Saturday, March 24, 2007

Your Guide to Using Newspapers for Genealogical Research

I've done some recent updating of my newspaper page, in preparation for a talk I gave this week. And I was happy to read on Eastman's Online Genealogy blog that the first of the newspapers scanned in the National Digital Newspaper Program are now online. NDNP is a successor of sorts to the United States Newspaper Project, which was responsible for getting thousands of newspapers microfilmed. When I went to the site to check it out -- Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers -- I was happily surprised to find they offer a directory of newspapers published in the U.S. I suspect it is an updated version of Gregory's American Newspapers 1821-1936: A Union List of Files Available in the United States and Canada, but it doesn't say that.

While I am grateful for all the newspapers now being made available digitally, the current situation is quite frustrating.

First, it is extremely difficult to find what has been published digitally. You must check such a variety of subscription databases. And even if you have access to several or all of them, checking is not easy because they are constantly updated, so each time you check, you find everything you already found, plus what is new. If only there were a way to limit these searches to content added after a certain date. Ideally, of course, they would recognize you and offer to check for new content only.

Another problem is that OCR (optical character recognition) that allows us to search for any and all words in the publication simply can't be accurate on the quality of print found in newspapers -- especially very old, microfilmed newspapers. So there are a LOT of false hits. Lots and lots of false hits. And probably some misses that we'll never know about. The software does seem to err on the side of caution, looking for anything that might even conceivably be construed as the letters you are looking for.

And finally, even with millions and millions of pages being posted, it is still drop in the bucket. Your chances of finding the very newspaper for the time period you need are quite slim, even if you are willing to pay subscription costs (oruse the large libraries which are willing to pay for the newspaper electronic resources so as to have them available to patrons), as well as scour the intranet to see what is provided for free.

The final word: for much of our research we will still have to order the microfilmed copies on interlibrary loan and go through the pages one by one to find the information we seek.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Guide to Researching South Carolina Ancestors is now finished

I finished the South Carolina page. I hope those of you with South Carolina roots will find it helpful. I've done no research in this state, so welcome advice on good sources. Whenever I look for material on the web, I'm struck by how difficult it can be to navigate sites. A number of reasons contribute to this: poor website design, ambiguous language, hurried readers such as myself, who don't take time to read what is there. It is easy to become confused or overlook important pages. I try to give important links within a site on my Guides pages, but it is too unwieldy to do so for everything.

A case in point is the South Carolina Department of Archives and History Digital Collections page, which is linked to from their main page, where it advertises "Archives' Documents and Images Online". This page specifies a number of projects: Confederate pension applications 1919-1938 , insurance file photographs 1935-1952, grand jury presentments 1783-1877, national register of historic places and a collection named "curiosities". Then mention is made of a current project -- the scanning of colonial plats.

At the top we are told that all of these collections can be searched in an index, and indeed, clicking on most of them takes you to the index page. A link to the index is also provided at the top.

Once on the index page, however, we are pleased to discover that in addition to the collections named on the preceding page, there are also files of criminal journals 1769-17776, legislative papers 1782-1866 and will transcripts 1782-1855 and a mysterious index to a mysterious "multiple record series 1675-1929." and plats for school land grants 1784-1868-- presumably not the colonial plats listed on the front page. Not listed as being included in this index are the grand jury presentments, the colonial plats or the curiosities.

Underneath the chart of included topics is a table of boxes. We can choose to click Help - - Copies - - SCHAH Hme -- Search Page -- Corporate Names -- Document Types -- Locations -- Topics -- Series List.

Well given a good database, any blue blooded genealogist is going to click the most attractive link: Search Page. Once on the search page, we can search all databases or select individual databases from a drop down list. Missing from the drop down are the grand jury presentments database, colonial plats and curiosities but when I search all databases for individuals named Smith, the first hit I get is one for what appears to be a colonial land grant -- is this the plats?

More clicking on the links at the bottom of the page gives me more -- and better -- information, but it is still confusing. By this time, I'm long past ready to give up. Rather than try to figure it all out, I elect to just do the search, on all databases, and collect what information I get with gratitude. I never do know exactly what I'm searching or if I'm missing something, but I hope that by cutting a wide swath, I'll get most, if not all, of what is offered.

I'm certainly not going to fault web page designers for not coming up with a perfectly clear navigation system, that anticipates my every whim and pops an answer up just when I need it, although I do make a plea for web designers to take time to test, edit and revise sites, so material is presented as clearly as possible. The point I take from all this is that it often takes a great deal of time and effort to understand the whole of what a website offers. If I want to benefit from the site, I must spend the time and make the effort.

And as do most sites, this site has a clearly marked link "CONTACT US". Whenever I've done so, I've always received prompt, courteous and knowledgeable answers to my question. I highly recommend adding this step to those above.

Monday, January 29, 2007

5 Things You Didn't Know About Me...

Why am I writing this? Because I've been "tagged" as one of a series of genealogy bloggers. It's in an effort to try to get the genealogy bloggers more well known, a cause I fully support. So here are my five...

1. I don't really understand blogging! Actually, if you've read any of my blogs, you may have already figured this out. I've been stumbling through it and until recently haven't really searched to find what else is out there. But now I've I've been finding and google-bookmarking those I find for the past few weeks. I also use bloglines to give me a webased collection of rss feeds for those I want to track. So I'm slowly figuring it out. Tips and hints welcome.

2. I just learned recently that I have a (very distant and very indirect) connection to Yul Brynner. As a child, my husband's mother lived in a Russian community called Novina. Novina was a resort in Korea that catered to Russians in exile and Yul Brynner's father was connected to that resort, and perhaps the Brynners were related to the Yankovsky family of her step-father. Yul's son, Rock Brynner, has researched his family's origins and recently published a book about his family, Empire and Odyssey: The Brynners in Far East Russia and Beyond. My husband and daughter have ordered the book and are now in communication with researchers who also have interest in Novina, so I will write more about this in a separate blog.

3. From the third grade through the 7th, I went to a one room school, where I was the only one in my grade. The teacher was visibly displeased when she learned what grade I was in, since it meant adding a grade to her already full day. Each day she would call each grade up to the front of a room for a recitation in a round of subjects. First grades k-8 would be called up, one by one, for reading, then for arithmetic, then after lunch these rounds would be repeated for for social science and science. Penmanship every day for twenty minutes after lunch hour. This was also the time when the teacher held surprise desk checks to make sure our desks were neat. My desk never surprised her... it was never neat. We also had spelling, but I forget how she fit that in and art class was every Friday afternoon. Once the teacher learned I could read, my daily routine consisted of turning in my math assignment and very rarely being called up to recite. The rest of the time was all mine to read whatever I wanted. I thought it was a fine education.

4. I can't sing and am not musical. All my in-person friends and family know this, of course, but so far I've been able to keep it a secret on the web.

5. I can't keep up with everything I promise I'll do. Oh... that's no secret to anyone?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Updated the census page

Good grief! I was thrilled and appalled to see that my census site got mention on the rootsweb list. Thrilled, of course first... but then I immediately wondered if it had bad links. So I checked... and it sure did. I couldn't believe how many. Some due to my own carelessness...some because the sites had disappeared and some for reasons that mystified me.

At any rate, I got to work and the page is sparkling clean now -- or was as of five minutes ago -- and I've run Xenu Link Sleuth on the rest of the site and will get to the numerous bad links it found over time.

My next page... South Carolina.