Archive for Category: Genealogy


It’s All Greek To Me

Thursday, 11 July 2013

A client recently asked me to do some work in Greek.

I’m pretty good with languages. I taught myself to read Polish vital records entirely on my own, Russian records with just a little help at the FHL. And since becoming a professional genealogist, I have been asked for Hungarian, French, Spanish, Italian, and German. After Polish and Russian, I found all of those to be pretty easy. Except for the German, that is. That Gothic script is like learning a new alphabet and I’ve just never put in the effort.

But Greek has its own alphabet too and new ways of writing cursive letters. It’s got a lot of overlap with Latin and Cyrillic, so I only needed to learn a few brand new letters. It’s the handwriting that gets tricky. Thankfully — and the main reason I accepted the challenge — the records I’m searching through are indexed and the index is written pretty neatly.

Here’s one of the names I’m looking for.

Can you figure that one out? It’s a very common Jewish surname (with many spelling variations) and the first two letters are the same in Greek as in Latin and Cyrillic. You can guess the third letter correctly. Only the last one is tricky.

The names that tripped me up were the ones I’m wasn’t even sure how to spell in Greek. There is no B in Greek, so I resorted to V, like you do in Russian. I finally found a book at the FHL about Greek names, published by the CIA (no kidding), which had some interesting information in it. Instead of B, they use MP. Who would have seen that coming? Several other sounds I needed were missing too. I did eventually find all the names I needed, but some of them were spelled in such convoluted ways that I had them for a while and didn’t realize they were actually correct.

At a Greek restaurant some years ago, the names of the dishes were written in Greek letters. I found those easier to pronounce than their English counterparts, because they only used Latin and Cyrllic crossed-over letters.

But if you ask me to research in Armenian or Ottoman Turkish (I was asked once), well, I’ll say that’s all Chinese to me.

And the answer to the earlier question: the image says Koen, or Kohn, or Cohen, etc.

The URL of this post is http://idogenealogy.com/blog/2013/07/11/its-all-greek-to-me/.

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Unfinished with Uzhgorod

Monday, 10 June 2013

My last archive visit was in Uzhgorod, the impenetrable archive. That’s what everyone says about it. I didn’t find it so difficult, besides the huge language barrier. My translator did all the talking for me. We waited for the director to call about when I could do my research, but he didn’t. On my last day in the city, we got proactive and I finally hit the jackpot.

The director stopped in a couple of times but one archivist was in the room with us the whole time. I was presented with five books of Jewish and civil births. I was cautious at first, not knowing how much they would let me photograph. But she didn’t seem to mind and I ended up with over 200 pages. If I’d been asked, I would have requested marriages first, but I was just happy to have the access.

I haven’t been including a lot of images of the records in these posts because they’ve been in Russian. I doubt many of my readers could make them out. But these records were in Hungarian and Czech, so they’re easier to deal with.

I was particularly excited over a few of the records I found for my Rosenthal family. The handwriting was a bit messy, but I found my grandfather’s birth record. It occurred to me as I looked at it that it was the first time I had seen the record of a birth for a grandparent. Earlier in the trip, I tried to find the record for my other grandmother, but she was not registered. I didn’t have the chance to look for the other two.

Abraham Rosenthal Birth

Three siblings were registered together. There was another brother in this group that died as a child, so years later, they probably wouldn’t feel the need to record his birth. Between these two records, they switched from Hungarian to Czech.

Rosenthal Group

Interestingly, these were all delayed registrations and the second page refers back to another book where they were taken from. So maybe the missing Moshe is in those books? Something to look for on my next visit.

And finally, I found Hana’s birth. A cousin once asked me what her “real” name was. Well, in Hungarian, it was Hana. She went by Honka most of her life.

Hana "Honka" Rosenthal

Another thing that was interesting to see was David’s signature on several records. There are no pictures of him and his wife, but now I’ve seen his handwriting. This sample is one of the neater ones.

David Rozenthal

Years ago, someone searched these records for me and found some information, but only provided extracts of the data. They found my great-grandmother, Eszter Schwimmer, the mother of all these Rosenthals, but not their father. I was able to find David Alter in the records. (Eszter’s record is a Hungarian civil registration, a completely different format and not as easily shown here.)

David Alter Rosenthal

But the biggest surprise was some pages after David. He was an only child, as everyone agreed. I found that hard to believe and assumed he probably had siblings who died young, or maybe there were stillbirths or miscarriages.

And then I found one sister, born in 1878, Ester Gitel. She died in 1880, less than two years old.

Ester Gitel Rosenthal

Although I did not digitize any book in its entirety, I did take a lot of pictures. Two of the books had 15-20 records per page. I have already indexed them and need to get them onto my web site. But I did not get to see every book of birth registrations, and of course I have to go back again for marriages and deaths.

But at least now, I’ve finally finished sorting through the records that I brought back from Europe. Planning my next trip won’t feel like I’m getting ahead of myself. Now, where can I find a few weeks open in my calendar before the end of the year?

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Curiosities from Konin

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

My Halpert and Szleper families come from Kalisz. Or at least, that’s what I’ve always known. Just before I left for my trip, I double checked the records that I wanted from the PSA in JRI-Poland and discovered that some Halpert records I wanted were actually in the Konin Archive and not the Kalisz Archive. Unfortunately, this meant trying to squeeze both of those cities into one day, which was a failure. I had trouble with transportation from Konin to Kalisz and never made it to Kalisz this trip.

But I learned something interesting in Konin.

My great-grandparents were Henry Halpert and Bertha Szleper, just to establish the connection between these families. I already had tons of records from Kalisz for the Szleper family from microfilm, and probably some ordered from the PSA years ago. I can go back into the late 1700s with them, and sideways to many other cousins. In my great-grandmother’s generation, they all Anglicized their surname, to Smith, Sheppard, Levy, Burnstein, or Bornstein. I assume that Smith and Sheppard were to be similar to the original. Levy is a maiden name in the family. I still haven’t figured out the reason for Burnstein yet, but the multiple spellings don’t concern me; they’re probably all for the same reason or copying each other.

Halpert is another problem. I have barely found them indexed by JRI, except for two births that were in the Konin Archive (and one death in the Kalisz Archive). Upon arrival in Konin, I ordered up a few books, two for the indexed records, and the following years to look for more. I soon confused the archivist when I didn’t want to look through the other books, though I eventually did.

The two records that were indexed, I was certain, were Henry’s siblings, Benjamin and Fajga. I already knew their parents’ names, Itzik and Rachel Leah (or, more correctly, Ruchla Laia in Polish). My family had been within about five years of their correct birth years, upon interviews with another cousin before I was born. Benjamin was born in 1891 and Fajga in 1894.

But it was Fajga’s birth certificate that surprised me. Even though I had the information in my database already (though a few years off), I just hadn’t noticed. Her mother was listed as a widow.

widow Ruchla Laia

I even had Itzik’s death year, and the listing from JRI-Poland to retrieve the record in the Kalisz Archive. But since my information was more like estimations, and I didn’t realize that he died while his children were so young, finding that he died six months before one of them was born was a shock. The month and year of his death are listed on his daughter’s birth, but I still need to get the death certificate for the exact date.

We also have some surname issues in this family. Both birth certificates listed Ruchla Laia’s surname as Bruks. I had been given that surname before, but it was not yet attached to her in my database. I don’t know if the person who told me that said it was her surname or just that it was in the family. (I’ll have to search for that note.) I was also told by two people that the name was changed to Halpert, but I don’t know what from. I think my grandmother told me when I was 11, but I didn’t write down every word she said. Her sister told me it was Moshkowitz, but I’ve found that as a maiden name in the family; she mixed up quite a few names, so it’s less likely she got it right.

I’ve tried searching for Itzik and Ruchla Laia’s marriage by their given names, but haven’t yet been successful.

Once again, I have more work to do on this. The Halperts are tricky.

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Vexations from Wizna

Thursday, 23 May 2013

All of the Kurlenders in the town of Wizna are related. I know this because I collected everything indexed by JRI-Poland, including the records that had to be ordered from Poland, and they all fit together into one large family. Also, Wizna is a small town, that I have now witnessed first-hand.

All of the people in the records fit together except for one family, which I refer to as the “floating family”. I have the birth certificates of two twin sisters, but their father’s patronymic is not included. I have no other records for him, birth or marriage, so I don’t know where he fits into the family. But I’m sure that he does because he carries a family name that I’ve rarely, if ever, seen elsewhere.

Thus, the family of Azriel Srol Kurlender, his wife Rochla Glodsztein, and their daughters Marim Sora and Ryvka, had nowhere to go until I found more information.

I hoped to find more when I went to Poland.

I was able to find more Kurlender records in addition to what was already indexed. Among them, a few that caused problems.

First, there’s the birth of Freida Leya, daughter of Joszk Gerszkowicz Kurlender and Ryvka. The problem? No Joszk Gerszkowicz in the family. There were a couple of first cousins named Joszk. Could there have been a third brother named Gerszk who also has a son named Joszk and this is the first I’ve seen of him? Totally possible. The two brothers I know about, Srol and Zorach, are born about 15 years apart; plenty of room in between for more kids. I still need to go through the earliest Wizna records (the unindexed ones, including the Catholic records), so maybe I’ll find a clue.

I then have a marriage record for Leya, though not Freida Leya, who is probably the same person. Her age is a few years off, but it’s still possible. At least those two records work together.

A marriage record for Mariem Sora Kurlender stumped me next, as her parents were not listed anywhere. However, her date of birth was unusually listed and matches exactly to the Marim Sora of the earlier “floating family”. So again, a record I’m not sure where to add into the family, but at least it matches something else I have.

The next stumper was a birth record for Mortek Berek, son of Abram Itzyk Kurlender and Rywka Spektor. I have Abram Itzyk and Rywka in my tree already, with three kids. Mortek is not one of them. However, their son Dov is born the same year. Was Mortek another son that my cousin didn’t know about when he told me about this family? Did Mortek become Dov? Dov Ber is a typical double name, so that’s entirely possible. So I’m not sure what to do about this one yet either.

I did find a few Kurlender records that were not problematic. Still I have some more work to do on this family, in earlier records and later ones. A lot of Kurlenders came to America. I still have to match them all up to the Polish families.

The URL of this post is http://idogenealogy.com/blog/2013/05/23/vexations-from-wizna/.

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Revelations from Rutki, Part 2

Thursday, 2 May 2013

I am fairly certain that everyone named Mularzewicz is related. The name only exists in a certain part of Poland, and the earliest generation I’ve found are all born just after 1800 and their father’s name is Moszko. I’ve been in this situation before, and each time, when I’m able to find more evidence, I’ve proved my suspicions correct. But for this, I still want more proof.

My earliest Mularzewicz record was from 1839 in the town of Wizna. This was unexpected, as my branch of Mularzewiczes were from Rutki. The marriage was that of Moszko Szlomowicz Mularzewicz to Peszka Marchowicz. For those who aren’t familiar with Polish patronymics, the second name of the groom indicates his father’s name, Szlomo. Before this record, Szlomo was the furthest back I could go in the Mularzewicz line. The bonus information came in the parents’ names, which listed Szlomo and Malka, Moszkowicz Mularzewicz, indicating that Szlomo’s father was named Moszko. Szlomo’s wife was also new information. With this, I finally had more to match besides just Szlomo. I just needed some records of those alleged brothers.

I went to Poland hoping to find a couple of those. I found one.

Kalman Mularzewicz was one of the people I was hoping to find. His death was indexed by JRI-Poland but it was only in the Polish State Archive. Even though he died at the age of 80, his parents were wonderfully listed on his death certificate. Finding Szlomo and Malka listed, I finally had enough proof that this Kalman belonged to my family. His wife, Odes, was also listed, further reinforcing his family. I had previously collected information about his family from JRI. I have to go through them again, but now I can confidently add them into my database. And as I recall, he had a good sized family.

I thought that I was also trying to retrieve more evidence for another brother in that generation, but alas, I cannot find such a record now. Any others may have to eventually be assumed, unless I can find something in the older Catholic records. The Jewish records in those are usually few and far between, but it may be the only way I can definitively prove any more.

I had some more trouble with another member of the family, Chaim. I previously had the information about his family based on his birth record, the 1897 district census, and the marriage record for his oldest son, all of which fit easily into my known family. In Poland, I was able to find Chaim’s marriage record, but I have some trouble with it. Many of the names don’t match the records I already had. His mother was listed as Pesa daughter of Abram, but I had that her father was Zyskind, which is a family name and seen a few times. His wife’s name was also an issue. Listed as Pesa Rozen on the marriage, I previously had Leya Royza Rozenowicz. While I can easily assimilate Rozen and Rozenowicz, Leya Royza and Pesa are trickier. Her father, Wigdor, is listed the same on all records, so it doesn’t look like two different wives, as that name didn’t seem very common in this part of Poland. I will have to re-examine everything to see if there might be more clues that I hadn’t found. Maybe I’ll try searching under her maiden name.

I have quite a bit more work to do in the Mularzewicz family now, sorting through all of those records from Kalman’s branch of the family, and climbing over to the Sokol family (from Part 1). If I recall correctly, Kalman had some descendents who immigrated to America and I communicated with one many years ago. I looked him up recently and unfortunately will have to find his descendents to get back in touch again. Fortunately, he is connected via a female line and wasn’t a Miller in America.

The URL of this post is http://idogenealogy.com/blog/2013/05/02/revelations-from-rutki-part-2/.

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RootsTech 2013 – The Nitpicker’s Critique, Part 2

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

And to conclude my nitpicking of RootsTech 2013, I have some things to say about the official bloggers.

What’s an Official Blogger?

According to RootsTech, “In addition to providing updates prior to the conference the Official Bloggers will give you all the inside happenings onsite during the conference.” (RootsTech Official Bloggers)

I also caught a great quote from James Tanner, where he says that the bloggers “are an institution and the main method of reporting the events of the Conference.” (Assessment of RootsTech 2013)

So their job is to advertise the conference beforehand and to report more during the conference. I tried not to spend too long analyzing all the official bloggers, so I did not verify that they all advertised leading up the conference, but I did notice that some of them did. The minimal postings were usually one to announce they were official bloggers, one to give away a free registration, and possibly a press release or two. Several of them blogged the press release about the keynote speakers that were first announced, the first three who all spoke on the first day. And there were several blog posts about the official conference app.

Now, as I analyze these bloggers, let it be known that I consider some of them to be my genea-friends. I converse with many of them of Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, and I usually spend some time with them at conferences when I see them. With this analysis, I’m not knocking the bloggers. Everyone blogs what they want, when they want. This is about the choices made by RootsTech to make them the official bloggers.

What was missing?

Once again, there were no Jewish bloggers. And no developers. RootsTech doesn’t seem to find the developers to be very important anymore, limiting the sessions available, not making the Developer’s Challenge more well known, and of course, never having a  developer as an official blogger.

What did I learn?

One thing that became clear was that the search function on Blogger blogs is terrible. Each search only gave four results per page, and was listed above other content. Interestingly enough, sometimes that content fit my search result and didn’t show up in the results. So, for the Blogger blogs, I may have missed some posts. Many blogs did not have a search function at all. Some had categories where I could find RootsTech listed. But some had no categories and no search. Kind of defeats some of the purpose of the blog, if no one will ever find an older entry; might as well just delete them.

And just in case anything here isn’t true anymore, I did all of my blog searching the week before completing this blog post. So if anyone wrote any more about the conference, or I mention a “most recent” post and it isn’t, that would be why. I also didn’t read every post by these bloggers, but I read some of them.

Who made the cut?

Comparing over the three years of RootsTech, the official bloggers list is virtually the same every year with additional names added, and a few removed when they don’t attend. This year, they went especially crazy with adding new people, many of whom are not genealogy bloggers at all, but are just locals.

The usual suspects

Several bloggers do a good job every year. Unless mentioned, everyone in this group has been an official blogger every year. They are all very visible geneablogs.

Jill Ball, Geniaus, uses her media center access for lots of interviews, posting them slowly every couple of days during and following the conference, but admits that she barely went to any sessions. She also had at least one blog post mentioning RootsTech every month in advance of the conference, usually more than one.

Amy Coffin, We Tree, did a little less conference blogging this year. She had a “Day 1, Part 1″ post, and no others like it. A tour of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir followed, and then a wrap-up post.

Dear Myrtle only showed RootsTech in four blog posts in 2013 when I searched. I was sure she had done more than that. However, looking at the all-important 25 March posting, I find that she spent her “blogging” doing video interviews.

The Ancestry Insider, well, he always writes about Ancestry and FamilySearch, so this was common ground for him. His latest post mentions RootsTech in the title, but it doesn’t show up in the search. He’s still kicking out articles derived from and about RootsTech.

Sue Maxwell, Granite Genealogy, just posted a great article about her “pendulum ride” just before and during RootsTech. But besides that post, she only posted pictures from the conference. She did post quite a bit in the months before RootsTech, including a list of tips from other blogs, to prepare for a visit to SLC, the FHL, and RootsTech. She also admitted to barely going to any sessions.

Randy Seaver, Genea-Musings, has a blog I don’t even have to check. He blogs the heck out of everything genealogy. He also admitted to not attending many sessions. A search didn’t show a lot of results, but I know they’re in there somewhere. Not only am I sure he blogged more than is showing, he also read other blogs about RootsTech and posted links to them.

James Tanner, Genealogy’s Star. The search on this site searches Google, and not just his own site. He has a lot of blog posts, and it took searching many pages to get to the bulk of his RootsTech entries. His most recent post from RootsTech is a 22 minute interview with Yuval Ben-Galim of MyHeritage; seems appropriate given that he did most of their keynote.

Renee Zamora, Renee’s Genealogy Blog, has a pretty useless search. It didn’t find me any RootsTech articles in 2013 and I know she’s written some. Using her labels, I found three blog posts since the conference began. Before the conference, I think she blogged every press release they sent out.

Nancy Shively, Gathering Stories, is a second year official blogger. I didn’t even have to search her blog. Every blog post in March is about RootsTech.

More usual suspects

Some other bloggers have been official for either two or three years, but I don’t think they did as well as the first group. I think that some are invited to be official bloggers by some kind of obligation.

Lisa Louise Cooke had a couple of lead-up blog posts, and basically just one about the conference itself. I don’t know how much she may have mentioned RootsTech in her podcast, but the search didn’t show anything.

Dick Eastman, EOGN, did a bit of pre-blogging, but not so much about the conference itself. He basically did one video interview and a long wrap-up blog post. When did MyHeritage start sponsoring his newsletter? I guess he didn’t publicize that very much either. If he put more in his paid newsletter, only his paying subscribers see that, which kind of defeats the purpose of the free advertising the official bloggers are supposed to do.

Holly Hansen, Family History Expos, has been an official blogger for two years. As many others did, one pre-conference post was about the keynote speakers for the first day. Another early post includes a partial list of family history fairs held at LDS Stake Centers in conjunction with RootsTech. I only knew about something in Kansas City. Her one after-conference post begins with being grateful she could attend classes. So was this the only official blogger who made it to more than one session? Of course, this is the blog for another genealogy conference, so making it an official blog seems kind of weird to me anyway.

Thomas MacEntee, head cat herder of the Geneabloggers, was naturally an official blogger. He only has two blog posts that mention RootsTech since the conference, and one is just mentioning a vendor. The other post mentions RootsTech but isn’t about the conference. I expected better from this one. Did I miss something?

[Added note: The following bloggers did not belong in this category, which I only discovered after publishing this blog post.]

Lorine McGinnis Schulze, Olive Tree Genealogy. All of her posts in March are about the live streaming sessions. Wait, was Lorine even at the conference? I don’t remember seeing her, but I didn’t really hang out with the bloggers this year. If she wasn’t there, then she did incredibly well at blogging for the conference. [Note: Lorine clarified that she was not able to attend in person, so she really belongs somewhere else in this blog post. Her own category maybe.]

Julie Cahill Tarr, GenBlog, uses a different search on her Blogger blog, but if it’s to be trusted, she hasn’t mentioned RootsTech since posting tips for attending before the conference and listings about the streaming sessions. [Note: I was wrong about this blog as well. Julie did have a recap post, which did not appear in my previous search of her site, in which she mentioned not attending the conference due to her health. She also had many posts before the conference, but her search results were not sorted by date and I did not realize.]

New additions

A couple new people joined on as official bloggers this year. This group, I think did pretty well. I’m sure, in part, some of these were added for variety.

Sonia Meza, Red de Antepasados, is a new official blogger, from Spain, blogging in Spanish. Her latest blog post is about Day 1. Day 0 was posted after the conference, so maybe there’s more to come from her.

Rosemary Morgan, London Roots Research, is the new London representative. She posted highlights from each day with pictures. Her RootsTech entries basically begin in February when she was chosen as an official blogger.

Drew Smith, half of The Genealogy Guys Podcast, podcasted about RootsTech in most of the latest entries. He also did some interviews, which were included. [Note: Drew notes that he has been an official blogger for all three years, and that he podcasted a lot about RootsTech leading up to it. I must not have seen the "final" list of official bloggers each year when I was researching.]

Dirk Weissleder, Forum FamilienGeschichte, was a late addition official blogger, from what I remember. He writes in German and has five posts that mention RootsTech since the conference began.

And the outliers

They tried something new at RootsTech this year with official bloggers. They found local bloggers who don’t usually write about genealogy. How did they do? Well, basically, it was pitiful. Did any of them even go to the conference? It doesn’t seem that way on their blogs.

Kathy Dalton provides no way to search her blog, but looking through the March entries, she didn’t mention RootsTech at all, unless it was some half-mention in another article. Finally finding her Family History category, there were only two posts that were about RootsTech, from February.

Jenny Eckton has another blog that is not searchable, she has one blog post about RootsTech/Story@Home, which she uses entirely to sell her 365 Days of Story Prompts book.

Emily Hill does not have one single blog entry that mentions RootsTech.

Veronica Johnson appears to blog less often than I do. The only RootsTech post on her main page is from February.

Kim Orlandini, according to her blog, is mainly a photographer. Her blog has no search function. The RootsTech page says she is a “blogger extraordinaire”, but hasn’t blogged since 11 March. Nothing about RootsTech.

Rhonna Designs got a link to her store on the official blogger page. Did they not look at what they were posting? Another blog with no search, blog posts jump from 21 March to 25 March with no mention of RootsTech anywhere.

Summer Rumsey, a scrapbooker, sounded excited for RootsTech in her profile. The search on her blog shows the last mention of RootsTech in February when she gave away a free registration.

Sistas in Zion is another new official blogger, or rather, bloggers. They have only one blog post about RootsTech on 17 March. [Note: Cheri Daniels said that they "rocked it" with their Twitter feed. Good to know at least one of this group showed up to the conference, apparently enjoyed it, and posted about it. I just didn't see the evidence on their blog.]

Conclusion

Clearly, I’m still a little miffed at being passed over for the last two years. I’ve heard some interesting stories from RootsTech, like how they analyze blog readership. Why do they spend the time and how do they even know the traffic I get? You can’t expect my blog, focused more on one ethnic group, to get as much traffic as some of these others. Don’t they want more variety? Don’t they want someone to blog towards those smaller groups? Do they not want anyone to write from a developer’s perspective? Do they want nothing written about the sessions that most of the bloggers keep missing?

They tried some new techniques this year by inviting locals to get different perspectives, but my analysis makes that look like a failure.

I know that they want the bloggers with the most readers to be official, but if every conference keeps promoting the same bloggers, it makes it that much harder for other bloggers to get noticed.

I don’t think of social media and blogging as a popularity contest. Do I want people to read what I write? Of course I do! Do I care that I don’t have as many readers as other bloggers? No. I write for myself. I write because I want to and I write about what I want to write about. And as long as some of the blog posts take me, especially these Nitpicker posts, I have to care about what I’m writing.

What do you think? Think RootsTech should have an official Jewish blogger? A developer blogger? Someone who would rather attend sessions than do interviews all week?

(Think I should change the title of my blog to The Genealogy Nitpicker?)

The URL of the blog post is http://idogenealogy.com/blog/2013/04/16/rootstech-2013-critique-part-2/.

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RootsTech 2013 – The Nitpicker’s Critique, Part 1

Friday, 12 April 2013

This blog post has a bit of a delay in it, but RootsTech 2013 recently ended. It was the third year of the genealogy and technology conference and I have attended each year.

I had fun at RootsTech. I get to see my genea-friends that I only see once or twice a year, and I try to spend some time with many of them. I usually meet a few new people that I might know online or not and improve on our friendships.

I had considered not buying a ticket and just hanging out in the exhibitor hall. I could have done that and had almost the exact same experience. I went to few sessions and wasn’t impressed with many. Here are my critiques, in no particular order.

1. Developer Day. I am both a developer and a genealogist, so I get the feeling that my experience is a little different than the average attendee. Last year, some people (on Twitter and on blogs that I read) said there wasn’t enough interaction between the two groups, the users and developers. So how did RootsTech “improve” on that? They condensed all the developer sessions down to one day so they wouldn’t be around as long to interact. As someone who sticks around for the whole conference and tends to go to developer sessions more than user sessions, this was disappointing. I had less to choose from during the week, and more that overlapped each other. Did others interact more? Did any of the official bloggers talk to developers other than the challenge winners?

2. Advanced User Sessions. Another complaint from last year was the lack of advanced user sessions. Not everyone needs to be taught basic computer skills, but they’re not quite up there with the developers, nor do they want to develop. I am also interested in these more advanced sessions sometimes, as the others are too simplistic for me. This year, the schedule explicitly listed sessions as either everyone, beginner, or intermediate. There was a distinct omission of advanced sessions. RootsTech seems to have changed direction to cater to beginners, and that’s a huge disappointment to me.

3. The Developer’s Challenge. I was wildly disappointed last year to enter the challenge after programming for a couple months to be judged against multiple people that had not only programmed longer than the challenge took place, but at least four of the entries were already in the schedule to be spoken about. This year, I only knew about one submission/finalist in advance, and she had been working on her entry for a year. I’m thrilled for her, and for most other winners both years, but it was a lot harder to take last year. Now that I know the rules as they are interpreted instead of how they are intended, things may be different in the future.

Additionally, the Challenge is almost invisible to the conference. Even now, in April, the winners are not listed on the web site; just the finalists. And there’s no way to get to the Challenge except by clicking through to Developer Day. Why would I assume that it’s on that page? And you can’t tell what the entries are. What makes these submissions innovative? With no description, it’s impossible to tell for some of them. One appears to search FindaGrave. How is that innovative if FaG already has a search function?

4. The Exhibitor Hall. I don’t know if it was just me, but I felt lost in that room when I wasn’t using the map. The conference guide was too difficult, but the one in the app was labeled instead of numbered with a separate listing. Even after finding a booth, sometimes I couldn’t find it again without looking it up. They really can’t improve on that except to have only maps with labels instead of numbers that have to be cross-referenced to a long list.

Also, they closed before the last sessions got out, so even if you learned about something in that session, you couldn’t visit the vendor anymore. I heard that those 2000 kids on the last day exited one lecture hall and headed for the exhibitor hall, only to find the doors closed.

5. The App. This was an improvement. Bump was gone and a list of attendees and friends were added, though I don’t know if anyone found any use out of it, other than seeing who else was going. And there was a very long list of blanks at the beginning. The Unconferencing sessions were not added into the schedule. We did get a notice at least one day that the schedule was online, taking us to a web page to see it. After I downloaded the app, when it told me to re-download, it took me to the web browser instead of the app store where I could get it. There was a constant stream of updates, which was good, but sometimes they seemed excessive. It worked out better than last year, but can’t they get it set up how they want before making it available instead of changing it so much so soon?

6. Unconferencing. I made it to one session this year. I was at the FGS societies meeting, where I did hear about one thing that I wanted to look into for my own society, so it was useful. Any other sessions that sounded interesting were at conflicting times with other things.

7. Scheduling. There were a few places in my schedule where I had marked four or five sessions at once, and some where I had none. Upon reading the syllabus notes, I easily dismissed some as too simple for me. After all, it wasn’t until I registered and got the conference guide in my bag that I saw there were no advanced user sessions.

The real eye-opener was in the after-conference survey, when they asked for comments about each session. The first one they asked for had 15 sessions happening at once. If I was interested in attending those, there is no way I could do so, and there are no recordings. Other time slots had only five sessions in the survey. The schedule didn’t look that lopsided to me in the book.

8. The Keynotes. The first day was a fantastic keynote. All three speakers were good. I wasn’t impressed by the second day’s speakers. The third day was half good. Sorry, but I see no reason why two keynote speakers just gave commercials for web sites that I already know about. Do they think some people still don’t know them? They might be right, seeing as how this conference is now geared towards beginners. I preferred it when RootsTech was for technology users and developers, and not wannabe users.

9. Wi-fi. Their ability to provide tech at this conference is not improving. I tried to connect to the wi-fi briefly a couple of times and I could not get on. I heard others had the same problem, which is the same as previous years. The Salt Palace can hold an awful lot of people, but they aren’t equipped for that number of connections to their system. Others complained about the total lack of wi-fi in the exhibitor hall, same as in previous years. I finally avoided my dependency on the wi-fi this year by having a 4G phone, which I used for the app, occasional tweeting, and other random bits of online access. It seems that they will never improve on this since they keep relying on the Salt Palace to provide it.

10. Evening Events. The evening events were announced very late, and were not so impressive. The only official event I attended was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performance. I avoided the social at The Leonardo; it was sponsored but not free. As Jenna, aka @SeekingSurnames, put it, “discount sponsorship”. I avoided going to the Family History Library with 1700 of my closest genea-friends and opted for Thomas MacEntee’s birthday bash instead.

11. No Closing Event. Again. I still prefer an ending, like we had the first year.

12. So Many People. I knew people who were supposed to be there, but it’s hard to find someone among 7000 people. And missing most of the third day was probably good for me, knowing there were another 2000 kids showing up. I saw some of them, but thankfully must have missed the bulk. And next year, we’re moving to a larger part of the conference center.

13. No T-Shirts. I thought that, since I paid for my registration, I’d at least get another shirt out of the deal. But they were selling them this year and I didn’t even know where. I found out after that it was at registration and not in the exhibitor hall. I did get a MyHeritage shirt, but only because I know the people. I also could have gotten a ReelGenie shirt, but never went back to sign up and get one. I was expecting one from RootsTech after the precedent of the first two years.

14. Official Bloggers. For anyone keeping score, I was once again not asked to be an official blogger. In response to the reasons that I was rejected last year, I have another blog post coming about those who were asked. It was too much for this article.

As I said at the beginning, I had fun. Not because of the conference itself, but because it brought some of the right people together. The more that RootsTech strays from its tech roots, the less I’m going to like about it.

The URL of this post is http://idogenealogy.com/blog/2013/04/12/rootstech-2013-critique-part-1/.

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RootsTech 2013, Day 3

Monday, 25 March 2013

Keynote

The keynote was quite the spectacle. David Pogue spoke about his family, and technology, and then gave us a musical performance. He did trip up a couple of times, first referring to his children’s doctor as a vet where his subsequent reaction just made it funnier, and then referring to James K. Polk as his descendent when he should have said ancestor (he didn’t notice that mistake).

David gave us a comedy routine based on technology, music parodies, and it was great entertainment. I was totally enthralled.

Sadly, it was followed by a commercial from MyHeritage. Much like Ancestry’s keynote that I didn’t pay attention to, the MyHeritage keynote was also not as engaging. It had a little more of my attention, but probably only because of the preceding speaker. (Also, I have many friends among the MyH people, so they get a little more attention from me anyway.)

I was likely one of the first people in SLC besides the RootsTech organizers to hear that Gilad Japhet would not be at RootsTech, so I wondered what they would do. Ori Soen began by explaining Gilad’s absence, then introduced James Tanner to the stage, who gave the bulk of the address. And then we got a long commercial, but instead of hearing it from the CEO, it was given by a user, so it was slightly better in that respect. I thought we were also getting a big announcement from MyHeritage, but there wasn’t one.

A few points of contention about James was that he mispronounced Gilad’s name a few times. They couldn’t make sure he was saying it correctly? Anyone who knows me knows that I will interrupt the middle of a conversation to correct someone on the pronunciation of my name. Because it is important. He also spoke about the SmartMatches, or maybe it was the Record Matches, and said “It was exactly the same person, but it wasn’t the same person.” Well, it can’t be both.

MyHeritage Record Matches

MyHeritage offered six months of access for free to the first 500 visitors to the booth after the keynote, but they actually gave more than that. (An employee told me that the CEO is generous. Nice.) Anyone who signed up at the conference would be emailed a code anyway, and if you had an account already, they had extra codes to hand out. Even I got one several hours later.

And thus, I sat at one of their computers and checked out my account for the first time in months. I did not have the code right away, so I was still restricted. I do not have the data plan and I’m well over the 250 maximum people allowed for free.

I took a look at my records matches. It found four matches in Find A Grave. I didn’t know about them. One was a living person who’s stone is ready for her next to her husband. They found six matches in the 1940 US Census. Only six for a database of almost 3,000? I found more than that on the first day when there was no index. (Or the first week, at least.) The 174 matches in newspapers looked interesting. Most of those hits that I saw were not my family but collateral lines, so I’ll have to go through them.

Daniel Horowitz joked with me that I was persona non grata in their booth after my comment on Twitter that morning about not wanting the elves to do my research for me, but I’ll take the newspaper hits on the collateral people happily; I would never try to research any of them so much. (If I didn’t like doing the research so much myself, why would I ever do this professionally?)

Lunch

I finally found Hal Bookbinder at RootsTech, one of my IAJGS 2014 co-chairs, and we had a very long lunch, about three hours long. And we barely discussed the conference. So I essentially missed the last day of RootsTech, save for the keynote, visiting the exhibit hall again, and finding/visiting with a few more people.

Dinner

I had dinner with the Developer’s Challenge winner, Tammy Hepps, a winner from last year, Brooke Ganz, and other friends. Now we have a plan. ;-)

Conclusion

All in all, the conference was a lot of fun. I saw a few friends, many genea-friends, made some new friends, and met a few new people. I attended some sessions that I was rarely impressed with, and spent lots of time in the exhibit hall, often visiting with people rather than visiting “exhibitors”.

A critique of the conference overall will follow. My daily posts have been upbeat because I enjoy the social aspect of genealogy conferences, but my overall impression of the conference itself won’t be so much.

The URL of this post is http://idogenealogy.com/blog/2013/03/25/rootstech-2013-day-3/.

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RootsTech 2013, Day 2 – Development

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Keynote

I was not impressed with the keynote today and they didn’t hold my attention to really say much about them.

Jyl Pattee was talking about story telling. This seems to be the theme this year, except that it’s developer day. They must have been even more bored than me. She asked us to think about “wow” moments, then expected those to be major life events. She didn’t know her audience very well because I wasn’t the only person to think about a genealogy find. Even though it sounded off topic from the previous day, which was about telling stories about every day life, she did kind of turn every moment into a “wow” moment, which really didn’t appeal to me.

Then Tim Sullivan spoke about Ancestry.com, beginner research, and collaboration. He announced a new Ancestry/FamilySearch collaboration of probate records. As he did the lead-up, I was expecting a different announcement, due to things I’ve been told. While it sounds like a perfectly decent project, I was hoping for something better; it’s likely not to affect my research at all. I may have missed something, but the whole thing felt a little like a commercial about his site.

As the Developer’s Challenge winners were announced, I paid attention because I knew a finalist. I didn’t even look up if the finalists were listed anywhere on the web site. As the description of the third winner barely began, I could tell Tammy Hepps had won for TreeLines.

 

Dear Myrtle Interviews Tammy Hepps after her Developer's Challenge win.

It snowed on the drive, but the traffic problems of yesterday did not repeat. I even had time for breakfast before my first session.

Developer Sessions

The Genealogy Workflow Model was about how FamilySearch graphed the genealogy research process. I thought it was supposed to explain how they programmed based on that model, but not so much. It was still kind of interesting but not what I was expecting.

After lunch, there was Modern Databases for Genealogy. We heard about various databases, then focused on MongoDB. I remember this one mentioned from last year. The code looked clear enough to me. I couldn’t figure out how to get it on my shared web server last year, so that’s likely to be an impediment this year too. It was interesting to get a taste of it, but I still don’t know if I’ll ever get to use it for a long time.

A Graph Based Family Tree was a disappointment. I couldn’t follow what he was talking about and he couldn’t hold my interest enough to figure it out, so I left early.

I ended the day listening to Crowdsourcing: When the Power of Many Benefits All. It didn’t sound technical enough for the developer track, and it really wasn’t. It attracted a lot of users. But it was interesting to learn how MyHeritage was handling its translations with crowd sourcing. I had no idea. I didn’t originally have it chosen to attend, but the speaker, Daniel Horowitz, is a good friend, a good speaker, and I had nothing else to do anyway.

Thomas MacEntee threw a big party in honor of his birthday in the evening. It was loud and a little crazy and fun. I was already exhausted but still enjoyed it. I finally drove home late and in the snow.

Thomas MacEntee chats with someone at his party.

Communication

As a user and a developer, I am in a unique position at this conference. There are some other people who are both, but I only know a couple of them. I know the bloggers, the Twitterers, and the Jewish genealogists. My experience is a little different because I don’t talk to the developers as a user, and I can go to the developer sessions without getting in so far over my head.

Even so, I didn’t really talk to any developers (except when they were selling to me as vendors) and I only went to developer sessions all day. What did everyone else do? Did the bloggers speak to anyone besides the developer’s challenge winners? Last year, it was a point of contention that there was little interaction between the two groups, and this year could only have made it worse.

And tomorrow, they have invited about 2,000 children to attend, as if 7,000 people didn’t already feel like a madhouse sometimes. One more day left of this.

The URL of this post is http://idogenealogy.com/blog/2013/03/23/rootstech-2013-day-2-development/.

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RootsTech 2013, Day 1 – Gaming

Friday, 22 March 2013

A Bad Start to the Day

I got almost no sleep, but I was expecting that. No, I wasn’t overly excited. I just haven’t been sleeping well lately. Or at night.

So I watched the keynote from home, and I already blogged about those. They were good. Then I headed downtown. The snow had stopped and the sun was shining. Until I was partway there on 201 and, to the right in my forward view, were the Wasatch mountains. To the left, gray. Just gray. I saw the snow storm I was driving into before I got there.

To make matters worse, I realized that even with everything I grabbed on the way out, I left my conference badge at home. I was not in a position to turn around for a long time, so I decided to just go. Then I got stuck in traffic just on a couple of streets downtown which doubled my commute time. I was not a happy camper.

Arrival and Things Improve

Registration was great, they gave me a new badge, and I headed to the exhibitor hall. I was just in time to hear the quick overview of Janet Hovorka’s Zap the Grandma Gap presentation, so I got some popcorn and sat down for a bit to hear her top tips of getting kids involved in genealogy.

Exhibitors

I then wandered around the exhibit hall, just in time for the lunch break, so I had quite a bit of time. I visited the media center and chatted with the bloggers a couple of times, and collected my beads and ribbons. I stopped at several other booths to get chocolate, or pick up goodies, or to talk to the vendors. Yes, I actually did talk and not just go for stuff and food.

I always visit my friends at MyHeritage, many times, I chatted with Dean at Genlighten (I’ve been a provider on his site for years), found out what ReelGenie is about, asked why the FHL doesn’t yet have Newspapers.com, chatted with someone at the FamilySearch Indexing booth, found out that APG ran out of ribbons yesterday, and plenty of others.

FamilySearch Indexing Counters. But... they don't match.

I headed out for a session, but couldn’t find the room. My alternate had a crowd around the door, so it was back to the exhibitor hall for me.

I was already pretty disappointed after reading the syllabus this morning. I didn’t do that last year. This year, I saw that all sessions were marked either everyone, beginner, or intermediate. I thought the users complained last year that there were no or too few advanced sessions for them, and this year there are none? So I didn’t think I was really missing anything anyway, since just about everything I read for the day looked too simple to keep my interest for long.

Gaming Genealogy

I did eventually make it to a session, where I listened to Joshua Taylor again, one of the keynote speakers, talk about Gaming and Virtual Realities: Attracting the Next Generation of Genealogists. He said some things that got me thinking about how genealogy could be gamified, but I doubt I have the programming skills to write a serious game on my own. He did a lot of comparing between genealogy and games, and genealogists and gamers: we are both geeks, form communities, are easily distracted by our obsessions (eg. skipping dinner), we have conferences, and he even compared cosplay to reenactments. We both work on strategies to succeed; we track, hidden features of games vs. research logs; both are very addicted; we love gadgets; we’re quick to adopt new technologies; and more.

He continued to give small examples of gaming ideas that were very specific to his family or other ideas he had, but I think a game would have to be quite a bit more generic. But he compared parts of games to researching genealogy in ways that gave me some interesting ideas. I’ll have to let my brain simmer on them for a while.

It seemed to him that one of the trickiest parts is that a game should have an ending and genealogy never ends. To that, he joked that the ending just might be: “Now you’re completely addicted to family history. Good luck!”

We then had a preview of a game that findmypast has been working on. He logged in to Facebook to access it, and almost immediately someone started chatting with him. The game loaded very slowly, but he did show us just a bit, repeating a few times that his game family was so hungry because he hadn’t fed them in a week.

I’ve heard Josh speak before, even before the keynote. He is a great speaker, comfortable behind the podium, and humorous. I talked to him just after and told him he should give that presentation to the developers, because they are the ones who would have to write it. He was planning on it, just not at RootsTech.

Societies

I continued the day with an unconferencing session for genealogy societies. It was an interesting discussion between a small group of society leaders about using technology. I really have to look into one of the things we discussed, for UJGS.

Evening Special Event

Exiting that room, I saw a gathering of people, some of whom I knew, joined them for dinner, then for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performance.

Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Miscellaneous

Tomorrow is developer day, another downgrade from last year, in my opinion. Along with the the lack of advanced user sessions, there was a lack of interaction between users and developers. This year, the advanced sessions don’t exist, and the interaction might not either, with developers only around for one day. I’ll read through the syllabus again before I get there and see which sessions I’ve marked that really sound interesting. Hopefully they won’t all be at the same time, with nothing else the rest of the day.

One more critique about the app. Trying to find the name of a vendor for this post, I found a handful of vendors bookmarked that I never bookmarked. What is going on now? And as I type this, there’s another update. Is that maybe 20 today? At least three since I got home.

The URL of this post is http://idogenealogy.com/blog/2013/03/22/rootstech-2013-day-1-gaming/.

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