Decompressing from NGS 2010, Salt Lake City

I arrived home yes­ter­day after­noon from the Nation­al Genealog­i­cal Soci­ety’s annu­al con­fer­ence, held this year in Salt Lake City. I’m still decom­press­ing from a great week of pre­sen­ta­tions, speech­es, singing from the Mor­mon Taber­na­cle Choir, and research. I do not this one post will encom­pass all that I have to say about the event, so here’s the first of a cou­ple of posts on the Con­fer­ence.

This year there were sev­er­al items of note:

  • Jay L. Verkler, Pres­i­dent of Fam­il­y­Search (which includes the Fam­i­ly His­to­ry Library in Salt Lake City, the over 4,600 Fam­i­ly His­to­ry Cen­ters in more than 80 coun­tries, and the web­site) gave the Wednes­day morn­ing keynote address, which includ­ed:
    • A pre­sen­ta­tion of “From the Gran­ite Moun­tain to the Ends of the World,” a video vir­tu­al tour through the LDS Gran­ite Moun­tain Records Vault, where the mas­ter copies of the Church’s 2.4 mil­lion micro­film reels are stored.

      I expect this video, enti­tled  will soon be post­ed to where the oth­er LDS pre­sen­ta­tions from the Con­fer­ence have been post­ed. The pre­sen­ta­tion is list­ed there, but does not have an active link yet.

      Update: The film is up on their web­site. See the entry “Gran­ite Moun­tain Records Vault: The Video.”

    • An announce­ment that the Fam­il­y­Search web­site has post­ed 300 mil­lion new names in indexed genealog­i­cal records.
    • An announce­ment that dig­i­tiz­ing the Church’s micro­film (once esti­mat­ed to take 178 years) will instead be com­plet­ed in … 10 years, due to tech­no­log­i­cal improvements.Indexing will take addi­tion­al time, but the fact that all the imag­ing will be done as soon as 2020 means that these records may be acces­si­ble in unin­dexed dig­i­tal for­mat (folks, the films are not indexed either!), and the index­ing could be done via crowd sourc­ing, as the,, and web­sites are already doing.
  • The NGS Con­fer­ence includ­ed a Gen­Tech sec­tion, where genealog­i­cal soft­ware and web­site com­pa­nies demon­strat­ed their prod­ucts. There was an unmanned booth (though some­times there were peo­ple there!) with the pro­posed Genealog­i­cal Data Mod­el (GDM).Here’s one researcher who hopes that the GDM is final­ly dust­ed off and used to cre­ate a true stan­dard for the stor­age, main­te­nance, and shar­ing of genealog­i­cal data that will com­ply with the Genealog­i­cal Proof Stan­dard and the sourc­ing guide­lines of Evi­dence Explained by Eliz­a­beth Shown Mills. This would give us a bet­ter way to share and com­pare genealog­i­cal infor­ma­tion as well as to take it clean­ly from one prod­uct to anoth­er with­out the cur­rent vagaries of GEDCOM.
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Kindle 2 Adds Native PDF Support; New Kindle for Windows

Ama­zon has added native PDF sup­port to the sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Kin­dle e‑reader.

The Kin­dle DX, which has a larg­er screen (9.7 inch­es vs. 6 inch­es on the Kin­dle, 2nd gen) and a high­er stick­er price ($489 vs. $259), has had native PDF sup­port since its launch.

The new sup­port for PDFs on 2nd gen­er­a­tion Kin­dle devices is part of soft­ware ver­sion 2.3, which does not run on the orig­i­nal Kin­dle devices. This soft­ware will be auto­mat­i­cal­ly down­loaded over the air, but Kin­dle own­ers who are as impa­tient as I am, can man­u­al­ly down­load the upgrade soft­ware and install it over a USB con­nec­tion to their Kin­dle. The soft­ware and instruc­tions are avail­able at: Kin­dle Soft­ware Updates.

The PDF read­er works well. The PDFs retain all of their design and con­tent. How­ev­er, there are some lim­i­ta­tions. Unlike the Kin­dle DX, the Kin­dle 2 does not auto­mat­i­cal­ly rotate the screen when you rotate the device. (Some review­ers of the Kin­dle DX have said that the auto-rota­tion is slug­gish and unpre­dictable, but it still might be eas­i­er to deal with than the clicks required to rotate the screen man­u­al­ly on the DX or on the Kin­dle 2.) Once you rotate the screen, the image of a por­trait-for­mat PDF file fills up approx­i­mate­ly two screens worth of scrolling on the Kin­dle. This works fine, and makes the PDFs read­able, but it might be nice if you could zoom in on a PDF the way you can on an image in Kin­dle-for­mat­ted books.

For geneal­o­gists, the native PDF sup­port makes the Kin­dle 2 a much more inter­est­ing device. You can now down­load pub­lic domain books from Google Books or take your soci­ety’s newslet­ter along in an instant-on portable device. No wire­less access is required while read­ing, and the radio for Whis­per­Net, the free cell phone-based access, can be turned off for use on air­planes or where there is no cell phone sig­nal.

Anoth­er recent Ama­zon release is a Kin­dle for PC, which allows you to read books you’ve bought for the Kin­dle on your PC. (Kin­dle for PC runs on Win­dows XP (Ser­vice Pack 2), Win­dows Vista, and Win­dows 7. Kin­dle for PC syncs your read­ing loca­tion between Kin­dle for PC and your Kin­dle. You can share Kin­dle books with up to six Kin­dle read­ers or Kin­dle for PC soft­ware pack­ages. A Kin­dle for the Mac is in the works for Mac OS X users.

This beta release is admit­ted­ly not ready for gen­er­al use. It is miss­ing key fea­tures such as the abil­i­ty to copy or even high­light text, and the abil­i­ty to … um search! Links also do not appear to work, which is very frus­trat­ing. Ama­zon promis­es updates to address these and oth­er gaps and request­ed fea­tures. There is no way to pur­chase books from the Kin­dle for PC inter­face. You will need to do that on your hard­ware Kin­dle or on using a web brows­er. For licens­ing rea­sons, you can­not use the Kin­dle for PC soft­ware to read news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines, or blogs, only books.

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Facebook for Genealogists

Face­book, a social net­work­ing web­site, passed a mile­stone in Feb­ru­ary: it reached the five-year anniver­sary of its launch. Face­book was found­ed by Mark Zucker­berg, then a sopho­more at Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty, with the orig­i­nal idea of keep­ing in touch with his col­lege friends. The site quick­ly took off, with many Har­vard stu­dents join­ing, then stu­dents across the coun­try. Five years lat­er, the site has expand­ed its hori­zons beyond the youth cul­ture of its begin­nings. The com­pa­ny now claims that the Face­book Web site has 175 mil­lion active users glob­al­ly. Zucker­berg wrote in Jan­u­ary 2009 that “This includes peo­ple in every con­ti­nent — even Antarc­ti­ca. If Face­book were a coun­try, it would be the eighth most pop­u­lat­ed in the world, just ahead of Japan, Rus­sia, and Nige­ria.” Almost half of the active Face­book users use the site every day.

But, beyond the breathy hype of the website’s founder, of what val­ue is Face­book to geneal­o­gists? It pro­vides the abil­i­ty to share notes, pho­tographs, event invi­ta­tions, and infor­ma­tion of specif­i­cal­ly genealog­i­cal inter­est, allow­ing geneal­o­gists to con­nect with each oth­er, and with oth­er fam­i­ly mem­bers. For many, this can pro­vide a way to quick­ly and eas­i­ly share infor­ma­tion about their research with their fam­i­lies, espe­cial­ly with peo­ple who think they are “not inter­est­ed” in geneal­o­gy.

Face­book is more than a sim­ple social net­work­ing site. In addi­tion to all of its social net­work­ing fea­tures, it func­tions as a frame­work for the cre­ation and dis­sem­i­na­tion of infor­ma­tion. The site has evolved to include not only pro­grams designed by the peo­ple at Face­book, but also pro­grams designed by oth­ers that run with­in Face­book and share infor­ma­tion with oth­er Face­book appli­ca­tions. This is both the pow­er and the risk of Face­book, as I will dis­cuss lat­er.

Peo­ple come to Face­book for a num­ber of rea­sons: to con­nect with old friends or long-lost fam­i­ly, to share pic­tures, event invi­ta­tions, jokes, Web links, and video clips with friends, old and
new; and to talk to one anoth­er, and present them­selves almost as a kind of brand, shar­ing in their Face­book pro­files their favorite books, movies, and places, their reli­gious out­look, polit­i­cal affil­i­a­tion, and hob­bies. Late­ly, they are shar­ing answers to a series of ques­tions about what they did in high school, what their goals are for their lives (and which of them have been achieved), and “twen­ty-five ran­dom things about me” which, of course, sel­dom seem very ran­dom. My wife has an unusu­al sur­name, and for her, Face­book has been a place where she has found poten­tial rel­a­tives she would not have found any oth­er way.

The fifth most pop­u­lar appli­ca­tion on Face­book is “We’re Relat­ed,” a cre­ation of “We’re Relat­ed” allows one to see all of one’s fam­i­ly who are on Face­book, along with a descrip­tion of the rela­tion­ship with each of them (for exam­ple, “sister’s broth­er-in-law”). It also allows for the cre­ation of a geneal­o­gy data­base (either on the site or via GEDCOM upload) to share with any­one on Face­book. (The GEDCOM import fea­ture — which would allow you to export an entire geneal­o­gy data­base from your favorite soft ware pack­age and import it into “We’re Relat­ed” in one fell swoop — has been prob­lem­at­ic. It has worked at times, but as of this writ­ing is not work­ing and is under a major re-devel­op­ment effort.)

Many nation­al­ly known genealog­i­cal researchers, speak­ers, and writ­ers are on Face­book. In addi­tion, a vari­ety of soci­eties have set up pages there. A ran­dom sam­pling includes the Cal­i­for­nia Genealog­i­cal Soci­ety and Library, NGS, and the North Car­oli­na Genealog­i­cal Soci­ety (for which I admit I am the web­mas­ter… one of the twen­ty-five “ran­dom” things about me). You will also find mag­a­zines, such as Dig­i­tal Geneal­o­gist. In addi­tion, many blogs and pod­casts are rep­re­sent­ed, includ­ing The Geneal­o­gy Guys Pod­cast. Soft­ware ven­dors also make an appear­ance. Fans of The Mas­ter Geneal­o­gist have set up a page; the com­pa­ny Roots­Mag­ic has one as well. And, in a kind of fun-house mir­ror sort of dual­i­ty, there are even Web sites, such as,,, and

It is impor­tant to remem­ber that Face­book is a social, not a per­son­al site. Geneal­o­gists should con­duct them­selves as if any of their Face­book com­mu­ni­ca­tions could become pub­lic, since they could, through a vari­ety of means (i.e., shar­ing by Face­book friends, sys­tem fail­ures, or secu­ri­ty holes). So, you don’t want to post your grandmother’s secret fried chick­en recipe if you indeed want to make sure it remains a secret, even if you’re only shar­ing it with your clos­est friends.

Nev­er­the­less, there is a lot of pow­er in the Face­book site. I have been quite impressed by the work being done there by a group called Unclaimed Per­sons. (The group also has its own Web site at It posts infor­ma­tion about peo­ple whose bod­ies wait in morgues to be claimed by fam­i­ly mem­bers. Mem­bers of the group on Face­book do pro
bono research to try to locate the lost fam­i­lies of these per­sons, and then direct their sourced research through the Unclaimed Per­sons admin­is­tra­tors, who pass the infor­ma­tion on to the coro­ners’ offices. In many cas­es, Unclaimed Per­sons research has allowed coro­ners to con­tact fam­i­lies who have won­dered if they would ever know the fate of a broth­er or father or sis­ter or moth­er. The con­nec­tion between Face­book users and the appli­ca­tions, pages, and groups they have joined, gives them a sin­gle Web site to log into to par­tic­i­pate in the Unclaimed Per­sons eff ort, as well as many oth­er activ­i­ties.

Some might be con­cerned that Face­book could become a time drain, a place for geneal­o­gists to waste time they could be using to fur­ther their research. There is def­i­nite­ly a risk that you could end up play­ing more than your time bud­get allows. If, for exam­ple, you beat my wife at Word Chal­lenge, you and I, and my wife, will all know you’re spend­ing too much time play­ing games.

As with any tool or the Inter­net itself, it is up to each indi­vid­ual researcher to man­age his or her time and focus on reap­ing the ben­e­fits of that tool. One could eas­i­ly spend the bulk of a day on Face­book send­ing out vir­tu­al gift s to friends, but one can also fi nd out about events and soci­eties and keep up-to-date with a vari­ety of blogs. One can con­nect with fam­i­ly mem­bers who do not think of them­selves as geneal­o­gists, and share suc­cess­es and chal­lenges with one’s research peers and friends.

Prob­a­bly the biggest con­cerns voiced about Face­book over the years have been about pri­va­cy and secu­ri­ty. Among the most seri­ous issues is that Face­book allows appli­ca­tions almost unfet­tered access to the mate­ri­als you have post­ed. At one point, press­ing the down arrow key or enter­ing a peri­od in the search box would pro­duce a list of five pro­files relat­ed to the Face­book user who was cur­rent­ly logged in. Peo­ple assumed that this was a list of the peo­ple who had most fre­quent­ly vis­it­ed one’s pro­file. The list became known as the “Stalk­er List.” Even­tu­al­ly, Face­book said that the list was only intend­ed to be used by the Face­book soft ware to quick­ly nav­i­gate users to profi les that they were like­ly to vis­it. Because there was so much con­fu­sion and con­cern about the list, it was removed.

While many of these issues remain, espe­cial­ly the open­ness of your pro­file to Face­book appli­ca­tions that you choose to use, Face­book has made seri­ous gains in terms of mak­ing its site more secure and pri­vate. They have giv­en users more per-appli­ca­tion access to con­trol over what is shared with those appli­ca­tions, and what gets post­ed to your profi le from inter­ac­tions by you or oth­ers with those appli­ca­tions. As the say­ing goes: caveat emp­tor. You should actu­al­ly read the pri­va­cy notice on Face­book, and use the pri­va­cy set­tings avail­able to con­trol secu­ri­ty and pri­va­cy to the extent that you can. Keep in mind that it is a social, not a strict­ly pri­vate site.

Keep­ing those issues in mind, I believe that the ben­e­fits of Face­book are com­pelling. Appli­ca­tions such as “We’re Relat­ed,” as well as geneal­o­gy focused groups and pages, bring a wealth of con­nec­tions to geneal­o­gists. With 175 mil­lion users, a lot of your cur­rent rel­a­tives are on Face­book, and the ones who have been hard to find are prob­a­bly eas­i­er to locate here than else­where.

Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in the NGS News­magazine, Vol­ume 35, Num­ber 1, April–June 2009. Revised and updat­ed. Post­ed by per­mis­sion.

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Google Wave Will Revolutionize Collaborative Genealogy

Google is going through a process of invit­ing 100,000 “ear­ly adopters” of to their new offer­ing, Wave. It may be a few months before just any­one can sign up.

To see what’s in store, you could watch the 80 minute video that they admit them­selves is “loooong.” Or, you could watch their 8 minute video, with a brief sum­ma­ry of the prod­uct.

Google Wave is a tremen­dous­ly pow­er­ful plat­form that will change the way geneal­o­gy and fam­i­ly his­to­ry are done. Users of Wave cre­ate “waves,” which are some­thing between con­ver­sa­tions, e‑mail mes­sages, col­lab­o­ra­tive author­ing ses­sions, video and pic­ture shar­ing, blog author­ing, and so many more things.

The key tech­nol­o­gy involved in Wave, though, that makes it bet­ter than every oth­er avail­able prod­uct for col­lab­o­ra­tive author­ing is that it allows for near real-time com­mu­ni­ca­tion. If I send you an e‑mail, I have to wait for you to read it. If I write a blog entry, and I’m col­lab­o­rat­ing with anoth­er author, I have to save my draft, then tell them to take a look. Even if I’m “instant mes­sag­ing,” I still spend a good por­tion of the time wait­ing for a response and star­ing at a mes­sage that say some­thing like, “So-and-so is typ­ing.” But with Google Wave, I can see my cor­re­spon­dant type at the same time that I’m typ­ing. The con­ver­sa­tion is not ser­i­al, but par­al­lel — we are both talk­ing at the same time. It’s more like an actu­al con­ver­sa­tion. When we work togeth­er on a doc­u­ment, we can each make edits wher­ev­er in the doc­u­ment we need to, and this can hap­pen simul­ta­ne­ous­ly as fast as we can type.

So why will this mat­ter to geneal­o­gists? If you are work­ing with a dis­tant cousin on a dif­fi­cult prob­lem in the fam­i­ly his­to­ry, you can put togeth­er your evi­dence and be able to eval­u­ate it, and each of you edit it at any time. You can also roll back the con­ver­sa­tion to any point in the his­to­ry of it. You can cap­ture the con­ver­sa­tion at a spe­cif­ic point and export it to anoth­er Wave. You can add oth­er mem­bers of the Wave, and they can see the whole his­to­ry of the evo­lu­tion of the con­ver­sa­tion or doc­u­ment. Images can be added through drag and drop. The sys­tem can per­form simul­ta­ne­ous word-by-word trans­la­tions into a num­ber of lan­guages. The con­tex­tu­al spell check­er knows that “icland is and icland” should prob­a­bly read “Ice­land is an island.”

For geneal­o­gists, this will be a pow­er­ful envi­ron­ment for work­ing togeth­er on com­mon research, for work­ing on the bylaws and stand­ing rules of the local genealog­i­cal soci­ety, and for author­ing real-time col­lab­o­ra­tive blogs. Don’t be sur­prised if the 2010 or 2011 NGS Con­fer­ence Blogs are writ­ten in Google Wave and then post­ed using the Blog­gy robot in a stan­dard blog for­mat.

Google Wave will also be a way for pro­fes­sion­al geneal­o­gists to share the notes they make on the way to their reports with their clients.

And don’t be sur­prised if, when work­ing with a researcher search­ing for Gra­hams in the same coun­ty in South­ern West Vir­ginia you are, you find your­self not both­er­ing with e‑mail, but instead invite them to dis­cuss it over Google Wave.

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Graham, et. al. v. Graham, et. al.

My most intractable genealog­i­cal brick­wall is the parent­age of Rebec­ca Martha Gra­ham (1831–1880).

Rebec­ca­’s moth­er Jane Gra­ham (1811–1854) is dis­missed by her broth­er David Gra­ham (1821–1914) in his “His­to­ry of Gra­ham Fam­i­ly” (1899) with the fol­low­ing sen­tence: “Jane, the sec­ond daugh­ter of Joseph Gra­ham, died unmar­ried” (80).

On Google Books, how­ev­er, I have found doc­u­men­ta­tion for a case that might lead to the miss­ing father of Rebec­ca Martha Gra­ham. The case is “Gra­ham, et. al. v. Gra­ham, et. al., Decid­ed May 1, 1880, The West Vir­ginia Supreme Court of Appeals.”

As I men­tioned, Rebec­ca was the daugh­ter of Jane Gra­ham and some unknown para­mour. On 1 Nov 1853, Rebec­ca mar­ried Hen­ry Lake Miller (1817–1900). Around the time of this mar­riage, Rebec­ca inher­it­ed $3,000 from her father (I pre­sume this was main­ly land) who died in Mis­souri.

in 1854, Jane died a vio­lent death, for which her broth­er James Gra­ham (1813–1889) was put on tri­al and acquit­ted.

Lit­i­ga­tion on the Gra­ham v. Gra­ham chancery case began in 1859, and the case did not make its way com­plete­ly through to the West Vir­ginia Supreme Court of Appeals until 1879, being decid­ed in 1880. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Rebec­ca died one month and 11 days after win­ning her judg­ment. She died of dysen­tery.

But what was the case about? Rebec­ca Martha Gra­ham’s grand­moth­er, Rebec­ca Gra­ham (1786–1876) had received “prop­er­ty” (land and a slave named Dinah) in the will of her father, James Gra­ham (1741–1813). The rel­e­vant por­tion of the will reads:

I give unto my Daugh­ter Rebeck­ah Gra­ham and her chil­dren, that plan­ta­tion where she now lives known by the name of Stephen­sons Cab­bin [sic] also I give unto her and her chil­dren my Negro girl named Dinah, the Land and Negro nev­er to be dis­posed of out of the Fam­i­ly nor the increase of the Negro if any she has.

Because the elder Rebec­ca Gra­ham was mar­ried, her hus­band Joseph Gra­ham had “own­er­ship” of this prop­er­ty. After he died, his wid­ow sold the two chil­dren of Dinah (Ira and Stu­art), and the bulk of the remain­ing chil­dren sued for a por­tion of the pro­ceeds.

Whether or not this case yields the name and any par­tic­u­lars about Rebec­ca Martha Gra­ham’s father, I’m sure it will be a case that reveals a great deal about rur­al ante­bel­lum West Vir­ginia.

The main reminder here, how­ev­er, is not to for­get key sources, such as court cas­es. While not as often used as some oth­er sources, such as vital records or cen­sus records, the records of court cas­es can be quite reveal­ing.

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Dr. Anna Julia Cooper

Dr. Anna Julia Cooper
Dr. Anna Julia Coop­er

“The cause of free­dom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a par­ty or a class — it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of human­i­ty.”

– Dr. Anna Julia Coop­er

At the NGS Fam­i­ly His­to­ry Con­fer­ence on Sat­ur­day, I was lucky enough to attend the Wake Coun­ty lun­cheon.

The con­fer­ence includes sev­er­al oppor­tu­ni­ties to hear speak­ers over lunch for a fee. The fee includes the price of the lunch and also serves as a fund rais­er for the orga­ni­za­tion that has put togeth­er the event. These are almost always lec­tures, and while the lec­tures are more enter­tain­ing and light than those offered at the rest of the con­fer­ence, they are lec­tures.

The Wake Coun­ty Genealog­i­cal Soci­ety (of which I am a not-very-active mem­ber) chose to do this dif­fer­ent­ly. Instead of hav­ing one speak­er, they had a troup of actors per­form­ing a play tai­lored for the occa­sion. The play was based on the lives of his­tor­i­cal per­son­ages of Wake Coun­ty. While there were some rough edges to the per­for­mance, with some dropped lines, it was a very pow­er­ful per­for­mance. Espe­cial­ly of note were the por­tray­als of Joel Lane, founder of Raleigh and Dr. Anna Julia Coop­er. Of these, the pre­sen­ta­tion of Dr. Coop­er was the most affect­ing.

Dr. Coop­er was an edu­ca­tor and writer. She was the fourth African-Amer­i­can woman to receive a doc­tor­ate degree, and did so at the age of 65, shat­ter­ing bar­ri­ers of race, gen­der and age. She was born in slav­ery and lived to the age of 105, dying in 1964. She lived Amer­i­can his­to­ry from the Civ­il War to Civ­il Rights.

To read more about Dr. Coop­er, see the Wikipedia arti­cle on her life, or read her most famous book, A Voice from the South on the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na’s Doc­South web­site.

Image © Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na at Chapel Hill. This work is the prop­er­ty of the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by indi­vid­u­als for research, teach­ing and per­son­al use as long as this state­ment of avail­abil­i­ty is includ­ed in the text. Coop­er, Anna J., 1892, A Voice from the South, Xenia, Ohio: The Aldine Print­ing House, Doc­u­ment­ing the Amer­i­can South. Uni­ver­si­ty Library, The Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na at Chapel Hill, 2000,

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Kindle DX E‑Book Reader

Last week, Ama­zon announced the impend­ing release of their third gen­er­a­tion e‑book read­er, the Kin­dle DX. (See the New York Times arti­cle on the announce­ment.)

The Ama­zon Kin­dle has cre­at­ed some­what of a sen­sa­tion with what are thought to be “iPod-like” sales num­bers. (Ama­zon has so far suc­ceed­ed in keep­ing the actu­al sales num­bers pri­vate.) Ama­zon does say a cou­ple of inter­est­ing things, how­ev­er, about the num­ber of books that Kin­dle read­ers buy. Accord­ing to Ama­zon’s fig­ures, pur­chasers of Kin­dle e‑book read­ers buy as many tra­di­tion­al books as they did before, and are sup­ple­ment­ing their pur­chas­es of books on paper with pur­chas­es of e‑books.

Step­ping away from the hype, the Kin­dle comes in for con­sid­er­able crit­i­cism, main­ly around the issue of dig­i­tal rights man­age­ment. Just as with ear­ly ver­sions of the Apple iPod, the Ama­zon Kin­dle has been cre­at­ed with very tight dig­i­tal rights man­age­ment, which lim­its cus­tomers from shar­ing their books with oth­er Kin­dle own­ers, giv­ing their books away after they have read them, donat­ing them to a library, and so on, which are stan­dard ways peo­ple think about books. Not only is a Kin­dle own­er pre­vent­ed from down­load­ing and read­ing a Kin­dle book on any Kin­dle they do not per­son­al­ly own, if Ama­zon ever stopped sup­port­ing the Kin­dle, there is no clear method to allow any­one to read the books they have “invest­ed” in.

There was also some mis­guid­ed flak from the Authors Guild about the com­put­er voice that can “read” books to you on a Kin­dle. The nov­el­ist, e‑book pro­po­nent, and Kin­dle crit­ic, Cory Doc­torow wrote an illu­mi­nat­ing piece in The Guardian about how wrong-head­ed the Guild was in oppos­ing the “read-to-me” fea­ture of the Kin­dle (which also exists on every com­put­er with a recent ver­sion of Adobe Acro­bat Read­er).

“But why should geneal­o­gists care?” you might ask. While there are 275,000 titles avail­able, very few of those are specif­i­cal­ly genealog­i­cal in nature. The main mar­ket for the Kin­dle and its read­ers is con­tem­po­rary best-sell­ing fic­tion and non-fic­tion. While there’s some over­lap there, with some nov­els illus­trat­ing the time peri­ods of our ances­tors’ lives, and some non-fic­tion best sell­ers being excel­lent vol­umes of his­to­ry, the con­nec­tion seems ten­u­ous.

The real ben­e­fit for geneal­o­gists in the Kin­dle is that its plat­form is not entire­ly closed. In addi­tion to read­ing books for­mat­ted for the Kin­dle itself, it can also read books from the pub­lic domain con­vert­ed into Mobipock­et for­mat. Tens of thou­sands of these books are avail­able on sev­er­al sites includ­ing, and But, since these books are also main­ly not of inter­est to geneal­o­gists, a more com­pelling fea­ture of the Kin­dle is that (in its first two ver­sions) it can con­vert PDF and Word doc­u­ments to Kin­dle for­mat. The con­ver­sion is not per­fect, though, and some files sim­ply don’t work.

Kin­dle DX and Geneal­o­gy: Here’s where the Kin­dle DX comes in. The Kin­dle DX reads PDF files native­ly. This means that geneal­o­gists will be able to down­load any PDF file they have access to, whether it’s a pub­lic domain PDF of a local his­to­ry from the 1890s down­loaded from Google Books or their genealog­i­cal soci­ety’s newslet­ter, and take it with them in a device that is about the size of a piece of paper and 1/3 of an inch thick. Since the device has 3.3 GB of stor­age, there’s plen­ty of room for books. The Kin­dle is near­ly instant-on (try that with your Vista lap­top!), and less of a strain on the eyes than a com­put­er mon­i­tor because it’s not back­lit. The Kin­dle also allows for easy book­mark­ing, high­light­ing and copy­ing of por­tions of text. It keeps track of where you were the last time you opened any doc­u­ment.

So, you heard it here first, the Kin­dle DX will be an attrac­tive addi­tion to the geneal­o­gist’s gad­get bag, lim­it­ed only by its $489 list price.

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Top 10 Genealogy Websites

Today, Randy Seaver post­ed to his blog Genea-Mus­ings his list of top 10 favorite geneal­o­gy web­sites.He men­tions that he’s tak­ing off from a trend we’ve seen on Face­book, of the “5 items I have” known, seen, met, and so on. And, of course, list mak­ing is a long and hon­ored tra­di­tion.

With­out too much fur­ther ram­bling, I’ll share my own top 10 list of geneal­o­gy sites.

This list, like any “best of” list will change from day to day. What it looks like today will cer­tain­ly not be iden­ti­cal to how it would look tomor­row or would have looked last week. All the rel­e­vant list caveats apply. So, here goes:

  1. ($, por­tions free) (includ­ing ) — The amount of data here is vast. As are the tools, from their geneal­o­gy soft­ware, Fam­i­lyTreeMak­er, to DNA research.
  2. ($, por­tions free) — The folks at Foot­note sim­ply under­stand Web 2.0 and pro­vide some­thing between Ances­try, Flickr, and Face­book. Mean­while, their part­ner­ship with the Nation­al Archives con­tin­ues to reap rewards for users of the site.
  3. (free, with a dona­tion mod­el) — This site is weird­ly com­pelling. It’s a pow­er­ful way to gath­er data, with the vast major­i­ty of infor­ma­tion con­tributed by “care­tak­ers” of the fam­i­ly records, and yet these adding up to viru­tal grave­yards.
  4. (free) — An amaz­ing and ambi­tious por­tal into LDS records and geneal­o­gy tools.
  5. Steve Morse’s One-Step Web­site (free) — I find the search algo­rithms here very help­ful to break through prob­lems where I don’t know enough to search a site direct­ly (or don’t know what par­tic­u­lar mis­spelling is in my way). Steve’s site runs mul­ti­ple search­es behind the scenes so that you don’t have to do them all in a man­u­al fash­ion.
  6. EOGN — East­man’s Online Geneal­o­gy Newslet­ter ($, por­tions free) — Dick East­man inhab­its the cen­ter of the space where geneal­o­gy and tech­nol­o­gy inter­sect. If you’re inter­est­ed in that over­lap, and you hap­pen not to have seen this blog, you real­ly ought to take a look. East­man keeps me up-to-date on tech­nol­o­gy I can use in geneal­o­gy.
  7. GNIS (free) — The USGS Geo­graph­i­cal Names Infor­ma­tion Sys­tem. This is very handy for find­ing out the loca­tion of streams, church­es, and so on. If it was ever list­ed on a US Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey map as a fea­ture or place, it’s in this data­base.
  8. (free) — This is a locale-based list­ing of avail­able sites. I find it help­ful to look here when I start work­ing in a new coun­ty or state. The site helps me find loca­tion-spe­cif­ic online resources I might not find any oth­er way.
  9. — Like Ances­try, this is a great site, full of pow­er­ful data­bas­es.
  10. ($, por­tions free) — I’m real­ly impressed with how the folks at Geneal­o­gy­Bank do sim­ple things. For exam­ple, their free Secu­ri­ty Death Index results you the birth and death dates, just as many oth­er sites do, but they also cal­cu­late the age at death. Addi­tion­al­ly, they use the “Last Res­i­dence” zip code to pro­vide lat/long data you can use to quick­ly map the loca­tion.

But I’d be inter­est­ed in know­ing what’s on your list, and learn­ing about new sites that will end up being on my list next time I com­pile one.

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Carl and Alice Jones, 1949. Pho­to­graph par­tial­ly eat­en by the fam­i­ly dog.

I recent­ly used a ser­vice from a web­site called Scan­Cafe, and have to say I was impressed by the qual­i­ty, speed and val­ueS­can­Cafe is an image scan­ning and dig­i­ti­za­tion ser­vice. You sub­mit an order, then ship them a box of your pho­tographs, neg­a­tives, and/or slides. Scan­Cafe then scans your images by hand and at a high-res­o­lu­tion. When they are done, you receive an e‑mail and can go online to review the scanned images and choose which keep. You pay only for the images you keep, then they send back all of your orig­i­nals as well as a DVD of the scans.

What I found impres­sive about the ser­vice was the care with which they deal with the pho­tographs. White glove treat­ment is stan­dard. Addi­tion­al­ly, you can send them images in carousels and albums, and they will remove your images from the carousels and albums, scan them at their stan­dard rates, and replace them, in order, before ship­ping the carousels or albums back to you.

Carl and Alice Jones, 1949. After Scan­Cafe

They guar­an­tee your orig­i­nals, and will pay $1,000 if your images or lost or destroyed while they have them. While our images are irre­place­able and invalu­able, it’s still good to know that Scan­Cafe will feel some finan­cial pain if they do lose your images.

Scan­Cafe’s process is per­haps a lit­tle unortho­dox. You send your pho­tographs to an office in the San Fran­cis­co Bay Area. In turn, they for­ward them to their offices in Ban­ga­lore (Ben­galu­ru) India, where the actu­al scan­ning and restora­tion is done.

There are three key ben­e­fits I see in Scan­Cafe’s ser­vice:

  1. They only make you pay for the scans you keep. This came in handy for me, as there were some dupli­cates in the bunch­es of pho­tos I sent. I found the images among them scanned best, and did­n’t have to pay for the oth­ers.
  2. They pro­vide best-in-class restora­tion ser­vices at a rea­son­able price. When your images appear on the cus­tomer area of the Scan­Cafe web­site, you can see their selec­tion of images they think they can improve with their restora­tion ser­vice.
  3. Their com­mit­ment to qual­i­ty and cus­tomer ser­vice is high and demon­stra­ble. Take a look at the restora­tion they did of the snap­shot of my par­ents at their wed­ding. The orig­i­nal was almost too painful to look at, hav­ing been under­ex­posed, the par­tial­ly eat­en by a fam­i­ly pet, and final­ly, crimped and fold­ed. Scan­Cafe removed all of these issues and got me the image pret­ty much as I always should have had it. (My only issue with this par­tic­u­lar image is that I think that it’s now a lit­tle over­ex­posed.)
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