17 November 2011

Ancestry Survey Missing a Critical Question

I just completed a survey from Ancestry.com after receiving an e-mail message from them. I was excited for a brief moment thinking they really wanted comments on what would make me a satisfied customer. The first paragraph of the message was:
Just like every family tree, every Ancestry.com member is unique. And that’s why, in 2012, we’ll be making your Ancestry.com experience match your preferences, your family history goals and the way you use the site, better than ever before.
Most of the questions seemed aimed at someone who thinks putting all of her data on an Ancestry tree is the be-all and end-all of research. The rest were aimed at finding out how many would then access those trees on a mobile device.

Right now I have a love-hate relationship with Ancestry. I love that so many records are available digitally—that makes me keep paying my annual subscription. I hate that they make it so hard to find what I am looking for in the haystack of records. And, I'm sorry, my jaw clenches every time I hear, "You don't have to know what you're looking for. You just have to start looking." I know what I am looking for and want it to be easier to find it! That could make Ancestry work well for me and for the people who want to enter some data in a tree and wait for a leaf to start shaking to get their attention.

Ancestry's tools seem geared toward giving an inexperienced user so many hits they think they are getting lots of good information. It is an illusion. Some new researchers have no idea how to weed through the multiple hits of a person with the same or similar name who is the right age, more or less, and in the right place, more or less. Experienced users learn to mow through the close-but-no-cigar hits, but it isn't easy. It takes a lot of time.

Ancestry has added some features in recent years to help users isolate hits to those of interest. These tools are still woefully inadequate. I want advanced search features like those that were offered almost a decade ago by FamilySearch on their 1880 U.S. census CD set. Ancestry's keyword search is a start, but needs to give more control to the user of which field contains the keyword. I want to be able to search for a person who has a spouse with a specific name. That is essential when the name you are searching is a common one.

Also, I want to be able to sort the hits based on the field of my choosing. Sometimes I can see that if I keep paging through what Ancestry displays I might eventually find what I am looking for on the 30th or 40th page or 90th page of hits. I set Ancestry to display 50 hits per page. The 40th page is 2,000 hits in to the list. If I could choose the sort field or tell Ancestry to eliminate certain "pseudo-matches" I might find the information I am looking for within the first 10 pages and save hours. And yes, I've played with all the advanced search options and still find them lacking.

This frustration with Ancestry made me take heart when Footnote.com was started. Then Ancestry bought Footnote. Competition is good for companies. Too much of a monopoly allows a company to coast without implementing major improvements.

I'd much rather see Ancestry investing in better and more specific search tools than re-inventing the wheel with new advanced viewers. I can use the viewer of my choice once I download an image. But I have to be able to find and download the image first.

The missing critical question on the survey—a comment block where I could enter comments that weren't related to any specific question on the survey. You know, the block that makes you think they really care what you have to say, not just whether or not you'd pay more for a mobile app that lets you access the site. I get frustrated enough on a large monitor. I don't need to be more frustrated trying to slog through on a tiny screen.

© 2011, Debbie Parker Wayne, All Rights Reserved

15 November 2011

Family Tree DNA 2011 Year End Sale

Family Tree DNA just notified project administrators about the current sale which runs through the end of this year. Place orders through a DNA project you are part of. Or join a project to get these great prices.

Kits must be ordered through a project. To order a new kit through the Texas State Genealogical Society project, where a small portion of the price will go to preserve genealogical records in Texas, please click on the spinning DNA strand at the bottom of the page at (http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~txsgs/). If you are already a customer of Family Tree DNA, you can join the Texas State Genealogical Society project by joining the group TXStateGS.

The message from Family Tree DNA reads:

As we approach the holiday season, we feel having one BIG promotion for a sufficient amount of time best supports our volunteer Administrators, in their effort to recruit new members. Current members will also benefit by having simultaneously reduced prices for upgrades.

Effective immediately this promotion will end on December 31, 2011.

We hope that this will give a big boost to your projects!

Y-DNA 37 $149 $119
Y-DNA 67 $239 $199
mtFullSequence $299 $239
SuperDNA (Y-DNA67 and FMS)    $518 $438
Family Finder $289 $199
Family Finder + mtPlus $438 $318
Family Finder + FMS $559 $439
Family Finder+ Y-DNA37 $438 $318
Comprehensive (FF + FMS + Y-67)    $797 $627
12-25 Marker $49 $35
12-37 Marker $99 $69
12-67 Marker $189 $148
25-37 Marker $49 $35
25-67 Marker $148 $114
37-67 Marker $99 $79
Family Finder $289 $199
mtHVR1toMega $269 $229
mtHVR2toMega $239 $209



© 2011, Debbie Parker Wayne, All Rights Reserved

Slavery and the Law

Those specializing in African American genealogical research may be interested in the latest issue of the American Society for Legal History's Law and History Review, a special issue on "Law, Slavery, and Justice." Cambridge Journals Online provides access. Some publications on the site are freely available and some are behind a fee wall. The site allows short-term (48 hour) subscription access as well as full subscriptions for multiple publications. This issue of Law and History Review was freely available on November 15, 2011.

Here is the Table of Contents for Law and History Review, Volume 29, Issue 04:

  • Law, Slavery, and Justice: A Special Issue, Introduction by David S. Tanenhaus
  • Slavery and the Law in Atlantic Perspective: Jurisdiction, Jurisprudence, and Justice by Rebecca J. Scott
  • Judges, Masters, Diviners: Slaves’ Experience of Criminal Justice in Colonial Suriname by Natalie Zemon Davis
  • Prosecuting Torture: The Strategic Ethics of Slavery in Pre-Revolutionary Saint-Domingue (Haiti) by Malick W. Ghachem
  • Time, Space, and Jurisdiction in Atlantic World Slavery: The Volunbrun Household in Gradual Emancipation New York by Martha S. Jones
  • Paper Thin: Freedom and Re-enslavement in the Diaspora of the Haitian Revolution by Rebecca J. Scott
  • Resetting the Legal History of Slavery: Divination, Torture, Poisoning, Murder, Revolution, Emancipation, and Re-enslavement by Walter Johnson

Even though you may not find an ancestor's name in these article, the background history is invaluable. Many of the hundreds of footnotes have links to Google Books and/or Google Scholar for easy access to preview text and reviews.

Thanks to Legal History Blog for alerting me to this issue. I love the way the Internet and blogs make cross-discipline studies so much easier than when we had to travel to university libraries to find specialized journals. But all of the recommendations make my "to buy or read" list grow endlessly and never get any smaller.

© 2011, Debbie Parker Wayne, All Rights Reserved

12 November 2011

Enhancing Genealogy with Teacher Resources

A lot of websites designed to help history teachers are also useful to genealogists who want to add social context to the story of their ancestor. Richard Byrne added a new post titled "9 Sources for Historical Images, Documents, Videos, and Audio" to his Free Technology for Teachers blog. Techie genealogists are probably familiar with some of these sites. He mentions a few of my favorites:

  • Yale University's Avalon Project—documenting laws from ancient BCE times to the 21st century—and with a chronology of American history through the included documents

  • The Commons on Flickr—where I have found some great copyright-free images to use in my Powerpoint presentations (check out some of the dance images to represent the genealogy happy dance)

  • Google Books—where I can find full text copies of old legal reporters and digests (descriptions of cases your ancestors may have been involved in)

Check out "9 Sources for Historical Images, Documents, Videos, and Audio" and see if he has a site you haven't used yet.

What other great history sites have you used that are not on his list?

I often use the East Texas Research Center at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. A list of their collections and digital exhibits is here.

© 2011, Debbie Parker Wayne, All Rights Reserved

11 November 2011

Veterans Day

Thank you to all the veterans who fight to preserve our way of life.

Vietnam, James C Wayne on the USS Enterprise, 1968

World War II, Cecil Glenn Richards (1917-1987) with his mother Emma Everette (Johnson) Richards (1894-1964), before deploying to the South Pacific

World War II, Foy Edmond Hodnett [Sr.] (1915-1993), US Navy

World War I, Benjamin Woodson Johnson (1895-1947)

Photographs in the collection of Debbie Parker Wayne.

© 2011, Debbie Parker Wayne, All Rights Reserved

10 November 2011

Notes from 2011 Family Tree DNA Project Administrator's Conference

Some of the other bloggers who attended the 2011 Family Tree DNA Project Administrator's Conference are faster at posting notes than I am. So instead of reinventing the wheel I'll link to those blogs.

CeCe Moore of Your Genetic Genealogist has posts on Day One and Day Two.

Emily Aulicino of Genealem's Genetic Genealogy has posts part one and part two.

Dave Dowell of Dr D Digs Up Ancestors posted here.

And I wrote about one aspect of the conference that particularly intrigued me Citizen Scientists.

As I find more posts I will add them to this article to keep all the links in one place.

© 2011, Debbie Parker Wayne, All Rights Reserved

08 November 2011

Hat Tip to Citizen Scientists / Genetic Genealogists

When I teach DNA classes for genealogists I recommend they test as much as they can afford as soon as they can. My reasons for this advice are:
  • You never know when you will lose a person whose DNA holds the solution to your current genealogical problem or a genealogical problem you will encounter on a line you haven't worked yet. My mother-in-law died this year. I kick myself every time I realize I missed getting her tested. It's not like I should have been surprised. She was ninety-one years old. Even healthy people her age may not have long left on this earth.
  • Genetic genealogy is one of those areas, like backyard astronomy, where non-scientists are making contributions to the scientific knowledge. The amount of a research grant may limit an academic to testing fewer DNA markers and fewer people than we do in a genetic genealogy project. Genetic genealogists are only restricted by our own pocketbooks or how good we are at begging finding an interested benefactor who is interested in the same lineage. We can pool our resources in ways academics can't.
  • Genetic genealogy is just COOL. How often do you get to participate in cutting-edge science?

At the Family Tree DNA conference, held this past weekend in Houston, Texas, two renowned scientists referred to genetic genealogists as "citizen scientists." I like that term. I'm going to add it to my presentation slides.

Dr. Spencer Wells is an Explorer-in-Residence for the National Geographic Project and Director of the Genographic Project found online at https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com/genographic/index.html. He is also the author of The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey (Random House, 2002), Deep Ancestry: Inside the Genographic Project: The Landmark DNA Quest to Decipher Our Distant Past (National Geographic, 2006), and his latest book, Pandora’s Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization (Random House, 2010). Dr. Wells acknowledged that citizen science has been critical to his field of study. The public participation segment of the Genographic Project has provided the scientists with lots of data. That data allows the scientists to identify differences that show up at a low but detectable level when many DNA samples are compared. Genetic genealogists have also been able to identify and answer questions that scientists may not have thought of yet.

Dr. Michael F. Hammer is an Associate Professor and Research Scientist at The Hammer Lab at the University of Arizona found online at http://hammerlab.biosci.arizona.edu/. He is also the Chief Scientist for Family Tree DNA and a member of the Scientific Advisory Board. During his presentation to the assembled Project Administrators at the Family Tree DNA conference, Dr. Hammer told us that he and the other scientists had been able to easily answer questions from the group during the first few conferences, but ... The implication being the knowledge level of genetic genealogists is growing and our questions are becoming more difficult to answer easily.

Bennett Greenspan and Max Blankfeld, the founders and owners of Family Tree DNA (FTDNA), told us we are pushing academia. Although genetic genealogists include some with a biology or genetics background, most of us wouldn't know nearly as much as we do about DNA without the help we have received from FTDNA. This was the 7th Annual Family Tree DNA Conference for Project Administrators where the company brought scientists and project administrators from all over the world together. The FTDNA website has a wealth of resources available via links and FAQs. Max and Bennett project a genuine friendship and appreciation for their customers. The staff at FTDNA goes above and beyond what any other testing company offers.

Those contributions by citizen scientists are likely due to having a different perspective than the academics do. In many cases we have more data to work with—more markers tested per person and more people tested in a project or a family. Many genetic genealogists compulsively study areas that have significance to our personal ancestral quest, but may not have reached a level of major importance for the academics. We have documentary evidence for relationships the academics lack. We can see instances where the data doesn't exactly fit the statistical model.

A hat tip to all of the citizen scientist genetic genealogists and those who support us seems to be in order. Congratulations to us! I hope we keep pushing academia as more genealogists test and as we learn more about using the data we collect to further our ancestral history goals.

© 2011, Debbie Parker Wayne, All Rights Reserved