Plus Edition Article

(+) Facing Up to the Long-term Future of Your Genealogy Society

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

NOTE: This article contains several personal opinions.

I travel a lot, and I spend a lot of time with officers and members of many genealogy societies. Most everywhere I go, I hear stories of societies that are shrinking in size and even a few stories of societies that are struggling to maintain their existence. Even amongst all this “doom and gloom,” I do hear a few rare stories of genealogy societies that are thriving and growing larger. Not only are they attracting more members, but these few societies are also offering more and more services to their members with each passing year.

Why do so many genealogy societies flounder while a handful succeed?

(+) What is a Wiki and Why Should I Care?

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

A funny-sounding word is being found frequently on the Internet: wiki. It is not a creature from Star Wars, and it is not a strange animal from Australia. In fact, a wiki is a bit of software that gets its name from the Hawaiian or Polynesian word for “quickly.” The shuttle buses at the Honolulu airport are called “Wiki Wiki,” meaning to go quickly and easily. Now the word is creeping into genealogy vocabularies.

In the words of wiki inventor Ward Cunningham:

“A wiki is the simplest online database that could possibly work.”

Imagine that you visit someone else’s web site and discover that you can change anything on that site at any time. You can edit the page you’re reading to comment on it, add to it, or correct the content. On a long page that has evolved over time, you can summarize portions and tighten up the wording. You can add a link to a relevant resource to help visitors who want to know more. You can even create new pages and link them to existing pages on the site. You can do all this, even though it is not your web site. This is the idea behind a wiki.

(+) Can You Trust Online Genealogy Data?

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

“I found it online, so it must be true!”

Of course not. If you have been involved in researching your family tree for more than a few months, you already know the truth about online genealogy data. Or do you?

You can go to almost any of today’s online genealogy sites and find information that appears to be false. I’ll pick on FamilySearch.org as it is a free and open database, making it a good example that everyone can see. However, similar examples exist on most of the commercial (paid) genealogy databases as well.

(+) Downsizing: the Paperless Office for Genealogists

WARNING: This article contains personal opinions.

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.

Paper. I have been drowning in it for years.

Genealogists soon learn to collect every scrap of information possible. We collect copies of birth certificates, marriage records, death certificates, census entries, military pension applications, deeds, and much, much more. I don’t know about you, but I have been collecting these bits of information as paper, mostly photocopies, for years. Over the past thirty+ years, I have probably spent thousands of dollars in photocopying fees!

I now have a four-drawer filing cabinet behind me as I write these words and another four-drawer filing cabinet in the basement. I have book shelves that are groaning under the weight of (printed) books. Since I don’t have enough room for all my books, many of them are stored in boxes in the basement, and I seem to never retrieve any of those books from storage. They lie there, year after year, gathering dust and mildew, providing information to no one.

Searching for information in hundreds of books stored in the basement is so time consuming and so impractical that it never gets done.

In addition to the thousands of dollars spent on photocopying fees, I have spent still more on filing cabinets, manila file folders, bookshelves, and more. Then there’s the books. I hate to think what I have spent for books! Postage charges alone have been more than I care to think about.

(+) Our Ancestors’ Dental Care

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

Life in the “good old days” wasn’t always so good. For instance, one has to wonder about dental care as practiced by our ancestors. Ready-made toothbrushes and toothpaste were not available until the mid-1800s. Prior to that, everyone had to make their own.

Throughout the Middle Ages, most people simply rubbed salt on their teeth.

Some people made up their own dentifrice and rubbed the resulting powder on their teeth with a small stick, called a “toothstick,” with a rag over one end. This was the forerunner of the toothbrush.

By the 1700s medical knowledge improved to the point that doctors began to understand the importance of proper dental care. Toothpaste, properly called dentifrice, was made at home. Here is one such recipe:

…burned hartshorn, powdered oyster shell and white tartar. Also a mouthwash of sal ammoniac and water. Another uses cream of tartar, gum myrrh and oil of cloves. And if all this good dental care fails, you may get a set of artificial ones made from the tusks of the hippopotamus, or sea horse, or from the teeth of some domestick [sic.] animals. Teeth made of ivory or bone soon become discoloured and begin to decay and render the breath offensive.

(+) What is the Purpose of a Genealogy Program?

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

If you record your genealogy research efforts on paper, you might want to skip this article. However, if you use a computer program as an aid to your genealogy research, read on.

Is the genealogy program you chose a database of results, or is it a tool to help your research while that research is still a work-in-progress? Perhaps a bigger question is, “Will my genealogy program help me evaluate evidence? Or is it simply a place to record the results after I have done all the research?”

I suspect that many genealogists do not use their favorite genealogy programs to full potential. In fact, some genealogy programs make it difficult to accomplish what a computer does best: organize, filter, and retrieve information whenever it is needed.

Many genealogy programs appear to be nothing more than a place to record your research CONCLUSIONS.

(+) Commentary: DNA and Lineage Societies

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

The Mayflower Society, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Sons of the American Revolution, the First Families of Virginia, the Order of Descent of Ancient Planters, the National Huguenot Society, and the Flagon & Trencher (Descendants of Colonial Tavern Keepers) are but a few of the societies that limit membership to those who can prove descent from a person involved in a particular event or time period in history.

The rules for proving descent vary from one organization to another. Some lineage societies maintain very rigid guidelines in which the applicant has to submit documentation of each generation, showing birth information that proves the parent/child relationship of each ancestor. Others may be a bit more “relaxed” in the organization’s documentation requirements.

The societies with the most rigorous and genealogically demanding membership requirements often have published “accepted lines.” That is, these are lists of individuals of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries with proof already submitted that they are descended from a member of the original group. To be accepted as a member, the new applicant just needs to prove descent from someone in an “accepted line.” The documentation for earlier generations is accepted as “already on file at the society.”

(+) How Long Will a Flash Drive Last?

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

Flash drives have generally replaced CD-ROM disks, DVD-ROM disks, Blu-Ray disks, floppy disks, magnetic tape, and even old-fashioned punch cards as the preferred method of storing backup copies of computer data. Indeed, these tiny devices are capable of storing as much as 256 gigabytes of data for reasonable prices, and even higher capacities are available, although perhaps at somewhat unreasonable prices. (“Reasonable prices” are defined as prices that are lower than purchasing equivalent storage capacity on CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, and Blu-Ray disks.) If history repeats itself again, even today’s unreasonably-priced high-capacity flash drives will be cheaper within a very few years.

(+) Finding Unmarked Graves with Ground Penetrating Radar

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

One of the vexing problems with old cemeteries and historical sites is the difficulty of finding the locations of unmarked graves. In many cases, the desire is to locate the graves so that they may be identified and left undisturbed by new construction. To be sure, the locations may have been marked at one time with wooden or even stone markers. However, the ravages of time, weather, animals, vandals, and acid rain over the years may have removed all traces of those markers. Locating unmarked graves is also vitally important in solving murder cases.

Historically, the only method of finding unmarked graves has been to start digging – not a very practical solution. However, modern technology now allows cemetery associations, historical societies, family societies, genealogists, archaeologists, police departments, and others to identify the locations of buried bodies and other objects with no digging required.

(+) Perform Focused Searches on Google

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

Google.com and DuckDuckGo.com are wonderful inventions for genealogists and all other Internet users. The world’s most popular search engine (Google.com) and its privacy-oriented competitor (DuckDuckGo.com) are both capable of finding specialized information about most anything imaginable. However, many users do not know much about ll the options available when using Google’s most powerful search tools.

Many of us only know how to enter a query into Google’s Search Box.

Such a search can find all sorts of information, often overwhelming you with too many “hits.”

(+) Is Your CD-ROM Data Disappearing?

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

Genealogists are generally concerned with long-term data preservation. A lot of genealogists believe that the only method of preserving data is to print the information on paper. Yet, many of us have handled old pieces of paper that are decaying, crumbling, or fading to the point that the information is not readable. In fact, most paper manufactured in the past 75 years or so contains acids that will hasten the deterioration of the information you wish to preserve.

Even worse, the inks and laser printer toner we use today will fade in a few years, even if the paper survives. I already have papers in my filing cabinet I wrote or photocopied 25 or 30 years ago that have faded quite a bit. Some are already difficult to read because of faded ink or photocopy toner. Those papers probably will be unreadable in another 25 or 30 years.

As we have seen recently in several places around the world, paper is especially fragile. Paper documents are easily destroyed by fires, floods, earthquakes, mold, mildew, or building collapse. On several occasions, valuable paper documents have been lost forever due to simple burst water pipes.

(+) Leave Your Existing Genealogy Program Behind and Look to the Future

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

Are you thinking about upgrading to a new computer, possibly including an upgrade to a new operating system? If so, this article is for you.

Over the years, a number of popular genealogy programs have been discontinued. Do you remember Personal Ancestral File, The Master Genealogist, CommSoft’s Roots 5, Carl York’s The Family Edge, Quinsept’s Family Roots, Ultimate Family Tree, or SierraHome’s Generations 8.0? Those and a number of other, lesser-known genealogy programs have all faded away over the years. May they all rest in peace.

The reasons for each program’s demise vary, but a few themes seem common. Obviously, a lack of customers is often a major factor. Developing software, distributing it, and supporting it with a customer service department is not cheap. Any program needs to sell a lot of copies in order to generate enough revenue to cover expenses and hopefully to generate a profit for the producer. Some programs never sold enough copies to achieve profitability.

(+) 1960 U.S. Census Myths and Facts

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

The U.S. Census is very much in the news these days, and for good reasons. The final specifications for the 2020 census are still being defined and are frequently in the news. It reminds me of the controversy about the 1960 U.S. Census.

For years I have heard stories about the 1960 U.S. Census. The stories vary a bit on each telling but usually say something like, “The 1960 U.S. Census was stored on a computer media for which there no longer was any equipment to read it. The census data has been lost because of the change in technology.”

I always doubted that story. I was just starting my career in computers in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and I remember well the tape drives of that era. I spent many hours repairing those half-inch and three-quarter inch tape drives that weighed 800 pounds each! I think I still could disassemble and reassemble a Honeywell 204B-9 half-inch tape drive while blindfolded. That device was a maze of electronics (without integrated circuits), disk brakes, a big vacuum pump, and numerous solenoids. Those are the tape drives shown in the background of the picture below, showing a Honeywell H-200 computer circa 1970.

(+) What’s in a Name?

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

onomastics

noun (used with a singular verb)
the study of the origin, history, and use of proper names.
From Dictionary.com

Onomastics or onomatology is the study of proper names of all kinds and the origins of names. The word is derived from the Greek word, “onoma,” meaning name.

Members of royal families still use single names. A few celebrities, such as Madonna or Prince, also adopted single names to further their careers. The rest of us use two or more names to reduce confusion in identifying individuals. In most of the world, hereditary family names, or surnames, have become the norm. Many names originally were based on a person’s physical characteristics, place of residence, occupation, or other distinguishing characteristics. As the centuries passed, the surnames have remained although those who carry the name today usually bear little resemblance to the ancestral namesake’s original unique characteristics.

(+) Nine Tips for Getting the Most Out of Genealogy Conferences

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

The benefits of going to genealogy conferences cannot be overestimated. Yes, we can probably sit at home and surf the web or go to local libraries and learn a lot. However, most conferences compress more learning experiences into a day or a few days than what most of us can experience on our own in a year.

(+) Why Isn’t It Available Online?

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

NOTE: This article contains personal opinions.

Earlier today I received an email message that announced the publication of a new (printed) book that documents all the readable tombstones in a cemetery and provides a map of that cemetery. The only copy of this hand-made book is available at a public library near the cemetery that was documented. That effort results in a valuable resource for anyone researching ancestry in the area IF THEY CAN TRAVEL TO VIEW THE BOOK. For some descendants, that may require travel of thousands of miles.

Of course, thinking about the publication of a single book immediately begs the question, “What about those of us who are unable to travel to a specific library that might be thousands of miles away?” I will suggest it is time to change everyone’s thinking about publishing.

(+) Preserve Newspapers for Years!

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

Most all paper manufactured in the past one hundred years or more contains acids. If left untreated, these acids will slowly decompose the paper itself. The use of acids in the manufacture of paper did not become popular until the early 20th century. Older newspapers of the 19th century were printed on paper that had no acids so they tend to last much longer.

Newspaper clippings or any other documents not printed on acid-free paper will eventually disintegrate. Today’s newspapers usually contain more acids than other paper so newspapers are often the first to disintegrate. Luckily, modern science has created methods of slowing down or even stopping the decay of such paper.