Wednesday, October 9, 2013

This site has moved

This site has moved, and will no longer be updated here. To see the current site, go to:




All existing links to this site should still work on the new site, so there should be no need to update any links.

p.s. To read about the technical issues in moving this site, see this article.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The problem of borders...

One of the problems one runs into when researching their family, particularly those researching family from continental Europe and farther east, is how often the borders changed. The video below is a great visualization of that problem – it shows the borders of Europe over the past thousand years.

I don't know who put together the original video, and exactly where the data came from, but it's a very impressive video. I do know that the years being shown at the bottom were added later by someone else, so they probably don't match up exactly to the map changes, but you can take them as an estimate.

One very interesting thing to watch in the video (it helps to focus on one area when you watch) is Poland. A little before half-way through when the years shown are in the late 1500s Poland is massive. It later disappears completely, later emerging again in a much smaller form.



So what do you think? Learn anything that can help your family research?

Monday, September 2, 2013

Scanning documents and photos using your phone

As the cameras built-in to cell phones get better and better (and indeed every year the improvement has been significant), more and more people are using their phones instead of dedicated scanners for duplicating documents and photographs.

There are many iPhone apps for scanning documents, such as CamScanner Pro, Doc Scan ProGenius Scan+, JetScanner, Prizmo, Scanner Pro, TurboScan, and the genealogy-focused Shoebox (now owned by Ancestry.com).

Android also has their share of apps, like CamScanner, Document Scanner, Droid Scan Pro PDFHandy Scanner ProMobile Doc Scanner, and there's also an Android version of Shoebox.

Other popular apps like Evernote are also suitable for this kind of document and photo scanning.
Perspective correction in Genius Scan+
Most if not all of these apps do something pretty neat, which is that they will take your document or photo and if the corners are not 90 degrees, it will correct the perspective. This is necessary because most people holding a camera in their hand cannot possibly get the camera lens to be perfectly parallel to the document or photo they are photographing. This causes the photo they take to be skewed (where for example one side of the photo is smaller than the other side), and thus the need for this correction technology.

The problem with this technology is that you can never correct something like this without losing some quality. Wouldn't it be better if you could insure your phone was parallel to the document when you take the photograph? When people traditionally took photographs of documents, they used big bulky copy stands. They are generally bulky and expensive. So what solution exists for your cell phone? Turns out this is a problem several people have taken a look at, and there are some very interesting solutions.

ScanDock

Let's start out with free. Designer Kyle Koch has designed a cardboard stand he calls the iPhone Document Scanner, which he provides the plans for in EPS format. You can print out the designs and cut these out using cardboard or other materials yourself.

ScanDock
If you want to order it pre-made, it's also available from Ponoko in either corrugated cardboard or MDF. A newer version, called the ScanDock (maybe soon to be ScanDeck as there is another ScanDock - see below), is available only in cardboard, and the plans are not available for free. Oddly, the different products all have different and bizarre shipping options. The best option seems to be the ScanDock which costs $25 and can be shipped to the contiguous US for $8.50. If you're in New Zealand, shipping is only $3. I think this is really just a good do-it-yourself solution, I'm not sure I would pay for this over the options that follow.

Steady Stand

Another option is a series of stands from Scottish photo accessory company Modahaus, which they call Steady Stands. These stands are manufactured out of plastic, and are design to diffuse the light that hits the document or object inside the stand, which helps eliminate harsh shadows.

Steady Stand 200
The Steady Stand comes in a variety of sizes, and can be used to photograph physical objects, or used to create videos by dragging the whole stand over an object or document (such as a map) to create steady videos. I could see using the smaller one as a kind of Flip Pal replacement. The downside is that the FlipPal doesn't need lighting, the plus side being that you don't need to bring a full scanner with you, and the object you're scanning doesn't need to be flat. The smallest stand is £15 (yes, that's British Pounds - currently about $23.37) and the largest is £31.20 (currently about $48.62)

ScanJig

The only solution I've seen that doesn't shoot straight down onto a flat document, is the ScanJig. The ScanJig is also unique in that is designed to work with a larger variety of devices, from iPhones up to iPad Minis. There is a separate version for the Galaxy III and IV phones as well.

ScanJig
This is perhaps the most complicated stand in terms of setup. I'm not sure sure this is something I'd want to carry around with me. For some types of documents and workflows, this might be a good solution. I image if it's on your desk and you're copying lots of sheets of paper, this might be easier to swap out pages quickly. The ScanJig is currently $29.95 (although it says it is regularly $39.95) plus shipping (which was $4.95 to Boston).
StandScan

One of the most interesting solutions is called the StandScan. It has two features that I really like – it folds flat, and it has the option to add LED lighting. Of course, due to its design that has opaque walls on three sides, it's possible the LED lighting would be required to get good quality in many lighting situations, so maybe it's not an option after all, but a requirement.

StandScan
You can get the StandScan with or without the LED lighting, and there are two options for powering the lights, 9V (1 9V battery) or 12V (8 AA batteries). The stand without lighting is $19.95, the stand with lighting and a 9V battery pack is $29.95, and the scanner with lighting, both battery packs and an AC adapter is $37.95. Shipping seems to be $15, whether to the US or it seems anywhere in the world (and by that I mean I check how much it cost to ship to Israel).

Scandock

One other option is Scandock, which is built like a more traditional copy stand, with built-in lights on overheard arms, and a weighted base. It has its own camera app, which uses color patches on the stand itself to insure proper color calibration, and the stand has a silicon cover for documents to insure they lay flat.

Scandock
In short, the Scandock is much more advanced than the offerings above, but is also priced accordingly, which the cheapest version costing $279. Also, it's not exactly a portable solution.
Lomography Smartphone Scanner

If everything so far seems more or less the same, you won't get this one confused with the others. That's because this product is not for scanning documents, but for scanning photo negatives and slides. It's from analog photography company Lomography, and it's called the Smartphone Scanner.

Smartphone Scanner
This device has a light source on the bottom, and you put in a transparency and scan it using your phone. It supports all iPhones and several Android devices. It has its own iPhone app, although you don't need to use it (it is, however, helpful if the app you're using can reverse the colors of image it captures).

The price is $59 in the US, and €59 in Europe, plus shipping. It's also available for $59 (including shipping in the US) from photojojo, one of my favorite photo gadget companies.

Interestingly, two other phone stands were crowdfunded on Kickstarter, and succeeded in being shipped out (not as common as you might think with hardware products), but both seem to have disappeared – ScanBox and Scandy. The team behind ScanBox seems to have moved onto other products (LED light bulbs), while Scandy's web site has disappeared completely.

I haven't used any of these solutions unfortunately, but if one of the companies wants to send me a stand, I'm happy to review it on the blog.

Have you used any of these products? What software do you use for document scanning with your phone? Share your experiences in the comments.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Tarnów and Thüer (Thier)

Inspired by Edie Jarolim's post Tarnow Calling in her great Freud's Butcher blog, I've decided to share this document I discovered in a family album. The document is from a factory owned by a relative of mine in Tarnów, Poland. From the fill-in date portion, it seems the document is from the 1910s.

The factory's owner, Jacob Thüer (I knew the name as Thier, but my surname also had an umlaut at one point), was a brother of my great-grandmother Sala Thier Trauring, who I knew as a young child.


Jacob Thüer shows up in the Yad Vashem Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names (spelled as Thier, although shown the alternate spelling Thuer as well) with a Page of Testimony (PoT), filed by his daughter. The daughter, Klara Linger, lists herself as living in Sydney, Australia. She says her father died in 1943, presumably murdered by the Nazis.

Oddly, in the transcription of the PoT on the site, the name of the town of last residence is given as Ulicz, Poland. The problem is that there no Ulicz, Poland. Taking a closer look at the original scanned PoT, it's clear the town listed is actually Tarnów, Poland, and the town was mis-transcribed (from what appears to be a neighborhood or street address before the town name). This is a good example of why you should always view the original scan of a Page of Testimony. If you find a mistake like this, Yad Vashem has a form to submit corrections (which I've done in this case).

In addition to the submitter Klara Linger, two other children of Jakob Thier are listed – Samuel and Rudolph Thier. It appears they were all living in Sydney, Australia at the time the PoT was filed, although that is not listed. I don't know these descendants, but if you know these families from Australia, let me know.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Routes to Roots, improved

I'm going to start with a digression. I'm not sure if you can digress before you have a main topic, but here we go.

In the past, when one did research into their Jewish relatives from Eastern Europe, the assumption was sometimes that there were no records that survived the Holocaust. This is not just a baseless assumption – I've personally been told many times by archivists in Eastern European countries that "All Jewish records were destroyed in the war." When receiving such responses I sometimes wonder which of the following possibilities is the actual case:
  • The Jewish records were, actually, destroyed (it did happen sometimes).
  • The archivist knows exactly what records exists, but doesn't care to tell you about them.
  • The archivist doesn't differentiate between Jews and non-Jews, and even though records were kept separately in the past, does not index them separately and thus is just saying there are no separate Jewish records (or a previous archivist did this, probably during the communist period, and this archivist doesn't know the difference).
  • The archivist is ignorant of what Jewish records exist.
Really only the first two possibilities are likely. It's not likely that different collections would or even could be mixed together (certainly an archivist would realize the documents come from different collections), and it's not likely an archivist would not know of the contents of their archive. Obviously sometimes it's true, the records were destroyed, and the archivist is telling you what happened. Sometimes, however, archivists seem disinclined to lift a finger to help you, for whatever reason it might be (laziness? antisemitism?) which you can decide on your own.

So how do you know what records exist for the town you're researching? For records in (or in what once was) Poland, you can try searching JRI-Poland to see if they have indexed records for your town. There is actually a list of towns on the JRI-Poland web site, and if you follow the link to the town page you can find out many of the records that have been indexed for that town. Some records may not be listed, however, so it's always a good idea to contact the town administrator and ask if there are other records as well (which might cost money).

One of the most important sites for Jewish genealogists is The Miriam Weiner Routes to Roots Foundation (RTR) site. Miriam Weiner has worked to inventory the Jewish holdings of archives across Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania and Moldova (and some in Romania). This information was originally published in two books covering Poland, and Ukraine and Moldova, which are now largely out of date, but the information is updated and expanded on the web site. Whenever new Jewish records from specific towns are located, they are added to this database.

In other words, if you want to see if birth records exist from your ancestral town, you search for the town, and can see what records are known to exist for that town. The records that exist may be in the local archive, might be in an archive in a country that used to be the same country as where your town is (such as the L'viv, Ukraine archives for records of towns in Poland), or could be in archives like CAHJP in Jerusalem.

For example, see the records available for Kanczuga, Poland (9 records groups), Odessa, Ukraine (16 records groups), and Krakow, Poland (30 record groups - including one from CAHJP).

I'm happy to see that the site has been improved, and it is now easier to get to the search interface.

In addition to the archival catalog, RTR has recently started added it's own name databases.
1929 Pulawy Taxpayer List
When name databases exist for a town, there will be a link at the top of the town archival holdings page. The following name databases were added as the first batch last month:
I've linked directly to the database search pages for each database.

This is an interesting development for RTR, and it will be interesting to see how these new databases develop. Hopefully they will add a single search interface for all the name databases in the future.

It's always exciting to see new databases made available for Jewish genealogy. The previously mentioned JewishGen Memorial Plaques Database and four new databases in IGRA's All Israel Database, as well as eight new databases added to Gesher Galicia's All Galicia Database (I hope to post about this in the future), and these new databases from RTR all contribute greatly to Jewish genealogy. Certainly an exciting time to be involved in Jewish genealogy.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Genealogy Software for the Mac

This week I'm attending the IAJGS Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Boston. Last night I attended the Mac BOF (Birds-Of-a-Feather) meeting. It was packed from one of the room to the other, thanks to the hard work of Doris Loeb Nabel and other volunteers.

I first attended a Mac BOF meeting back in 2011 in DC. Like two years ago, both Duff Wilson from Ancestry and Daniel Horowitz from MyHeritage spoke briefly about their future Mac offerings. Both, by the way, are planning new Mac offerings by the end of the calendar year. Ancestry is planning a new Mac version of FTM that is closer in feature-parity to the Windows version than previous versions. Wilson also noted that the price of the Mac version, which is currently higher than the Windows version, would likely come into line with the Windows version. MyHeritage is working on the first Mac version of FTB, which will also not have all the features of their Windows version. MyHeritage wants to get a version out, but doesn't want to wait until all the features they have built over the years in their Windows version, have been coded for the Mac. Hopefully both companies will bring their Mac version into sync with their Windows versions over time.

One of the things I noticed at the meeting was that many of the people did not know about all the Mac genealogy software available. Most knew about Reunion, and Family Tree Maker, but many did not know about others. I thought it would be useful to take a quick look at the genealogy applications available for Mac. Most of these I've discussed in the past to differing degrees, but this is probably the first time I've listed them all together. The list consists of most Mac genealogy software (in alphabetical order) that have been updated in the past year (and I'll point out a few that have not been recently updated recently at the end). If I miss any that you use, post in the comments.


Not a traditional genealogy program based on people – Evidentia is based on recording sources and building a case to prove claims. Costs $24.99 on the web site (although currently on sale, 20% off through August at $21.25).


A very powerful genealogy program, GEDitCOM II's main drawback is its antiquated interface. GEDitCOM II has a few power features that no other genealogy program has, such as scripting with Applescript, Python or Ruby, and outputting a book in LaTeX format. These are not features most genealogists will ever use, but for some advanced users, these features definitely set it apart. Costs $64.99 on the web site.


GRAMPS is a free and open-source genealogy application originally developed for Linux, but now also available for Windows and Mac. I've discussed GRAMPS in the past (here and here), and now there's a new version out, version 4. Free from the web site.


Developed in France, Heredis is popular in Europe and is available for both Mac and Windows. I've mentioned Heredis in the past but have not done a full review. Two interesting features Heredis has are its illustrated charts and book publishing. Free companion app for iPhone. Available on the web site, and via the Mac App Store, for $59.99.

Recently updated to version 7, MacFamilyTree has a very modern user interface, and lots of options for charts and reports, and can integrate with FamilySearch family trees (the only Mac software that can that I am aware of). Syncs with MobileFamilyTree, a paid app, on iPhone and iPad. Normally costs $59.99 on the Mac App Store (only), but currently on sale for 50% off for a few more days (until Aug 11).


Reunion is a very popular genealogy program for the Mac, with advanced reporting and charting capabilities. Relatively easy navigation through your tree. A very active support forum. Paid separate companion apps for iPhone and iPad. Costs $99 on their web site, and from some retailers including Amazon.

There are also some other genealogy programs like iFamily for Leopard, myBlood, ohmiGene, and PA Writer II. Not all of these are updated frequently, and I'm not as familiar with them. I also took a look at the various genealogy applications available through the Mac App Store back in February. This includes a few I don't mention here, including the app Memory Miner, which is not strictly speaking a genealogy program, but a 'digital storytelling' application, and can import GEDCOMs to help assign names to people.

What program do you use? What do you like about it? What don't you like about it. Have you been thinking about using one of these programs, but not started?

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Four New Israel Databases

It's common for new Jewish genealogy databases to be released shortly before the annual International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, which this year is taking place in my hometown of Boston. I already mentioned the 30,000 records in the new JewishGen Memorial Plaque Database.

To add to those records, the Israel Genealogy Research Association (IGRA) has released four new databases, totaling nearly 16,000 new records. The new databases include:
  • Graduates of Gymnasia Herzilia 1918-48
  • List of Names in the Register of Adult Jews in Petah Tikva 1936
  • Marriage certificates Jezreel Valley 1931-41
  • Voter List Tel Aviv 1922
From the IGRA presentation:





That brings the total number of records added to IGRA databases since its launch last year to 168,112 records in 140 different databases. To see all of IGRA's databases, go to their All Israel Database. You need to be logged into their site to search the databases, but signing up is free. Congratulations to the whole IGRA volunteer team that put these databases together.

Two genealogy software discounts

The previously mentioned discount on the new version of MacFamilyTree, which was originally scheduled to end only July 31, has been extended to August 11. Get MacFamilyTree 7 for $29.99 (normally $59.99) in the Mac App Store. MobileFamilyTree for iOS (works on both iPhone and iPad) is similarly discounted, and available in the iOS App Store for $7.99 (normally $14.99). These prices are set in the respective stores, no need for any discount codes. Note that MacFamilyTree is available for download as a demo if you'd like to try it out first.

Evidentia, mentioned in my round-up of Evidence-based genealogy programs, is having a sale of its own, in honor of their first print advertisement for the application coming out. During the month of August, the price will be discounted 20%, from $24.99 to $21.25. The prices are already discounted in the web store, no need for any discount codes.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Collaborating without having to be in sync

I've mentioned the Family History Information Standards Organization (FHISO) previously. It is one of two organizations, along with FamilySearch (with their Gedcom X effort), trying to define future data formats for genealogy. 

Back in March, FHISO announced an open Call for Papers in order to solicit ideas for future genealogy standards. This is the first step in the FHISO's efforts to create new standards.

Yesterday I submitted a paper, titled Asynchronous Collaboration: A Proposal, which outlines my ideas for facilitating collaboration between different researchers, while not forcing researchers to fully merge their databases. The key here is that people can accept family trees from other people, without having to merge their entire tree into their own, and with a query mechanism for figuring out conflicts, or requesting additional information like sources and media related to individual records.

This proposal submitted to FHISO and published on my other blog, Lexigenealogy, which is where I now publish my more technical genealogy writings, as well as other technical work related to lexicography.

Keep in mind that this is a fairly technical proposal. It's not really light reading. If you're interested in the technical aspects of genealogy, and in furthering the creation of new technical standards, I think you'll find it interesting.

If you're interested, hop over to Lexigenealogy and take a look.

Monday, July 29, 2013

New Memorial Plaque Database

In the the run up to next week's IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Boston, expect various groups to be releasing new databases to help Jewish genealogists. One new database that was just released is JewishGen's Memorial Plaque Database. Organized by Nolan Altman, the database is an attempt to gather all the information on memorial plaques found in synagogues and other Jewish institutions. Many synagogues plague a plaque on their wall for each member who dies, to record their yahrzeit date (the day a family member says kaddish for them). These plaques contain very important information for Jewish genealogists, including the person's name (in the US usually in English and Hebrew), and in most cases the name of the father of the deceased (at least in Hebrew).

When synagogues close, these plaques with their unique information are frequently thrown out, although sometimes are put up in other synagogues or institutes. Collecting the information from these plaques now is a great effort, and something whose time has come. There has been discussion for years about collecting this information from various people involved in Jewish genealogy, so kudos to JewishGen for taking up the gauntlet and getting the project started.

Section of a memorial wall from Lowell, MA
For the launch of the database, there are nearly 30,000 names listed. These come from the US, Israel and Canada. About half of the names collected so far come from the Boston area, whose local Jewish genealogy group made an effort to collect the names in the run up to the conference, and collected 16,000 names from 30 different institutions.

If you're interested in photographing and indexing the memorial plaques in your local synagogue, you can do so and contribute the data to this effort. Synagogues who want to contribute this information to the database can add information about their synagogue to the memorial plaque web site, in order to get traffic from those people searching for family members.

My only concern with the database right now is that the images they provide are not big enough to read the information directly from the photographs. Many times relatives are grouped together in these memorial walls, and it would be useful to see the images in higher resolution so one could read all the plaques and see who is located nearby on the wall. Hopefully this can be remedied in the future.

For more information, go to the web site, or contact the project coordinator, Nolan Altman.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Evidence-based Genealogy

Most people who research their family carry out conclusion-based genealogy. Entire family trees are built solely based on conclusions, i.e. who a person was, when they were born, where they died, etc. sometimes with little evidence to back up the conclusions being made. While building a tree without sources does not necessarily mean the tree has faulty information, it is impossible to show what is right and wrong. Where we especially run into trouble is when we try to collaborate with others in our research. Most of the popular genealogy programs that people use (Family Tree Maker, Legacy Family Tree, MacFamilyTree, Master GenealogistReunionRootsMagic, etc.) are conclusion-based. One can use them to build a 10,000-person tree without entering a single piece of evidence. That's not to say anything bad about these programs, they all have the ability to cite sources for each piece of data added to their databases. The problem is they do not require citations.

There is another model for genealogy research – evidence-based genealogy. This model starts with the sources. Instead of the individual being the core of the tree, the sources become the core. In most cases these programs are designed as a kind of companion app for conclusion-based apps like those mentioned above. The focus of these apps are not producing nice charts, but create a solid chain of evidence to back up each piece of information you are researching.

One of the ways evidence-based applications work is by developing a series of source templates for all kinds of sources, insuring you extract all the information out of a source when entering it into the system. One example of this are templates for each year of a census having their own templates, as each year the questions were slightly different.

In general the applications available for doing evidence-based genealogy seem to be intended as companion apps to traditional conclusion-based apps like those mentioned above. Below I've linked to the evidence-based applications I was able to find under active development, with blurbs from their web sites describing their applications. My observations follow this listing.


What is Clooz 3?
  • A Program to Consolidate, Index, Analyze and Report Document and Image Data
  • A Family History and Genealogy Research And Analysis Tool
  • A Windows Desktop Application
Why Should I Use Clooz 3?
  • Gather, Analyze and Validate Clues and Evidence About Potential or Suspected Ancestors
  • Analyze Family History Challenges Using Factual Document-based Research Strategies
  • Organize and Index Collected Documents and Images
  • Support "One Name" Surname Studies (large or small)

Welcome to Custodian 3, the database software which helps you to store, index and organise the information you have gathered from all kinds of family history records.

Use Custodian for general family history research, one-name studies, indexing projects, local history and one-place studies. Keep a computer-based version of all your paper records, documents and lists in one place and minimise endless searching for paperwork.

A New Kind of Genealogy Tool
  • Evidentia is genealogy software created from the ground up for the user who wants to take their research to the next level. It turns what you know into evidence you can use.
  • Too many conflicting sources about Grandpa William’s birth? Evidentia presents all your evidence on one screen, making it easier for you to separate fact from fiction.
  • Not sure how strong your evidence about when and where your great grandparents were married is? Evidentia’s reports help you to identify the gaps in your sources.
  • Evidentia is the software program that will help you feel confident in your research.
The Family Pack is an ambitious open source project to create a new cross platform genealogy program. The project will involve designing a new genealogical database, creating a program to make use of it, and finally, organising ways of providing some standard universal data sets. 
The database design owes much to the impressive GenTech Genealogical Data Model. One idea taken directly from the GenTech GDM is that of Personas. A personas is a small separate particles of information that relates to a person. We can collect these personas from separate sources and then build them up to create individual person. The database uses the concept of a Reference Statement to link together Personas, Events, Dates, Places and Attributes (Characteristics) records. This idea is loosely based on the GenTech's Assertion record. The Reference Statement is the heart of the new database and provides a very flexible way of entering and organizing evidence. It can consist of any typed statement and could be a simple statement by the researcher reviewing other statements, a transcription of a historical documents (certificates, census, parish records etc.), a description of a photograph or transcribed tape recording.

What is GenQuiry? 
GenQuiry is designed to help you manage your family history research. It was born through my own experience of researching families in Wales, trying to make sure that I made the most of my visits to archives 300 miles away, keeping track of the searches I had done and the clues I still had to follow up, and recording my reasoning for deciding which was my ancestor out of three "John James" all living in the same small Pembrokeshire parish around 1800! 
If you've ever had problems:
  • keeping track of searches you've made — and their results, positive or negative — and the searches that you plan to make
  • planning what to do on a visit to some archives, making sure you don't forget anything vital at the far end of that long trip
  • keeping track of which sources are relevant for a particular place and how to access them, so that you don't overlook an important clue because the existence of a source slipped your mind
  • citing your sources consistently, so that you always know where a particular piece of information came from
  • recording how you reached a conclusion from a variety of conflicting evidence
then GenQuiry may help you. 
GenQuiry can support: family history research, one-name studies, one-place studies or research into more general topics. You can use any or all of the features, to suit the way you choose to work, and integrate it with your existing physical or electronic filing system.
While some of these applications have been around for a long time, more of them are new. This category is emerging, and I suspect there will be more applications and services that will enter this space in the future. Ideally the features of these apps would be combined with a mainstream conclusions-based application, to allow one to carry out both aspects of genealogy - person-centric conclusion-based genealogy, and document-centric evidence-based genealogy.

Clooz has been around since 1997, and is available for Windows only. Originally developed by Elizabeth Kelley Kerstens, it was sold in 2011 to Ancestral System LLC, which developed version 3 in 2012. Clooz has a mailing list, Facebook page and a separate Rootsweb mailing list.

Custodian has been around almost as long as Clooz, coming on the market in 1998. It is also Windows-only. Developed by husband-wife team Sonja and Phil Smith, the latest major version, Custodian 3, was released in 2003. Developed in the UK, it is my impression the application is a bit skewed towards UK sources, but it does provide many templates for sources in the US and elsewhere. I couldn't find any community forum or social media page for Custodian.

Evidentia is a relatively new application, released in December 2012. Its developer, Ed Thompson, previously developed a Wordpress plugin called RootsPersona for publishing family trees online. Developed using JavaFX, the application can run on Mac, Windows and even Linux. Evidentia is under very active development, and it is evolving quickly. One thing the author has tried to do recently is bring his templates in line with the formats from Elizabeth Shown Mills' Evidence Explained. Evidentia is also designed to support the Genealogical Proof Standard. Lastly, Evidentia has a very active Google+ Community where the author interacts directly with users. It has been interesting to see the fast evolution of Evidentia, and I'm looking forward to see how it continues to evolve. One thing the author recently mentioned in the Google+ community is that version 2 will directly support images of sources, something it does not currently do.

The Family Pack is an open-source evidence-based genealogy program being developed by Nick Matthews. The application is roughly based on the GenTech Genealogical Data Model which was developed by NGS. Currently it is in pre-alpha, meaning it's not ready for regular use. It's also currently only being released for Windows, although it is being designed to be compiled for Linux and Mac as well (it is written using the cross-platform framework wxWidgets). The first version released was only a few months ago in March. It is still a long way from reaching production stage, but it's worth keeping track of...

GenQuiry is a Windows application being developed by Helen Wright. It is based on Microsoft Access, and thus is unlikely to make it to another platform. It is currently in beta testing, and supported by donations. It's not clear if that model will continue after the program reaches production. The first beta was released in January 2012. One can communicate with the author in the applications' forum. GenQuiry was a finalist in the Rootstech 2012 Developer's Challenge.

I haven't used any of these applications, but I hope to work evidence-based genealogy into my genealogy workflow soon. Have you used any of these programs? Do you know of others? What do you think of them? The authors mentioned are certainly welcome to chime in as well.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Heredis for Mac and PC, on sale for $10.99 until July 7


I've mentioned Heredis before, which is a genealogy application for Mac and PC (with free companion app available for iOS) created by a company in France. I haven't used it extensively, so I can't write a full review, but there are aspects of the application that seem very interesting to me, such as the illustrated charts (i.e. family trees that actually look like trees) and book publishing.

Selecting a chart type in Heredis
Normally the price for Heredis for Mac or PC is $59.99, but for the next 4 days (through July 7) the price has been dropped to $10.99. That price is available if you buy it from their own online store (Mac/PC) or if you buy the Mac version through Apple's Mac App Store. For that price, one might be convinced to buy it just to use some of the features like the charts or book publishing. If you've used Heredis, let other know what you like about it in the comments.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Ring of Trust

Illustration from 1891 article describing Jewish wedding in Pennsylvania
For those who have never looked at my bio on the right side of this page, my last name is Trauring. I've written a bit about the name change from Traurig (German for 'sad') to Trauring (German for 'wedding ring'). While Trauring is a fairly unique name (show me a Trauring and it's 99% likely I'll show you how they're related to me), it has an interesting quirk in doing online research. When researching online databases of newspapers, the name Trauring for some reason is commonly confused with the word Training. Depending on the quality of the scanned newspapers, the the quality of the optical-character-recognition (OCR) done on the scans, you'd be amazed how many hits are for the word Training and how few are for Trauring.

While skimming my Google+ feed recently, I came across an article by Kenneth Marks about the newspaper search site Elephind. Elephind is a newspaper search aggregator created by digital library developer DL Consulting in New Zealand. It provides a single search interface to multiple newspaper search sites, including the US Library of Congress' Chronicling America site, and Australia's Trove site. Currently the site claims access to 1,034 newspaper titles (and 1,099,175 newspaper issues). Most of those newspapers come from the two sites already mentioned (845 from Chronicling America and 111 from Trove), with other smaller local newspaper search sites included from the US, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

One of the annoying things about Chronicling America is that the search results don't show the context of the hit, but rather just show a thumbnail of the page. Combine that with the unfortunately low level of OCR in the Chronicling America database, you spend a lot of time looking through false hits. For example, here is a search on Chronicling America for 'trauring':

Chronicling America search results for 'trauring' (Click to Enlarge)
You might notice the red highlighting which is supposed to show where the hit occurs on the page, but I defy you to actually read any of that text. In order to figure out the context you need to click on the image and load the full version of the page and find the text on the page. With 2,060 results, you can imagine how much time it would take to go through all those pages.

Now let's take a look at the Elephind results:

Elephind search results for Chronicling America for 'trauring' (Click to Enlarge)
The search was specifically restricted to Chronicling America, to try to get the same results. Oddly, instead of 2,060 results there are only two. If you take a close look at both sets of results you'll notice that the two results are the same as the first two results on the Chronicling America site, although in reverse order. You'll also notice that the first result on the Elephind site illustrates the general problem with searching OCRed databases for the name Trauring:
.. t ilio lowest possible cost. IT is today, with a fhcnltv of 83. a boarding patronage of 308, a student body of -138, and a plant worth $160,000, The Leading Trauring School for Girl;-, in Virginia. PAYS all charges for the y? ar, Including Tnblo Board, Room, Lights, 8leam Meat, I .au miry, Medie.il Atton tentiorr, Physical Culture and Tiiltlon ...
Besides the general incomprehensibility of the text, you'll notice the phrase 'The Leading Trauring School for Girl' is clearly supposed to have the word Training, not Trauring. Of course, the important thing to notice here is that the user interface actually does show you the context. I don't need to load the image and look, I can immediately dismiss the search result, which is very welcome. Why there are only two results is a mystery, however.

Page found in The Evening Herald (click to load on Chronicling America)
The text recognition on the second result (from The Evening Herald of Shenandoah, PA) is a bit more readable, and while the story is not about my family, it is interesting in that it mentions Trauring in the following context:
After pronouncing two benedictions the Rabbi took in his hand the wedding ring, saying, as the ring was one entire mass, not separated but continuous, so their lives in the future should be one–a combination of love and faithfulness and unity. The ring is called in German “trauring,”–trau meaning trust, it ought to remind them that it was the ring of trust.
A very interesting interpretation of the word trauring, giving it more meaning that the simple definition 'wedding ring'. The story is something very common in newspapers of the day (this article is from May 28, 1891), chronicling the big local social events, this one being a Jewish wedding in Shenandoah, PA, described as “one of the most brilliant affairs of the kind ever celebrated in this section of the country”. This wedding, between Lena Friedman and Simon Yedinsky, is described in great detail, has two illustrations, and even lists which guests gave which gifts. From a genealogical point of view these kinds of articles are sometimes goldmines. In my own research I've come across wedding descriptions that listed many relatives as guests, sometimes specifying them as such, and sometimes not, but all the information is useful.

Illustration from 1891 article describing Jewish wedding in Pennsylvania
Anyone have a good story on the meaning of their name? Share your story in the comments.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Racism and Commonality as Reasons for Name Changes

Back in May 2011 I discussed a book Petitions for Name Changes in New York City 1848-1899 as part of a broader article on the myth of Ellis Island name changes. The book transcribes 890 name change petitions that were made in New York City in the 52 years between 1848 and 1899. In my original article, I discuss many of the reasons people changed their names. In this post I want to go back to take a look from a slightly different perspective.

That names changed due to racism and antisemitism is not hard to show. While not every name change says it explicitly, without a doubt many of the name changes that are for 'pecuniary benefit' or similar reasons are due to the petitioners believing (perhaps rightly for the time) that their names were too ethnic sounding to allow them to flourish without discrimination.

Some, however, were explicit. Indeed, the first two petitions listed in the book are:
Petition (11 July 1892) of William Abraham, aged over 21, residing at 323 E. 3rd St., unmarried. His father, Morris Rogozinski, came to the U.S. in 1866 from Russia and assumed the name Abraham. Petitioner's father is dead. His mother's name is Sarah. He states that as the name Rogozinski and Abraham are of Semitic origin, it will be to his material and pecuniary advantage to bear a name that will not be so distinctive. He wishes to assume legally the name William Abraham Rodgers.

Petition (25 Mar. 1891) of Joseph Abrahamson, age 21 on 2 Nov. 1890, residing at 2093 Third Ave. He was employed about 8 years by one Russak, now deceased, who had 3 other Josephs in his employ and called the petitioner Edson. The petitioner has become a Christian and is about to marry an Episcopalian young lady. He and his bride desire that ‘all semblance of a Jewish surname shall be removed from the petitioner.’ He wishes to assume legally the name Joseph Abraham Edson.
Looking at patterns in the names, however, we can learn some more. For example, which names were changed the most?

It may not surprise anyone to know that the most commonly changed name is also the most common name in the United States, Smith. Consider for a moment over a hundred years ago how people found each other. New York City had city directories, pre-cursors to phone books, which listed people by name – but what happened when there were 50 other John Smiths? What if 10 of those John Smiths were in the same business as you? It's not hard to see why someone with the name Smith might want to change their name to something more unique. According to the 2000 US Census, there were 2,376,206 people in the US with the last name Smith. I don't know how many people in the US, or even just New York City, had the name Smith in the years covered in this book, but there is no question even then it was a very common name. Take a look at the following chart that looks at the name changes from Smith, and the reasons given for each change:

Name changes from Smith, with reasons. (Click to enlarge)
Note that more than half of the petitions were due to commonality of the name, and even more were probably for that reason (although not explicitly shown in the petitions). The next most often petitioned names, however, were not among the most common US surnames, but rather of the most obviously Jewish surnames – Levy and Cohen. I've created charts of the name changes from Levy and Cohen (with Cohn) that illustrate the changes made, and why the changes were made:

Name changes from Levy, with reasons. (Click to enlarge)
Among the people who changed their names from Levy, while none explicitly point out the removal of ‘Semitic origin’ like the example above, it is implicit in almost all of them (one says it is because the name is too common).

Name change from Cohen and Cohn, with reasons. (Click to enlarge)
In the changes from Cohen and Cohn, there is a similar implicit pattern. Only two petitions list commonality as a reason (the Keene and Spahn petitions). Compare that to Smith where more than half of the name changes are attributed to the commonness of the name.

Clearly something else is going on that causes these name changes to occur, and if we can't know that the names changed for the reasons in the first two petitions from the book, we can certainly infer that the reasons are fairly similar. The desire to ‘not be so distinctive’ was strong among many immigrants, and changing ones name to fit in better was an easy way to remove distinctiveness.

The reasons behind these name changes are very different from some of the other reasons I've discussed in the past, such as children having to take their mother's surnames because it was difficult for Jews to be civilly married in places like Austria in the 19th century. While the circumstances are very different, it's no less complicated for family members try to research their family when names change. Moreover, the circumstances, while different, still emanate from racism. In the case of mother's surnames, discrimination against Jewish families in the civil registration process, and in the case of these NYC name changes, discrimination that causes the petitioners to want to change their surnames to fit in better.

Interestingly, the fact that many Jews did not have surnames until just over 200 years ago probably contributes to the lack of commonness as a reason for changing one's surname. Other reasons are more common, however, such as changing a name that was derogatory (assigned by antisemitic bureaucrats) when possible, changing from a mother's surname to a father's surname (common when coming to the US where name changes were easier), and changes to try to prevent discrimination. Name changes of Jewish immigrants to Israel is a whole different topic, but encompassed a whole different set of reasons, including a desire to Hebraize one's surname – in some cases this was not a choice but a requirement if the person worked in the government or military in Israel.

What interesting name change stories do you have in your family?

Thursday, May 30, 2013

MacFamilyTree 7 Released - upgrade pricing for everyone

A Fan Chart in MacFamilyTree 7
I've been using the same genealogy program for about twenty years (Reunion), but that doesn't mean I don't look at what else is available. I'm always looking at what other genealogy programs are available for the Mac, and although I haven't switched, I am open to it if I found a program that really fit my needs better. I've written in the past about genealogy programs available through the Mac App Store (and others that are not), so I've mentioned MacFamilyTree before.

Yesterday MacFamilyTree received a major update, to version 7, so I thought it was worth mentioning again. It's also worth mentioning because they are offering upgrade pricing ($29.95 instead of $59.99) to everyone who buys it in the Mac App Store through July 31. It's a strange quirk of the Mac App Store that in essence companies cannot really offer upgrade pricing to their existing users. When you buy an application from the App Store, you own it forever. To get around this problem, some software companies release a new version of their program on the App Store as a separate program, and then reduce the price for everyone for a limited time. In this case, Synium Software, the makers of MacFamilyTree, are allowing anyone to get the upgrade pricing for the first two months, which I think is quite generous (sometimes companies only offer the upgrade pricing for a week).
Research Assistant feature in MacFamilyTree 7
There are a lots of nice features of MacFamilyTree. In the past, my biggest problem in switching programs was the handling of images. Reunion has a very nice feature that allows you have one image, and cut out the faces of multiple people for use in your family tree. For example, if you have a family portrait with ten family members in it, and it is the only photo you have for all the people, you can select out the faces from the one photo for each family member. This might not seem like a major feature, but when you use it extensively to attach photos of people to their records, it's hard to switch to a program that doesn't offer that (and doesn't import the cropped images I've already set up). I don't know if MacFamilyTree 7 has a similar feature or not, but that's one of the things I will be taking a look at when I look at the software.

Here's a look at the new version of MacFamilyTree in a video that Synium released:


When I find the time to take a look in depth at MacFamilyTree 7, I will try to post a review here. If I do end up switching, I'll try to explain how I moved everything over.

I should just add that I'm very happy that there are now several good options for genealogy software for the Mac. Besides Reunion and MacFamilyTree (Mac App Store), there's Heredis (which is 35% off through June 9 - $38.99 instead of $59.99 - on their site and in the Mac App Store) and GEDitCOM II (software which has some very unique features that I like, but needs a major overhaul to make it competitive with these others). One of the nice features of most of these programs (not GEDitCOM II) is the availability of a companion app that runs on the iPhone and/or iPad. Reunion has separate apps for iPhone/iPod Touch ($14.99) and iPad ($14.99), MacFamilyTree offers MobileFamilyTree which can run independently of MacFamilyTree (normally $15.99 - now also 50% off through July 31 at $7.99), but can also share data with it, and Heredis offers Heredis for iOS (which is free).

Also of note is that MyHeritage, which offers their free Family Tree Builder software for Windows (a $75 Premium version is also available), has said that the next version (Version 8) will be available on the Mac. It will be interesting to see how that software compares with these other programs. I hope they will offer the app through the Mac App Store, and offer the premium features and subscriptions through in-app purchasing.

Update: Synium Software responded via Twitter that they do support cropping multiple images out of a single photo, as well as importing and exporting that information. Always happy to see companies that respond quickly and directly to customers.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Introducing Lexigenealogy – a new blog


I've started a second blog, called Lexigenealogy. This new blog is about my convergence of interests into Lexicography, Genealogy and Technology. I will be using the new blog to look into what it takes to build a dictionary of names, from the technology needed to organize research, to how to properly format it for printing. This will be a long process, and I hope people will find it interesting. For more information about the impetus for starting this new blog, see my first post there Combining interests in Lexicography, Genealogy and Technology.

I will continue to write for both blogs, but will keep the more technical and Lexicography-oriented posts on Lexigenealogy. I will keep the more Jewish-oriented and traditional genealogy posts here on Blood and Frogs: Jewish Genealogy and More. As the dictionary I am working towards involves Jewish given names, there will invariably be some overlap, but if something is particularly interesting for both sites, I will link between them.

So I invite you to go check out Lexigenealogy and see what you think. The current post looks at digitizing print books to make them accessible on your computer and tablet. It's just the beginning, but I have much more planned.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

What does New Zealand have against Justice?

Recently, I read about New Zealand's policy of preventing parents from naming their children certain names, particularly offensive names. Now, the rules in New Zealand are not overly strict compared to some other countries, such as Denamrk where parents have to choose from a list of 7000 pre-selected names, or Germany, where the gender of the child must be determinable by the name, but it still seemed a bit restrictive. Perhaps the most restricted is Iceland, which makes people choose from 1712 male names and 1853 female names listed in the Personal Names Register, or appeal to a special committee that usually says no (see the recent story of one teenage girl trying to appeal).

I was interested to see that the most rejected name was actually Justice. To me Justice seems very similar to traditional names like Prudence or Charity. Certainly those names are not banned. I've never met anyone named Justice, although I do remember the character Justice played by Shannon Elizabeth in the 2001 comedy Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back:

"Justice" played by Shannon Elizabeth
I then wondered how many people named their babies Justice in the United States. Luckily that's easy enough to figure out (at least approximately), the Social Security Administration publishes the top 1000 names for both boys and girls in their system, dating back to 1880 (while Social Security started in 1937, the list is indexed by birth year, so the names go back much further).

Here are the results for the past 10 years for boys and girls:



So in the past ten years, Justice ranked somewhere between 332nd and 556th most popular name for boys and girls. What seems a bit strange is that if you go back to the beginning, the name as used for females only goes back to 1994, and the name for males shows up the first year (1880) at rank 993 (almost out of the ranking), then doesn't show up in the top 1000 until 1992, when it shows up in rank 821. What caused the surge in popularity as a male name in 1992, and introduced the name for girls in 1994? If you have a theory, post it in the comments.

In case you're wondering why the name is banned in New Zealand, it's because one of the rules states that a name cannot be used that "is, includes, or resembles, an official title or rank." This prevents names like King, Prince, Princess, Constable, etc. as well as Justice. The other names on the list were either judged as offensive, too long, or a punctuation mark. Letters and initials that don't stand for a real name seem also to have been banned.

Here's the list (as reported by CNN), with the number of rejections, from 2001 through the present:

Justice:62
King:31
Princess:28
Prince:27
Royal:25
Duke:10
Major:9
Bishop:9
Majesty:7
J:6
Lucifer:6
using brackets around middle names:4
Knight:4
Lady:3
using back slash between names:8
Judge:3
Royale:2
Messiah:2
T:2
I:2
Queen:2
II:2
Sir:2
III:2
Jr:2
E:2
V:2
Justus:2
Master:2
Constable:1
Queen Victoria:1
Regal:1
Emperor:1
Christ:1
Juztice:1
3rd:1
C J :1
G:1
Roman numerals III:1
General:1
Saint:1
Lord:1
. (full stop):1
89:1
Eminence:1
M:1
VI:1
Mafia No Fear:1
2nd:1
Majesti:1
Rogue:1
4real:1
* (star symbol):1
5th:1
S P:1
C:1
Sargent:1
Honour:1
D:1
Minister:1
MJ:1
Chief:1
Mr:1
V8:1
President:1
MC:1
Anal:1
A.J:1
Baron:1
L B:1
H-Q:1
Queen V:1

Monday, April 15, 2013

Jewish names, red herrings, and name changes

The study of one's family history includes a large amount of dealing with names. Surnames. Given names. Maiden names. Married names. Nicknames. Name changes. While many of the articles I've written in the 2+ years of this blog have dealt with names in some fashion, here's a look at the articles that focused specifically on them:

January 9, 2011

A look at the introduction of surnames in the Jewish community two centuries ago in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the government bureaucracy which forced many Jews to take the names of their mothers instead of their fathers, forever confusing their descendants researching their family history. A look at a specific case in my own family where birth certificates show the truth of what happened.

May 10, 2011

A look at names changes in NYC and the reasons behind them, as well as the myth and history of name changes at Ellis Island (or in my family's case, Castle Garden). A look at a very interesting book documenting names changes in New York, and a interesting story of a family that lived and had children under the wrong name for years, before changing it later.

May 17, 2011

This article is a brief look at two common historic Jewish naming patterns, and how they intersect. The first naming pattern is the use of animal names from Hebrew and/or Yiddish. The second pattern is giving two related names to a child.

This article also looks at the historical role of the shem kodesh (Jewish religious name) and the kinui (secular name) among Jews.

June 17, 2011

A look at how given names of the same person can change over time, particularly if they moved between countries. This article has a great table of Jewish given names that shows the names in English, Hebrew, Transliterated Hebrew (i.e. Hebrew in Latin letters), Tranliterated Yiddish, and Polish.

This article also lists and reviews a number of important books on Jewish given names, and provides information on the Given Names Data Bases (GNDBs) at JewishGen.

March 21, 2013

Plane crashes, bigamy and global law firms – this article has it all! Seriously though, this article takes a look at how sometimes you can spend years pursuing a lead that turns out to have been a typo. Examples include a newspaper article that detailed a plane crash in Guatemala, a Rhode Island state census that shows a man with the same name, birth year and birth country as my gg-grandfather who is married to a different woman, and a global law firm that somehow seems to spell their own name wrong on occasion. In all three examples, a family whose name was Traurig was erroneously printed or displayed as the much more rare name Trauring, leading to endless pursuits of families that it turned out were not related at all.

April 15, 2013

Whereas the above article looked at three cases where a family named Traurig was erroneously listed as Trauring, this article looks at four families whose surnames started out as Traurig, but actually changed their names to four different surnames – Trauring (two families), Vesely and Smutny (one family), and Al Yagon (one family).

The article looks at families that started out with the name Traurig, and changed their names in Poland, in Australia, and in Israel.

I hope you like these articles. Let me know what you think. Is there anything else you'd be interested to hear about Jewish name, or names in general, let me know and I'll see about adding a new article to this list in the future.

What does New Zealand have against Justice?
May 2, 2013

A somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at the different rules that some countries have restricting what parents can name their children, with a special look at the most-rejected name in New Zealand: Justice (which happens to have been the 512th most popular male name, and 529th most popular girls name, in the US in 2011).

Popularity of girls names in the US
June 6, 2013 (on lexigenealogy.com)

What girls names have been the most popular in the past century? What makes a name popular? What causes an old name to come into fashion again? Where did the name Aaliya come from? Layla? Why did Savannah come back after 50 years off the most popular name list?

Racism and Commonality as Reasons for Name Changes
June 9, 2013

A look at the reasons given for changing names in New York City, as recorded in a book that transcribed name change petitions filed between 1848 and 1899. On two ends of the spectrum, some people changed their names because they were too common, and some changed them because they were too ethnic (specifically too Jewish). A focused look at the most commonly changed names in the book – Smith, Levy and Cohen.