Scott_J on Family Tree Circles
Journals and Posts
If you were here in the past half-hour, you know that FamilyTreeCircles was in maintenance mode for about a half hour.
I moved FamilyTreeCircles from one server to another so I could decommission a very old and very expensive server.
Things should be just fine (famous last words), but if you notice any strangeness at all please do let me know either by commenting here, or via email to scott at familytreecircles.com.
Thank you and sorry for the inconvenience.
Unless you are brand new to FamilyTreeCircles, you should recall that a few weeks ago we launched the phase 1 of the new FamilyTreeCircles Assist! program.
Phase 1 was geared toward getting members to volunteer to assist other researchers in their physical location, helping with local activities like cemetery visits or local document requests. Without volunteers, the program would be useless, of course!
The response far exceeded my expectations and as of today, we've got hundreds of locations volunteered for. And that number is growing every day.
Of course, we need several thousand to get good coverage, but I'm encouraged by the response. I'm counting on members like you to adopt a location.
And today, I'm pleased to announce we've launched major new functionality that brings along with it the other half of the Assist! program, requesting assistance.
The new feature is called FamilyTreeCircles Locations, which is a massive database of just about every location in the world. In this section of the website, you can drill through continents, countries, and states down to counties, cities, and towns -- even cemeteries!
At any location, you can either volunteer to assist with that location or you can request assistance. In each location, with help from volunteers, we will also build a rich resource and repository of genealogy information.
See it here: FamilyTreeCircles Locations
As a volunteer, you may choose to assist someone with a local lookup or photography, or help in editing the information on the page for that location. Further, as we build on this functionality, it will allow you to better filter the content on FamilyTreeCircles related to your interests.
As a requester, you can post a query that's assigned to a specific location. This query is like any other FamilyTreeCircles query, except it is also listed in the location where volunteers for that location will be sure to see it, increasing the chances that you'll find someone to help.
This is a big day for FamilyTreeCircles as it greatly expands on our goal of connecting genealogy researchers who can help each other in their family tree search.
I hope you'll be able to particpate as both a volunteer and a requestor.
See it here: FamilyTreeCircles Locations
As always, if you have any suggestions or questions, please don't hesitate to ask in the comments below.
I'm getting some great feedback from people who are digging into their own countries that there are some strange regions and cities, or some less than great naming conventions. I knew this going in and will be developing methods to fix these going forward on a case by case basis. Please understand that there are more than 7.9 million locations in the database and this one guy can't possibly go through even a small fraction of them. As you do find problems with the data, please do let me know. That's the first step in identifying the right process to get these things fixed.
We're finally recovering from the debilitating snowstorm here in the Northeast United States. We had many massive limbs and even a few trees drop in our garden and on our cars. And we were counted as lucky because we only lost power for several hours. There are some neighbors who are still without power 5 days later. We helped out however we could, providing helping hands to clear debris and bring buckets of water.
This brings to mind the outpouring of responses that I received from the survey I emailed about a last week about whether I should create a volunteer local genealogy lookup service.
Frankly, I'm overwhelmed by the response. As of right now, there have been
898 910 replies, most of which are filled with thoughtful comments and feedback. I've been reading each and every one of them. I wish I could reply to them all.
Here are just a few of the many hundreds of responses I got in the survey:
"It is so nice when people that live in an area are willing to help out. Most of us cannot travel to these locations to do the research ourselves and it is so important to those of us that are trying to build our family trees. It is so aggravating when so many websites claim to be 'free' then ask for a credit card number to give you the needed information. Thank you for what you are doing with this website. I've only just discovered it recently."
"I think it is a very good idea and we should all work together to uncover these hidden or missing info."
"I would love to participate in a service like this. I have never volunteered, but I am great at photographing gravestones or going to a place of records to find info for someone."
What about privacy?
By far, the biggest concern expressed was privacy and interacting with strangers. I'm happy to say that on FamilyTreeCircles we've had that problem pretty well handled for many years now thanks to a messaging system that has now had more than 22,000 private messages sent through it without exposing email addresses or other personal information.
Announcing the Assist! Program
So today I'm pleased to introduce the formation of the FamilyTreeCircles Assist! Program, a free service that will connect volunteers who would like to help out with local assistance at town halls and cemeteries, and to provide access to the vast amounts (or even small bits) of knowledge that they have collected.
There are thousands of individuals who are willing and able to perform lookups and document requests at local town halls or take pictures at local cemeteries on behalf of those without the means to travel to those locations.
Further, we have all obtained at least a small bit of knowledge that very few others have, like local knowledge of libraries, town halls, and other resources, information about the surnames that we're researching, and other rare books and information.
Therefore, there is not only a need for people to get help locally, but there exists a huge need for people to simply help out online in very specific areas of expertise.
We just need a way to make ourselves available to those who are in need of that knowledge.
By identifying yourself as someone who can help out in a specific location, or as someone who is knowlegable in certain surnames or areas of interest, you can help provide information to people seeking help in those areas.
And even if you cannot provide local lookups or you don't get specific requests from people, you can share your knowledge by helping us edit our location and surname information pages.
This Won't Be Easy. I Need Your Help...
This whole project hinges on our ability to get good coverage with a large number of volunteers. The first step is building up this strong network of people who are willing to make their knowledge and assistance available to others.
So I'm asking you to go to our Assist! page and identify the locations, surnames, and other areas in which you may help out.
To do so, go here: Assist! program registration
We'll follow up with how people will be able to get in touch for assistance.
Thank you for your participation. If you have any questions, please feel free to post comments.
p.s. This is not a major commitment on your part. We will ensure that people do not get overwhelmed with requests. How much assistance you give and effort you expend will always be entirely up to you.
Again, simply register your areas of knowlege here: Assist!
Hello. Your great feedback on some of the new stuff that I've been adding has inspired me to add more.
I've just added a "Favorites" feature.
Here's how it works...
You can add any post (journal, article, question) to your list of favorites by clicking the "Favorite" link. This link appears at the top of every journal. (give it a try, click the star at the top of this post):
and also in the journals lists (see callouts #2 and #3 in the image below)
You can view all your favorites under the "Journals" page. Look for the link on that page called "Favorites" (see callout #1 in the image below). You have to be logged in to use this feature.
Here's a direct link: Favorites
This is something that I've been wanting to add for a long time, to help keep track of journals that I want to get back to, or reference later, or just to mark as a "good one".
I hope you find it useful.
FamilyTreeCircles.com has been around for over 7 years now, and has been in a constant state of development.
I'll be the first to admit that most poorly crafted area of FamilyTreeCircles has been the user profile pages. And as I've been making improvements to the platform, I'd also say that it's been the most neglected.
This week I've taken steps to resolve that with an entirely newly designed user profile.
Your Own Home Page
Your user profile on FamilyTreeCircles is now your genealogy homepage. Your own journals and posts are featured prominently in chronological order, newest first. Until now, your own journals were relegated to a list, and reading them was an exercise in clicking around a lot.
Now your homepage is a very easy-to-read list of all your journals. As you post journals, your latest ones appear at the top.
This makes it very easy for other FamilyTreeCircles members, and even people searching the Internet for the information that you write about, to find and read your journals.
That means more people see your journals, which means that your information and your own queries are seen by more people, resulting in a higher chance that you'll connect with distant cousins and researchers looking for the same ancestors.
Here's what the new profile page looks like:
Hey, This Sounds and Looks Like a Blog
Essentially, your FamilyTreeCircles profile page is a blog. Blog comes from the words Web Log. A blog is quite simply a web page containing a log of your writing. Web log...weblog...'blog.
The writing activity that you do posting Journals on FamilyTreeCircles is no different than that of "bloggers" that we hear so much about.
Now in addition to how your journals were seen before in the activity lists, your information is organized like a blog and you get all the benefits of blogging:
- Research: By getting your and your genealogy research out there, people who are researching the same ancestors will find you. You may even break down some brick walls just by posting them for others to find and help you out.
- Sharing: Posting your genealogy information helps others, and many times it comes back
- Connecting: There are countless connections that people make with distant and lost relatives through publishing a blog.
- Community: The genealogy blogging community is a friendly, helpful group of genealogists, professionals and hobbyists alike. By starting a blog of your own
- Fun: Writing can be a fun, creative way to express yourself. Some people even think it's therapeutic.
The good news is that just by signing up for FamilyTreeCircles, you now have a blog.
How cool does that make you?
View your new profile here. Or click on the "Your Home" link in the header.
Here are a few great FamilyTreeCircles profiles to take a look at for inspiration:
A member asked me if I had any information on Martin GINGRAS m. Emilie MAYRAND Aug 25 1846.
I found this couple in the GINGRAS FAMILY MARRIAGES book by Andrew GINGRAS, July 1995.
It is important to note that this book is NOT primary documentation. The tireless work of Andrew GINGRAS over the years produced an incredible amount of information, but I am not certain that it is all sourced with primary documentation. It is a wonderful collection nonetheless and we’re lucky to have it.
The formatting of this book can be difficult to get used to, but this first image shows the header format. Here’s Martin and Emilie with their parents Magloire GINGRAS and Vicroire GAVREAU and Children.
Here they have 7 children who were married (non married Gingrases don’t make this book): Rene, Philippe, Alfred, Leopold, Emma, Jeanne, and Emelia.
Again, the formatting of this book can be confusing, but the first line in each of these families is the husband/wife. The second line is their parents, and the third+ lines are their children.
Magloire GINGRAS m. Emilie MAYRAND Feb 22 1802
Pierre GINGRAS m. Catherine GRENIER Apr 19 1773
Pierre GINGRAS m. Anne BELANGER Nov 21 1740
Jean GINGRAS m. Madeleine LEFEBVRE Feb 17 1705
which brings us to Charles and Francoise AMIOT at the base of the GINGRAS tree…
Charles GINGRAS m. Francoise AMIOT Nov 05, 1675
This evening, I sat down to dinner with my family and said to my five year old son, Alex, "Do you know who the Pilgrims are?"
"Yeah, they had a very tough boat ride," he said. "And then they were friends with the native Americans."
"That's about right," I said with a big smile. It was all my wife and I could do to contain ourselves.
Then I said, "So, do you know what a 'great-grandfather' is?"
He looked at me sort of puzzled.
You see where I was going with this? My goal was to explain to him that his 11th-Great grandfather, actually two of them, were on that boat ride.
Then I pulled out a piece of paper, and drew a short family tree starting with him. His little brother, who was listening intently said, "Hey, where am I?" So I added him in, and their big sister Sarah as I knew that was next, though she wasn't there for the discussion.
I pointed at the first stick figure and said, "OK, this is you...and this is me and your mother."
Then I pointed to my parents and said, "Who are they?"
Then I pointed to his mother's parents...
Wow, he's getting it.
Then I drew two more lines and stick figures for my grandfather and grandmother.
"Who are they?" he asked.
"That's my grandfather and grandmother."
"What are their names?" he said, more interested than I expected.
"Robert and Helen," I replied, "That's where you got your middle name. They are my grandparents and they are your great grandparents."
Then what he said next floored me.
"Does it keep going Dad? Who's above them?"
OK, here we go. This was easier than I thought. I drew the next two above my grandfather.
"And what were their names?" he asked excitedly.
He was truly interested in these people and their names and then he started asking if they were still alive. I explained that they were born a very long time ago.
"Vickery Baker was born in 1797. That would make him over 200 years old today."
His eyes lit up, "wow."
I kept going and drew the tree, only including the line up to Stephen Hopkins, and explained who he was.
"Was he the boss of the ship dad?" (heh, 5 year olds have their priorities.)
"How old would he be?"
Alex then wrote, "40020" at the top of the chart, which is his version of Four Hundred and Twenty.
"Does it go all the way back to the cavemen, Dad?"
"Well, I suppose it does, Alex..."
Which sort of blows my mind to contemplate that.
Here's the entire chart. It starts at the bottom right.
As I was going through this exercise, I realized that I had never actually drawn that tree by hand. What a shame that I had never done that, and that I couldn't do it from memory. And while I did know that I'm 13th generation Mayflower ancestor, I couldn't have told you without looking it up that the male line includes one Hopkins, Five Snows, and Five Bakers before it changed to my surname with my father.
I'm not sure who learned more, my son or me.
I look forward to more genealogy sessions with Alex.
How many times have you been out visiting family and end up in a discussion about your family tree? It doesn't take too many generations back for the details of who's who to become fuzzy and if you're like my family, you end up spending more time trying to recreate the tree in your heads than having some more productive discussion around family history.
In any case, I like to have my family research with me wherever I am as I never know when I'll need it.
Though if you've got an Android-based smartphone (like the Motorola Droid or the Google Nexus One) and have been feeling left out, there's now a nifty application available that allows you to store and view one or more GEDCOM files, called Family Bee, available from Beekeeper Labs.
Family Bee is a simple GEDCOM viewer (not editor), which means you can store your GEDCOM file(s) in your Android phone and view any of the people in your tree in many different ways (more on that below). But you cannot edit and make changes. This is fine with me, as I'd prefer to be able to carefully make edits to my family tree information at the comfort of my computer keyboard.
After purchasing it from the Android Marketplace and installing it, you're prompted with three ways to import your GEDCOM file:
- Download directly from the web
- Email as an attachment
- Copy from the computer via USB
I chose the third option as it seemed the simplest, and it was. I copied my largest (and most bloated with inaccuracies) GEDCOM file downloaded fresh from Ancestry.com into the /familybee folder on my phone's SD card.
Once this was done, Family Bee quickly loaded the file and displayed the list of people in my tree.
Using Family Bee
The first thing you see when loading Family Bee is a list of people in the GEDCOM. You can scroll through this list or search. Here I searched for the name SLADE.
Once you choose a person, here Coralinn SLADE, you're presented with the Family View.
Next you can drill down to the details on a specific person in the Detail View
And finally you can get in to the very specific details on any record such as Residence data, birth, death, etc. Virtually all information included in the GEDCOM source and notes fields are accessible.
And for any person, you can view their list of descendants, here switching to someone way back with a big list, Abigail ADAMS.
Switching to Tree View, you can navigate the entire tree by touching each box. Touching boxes on the right will move the tree to the right. Touching a box on the left will prompt you with a list of children to choose from.
Family Bee should with with any Android phone. I scrolled through the comments in the marketplace and didn't see any major issues with specific phones. It currently has a 4.5 star rating and virtually nothing but great reviews.
All in all, this is a very function GEDCOM viewer for the Android OS, and well worth the $10 price tag to always have my family tree in my pocket.
I've just posted some updates to Family Tree Circles, that I hope will start us on the road to making this a better place for everybody. Here's what I've done...
The Family Tree Circles points system has been removed. I believe it has been broken for a long time, but in any case, the feedback that I've been getting is that it is encouraging a quantity over quality approach for some. I originally put that in place to recognize the top contributors, and I think it did serve a purpose for many years. It seems it is time to move on from that model. Instead, I do plan on doing some sort of user scoring/reputation system going forward. More on that in a bit.
Block/Unblock Users: A a sort of pressure relief valve, I've implemented a "block user" feature. This will hide journals for any blocked user in the places where journals are listed. You can still view individual journals or the profile of a blocked user. And you can always unblock a user from your own profile.
To block a user, click the "block this user" link in the bio section of a journal or that user's profile.
To unblock a user, you can click that link again (it'll change to "unblock"). Or you can view all the blocked users in your profile and unblock them from there:
Yes, you can block yourself. :-)
I don't love having to add this last feature, but it'll be interesting to see if it gets used.
I know that neither of these solutions solve the difficult problem of someone flooding the active journal page with many posts, or lots of comments on their own posts. You can clean up the view for yourself with blocking, but most people won't do that and the flooding can continue. This is a difficult one to solve because some people who post great stuff may also post a several journals in a row. So, simply putting basic flood control in (ilke to limit posts to a certain number per hour) would hurt users who don't deserve it.
As I indicated above, I plan to implement an algorithmic scoring/reputation system that will take peer feedback into consideration when deciding which journals will be displayed in the journals lists.
Many of you have surely noticed back in the spring that I introduced "Thank" and "flag" links on journals. To those of you who have been using those, thanks. I'll be using that information in a future update.
In the meantime, I hope these two short-term changes help some.