index arbitrator can decide to use either index result, or create their own. is combining some indexes with FamilySearch for census and other records.

4. "Publishing and Printing Using 'MyCanvas' "

This session covered using the "MyCanvas" program, part of the site tools, to create and print custom family history books, posters, and calendars to showcase your family history research and make gifts to share with your family. This is a "Print on Demand" system - you make it, you can print it, or you can pat for a professionally produced book based on your selected content. The process relies on your Ancestry Member Tree for the names, dates and places, and the user can attach photographs and document images to create the MyCanvas product. The steps to creating the work is fairly simple - choose a size and format for the book, choose a start person from your tree, import data and records from your tree, add stories, documents, maps and more, choose layouts, backgrounds, frames and embellishments, etc. The page order can be modified as the user wishes. Pedigree charts, family group sheets and timelines can be created by the program. Notes and stories can be added to text boxes by typing into the text box or pasting from another document.

Creating the book or other article is free to anyone - they can create the family tree, upload their documents and photos, add or edit facts, sources and notes, etc. Up to five generations from the selected person can be included in the book, up to a maximum of 250 pages.

The book or other article can be printed to the user's printer, but cannot be saved on the user's computer. The book is saved on the computer system, and can be accessed and edited at any time, even by another family member invited to do so by the creator. If the user wishes to have the book published by MyCanvas, price estimates are available based on cover style, binding type, and then umber of pages in the book.

Suzanne spent considerable time in this session demonstrating how to create a book from an Ancestry Member Tree, and then she manipulated book content from a previously created book to show how easy it was to add content, edit content, move pages around, add backgrounds and embellishments, etc. The audience gasped at times by how easy it was to perform these tasks, but there is a learning curve involved!


This seminar ran like clockwork - right on time, all of the equipment worked well, and the business parts of the meeting were concise and informative. It was an excellent opportunity for and SDGS to display their wares and opportunities. SDGS had tables at the back of the room to offer memberships, sell opportunity drawing tickets, sell books, sell snacks, and provide water glasses. offered the use of two scanning machines during the day to SDGS members to scan their documents and photographs and copy them to a member's USB drive. SDGS volunteers were trained to perform the scanning work, and many members had their precious family history albums, loose or framed pictures scanned during 15-minute sessions. is leaving one of these machines for SDGS to use at the SDGS library for member use.

A box lunch was provided with a croissant sandwich, banana, chips, cookies and a soft drink. Folks ate in one of the nearby dining rooms or outside in several patio areas at the hotel. I shared a table with six other people and we talked about and SDGS.

There were door prize drawings at each break for three books published by, and for passes to the Marston House in Balboa Park donated by SOHO. At the end of the seminar, there was a drawing for an world Deluxe subscription. Suzanne Adams will draw another World Deluxe subscription winner from the seminar evaluation sheets turned in at the end of the day.

All in all, this seminar was an excellent genealogy day - it was action packed, educational and entertaining. Thanks to Suzanne Russo Adams, Anastasia Tyler and Laryn Brown from, and to SDGS President Marna Clemons, Program Chair Suzette Aprea, and many other SDGS board members and willing workers.

Needless to say, I could not capture every pertinent or useful statement made during the presentations, so I've tried to summarize, in some detail, the highlights from each session, based on my own notes and recollections. Hopefully, other attendees will report on their impressions and conclusions. If other attendees want to be a "reporter" for a day, I'll be happy to publish their reports on this blog. Please email me at with your submissions. I know that Chris on the San Diego Genealogical Society blog will also post articles or reports from other members also.

1 comment:

Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...

Wonderful summary, Randy! Thanks for sharing. I'd like to have been able to attend that one - except for the thousand or so miles separating us!
Best wishes to all, to use what was learned, and continue the volunteer efforts!! ;-)