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You Can Help Test the Next FamilySearch.org

By Dick Eastman

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owns and operates one of the biggest and most popular genealogy web sites in the world: www.FamilySearch.org. Hundreds of thousands of Mormons and non-Mormons alike use this web site every month. Hundreds of millions of genealogical records may be found there. Of course, a web site like this one is never static: a group of product managers, software developers, database administrators and many more keep adding new features and improving existing services.

Now the Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormons) has several new tools available for beta testing. That is, the Church is experimenting with new and probably better services. To make sure the services are better, the genealogy public is invited to test the features in a web site known as "FamilySearch Labs." If the testing is successful, these new and/or updated services will be moved to the main www.FamilySearch.org about six months from now.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is inviting any and all genealogists to participate in the test. They are especially seeking genealogy newcomers. After all, one of the major objectives is to make a web site that is user-friendly and easily understood by newcomers. Who can test that best of all? The newcomers!

This is not to say that long-time genealogists are "locked out," however. The Mormon Church needs a wide variety of newcomers and gurus and everyone in between to help test the prototype services. The FamilySearch Labs’ web site exists today in a true beta test condition: it might be a bit buggy or may be missing some features or explanatory text. The Family History Department would appreciate your help in finding those bugs and offering suggestions for improvement. You can expect the site to be changing frequently as beta testers’ feedback is converted to new computer code.

FamilySearch Labs will obviously work faster on a broadband connection but dial-up users are also strongly encouraged to participate. One of the purposes of the test is to see  what the speed limitations are.

The new features being tested in FamilySearch Labs include:

Pedigree Viewer

The Pedigree Viewer is used to view and navigate your entire pedigree. This is one of the major new initiatives of the Family History Department: to allow everyone to navigate quickly and easily through a display of all their known ancestors. For the purpose of this beta test on FamilySearch Labs, you should upload a GEDCOM file of your own genealogy data, if such a file is available. If not, you can manually enter information.

NOTE: Be aware that all data will be deleted from FamilySearch Labs at the end of the test period. Because of the likelihood of duplicates with other data already on the main http://www.FamilySearch.org site, it will be impractical to merge your beta test GEDCOM files with any other data. Any GEDCOM files you upload during the beta test will be destroyed at the end of the test and the data will not be kept nor used elsewhere.

I have used the new Pedigree Viewer briefly and am impressed with it. The Flash-based display is as easy to use as any other genealogy browser that I have used. I haven’t had enough "hands on time" yet to find any bugs although I am sure they exist. Yes, it works on Macintosh as well as on Windows systems.

While it is called a Pedigree Viewer, it also includes the capability to view descendants in an interactive viewer.

You can click and drag the mouse to view families that you could not see originally. You can also zoom in and out easily, using the scroll wheel on your mouse (if available) or via menu keys. You can also print data from the information displayed. (HINT: use the PRINT button near the upper right corner of the displayed data, not the print command in your web browser’s menus.

Life Browser

This feature is unlike any other service ever offered by the Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints before. You can see what it will be like to learn about your family through the pictures records and stories of their lives.

The Life Browser presently is in early Beta test, perhaps even a late Alpha. It is a conceptual prototype, so it only shows one person and many features do not work. Your feedback will be used to define additional features to be added.

FamilySearch Indexing

Family Search Indexing is not brand-new. It has been around for a while, although in a limited and controlled offering.  The Family History Department has now added more servers and more network throughput to the project. As a result, the project can now be made available to anyone and everyone who wishes to contribute. Unlike the earlier version, you can sign up for FamilySearch Indexing right now and be extracting records within a few minutes.

FamilySearch Indexing allows volunteers to extract family history information from digital images of original historical documents to create indexes that assist everyone in finding their ancestors.

In short, you first sign up for the project and download a bit of software to your computer. Next, an image of an historical document appears in the upper part of  your computer’s screen. The image might be birth records, death records, tax lists, census records, or any of the millions of documents that are so valuable to genealogists. The records might be handwritten or typeset.

The lower part of the screen displays a "fill in the blanks" area. You read the data in the top part of the screen, fill in the appropriate information in the lower part and therefore add a valuable new record for use by other genealogists.

The beauty of the FamilySearch Indexing is that you can index as many or as few records as you want. You only receive them in small chunks and do not receive additional records to index until you complete the present batch. If you do not complete those few within a certain length of time, the same small batch of records are then given to someone else to index. You are never "on the hook" for more work to be completed.

All data is entered twice: once by you and once again by someone else. If the data you add agrees exactly with the data that the other person enters, the data is accepted and eventually is added to an online database. If the two of you disagree, the record is sent to a third person, an experienced records extractor, for binding arbitration.

The FamilySearch Indexing system is a great way to "pay back" to other genealogists all the records and assistance that you have received. You can index a few records at any convenient time: on your coffee break, when the baby takes a nap, or perhaps just before bedtime as you wind down from the day’s activities. The labor you supply free of charge results in records being made available to other online genealogists, also free of charge.

Unlike the other projects I have mentioned, data from the FamilySearch Indexing project will be saved at the end of the beta test and will be added to www.FamilySearch.org.

Millions of records have already been indexed by the FamilySearch Indexing project. This project is one of the greatest things that I have seen. I believe this one single project will benefit millions of future genealogists.


The FamilySearch Labs projects provide a great method for you to become involved. Your testing will help shape future online genealogy services. If you have any interest in any or all of the projects listed above, I would strongly suggest that you join in.

For more information, look at the FamilySearch Labs at http://labs.familysearch.org.

I would also suggest that you follow the FamilySearch Labs blog at http://familysearchlabs.blogspot.com/.

I expect that future FamilySearch Labs projects will be added from time to time. Keep an eye on the FamilySearch Labs blog for the latest information.

from eogn.com

African American Lives/PBS

NEW YORK — In February 2006, the acclaimed PBS series African American Lives brought to the forefront of national consciousness the powerful process of discovering one’s family history. A Roots for the 21st century, the series made a deep cultural impact through its riveting use of DNA analysis, genealogical research and family oral tradition to trace the lineages of highly accomplished African Americans down through U.S. history and back to Africa.

One year later, Oprah’s Roots further crystallized and propelled America’s interest in family tree research through the powerful stories of Oprah Winfrey’s ancestors and their accomplishments.

Now, you too are invited to participate in the newest African American Lives project. The producers of African American Lives 2 are seeking an African American to join Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and an all-new group of distinguished African Americans on an extraordinary journey of discovery. The series is tentatively scheduled to air on PBS in February 2008.

“What we find in doing this research is that even a regular person has extraordinary stories within his or her family,” says Professor Gates. “In African American Lives 2, we’ll work with one such person to show that the technology and resources for discovering these stories are available to all Americans, especially those of African descent.”

Under the supervision of Professor Gates, the series’ research will be conducted by the eminent genealogists Tony Burroughs, Johni Cerny, Jane Ailes and Megan Smolenyak together with Ancestry.com, one of the world’s leading online resources for family history information. They’ll research the selected individual’s family history, while a DNA testing service will provide a genetic analysis. The results of both will be revealed, along with that of the other series participants, by Professor Gates on the PBS broadcast of African American Lives 2.


Beginning April 18th, interested individuals must apply online at www.pbs.org/aalives. Online applications must be received by 6:00 p.m. on Friday, May 4, 2007. Any applications submitted after this date and time will not be considered. Finalists will receive a one-year subscription to Ancestry.com. The winning applicant will be notified and announced the week of May 28, 2007. Please note that the following are not eligible to participate: employees, and their relatives, of PBS, the series’ producers (Thirteen/WNET, Kunhardt Productions, and Inkwell Films) and corporate sponsors (The Coca-Cola Company, Johnson & Johnson and General Motors).

In addition to their name, age, gender, and contact information, applicants will be asked to tell the judges about themselves and their family, and why they would make the ideal candidate for the series.

Upon submitting the online application, individuals will receive an e-mail confirmation with a unique identification number. Applicants must attach this number along with their name to a photograph of themselves and mail it to: African American Lives 2, 305 West Broadway, Suite 144, New York, NY 10013. Photographs must be postmarked no later than Monday, May 7. Applications are not complete until the production team receives an individual’s photograph.

Major corporate funding for African American Lives 2 is provided by The Coca-Cola Company and Johnson & Johnson. Additional funding is provided by General Motors.

African American Lives 2 is a co-production of Thirteen/WNET New York, Kunhardt Productions and Inkwell Films. Graham Judd is series producer; Dyllan McGee is senior producer for Kunhardt Productions. Executive producers are Henry Louis Gates Jr., William R. Grant and Peter W. Kunhardt.

Decay Threatens Important Baltimore History Archives

Antero Pietila has written an article in the (Baltimore) Examiner that describes the crumbling archives at various nearby locations. The Enoch Pratt Free Library’s little-known treasures are the vertical files in the Maryland department. They hold 7,000 large envelopes full of yellowing newspaper clippings, reports and documents detailing Baltimore’s life and development, mostly from the 1930s to the 1980s.

For information about Baltimore during World War II or about the city’s housing and education problems, visiting the vertical files is mandatory. Over the years, the vertical files have spawned innumerable books, dissertations and term papers. But many of those brittle files are literally turning to dust.

Perhaps even more distressing, the oral history collections of the Maryland Historical Society and the University of Baltimore are now so fragile researchers may no longer listen to original interviews for fear of damaging the audio tapes beyond repair. Pietila writes:

"This is nothing short of a calamity. Many important interviews have not been transcribed on paper. If neglect destroys the original tapes, valuable first-person assessments of Maryland’s recent history will be lost, including a huge interview project on local civil rights struggles.

"The local institutions housing this material must digitize the documents as soon as possible before the files and audio tapes disintegrate. They will need extra money to complete the project and should band together to maximize private and public fundraising."

You can read Antero Pietila’s article at http://tinyurl.com/35r5oc.

from eogn.com

BAAHGS Member Erwin Polk Presenting in Frederick


Schroeder Cherry and His Puppets perform Underground Railroad, Not A Subway

Saturday, April 21 at 2:00 pm.

The Reginald F. Lewis Museum
of Maryland African American History & Culture

830 E. Pratt Street
Baltimore, MD 21202

443-263-1800 – tel

"Underground Railroad, Not a Subway"
Schroeder Cherry and His Puppets tell the story of ordinary people who were committed to the anti-slavery movement. Rather than focus on a great hero or heroine, the story is about a young African American boy who decides to escape slavery. This presentation is performed with a variety of puppets that Dr. Cherry originated, including rod puppets, hand puppets, and wood cut-outs. The show ends in a participatory chant with the audience. Recommended audience ages are eight years through adult.

Alexandria Gazette

News of Interest to Colored Readers

A ten month column – August 30, 1927 through June 1, 1928

Barbados Slave Manumissions

Barbados Slave Manumissions December 1831 to July 1834